November 21, 2017
 
How to Develop a Free Website Right Now

By Chava Hudson

Chava Hudson
Nonprofits with tight budgets need web authoring tools that can create a professional looking website that staff can easily update. The good news is such a product is available. The better news is that it’s free.

It’s called WordPress, a blogging system that doubles as a website with a content management system. In the world of Web 2.0 where websites connect to social media and have easy tag input for search engines to help get you noticed, WordPress fits the bill on many fronts. There are two versions of this program, one more appropriate for an organization or business.

WordPress.com

If you go to WordPress.com, you can get a free account and in moments you will have a blogging system that is great for getting your feet wet. However, the templates here are limited and although you can upload your banner or logo, it doesn't allow you to tinker under the hood. Since this is hosted on their site, the URL will look like this:
    http://yourname.wordpress.com.
If you don’t want “wordpress” to appear in your website URL, for only $10 per year you can opt to have WordPress host your URL (which you have to reserve and pay for through a domain registry site, like GoDaddy.com).

WordPress.org

WordPress.org allows you to select from a huge range of free templates, which are totally customizable in both design and functionality. However, unless you are a web designer or a programmer, some of this is not for the timid. Without going too deep under the hood, there are lots of options, depending on the template you select.

All templates allow you to upload your own banner or logo for a custom look which is easy enough, but you may also want a designer to change other graphics in the template to fit your own color scheme. Compared to the cost of designing a site from scratch with comparable functionality, it is actually pennies on the dollar.

Although WordPress itself is free, there may be some minimum costs involved. You can install it yourself if your server meets basic requirements, or your web host can install it and do the configuration on the server. WordPress offers some inexpensive hosting solutions which allow “instant” installation. You can review them by clicking here.

To run WordPress your host just needs a couple of things:
  • PHP version 4.3 or greater
  • MySQL version 4.1.2 or greater
That’s really it. WordPress recommends Apache or Nginx as the most robust and feature rich server for running this program, but any server that supports PHP and MySQL will do.

Once installed, browse through your dashboard which is command central for your site. If you click on “Appearance” you'll find links to the free templates and will be able to select a few that are close to what you want. It is advisable to get your template through the site since it will have less bugs. You can preview them and download them instantly. If you want something with advanced functionality, you may want to spring for a purchased template and for under $100 you can get something that is easier to use with features like homepage slide shows for the featured articles.

Once you've decided on a template, you can start customizing it to make your site reflect your unique branding. Once complete, you will be able to add written content, photos (easy upload, galleries, and instant sizing), video, and audio files. The dashboard allows for different users so that you may have unlimited contributors, each with their own login, with levels of power within the site.

You can add pages (static pages like traditional websites) or “categories” which operate like a blog, WordPress will create a searchable archive for your articles. Many WordPress templates allow you to create drop-down menus instantly. You can add tags for search engines, connect to Facebook, Twiitter, and many other social media. You may also want to check out the free plugins which can extend the functionality of your new site.

Chava Hudson, of Chava Hudson Design, provides web and print design services to nonprofits and small businesses. Call her at 978-998-4519 or email chava@chavahudsondseign.com.

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