When WordPress was first released in 2003, it was primarily used as a simple platform for personal blogs. Since then, it has evolved massively into a fully-fledged Content Management System (CMS), used as the backbone for websites of all kinds. In late 2012, Forbes estimated that around 6 million websites use WordPress.
Why use WordPress to make a website?
So why has WordPress become so popular? Here are some reasons:
- No coding is required: Once upon a time, creating a website meant learning HTML coding to ensure that everything looked right. WordPress uses themes to determine the basic design of sites. There are quite literally thousands of themes available. Some are included with WordPress (as we will see later), and others are available online for free or at little cost. It’s still possible to access the HTML code behind a WordPress site, but unless you’re trying to do something particularly complicated, you probably won’t need to touch it at all.
- Anything is possible: If you wish to sell products online, WordPress is a perfectly capable platform for eCommerce (with the right plugins). How about if you need a big news portal with multiple authors? No problem. Even if you just want a simple site to use to upload pictures of cute kittens, WordPress can do it all…and more.
- Plugins add functionality: While themes deal with the core appearance of WordPress sites, plugins deal with functionality. There are plugins out there for pretty much everything you can think of, from adding photo galleries to integrating online shops. The best news of all is that many of them are completely free.
- The support community is huge: With over six million WordPress sites out there, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll find a problem that someone else hasn’t faced before. You will find endless WordPress support forums to help you, and thousands of developers and experts if you ever need any specialist help or customisation.
How we will help you
Here at Make a Website, we have a team of expert developers and Web entrepreneurs who live their daily lives surrounded by content management platforms, themes and plugins.
This article is our first lesson on how to make a WordPress website. We will take you from the very start, right up to the launch of your first site. For the purposes of this tutorial, we will stick to the basics, and use one of the templates provided with a standard WordPress installation. However, you will find numerous other more specific tutorials elsewhere on this site.
What You’ll Need
Don’t worry if you don’t have these things yet – we’re going to take you through everything step-by-step – but you will need to get the beer or coffee yourself! You need:
- A Web hosting account with your own domain
- A Web browser of your choice (we prefer Google Chrome or Firefox)
- A desire to learn and a little patience
- A subject for your new website
- Perhaps some beer or coffee
You don’t really need a lot of things to start making a WordPress website, so let’s get on with it.
Getting a domain and hosting
Before you can do anything, you need an address for your website (a domain), and a place to host your website (Web hosting service).
We have produced a very detailed step by step guide to registering your domain and setting up your hosting. You should visit the page now via this link. (The links will open in a new window or tab, so you can easily return to this guide at any time – see you shortly!)
The next thing you need to do is install WordPress on your new domain. Luckily, we have another step by step guide telling you exactly how to do that.
Once again, click the link to move forward to the guide. The guide will open in a new window, so you can return to here when you are done.
Getting the basics done
Now that WordPress has been installed onto your Web space, we can get down to business. Before proceeding to the next steps you should be sure of the following:
1. That you can get to your WordPress dashboard (www.yourdomainname.xx/wp-admin) and log on using your username and password.
2. That you can see your site when you type the domain name into your Web browser.
If your basic site isn’t yet live, you may need to wait a little longer for your domain information to propagate. Refer back to Step 7 in the step by step WordPress Guide for more info.
The WordPress dashboard is where you control all the content and functionality within your website. First of all, we are going to change the fundamental appearance of your site by installing a theme.
Installing a theme
At the time of writing, a default installation of WordPress comes with a choice of three themes. By default, the “Twenty Fourteen” theme is active from the start.
The “Twenty Fourteen” theme is very monochrome and minimalist. In the screenshot below, we show its basic appearance.
For the purposes of this tutorial, we are going to switch to another one of the themes included with WordPress, one called “Twenty Thirteen,” which is a little more colourful. Simply follow the steps below:
1. On the left of the dashboard, hover over “appearance” and click the “Themes” option:
2. You will now see a screen showing all the themes available to you, complete with previews:
3. Note that there is also an “Add New Theme” option. This is what you would select if you found or purchased a theme online. Usually, you would download the theme as a ZIP file, and upload it after selecting this option.
Here are two good places to look for WordPress themes:
- The WordPress theme database.
- Our sister site, WPThemes.
4. For now, we are just going to switch to the “Twenty Thirteen” theme, so click the “Activate” button that shows when you hover over it:
5. The theme is automatically installed. If you click the “visit site” link, you will immediately see how much your site has changed. Welcome to the power of WordPress themes.
Some hints on choosing a good theme
Choosing a good theme is absolutely crucial. We cannot tell you exactly what to look for as all websites are unique. However, here is some general guidance to keep in mind while you hunt through the bewildering array of themes available.
- Assuming you are going to have some blog content, decide if want your homepage to have a different layout to your blog section. Company websites often treat blog content as a secondary thing, but if you are creating a personal site, you probably want people to arrive straight at the blog content.
- Decide how many columns you would like your theme to have. Single column themes are clean and simple, but offer limited flexibility. Two column themes are more common, and give you a sidebar (on the left or right) where you can place “widgets” or adverts. Three or four column themes are very flexible and good for websites with tons of content, but sometimes appear a little cluttered.
- Always ensure your theme comes from legitimate source and is not a cracked copy. Many themes are free, and even the commercial ones cost very little. Cracked themes may contain malicious code that can harm your website, steal your information and insert links to malicious websites.
- If in doubt, always go for simplicity. You can always install additional plugins to extend the capabilities of your theme.
Adding Some Content
The time has now come to add the first content to your site. Before you do, here are a couple of WordPress concepts you will need to learn:
Pages are individual areas of your site, usually accessed through the top or side menu bars.
Posts are individual blog posts, that usually appear in reverse date order as visitors scroll down the page.
In the screen shot below, the green arrow shows a link to a page, and the red arrow shows a post.
Go back to the Dashboard. You will notice that both “Posts” and “Pages” have an “Add New” option when you hover over them. Try adding one page and one post. For now it doesn’t matter if they contain nonsense. The purpose of this is just to get used to adding WordPress content.
When you create content, you use an interface that looks much like a word processor. You can add bold type and italics, format your text, and even add images. If you’ve used a word processor, you’ll have no trouble using WordPress. The screenshot below shows the basic editor for both posts and pages:
In the screenshot below, we have added one new page and one new post. We’ve included an image in the post. We have then used the “visit site” option to demonstrate how our site has changed. We have highlighted the new content with arrows.
After creating a couple of pieces of content, it should become very clear how to start to build up your site. The best thing to do now is to spend some time playing with the features and adding some real content of your own.
Preparing to Launch
Before you start to publicise your site, there are some things you will want to do. As you will have seen, WordPress installs some demo content that you’ll want to get rid of, and there are a few other things to think about too. Here is a list of suggestions:
1. Delete the “Hello World” post.
2. Delete the “Sample Page” page.
3. If your theme lets you have a custom home page (not showing blog posts), then create a new page according to the guide for your theme, and then go to Settings > Reading, and set it as your home page.
4. Create an “About” page. This is where you should place key information about you or your company.
6. Make sure you provide a way for readers or customers to get in touch with you. You may choose to use a contact form plugin for this (see later in this article).
7. From the dashboard, go to Settings > Permalinks, and change the Permalink setting to “Postname (/%postname%/).” This makes it easier for the search engines to index your new posts.
As we discussed above, plugins can extend the functionality of your site, and you’re sure to find them for anything you want to achieve. However, try not to get too carried away, as an excess of plugins will slow down your site.
Here is a list of a few plugins that you may wish to consider installing. You can find plugins on the WordPress site here. Most come with full instructions, but essentially all you need to do to install each one is download it to your computer, then go to PLUGINS > ADD NEW on your WordPress dashboard, and point to the plugin’s ZIP file – just like installing a theme!
- Digg Digg. This adds floating social sharing buttons to your site, so that readers can share content they like via Facebook, Twitter or similar. Social networks can prove a huge source of traffic, so this plugin is practically essential!
- W3 Total Cache. Website caching can speed up your website significantly, and Google does pay attention to website performance when determining their search results. Without caching, your web server has to process every request for content on the fly. By caching it, a lot of elements will be served as static cached files, making the whole thing faster.
- Contact Form 7. Surprisingly, WordPress doesn’t come with a contact form function out of the box. Contact Form 7 is well featured and free. Configuration is simple: all you have to do is enter the email address you wish for messages to be sent to, and choose the form fields you want to show on the page. You then get a short code to insert into any page or post.
- Akismet. If your site becomes popular, it will become a target for spammers, Akismet is a decent free system to stop some of the spam in its tracks.
- Google Analytics for WordPress. You can’t just put up a website and not bother to track statistics about your site! The best way to track site usage is by using Google Analytics. In order to do that, you have to put an Analytics code into your theme. This plugin makes it easy for you.
- Better WP Security. This plugin strengthens the basic security of your WordPress site. While it may not prevent a dedicated and skilled hacker, it will still stop opportunists from using your site for malicious purposes.
- WordPress Backup to Dropbox. There are numerous WordPress backup solutions on the market. Some are free, and some are commercial. This one is a free plugin that lets you regularly back up your site to Dropbox.
So What Now?
You’re just about ready to go! Once you’ve got plugins installed, you can start to tell people about your site.
It makes sense to tell a few friends first, and ask them to alert you to any problems or errors they see. If there’s anything you can’t work out, look on the WordPress.org site, and on Google. WordPress has such a large user community you’re sure to quickly find the answer.
Once you’ve fully launched the site, make sure you keep the content coming! We wish you every success with your new project!