Free DIY Guide for WordPress – Just $0.00!
Yes, you can build your very own high-quality WordPress website and receive a better website than many professionals can provide!
With our Free DIY Guide for WordPress, get all the information you need to bring your own website to life!
Free DIY Guide for WordPress
What’s the catch?
There isn’t one! No newsletter to sign up for, no email address to provide, no marketing ploy to loop you into our other services.
Truthfully, as programmers we prefer focusing on projects involving custom development. We spun off Excelsius Designs (a DBA of Excidium Tech, LLC) to provide a standardized WordPress development service to our clients.
The reality is, most WordPress development happens within the Administration Panel. If you plan on taking over your website once it is built, then you can most likely bring the website to life. With the right guidance, you can build a website better than most WordPress developers would deliver.
This Free DIY Guide focuses on the core plugins that will help provide a better foundation. However, the most important requirement is simply choosing the right hosting provider. We do not get into the specific configuration, because we cannot give all of our secrets away.
Following this Free DIY Guide will point you in the right direction and help you understand why we go beyond the bare minimum to deliver higher quality services to our clients.
Our Expert, Professional Recommendation
Affiliate Link Disclosure
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Even though we have opted to use affiliate links, which will look like https://excelsiusdesigns.com/recommends/****/, our recommendations are made based on our professional opinion.
We would never make a recommendation based solely on the consideration of landing a commission and we use all of the services or resources that we recommend in this Free DIY Guide.
This Free DIY Guide is a glimpse of what you can expect from us. We truly care about each and every single one of our clients. It is our mission to help you accomplish your goals!
Step 0: Obtain A Domain Name (Contains Affiliate Links)
Secure Your Domain Name ASAP!
We use Namecheap for all of our domain names! Never buy your domain name from the same company you obtain hosting from. No developer or agency should be buying or controlling your domain names. Be sure to protect your own business and domain name by purchasing all of your domain names directly!
If you are obtaining an LLC, we definitely recommend buying a .llc domain name as well as a .com domain name. Protect your business name by ensuring you obtain any domain names that may overlap with your business. For example: we have excelsiusdesigns.com, excelsiusdesigns.net, excelsiusdesigns.llc, and excelsi.us.
As your business grows, we also recommend buying up domain names that have common misspellings and then redirect them to your website.
Step 1: WordPress
The Content Management System
We recommend WordPress for a content management system as it will provide you with a great place to start. WordPress is very customizable and can be adjusted to fit your needs.
If you can dream about doing something, it can most likely be done with WordPress. You can have an eCommerce business, start an eLearning experience, run a SaaS business, host a Contract Management portal, rent out equipment, or even offer an online solution to booking your time.
Out of the available content management systems, WordPress is by far the easiest to manage. You can start taking control of your website with very little time invested.
Step 2: Website Hosting (Contains Affiliate Links)
Choose The Right Provider!
In order to ensure WordPress can thrive, you need to be sure you choose the right hosting provider.
The absolute requirement for any high-quality WordPress website is to ensure your hosting provider offers the latest version of PHP. PHP is currently at 7.4 (as of this writing) and you should not host your WordPress website on anything under PHP 7.3.
You also want to make sure that your hosting provider uses Solid State Drives for hosting websites on. Additionally, choose a provider who provides access to LiteSpeed Web Server (instead of Apache or nginx). LiteSpeed Web Server also provides a unique Caching Plugin for WordPress that is far superior to other caching plugins.
Our personal recommendation is WordPress Hosting by A2 Hosting; however, any shared hosting environment is most likely going to be slower than a dedicated or semi-dedicated solution. We utilize their Core VPS Hosting for our own websites and their Dedicated Server Hosting for the hosting services offered with our Maintenance Plans. If you choose WordPress Hosting by A2 Hosting, we’d recommend their Swift or Turbo plans.
We have mixed feelings about managed solutions, such as the Managed service by A2 Hosting and services like WP Engine. Unless you plan on using the benefits of managed hosting, the costs are far too high.
Not every host who provides LiteSpeed Web Server is created equal. We settled on A2 Hosting after being disappointed with HostGator, GoDaddy, and many other hosting providers. We’ve been with A2Hosting for well over 6 years and have never had a bad experience.
Step 3: WordPress Theme (Contains Affiliate Links)
Many Bad Choices!
If you are looking for a theme that you can fully control the content, you will most likely end up with a Page Builder. Potential options include Divi, Visual Composer, Elementor, Page Builder by SiteOrigin, and more! We absolutely do not recommend choosing any theme that uses Visual Composer. Every website that uses Visual Composer becomes a nightmare to tune for performance.
Another thing to consider is once you use a Page Builder plugin, it is pretty costly to stop using it. The Page Builders we would recommend are Divi, Beaver Builder, and Elementor. Each of these can be used with many themes, but they can also be used to produce your entire website with little to no coding experience.
The reason we use and recommend Divi by Elegant Themes the most is because it is just much more performance-oriented than the rest. We previously used other themes, with their own page builders, and we could not get the site tuned for performance. With Divi, only small tuning is required to ensure your website loads exceptionally fast!
If Divi doesn’t seem like a good fit for your needs, there are many themes available on Theme Forest | Envato Market. We recommend focusing on themes with a decent number of sales and good reviews. Always be sure to check out the comments to see what other customers might be experiencing with their purchase. Not every theme on Theme Forest is high-quality, but they have a fantastic selection.
Step 4: Performance Optimization
If you have chosen the right hosting provider, you can use LiteSpeed Cache (requires LiteSpeed Web Server). While this is a plugin, it is also a server-side caching solution. The benefit of a server-side caching solution is the speed benefits you will receive.
LiteSpeed also offers a beta service called Quic.cloud, a cloud-based WordPress Caching CDN where you can take advantage of LiteSpeed Cache without having LiteSpeed Web Server!
Plugins like WP Super Cache, W3 Total Cache, and similar, are all code-based caching plugins. This means that all of the optimization occurs through PHP code. This becomes problematic on shared hosting environments with limited resources. Your caching plugin can, unfortunately, produce the very performance issues you are trying to avoid.
All you need is LiteSpeed Cache for performance optimization! It handles everything, when configured properly, and can allow you to achieve amazing performance for your website!
Step 5: Security Optimization
Never Forget Security!
Originally, we were going to recommend Sucuri, but we have since discovered a number of negative reviews. Sucuri’s services would provide a Firewall between internet traffic and your website, to help reduce threats before they landed on your website. The negative reviews we’ve read would indicate that many users do not end up with great customer support when issues actually occur.
Due to that, our primary recommendation is WordFence, or the Free Version of WordFence The free plugin provides an end-point firewall to help protect your website against attacks. Their premium service provides access to their Real-time IP Blacklist, Firewall Rule Updates, and Malware Signature Updates, Reputation Checks, and Country Blocking tools.
Security isn’t optional with WordPress! One of our websites ended up blocking thousands of attacks within a month. Automated bots are crawling websites, looking for potential security flaws to exploit!
Step 6: Search Engine Optimization
Become SEO Ready!
While many freelancers and agencies will recommend Yoast!, the costs of the premium features of Yoast! make it a bit unfavorable for small businesses. We utilize Rank Math which is completely free! Gain access to the most powerful SEO tools with no additional costs!
Unlike Yoast!, Rank Math provides Video SEO, Local SEO, News SEO, and WooCommerce SEO by default – for free. To get access to all of the features Yoast! has to offer, you are looking at $199/yr.
Rank Math is constantly evolving and delivers amazing features right out of the box. We’ve been using it on several of our websites and have no interest in going back to Yoast!.
Step 7: Image Optimization (Contains Affiliate Links)
RESIZE AND OPTIMIZE!
What really gets under our skin is when a professional website development company doesn’t bother to resize images uploaded to a website. It is absolutely unnecessary and poor judgement to leave an image at its original size.
We recommend ShortPixel for image optimization. You can get a free account that will allow you to optimize 100 images per month. Remember that 100 images includes each “image size” generated by WordPress. Many WordPress websites will generate up to 10 images (of varying sizes) from a single image. So you can only optimize 10 unique images with their free plan.
ShortPixel would be used in conjunction with the ShortPixel Image Optimizer plugin. We recommend using an image editing tool, such as Adobe Photoshop (of course any image resizing program will work) to resize images before uploading them to your website.
For larger photos, we tend to go with 1280px wide and smaller photos sit around 640px wide. You may not want to resize images used for a background, but we typically stick with 1920px wide in those scenarios.
Step 8: Google Analytics Integration (Contains Affiliate Links)
Not Too Many Choices!
At one time, there was a defined choice between Free and Paid options. However, the free option was sold to the company behind the paid option, and now the same company runs both solutions.
Since they are both run by the same company, there is very little difference between functionality. However, the features offered at Free or the Paid Tiers are different between the two.
We personally use MonsterInsights for our Paid Choice and ExactMetrics when we choose a Free Option! However, we may be re-examining that decision as ExactMetrics has come a very long way since being obtained by the company that also offers MonsterInsights.
Step 9: WordPress Maintenance (Contains Affiliate Links)
A Must Have for Every Site!
We use UpdraftPlus for all maintenance that we provide to our clients. We opted for the Gold version, so that we can have our own Maintenance Server (to help protect our clients).
Most WordPress designers, WordPress developers, and WordPress Agencies use UpdraftPlus to provide automatic updates and backups to their clients. They can charge upwards of $100/mo for something you can get for as little as $42/year.
The difference with our Maintenance Plans is that we provide Proactive Maintenance, rolling out custom updates to all clients to resolve issues in advance. Automatic updates can potentially cause incompatibility issues, which only a skilled developer (or subsequent update) can resolve. Many of these issues can remain within a plugin for several versions.
Another benefit to our Maintenance Plans are that you can gain access to Premium Plugins, which we have Developer’s Licenses for. You can roll in the costs of hosting, maintenance, and premium licenses into a much lower monthly cost!
Step 10: WordPress Lock Down
Make It Harder for Exploitation Bots!
We use WPS Hide Login on every website we build for our clients. This alters the Login Link, which makes it harder for bots to engage in brute force login attacks. There are other ways that bots can engage in brute force login attacks, but this can help slow them down.
We also use Blackhole for Bad Bots and BBQ: Block Bad Queries (on top of a free version of WordFence) to help reduce attacks. Even with the free version of WordFence installed, we have blocked several Bad Bots from crawling our own websites.
When it comes to security, no one solution is ever a perfect solution. Many security solutions can be installed on top of one another to help protect from many different attack vectors. Even with many security solutions, keeping your WordPress website properly maintained is the most important security requirement. Security is not bullet-proof, but will drastically reduce the likelihood that an attack is successful.
DIY vs Hiring A Professional
Which is Better?
The answer is truly “it depends”, because it depends on your own situation as well as which professional you end up hiring.
Unfortunately, many WordPress developers do not have much more experience than their clients when it comes to website development.
A professional should only be hired if you simply do not have the time or they are providing a service that you really cannot do yourself.
We recommend using GTMetrix when choosing a professional. Run their portfolio website through to get an idea on what you can actually expect from their services. We recommend choosing a service provider who is scoring a minimum of 75 (of course, the higher the better).
Following the recommendations in this Free DIY Guide should result in a score of 85 or better. Of course, it will depend on what additional plugins you may install!
When to DIY
The DIY approach is effective when you either do not have the funds to hire a professional or your budget is relatively low. Make sure that you have 20 to 100 (or more) hours to dedicate to researching and building your website.
When to Hire
When your website needs to be professional, either to build reputation or increase consumer confidence, consider hiring a professional! Our WordPress Development services are geared towards delivering high-quality WordPress websites at an affordable price.
Not The Only Solution!
The recommendations outlined in this Free DIY Guide, is just one solution to achieve a high-quality website. There are alternative solutions available that can also yield great performance results. Performance scores will vary depending on which theme, photos, videos, and additional plugins are used. We love the GTMetrix scores because it covers front-end optimization. If you are scoring well on front-end optimization, but your site still takes a while to load, then back-end optimization may be required.
The two most critical components to a high-performance WordPress website is the hosting environment and optimization efforts. LiteSpeed Cache (as well as LiteSpeed Web Server) can vastly improve the performance of just about any website.
See What Clients Have To Say!
Don't take our word for it, check out the testimonials that our former clients have provided to us.