I created my first website in 1997 while I was in my sophomore year of college at Virginia Tech. As an aspiring geek, i thought it would be cool to learn how to make a webpage. A free hosting account at GEOCITIES.com later and a crash course in basic HTML got me started. Oh if I could see that website again…I’m sure embarrassed would be putting it lightly. Even back then my choice of black, red and florescent color was a mistake. To make matters worse I’m pretty sure I had blinking, scrolling and color changing text all centered on the screen.
As a poor college student I was only able to start that website because it was free. That was over 17 years ago, but the good news is that you can still create a free website if you like. What is even better is that you don’t have to know any HTML or any other website developing language.
How to get a Website for Free
There are a ton of free website services out there but the only one I would recommend using is WordPress.com. The reason is that, if you decide you want a more powerful and customizable experience, you can easily convert to a more powerful self hosting website later on.
There are limitations with going with a totally free website…
Ads – Nothing is really free right? WordPress.com will place random ads on your website in order to help pay some of their bills and keep the free stuff free. You can pay for a No Add upgrade that will remove the ads however.
Domain Names – Having a free account will not allow you to have a personalized domain name. You’ll get something like http://mysite.wordpress.com. Just like with Ads, you can pay for an Upgrade package that allows you to have a custom domain name. I think it’s $18 per year.
Plugin Limitations – WordPress is like an iPhone…”There is an App (plugin) for everything.” The only problem is that if you are on a free WordPress.com account you only have access to their approved plugins. This limits you greatly in what you can do with your site.
While WordPress.com is a great option for people who are just dog broke…I wouldn’t go this route. The best real estate websites are self hosted, have a domain name and a content management system like WordPress.org. The good part is it’s only a few dollars a month. If you are just broke (have a few dollars) you can still afford to do it.
How Much Does a Website Cost?
You can spend an endless amount of money per month on a website. I’m talking 1000’s of dollars here. Good for those people who have it! What we all really want to know is how to start a cheap website for as little money as possible, but still have it look professional…right?
This is what I’m going to focus on in this post. I want to help you get a website up and running fairly quickly and not make you go broke. While this article isn’t going to show you how to build your website, it will tell you what tools you should use.
Basic Requirements All Websites Need
Website Hosting Service – A website host is where your website will be stored and made accessible to the world. Many beginner level plans are so incredibly cheap you probably won’t believe it. The biggest issue you will have is selecting which host you should go with. Trust me I know! Picking a website host is overwhelming because of all the options.
The good thing is if you don’t like your web host you are not locked into them. You can move to another one fairly easily in most cases.
- Hostgator (for 25% off use coupon code strugglinginvestor25)
I use hostgator for a few of my websites and they have been rock solid. Their single domain plan is at $3.96 a month right now. Crazy cheap I know.
Probably the most popular host out there and the one that gets the best reviews. They have a $3.95 a month plan that gives you unlimited domains. Excellent value.
Domain Name Host – Generally speaking this is how your website will be known. Choosing a domain name should be an exercise you take seriously. Picking a Domain Host not so much. Just as long as you go with one of the major hosts. I usually suggest NOT to use your WebHost to also host your domain. It gets tricky if you ever want to switch webhosts.
I’ve used Godaddy because I can always find a coupon that makes buying and renewing my domains very cheap. Initial prices are usually higher then other hosts, but with the coupon codes you can usually bring it down or below the others.
- Godaddy (Currently $1.49 for a .COM domain)
Godaddy is great, but just be mindful that they try to upsell you at every turn. The only additional item I recommend getting is the Private Registration. It will cost an additional $9 a year.
- NameCheap (Standard pricing is lower then Godaddy, but there aren’t that many coupons)
I’ve never used Namecheap, but that is the other name I hear when people talk about registering a domain name.
WordPress – WordPress is a blogging/website platform that makes it possible to create outstanding websites without knowing any code. All you have to do is worry about what template you want to use, your content and any plugins (features) you wish to add.
* WordPress.org is the self hosting version of WordPress.com. All limitations of WordPress.com are gone with the self hosting version.
There are other platforms out there but knowing that 22% of the top 10 million websites use wordpress should be all you need to know. I wish I would have bought wordpress stock back when I first started using it.
There are other platforms you could use, but none of them have the same combination of user friendliness, SEO optimization, ability to customize and support. They call it a blog platform but it really is so much more.
What you need to make your site more professional?
Using one of the free themes when starting a website was okay with me in my early days of WordPress websites (the stock ones from WordPress are pretty good and simple). However, the more I looked around and admired other real estate investor websites I was a bit jealous….They looked so much more professional then mine did.
The reason was that those people took the next step and invested a few extra bucks into their sites. Not a lot of money, maybe a couple hundred bucks. The good part is that these purchases are only a one time buy…No recurring payments.
Premium Theme – Many of the free themes out there, while they look nice, are a pain in the ass to work with. They are fairly buggy or you have to make a lot of tweaks just to get it working correctly. The best real estate website templates can be found from a major theme creators. The products will be top notch and they will have very good support.
Each company below offers some great themes for reasonable prices. The one thing you have to know is that they all have what they call their Framework theme. You must have this “Parent Theme” in order to use their other “Child Themes.” This may sound stupid…but it actually is awesome! It allows you to change out any theme with another one of theirs quickly and easily.
- Studio Press ($99 for theme + framework, $33 if you already own the framework, $299.69 for all themes)
This is my Preferred Theme package. I have used them for years and actually ending up spending the $300 for all the themes. StudioPress is the best for people who know very little about websites, design or coding. Sure you can customize the sites to fit your needs but you won’t have to.
- WooThemes ($99 for framework, $39 for theme, $399 for all themes )
These guys would be my second choice because of the great package of themes they offer. Setting up the themes is a bit more involved…lots of options (think jam study). That’s not a bad thing, but for beginners it can get overwhelming.
- Thesis ($87 for 1 site + Basic Theme, $164 for 1 site + all Themes, $197 for unlimited sites + all Themes)
Thesis is an outstanding framework, maybe the best. The downside is that there are very few skins (themes) for someone who just wants to plug and go. Thesis is for those people who want to customize and make their site as unique as possible. Some of the best internet marketers use Thesis for it’s power and flexibility.
Images – As much as it pains me to pay for images to place on my websites, you just have too. I’m talking about those stock images that you see on sites, not images that you have personally taken. There are copy-write laws attached to any picture you take off of google image search or where ever.
Also it’s worth having high quality pictures as well, just gives your website a better more professional look. Many of the pay sites will also have a free section. What I’ve found though is that the pictures I want are always behind the pay wall…imagine that!?!
The best sites use images only to compliment their content. First impressions are everything, so I would definitely pay upwards of $15 for pictures that appear on my home page and my top posts.
Plugins – Oh there are so many plugins out there it’s hard to choose. What I have found is that it’s worth paying for some of the premium plugins. They will pay for themselves many times over. A good plugin is just like a good theme…They work, they are easy to use and install and they come with great support communities.
Another key is that they won’t bog down your WordPress site or worse yet… completely break it. I’ve done this in the past and it’s very unpleasant to fix.
- Gravity Forms ($39 for 1 site license)
This is a contact form plugin and is worth every penny. I use it on all my sites and even Investor Carrot uses it for their contact forms. It’s the best thing to go with not called leadpages.
- Pretty Links Lite (Free)
This free plugin allows you to create short urls for links. So you can have something like http://strugglinginvestor.com/GreatHouse that will link to something else like a craigslist ad.
- WordPress SEO (free)
This plugin is only necessary when you are going to be optimizing your website. I use it and it helps me get the main, must do SEO things done correctly
- Share Buttons by AddToAny (free)
There are 100’s of social share button plugins that you can get. I prefer this one for it’s look and simplicity. You get the side of page social buttons like on this site as well as flexibility to change the location as well as which social buttons you want to use.
That is about all you need to start up a very nice, professional website for you business. The great thing about websites is that you can add to them as you go. Set a small budget each year to improve your website and you’ll have a killer site in just a few years.
Total Cost Summary
To sum it up a little bit more..
It could not be more affordable to have a website up and running to help aid your business. Every business should have a website to describe their business and have contact information. It’s very easy to make it professional looking and as you can see it’s very cheap to setup, maintain and enhance a bit.
Do You Have Any Questions?
I covered the basics you will need for a new website but I’m sure you may have some questions. Post a comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You all are incredible and I thank you for reading my blog!