How To Create Your Own Website For $1
The least expensive options do require a bit of know-how, but it's not too complicated. The problem is only that many different options exist, and there isn't really a one-size-fits-all solution. For a basic website I'm an advocate for lightweight mobile-ready sites. They're fast, can be looked at with any device, and don't use a lot of data/energy. Low Tech Magazine has a great write-up on the energy costs of the internet. They partly inspired the redesign of my own site.
1. Where to register a domain name (DNS)
For beginners: a domain name is what people type to see your website. This website is glichy.com, for example. Computers use strings of numbers to find websites, but humans find that words are easier to remember. To prevent confusion, only one person at a time can "own" a domain name. When you buy a domain name, you basically license that particular word (or combination of words) so no one else can use it.
Namecheap has occasional sales where new domains cost $0.88 for the first year. They won't be the traditional .com but it's an effective way to get started. Otherwise a domain name is usually $10-15 per year, which is already inexpensive.
There are other places to buy domain names, like Godaddy and Name.com. My personal preference is Namecheap because they have free Whois protection in addition to the good prices. Porkbun also does this.
Non-custom domain names are included for free with some sites, but it's much better to get a custom domain.
2. Sites to acquire web hosting
For beginners: Hosting is where the files to your website will be stored. An oversimplification: "buying hosting" is renting space on a computer that's set up for hosting websites. A domain name tells people where to see these files.
When I was a broke college student I used 000webhost. They offer free (limited) hosting, which works well when traffic to a site is low. The company makes money by asking people to upgrade to their paid service (Hostinger). The paid service is so-so and comparable to other paid hosts at $10-15 per month. They have occasional sales where paid hosting is $1-4 per month for a limited time. Another free option is Carrd, for simple one-page websites. Their paid version is also less expensive than most other hosts. Google Sites are also free.
Popular paid hosts include Bluehost, Hostgator, and A2. Hosting typically costs $5-10 per month depending on one's needs. It's important to pay attention to pricing because scammers exist. One time I was talking with a freelance client, we got onto the topic of websites, and he paid hundreds of dollars for basic website hosting. Do the research and don't pay 10x the market rate. For things like ecommerce the cost is higher because more is involved. This includes Shopify, Bigcommerce, and Squarespace, starting at $30 per month.
People who are extremely tech-savvy can do the hosting themselves with Raspberry Pi.
People who aren't tech-savvy might like Wordpress.com. All-in-one packages are popular, for example Wix and Weebly, but they have huge downsides. Wix and Weebly used obsolete technology last time I checked, plus they have design/code/SEO issues, and clients can't transfer their site to another service. On top of that, they cost more than DIY options, and their free options are unprofessional. Wix and Weebly are serviceable for some people, but I don't recommend them.
3. Options for designing a website
Wordpress.org is one of the most popular content management systems (CMS). Millions of websites use it and the developer community is highly active. Wordpress has free and paid templates, many plugin enhancements, and some hosting services have 1-click installation for Wordpress. One popular option is GeneratePress (both free and paid). Otherwise, a quick search for "free HTML template" will usually do the trick. Template files can be edited for free with something like Notepad++ or Google Web Designer. There's also paid software like Adobe Dreamweaver. For open source options, click here. Paid HTML templates often cost $10-20 on sites like Envato, Etsy, and WrapBootstrap.
Editing HTML and CSS can seem daunting, but it's gotten easier over time, and countless resources exist. The answer to any question is just a quick search away. Usually at the comprehensive resource W3schools, or video tutorials on Youtube.
4. Linking all parts of the website together so it goes live
The domain name must point to your web host, and HTML/CSS files are uploaded to that host (either through their site, or a program like FileZilla). This is the most varied step because everyone has their own process. Check the documentation/instructions from whichever host is being used.
Hosts like Porkbun include HTTPS encryption, which is now essential for all websites. If this option isn't available, see Let's Encrypt (free) or a low-cost option (Namecheap is as low as $6 per year). This should be enabled ASAP when everything is linked together.
5. Bonus step: Mailing lists and other considerations
For a mailing list, Mailchimp (free for up to 2000 contacts) has copy-and-paste code to add to HTML. Other options include AWeber, Mailerlite, Sendy, SendFox, Constant Contact, Active Campaign, and ConvertKit. Some tools are better than others when it comes to deliverability and price.
For an inexpensive basic website, like an author site, Namecheap + 000webhost will do just fine in the beginning. There isn't any need to get fancy. However, there are many options, and hopefully the above information answers most questions. If not, feel free to contact me!