Your First Website: WordPress & Alternatives

Even if you have never built a website, with some guidance you can create your first website within hours – if not minutes. The technical part of how to make a website is not hard once you understand what it takes to launch one. The truly hard part is making your website stand out so it can attract visitors who will become your customers or followers.

Below you will find a guide to the variety of platforms to make a website, reasons for creating with WordPress and tips on what to consider when choosing the right hosting provider. Besides helping you decide which platform suits your needs and how to get started, the guide also offers advice on WordPress website must-haves and ways to maximize security and traffic while minimizing any disruptions.

If you wish to start creating with WordPress right away, Namecheap’s EasyWP* combines the flexibility of WordPress with the ease of use of website builders. If you do not have a domain name yet, get yours at Namecheap and use it for your Managed WordPress hosting conveniently in one place. For best value choose EasyWP Turbo to make sure your website is secure (with free SSL) and fast (with free CDN). To maximize savings, select Bill Yearly to get up to 50% off your first year.

For multiple websites or a website with subdomains, Cloudways* offers managed cloud hosting with more power, worldwide server locations and a dedicated IP address. Use code IBG10 to get 10% off for three months.

  1. WordPress & Alternatives
  2. WordPress Hosting FAQs
  3. WordPress Must-Haves
  4. Conclusion: Where Your Website Begins

WordPress & Alternatives

Open Source WordPress Competitors

WordPress, an open source application managed at WordPress.org, has been one of the fastest growing platforms used to create a variety of websites, including blogs, membership sites and online stores. WordPress powers over 40% of the internet. Although WordPress requires some learning and has its quirks, it still offers many benefits for both beginners and pros compared to alternatives.

To understand why WordPress gains in popularity and is the best platform for new websites, it is helpful to take a look at WordPress alternatives. Besides commercial website builders, WP alternatives include other open source content management systems (CMS) and static site generators (SSG).

Two popular CMSs also written in PHP are Joomla and Drupal. Joomla has been WordPress’s main CSM competitor for years but it has been declining in popularity not least because it involves a steeper learning curve for beginners and has fewer extensions compared to the number of WordPress plugins. Drupal remains a favorite among developers and pros thanks to its focus on robust tools, flexibility and security but it is not the easiest platform to use for non-developers. Unless you know exactly why you need either Joomla or Drupal, WordPress is unmatched in the world of CMSs.

Besides CMSs, there are also hundreds of SSGs that typically have a leaner code base and can potentially achieve better performance. Static site generators are often written in languages other than PHP such as JavaScript (e.g. Gatsby and NuxtJS) and Ruby (e.g. Jekyll and Nanoc). Although SSGs offer extraordinary flexibility, they simplify the process only for seasoned developers who are used to working through a command line interface (CLI) rather than graphic user interface (GUI).

WordPress vs Website Builders

Website builders offer the simplest way to make a basic website based on the drag-and-drop technique. You can choose between multipurpose website builders, for example Squarespace, and ecommerce platforms for online stores, for example Shopify. The obvious appeal of website builders regardless of your needs is the convenience they offer in creating a website from scratch: fully managed and maintained hosting, security and SSL certificates, domain registrations and of course many beautiful template designs out of the box. But there is a cost to this simplicity, both literally and in terms of functionality, flexibility and data ownership.

While the cost of hosting WordPress varies and can be as low as a few dollars, website builders have fixed pricing depending on the number of features. For example, the entry plan at Squarespace costs $16/month and does not include premium blocks, CSS customization and analytics, while the basic commerce plan costs $35/month. Shopify pricing is much more expensive, with the basic plan having the price tag of $29/month. If you operate an ecommerce website, website builders additionally charge transaction fees on top of credit card processing fees. And there is usually a limited number of available payment gateways.

Similarly, the pricing for the commercial WordPress website builder, WordPress.com, starts at $7/month but the actually usable plan – with automated backups, search engine optimization and access to plugins – costs $33/month. Marketed as Business, this plan includes neither international payments nor shipping integrations.

In contrast, WordPress as a CMS is free and you can decide how much to pay for hosting. With WordPress.org you do not have any imposed limitations and you can extend the functionality of your website with any free or premium plugins, including WooCommerce for ecommerce. Unlike closed source website builders with a locked ecosystem of proprietary tools, WordPress is open source, which is essential for complete ownership of every single file and the entire database that can be easily exported in more than one format.

Even though WordPress has more to offer than website builders, it may be too much if you need a basic website for your online presence, such as a portfolio or one-page website with your contact details. Rather than learn WordPress or go with costly website builders, you may find an inexpensive site maker with your domain name registrar. For example, you can build a feature-rich website for $30/year at Dynadot*. Alternatively, you can launch a low-cost or even free website with your own domain name and no ads at NodeHost*.

WP Block Editor vs Page Builders

One of the reasons beginners used to choose WYSIWYG website builders over WordPress had to do with how basic and not intuitive its old text editor used to be. Unlike the Classic Editor based on plain text formatting, the new default editor called Gutenberg is based on blocks. The Gutenberg Block Editor features many handy native elements such as buttons and tables and makes it easier to create advanced content layouts. Like in a website builder, you can move your content blocks in the block editor in a variety of ways, including by dragging and dropping them.

You can still find advice that using one of many WordPress page builders can simplify your website building experience. Even though page builders are marketed as beginner-friendly tools to create beautifully designed websites, they are primarily targeted at professional web designers and large agencies. To make full use of page builders, you need advanced designer and developer skills. Page builders are also bloated with dozens of widgets most of which you will never use and most of which are not as customizable as dedicated plugins. Moreover, free page builder versions lack the most important features while premium versions are typically overpriced for one or a couple of websites in favor of bulk plans for studios and agencies that manage thousands of websites for their customers.

It is good practice to use only those plugins that are essential for your website – and page builders, unlike WP themes, are not essential for WordPress sites. Instead of paying for ephemeral benefits of page builders, you may want to get instead a premium WordPress theme such as GeneratePress that includes professionally designed starter sites and a block-based theme builder.

The Gutenberg block editor has already made page builders in effect obsolete and will in the future function as a fully-fledged, truly beginner-friendly site-wide template-based builder. Crucially, unlike page builder widgets, all Gutenberg blocks are part of WordPress Core and will not cause any incompatibility issues or break your site with the next update. Sticking to native WordPress blocks and just a handful of essential plugins will eventually save you days of work or thousands of dollars when you finally decide to remove a page builder from your website.

WordPress Hosting FAQs

Is cheap shared cPanel hosting suitable for WordPress?

You can use any web hosting for WordPress that includes a web server (e.g. Nginx, Apache or LiteSpeed), a database server (MySQL, MariaDB or Percona) and the latest version of PHP (PHP 7.4 or 8.+). That said, WordPress hosting that is cheap, shared and cPanel-based has many disadvantages. First, cheap web hosts often use outdated hardware and software and provide minimum or no technical support whatsoever. Second, shared hosting means that, despite basic account isolation, your website uses the same IP and resources as hundreds of other websites on the server, which may lead to bad reputation, slow load times, downtime and compromised security. And third, traditional control panels (including cPanel, Plesk and DirectAdmin) are ugly and bloated with technical features that make things easier only for your web host.

Even so, if you are on a budget, cheap cPanel web hosting is a good place to start. cPanel hosting also includes free email although it is good practice to keep your email separate from your website hosting. Some reasons to use shared hosting nonetheless include the following:

  • You are planning to make your first website and just want to experiment
  • You are just learning how to use WordPress or similar applications
  • You have an idea for a website that you do not really expect to grow much
  • You do not have either skills or time to manage your own cloud server
  • You wish to start out on a tight budget and later migrate the site elsewhere

If you are after the lowest price and do not require support, you can get ultra-cheap web hosting for less than $10/year with either VirMach’s VPShared* or Frantech’s BuyShared*. If those are out of stock or you need knowledgeable support, reliable uptime and more resources, you will be surprised by the combination of pricing and quality at Ethernet Servers*.

Do I need cloud hosting for my WordPress website?

The ideal environment for a WordPress-based website is undoubtedly WordPress-optimized cloud hosting that comes with dedicated private resources. Under the hood, cloud hosting refers to the deployment of system-level virtualization on top of the highly available infrastructure based on a distributed cluster of servers. For your WordPress website this means better performance, more scalable resources and no downtime in case of server failure.

More importantly, cloud hosting makes it possible for your website to be hosted in an isolated environment with dedicated – not shared – resources. There are two ways to get such isolated, private resources. The first one is through containers. For example, Namecheap’s EasyWP* is based on the Docker technology, whereas Kinsta* uses LXC to achieve similar resource isolation. The second way is through virtual machines. The most popular virtualization technology to make virtual machines is KVM which is used by major cloud providers you can deploy with Cloudways*. The main difference between containers and virtual machines for you as the end user is that the former tend to be more lightweight and efficient while the latter offer full virtualization with more power, more flexibility and typically a dedicated IP address.

Do I need fully managed WordPress hosting?

If you like to troubleshoot your problems and be in full control, you may not need managed hosting. Truly managed WordPress hosting is more expensive than one-size-fits-all web hosting mainly because you are paying a premium for WordPress-level human support. The scope of such support differs significantly from one provider to another. While most managed WordPress hosts provide best-effort WP-related support and the initial website transfer, a few companies, for example BigScoots*, offer the kind of white-glove management that includes proactive monitoring, speed optimization and fixing a hacked website. Use code 5RCO4LGJAFET to get 50% off your first month with BigScoots.

Besides website-related support, some of the best managed WordPress hosts include WordPress-specific server-side optimizations. Unlike the default stack used in shared hosting (CloudLinux plus LiteSpeed Web Server), a highly optimized LEMP stack is typically used in managed WP hosting. This Nginx-based stack allows for server-side caching, including page cache such as FastCGI and object/database cache such as Redis. Combined with the dedicated resources in the cloud, such optimizations result in your website’s ability to handle more traffic at a much faster rate.

Finally, besides outstanding support and optimized servers, fully managed WordPress hosting includes a clean user-friendly dashboard where you can manage your active and staged WordPress installs, SSL certificates, backups as well as SFTP and database credentials. You should also be able to easily activate a CDN, an essential tool for both security such as DDoS mitigation and speed by delivering your content to your visitors equally fast regardless whether they are in the UK or Australia.

WordPress Must-Haves

WordPress Themes

A theme is easily the most important part of your WordPress website’s technical setup. Despite what you may have heard, a WordPress theme is not the way your website looks: it is a set of tools that make it possible for you to create a certain website look. You control your website’s layout, colors and fonts through your theme. In addition, many premium themes offer ready-made site templates based on your field or desired look.

While any well-rated theme will do, it can be overwhelming to pick out the one that works for you from over 5K free and premium WordPress themes. To give you something to work with, here are top two picks to start with. If you are looking for a free fully customizable theme with many premium features, OceanWP makes it easy to create any type of website, including an online store. If you are looking for an inexpensive WordPress theme that prioritizes speed, responsiveness and compatibility with any plugin, you should try out GeneratePress*.

WordPress Security

Website security is often seen as complicated and expensive. But it is only partially so. While online threats are diverse and sophisticated, there are luckily powerful tools that significantly simplify the process for every website owner. And while a comprehensive security plan can be costly, there are also several budget-friendly, inexpensive and even free alternatives. The point is there is no excuse not to protect your website from the moment you launch.

Once you have settled on a reliable WordPress host that offers SSL certificates, hardware firewalls and the latest PHP version, you need to take proactive steps to protect your website from 1) malicious traffic and 2) hacking. To fight malicious traffic, bad bots and large-scale DDoS attacks, you need to use a security-focused CDN such as Cloudflare or bunny.net*. Ideally you should also use a web application firewall (WAF) but since WAFs are costly (see Cloudflare plans), you should focus on the second step.

The second step in securing your website includes getting a WordPress plugin that locks up all the entry points that a hacker or malware can exploit to compromise your website. A good security plugin stops brute force attacks and disables WordPress vulnerabilities. The best free security plugin is easily Defender by WPMU DEV. Besides masking your login page, Defender scans your WordPress site and provides suggestions for quick security fixes, including changing a default database prefix and updating security keys. A great inexpensive Defender plugin alternative is perfmatters*. While it is primarily a performance optimizing plugin, it includes several essential security features. For example, it can change the login page, remove WordPress version number and disable XML-RPC. It thus makes it very hard for hackers to even try to break into your website.

WordPress Backups

Regardless of how thoroughly you have protected your website, there is never a 100% guarantee that it will not crash or get hacked. However painful a website hack may be, you can minimize the damage by preparing for the worst. The best thing you can do for your website security is prevent data loss by setting up a backup and restore system.

All managed WordPress hosting providers include complimentary off-site backups. If you read the terms of service, however, none of the hosts can guarantee the availability or integrity of such backups. So, while it is good to have web hosting backups, you are ultimately responsible for any data loss.

The safest way never to lose your data is to have the latest copy of your website stored in a remote safe location. The best way to automate your website backups as well as eventual restoration is unsurprisingly by using a plugin. UpdraftPlus is the most advanced backup plugin. Even with the free version of UpdraftPlus you can automatically backup your files and database directly into one of such popular cloud providers as Google Drive and roll back to a previous version if an update breaks your site. UpdtraftPlus Premium* additionally offers more security with SFTP and more privacy with 1 GB of encrypted storage.

Besides automatic backups, it is a good idea to manually download your WordPress files via SFTP and your database via phpMyAdmin both before and after major updates to your website. The final step in preparing for the worst consists in backing up your backups and all your work as well as storing them safely in the cloud such as IDrive*.

WordPress SEO

Search engine optimization ensures that your web pages rank high in search results and attract more relevant traffic based on the keywords you use. Because the internet is dominated by Google, much of your website SEO will revolve around living up to Google’s standards. The most basic thing you can do for your website’s SEO boost is to register it in Google’s Search Console: this will enable Google to index your content faster and give you an overview of your website’s performance and any issues you need to fix. Additionally, if you are running a local business, you will want to create a Google My Business account.

Beyond appeasing Google, the rest of your optimization will revolve around on-page SEO, which includes making your content more relevant both to search engines and your visitors. The easiest way to optimize your WordPress website in this regard is by using a dedicated SEO plugin. Among many alternatives, SEOPress* stands out as the most feature-rich user-friendly SEO plugin even in its free version. Besides such must-have features as creating an XML Sitemap to improve search indexing, free SEOPress allows for custom meta titles and meta descriptions, redirections for all post types and content analysis with unlimited keywords.

If you are after ideas for keywords or new content, you can benefit from the AnswerThePublic* tool. It makes use of the auto-suggest results provided by Google and Bing to visually present the most popular questions asked by the public.

There are many other SEO-relevant factors that affect your website’s success in attracting traffic. Your SEO will suffer if your website does not use an SSL certificate, is not up-to-date and is not properly secured against bad bots and hacking. Another SEO factor is your website’s speed and uptime. Besides choosing fast WordPress hosting, it is also crucial to monitor the website’s load times and uptime with such tools as updown*. Finally, you should keep an eye on your website’s IP address e.g. with HetrixTools* to make sure it is not blacklisted.

Conclusion: Where Your Website Begins

Starting your first website the way you envision it no longer requires a healthy budget, coding skills or even navigating through lengthy manuals and sophisticated interfaces. Managed WordPress hosting services such as EasyWP* let you launch WordPress, the most popular and powerful website app, in minutes on next-generation cloud infrastructure without having to worry about exorbitant bills.

Many WordPress alternatives offer an even smoother start and will work for simple one-page websites. But as your needs grow, you will find that WordPress has more tools for your unique website. You can choose from over 50K free and premium plugins that will help you achieve more followers, more leads and more sales. So, whether you are taking your first steps with WordPress or expanding your online presence, good luck.