Without a doubt, the transition from an offline to an online consumer world has accelerated exponentially over the last several years—and more so since the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic.
Clearly, a website that can be monetized is your gateway to this multi-trillion dollar world. However, to pull this off you need to be armed with the right tools from the get go.
The wrong set of tools will simply keep you stuck on the ground floor.
You First Key Decision When Creating a Website
When it comes to choosing the right tools to create your website, there are two main paths you can follow:
Which path is best for you depends on your specific needs. Website builders require a lot less technical knowledge to get up and running, but offer much less flexibility when it comes to diversifying your online income.
Self-hosted websites require a lot more technical proficiency, but offer almost limitless freedom of choice.
Lets look at some examples...
If you want to build a website to support a professional service (say, you're a physiotherapist) and you're not technically inclined, then a website builder will likely offer all you need to promote your business, book your appointments and accept payments online.
Since you can't scale beyond the maximum number of clients that you can personally handle on a daily basis, you don't need more flexibility than what popular website builders currently offer.
However, if you want to launch an affiliate site that'll scale its traffic into the tens of thousands or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of visitors per month, you'll be better off with a self-hosted solution.
While more technically demanding, a self-hosted site will offer you an endless supply of third-party extensions to scale without limits, integrate with a vast number of tools that can help you diversify your income, and secure your site against bad actors trying to do you and your business harm.
Let’s now go more in depth into each approach.
The Website Builder Approach
What’s a website builder exactly? It's basically “the machine that builds the machine.”
In other words, it’s a service that allows you to develop a website from scratch to launch without having to write a single line of code and without even having to be technically proficient.
Now, do website builders address the needs of every single website project you can throw at them? No, in some cases, they are just too limiting and often impractical.
But in many other cases, perhaps yours included, they're the perfect solution to create a functional and attractive website that does everything you need at a reasonable cost.
Who are Ideal candidates for website builders?
- People who need to create professional looking online portfolios
- Artists (musicians, photographers, painters, sculptors, etc.)
- Self-employed service providers (editors, writers, proofreaders, consultants, etc.)
- Small retail stores (gift shops, specialty food stores, non-chain clothing stores, non-chain pet stores, etc.)
- Hospitality services (restaurants, bars, non-chain hotels, motels, inns, b&b's, etc.)
- Professional services (chiropractors, dentists, therapists, clinics, vets, etc.)
- Home/car service providers (plumbers, electricians, HVAC repair, painters, mechanics, body shops, etc.)
- Small food services (non-chain fast-food joints & pizza places, specialty food grocery stores, etc.)
- Small-scale services in general (accounting/bookkeeping, barbers, yoga and fitness studios, etc.)
Who’ll likely find website builders limiting?
- Online business that are not localized (e.g. sites that deal with national or worldwide audiences and large amounts of traffic)
- Businesses with a complex service structure that require websites with multiple levels of menus and dozens or hundreds of pages
- eCommerce sites with a complex merchandise mix that require a lot of advanced automation for products, taxes, shipping, etc.
- Complex multilingual websites
- Large blogs (100+ posts) with multiple categories and a large readership
The Self-Hosted Approach
What’s a self-hosted website? Unlike website builders, where you give a service provider full control over the operation of your site, a self-hosted website runs on a server that you get to control and manage.
There are three main types of self-hosted solutions:
- Shared-hosting, where multiple websites time-share resources on the same server (lowering your costs)
- Virtual private servers, where you get a wall-gardened non-shared “piece” of a server and all the resources that go with it dedicated to your website (higher cost)
- Dedicated hosting, where your website gets its own fully dedicated server (highest cost)
By having total control over your website you get to add features, functionality and resources as you see fit (sometimes for free, other times for an additional cost), allowing you to scale your user base and grow your online revenue virtually without limits.
Who are Ideal candidates for self-hosted websites?
- Affiliate sites that deal with large amounts of traffic
- Websites that require multiple levels of menus and dozens or hundreds of pages (most website builders have a limited number of menu levels)
- Websites that require elaborate marketing funnels with multiple upsells and downsells that need to integrate with a host of third-party automation tools that may not work well with website builders
- Websites that sell information products and require advanced drip membership modules to deliver them
- eCommerce sites with a complex product mix that require rules with advanced automation
- Complex multilingual websites (website builders can only handle simple multilingual websites with mostly static information)
- Large blogs (100+ posts) with multiple categories and a large readership
Now, unlike website builders, self-hosted platforms do require a minimum level of technical proficiency and basic knowledge about the inner workings of the World Wide Web, such as domain name servers, server-based email, domain and email forwarding, file structures, SSL certificates and so on.
While you don’t necessarily need to poses all this knowledge in advance, you do have to be willing to put in the time required to learn it—but don’t worry, there’s a wealth of free information and tutorials readily available on the Internet for this purpose.
What Tools do I Need to Self-Host my Website?
Unlike website builders, where everything you need is provided through a single service, self-hosted sites require three separate sets of tools in order to function.
First, you'll need a web hosting service to host your domain that includes WordPress, a free open-source content management system (CMS). This is the software where all of your website content will reside (WordPress powers over 35% of all websites worldwide).
Next, you'll need a WordPress theme, the add-on software that'll create the look and feel of your website, including the fonts, the color palette of your brand and the design of all your pages.
Here, you're looking for a theme that's flexible, easy to use, fast and a theme that includes a large number of integrations with third-party tools and services required to maximize your online income.
Finally, you'll need a number of WordPress plugins to provide you with added functionality to increase your revenue potential, speed up your site and shield it from bad actors, among many other important tasks.
For example, you may need to add the functionality of a shopping cart with a checkout page if you're selling digital or physical products, a membership plugin if you're offering a monthly subscription with recurring revenue, a plugin for anti-spam protection with a security firewall, etc.
1- Self-Hosting Service Providers
When it comes to self-hosting your website, performance is key: search engines are known for penalizing slow websites because of their poor user experience.
So, you need to look for services that consistently deliver fast WordPress websites and with high uptime (above 99%).
In addition, you want to choose a service provider that can offer:
- Free website migration from other platforms
- 24/7 phone, live chat and email support
- Server locations in multiple continents (North America, Europe and Asia)
- 2-factor authentication to sign in to your account for added protection
- Free SSL encryption
- 24/7 monitoring service that checks for malware and other attacks
- Extensive knowledge base
2- WordPress Themes
WordPress is without a doubt the most popular content management system in the world.
But having a place to manage your content is just the beginning, you’ll also need the means to display it, be it on webpages, blog posts, headers, footers, sidebars, widgets, a search page, a 404 page, and so on.
In short, you'll need to create all the bits and pieces that make a website functional. And if you’re like most of us (i.e. not IT pros) you'll want to achieve all of the above without having to write a single line of code.
This is where a good WordPress theme comes to the rescue.
For a WordPress theme to be really useful it needs to provide you with maximum design flexibility down to the pixel level, so you can create the perfect website for your needs.
You also want a theme with a well-thought out conversion functionality so you can use it to turn visitors into leads and leads into customers, easily integrating with popular email marketing tools and online shopping carts.
You need to look out for themes that offer:
- Integration with popular online email marketing tools and platforms so that you can market to your visitors and convert them to leads
- Integration with popular eCommerce platforms, shopping carts and online payment processors so that you can monetize your visitors
- Functionality to present your visitors with well-placed offers, opt-ins, landing pages, lead magnets, upsell and downsell funnels, etc.
- Ability to A/B test as much of your marketing messages as possible (including post and page headlines, opt-ins, landing pages, lead magnets, upsell and downsell funnels, and so on)
- Ability to present your marketing messages in as many formats as possible, including pop-ups, slide-ins, screen fillers, scroll mats, ribbons, widgets, and lightboxes.
3- WordPress Plugins
The real power behind WordPress is the array of plugins that provide it with the functionality you need to develop a profitable online presence.
Now, there are over 50,000 plugins out there vying for your attention, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, all you really need is just a handful in order to succeed.
What Plugins do I need for my WordPress Site to Function Properly?
When you create your website, you want to make sure you’re building it on a solid foundation. To ensure continued growth and performance, you'll need to:
- Make sure your website is as hacker-proof as humanly (and technologically) possible
- Make sure it's protected from spammers (especially your contact forms and comment sections)
- Make sure it loads fast so that you can rank higher on search engines
- Make sure it connects with as many social media platforms as possible so your visitors can easily share your posts and pages
- Make sure it seamlessly integrates with popular bulk email services so you can turn it into a marketing engine
- Make sure it's designed to acquire leads with ease and simplicity
- Make sure it can collect payments if you sell products, services, memberships or subscriptions
Let’s now look at a core set of 9 types of plugins you’ll need to consider at a minimum in order to operate a secure and profitable website:
3.1- Anti Spam Plugins
Once you get your WordPress website up and running and you begin to get traffic, you’ll soon come to the realization that the Internet is infested with spam-bots clogging the arteries of engagement with visitors, specifically:
- Comment sections
- Contact forms
- Account creation
- Orders, etc.
One solution to mitigate this spam is to add a captcha to every point where you interact with your visitors, but most people find them annoying and you’ll soon discover that many visitors will bail rather than having to answer a riddle.
Anti Spam plugins do away with the need for captchas by using sophisticated algorithms to filter spammy user-supplied information on the fly against a massive database of spambots that they keep on the cloud.
The reason you need to deal with spam from the get go is that most times they'll inject your website with bad spammy links that, over time, can cause your site to drop dramatically in the search-engine rankings.
In short, a good quality spam blocker is more of a necessity than a feature of convenience.
3.2- eCommerce Plugins
Hosting an online store on your WordPress website is one of the most profitable ways to monetize your visitors.
Whether you are planning to sell digital products for download, physical products to be shipped or monthly memberships, you’ll need an eCommerce solution that:
- Is super secure for your customers so they can trust to purchase from you (e.g. it's PCI compliant, has built-in fraud protection, stores customer payment information in a highly secured back-end and not on your web server, etc.)
- Works fast enough that you won’t lose customers in the middle of a transaction (3-5 seconds of payment processing max. Stay away from solutions that leave your customers hanging for 6-12 seconds before a payment is processed)
- Can handle multiple currencies, since most people prefer to make purchases in their own currency
- Has low transaction fees to keep more money in your bank account
- Is easy to customize, so you can make your shopping pages match the look and feel of your website
- Has access to a large selection of payment gateways, so you’re not stuck with one or two expensive options
- Has strong built-in analytics so that you know where shoppers are coming from, how much they are spending on average, when was the last time they made a purchase, and so on
- Is designed to be mobile responsive, and last but not least,
- Is SEO friendly
3.3- Form Builder Plugins
One of the most useful features on a website is a contact form.
For starters, it’s much safer for visitors to contact you via form than listing your email publicly on your website and become the unintended victim of spam.
You can also use forms to ask your visitors lead-qualifying questions and much more. For example, you could use forms to:
- Request quotes
- Enter a contest
- Fill out a survey
- Poll visitors
- Make payments
- Request a newsletter or any other type of lead magnet
- Register for an event
- Log in to a restricted area of your website (e.g. paid access only)
...and so on.
When it comes to form builder plugins, look for ones that are fast, mobile responsive and can easily integrate with email marketing automation platforms and payment gateways.
Also look for form plugins that offer nice looking functional templates that can do the job right out of the box and that have an intuitive drag and drop graphical editor.
Other useful features to look out for:
- Spam protection
- SEO friendliness
- Conversational forms (i.e. one question at a time)
- Ability to split long forms (which suffer from high form abandonment) into multiple linked form pages
- Integration with the most popular email marketing platforms and payment processors
- Email support and extensive online documentation
3.4- Lead Generation Plugins
It’s hard to monetize a visitor unless they’ve opted into an email list—without their email address they’ll simply remain anonymous to you no matter how many times they may visit your website.
And more importantly, without an email address you won’t be able to build a relationship of trust, which is key before you can make a sale.
The most effective way to capture someone's email in a legal and compliant way is by using an opt-in form where you offer a lead magnet, like a white paper, a valuable checklist, a newsletter, etc., in exchange for their email address.
This is what lead-generation plugins bring to the table—an access point where you can capture your email addresses so you can start building your list.
A good lead-generation plugin needs to be easy to use and offer multiple opt-in formats. For example, you want to have the choice to display opt-ins as a:
- Lightbox popup
- Slide-in popup
- Welcome mat
- Full screen
- Floating bar
- Sidebar widget
- In content form
Also, you want a plugin that offers many trigger options. For example, you want to be able to have your opt-ins appear:
- Immediately on page load
- After x seconds after landing on a page
- After the visitor scrolls past x percent of the page’s content
- On exit
- When the visitor clicks on a special link
- When you place a shortcode anywhere on a page
Finally, you want a lead-generation plugin that seamlessly integrates with most popular email marketing services so that you can create different drip email campaigns based on the pages your visitors land on.
3.5- Membership or Subscription Plugins
One of the most profitable forms of website monetization is a recurring payment model, like a subscription or a membership. If you create content that can be dripped on a regular basis, say monthly, you’ll be able to generate a consistent stream of recurring revenue.
While you may experience some churn, or a small number of people cancelling their subscription on a given month, you’ll more than make up for it by building a growing pipeline of new subscribers.
How do you manage such a profitable business model? With a membership/subscription plugin.
What you’re looking for in this type of plugin is the ability to:
- Collect payments on a regular basis through automatic credit card charges
- Deliver restricted content available only to paid members
- Drip content individually so that, say, someone with three paid months under their belt has access to more content than someone who’s just become a member
- Have content expire if a member cancels a subscription or fails to renew their membership
- Offer multiple levels of memberships (e.g. bronze, silver, gold, etc.)
- Offer coupons or special offers
- Allow members to manage their own account profiles to minimize tying up your resources (e.g. self-service for changes of address, credit card changes, password's, etc)
- Create upgrade and downgrade paths
- Support unlimited members and membership levels
- Easily integrate with popular email marketing platforms
- Easily integrate with popular payment processors
In addition, your membership plugin should allow you to create a paywall to tease content to nonmembers while guiding them through a sign-up path, prorate subscriptions if a member comes in half way through your membership cycle or when they upgrade (or downgrade) their memberships.
You also want to be able to drip content to members based on their actual registration date and automatically send warning emails when subscriptions or credit cards are about to expire.
3.6- Website Backup Plugins
Your website is your primary online asset and doing regular scheduled backups of all your files and databases is like taking out an insurance policy. If something catastrophic happens to your site, you’ll be covered.
You may think that your self-hosting service provider has redundant servers and that nothing could go wrong with your files, so why schedule regular backups on your own?
Well, your site could get hacked, you might delete something by accident or a file might become corrupted. Why take the risk?
When it comes to WordPress backup systems, you want to look for something that:
- Is designed with beginners in mind so you don’t have to play with a large number of settings to get it to work (the more things to tweak, the more things that could go wrong)
- Is reliable 100% of the time. You never want to do a backup that fails on restore
- It can save your backups to a remote location (e.g. Google Drive or Dropbox)—e.g. you don’t want to keep your safety deposit box in your house because you may lose both in a fire!
- Allows both scheduled and on-demand (manual) backups
- Won’t break your wallet
3.7- Social Media Sharing Plugins
Next to Google searches, the best source of traffic for your website are social media networks.
To ensure that your content is widely shared, you’ll need to install social sharing buttons on all your posts and pages to make it super easy for visitors to share your content.
You want to choose a plugin that gives you the option to set social sharing buttons to float on your page as you scroll or to be in a fixed position, while giving you the freedom to select the type of content you want your buttons to appear on (e.g. you may choose to have buttons show up on posts but not pages).
3.8- Website Caching Plugins
Here’s a fact I’m sure you’ll agree with: everybody hates slow websites. Slow websites can kill your conversions and send people running in the opposite direction.
But worse yet, search engines hate slow websites too because it hurts their bottom line. So, to avoid annoying their customers they penalize slow websites by sending them to the bottom of search rankings so people never find them!
The antidote? A strong caching plugin. These plugins use a lots of neat software tricks to speed up page loading by:
- Creating static copies of each page and pre-loading them into people's browsers super fast instead of loading all the individual page elements piecemeal every time someone visits one of your pages
- Lazy loading images, in other words, only loading one image at a time as it becomes visible when you scroll down instead of loading all images on a page upfront
- Optimizing your database by eliminating unnecessary data that’s no longer accessed or required
- Compressing images to reduce their file sizes
3.9- Website Security Plugins
When it comes to security, the Internet is like the wild west.
The arteries of the World Wide Web are jam packed with bad actors with malicious intent, whether it's to commandeer your server and your email to spread spam to unsuspecting visitors, inject malware on their computer, steal your affiliate links, or anything nefarious under the sun.
The only effective defense from becoming the recipient of malicious data packets coming your way is with the use of a powerful website security system to protect you.
These plugins will act as a digital sieve that filters out all the bad actors before they even reach your server, sending your way only legitimate visitors and data.
Without a doubt, this is the best insurance policy you can buy for your online business.
Congratulations for making it this far! In this article I've covered all the basic tools that you need in order to create a website that'll allow you to earn money online in a sustainable and secure way.
Whether you choose to go with a website builder or a self-hosted site, you now know the pros and cons of each approach plus the add-on tools that are required to fortify your site against malicious attacks while you create multiple online revenue streams.
If you’re ready to get started with tool selection, check out the top navigation menus on this website for specific recommendations or visit our home page at BestTech2EarnOnline for a full tech roadmap for online entrepreneurs.