1. Do you really need a WordPress website?

While I believe that WordPress is the best platform in many circumstances, there are alternatives worth considering if your main purpose is to sell something online.  If you are selling something on a small scale, you might be able to use Ebay, Amazon, Etsy, Kijiji, Craig’s list, etc. at least to start.  Alternatively, you might be able to use an eCommerce platform such as Shopify, BigCommerce, Volusion and others.  These platforms help you build a nice looking website quickly and easily and eCommerce will be integrated. The price starts at about $30/month and goes up.  Note: it’s possible to create a website using WordPress and add eCommerce, you can even add a Shopify plugin.  While WordPress is very versatile and can be used for virtually anything, there are advantages to using an eCommerce platform like Shopify.  For example, these eCommerce platforms are very secure (see my blog post on PCI compliance for small businesses), webdesign is a little easier to learn than WordPress and features like order tracking, sales statistics, SEO, and other things will be built in and easy to use.

2. Should you try to build a website yourself?

If you have not built a website before, you may be wondering; How hard is it to build a website and can I do it by myself?  The simple answer is: if you are comfortable using a computer for standard things like email and word processing then you’ll do fine.  You’ll have some frustrating times, but you’ll figure it out if you stick to it.  If you decide that you require a website, the most obvious option is to pay a local web design company to build it for you. This is a good option if you don’t plan on making updates very often and you are not price sensitive.  The main drawback is price.  Expect to pay around $2’000 – $5’000 (or more), depending on your requirements. You may also need to pay ongoing website maintenance fees.  Note: there are online developers who will probably build you a website for you for less (probably around $500), but you take your chances with this option and you’ll probably get what you pay for.

3. Why use WordPress?

If you decide to build your own website, WordPress is by far the most popular platform on the internet.  Here are some usage statistics on the competing platforms comparable to WordPress.  WordPress usage has been growing steadily and currently about 25% of websites use WordPress and this number is likely to continue to grow.  The next two closest content management systems, Joomla and Drupal power less than 5 percent of websites.  About 57% of websites that don’t use any identifiable CMS (likely meaning they were built by developers from scratch).  Aside from WordPress, the options include: Joomula, Drupal, Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, to name a few.  Each has it’s own benefits and drawbacks.  If you see a website you like and you wish to find out what platform and programming languages were used to built it, you can use a chrome extension from wappalyzer.   This extension can also tell you a lot about what applications the website is running, for example: twitter, WordPress, Google Analytics, javascripts, etc.  I opted to learn WordPress due to its increasing popularity and an ever increasing number of plugins, which can expand the functionality of your website.  At the time of writing, there are almost 50’000 WordPress plugins available.  Based on what I have learned to date, I recommend WordPress for most people, or in some cases Shopify, if the website is to be used primarily for eCommerce.

4. What you need to know about WordPress: WordPress.com versus WordPress.org

If you decide to use WordPress, there are several options to consider.  I’ve written out some of the major considerations below.  More detailed information on the various WordPress options is available here and on the WordPress pricing page.  WordPress has two main categories: WordPress.org and WordPress.com.

WordPress.org:
If you choose this option, you will build your website using the free WordPress software.  You will be responsible for doing everything else that is necessary to create your website, including purchasing a domain name and web hosting and setting it all up.  WordPress does not make any money directly from you, when you use their free software.

WordPress.com:
This is the commercial arm of WordPress. If you choose this option, you’ll be using the same version of WordPress that is available on WordPress.org, but it’ll be hosted on WordPress.com servers.  WordPress.com is basically a web hosting company, with some added benefits (and drawbacks, see below).  WordPress.com offers an option for a free website and two paid options.  Yes, you can build a WordPress website completely for free, but there are some limitations and drawbacks.  See below for more details on the various options.

WordPress.org versus WordPress.com

Features and Benefits of WordPress.org

WordPress.org lets you download the WordPress platform for free, but everything else is up to you, including:

  1. Purchasing: a domain name ($15/year) (Note: if you use SiteGround as I recommend, one domain of your choice is provided for free)
  2. Web hosting (typically about $50-150/year).
  3. A security certificate (NOTE: if you use SiteGround for web hosting, as I recommend, the security certificate is free.  If you don’t use SiteGround, you may have to pay for a security certificate.  This will cost roughly $60/year + a one-time fee $40.  Note: the price of an SSL certificate is extremely variable).
  4. You have to set this all up yourself

The estimate for the above is: $65-$165/year plus a one-time fee of $60 for a premium theme (a premium theme is optional but necessary in my opinion).  The total price may go up if/when promotional rates expire, but that gives you a ballpark estimate of what it costs to own a website.  The package above will work very nicely and I would not recommend going for any of the cheaper options that you may find.  WordPress.org is most likely to be used by a business, or someone who wishes to fully customize their site.  This option allows full customization, installation eCommerce plugins, you can choose your own domain name, there are no advertisements, you can use Google analytics and any of the roughly 50’000 plugins that are currently available.

Features and Benefits of WordPress.com

If you choose WordPress.com, you will be using WordPress as your web hosting company.  WordPress is pre-installed on their servers and you are not able to alter the core files.  This has advantages and disadvantages.  The advantage is your website will be very stable, difficult to hack, will run quickly and the initial setup is done for you.  The disadvantages are you will be limited in the ways in which you can modify your website.  For example, you can only choose from a limited number of plugins that WordPress provides.  The nearly 50’000 plugins available to WordPress.org users are not available to WordPress.com users.  Also, you can not use premium themes (like Avada and X-Theme).  WordPress.com limits the use of plugins on their servers to improve security and stability, but this can be a big drawback if you ever wish to add specific functionality to your website that isn’t provided by one of the limited plugins that they allow.  Here is a list of the plugins available for WordPress.com users.

There are some additional drawbacks to using WordPress.com, which depend on the package you choose.  More details are provided below, but in brief, using WordPress.com may result in: higher costs than creating your own website with WordPress.org, ads may appear on your website, limited ability to customize your website, your domain name may contain wordpress, you may not be able to use eCommerce, and you may not be able to use Google AdSense, Google analytics, or other 3rd party advertising tools.  Note: these drawbacks are variable depending on the package you choose (see below).

There is another disadvantage to using WordPress.com, perhaps the most important of all: you can’t use a page builder.  Surprisingly, I have not seen this mentioned in any of my reading on the subject, but it is critically important.  As explained further below in this article, a page builder is a piece of software that lets you build your webpages and blog posts using a drag and drop interface.  This is important for beginners who are not familiar with WordPress and who don’t know how to write code.  The WordPress.com option is marketed as being good for beginners because a lot of the set up is done for you, however, since you can’t use a page builder, it makes the task of actually building the website more difficult (assuming you want to do customization beyond adding plain text).  Overall, I view the WordPress.com option as being of limited  use.  It is really just an expensive option for web hosting that limits your use of plugins and themes.  The only real advantage of using WordPress.com is that you don’t have to install WordPress, or a security certificate because that is done for you.  However, if you follow the instructions in my post: Instructions for Building a WordPress Website using WordPress.org, you’ll find that it’s not hard at all to install WordPress.  Furthermore, since you can now get a free security certificate from Let’s Encrypt and install it with a couple of mouse clicks, there really isn’t much advantage to using WordPress.com for most people.  Having said that, WordPress’s free beginner option may be attractive to some people.  There are 4 options available with WordPress.com: Beginner (free), Personal ($72 / year) Premium ($99/year) and Business ($299/year).

I wrote a bit about each of the WordPress.com options below.  It might also be useful for you to start by checking out the WordPress pricing options page because it least many of the options in an easy to read chart.

WordPress.com – Beginner (free)

  •  Advantages:
    1. Everything is free (domain name, web hosting and security certificate)
    2. It is easier to get set up than WordPress.org (but far less customizable)
    3. Your website will be very stable and secure
    4. You can always upgrade to one of the paid plans
  • This option allows you to create a website for free. It is most suitable for bloggers, who do not wish to sell anything on their website and who don’t mind ads showing up, and who don’t mind a simple design, among other things.
  • Disadvantages
    1. You can choose your own domain name, but it will be appended with: .wordpress.com. For example: www.yourwebsite.wordpress.com.
    2. You will be limited in your ability to customize your site as you can only use the basic designs offered by WordPress.
    3. There will be advertisements on your site
    4. You can’t use eCommerce
    5. You can’t use you can’t use third-party advertising tools, such as Google AdSense and Google analytics.
    6. You can only use a small number of plugins that are provided

WordPress.com – Personal ($72 / year)

  • Basically the same as the Premium option (see below), but without the capacity for full customization.  This option also lacks a few additional features that you may or may not need.

WordPress.com – Premium ($99 / year)

  • This option is suitable for a business, unless eCommerce is needed.  You can use a custom domain name (without the .wordpress.org suffix), you can do some customization and there are no ads.  However, a lack of eCommerce capability limits usefulness to certain businesses.  Also, you cannot use Google Adsense or Google Analytics, but they do provide a plugin with similar functionality to Google Analytics.

WordPress.com – Business ($299 / year)

  • This option provides all the features that are available on WordPress.com, at a cost of about $299/year. This is suitable for businesses.  You can use eCommerce and any of the WordPress.com themes.  Note, like all WordPress.com options, you can’t upload your own premium theme, which means you can’t use any of the themes like Avada and X-Theme.  The main drawbacks of this option, as compared to the wordpress.org option are: it will probably cost more, you can’t customize the look of your site using premium themes and you can’t use any of the thousands of WordPress plugins.  Note: the option to use Google Analytics is now available on the WordPress.com business plan.  If I understand correctly, you can not use a page builder with WordPress.com.  This is very important because, the process of customizing a website requires much more expertise if you don’t have a good page builder.

If after reading this, you decide that you want to build your own WordPress website, the following is a discussion of the things to consider.  This is information assumes you are setting up your website from scratch using WordPress.org, but some of the information is also applicable to setting up a WordPress.com website.

5. How to Do Market Research and Design a Strategy to Attract People to Your Website

Before you begin building your website, you may want to do some market research by examining the websites of your competitors.  To start, simply do a Google search for your competition and look at their website designs and content.  This is only the start, there are many tools available that allow you to study what your competitors are doing in great detail.  You can learn about their:

  1. Advertising campaigns
  2. Followers on social media
  3. Phrases they rank well for on Google
  4. Referring backlinks
  5. Audience demographics
  6. Etc.

Here are a few of the tools you can use to spy on your competition. This is by no means a comprehensive list, to find more tools like these, search Google using a phrase like: competitor website analysis.  This will return many results

  1. Google Trends
  2. Google Adwords (you will need to sign up for an account)
  3. Google Analytics (you will need sign up for an account)
  4. Google Search Console (you will need to sign up for an account)
  5. SEMRUSH: Gives many statistics about any website you enter, including a list of keywords that your website ranks for.  Note: this is not a complete list and may leave of some of your better ranked keywords.
  6. MAJESTIC
  7. MOZ: requires sign up for free trial
  8. Spyfu
  9. SpyOnWeb
  10. HypeStat (just paste in the URL of the website of interest and you’ll get a ton of information)
  11. SEOCentro: check how a specific page of your website ranks in Google for a specific keyword.  Other tools also available

Once you have snooped on your competition, you will have a much better idea of what will be necessary for you to do in order to compete with them and achieve your goals.  For example, if your competition has a strong hold on certain Google keywords, that you also hope to score well in, then you might want to consider changing the nature of your content, to target search terms that your competition does not already dominate.  The criteria and strategy you choose will depend on many things, such as: your goals, the strength of your competition, your commitment to creating good content that will attract organic traffic, your time frame, your advertising budget (if any), etc.  There are also many ways to learn about what is happening in your market sector using tools such as Google Trends.

6. How to choose a domain name (URL)

Choosing a company to buy your domain name from: I use Namecheap.com to search for and purchase domain names, but there are many companies out there offering basically the same service.  In some ways, it makes things easier if you buy your domain name from the same company that you use for web hosting, but this can’t always be done.  For example, some web hosting companies (including InMotion hosting) only sell the more popular top level domains (TLDs) (for example: .com and .org, etc.).  So if you decide to buy something like .tech, you may have to buy it from a company other than your web hosting company.  Namecheap sells all of the top level domains (TLDs), so if you intend to own multiple domain names, it might be better to use NameCheap because you can keep track of all of your domains in one account.

Choosing a domain name: For the website you’re on now, I choose Web Design Guelph. Why?  Because most people will find this type of business through a Google search and those words are among the most popular search terms used, when people are looking for web design services in Guelph (I learned this using the keyword planner in Google AdWords).  When the words that people are searching for are present in your URL, it gives a small boost to your Google ranking.  Note: since deciding on the name: Web Design Guelph, I have learned a lot about how Google works and search engine optimization and I now realize that in my case, this name is not very important.  Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is determined by many things, but by far the most important is the number of backlinks your website has.  Backlinks are links to your website that other website owners have created.  There are several software applications that allow you to to easily find out who has created backlinks to your site and you can also see your competitor’s backlinks.  What I found out was: there are web design companies in Guelph that have been building websites for decades and many of the websites they have built for clients contain backlinks to their own website.  Since they’ve built thousands of websites over the years, they literally have thousands of backlinks.  Google considers these web design companies “authoritative” for phrases like: web + design + guelph because they have so many backlinks.  It is impossible for me to compete with them for these key words.  This is an example of the importance of planning a strategy from the start which fulfills your requirements.

Google’s ranking of your website is very important because the higher up in the order that you show up in a Google search, the more people will see your site and visit it.  It is very desirable to show up on the first page of results.  Many people will already have a business name and will elect to use it as their domain name, but every situation is different.  If necessary, you can use the keyword planner in Google AdWords and other tools to find good keywords to use in your URL.

There are over 300 top level domains (TLDs): .com, .org, .net, .ca, .io, .me, .bio, .tech, .design, .photography, .website, .club, .tips, etc..  Domain names generally cost between $1.99 and about $100 per year.  If you are planning to use one of the newer domains, such as .bio, make sure you read any regulations that may exist for that domain.  In my understanding, some domains (such as .bio) will check your website to make sure it has content that is appropriate for that extension.  In the case of .bio, I gather that they only want it to be used for websites involving farming, and organic food and things of that nature.  This is unclear, I may have misinterpreted.  A .com domain is about $14.99, if it is available.  Many domains have been purchased by people who have no intention of using it, they just want to sell it to you at a huge markup, typically $1000 or more.  This is called cybersquatting, domain name trolling, or domain scalping.  If your preferred domain name is taken by the trolls, you will need to come up with creative alternatives.  Here are some options:

  1. Try this neat tool called iwantmyname, it will find extensions that fit with your desired name. For example, if your company’s name is called: GoTime, you might use the .me extension to create: GoTi.me.  NameCheap also has a good tool “ to use it, go to NameCheap.com and search for your domain name of interest.  Then, after you get results, there’ll be several tabs (in a bar across the top of the screen) with options, select Suggestions and you’ll get some good alternatives.
  2. Choose an alternate top level domain (TLD). The .com suffix is generally preferred for business, the .org for organizations and .ca is available to Canadians only.  The .ca TLD is a good option if your content is specifically intended for Canadians (Google gives a small boost to .ca TLDs, for searches coming from within Canada).  However, there are over 300 TLDs, including: .io, .net, .me, .design and .photography, etc.  There’s some small caveats, but in general, use of these extensions should not affect your Google ranking as compared to using .com and there is no reason not to use them.  The largest concern with using a TLD other than .com is public perception, because people are used to seeing .com.  However, any negative perception of a non .com TLD is likely to be minimal as people are becoming more aware that TLDs other than .com are perfectly acceptable.  Furthermore, most people that visit your site will probably get there by clicking a link, from a Google search, few visits are likely to come from people typing out your URL.  When people click on a link to your site, they probably won’t even notice if it’s .com, or .tech, etc. and those that do, won’t likely care.  Furthermore, the effect of a particular TLD is probably dependent on your audience.  For example, the .io extension is becoming popular with the tech crowd and might even have a positive impact on that group.  Generally, using an alternative TLD is a great option and you don’t have to pay the trolls.
  3. Use a hyphen “ or an underscore _ between words
  4. Rearrange words (some caveats here as the word that appears first may influence your Google ranking)

7. What is the best web hosting provider?

There are many factors to consider when choosing a web hosting provider and selecting a plan. For example:

  • Choosing a provider: cost for PCI compliance, speed, down time, use of cPanel (generally preferred), ease to install WordPress, tech support, etc.
  • Choosing a plan: each company offer different features: price, number of websites allowed per account, bandwidth limitations (if any), disk space limitations, etc.

If you choose one of the top providers, these features will be similar for a given price range. In the research I’ve done, currently the top 3 ranked providers appear to be:

  1. Siteground
  2. Bluehost
  3. InMotion

Given the similarities between these 3 companies in customer ratings, prices and plans, a large issue for me became free SSL encryption.  At the time of writing, Siteground and Bluehost do offer free encryption through the Let’s Encrypt project.  With SiteGround, a free let’s encrypt security certificate is very easy to set up.  I have used InMotion hosting and have not experienced any issues, however, since they do not (as of June 2016) offer the free Let’s Encrypt security certificate, I no longer recommend them.  InMotion has lagged behind the leaders in their willingness to work with the let’s encrypt project.  This is disappointing, hard to explain and not a good indicator of a well-run company.  Perhaps they like the money they are getting from charging for expensive security certificates?  Thankfully, this poor judgement by InMotion led me to switch to SiteGround and I found them better for multiple reasons.  I no longer recommend InMotion and much prefer SiteGround.  I am not receiving any compensation for this recommendation, it is simply my preference.  You can do your own research by searching for things like: web hosting review.  Make sure not to click on the Google ads as they will be biased.  Note that one of the most popular web hosting companies, Godaddy, has poor reviews, I do not recommend them for a variety of reasons.  Note that SiteGround also offers a free domain name with each account.  They’ll probably have a price promotion going and you can probably sign up for multiple years and lock yourself into the lower price.

8. What is an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate?

An SSL certificate is a feature you can add to your website that encrypts the data that is transmitted between your server and the people accessing it.  With the advent of the Let’s Encrypt project everyone should have SSL.  If you choose a web hosting provider that offers free encryption (like SiteGround) through Let’s Encrypt, or other means, then you won’t have to worry about paying for a security certificate.  If your provider does not offer free encryption, you’ll have to decide whether or not to purchase a security certificate (in most cases you should), and if so, what kind.  Note: this area is changing quickly and paying for security certificates should soon be a thing of the past, thanks to Let’s Encrypt.  If for some reason you are stuck with a web hosting company that does not provide free encryption, you will need to buy a security certificate.  My advice in brief is to research the options and find the cheapest one that doesn’t have a lot of bad reviews.  Note again: websites hosted by SiteGround, WordPress.com and Shopify already have free https encryption, so you don’t need to buy a security certificate.

What is SSL encryption and what does a security certificate do?

An SSL certificate can do several things depending on the type of certificate you get. All SSL certificates allow encryption of communication between the server (called the host) that stores your website’s files and the computer that is accessing it (the client).  SSL certificates are important because without it, data shared between a host and a client will be transmitted in regular HTTP format which means it is in plain text format.  If a hacker manages to capture the data being transferred, they will be able to see everything you transmit, including credit card numbers and passwords.  SSL certificates are important for eCommerce, however, even if you aren’t doing eCommerce, it’s still a good idea to have a security certificate because Google gives a boost in its search rankings to SSL encrypted websites.  When your website is secured with an SSL certificate, the address changes from http to https, where the €œs€ stands for secure.  There may also be other changes to the look of the URL, depending on the browser you are using.  In many cases, you’ll see a green padlock symbol to the left of the URL, indicating that the site you are on is encrypted.  Look at the address bar of my website.  If you are in Google Chrome, you should see a green padlock and it should say https, followed by my domain name: webdesignguelph.net

What are the various kinds of SSL certificate?

There are different kinds of certificate (see the list below).  All types of security certificate provide SSL encryption.  Some of the certificates have an additional feature where the company that issues the certificate performs a background check on the business that is seeking the certificate.  The background check will include things such as verification that the business is legally registered and that its size and location match official records, etc.   Below are the various types of certificate as far as I could ascertain, click to expand if interested.  Note that most small and medium sized businesses really only need basic SSL encryption and the free certificates provided by the Let’s Encrypt project are suitable for this.

This certifies that you are the rightful owner of the web domain and encrypts the data that is being transferred between your server and the computers that access it.  When this kind of certificate is present, people who view your website will see a green padlock on the left side of your website’s URL and the http will change to https, where “S” stands for secure.  Note that this is only if you are using Chrome as your browser, there is variability among the browsers in how an SSL certificate will look, but at minimum, you should see https in the address bar.  Whether you are doing eCommerce, or just have a blog that you want lots of people to read, a Domain Validation (DV) certificate is probably something you should have.  The free Let’s Encrypt certificate is essentially a DV certificate, if I understand correctly.
This is the highest level of certification process that is available. An EV certificate has the same features as the DV certificate and in addition, the company that issues this certificate, the Certification Authority (CA), will do a background check on your business and verify several things, for example, that your business is legally registered to you and that your company’s location and size etc. match official records.  The certificate issuing company has to check these things manually and therefore these certificates cost quite a bit more (about $400/year).  Note that SSL certificates do not ensure that a business is trustworthy, they only confirm that the website you are communicating with is has been vetted as described above and the data you are transmitting is secure.  In Chrome, EV certificates display like DV certificates (a green padlock and https in the address bar) and in addition, your company’s name will be written beside the URL and the address bar will change from white to green.  If you are using a web browser other than Chrome, the EV certificate may appear differently.  Originally, only incorporated companies could get an EV certificate, but now any company, incorporated or not, can apply.  You probably don’t need an EV certificate, most small and medium sized websites and businesses don’t have one.  There is some controversy about whether EV certificates are helpful in protecting consumers, or whether they do very little in this regard and just end up creating an unnecessary expense.  In my opinion the encryption provided by a DV certificate is all that is needed.  The vetting process to obtain an EV certificate doesn’t address a business’s reputation, it only verifies that it is legally registered and therefore adds little value to consumers.
If I understand correctly, this is similar to the EV certificate, except that the background check into the business is less substantial.
This type of certificate is of limited use. It’s free and it allows encryption of your data, but for technical reasons, your domain name will not match the name on the certificate and people visiting your site will receive warnings from their web browsers, which will scare most away.  It is probably better to have no certificate at all.  Shared certificates are sometimes useful for sites that aren’t intended to be viewed by the public, but given the issues with warning messages and since the other certificates aren’t very expensive, they have very limited application.  For more information see hostgator’s explanation of a shared SSL certificate.
Can be applied to a website with multiple subdomains.  For example a single wildcard certificate could be applied to: example.com, www.subdomain1.example.com, www.subdomain2.subdomain1.example.com.  As a new WordPress user, you probably won’t be creating subdomains and won’t need this type of certificate.  Just to clarify, in case there is confusion between subdomains and pages, note that most websites have several pages, but pages are not subdomains.  For example, the URLs from a website with multiple pages might have a home page with the following URL: www.mywebsite.com.  The blog page might have the URL: www.mywebsite.com/myblog.  Note that pages are added to the right side of the root domain (mywebsite) and are separated by a forward slash: /.  Subdomains are added to left of the root domain and are separated by a period, for example: www.subdomain1.example.com.  As a beginner trying to build your first website, you probably won’t need to worry about subdomains.
Can be applied to websites with completely different domains. For example: example.com and www.otherexample.com.  You probably won’t need this either.

There are a many companies that issue SSL certificates and the products are essentially the same, but the price varies dramatically.  Why would anyone pay more for the same product?  The only valid reason is that one company may have better support in the event that you have a problem installing the certificate.  Some of the companies offering cheap certificates do not have good reputations, but whether this justifies triple the price (or more) is questionable.  You can check out the reviews for companies that issue SSL certificates by doing a Google search, or compare SSL prices here.

9. What is a theme and what one should you choose?

A theme provides a template for your website that you can customize, to make your website look the way you want. Themes contain a lot of code and it is very important that it be well written and maintained for security and bug fixes.  There are 3 options when choosing a theme:

  1. A free theme: There are many free themes available and some look really nice, however, I would only recommend using the free themes provided by WordPress (see below).  If you use a free theme (other than one from WordPress) there are no guarantees that the theme will be maintained in the future and there is less technical support available in the event that you need help.  Of course you can always access free forums, but this is obviously not as good as having paid access to support that you get when you buy a theme.
  2. A free theme from WordPress: WordPress provides several free themes that are packaged with your WordPress software when you download it.  They will be fully supported, but may not match your tastes.  Free themes provided by WordPress can be found here.
  3. A premium theme: If you go to Themeforest, you will find hundreds of premium themes. The prices are variable, but most are around $60 (one-time fee).  There are many advantages to using a premium theme, especially if you use one of the top 10 (or so) of the most popular themes.  They will be supported for life, they usually have free software added into the package (for example Avada provides Fusion builder and X-Theme provides Cornerstone and several other plugins, such as revolution slider), and they offer technical support, which is extremely useful if you’re a beginner.  Premium themes are only $60 and well worth it.  For comparison: Avada, the top selling premium theme comes pre-packaged with it’s own builder (called Fusion builder).  If you were to buy a similar builder on it’s own (like Beaver Builder) it would cost you $99.  Avada also comes with several plugins and features, such as revolution slider, which by themselves justify the full price of the theme.  Premium themes are sometimes criticized because they do not undergo an official review process, some may have code bloat and the theme could be discontinued at some point in the future.  These concerns can be minimized (except for the code bloat problem), by choosing one of the most popular themes.  The code bloat may admittedly be an issue (though I don’t know to what extent), but unless you want to use the Gantry framework (less user friendly than themes), or learn to code yourself, you’ll have to live with it.  I do not know what if any problems code bloat causes – the Avada theme is very stable and appears to run fast.  At the time of writing, Avada and X Theme are the two most popular themes respectively and are used on hundreds of thousands of websites.  A list of the best selling themes with ratings and other information can be found on the themeforest website.  I have used Avada and X Theme.  Each theme has its own eccentricities that may take some time to get familiar with, but you will figure it out if you stick with it.  Tip: if you see a website you like and you want to know what theme they are using and/or what plugins they used to help generate their content, you can copy and paste the URL of that website into a theme detector such as the WP Theme Detector.  Go ahead and try it with my website.  There are lots of other theme detectors, just search Google with something like: œfind out what theme a website is using.   If you decide to hire me to help you build your website, I’m really only familiar with Avada, it is the number 1 top selling premium theme and if you are a beginner, I’d recommend you use it.  I have also used X-Theme to a limited extent.  Having experience with Avada and X-Theme will allow me to pick up on using the other themes a lot faster, but there will still be a learning curve.  Since you can customize a theme to achieve virtually any look, there are few reasons to venture away from Avada, or one of the other top themes, if this is your first website.

10. What is a page builder and what one should you choose?

Page builders are used to insert and format content for your webpages.  For example: when you design a page, you will need to organize the layout.  If you want to display a picture on your website, you’ll want to choose how big it is and where it will appear on the page.  In addition, you may wish add functionality such as a zoom in effect when you hover over the picture.  It is the advent of page builders that has made this process accessible to the average person who does not have computer programming knowledge.  Before page builders and themes, this process required a person to write code, which takes a lot of learning and effort.  Page builders are software programs that make the process of building webpages intuitive, by providing an interface with click and drag functionality and dropdown style menus, that most of us are accustomed to using.  Each page builder comes with its own features and some are more intuitive and useful than others.  If you end up purchasing a page builder separately, Beaver Builder appears to be a good choice, based the reviews I’ve read, though I haven’t tried it myself.  It is $99 for the standalone page builder, but you can pay more and get a theme with it.  I have used themes that come pre-packaged with their own page builders: X-theme comes with a page builder called Cornerstone and Avada comes with Fusion Builder.  I have used both and found them to be reasonably good, once you get the hang of them.  One drawback of using Cornerstone is that once you start using it, you have to continue to use it.  You cannot make a change to your website using any other means; for example, if you edit some text using the default WordPress editor, you can no longer use Cornerstone to edit that page.  Since Cornerstone is a good page builder, this isn’t usually a big problem, but it is something to note.  Fusion builder does not have this limitation.  Some of the other top rated page builders include: Velocity and Visual Composer.  My preference is for the Avada theme and their Fusion builder.

11. Summary

1. Do you really need a WordPress website?

  • WordPress is a great option for most people, however, if your purpose for having a website is to sell something online, you might want to try ebay, or Amazon, etc. first.  Alternatively, consider using an eCommerce platform, such as Shopify.

2. Should you try to build a website yourself?

Sure go for it!  If you are comfortable using software such as Microsoft word, or even if you just use a computer to surf the net and check email, you’ll do fine.  There’ll be a few frustrating moments, but if you stick with it, you’ll figure it out.

3. Why use WordPress?

WordPress is very versatile, good for search engine optimization, relatively easy to use and by far the most widely used platform for building websites.

4. What you need to know about WordPress: WordPress.com versus WordPress.org

WordPress.org provides the WordPress software for free, but everything else is up to you (web hosting, theme and all the set up).  This option provides the greatest flexibility.  WordPress.com is basically a web hosting company.  They provide a very secure platform, but it is a little more expensive and you will be limited in how you can customize your site and in what plugins you can use.  You also won’t be able to use a page builder, which is a big negative if you are a beginner.  WordPress.com does have a free option that may be suitable for bloggers who just want a simple website to share their blog with the world.

5. How to Perform Market Research and Design a Strategy to Attract People to Your Website

There are a number of free, partially free, or paid tools that allow you to spy on your competition.  These tools will tell you things such as: the keywords they score well in, demographics of their viewers, websites that have backlinked their site and many other things.  It is important that you to learn about your competition and think about these things before you start generating content for your website.

6. How to choose a domain name

Purchase your domain name from your web hosting company, or NameCheap.  If the .com you want is taken, consider using on of the hundreds of alternative top level domains such as: .tech, .me and .io, etc.  Some people will  argue that these are not good domains for businesses, but in my opinion, these are perfectly acceptable alternatives to .com.

7. What is the best web hosting provider?

SiteGround!  Bluehost is also highly rated but I have not tried it.

8. What is an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate?

An SSL certificate allows you to encrypt data transfer between the host computer (the computer your website is stored on) and the client (the person looking at your website).  If you do not use https encryption, data transferred between host and client computers is vulnerable to hackers.  If you have an SSL certificate installed, your web address will change from http to https.  Google gives a small boost in ranking to websites that are encrypted.  Everyone should use encryption.

9. What is a theme and what one should you choose?

A theme is software package that you add to your website that allows you to create the look you want quickly and easily.  I recommend using Avada, it is the top selling theme.  I do not recommend using any theme that is not in the top 5 or so of the all time best sellers because you will want your theme to be maintained for life.  The free themes provided by WordPress are also acceptable.

10. What is a page builder and what one should you choose?

A page builder is a software package that lets you add content to your website without the need to write any code.  If you use the Avada theme, it will come pre-packaged with their own builder – called the fusion builder.