Create a Free Website and Learn Something While Doing it

There are tons of ways to get a website on the internet. Github Pages are free and a great way to learn valuable skills.

I like the idea of having a blog. I don’t know why but I want to be some kind of writer. Not professionally or anything. But if you want to get better at anything, you have to put stuff out there. No matter if it’s good or not.

The thing is, though, even without a lot of strategies involved, I rarely find the time to sit myself down for an hour and bust an article out.

Ok, if I’m honest, if it would be more important to me, I’d find the time. Anyhow…

If you want a blog these days, there is a lot of places you can get started.

  • There is Medium with its community, publications, and ways to earn money while writing.
  • You could write your stuff up on a Linkedin article if that’s your thing.
  • If you’re a HEY user, you get a blog with your subscription.
  • WordPress is the place to go for any blog for decades.
  • And let’s not forget Squarespace, Wix, and Jimdo.

My weapon of choice is Webflow. It’s great to build custom web experiences with a brilliant output of code. It’s the one thing I recommend to almost everyone. You can go nuts in the Designer and build the craziest stuff with CSS and JS. But you can also pick up a template and learn along the way how the basics of any webpage work.

That’s the main thing with this tool. There is some learning curve involved when you have no idea about the box model and the cascading in Cascading Style Sheets.

I learned a lot from Webflow that I can now practice with other projects on the HubSpot CMS for clients during my day job. If you want to learn more about building a well-structured website, this is a better place to get started as some course on Codecademy IMO.

The Price is Right - or is it?

I built this blog on Webflow. And with around $16 for a CMS hosting a month, it is very reasonably priced.

BTW… I’m unfortunately not sponsored.

But the thing about pricing is: It’s relative.

Relative to the value you are getting out of the product. And the deal I was getting was not worth $16.

My financials are solid. I’m in a fortunate position. So spending that on a personal website/project is not the issue. But I was a subscriber for the CMS plan for more than 1.5 years now, and besides the homepage and legal stuff, I had 9 or 10 blog posts online. I’m sluggish and slow.

So I wanted to check out other alternatives.

Back to the Roots - Sort of

The way we use websites as marketers these days became super easy. You don’t need a designer nor a developer to create a website, e-commerce shop, or blog in many cases.

You don’t have to deal with servers, databases, deployment, version control, and other shit.

But I wanted the custom-designed website that I’ve built and hosted on the Webflow CMS connected to a custom domain just for way cheaper.

So I looked into other solutions, and it turns out that Github is offering a free website service called Github Pages.

I was dabbling with Git before but didn’t get a chance to use it much. And from my first impressions, it checked all the boxes.

A new Opportunity to Learn

I’d say I get bored quite quickly. I try and find chances to learn something new pretty often. That comes at a cost, though. I will never be the person who can perfect one single topic.

Jekyll and Github Pages was a great way to learn a bunch of new things.

  • Git and version control
  • How to use the terminal and command-line interfaces
  • Writing HTML and CSS in an IDE
  • Use a templating language and static site builder

If anything of the above sounds daunting to you, I get it. It was for me, too. But if I was able to handle it, you can do it too. You will encounter a lot of problems that you need to solve. It was the same for me. But it’s an excellent little pet project that rewards you with an easy to maintain, free website. Here is some help to get you started:

Are you Giting it?

Git is nuts. There is a ton of stuff to know. I was very fortunate that an ex-colleague of mine explained the core principles couple of years ago. Maybe you can ask a developer at work also.

If not, here is a great video series to get started. If you’re doing your first clones, commits and branches, try and use the desktop version of Github before doing it with the command line. It will help you understand more of what you’re doing visually.

A Nice Place to Work in

It would help if you had a place to work in. Not you’re office or desk. You need an app to access you’re HTML, markdown, YAML, and what not files.

An IDE is a program to edit those files within your project. Go ahead and use Atom. It’s an open-source editor by Github. Again, it makes it a bit easier to integrate with your repo.

Static Site with Jekyll

Github Pages is not much. If you want a repository is, it’s just that with access through a github.io subdomain. There is no CMS and, therefore, no database. It’s mainly intended to show off your projects on static pages.

But what if you want to write something regularly and share updates in a publication format. Entering the static site builder Jekyll.

Jekyll works super well with Github Pages. It’s not a CMS. It’s more of a generator of some sort.

Usally with things like WordPress, your content is in a database that then gets called into a template when accessing the URL.

On the other hand, Jekyll creates these HTML pages one by one and puts them on the server. Not the best experience for the admin of a site (typically) but the same experience for the user accessing the site. Better even, because the server has the HTML file already ready to go. There is no need to access any item in a database first when there is none.

Plus, Jekyll has an excellent understanding of templating language. Speaking of templates, there are tons that you can load into your project easy peasy. You can tell… I’m a fan.

Problems Worth Solving

Why dealing with all that hassle to put up a blog? There are a bunch of reasons. Not all of them might make sense to you, but they sure did it for me:

You learn a ton about how to create a website from start to finish. The only thing that is missing, I think, is deploying it to a different server.

You will run into a lot of problems, especially with the terminal, which I’m noticing I’m just mentioning.

And it’s completely free.

I’m not an expert in this particular area. I just started out using all the tools myself. But if you think I can help, feel free to send me an email.

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