Be it for blogging, online marketing or virtually any other reason, the following guide will allow you to create exactly the website you want. Using WordPress, which is free, open-source software, used by tens of millions of websites from the smallest to major players including CNN and The New York Times, you will learn to create and maintain any type of web by yourself with relative ease. There is no need to do any coding, and there are countless themes and plugins that will allow you to transform your site and make it do whatever you want in no time.
This guide will give you an understanding of all the core WordPress features if you are a beginner and help you get past that initial learning curve quickly. Those who already have some experience can use the following to increase their knoweldge of WordPress, find the best plugins and add functionality.
In addition, this guide also contains a wealth of information that will help you optimize your site for visitors and search engines as well as market online if those are your goals. With the flexibility of the system, almost anything can be done.
The entire process is laid out in a modular form so you can easily skip over any part you do not need. Regardless, there is certainly something for everyone. Use it to start creating sites you can be proud of that can help you accomplish any online goals you might have.
Starting with WordPress
WordPress is open source and free, but it is continuously being updated and is a favorite of beginners and experienced users alike. Some of the themes and plugins recommended here are paid, but it is possible to create your site without them and only pay the minimal costs of the domain name and hosting.
As themes, skins and plugins can quickly transform any WordPress site, it is possible to start with one type of site and change it later. For example, as a blog can be transformed into an ecommerce site, users may start out blogging and only later move to selling online.
First, a domain name and hosting
Once you have a good idea what type of site you would like and have decided on a niche (see how to find a niche), you need to decide on the domain name. Some things to shoot for in a domain name are whether or not it is catchy, not too long or contains keywords. The process and different points to consider are covered in more detail at domain names.
You will then need hosting to keep your site online for visitors to access. Be sure to choose a good provider as many visitors will move on to the next site if yours takes too long to load. In addition, slow site speeds can have a negative effect on your search engine rankings. Fortunately, hosting is a competitive field and generally reasonably priced. Some recommended providers can be found here. Hosting that uses the Unix based cPanel hosting is recommended but not required.
If you buy your hosting from a different provider than your domain name, you will need to change the DNS (domain name system) so that it points to your domain hosting. This procedure only takes a minute and should be explained by the register you bought the domain from.
- The database which will contains most site settings, posts and other data.
- The files in your root folder (usually public_html). These are the files that make your site display and work.
As WordPress is so widely used, there are plenty of sites and videos out there to help if you have any problems that might have been missed here. The following installation process is covered in more detail at installing WordPress.
If Fantastico is available with your hosting, it can be used to automate the process of installing WordPress, but it is not difficult to install manually as covered below and in the WordPress installation guide.
- Download WordPress and unzip the package
- Login to your hosting, find the MySQL Database Wizard and click on it.
- Follow the steps to create a database, database user with password and give the user all privileges (make sure you save the database name, username and password as they will be needed in the next step).
- Go into the folder you extracted in Step 1. Find the wp-config-sample.php, right click on the file and remove “sample” from the name (rename the file to wp-config.php).
- Enter the database, database user with password information you created in Step 3 onto the wp-config.php file as shown.
- Use free FTP software, such as FileZilla, to upload everything into the root directory. Unless you are using a subdomain, this should be the public_html folder.
- Go to http://example.com/wp-admin/install.php (replace “example.com”with your domain name), run the install script and follow the final steps to set up and login to your site, making sure you choose a secure username and password.
The WordPress admin menu
Once logged in, you will see the WordPress admin menu on the left side. The tabs will expand when clicked on. Virtually all of your basic features and controls of WordPress can be found within this area.
Start using WordPress and install a theme
Now you have a platform to build a site. For those who do not have any experience building websites, things might seem a little daunting at first. However, looks can be deceiving, and it is not nearly as complex as you might first think.
While you can use the default WordPress theme, it is recommended that you use a premium theme. With a premium theme, in this case we recommend ClickBump, you will get a much more versatile platform with many extra features included. For example, SEO, Google Authorship and social networking systems are all come with the theme. Having all of these included in the theme makes building the site simpler and allows everything to run faster, and ClickBump has beaten the top themes for speed. There is also free support. Finally, there are “skins” that can be interchanged in the theme to quickly change the look of the site while keeping its core features the same (basically, the skins just alter the appearance of the theme).
Go to ClickBump to buy and download this premium theme (or see a full review here). To install it (or any other theme theme you have downloaded if you choose another theme) go to Appearance > Themes and then select the Install Themes tab at the top of the page. Click on the Upload button and upload the theme file.
Various free and paid themes can be found at WordPress themes.
Click on the Settings tab on the left side and you will see a number of sections (General, Writing, etc. below). When starting, most of the default settings will be fine, but it is best to familiarize yourself and check out the following settings:
- General: Some things to make sure of is that you have a good site title and tagline.
- Writing: You might want to add update services (see pinging on WordPress plugins). http://acesitecreator.com/wordpress-plugins/
- Reading: Make sure that “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is not on unless you do not want search engines to find the site.
- Discussion: You will want to encourage visitors to comment, but this comes later and the default settings should be fine to start.
- Media: This will determine the sizes of the images you upload to your site.
- Permalinks: For most sites, the advisable setting is: http://yoursitename/sample-post/ (in other words, your domain name followed the title you assign to each URL). This makes it possible for you to adjust your site’s structure without having to change the links. The page URLs can also be kept shorter and focused on the content of the page, which is best for SEO.
Next: Learn Basic WordPress Features and Start Creating Your Website
The core function of WordPress is simply to display your content. In time, most site owners want their sites to have more features than the basic setup provides. With WordPress as popular as it is, many people have already created the code that can do these things for you. These plugins are generally free or inexpensive and can quickly be installed on your site to instantly add new functions.
Go to Plugins > Installed Plugins to see what is on your site.
To install a new Plugin, go to Plugins > Add New and do a search. When you find what you are looking for, click Install Now.
When installing a plugin you have downloaded, with your FTP software, go to your root folder > wp-content > plugins and upload the entire plugin’s folder (make sure it is the inner folder if the entire plugin is in a folder within a folder) and activate the plugin later at Plugins > Installed Plugins.
Each plugin will have its own settings you will need to decide on. The settings link can be found on the left menu bar but where exactly varies with each plugin. For example, some will have their own tab while other will be found under Plugins or Tools.
Delete any plugin you no longer want by going to Plugins > Deactivate. After it is deactivated, the Delete option will appear.
Be cautious as to which plugins you install. Make sure the plugin has been reviewed and is kept updated. Do not install too many plugins as they will take up resources and slow down your site. See WordPress plugins for a guide to the best free WordPress plugins to cover all the important basic features.
Understanding and using widgets
Found in Appearance > Widgets, w make it possible to quickly add content or features to specific areas of a website, to include the sidebars, below the header, footer area, etc. without needing to do any coding. Some widgets come with the basic installation of WordPress, but themes to include ClickBump come with extra widgets with more features. In addition, some plugins will add widget options.
For example, if you would like ads to display in the sidebar of your site, in Appearance > Widgets, you would:
- Move the Adsense Ads widget (this is part of ClickBump) into the area under Sidebar.
- Select what pages you want the ads to appear on by selecting Show On and then the pages in the widget.
- Drop your ad code into the widget and save.
Some common features people add with widgets are category displays, social network and sharing icons and so on. WordPress widgets covers widgets in more detail.
Note that you can create menus (this will be covered later) to display.
Create a basic plan and layout for your site
Before you can really start building your site, you need to have a plan for how it will be laid out. You can always experiment and change things over time, but it will be easier overall if you start with some organization.
The most important principle is categorization. Unless the site will be very small, your content needs to be organized into related categories. The process is covered in detail at categorization. Once you have decided on what categories you will start out with, go Posts > Categories and create the categories by entering the name, slug (the URL for the category) and parent (“none” if it is a main category and not a subcategory). At some time, adding a description of what the category contains and picture is advisable.
Start adding content
The WordPress visual/text editor will be displayed when adding both pages and posts and will allow you to change fonts, bold text, add links, etc. Experiment with it until you understand its features. When pasting into the editor from Word programs, it is often easiest to first remove all formatting (by pasting what you wrote into a text doc and then copying it from there) and then adding all formatting again through the editor.
Publish pages & posts
You will probably want to knock out your main pages first. Go to Pages > Add New, input the content and click Publish.
For the contact page, WordPress contact form covers a number of plugins that can be utilized to create a nice form people can use to contact you.
Posts can be added in the same way. The one major difference is that each one should be assigned to a category before it is published.
As you are making your site, you should follow all the main principles of on-page SEO. Most importantly, on your posts and pages, it is essential to give each page a good headline and meta description.
Online content needs to be presented in a way that is easy for readers to scan and find what they are looking for. Use the strategies covered in website writing to do this.
Adding a header and images
No site looks complete without a header graphic and some pictures. Headers are added in the theme. For example, ClickBump > Images > Upload Header and choose the header to upload from your computer. If you do not have graphic skills, there are people on freelancer sites that can be hired to create them inexpensively.
Images can be added directly into posts by putting the cursor where you would like the image to be displayed, clicking on the Add Media button in the visual editor and uploading the image (if it already is in the media library, simply select it from the library). Then, by clicking on the image and choosing the Edit Image icon, you can align the image to the left, right or center, add alt tags, etc.
All the images you have uploaded can be seen in Media > Library. To add an image in a widget or other area on your site, go to Media > Upload and upload the image you would like to display (if it has not been uploaded already). To get the URL of the image, find it in the media library and click on View. After that right click the image and copy the link location. This link can then be used inside widgets or other areas to display the image.
Menus are great for giving visitors an easy way to see what exactly is on your site. For example, most sites have a menu bar under the header and in the footer. To create these, go to Appearance > Menus and find “create new menu” near the top of the page and give the menu a name. Then, find and select the pages, links or categories you want on the menu (there are boxes on the side that contain these) and click Add to Menu.
If you want to put a post or something else in a menu that is not a page or category, go to Appearance > Menu > Links and add the link and title.
For the menus to display, you need to assign them locations. For the header and footer menu, go to Appearance > Menus, click on the Manage Locations tab and select the menu you want displayed from the dropdown.
Menus you create can also be displayed in widgets. Just move a custom menu widget to the area you want the menu displayed (as explained in understand widgets) and select the menu in the widget.
More Features and Further Website Customization
The Users feature is comes in handy when there is more than one person working on the site. Your primary admin profile will have been created when you set up WordPress. To create more profiles, go to Users > Add New and fill in the required fields. By selecting Subscriber, Administrator or other roles, you can control what the user can edit on the site.
As having comments can increase the time visitors spend on a site and help rankings, they should be enabled and encouraged. The WordPress comments system can work fine, but you will need to use plugins to stop spammers (Akismet and a captcha plugin will stop most spam).
Plugins that allow visitors to login with their social networking accounts and third party systems are covered in more detail in the commenting section at on-page SEO.
Security and backup
To thwart attacks, some type of security plugin should be installed, and there are other steps you can take to keep your site safe. Go to WordPress security to find out more.
It is highly advisable to regularity backup your site. For the files, simply download everything in the root folder and keep it in a secure place. After that, apart from the wp-content folder where images, plugins and other things you upload are stored, these files should not change much unless you upload something with FTP.
Note that the most important part of your site will be kept in the database. Therefore, regularly make a complete backup of it as explained in WordPress backup.
When something goes wrong with WordPress, the most likely culprit is an incompatible plugin. Disable all plugins and see if the problem goes away. If that does not work, try going back to the default theme. Another simple option on your part would be to ask the hosting company to restore your site to any recent backup they may have on hand.
With WordPress as popular as it is, the chances that someone previously had the same problem and asked it online are pretty good. Do a search for the problem, and you are likely to find that the solution has already been posted somewhere. In addition, you can ask for advice on a WordPress forum or hire a freelancer to fix the site.
The safest strategy is to backup your data regularly, as you can then just reinstall WordPress if there is a major disaster. It only takes a minute to back everything up, but this can save a lot of heartache. See more at easy WordPress repair.
Site optimization and speed
After hosting, the biggest determiner of a site’s speed will be the theme, so be certain to choose a fast, frequently updated theme such as ClickBump. Other steps you can take are to make sure your database is optimized, photos are not too heavy, and you have the right caching plugin. All of these are covered in detail at ways to speed up WordPress.
Bringing in visitors
Building a site usually is much easier than good getting traffic to it. It can be a complex process, but it boils down to two major strategies.
- On-page SEO: This includes building good content and optimizing it for search engines on your site. This needs to be kept in mind as you build and improve your site.
- Off-page SEO: This is basically link building and calling attention to your site though SEO strategies to include blog and forum commenting, press releases, social bookmarking and many other methods. One of the most important now is social network marketing.
As you continuously seek to build up and improve your site, learn and try different SEO methods to find what is most effective for you. There is no single best method, and most people use a combination of techniques.
Depending on your goals, the following guides can be very useful:
- WordPress affiliate website is a guide on using WordPress for affiliate marketing.
- Get started in affiliate marketing shows you what you need to do to market online.
- Marketing digital products covers the special strategies required to market the highly profitable digital goods.
- A guide to affiliate programs covers many of the different products you can market online and where you can find them.
- WordPress SEO plugins lists the plugins you need to cover all core SEO functions.
- WordPress affiliate marketing plugins covers the top plugins to make offering affiliate products on your site much easier.
- WordPress ecommerce plugins to turn any WordPress site into an ecommerce store in a jiffy.