If you’re willing to put in a little time and effort, you can create a professional website that is just right for you for £50-£100. We’ve put together a series of posts to help you do just that. Whether you’re a blogger in the making, or a small business just starting out, this series should help you set up a WordPress website.
This post takes you from installing WordPress, to choosing a theme and setting up your website structure. If you haven’t yet chosen a domain name and found web hosting, you can find the first post here: Build a website on WordPress.
Once you’ve purchased a domain and hosting, you’re ready to install WordPress. If you haven’t already got this covered, take a look at the last post on domains, hosting and choosing a CMS.
Installing a WordPress website should be quick and painless. Almost all of the major hosting providers offer one-click installation services, allowing you to fill out a simple form and let the provider do the rest.
Normally you’ll log in to your hosting account, navigate to C Panel and find the WordPress Install icon. Follow the steps, have a cup of tea, and then log in to your new CMS.
If you purchased your domain and hosting from two different providers, you’ll need to point your nameservers to the domain before you can install WordPress. Your hosting provider will provide a guide on how to do this – it involves getting the nameserver ID’s from your domain provider and entering them into the correct admin setting of your hosting provider.
It can take up to 48 hours for this to be completed, but you can save the time by choosing your hosting provider before purchasing your domain, and then buying your domain from the hosting provider.
Creating your website structure
Before logging in to your new WordPress CMS, it’s a good idea to take a moment and work out the structure of your new site. Creating a hierarchical tree diagram is a great way to figure this out.
At the top of your tree diagram should be your homepage. This is the top tier page, and should give the website visitor an immediate understanding of what your website is about, and what they can expect to find on it.
The next tier on your diagram should be your main pages. These are the pages that will appear on your website navigation bar. At the very least, your website should have a contact and an about page.
Other pages depend on what your site is for. If you are a blogger, you’ll obviously want to make sure your blog page is on the website navigation menu. If you offer customised cakes for birthdays and weddings, you’ll likely want a pricing page, a reviews page and a page to showcase your previous cakes.
You could create as many tiers as you like, with pages coming off the tier 2 pages. For example, if you have a page on your navigation menu called ‘Our Cakes’ you might have sub pages called ‘Wedding Cakes’, ‘Birthday Cakes’ and ‘Special Occasions’.
Understanding the difference between posts and pages
Now that your hierarchical website structure is sorted, you need to understand the difference between a page and a post. Pages hold content that isn’t time-specific, such as your contact form, or about page. Posts sit under your main blog page, typically being topic-specific, sometimes time specific, and regularly created. Depending on what your site is for, you may use posts a lot, or not use them at all.
If your site will have a blog, you should consider categories for your posts to belong to. When you add a category to blog posts, it makes it easy for your blog reader to find similar content.
As an example, the To Neverland site regularly blogs on two different topics. As a couple who are quitting our jobs and going off travelling, we’re blogging about planning travel, destination guides, how to live life on the road, etc. All of these posts are under our ‘Travel Tips’ category.
We are also making money as we travel, freelancing and offering our digital services to clients. So under our ‘Tech Tips’ category we blog about setting up websites, building website traffic, logo and digital design and other digital marketing tips.
Start off with one or two categories – it’s better to add them later, than to overload your site with too many at the beginning.
Blog posts work slightly differently to pages. You’ll create a main ‘Blog’ page. Each time you create a new post, WordPress will automatically place it under the ‘blog’ page. Your blog page has options to show your posts in full, or you can set it to show a snippet of the beginning of your post.
If you are looking for something more specific than a simple collection of blog posts, such as a portfolio for an artist’s website, a gallery for a photographer’s site or a projects page to show off past work, it’s possible with custom post types.
Unless you plan on getting to grips with the WordPress codex, it’s best to look for a quality theme with this post type built in.
Getting started with the WordPress CMS
Once you have created your website structure it’s time to create the pages in the WordPress CMS. For those new to building websites, the CMS can look a little overwhelming, but it doesn’t take long to get to grips with it.
Go to your website’s new admin panel by adding /wp-admin/ to the end of your URL, and log in with your username and password. You’ll then be presented with a screen much like the one below.
It’s time to add in your top tier pages. Choose the ‘Pages’ option from the left side menu, and click to add a new page. Give the page a title, add some text into the text editor and save the page.
Once you have a few top tier pages with a little text on each, you have enough content to get a feel for the design. WordPress automatically fills in an example blog post, comment and category to help you get started.
If you visit your website address (the URL without /wp-admin/ at the end) you’ll see the content you’ve entered on the default theme. At the moment that theme is Twenty Sixteen, a clean and basic theme that you’ll want to change early on.
CHOOSING A THEME FOR YOUR WORDPRESS WEBSITE
Choosing your first wordpress theme can be overwhelming. Especially when you don’t know what to look out for. It’s worth spending a little time reading some articles around the topic, to help you work out what’s best for your website.
Here’s a mini-guide to get you started:
Where to find themes
If you type ‘wordpress themes’ into a search engine, you’ll find tons of options. To get started, try theme marketplaces like ThemeForest or Envato. Each theme should have an easy to find demo site, allowing you to get a feel for how it will look.
Make sure a theme is geared up to your type of website. If your site is primarily a blog, then take a good look at the demo site’s blog area. Does it have all the features you’d want? Are you happy with how it places blog images? If you’re building a small business site, does it look professional? Does it suit your business type?
Paid or free themes?
There’s no strict answer here, but there are some things to avoid. There are a huge number of free and paid-for themes available for WordPress websites. Quite a number of free themes are cut down versions of bigger paid-for themes by top developers.
These cut-down versions can be a great option when you are just starting out. Make sure the theme is regularly updated and has some decent reviews. The nice thing about a free theme is that there’s no loss if you decide it’s time to move to another one.
Paid themes tend to have more functionality and support included from the theme developer. They can also help your site to look more unique, as the top free themes are very widely used. However, don’t automatically assume a theme is brilliant just because it’s paid-for.
The same rules apply for paid themes. Visit the demo site and make sure it would fit your content. Look at reviews and the number of times it has been installed. Make sure there is some support included from the theme developer.
Reviews and regular updates
Whether you are choosing a paid or a free theme, don’t go ahead until you’ve really checked out the reviews and updates. There are a few ways to do this.
If you’ve found the theme on a marketplace like Theme Forest, check the reviews on that site. Look for any worrying comments, such as features stopping working due to lack of updates or issues with plugin compatibility.
You can also find the support pages for the theme, normally via the developers website or the demo site itself. It’s worth taking a look through the support forums. Are the developers quick to reply? Are they helpful? Do the support issues seem to get quickly resolved?
Next, check how often this theme is updated. WordPress is constantly evolving, releasing new versions regularly. You need your theme to keep up, or you’ll find things start breaking before too long. If it hasn’t been updated in the last six months, think carefully before proceeding.
As a last sense check, have a look at how many people have installed the theme. Whilst you don’t want to look like every other website, you also want safety in numbers. This is especially true with free themes – if only 50 people have installed it, and the developer decides he’s off to do something else, you might find you are stranded on a breaking theme without updates.
Balancing simplicity and complexity
A very simple theme, without too many added bells and whistles, has less scope to slow down your site. That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to have a slow site with a simple theme, but choosing carefully using the reviews, updates and number of installs should keep you safe.
A theme that can do EVERYTHING, with all the added plugins you could ever want, is more likely to have something that breaks. Or is poorly coded. Or is copied and pasted from code elsewhere on the internet, leaving your site more open to security problems.
You need to walk this line carefully. Make sure the theme you choose has enough functionality and plugin compatibility to do what you need it to do. But don’t go for a theme with every single feature out there, as you’ll likely not need it all. And it’s got a good chance of slowing down your website.
For those completely new to CSS, we recommend a theme that either has Visual Composer included, or is at least compatible (it currently costs $34, so having it included can save you some cash). It allows you to build pages using a drag and drop designer. It will make your website much more flexible, and help you modify and adapt it much more easily.
As a final tip, make sure the design is mobile responsive. It pretty much goes without saying these days, as we all regularly access websites on our mobiles – but there are still some themes out there that don’t have mobile compatibility built it.
Essential CMS setup
Installing the theme
There’s two ways to install themes. If you’ve opted for a free theme, the easiest way is to install it from within your CMS. Navigate to the Appearance menu on the left hand side, choose Themes and click on Add New Theme. You can search for the theme you’ve chosen and follow the install instructions to get it live within a few minutes.
If you’ve purchased a premium theme you’ll need to start by downloading the .zip file from the theme developer. Once this is saved, navigate to Appearance > Themes again within your CMS. This time choose the Upload Theme blue button towards the top of the page, and select the .zip file that contains your new theme. Once it’s uploaded, select ‘activate’ to get your new theme live.
Each individual theme will have unique settings, some with configurators or guides to help you get started in setting up your new website.
Setting your homepage and blog page
We’ve established that posts are different to pages, and are handled differently in WordPress. There are also different kind of pages. You can set one page on your site as the Home page, and another to be your Blog page.
Your homepage is the main page of your website. It’s the first page at the top of the structure diagram. You can set it to be a ‘static’ home page – meaning it has standard content that remains the same, or you can choose a ‘dynamic’ page which shows your most recent blog posts.
Before you go too far with creating pages and blog posts, it’s worth taking a look at the Permalinks options within Settings. A permalink within wordpress is simply the name for the URL structure on your website.
It’s really important to set this up before going too far with your website. Once your site is indexed by search engines, and linked to by other sites, these URL’s are set. You can change them later, but you’ll need to set up 301 redirects or risk visitors landing on error pages. Even then, redirects can cause you to lose some of the SEO benefits you’ve built up over time.
For simplicity, I recommend changing your permalink structure from the ‘Plain’ default settings to ‘Post name’. There’s lots of discussion online about the best option, but this one will automatically give you a more user, and search, friendly structure.
If you’d like to know the how’s and why’s of a permalink structure, I recommend this post by Elegant Themes.
Finally, each page will have a ‘slug’. The slug is the end part of your URL, and you can edit this for every page and post on your site. Navigate to a page you’ve created, such as your about page, within the CMS.
Towards the top of the page you’ll see the URL, with the end part editable. This is the slug, and you can set it for each page. Automatically WordPress will pull the title into the slug. Remember to edit your slug as you create new pages. If you change it later, you are risking losing any SEO benefits you’ve built up for that page.
You’ve now got a basic WordPress website set up. The next post in the series will cover my recommended plugins, putting content into posts and pages, beginners’ SEO tips and how to set up images for your website.