How to Set Up a WordPress Website, and Why
There are a lot of ways to get started with a new website.
The easiest, of course, is to hire a designer and production team to build and maintain your site for you. But, the cost of that can be prohibitive, particularly for new businesses. One alternative is to build and maintain your own site. But if you’re running a business, do you really have the time needed to create and keep a successful website? After all, how much is your time worth?
An effective compromise between those options would combine both professional design and low-cost maintenance. One workable solution is to have the static, unchanging portions of your website professionally designed and then add your own self-made and self-managed blog. Another solution is to have a designer help you set up your site using a content management system (CMS) that allows you to handle the routine maintenance and growth of your site.
An effective content management system that makes publishing simple can be an ideal solution, whether you are working with a designer or building your own site. There are a number of online publishing platforms to choose from that can help you build everything from a simple blog to a full-featured business website. Blogger, Tumblr and WordPress are good choices for simple, and free, blogging. Drupal and other CMS systems can help you build a larger, more complex site.
One of the Web’s most popular options, WordPress, is a low cost and easy solution for getting started, with advanced features and add-ons that can grow with a site.
- Lots of designs already exist for you to choose from if you are doing this yourself.
- Hundreds of quality plug-ins offer a way to add new features and functions to your website.
- WordPress is well supported – it’s a popular platform so you can find lots of information, how-to books and articles, and designers and developers who can help you customize your site to fit your business and your marketing goals.
- And the basic software is free, as are hundreds of themes and plugins – great for new businesses that don’t need more start-up costs.
There are two ways you can set up a WordPress website.
- Set up a free blog on WordPress.com – a good choice for hobbyists, personal blogs, or if you’re setting something up for family or friends.
- For a business blog or website, you’ll do better to have your own self-hosted WordPress site using your own domain name. This will give you more control over the look and feel, and you can brand it with your own domain name (web address).
Domain Names and Hosting for Your Website
If you decide on the free, do-it-yourself website, and you don’t need to use a custom domain, go to WordPress.com and you can get started immediately.
For the rest of this discussion, I’ll assume you want your own domain name and that you will find your own host for your website.
Before you can install and get started with WordPress, you will need to have these two steps completed.
- Choose and register a domain name. I could write this article and several more just about how to choose the right domain name. In brief, the ideal domain name would be something that is easy to remember and enter; if possible, contains one or more of your important keywords; and is something that will not confuse your website with another, particularly a competitor’s. GoDaddy is a great place to search for and register your domain name. And, while they offer hosting services, I recommend you use a different service for hosting than you use for your domain registration.
- Choose a host and set up your account. It’s possible to host your website yourself, either on your own servers, or by leasing server space. But most small businesses will want to buy shared hosting from a provider.
It’s important to choose a reliable service with good support. There is no shortage of hosts available and it can be confusing. (Lemon Dog Project offers customized hosting for its clients that includes set up, monitoring and maintenance.)
Now that you have selected and registered your domain name and purchased your hosting, you can install and set up the WordPress software.
Most hosts offer an easy automatic installation process. For example, the video below shows Bluehost’s easy installation of WordPress using their SimpleScripts available from the CPanel on a Bluehost account. Many other hosts offer a similar easy installation process.
If you’ve chosen a different hosting company and need to install WordPress manually (host doesn’t have a simple installation process as shown above), then you will need to download the WordPress software and follow their guidelines.
Choosing the Right Design
A big advantage of using WordPress is the enormous selection of ready-made designs (called themes) that are available for you to use.
Free WordPress Themes
The WordPress themes directory offers you the choice of thousands of free themes. You can easily select and install any of these themes from your WordPress dashboard once you have installed WordPress. Look for a theme that reflects your business and the type of information you want to provide. For instance, an e-commerce site may require a very different theme than blog about gardening.
A free theme may be the best choice for many people. But free themes can have hidden costs that should be considered before you make a final selection. Free themes often have no support or very limited support. The theme’s creator may have moved on to other projects and no longer be interested in maintaining and upgrading old themes. If you get into any difficulty, you’re pretty much on your own to figure it out. In addition, some free themes may be difficult to change or customize the design, even if you later engage a designer to help. Adding new features may also be limited.
Purchased or Premium Themes
It is not necessary to purchase a theme to have a successful site, and it is certainly not necessary to pay to find an attractive theme. However, many experienced WordPress users recommend paying for a premium WordPress theme. The costs for premium themes are generally very low and that small cost can often add many valuable features, as well as ongoing support and development of the theme.
You may be able to find paid themes that are more appropriate for your business or that communicate better to your potential customers. Premium themes are often written better with fewer bugs, and are upgraded when WordPress is upgraded. Many premium themes also make it easier and quicker to change settings and add important features such as Google Analytics or social media to your site.
A few places to look for premium themes:
- StudioPress - hundreds of well-designed premium themes - single theme costs $99.
- Thesis from DIYthemes.com - basic version costs $87.
- ThemeForest – thousands of themes from multiple developers starting at just $3.
- A simple search for “WordPress themes” will find hundreds of sites to choose from.
In general, it’s unlikely that any “canned” theme, paid or free, will be exactly what you want or need. But better themes will include options and capabilities for customization. If you’re working with a designer, he or she can help you choose the right theme and can make customizations that could turn an almost right theme into the perfect theme.
If your unique business just won’t fit into a pre-designed mold, WordPress can still be a great content management solution with the help of a designer who can create a custom theme just for your business.
WordPress is a Flexible Platform
One of the things I like best about WordPress is the ability to decide just how much you want to tackle on your own and how much you want to get help with. This means the business that’s just getting started and doesn’t have a budget for a website can still have an Internet presence for little or no cost. Growing businesses that may have started out with a do-it-yourself site, can expand easily just by bringing in additional help to customize and enhance the site. And well-established businesses can customize their WordPress site and still keep the content management system benefits.
No matter what kind of theme you decide on, consider looking for a responsive design. Responsive designs take advantage of newer features of HTML (hypertext markup language) and CSS (cascading style sheets), to “respond” to the device the page is being displayed on. This helps to overcome the drastic differences between today’s large monitors and the relatively small screens of tablets and smartphones.
Typically, responsive themes adjust images and copy size and placement automatically to keep the integrity of the design and offer the best user experience in terms of readability and usefulness of the site.
Installing free themes from the WordPress free themes directory is easy and can be done right from your WordPress dashboard. Bluehost has several videos that will walk you through the process of changing and customizing themes. These steps will be similar no matter what host you have chosen.
When purchasing themes, follow the installation instructions provided with the theme.
Building Your Content
Your new website provides you with the opportunity to tell the world about your company or service. However, sites that provide the information people are looking for will do better. Be sure content on your site will answer the questions people have about you, your company, or products or services. Make it easy for people to get the answers they are looking for.
There are some basic pages that create a foundation on which you build. These include:
- A home page - with a clear call to action. This is one of the main ways people will enter your site, so it’s one of the most important pages to get right. Make sure this page clearly communicates to visitors where they are, what they can do there, and why they should do it. “Clarity trumps persuasion.” – Clint McLaughlin, MecLabs
- An ‘About us’ page that offers more information for people who want some background or to learn more about the history, staff credentials, etc.
- A contact page, even if you have contact information on other pages.
- Products / services page(s) – this can be quite different depending on what, how many, types of products and services and whether you are selling products and services on your site. These are pages that need to answer visitors questions and provide the information that they need to make decisions. Confusion on these pages is your enemy. Make sure the navigation and links to and from these pages are clear and easy to use and understand.
Many people will tell you to have a testimonials page. I do not recommend segregating this important credibility factor off by itself, hoping people will notice it. The place for testimonials is in a position near decision points. A testimonial about how great product A is should be positioned near your information and call to action for product A, not off buried in a page full of testimonials that may have nothing to do with product A.
Manage your widgets
All themes offer widgets that let you add information in a sidebar or footer, or sometimes in combinations of sidebars and footers. The sidebar is a great place to put information you want every visitor to see, regardless of which page of your site they’re on. And footers are a great place for supplemental information.
Some things you may want to include using widgets:
- A search box – you’ll need at least 25 pages to attract search engine traffic. You’ll do even better if you continue to add content and create hundreds, even thousands, of pages. This means you’ll need a search box to help visitors find the content they want.
- Subscription options or a call to action – one of the main purposes of a website is to build a contact list and use that to stay in touch with clients and prospects. Make sure there is a clear call to action on every page that allows you to capture an email address, or allows you to connect with the visitor via social media.
- Categories – listing categories and/or tags will help visitors drill down to the kind of information they are interested in.
Want a new feature for your site? Need to add social icons, analytics and more? The answer is plugins and there is a good chance you’ll be able to find a plugin that will do just about anything you can think of. A key benefit of WordPress is that there are loads of ready-made, free plugins that you can use to enhance your site’s features and functionality.
- SEO — WordPress isn’t automatically optimized for search engines. So, you’ll need to set up SEO-friendly URLs (web page addresses). I recommend WordPress SEO by Yoast.
- Broken Links — I recommend an easy, automatic check for Broken Link Checker — (which are a pain for visitors and can harm your optimization efforts).
- Social buttons — A social presence is more important than ever for gaining reputation and popularity for your site. Make sure that your site’s visitors can share your content easily. ShareThis works great.
- Google Analytics — Analytics will help you understand much more about the performance of your website and the success of your marketing actions. Once you set up Google Analytics, a plugin makes it easy to add to your site. I recommend Super Simple Google Analytics for easy implementation.
- Install a good spam-fighting plugin like Akismet. This will stop automated robots from spamming your site.
- Another great plugin is the Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP). This plugin will recommend up to five related posts. Both readers and search engines love related content - it encourages the visitor to click through to more pages on your site, and improves your internal linking. Which is all good for your SEO.