How to build a WordPress website for the first time
You run into a friend you haven’t seen in quite some time at the supermarket. While catching up over artichokes, you mention that you started your own business some time ago and things are going well. She immediately responds with, “Oh, that’s great! I’ll have to check it out … What’s your website address?” Panic. Dread. Cold sweats. You see, you haven’t yet tackled the overwhelming issue of building a website. Who even knows where to start?!
Never fear. Let’s explore how to build a WordPress website on your own with minimal headache and expense, and start building your online presence.
What is WordPress?
WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems (CMS) available in the cyber-world. While that might sound highly technical, it’s really quite simple. A content management system does exactly that — it manages how your content is displayed. This is fantastic for anyone who wants to create or maintain a website without having to learn the nuts and bolts of HOW to make it work.
A WordPress website allows you to have a modern, easy-to-use website with all kinds of cool features without having to learn any computer programming or coding.
Who should use WordPress?
Anyone! WordPress isn’t only for businesses, or just a platform for bloggers. WordPress works great for those people, but it’s good for others, too. The mom who wants a family website to share photos of her kids, the photographer who wants an online portfolio, or the online forum you’ve always wanted to discuss science fiction and whittling.
You can create all these types of websites and more with WordPress.
OK, but how does WordPress work?
A WordPress website is easiest to think of in terms of layers. WordPress is the center-most core layer. It’s the framework on which everything else rests. The content of your site (your text, images, videos, etc.) make up the next layer. This is the most important part of your website, and where you want to focus.
The outermost layer is the theme, which is the window-dressing of how your content is displayed.
You can expand, remove or edit without any change in functionality. You can also choose to change your look (i.e. your WordPress theme) without losing any content or again, changing the structure. WordPress handles HOW to display it all for you, so all you have to worry about is WHAT to display.
The final “big” component of any WordPress website that is worth mentioning are plugins. These are small, additional pieces of code you can add onto (or plug INto) your website to add non-standard functionality. Think of your mobile phone – some functions like making calls or storing your contacts are included as part of the standard phone software. When you want your phone to have added capabilities (playing music from Pandora, for example), you install an app.
Plugins are like apps for your WordPress website.
What you need to build a WordPress website
There are two major components to any website: the domain name (URL) and the hosting. The domain name is how people access your site. The hosting refers to the physical computers that run your website files (this is the account that “hosts” your content for you).
To create your first WordPress website, you’ll need a domain name and hosting. And of course, you’ll need to download WordPress.
There are a few other things you’ll need to get your website up and running:
- Content — What are you going to say?
- Images — Because an all-text website would be incredibly dull.
- Theme — WordPress comes with several defaults installed, and there are many free themes to choose from beyond the default options. If you prefer a certain look, there are also themes available for purchase from online sources such as ThemeForest.
- A cup of coffee — OK, I guess this one could be optional (not for anyone *I* know, but I guess it could be.)
What you DON’T need to get started:
- Expensive editing or web-design software — Everything in WordPress is created, added and edited from the web browser.
- A rich uncle or family inheritance — WordPress is free and hosting plans are very affordable.
- An advanced degree in computer programming, mathematics or physics — Once you know the basics, WordPress is easy!
Setting up your WordPress website
The single easiest way to set up WordPress is to start with a hosting account specifically designed for WordPress websites. With a GoDaddy Managed WordPress account, for example, WordPress is already installed for you.
Many hosts will offer a one-click option or simple directions to install WordPress directly from their control panel. Even without these, any hosting account will allow you to run WordPress provided you have a database in which to store the site information and a location to upload the WordPress files.
Create a database.
Check with your host to see if you can install WordPress automatically. If you need to install it manually, log into your cPanel (or similar portal) to manage your hosting. Click to create a MySQL Database for your website.
Give the database a name, and create a user to go along with the database. Mark down the database name, user name and user password — you’ll need these later.
Upload the WordPress files.
Download the latest version of WordPress from WordPress.org and unzip the files. Using either your File Manager for your hosting account or an FTP client, upload all of the WordPress files to your website host.
When you are finished uploading, you should have a folder structure that looks similar to this one:
For the final step, go to a web browser and visit your website at whatever domain name you picked. The installation process should begin automatically for you by asking you to select a language.
Enter your credentials.
Remember those credentials we saved from earlier? Here is where you will need them. Enter the database name, username and user password in the appropriate boxes. Most hosts will use localhost for the host name. If you are uncertain, your web host can provide this information. Continue the installation.
Set username and password.
Here, you will set the username and password you will use to log into your new WordPress website. It is a good idea to use a username other than “admin”. This is the default username, and therefore increases the chances of your site being hacked later on. Give your website a title if you wish, and continue the installation.
That’s it! WordPress is now installed. You access your user dashboard at yourdomainname/wp-admin. This is where you will log in using the username and password you just set. This dashboard is the center for all things WordPress.
Setting your URL writing rules by configuring Permalinks.
By default, WordPress utilizes a form of URL writing that is not SEO friendly. Configuring your URL writing rules is critical during your WordPress setup. Do not wait to complete this task; get it done quickly before you start publishing pages or blog posts. It is recommended you leverage the expertise of an experienced SEO, but if you do not have that opportunity then follow this guidance at a minimum.
In the Dashboard find the Settings category link on the left rail navigation. Select Settings and then Permalinks.
The Plain URL writing rule will be selected by default. We need to change that, so select the Custom Structure option. In the text field enter the following exactly:
It should appear like this:
What did that accomplish?
The URL is a significant keyword ranking signal for search engines, and we just fine-tuned that element by changing the URL writing rule. Let’s say you wanted to publish a page or blog post titled, “How to build a WordPress website for the first time,” and you want organic referral traffic from search engines like Google and Bing. Which URL below do you think will be more helpful for a search engine and a user?
Plain URL: example.com/?p=123
Custom Structure URL: example.com/how-to-build-a-wordpress-website-for-the-first-time
If you do not have an inkling, then trust me when I say definitively the Custom Structure URL is the BEST option.
Getting to know the WordPress dashboard
From the WordPress dashboard, you can control every aspect of your website. All of the main sections are located on the menu to the left. Under each of these main headings is a sub-menu of options.
The first type of content we will discuss are posts versus pages. Posts are generally used for content that is updated frequently, such as blog articles. For content that does not change as frequently, such as an About Me section, it is better to use pages.
Most themes will display your most recent Posts by default. However, you can change this setting to always display a Page if you wish. This option, as well as other options — like setting your time zone or changing the administrator email address — are found under the Settings tab on the left menu.
The Appearance menu is where you will control your theme and everything related to the visual display of your website. Here you can select a theme, upload a new theme, or make customizations to the theme you are using.
The Plugins menu allows you to view plugins currently installed and add new ones when you wish. Any plugin currently installed on your WordPress website will show on this page. However, only plugins that are activated can be used on your website. Sometimes when you install a plugin, a new menu item will be added to the left-hand menu (themes can also add these menus). Often, however, new options will be added to one of the existing menu items.
The Media page is where you can view, edit or delete images you have added to your WordPress website. All images, regardless of where they are added, will appear in the media library. For example, you can add an image to a post or page directly from the post or page edit screen. However, these images will still show up in the gallery. Conversely, if you add an image directly to the media gallery, it is accessible from the Content section of your pages.
Choosing a theme for your WordPress website
While the most critical piece of any website is the content, you should also give careful attention to your theme.
The theme affects how your website is displayed and the overall impression it gives to your visitors.
There are many things to consider when choosing a good theme, but this article has some great tips to get you started. Overall, you want a theme that is stable, clean and easy to work with. Many themes are also highly customizable, allowing you to change colors and backgrounds with ease. This can help you achieve a more unique look that better suits your website design idea.
Adding content to your WordPress website
Nearly all content is added via a post or a page in WordPress. Adding content to a page and post are handled the same way.
- Click to add a new page or post.
- Enter the title information. Think of this as your main idea or headline.
- Enter your content in the larger box.
You will see two tabs on the right, Visual and Text. Make sure you are editing in the Visual tab. The Text tab shows you the code markup if you need to make specific code changes.
Within the content box, you can add bolded text, italics, or even insert images. To insert images, click Add Media. The buttons across the top of the content box provide additional functionality. If you want an item to be properly formatted as a headline or sub-headline, for example, highlight the text and change the format from “paragraph” to “Heading 1,” “Heading 2”, etc.
Along the right-hand side, you will see some additional options. Setting a featured image, for instance, automatically sets the thumbnail image that goes along with posts in many themes. You can also save an item in draft format if it is not yet finished. This saves your changes, but does not make them live to your website. Only posts and pages that are published will be visible.
There is so much that WordPress can do that we have hardly scratched the surface. If you would like to learn more, check out the WordPress Codex and the WordPress article archive on our Blog. Good luck, and have building your first WordPress website!
Image by: Christopher Ross via Flickr cc