Building a website yourself for your not-for-profit or business is more straightforward, and less expensive, than ever before.
Here’s all you need:
- A Domain Name
- A CMS, Content Management System
- Affordable Web Hosting
- Some drag and drop design tools
How much does it cost?
On the cheap, $15ish bucks a month or even less if you buy in “bulk.”
To make it one of the baddest and fastest websites on earth, around $40 per month.
I’ll help you understand the options each step of the way.
Let’s dive in by understanding the foundation, a CMS.
Note: I assume you already have a domain name, website address for your business, if you don’t have that beginning piece yet, click here to learn how to choose a domain name from a domain registrar I use and highly recommend.
Why a CMS is the Most Important Decision
Like Windows, Apple, Android, or Linux a CMS is software that organizes and delivers the files of your website.
On a webpage are words, images, font types, sizes, and thousands of other files and settings, the CMS is the “skin” that organizes all of those elements so computers, cell phones, and more can view each file as a collected image.
Phase one of your website is to have a digital storefront where people that are aware of your business can go to learn more about you and find your contact info.
I call this a business ‘validation” website. It is a digital storefront that says “yes, we are a real business”.
Any CMS on earth can accomplish this type of website. Examples of CMS’s you may have heard about are Wix, Squarespace, WordPress, Weebly and hundreds of more options.
Where the difference in the CMS’s begin to break apart is with customization and scalability. One scalability element is ranking on Google for search phrases of your products and services as opposed to just having your website appear when people are looking for your brand.
With the speed of your website now being a ranking factor, your website needs to be fast and it needs to be able to be customized to the thousands of updates Google does each year that affect search rankings.
The CMS that gives you the most customization options for speed, SEO, sales funnels, design, and more is the free WordPress version created by a not for profit that has this as its mission statement:
“Our common goal is to democratize publishing and commerce so that anyone with a story can tell it, and anyone with a product can sell it, regardless of income, gender, politics, language, or where they live in the world.”
Pretty incredible goal.
Here’s just one example that occurs with other for profit closed systems. GA4 is a super fancy analytics system Google released for free in 10/2020. As of the publishing of this post in April 2021 (6-months later!) Wix is still unable to utilize this enhanced tracking system Google created.
There is a learning curve you will need to get beyond with every CMS platform.
With over 54k WordPress plugins, or basically “apps” for a CMS, you’ll have foundational skills that can be used to build anything and everything you could ever dream about in the future with WordPress.
In addition to a CMS you need a place to store all of your images, words, videos, settings, and more. This is called website hosting. Before we start building, let’s talk about this decision.
Hosting for All of Your Files
Website hosting is a computer, server, that is on 24/7 so people from anywhere in the world can retrieve and view the files that make up your website.
There are primarily two kinds of hosting:
- Shared hosting
- Virtual Private Servers
Virtual private servers, VPS, is pretty pricey and is the type of server you need when you are receiving thousands of visits to your website at the same time.
Unless you’re appearing on Dr. Oz or have a huge email list of engaged fans, you don’t need a VPS.
Shared hosting is essentially the same tech as a VPS, the difference is mainly that you share the expenses with others. Basically, you have roommates like in college that share the bills and a landlord that will fix anything if it breaks with shared hosting.
Shared hosting is super affordable and might be a solution that you never outgrow.
There is an appearance of competition in much of the shared web hosting, but they are actually all owned by the same large corporations.
A good analogy is HomeGoods, TJ Maxx, and Marshalls being different stores, yet all the same company.
And because of these web hosting corporations being so large, they offer terrible support among other problems.
You want to avoid companies that are owned by these large corporations because their service is lacking:
- GoDaddy and
You will be floored if you look at the amount of “competitors” these companies own.
To get outside of that corporate system there are two reliable and affordable options:
A2 is the best option if you need to go cheap. It was my 3rd hosting company and I stuck with it for years because it is bulletproof. (I tried a few others before I knew better.)
SiteGround is a significant upgrade because they include a few techy things that make the websites on their server load super fast. Below you can read deeper details if you’re interested, but to save you some time, if you can swing the small amount of extra cash for SiteGround, I promise you won’t regret the decision.
The different plans these hosting companies offer are a bit confusing, here’s what you need to know.
Backups for your website aren’t just to avoid data loss like most things you backup. A backup is used to restore your website to a previous version if you receive a virus or some other type of malware. Hackers are vicious with websites and having a plan that includes backups you can restore from before the hack occurred, is a time and money saver.
Monthly vs. Buying in Bulk
Like many subscription services, when you purchase an annual or longer plan upfront you receive a significant discount.
If you can, choosing either an annual plan or longer will help you lower your monthly website investment significantly.
One Website or Multiple Sites
If you have other businesses, blogs, or ideas in mind you may dive into in the next couple of months, select a hosting option that has the space available for more than one website.
However, if you are building one website for a single project, choose a plan that is for a single website, this will keep it super affordable.
Which Plan Should You Choose?
A2 and Siteground are going to install, secure, and speed up a WordPress website for you. They both take care of the hard work.
Either of these hosts are excellent hosts.
I have to give SiteGround the edge, but if the price were a consideration, I would suggest A2 Hosting over and over again.
If you’re bootstrapping and need as cheap as possible, A2’s drive plan for multiple websites that includes backups is going to be a rocking SSD setup for less than $15 bucks a month.
You can reduce this monthly cost to around $5 with an A2 Drive plan subscription for three years, which is pretty crazy!
But, because of its additional speed and WordPress security management options, The Managed WordPress Hosting from Siteground is the best choice that makes everything simple.
SiteGround’s GrowBig Plan for multiple websites or StartUp for one website is going to give you the fastest plug and play website speeds for the price in the business.
Since A2 is the top hosting for beginner bloggers (a blog is built on a website, and a website can have a blog, they are technically the same thing) and if you’re going with this best affordable option, I created a step by step guide that shows how to set up a blog website with A2 here.
Or click here to begin setting up your website with SiteGround and choose Managed WordPress hosting and either the Startup plan for one website or the GrowBig plan for multiple sites.
The next step is to choose the “I already have a domain” option and enter your domain name in the field to begin the checkout process.
After entering in your payment details and creating your account information, pass on the SG Site Scanner upgrade and hit pay now.
It’s important to leave this window open until your account is created.
After a minute or so you can immediately start getting to work by clicking the proceed to customer area button.
Optimize Your WebSite
You’re now in the back of your SiteGround account, here is where you can set up an email address with your domain name, view traffic stats, manage security settings and more.
First, click the set up site button and here is where you will create your website login credentials.
Next, click the start new website option. (If you have a website already built, you can migrate it over instead but you may be better off just starting from scratch. Up to you! No right or wrong way :p)
Next select WordPress:
Then enter a gmail email address or some other email that is not affiliated with your domain name and generate a unique password and save it somewhere safe. (In my experience it’s best to have admin email accounts for your website separate from your domain name.)
Once your password is saved somewhere then click continue:
Pass on the SG Site Scanner upgrade by clicking Finish.
Now, Siteground is going to install WordPress, set up their unique optimization tools and all you have to do is leave this screen up and let them do this tedious work.
Now, login to your domain name registrar company and update the “nameservers” with the NS1 and NS2 url you see here.
Each domain name company has a different interface to update these nameservers, if unsure how to do it just Google your domain name registrar company with change nameservers and you can quickly find their tutorial showing you how to do this.
Now, click the manage site button and you will enter the SiteGround dashboard.
This is where you can create email addresses for your domain, add additional websites, change settings and more.
First enhancement you want to make is to get your free SSL activated, SSL stands for secure socket layer. This is the padlock thing you see on websites that is often broken and you want yours to be a whole and pretty padlock which comforts web visitors.
Click on security and then click SSL Manager.
Hit the Select SSL drop down arrow and choose Let’s Encrypt and then click Get.
Quickly you will receive a message indicating the beginnings of the SSL work is done.
Now let’s start building on your secure new WordPress website.
Click on WordPress in the sidebar, and then Install & Manage.
At the bottom of this page you will see the link to get into your WordPress website, click the arrow under actions that opens up the back of your website.
Welcome to WordPress
Welcome to your WordPress dashboard. This is where you will create sales pages, contact pages, about pages, hopefully blog posts, and more.
When you land here you may see a few recommendations to customize your design. We’ll get to those, first let’s take a look around and cross off some additional optimization steps.
In WordPress there are Posts and Pages.
The posts section is where you will create blog posts, the pages section is where you will design your homepage, about page, and other “static” pages.
Let’s go into posts first, there is a post example you want to remove. Click the posts menu link on the left.
Once here you will see a SiteGround post example, you can view the post by clicking view, but I would just hit trash instead and then it is gone. It needs to be deleted from your site.
Next, view the pre-installed pages by clicking pages.
By right-clicking view and opening this page in a new tab, you should see this page is set to private and is a placeholder for forms. Leave it for now because a form may be something you want to add in the design process.
Next, click on settings, there are a few modifications you want to make in here.
First up is to name your website, use your business name or website address name and add a “tagline.” The tagline isn’t really used so you don’t have to think too hard about this.
Then add an “s” to your WordPress Address URL and Site Address URL, this is one of the steps to complete your SSL, padlock for your secure site.
Also, make adjustments to the timezone, date appearance, and week starts on date as you seem appropriate for yourself and your visitors.
The next change will likely log you out of your website, but don’t freak out 🙂
Hit “save changes.”
Your “URL” just changed from http to https, and if you were logged out of your site, just login again either by entering the username and password or via the arrow link in the Install & Manage WordPress section in SiteGround.
There’s another setting we want to check.
Hover over “Settings” and then click “Permalinks.”
Make sure that the default post type is set to “Post name,” this setting will keep your blog posts more evergreen so they live longer on the internet.
If not already selected, hit “Post name” and then hit save.
With those foundations in place, lets add a few plugins to block spam, help with security, and more.
What exactly are plugins?
Plugins are essentially “apps” for your website that allow you to perform various tasks, designs and other customization options.
To begin adding plugins, hover over “Plugins” on the left hand menu and click “add new.”
An important word of caution with plugins.
Before showing you a few plugins you need to use, know this:
With plugins, especially freebies, it’s very easy to go nuts and grab more than you should.
Each plugin adds “weight” to the website, which may slow it down, cause conflict with other plugins, and if not updated on a consistent basis, plugins can serve as a backdoor for hackers.
Always glance at the “last updated” date when selecting plugins to install in the future.
If it was more than 6ish months back, you should probably pass on that option because internet security standards change quickly, and anything older than that might not be up to date with current requirements.
You don’t have to be concerned about adding or not adding plugins; the decision typically boils down to one question: Do I need this plugin? Or is it just something I like, typically a design feature?
Design is important, but website speed and simplicity always trump an improvement in design.
How to Add Plugins in WordPress
In addition to hovering over “plugins,” and clicking “add new,” you can add plugins by clicking the “Add new” button at the top of the plugins page.
Once you are on the add plugins page, you simply begin typing the name of the plugin you want to install in the search box.
We’ll add and configure a few more plugins later in the designing and connecting to Google section but for now just add these two:
- Antispam Bee
The first plugin you want to install is Wordfence, begin typing “Wordfence” in this keyword search box now and once you see “Wordfence Security” click the “install now” button.
Notice, this is where you will see the “last updated” date as well to determine if this plugin is being updated regularly for security.
Once you see the button change to “activate,” click activate to turn on Wordfence.
Next, enter an email address to receive security notifications and choose whether or not to also receive news and hit continue.
Hit “No, Thanks” on the premium upgrade.
You should land back on the plugins screen, I enable auto updates for Wordfence but don’t typically enable this option for most other plugins.
Hit “enable auto updates” so your Wordfence version is always up to date.
Next click add new and then type antispam, and when you see the “Antispam bee” plugin click install and then activate.
After you land back on the plugins screen, click Wordfence in the menu on the left, there are a few settings in here to modify.
Once you land on the Wordfence dashboard you can take the tour by clicking next or the X to close the walkthrough.
After you close or finish the tour, click Manage Firewall on the Wordfence dashboard.
On the Firewall settings screen, scroll down and open up the arrow next to Brute Force Protection.
Change these settings to match the image below, then click save changes.
With those Wordfence settings saved, there are no more modifications that you need to do for Wordfence.
Next, there are a few improvements to make with the SG Optimizer plugin that is an incredible speed and website settings plugin SiteGround has installed for you.
Click on SG Optimizer to go to these settings.
SG Optimizer replaces the need for at least two plugins that are typically “premium” for WordPress. One of those is optimizing images for speed and the other is an SSL plugin that will ensure each item on your page is secure and keeps your padlock on your site clean.
These “upgrades” are not completely activated by default though, to turn the SSL one on, go to the “environment optimization” tab and activate the “Fix Insecure Content” setting.
How to do PreLoading of fonts?
Next, if you are upgrading an existing website (instead of building from scratch) and have images already installed, you should run an “existing images optimization” scan under media optimization.
Depending on how many images you already have loaded, this may take a few minutes.
If you are building a new site, you don’t need to do anything here because each image that you upload will be automatically optimized for speed and WebP versions because these settings are already activated for new images.
With security, spam, and speed all set up, it’s time to start designing your website.
Design Your Website
The foundation of your website design is called a “Theme.” Themes are basically frameworks that provide the structure for your pages, posts, menu, and more.
In addition to the theme there are “page builders.” Page builders virtually eliminate the need to know code in order to design a website.
One rule/warning you need to be aware of is this:
When you build with a page builder, if you change themes or page builders later, your design will likely be shot because the “code” was generated from that specific page builder in the framework of that theme.
For this reason you don’t want to use “page builders” for blog posts, it’s no fun having to manually re-design 20, 40, 100 blog posts because you changed builders or themes for whatever reason.
Build pages with page builders and use the default WordPress blog post builder for all of your posts. If you do it this way, anytime you want to change to a new theme or page builder you only have to fix the few pages on your website instead of all of your posts as well.
There are scores of page builders and themes to choose from but there are only two options to consider:
- Elementor free with the Astra free theme
- The Thrive Suite
If you want to turn your website into a lead generating sales machine, The Thrive Suite is going to be the best option for one reason—split tests.
What’s a split test?
To sell a product or service or get someone to become a lead for your business, compelling words need to be written. This is called copywriting.
Copywriting is always a best guess and you don’t know if it works until you have data from real potential customers to analyze.
This is what split testing does for you. You write two versions of a headline, or create two versions of an image, you can then split test the results and in a few weeks (or faster depending on the amount of traffic), and know from data which version made you the most money.
In addition to split testing, the Thrive Suite also includes the easiest page builder, Thrive Architect.
It also includes the only theme that is 100% customizable without learning code, called Shapeshift.
The name Shapeshift could not be any more appropriate. You can shift any element on your website to make it look exactly how you want it to appear.
If you want to customize each piece of your website or if you are looking to become a selling machine (or both!) a Thrive Suite subscription and their included tutorials will show and equip you to do all of it yourself.
To set up and install Thrive takes only a few minutes, here’s how to do it.
First, purchase a Thrive Suite Subscription by clicking here.
After your purchase is complete download the Product Manager Plugin and upload the plugin and activate it using the video as a guide on the plugin download page.
Once the plugin is activated, next click on Thrive University,
Then select, “Build a Website” to filter the tutorials.
And start the Build a Conversion Focused Website from Scratch series.
In seven steps you’ll have designed a high converting custom website you love.
I recommend a different “SEO” plugin than Shane’s recommendations in the setup section of the course. The next section in this post below will show you how to set up your site for SEO and connect it to Google, things that are not covered in this Thrive “design” course.
If The Thrive Suite is beyond your current budget, you will still be able to design a great website using free tools.
Astra as the theme and Elementor as the page builder.
This setup requires a few steps but it is incredible that you can get a page builder and a speedy and light theme for free that are continually updated for design, speed, and security.
Here’s the steps to take to design your site with free tools.
First, click here to see how to install the free theme following this guide.
Next, you want to install and activate a child theme to avoid losing customizations in a future update. Click here next to begin creating this child theme.
Name your “child theme” and either click “generate” or click the advanced options to add a picture of your kid or something for your theme “book cover” no one will see but you which is kind of fun.
Once you generate the theme, this video will show you how to install and activate it.
With the child theme installed you can now design away and not have to worry about your design being changed from future WordPress or Astra theme updates.
Next, you want to choose an Astra website starter template from this list. A starter template is a layout and design that when replaced with your images and words will have the design you are looking to create for your site.
Then install, activate, and design your free starter template and website following this tutorial.
What to do Next
Launching a website for your business is a lot of work but it is valuable work that lasts. Your website is the hub of everything you do online and when you become a traffic funneling master, your website can connect you to new customers on a continual basis for free.
The first step to getting free traffic is to synchronize your website with your entire online brand and you can learn how to secure this foundation in a free book you can get here.
Beyond having a congruent online presence your next step should be to connect your website to Google so Google can begin sending you traffic organically. You can learn how to connect your website to Google with a free WordPress plugin in this guide.
After these foundations are set, a website, consistent internet presence, and a website connected to Google, the game is being consistent in your marketing to generate more traffic.
From social media posts or writing blog articles, each effort you engage in week in and week out is going to be what grows your reach and introduces your brand to more potential customers.
I’m by your side in helping you figure out what to do and stick to doing it consistently.