I’ve received some emails from people lately who are struggling to get their website up and running on WordPress. If you’ve had your WordPress site for a while, you probably want to skip this post and browse through my WordPress archives instead (or check out my ebook Make WordPress Work!). If “start my website” has been on your to-do list for a while, then read on — this post is for you!
1. Get a domain name and web hosting.
A domain name and web hosting is required to use self-hosted WordPress. Think of your domain name as your street address on the web, and web hosting the actual house — you need a place to store (or… host!) your website files.
Choosing a domain name is the fun part, but it can be somewhat tricky, depending on the name of your blog. I use Domai.nr to check the availability of domain names and other possible combinations. If possible, you should purchase a domain name that follows the title of your blog, without hyphens, at a .com address. I purchase all of my domain names at Namecheap — they really are the most affordable, without sacrificing quality. Many web hosts also offer domain name registration as part of the signup process if you prefer to keep everything in one place.
For web hosting, I always recommend Bluehost (affiliate link) or Flywheel. If you’re just starting out, Bluehost is a great choice — they’re affordable, reliable, and have (mostly) helpful and friendly customer service (always call — live chat can be a bit hit or miss). Flywheel is managed WordPress hosting, and if it’s in your budget, it’s worth the splurge. They manage backups, maintenance, and security for you. As a small business owner who relies on my website, this definitely helps me sleep better at night. Plus, they have amazing customer service.
Finally, if you purchase your domain name from a different company than your web hosting, you’ll need to point your domain to your webhost. With Namecheap, you can edit your domain name and choose to transfer DNS to your webhost. This option will ask you to enter nameservers — these are usually pretty easy to find by Googling the name of your webhost plus “nameservers.” For Bluehost, they are ns1.bluehost.com and ns2.bluehost.com. Flywheel is a bit different — they have instructions in their admin area for pointing your domain, or their customer service can help you out.
2. Install WordPress
Bluehost offers 1-click install — and it really is that simple. In your cPanel, you’ll see a button to install WordPress, and it will walk you through the process from there. I recommend showing advanced options so you can choose your username and password, otherwise it will automatically use the email address associated with your hosting account and generate a password for you.
With Flywheel, click the New Site button, and it will install WordPress for you. You also have the option to have them migrate your site from another host for free.
3. Put up a coming soon page
Once you’ve installed WordPress, you can access your admin area at yoursitename.com/wp-admin. I like to put up a coming soon page on every site I create so I can work behind the scenes setting everything up and still have something to share. Install the Ultimate Coming Soon Page plugin, and once you enable your coming soon page in the settings, anyone who visits your site will only see that page. Once you login to WordPress, you’ll be able to see your site in progress. Check out my post on creating a coming soon page quickly for more tips.
4. Update your settings
The first thing I do with any new WordPress site is update the settings — something many people overlook. In the general settings, enter your site name and tagline, then be sure to choose your correct time zone, otherwise your scheduled posts won’t publish when you expect them to.
Next, go to the Permalink settings and choose post name, otherwise you’ll have random numbers in your post links. Finally, if you want to create a custom home page, add new pages for your home page and blog page, then head over to the Reading settings and choose to display a static front page. Select the pages you created from the dropdown menus.
5. Choose a theme
People have dedicated entire sites to sharing the latest and greatest WordPress themes — there are so many to choose from. This is the part where you’ll probably get overwhelmed and start to wonder why you wanted to do this in the first place. Don’t let it hold you back! Remember you can always change your theme later once your site has been live for a while and you have some time to understand what you really need from a WordPress theme. Here are a few free ones to get you started:
6. Set up menus, widgets, and other theme settings
Once you’ve installed and activated your theme, you can start setting up overall site elements under the Appearance menu. Some themes will have the option for you to upload a custom header and/or background.
Most themes have preset areas for menus, so you can create a menu and assign it to that area. Click on the screen options tab in the upper right corner, and you can enable even more options for your menus, like opening links in new tabs (good for social media links), and linking to your blog categories and tags. Add items to your menu from the left, then click and drag menu items to rearrange them, or expand the arrow on the right for more options.
Finally, most themes will have at least one widget area for the sidebar, and possibly more for your footer. WordPress comes with a number of widgets that you can drag over to your widget areas and customize. Show a list of recent posts, or you can create a custom menu for your blog categories and add it to your sidebar with the custom menu widget.
7. Install plugins
Like themes, there are so many plugins to choose from — I couldn’t possibly begin to cover them all in this guide. Instead, let me share with you a few of my essentials:
- Akismet: For spam monitoring.
- Black Studio TinyMCE: Adds a Visual Editor widget that works like the WordPress editor, so you can customize your sidebar without code.
- Click to Tweet: Easily add click-to-tweet links in your blog posts that automatically mention you and link back to your post.
- Easy Google Fonts: For customizing your site fonts with Google Fonts.
- Frizzly: For share button hovers on your images.
- Google Analytics by Yoast: For adding Google Analytics tracking to your site.
- Instagram Slider Widget: For adding an Instagram slideshow or thumbnail grid to your site.
- Related Posts by Zemanta: My preferred related posts plugin. (Jetpack by WordPress also comes with a good related posts module.)
- Simple Image Widget: Adds an image widget that makes it easy to add linked images to your sidebar with a description. Great for about widgets.
This is obviously pretty basic — there is so much more you can do with WordPress. That’s why I wrote an ebook on it! I hope if you’re struggling to get started that this post will give you the guidance and push you need — and I know many of you out there just getting started are looking for any free guidance you can find out there. But if you’d like more information, be sure to check out my book Make WordPress Work.