Assuming you already have a business idea and a plan in place for your website, this guide will show you how to make a WordPress website and save around $5k by setting it up yourself, rather than paying a designer or agency to do it for you. It includes the tricks I have picked up over the past several years building hundreds of websites, and the exact services I use.
My whole philosophy when building websites is to focus on what’s important – for most new businesses this means quickly getting up a simple, nice looking website for minimum cost that will allow them to start doing business.
It should not mean spending thousands of dollars over several months of going back and forth with your designer, deciding whether to use imperial blue or navy blue, and whether or not to move your buy button 10 pixels to the right – save this level of detail for when your website is generating enough money to pay someone else to make those decisions for you.
I will break down the quickest and easiest way to set up your own business website:
It is extremely important to use a good website host and it will save you hassle down the line to get this right straight away so you don’t have to move your website later on. Key things to consider when choosing a new web host are:
- Location: It is preferable to have your web host close to your main target audience to save unnecessarily bouncing data around the world.
- Support: If you have a problem – who can you contact and how happy will they be to help you?
- Uptime: The last thing you want is your website constantly going down, believe me it’s not fun. All hosts should aim for 100% uptime, but 99.99% is acceptable (sometimes things happen).
- Speed: This will depend on how good your hosts’ hardware is, how good their hosting set-up and configurations are and what package you choose from them.
- Price: You don’t want to pay through the roof, but if the price is too low then expect the support, uptime and/or speed to suffer.
I use Nexcess, they have servers near to me, the price is reasonable and the support is excellent. They have servers in the UK, USA and Australia so there should be one close by to you, if you’re not sure where your main target audience will be or you’re aiming for a global audience, then US servers may be your best bet. The ones I’ve linked to here are all WordPress hosting packages as that’s the platform I’d recommend for most users, but they have other packages available too.
I strongly recommend getting your domain name and hosting from the same provider, sure you could save a few dollars by using a cheap domain website like GoDaddy, but in doing so you will complicate the process of hosting your website and make it more difficult for your support team to solve any problems down the line. I have supported websites which had their domain, hosting and email in 3 different places and it wasn’t a fun experience when it came to troubleshooting problems.
If you’re going to use them for hosting, I’d again recommend going with Nexcess for your domain name too. It’s only $15 a year for most domains, you could get cheaper but the hassle you will save yourself by having your hosting and domain together are easily worth a few dollars.
Content Management System (CMS)
If you’re making a simple website and/or a blog, then WordPress is likely the solution for you. It’s free, really easy to use, won’t slow down your website and it’s the most popular CMS on the net, so it’s compatible with almost everything and always kept up-to-date.
The best reason of all to use WordPress though, is that due to it’s popularity there are thousands of quality themes available for bargain prices. So as long as you’re not fussed about having a 100% unique custom-built website (you shouldn’t be) then getting a theme is going to work out great for you.
One of the best websites I’ve found for themes over the years is Theme Forest, you can get a great theme for around $50-$60 and there is heaps of choice. When I search for themes, I like to cut out anything with a rating under 4 stars, only show responsive websites and top sellers and sort by best rated. In this instance it cut my available themes from 7,453 to 207, so I can now start looking through what’s left to find one that I like, knowing that these are the best of the bunch, will work on mobile devices and usually will be well supported with minimal bugs.
At this point I usually get about 25-35 new tabs open with previews of all the top websites, then look through each one to see how much I like it, eventually deciding on a shortlist of 3-5 to examine in greater detail. One thing to look out for on the theme’s page is the “last update” date, if this was in 2012 then the theme probably won’t be well supported with recent upgrades to WordPress and is likely to have problems, but if it’s within the last few months you should be good to go.
It’s easier to find a theme that has all the functionality that you want and edit the look, rather than finding one that looks nice but needs extra functions adding. The whole idea here is to make building your website easier on yourself, don’t pick one that looks nice but doesn’t have a feature which is extremely important to you, because to add it yourself later on and try to integrate it into your theme could be unnecessarily troublesome.
To test the theme’s responsiveness, collapse your browser window so you can shrink and enlarge the website and see what it will look like on smaller devices. All the websites on our shortlist should adjust themselves and look nice when you shrink your window because we searched for them using the “responsive” tag, before you buy your chosen theme you should also view it on your mobile just to be safe.
Now it’s time to get your theme installed and configured and your base navigation set up.
You have two options here, if you are good with computers then you should find success by following the instructions that come with the theme. If you used Nexcess as your hosting provider as recommended earlier and bought one of their WordPress packages then this is easy-peasy because WordPress comes pre-installed for you and all you have to do is install the theme.
If you don’t feel like you have the technical skills to do this yourself, then one option is to hire someone from a website like Freelancer to help you – on this website you can post an advert for what you need help with, freelancers from around the world will respond with a quote and what they can do for you.
Because Freelancer has members all over the world, this means that you could end up paying someone in India a lot less than you would pay the designer from an agency down the block – and often their skills will be just as good. It does come with risks too though, consider the following when posting your ad and choosing your developer:
- Provide clear instructions else it could end up in disaster. English is the second language for many freelancers on this type of website, so it’s important to clarify exactly what you want early on and use screenshots to help. Once I told a designer I liked the colour scheme for a certain website and he proceeded to build an exact copy of that website instead of the idea I’d previously briefed him on – when I was more clear I didn’t have problems.
- Use those with great reviews. The really cool thing about this website is the freelancers are accountable to the review system so they are incentivised by that (as well as your money). If you see someone with 2 or more bad reviews that’s a huge red flag, even if they have lots of good ones too – stay away.
- If you’re unsure of what budget to set on your project – go low. Once I tested this theory by putting the same project up on two different budgets and got many of the same responses from the same people for 4x difference in value. Of course this won’t always work, you are unlikely to get a website built for $5… but you could save yourself some money by going low.
Once your theme is installed it’s time to add your content – this is so easy in WordPress, even if you’re a complete novice you will be able to easily edit your pages and blog posts after you’ve learned how to do it once.
Focus on getting your pages up first and then worry about your blog posts afterwards, be as authentic as you dare, especially with pages like “about me/us” and take the time to write quality content. If you write something just to pad our your page, then most people can tell it’s BS and your visitors will quickly lose trust in you.
Be sure that any images you use on your website are high quality, this can be the difference between you looking like an amateur or an expert. I would highly recommend speaking to a local professional photographer to take some photos of you and your business, it’s well worth the investment – mine were taken by Alex Wallace who is based in Auckland.
For any other images, you should use professional stock image websites (not Google images). There are a few good websites around but I have used Depositphotos mostly of late because they have a huge selection of great images at very good prices – you can get 5 professional images for just $39. Don’t just fill your website with images for the sake of it though, the most important page to have a nice image or two is your homepage.
People don’t have much patience these days so your website needs to be fast, else your visitors will leave. Having a good host is a great start and thankfully WordPress is one of the lighter systems around and should be reasonably fast as standard. If you aren’t happy with standard and want the best, then you can test your website at WebPagetest, which will give you a grade for different aspects of your website, so you know which areas need improving.
Having a fast website not only improves the experience for your customers, it also now improves your search engine rankings as Google now uses this in it’s algorithms when deciding how highly to place your website, if it’s really slow you won’t even get approved for Google AdWords. The plugin W3 Total Cache works great to speed up your website, I’d suggest installing this and only enabling “Page cache: Disk enhanced” and “Browser cache”, unless you know what you’re doing.
This is something you hope you never need but you’d better have it just in case. The best security plugin around on WordPress is called Wordfence, which is free, open source and will fulfill all the security needs of a standard website.
For the standard user I would recommend to just activate the plugin, add your email address for security alerts, follow the recommendations the plugin gives you and run a scan on your website to check it’s secure. If you have any issues Wordfence will give recommendations on how to handle them at the bottom of the page – then just forget about it, you will get an email if any security issues arise.
Get a friend to look over your work, preferably a detail person who will point out your little mistakes (we all make them), rather than someone who will just tell you it looks great. This part might seem tedious and will get skipped over by most, but it’s well worth it and can take your work from good to great – as well as sometimes avoiding costly mistakes which make you look unprofessional.
Get Feedback and Improve
This is so important. Take everything as a learning experience, get feedback on your website as much as possible – take on board and improve what serves you and ignore what doesn’t. Try not to take things too personally, we’re all learning and improving all the time and if you continually take on feedback and action that to improvements, then imagine how much better your website and your posts will be in a year.
With that in mind, please leave your feedback and actionable suggestions on this post and/or website in the comments below and I will send a copy of the book Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen to those who leave the best five comments (be nice).
If you have any questions please leave those in the comments too and I’ll get back to you. If you enjoyed this post please share with a friend and subscribe below.
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