How to Use Website Building Sites
WordPress Website Themes
WordPress Theme & Plugin Marketplaces
How to Use Website Building Sites
There is so much information on this subject that it’s hard to effectively summarize it all succinctly. Chances are you have researched other sites as well and some of these will go into great detail so if you’re looking for that, it’s out there. The best approach is understanding a little about what you want and will need before you run out and purchase ANY of your website components, since a lot of times one will rely on another. Basically, if you are building a site, there is the simple way to do it (pay someone), and there is the challenging way (do it yourself). From a time and cost-efficiency standpoint, it might be worth it to commission the build out to a professional. For people who like full control and learning every
day second, this is the thing for you. To prove the point, I had to look up how to do a strike-through for that last sentence. Try to learn what you do and don’t want before you start and at a minimum, understand what each term means as well as your different options for each new thing you learn about. And remember, Google is a wonderful thing.
5 steps to make the most of your web-building sites:
Step 1: If you’re willing to search and scrounge, you can find most of the tools you will need for free. However, you should be willing to pay for high quality products where it counts. You truly get what you pay for in certain areas such as web hosting. I see endless complaints from people who went the bargain route of paying $1.99 a month for an almost always down service (vs. something like $3.99 a month for a reputable hosting service) and they are hating life now, but transferring their work at this point is a massive undertaking. Do it right from the get-go and you will thank yourself for it later. Another example of this is the domain extension, even though .win seems cute and might be offered at a tempting price, pay for the .com suffix instead – it’s not much more but will make your site appear to be a lot more professional.
Step 2: The term “Analysis Paralysis” means that the extreme amount of information you have to make decisions on overloads you to a point of being frozen. This is bad and something you should fight against. It’s most likely inevitable if you are anywhere near as confused as I was (and sometimes still am) by so many of the terms and technical requirements, settings, limitations, options, etc. But you can battle these blocks – take a deep breath and move one small step at a time. It will all come together at some point. The important thing is to be confidently educated, and then proceed in taking action.
Step 3: Use free or freemium (means it is free to a certain point) services to get started. There are tons of free applications that will give you a taste of what you can do. For example, a lot of the themes available on WordPress (a theme is the template for your website) have a free basic version and then if you want to you can upgrade to a “Pro” or paid version. This is the best way to start to understand the different layouts, formats, concepts before investing in a product you may not wind up wanting or needing in the long-run.
Step 4: Find website components that you like and use these or a similar alternative. This sounds obvious, but it’s often hard to identify if that item might be a free or purchasable plugin or if the website has their own developer who created it. Sometimes you have to settle for an alternative of that item but at least you have figured out the general style that you want and you can try to replicate it with the same or similar elements.
Step 5: The most important weapon in your arsenal = Backups. This point cannot be over-stressed enough. Even more important than the backup is the restore, which is truly the value of having a backup. Do one or two of these (backup AND restore) to ensure you understand the process. Before you add anything new to your site EVER, including upgrading an existing plugin or going to a new version of anything, backup. Schedule these to happen on a daily basis if possible.
Registrars are where you purchase your domain name. Many hosting sites will throw the domain name in free or offer the domain name at a discounted rate if you purchase your hosting with them. We recommend NOT opting for that and purchasing your name with a dedicated registrar like Namecheap. This is twofold; 1) If you decide to change hosting companies down the road you won’t have to go through the hassle of trying to purchase the same domain name somewhere else or continue paying the hosting service for it, and 2) Registrars like Namecheap will include WhoIsGuard (this protects your personal information from being displayed as the owner of the website) protection for free while you will pay an additional amount for this at most hosting companies.
namecheap Prices start at ~$0.48/yr
Namecheap is our top and only recommendation because it’s simple, easy to interface with, inexpensive, and trustworthy (never been hacked). The two big players in this space are Namecheap and GoDaddy. GoDaddy has been hacked prior and is a larger target for that type of activity, plus the whole operation feels a little sleazy from their sex-driven advertising, their elephant-hunting CEO, and the tons of upsells they push on you when you register for a domain. Namecheap has been very easy to navigate without pushing many extras on you, and they offer free WhoIsGuard forever, which protects personal information from being publicized in association to your website. Overall I’ve purchased several websites from them at approximately $11.00 each, which is on par with the competition.
Instead of listing off all of the possibilities, we’ve narrowed it down to what we feel are the 2 best hosting sites for un-managed shared hosting and the top 1 for managed WordPress hosting.
SiteGround Prices start at $3.95/month
After reading reviews on hosting sites for the last 6 months I advise most people building a site for their business to use SiteGround. Why? Simple: Reliability and Customer Service. This site scores off the charts for those two things on just about every blog & review site out there (believe me, I think I have read them ALL). Customer service as it pertains to building a site is HUGE. If speed was not critical for my needs, this is the company I would use. If you only have one site their plans start at around $3.95/month and go up from there. This company genuinely seems to want to make their customers happy – such a simple concept that most companies neglect. I’ve been impressed with the positive reviews (sites like Yelp have shown negative ones but a majority of those people don’t actually have SiteGround accounts which seems suspicious) and the back and forth communication between the company to address its customers.
A2 Hosting Prices start at $3.92/month
After much deliberation I decided to build this site on A2 Hosting for one reason and one reason alone: speed. I can say it has not failed me in that area. I opted for the Turbo plan which is around $9.50/month so that I could have the fastest site possible for a minimal investment amount. The proof is in the pudding, it’s lightening fast. Do I recommend A2? Yes, with a caveat. After opening numerous tickets over the last few months, I have determined that their technical support is VERY hit or miss. Other site reviews have mentioned that they have great technical support but that has not been the case for me. The wait times to me, seem long. On average, their email responses arrive around 24 hours later. Phone call wait times are over an hour. Chats have just cut me off because the wait time goes too long, which is frustrating when you’ve already waited 20 minutes and it just closes. 9 times out of 10 when I get through to tech support I still have to figure the solution out myself. The site speed is there, unquestionably. If this is something that is important to you (and if you’re trying to rank for SEO, it should be), then you will not be disappointed in that. The cons of A2 Hosting are that Customer Support is lacking and they are slightly higher priced than other hosting services if you opt for the Turbo plan. But, in my opinion, their promised and delivered speed makes this choice well worth the money and hassle.
WP Engine Prices start at $35/month
Choosing between a managed vs. non-managed site is one of the largest decisions you need to make for your WordPress website, and you should weigh your options carefully. Why you might choose to go with a managed WordPress site: 1) you aren’t technical or just don’t want to do any coding or troubleshooting, 2) you wish to spend time on your website’s content vs. maintenance and updates, 3) you want the comfort of having a secured site, 4) you want to easily be able to scale up your bandwidth/storage, and 5) you definitely know you’re not switching off of WordPress to another Content Management System (CMS). For those who really just don’t want the hassle of the technical aspects of owning a website this is the way to go. For those who are control freaks (like me), you wouldn’t be able to deal with this option as there are more limitations on what you’re able to get your hands dirty with. It comes down to personal preference. If you do choose a managed option, WP Engine is the big player in this space and they know what they’re doing, hence we are only listing them. However, there are other options and even sites like A2 Hosting offer a managed solution as well. We trust recommending WP Engine as they have great reviews and they host larger companies who opt for managed hosting. Their customers rave about the incredibly fast speed, great uptime (usually around 99.99%), and the increased security that the managed WordPress hosting giant offers. If you use the coupon code below you can get 20% off when you sign up, if you are a new member:
Update 9/4/18: Due to a recent merger of WP Engine and StudioPress, the Genesis Framework and 35 premium StudioPress Themes are now available for free for every WP Engine customer!
There are so many great themes available and so much of what you may want comes down to personal taste and requirements, so we are only listing a few here that might help you get started in your search but we can’t possibly list them all (that would require another full website). Whatever you end up with you should try to find a theme which is well-coded, lightweight, SEO optimized, and responsive. All of the ones we have listed here meet those requirements.
Customizr Price: Free
The fact that this theme is free is crazy. It’s extremely well coded, lightweight, SEO optimized, responsive, easy to use, and very well documented. You can choose between a Modern or Classical style and each version can be highly customized (just like the name implies). The layout can be configured for 1, 2, or 3 columns based on the page you are on. There is a Pro version available as well which opens up some additional features but you get most of the features with the free version. The Pro versions start at $59.00. A downside to this theme is that you will need to understand and get fairly deep with custom code if you want anything other than the vanilla, out of the box features.
Astra Price: Free
Another lightweight and well coded theme which we have tried/used prior to finding Customizr, was Astra. It offers a free or Pro version as well and is decent, especially for the price tag of free. Astra’s free version is very bare bones and meant to be used with a builder like Divi or Elementor. By itself this was a little sparse for our needs, but we can still say it’s a very solid choice. We had selected this from the high reviews and also for the fact that it can configure to a 1, 2, or 3 column layout. The Pro versions start at $59.00
Socially Viral Price: $35.00
This is a solid theme to purchase if you want your content to be in the social spotlight. With features like automatically populated trending posts, optimizations for SEO and schema, tons of customizations for layout options, this theme has a lot in addition to being lightweight and fully responsive.
Divi Price: $89.00
Divi is one of the top builders and themes out there, you will see it on just about every site as a top recommendation. To help eliminate confusion (or potentially add some), the theme name is Divi but it really accounts for what could be hundreds of different variations in themes as what you are truly getting is an interactive drag-and-drop system that will help you to visually create and edit your website’s appearance without the use of coding. Divi’s visual interface is a great option for someone new to building websites, but one of the downsides is once you have built your site with Divi you will be in their ecosystem for the lifetime of your site (unless you want to basically start over) because Divi will insert shortcodes and customized hooks that are only used with Divi. $89.00/yr might seem high for one theme but it actually gives you access to a hundred or so themes as well at numerous premium plugins that come with the package, so it’s not a bad deal. Using the link above you may try out the builder in their interactive demo to see if you like how it works.
You can actually find some decent themes and plugins within WordPress itself. All of those are free. If you are looking for something a little more custom, the following are our top choices. 3 of the 4 recommended Theme sites below (MyThemeShop being the exception) are actual frameworks or require a specific framework to function. Be careful when you choose these as you will most likely want to stay on the framework for as long as you have your site, or be prepared to transfer a lot of things to a new framework manually. Point being, frameworks are the structure that hold your site together – behind the scenes code that is not easily transferable from framework to framework.
StudioPress Price: $129.00 & up
Seeing is believing. If you visit the StudioPress showcase, you can see what other people have been able to create on the StudioPress theme (which uses the Genesis Framework). The StudioPress & Genesis combo is the front runner for most of the top developers out there today. The packages (theme + Genesis framework) start at $129.00 for one theme, or you can purchase everything (all themes, unlimited support) for $499.95. StudioPress themes are recognized as being some of the most secure and well coded themes for WordPress.
Elegant Themes Price: $89.00/yr
Elegant Themes is where you can find Divi as well as other themes and it works on a membership package, so for $89.00/yr you have access to anything they offer, including premium plugins such as Monarch, a social sharing plugin, and Bloom, a contact lead generation tool. Contact lead generation tools include the pop-ups you see that ask visitors if they want to subscribe to a newsletter or collects email in strategic locations. If you are interested in any of the Divi themes, this is a popular and well loved choice and offers a lot of different features for the yearly membership price. The lifetime or yearly membership includes unlimited sites, so if you use the theme on more than one site it starts to increase the value of what you are getting.
Restored 316 Designs Price: $75.00
Restored 316 Designs only offers feminine designed themes, and they are quite beautiful. However, this is a little tricky to understand – you have to have the Genesis Framework to use any of these, they will only work with that installed FIRST. The website has a great getting started guide with instruction on how to install Genesis and then their themes. Most of these are $75.00 but if you do not already have it you will need to purchase the Genesis Framework for $59.95. You can check out these themes and how they look live on real sites by going to the Showcase.
My Theme Shop Price: Free & Up
With 415k users and over 150 themes and plugins to choose from, My Theme Shop was created by a group of talented developers who just weren’t finding what they needed elsewhere. All of their themes are mobile responsive and lightweight (most will load under 1 second). You can start out with one of their free themes to check out how these work, but you will probably convert it to premium down the road as it will open up more options. The designs offered at MyThemeShop.com are well-coded and attractive. You can opt to purchase their items as a one time purchase, or you may select their monthly plan for $19.00/month, which gives you unlimited access to download all of their products.
Logomakr Price: Free
One of the best finds on the internet – this is a free site where you can create and customize your own logo. Choose from stock photos and vectors and create a logo and/or text – then you can change the look and style of these and export this in a professional format. You can also commission having a custom logo created for you from the design team at LogoMakr.
Canva Price: Free
Another mind-blowing tool offered for the wonderful price of FREE, Canva is just about the only resource you need to create professional looking InfoGraphics, Pinterest Cover Photos, Business Cards, and just about any other marketing materials you can think of. The limitation that comes with the free tool is a small selection of vectors/icons/images, but you can purchase more desirable ones as needed for an average of $1.00-$2.00 each.
Pexels Price: Free
Free and beautiful stock images.
Pixabay Price: Free
Another site with free and beautiful stock images.
Gimp Price: Free
An incredibly powerful photo program which is basically on par with Photoshop’s abilities (with some exceptions) and is also an amazing FREE tool. There are tons of tutorials out there on cool image effects that can be achieved with this program.
Tips & Tricks