Building a website has never been easier. With so many website making tools available on the internet, anyone can create a site within minutes. In this tutorial I will show you how to build a small and professional site using the great content management system, WordPress.
WordPress, is the most popular open source CMS used by over 75 million websites. Some of the leading media websites such as TechCrunch, TheNewYorker, MTV News; corporations such as Time Inc, Fortune, Google Ventures us WordPress for their website. The use of this software is so versatile; it can be used for anything from blogs thought to online stores.
In this tutorial I will walk you to the whole process from installing WordPress to publishing your first post on a self-hosted website. Meanwhile will also give you some tips and will help you find a professional looking WordPress theme for your site. Let’s start!
1. Choose a good WordPress hosting plan
Whatever software you choose to build your website with, you will want to purchase a hosting provider that gives you good support, great features, good performance and server uptime at an affordable rate. When choosing hosting service for WordPress, extra attention is needed: if you are new to WordPress, you will need a company that has great support for the software, so you can rely on someone anytime you have questions. Beside support, server performance is also important. A well optimized server can make a difference in the loading time of your website.
1.1 What type of hosting package you need for a WordPress website?
For the start, when you are just starting with the website, it is enough to get a shared hosting plan, from a hosting company such as BlueHost or InMotion Hosting, that support WordPress and also has WP optimized hosting plans. As your website evolves and is receiving more and more traffic, you should move to a VPS plan. So, choosing a hosting firm, that has a wide range of plans available, is a good decision also.
If you are building an online shop, a forum or any sort of website that will use a lot of server resources, probably your best bet will be a VPS plan from the start, however a blog or a simple company presentation website that gets 300-500 visitors a day, can live on a shared plan.
2. How to install WordPress?
There are two options to install WordPress to a web hosting account: manual and automatic installation. The manual installation involves more steps, and requires some level of experience, while the automatic installation will automatically create database, upload files and establish the connection; user interaction is still required with the so called one-click install but only for setting up the site name and admin login info.
While most web hosting companies offer one-click WordPress installation, some may still miss this feature form their control panel. If you are a novice in web hosting and site building, you should choose a WordPress hosting, such as BlueHost, which offer one-click installation.
2.1 Install WordPress manually
When creating a new website with WordPress, you should always use the latest version. As WP is open source software, you can download it for free form WordPress.org; once your download is finished, upload the archived file to your web server, using an FTP client or via the FileManager in your control panel. If you don’t have an FTP account, just create one in the hosting control panel.
After the upload of the WordPress file system is finished, unpack it to using the Extract function in the FileManager tool. Make sure that the files are located in the root folder of your website and do not make the installation in a subfolder such as yourwebsite.com/wordpress; this will still work fine, but the url looks ugly for the website user.
Meanwhile, create a MySQL database and a user, using the Database Wizard offered by the host’s control panel. Generate a strong password and save it somewhere (in a notepad) because it will be needed later. Set the database user to “All Privileges”, otherwise the installation will not be possible.
Once the database is created and the files are in place, go to your domain and start the installation. Choose the language, set the database name, user and password, set the website name, admin user and password (this will be used to login to the control panel, so choose a strong but easy to remember password) and finish the installation.
After the installation is finished, access the WordPress admin area at yourwebsite.com/wp-admin using the admin login info that you created earlier during the installation. Now, you are ready to create new posts, upload images, change the design and add plugins (I will show all these in details a bit later).
2.2 Install WordPress automatically
Installing WordPress automatically, does not mean it is hands-free. You still need to set up couple of things, but the process of files upload, database creation and connection is done by the tool you are using. You will still need to set the site name, admin user login info and email address. Different hosting providers usually use the same set of tools for WP installation, for instance, here is a short video that shows how easy is to install WordPress on a BlueHost shared plan, using their one-click install software.
3. Setup your WordPress site
WordPress is out of the box software, this means, you can use it right after installation without the need of customization or settings change. However, if you are building a professional website with WordPress, and you want your website to look good and have a good ranking in search engines, you will want to make some changes to the default setup. Changing the settings of the default installation is simple, as well changing the design and adding content. In the next section I will show you step-by-step how to make the right changes that works.
3.1 General settings, discussion, media and permalinks
Start with the “General” settings, where you can set up website title, change tagline, set date and time format. On the “Writing” settings page you can set the default category and post format for your articles. It is also possible to set up mail server, if you wish to submit a new post to your site via email.
The “Reading” settings page allows you to make a static front page and choose which page to be as the starting page of your website. Here you can also set how many posts to show on a category or blog page as well set the search engine indexing option. By default every WordPress installation is set to be indexed by search engines; if you want to disallow the search bots to index your website due to work in progress or other reason, for that period you can discourage search engines to push your website in the search results.
On the “Discussion” settings page you can set the commenting system. If you don’t want people comment on your posts, just deactivate the comments and pingbacks. It is also possible to auto-close commenting possibility on certain post after a certain period of time. Every time someone comments on one of your posts, you will be notified by email; probably you don’t want your inbox to be full with comment notification, so I highly recommend disabling this option from the start.
The “Media” option page enables you to set the size of thumbnails of the uploaded images and organize these photos into folders.
The “Permalinks” page is in my opinion, the most important settings page; here you will determine how the link structure of your website will look. It is important to set the links to be search engine friendly because this has a huge impact on the rankings and search visibility of your website. Having a good permalink structure, will make it easier for search engines to crawl and categorize your website.
3.2 Change the design, set up custom theme
By default, WordPress comes with a simple, nice design. This theme can be customized: can change colors, set site title and tagline, set header and background image, add and remove widgets or set a static front-page. This theme is responsive, so your website will also look good on smart phones and tables.
The default theme is great, however has very limited options available. It also looks very plain. If you want to stand out from the crowd, probably a custom theme could help you create a professional and unique design for your site. Adding a new theme is very easy in WordPress: in the “Appearance > Themes” section, click on the “Add New“ button, and choose a theme from the WordPress theme directory. These themes are available through the official WordPress.org website and can be used for free. It is recommended only using free themes from the WordPress directory, because these templates are verified and scanned against any malicious code.
If you want your website to be unique and don’t want to use a theme that is already used by millions of website, you can go for a premium theme. Always buy WordPress themes from trusted sources such as ThemeForest or ElegantThemes. The advantages of using a premium WordPress theme over a free WordPress theme is that the paid design is supported by the developer, it is frequently updated and has a lot more customization options. Here is a screenshot of a premium theme that has a custom front-page layout with in-built slideshow, signup form, interactive product display, custom widgets and integration with WooCommerce (the most popular shopping cart plugin for WordPress):
3.3 Add Widgets to your theme
Widgets in WordPress enables you the option to add different functions and content in specific areas of your theme. There are some default widgets in-built in WordPress and installing new themes and plugins may add additional widgets. To manage them, you have to access the “Appearance > Widgets” page. Here you will see all available widgets and areas. With the drag-and-drop function, you can easily activate and deactivate widgets. Widget areas are pre-defined in your theme, usually in the functions.php file.
3.4 Install plugins to your WordPress site
Many confuse plugins with widgets. The difference between these two is that while Widgets are used in sidebars or other areas the support widgets and are used mostly for the “look”, plugins are used to extend the functionality of the whole website. Some plugins may add new Widgets to your system, which can be published to the specific areas.
Plugins can be installed and managed in the “Plugins” section of your dashboard.
In the WordPress plugins directory, there are over 40.000 available free plugins. If you want to build an online shop, add a slideshow to your site, create a rating system, optimize individual pages for search engines, create custom contact forms, subscription forms or booking forms, or you name it, there is a plugin available for it. Some more complicated plugins may only be available as paid plugins.
3.5 Add posts and pages
Finally, we are at the point where we can publish our first article. In the “Posts > Add New” section you can add a new post and categorize it. By default, every post is categorized in the Uncategorized category. Probably you will want to change the name or add extra categories on the “Posts > Categories” page.
3.6 Setup a Post or Page
The setup of a post and a page is very similar, so I will combine them together. When creating a new post or a page in WordPress, you will have to work with an editor. The editor is very simple, if you are familiar with text editor software such as OpenOffice or Microsoft Office, you will be able to use this as well. In this editor you can set the title, the url, upload featured image, create a gallery and insert into the content, if the template allows you can have multiple page layouts, you can categorize your posts or add tags to theme. It is also possible to set the publishing date of your articles, for instance if you are going on holiday, and you have pre-created the content, you don’t have to publish all of it before you leave, instead you can set up a custom publishing date for each individual article. This way, your readers will enjoy your writings while you are drinking your cocktail, somewhere on the beach.
Are you ready to get started with WordPress?
I really hope this tutorial has helped you to make a first impression about WordPress and decide if this is the right website building platform for you and your project. If you think the WordPress might be a good choice and you are ready to get started, get a hosting plan from BlueHost, register your free domain name, install WordPress to your domain, make the necessary changes to the core installation and start adding content.