How to Create a Minimal Personal Website for Free on GitHub
Choose a stunning template and customize anything with the open source Wowchemy website builder for Hugo - no coding skills needed
I recently migrated my websites from expensive and complicated software and hosting plans to focus more on content creation with the free and simple open source Wowchemy website builder for Hugo, GitHub, and Netlify.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to create a free website for your online portfolio, resume, or your team/organization using just your web browser. Choose a stunning template and customize anything with the open source Wowchemy website builder - no coding skills needed. Create almost any kind of content including blog posts, online courses, projects, slides, and publications using portable Markdown-formatted text. It’s time to take control of your data!
Get a professional domain name
We’ll be provided with a free URL to access our site. However, whichever tools you decide to use to build your website, you can further personalize your website with your own domain name. I can highly recommend Namecheap for registering your domain, as it provides great value for money whilst providing fast support and being independent of your website solution.
To find a relevant available domain, try a mix of your first and last names or initials, with either a
Later in this guide, we’ll integrate our personal domain name with our site.
Why Wowchemy, GitHub, and Netlify?
While there are an enormous amount of website hosting and creation services available, a Wowchemy powered website that is converted from Markdown to HTML by Hugo and published with GitHub and Netlify can have significant advantages over other options for an individual:
It’s free. Students will definitely appreciate this! Wowchemy and its website templates are free and open-source. Public repositories are free on Github. Netlify offer free deployment on an ultra fast network.
Simple editing. Instead of using HTML to write your content, you can write using popular Markdown-formatted text and LaTeX math expressions.
Write almost any kind of content. Create and manage your biography/CV/Resume, blog, notes, portfolio of projects, online courses, slide decks, publications, talks/events, galleries, Jupyter notebooks, Rmarkdown (via plugin), and much more.
No dependencies. The beauty of Hugo, Wowchemy’s underlying HTML generator, is that it is just a single standard app with no dependencies, so it’s dead simple to maintain a site made with Wowchemy. Jekyll and WordPress on the other hand have complex Ruby and PHP dependencies, respectively.
It’s multi-platform. Build your site on the cloud or locally on a Mac, Linux, or Windows computer.
Lightning fast to generate. Wowchemy’s underlying HTML generator, Hugo, converts the Markdown content for my site to HTML in less than a second. Jekyll took significantly longer and occasionally stopped working due to dependencies becoming deprecated or packages requiring to be manually updated.
Lightning fast to access. The inherent advantage of using a static site generator is that each page and asset can immediately be served to the client without any dynamic processing. Coupled with Netlify’s content distribution network, this means that wherever the client is in the world, they can instantly see your website.
Secure TLS (HTTPS). TLS helps guarantee that the content of your website has not been interfered with. Google recently began ranking secure HTTPS sites above insecure HTTP sites, and HTTP is being deprecated by major web browsers such as Chrome and Firefox. TLS is supported by Github and Netlify - it’s the way forward.
Excellent support. Wowchemy has an active and friendly community which you can join and chat with in real-time. Hugo has active developers on the Hugo support forums. Whereas Github support is omnipresent on Google and elsewhere like StackExchange.
It’s independent. Github and Netlify are independent from your job, so your site is portable. Whereas if your university affiliation changes, you’ll lose your university account and have to re-create a university hosted website with a new URL.
Solid roadmap. I have heard from a number of colleagues about universities dropping their own website hosting services and replacing them with other services or just not maintaining them adequately. Similarly, the Medium blogging platform enforced a paywall once it became popular. Wowchemy, Github, and Netlify will not be disappearing any time soon.
Professional URLs. Netlify (and GitHub Pages) URLs look professional (for example, your-name.netlify.app or your-name.github.io) and there is also the possibility to use your own personalized domain name if you wish.
Wowchemy (and Hugo) vs Jekyll
In addition to the above, here are some specific reasons to use Wowchemy/Hugo for your website if you are choosing between Wowchemy/Hugo and Jekyll or considering migrating from Jekyll:
- Wowchemy/Hugo can generate a site with 1000 pages in only 0.1 seconds, whereas Jekyll takes several minutes for the same site
- Hugo is a standard app, so it has no complex Ruby dependencies to maintain when testing/building the site locally on your computer
- Paginations, redirection, and live reload work right out of the box in Wowchemy/Hugo without having to setup plugins
- In Wowchemy/Hugo, you can just add
draft: truein the front matter of the post to save an unpublished draft, rather than having to move it to another folder
- Plus Wowchemy has numerous other benefits such as the content is organised in perhaps a more intuitive structure and has multilingual features built-in
Note that this is not an exhaustive list and the benefit-cost(time) ratio will depend on the size of any existing site and your skills and preferences.
Create a site with Wowchemy and Hugo
A new site can be published in under a minute and then personalized to your preferences using Markdown.
A practical example
Wowchemy includes an example website, similar to my site, for you to use as a template for your website. You can view the code for this online. My personal website is based on this example site.
Wowchemy is a great way to get a personal or educational website up and running quickly and easily. Static websites, such as Wowchemy, load significantly faster than traditional content management system (CMS) sites whilst being much easier to manage and near impossible to hack. Individuals do not usually need dynamic database-driven content or the advanced features that content management systems offer. With Wowchemy, you can focus your energy on creating great content, using the popular and intuitive Markdown formatting, instead of administering a complex system.
Happy creating! Feel free to tweet the community with your comments or questions!Disclaimer: I may use some affiliate links within this post, so if you do want to go purchase one of the non-free solutions, clicking a link may pass me off a little commission (without costing you anything extra)!