This guide will show technically minded people how you can purchase your own domain name, set up a web server on Vultr with an online store using WordPress/WooCommerce from $5 a month. Warning this post is technical (if you have never used SSH, Ubuntu, Linux Command Line, hate risk or are not patient then this is NOT the guide you are after).
I personally recommend (not a paid endorsement) the free WooCommerce plugin for the free WordPress.org CMS on the free Ubuntu Operating system with the free NGINX web server and the free MYSQL database engine and free SSL certificates from Lets Encrypt.
Update 2018: For the best performing VM host (UpCloud) read my guide on the awesome UpCloud VM hosts (get $25 free credit by signing up here).
Buy a domain name from Namecheap here.
Sorry for using the word free a lot but I like free things. One of the benefits of a using a self-managed server is you get the option to install free software and configure the server how you want and secure it how you want. Truth be told managed ho (e.g CPanel, etc) are in the business of making money via monthly feed, expensive SSL certificates, taxing your transactions or pushing you to higher-priced tiers.
- Self Managed Server = A server that you create, you configure patch and support (all the reward and risk is owned by you and costs are low).
- Hosted Server = A server you have partial control of and the hosts manage the server and support (You hand away all risk and most of the control and pay for support/features).
I moved to a self-managed server after I was paying $25/m for a poorly performing website and $150/y for a poor quality SSL certificate and a slice of a server that seemed to always say “Usage Limit Exceeded”. Why pay for an insecure website that my visitors could not view because the usage limit was exceeded.
fyi: Fearby.com costs me $10 a month for a server and $5/m for CDN abilities.
CPanel hosts are an option when you don’t want to self-manage a service and take on the hassle but be prepared for server limitations (The image below was taken on an older CPanel based hosts before I moved to a self-managed Vultr server)
I recently discovered a well known and established website hosting service (that I used to use) and a friend is still using is insecure. My friend’s site has a static website on it but the server underneath was very old and insecure. Having a secure web server should be at the top of your list with any self-managed or hosted website (this will help search engine optimization and prevent risks to your website visitors).
Sites like Virus Total, SSL Labs and Alexa Site Info , Qualys are good ways to review a site’s credibility.
fyi: The awesome https://seositecheckup.com/ is awesome for evaluating our sites SEO score.
Before we set up a server with WordPress on your own server let’s quickly look at the alternative commercial ready to go website builders.
Alternative (paid) DIY Website Builders
The following leading commercial sites will allow you to build a site online.
In my opinion, five things matter with setting up site online website.
- Setup Costs, Monthly Cost and Commissions (what are the hidden charges)
- Security (having a food SSL Certificate is key to having a good organic traffic from search engines)
- Site Speed (Having a slow site will impact search engine optimization and drive visitors away)
- Accessibility (if your site is not WCAG accessible it will not rank high on search engines).
- Control (will you be able to do everything you want too, nothing worse than going so far and being limited)
Ok, let’s see how much it will cost to set up a simple business site on the sites above.
Setup: Goto https://www.wix.com/, Login to Wix, click Create Site, click Business, Click Choose a Template, Edit the page, Click Save, Click “Connect your own customized domain“, Click “Connect a domain you already own“.
I was redirected to a Wix plan pricing page where I need to choose a plan to continue. From what I researched you cant control HTML on Wix so can’t add a MailChimp newsletter signup form so you would have to go with the $24.5/m option to enable Email Campaigns.
I could not see information about included SSL certificates, SEO or other chargers. SSL is free after you pay right?
The Wix editor appears OK (it may take a bit of learning though).
I clicked publish and the site was live
A quick check of the SSL, Accessibility and SEO and no obvious deal breakers here apart from the price and platform lock-in.
I performed a security check on the site with https://freescan.qualys.com (passed)
Conclusion: I hear Wix templates are hard to change so choose your template wisely, A large collection of apps are available that you can add to the site.
Although Wix was nice and it does include a full-featured look at the engine it is not for me ($24/m USD is too expensive).
Squarespace basic websites cost $16/$25 a month or $34/52 for online stores: https://www.squarespace.com/pricing/
Loading the webpage on a non-logged-in (with SquareSpace login) browser displays a trial warning. Trial pages are essentially restricted (unlike Wix).
The mobile view does not match the template? I guess the chosen template is more of a vibe and not a template.
Setting up a Squarespace website may take some time. Squarespace does have some nifty advance options in a slide-out menu though.
Because the public view of the page is restricted I cannot scan it with WCAG accessibility tools. Scanning the site performance speeds with gtmetrix also fails.
Squarespace is well known to be difficult to set up a website when compared to other drag and drop editors (but Squarespace sites do look nice).
I am not paying $54/m for a website so let’s move on.
Shopify Setup: Goto https://shopify.com and click Create, Sign up and enter your store name. Complete the wizard.
Choose a Shopify Plan
Scalping transactions, no thanks. let’s move on.
Weebly Setup: Goto https://www.weebly.com/au and click Get Started under Create Store. Enter your account details and click Create Your Site, enter the name of the store, Click I’m just trying Weebly, click the type of product you will be selling.
Weebly Site Setup
Choose a Domain
Publish the site
Clicking publish appears to be a dead end.
“Please contact Weebly Support to verify your account”, No Thanks, let’s move on.
One candidate remains and that is WordPress hosted (wordpress.com not wordpress.org).
WordPress.com offer hosted plans for WordPress in the cloud.
Setup a WordPress site, the only one that removes WordPress branding and allows third-party plugins to be installed it the Business plans for $33 a month.
Choose a WordPress theme.
Assign a Domain
In order to buy a domain, you need to log in (top right) with an account
My working WordPress account (is no longer working), it was in my password manager.
I seem to be stuck in a signup loop
Time to move on. Time to set up my own server on Vultr and setup WordPress and WooCommerce,
But, before we do, let’s ensure our name is secure online.
Search for your Name/Brand
Do search for your website (or thing) in search engines to see if your name is already taken, don’t buy a domain that is owned or has IP or trademark presence. It is a good idea to use sites like https://namechk.com/ to see if your site or social media is already taken.
namechk.com will allow you to search for name availability online. The name “mything” is not fully available online.
You will want to see all green squares (name available) below before buying a domain name. This looks better.
I would recommend you create your social media accounts before or right after buying your domain. Sites like Twitter will insist on short usernames names so get your social media sites first.
Trademark and Brand Search
Also, perform a trademark and IP search.
Australian Trademark Search: https://search.ipaustralia.gov.au/trademarks/search/quick
United States Trademark Database: https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks-application-process/search-trademark-database
Global brand Search: http://www.wipo.int/branddb/en/
Self Managed Warning
I tend to go the “self-managed server route” and install the free WordPress CMS because:
- I can.
- I am tight.
- I like having full control (usually the best features for online web hosts are hidden behind subscriber tiers, you can install and do whatever you want on your own server like build API’s, distributed MySQL servers, install MongoDB or Redis , use up to date PHP etc).
- I have been stung by CPanel hosts charging $150/y for a crappy SSL certificate (You can set up your own SSL certificate for $0 and set up super secure SSL rules).
- I can manage WordPress via the command line
- I can upgrade the server and restore it whenever I want.
- I can manage my own server performance (e.g setup PHP child workers) or install a Content Delivery Network.
- I can direct domain email to google G Suite, see pricing here.
There are many reasons why you would not want to “self-manage” your own server
- Technical Requirements (and time to support).
- Higher Risk.
- Applying Updates and Patches.
Being technically minded and choosing a “self-managed web servers” can take away time from the fun stuff like SEO, Site Design, customer needs, branding etc.
Self Managed Costs
For $5 a month you can buy a server with enough memory to install WordPress (cheaper if you don’t need WordPress)
Vultr is great. Vultr does have ready to go servers that you can deploy that have WordPress all set up.
The Vultr template above does use the Centos OS (read my guide setting up Centos on a different service provider here) but I prefer to manually setup a server with Ubuntu 16.04 OS on Vultr.
With $5 server you can do what you want with it. I have blogged before about setting up your own Server. e.g Installing Centos and Ubuntu server on Digital Ocean. Digital Ocean does not have data centres in Australia and this kills scalability. AWS is good but 4x the price of Vultr. I have blogged about setting up and AWS server here (and upgrading an AWS instance). I tried to check out Alibaba Cloud but the verification process was broken so I decided to check our Vultr.
Manual Setup of Vultr on an Ubuntu 16.04 server
- Deploy a Vultr Server – Guide here ($2.5/m to New Jersey or Florida or $5/m to Sydney, I would recommend you opt-in for the auto backup for $0.50c/m and $1/m respectively).
- Setup NGINX.
- Setup PHP and PHP-FPM (see guide above), consider adding PHP child workers.
- Setup and secure MySQL (see guide above), create a database for WordPress to use.
- Instal Adminder MySQL GUI (guide here).
- Setup a free Lets Encrypt SSL certificate (guide here).
- Install WordPress (and Jetpack plugin).
- Install WordPress CLI.
- Instal the WooCommerce Storefront WordPress Theme.
- Install WooCommerce Plugin.
- Secure Ubuntu.
- Also consider linking your domain to Cloudflare to boost performance, scanning your site with Qualys Freescan and OWASP ZAP).
- Consider setting up a WordPress image compressor and CDN plugin. like EWWW.io
Manual WooCommerce Plugin Setup
Once you setup Woocommerce you can set up the store defaults. Go to the WordPress dashboard and click WooCommerce Settings
Settings – General
- Set Address, City and State and Postcode
- Set allowed countries to sell in (e.g Australia)
- Set allowed countries to ship items to (e.g Australia)
- Set Enable Taxes
- Set Currency
Settings – Products
- Set Weight
- Set Dimensions
- Enable Product Reviews
- Enable Star Ratings on Reviews
Settings – Shipping
- Enable Shipping Calculator
- Add Shipping Classes
- Shipping Zones
Settings – Checkout
- Force Secure Checkup
- Create a Terms and Conditions page (and set).
Settings – Account
- Set Account Options
Settings – Emails
- Set Email Preferences
- Set Email Header Image
- Set Email Colour
- Set Footer Text
Settings – API
- API can be disabled if you don’t need it.
- Setup Yoast Plugin
- Setup other plugins
Instaling a Woo Commerce Child Theme
Go to https://woocommerce.com/product-category/themes/storefront-child-theme-themes/ and choose a theme.
Purchase and Install the desired child theme (I uploaded it to my /wp-content/themes/ folder with forklift). I chose a free deli theme.
Goto your WordPress then themes folder and activate your new child theme.
Post Site Setup
Just because your site is live does not mean you can rest.
Do use sites like https://seositecheckup.com/ and follow recommended actions to improve your SEO like updating meta tags.
Attaching an email to your domain
You can pay $5 a month and link a G Suite email to your domain.
- Dedicated professional Google G Suite email account for $5 a month with 30GB storage (If you don’t want ot to buy a G Suite email and link it to your domain then you don’t need this).
Once you have a G Suite account you can link other domains (and domain emails) to it. You can login to your G Suite emails via G Mail and send emails from apps or the command line.
I use the server host Vultr as they have data centres all around the world and the support of great, Digital Ocean is good too but they don’t have data centres in my country (Australia). Vultr allows you to deploy all over the world upgrade servers, move servers, add storage and restore servers.
Alternatively, you can buy a $2.5/m server and generate a static website
I use the Platforma Web HTML generator to build mobile and WCAG compliant websites.
Buying a domain, I buy my domains from https://www.namecheap.com/ it is a good idea to look for coupons first at https://www.namecheap.com/promos/coupons.aspx before buying a domain.
Once you buy a domain you can point it to a Vultr server and upload your website.
I hope this helps someone.
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