“What Is WordPress?
When it comes to setting up a website, there is one clear winner that stands head and shoulders above the rest as the quickest, easy way to publish online – WordPress. Designed primarily as a platform for blogging, WordPress is robust enough to be used to power virtually any website, making it easy for those without coding know-how to put together professional effective websites in just a few clicks.
WordPress dominates the web, with a massive number of webmasters choosing the platform for their site. Here’s why:
- It doesn’t cost a cent. WordPress is absolutely free for anyone to use and customize, so it’s the natural choice for fledgling and small businesses.
- Themes. There are thousands of free, professional WordPress themes that can be applied to give your site that slick appearance (without the need to employ a costly web designer).
- Plugins. In the same way themes can easily apply new designs to you site, plugins can also add functionality without the need for coding.
- Help and support. Because WordPress is so widely used there is plenty of material available to guide you through the process and troubleshoot any problems. And if you do need to hire anyone to help you out it’s easy to find a coder with an intimate knowledge of the WordPress platform.
Content management systems come in all shapes and sizes, and while there are others that are commonly used to create free websites (e.g. Blogger, Tumblr), WordPress is easily the most robust option available.
Getting Started With WordPress
There are two options open to you for setting up a website on WordPress.
- A free blog, hosted on WordPress.com. This is ideal for those publishing for fun, or for a closed circle of readers.
- For those more serious about their site, the second option of a WordPress site that is independently hosted is usually best. This allows you the maximum degree of control over how your site is put together, and enables you to choose your own domain name (i.e. mybusiness.com), rather than domain.wordpess.com for that more professional look.
For most businesses the second option will be the most suitable. But once you’ve chosen your domain name, what are the next steps to get your own website up and running?
“Web Hosting – A Virtual Plot Of Land”
Hosting your website is the next essential step beyond a domain name, and you need to find a hosting solution that is compatible with the WordPress platform. There are broadly two options – firstly, some business can host their own websites on dedicated servers if they own them. If you’re not in this position, you will need to find hosting space for your website elsewhere in order to build your website.
Choosing a hosting plan gives you the ‘virtual plot of land’ on which to build your website (in this analogy, the URL is your street address). Without both of these elements, you cannot build your website. Reliability in the hosting plan is equally as important as the speed of the host, given that downtime costs your business money and customers, while Google penalizes overly slow websites. As a result the choice of host is an extremely important decision that cannot be taken lightly.
There are literally countless thousand potential webhosts vying for your business, and making the wrong decision can cost you money, customers and Google points. So which should you choose, and how do you know you’re making the right choice? While independent reviews can help you get a feel for different providers, here are a few commonly chosen options for WordPress sites.
- HostGator – a major player in the hosting market, HostGator is low on cost and high on service. We use HostGator ourselves for the reliability and low cost solutions they provide (plans start from as little as $3.96 a month), and our tutorial videos demonstrate how to set up your WordPress site on the HostGator platform.
- Vidahost.com – For UK-based entrepreneurs, Vidahost comes in at equally as good value, with packages from £17 for one year.
- WP Engine – a pricier option, WP Engine is a dedicated host specializing in WordPress sites. This is perfect for those with larger businesses, or those in need of more specific hosting solutions.
- Bluehost – Plans at Bluehost start at just $6.95/month, and there are often sales and further promotional discounts offered to new clients. Although Bluehost is a safe and reliable provider, we recommend that you separate your domain names and hosting between different providers, so only choose Bluehost if they don’t already have your domain business.
For those that already have a domain, select the ‘Currently Have A Domain Name’ option at Step 1 (0:40).
When your website has eventually gone live, you can track its speed here: http://www.webpagetest.org/
The first step to setting up your website is to install WordPress, and depending on the hosting provider there may be different ways of completing this process. Here’s HostGator’s video demonstrating the WordPress installation process.
And for our Bluehost users, check out Bluehost’s installation guide.
For those with a different solution, you may need to install WordPress manually – download the WordPress application and read these guidelines to unzip and install the platform on your site.
Setting up your business email address
Email is essential for doing business on the web these days, and while some freelancers might be content to use free email services like Gmail and Hotmail, these lack the professional edge that most businesses demand. Most businesses would prefer an email address that matches their domain name, and it is possible to set this up within your hosting control panel.
This brief video demonstrated how you can set this up on HostGator (complete with forwarding to your personal Gmail account):
“Choosing The Right Theme”
Because WordPress is free and so many websites use it worldwide, you can benefit from countless thousand free and premium design themes that can change how your site looks in just a couple of clicks. With WordPress there is no need to hire a designer to create the site you’re looking for, with so many ready-baked templates available for you to apply.
There are thousands of themes available online that can be obtained for free, and can be installed easily through the WordPress dashboard. The WordPress free themes directory is a great starting point, and Woothemes also offer many free themes you can choose from. Try to find a design that compliments your type of business – this should be straightforward given the sheer range of choice out there.
At Woothemes, you can also choose e-commerce themes that facilitate selling online. Woothemes specializes in business and e-commerce themes and their attractive designs are created with a view to helping you sell.
In most cases, it is the call to action that will determine your conversion rate – in other words, the percentage of your visitors that will click through to buy your product or download your ebook. Whatever it is you’re selling, a strong call to action on the homepage will help improve the number of sales your site generates. For free themes that offer the most effective calls to action, check out Shell, or Leaf which allows your site to be more easily viewable on smartphones and tablets.
While free themes might seem like the answer, there are some downsides you should be aware of. Free themes are often less function-intensive than premium themes, and making changes to them can be trickier, depending on how they have been designed. Support for free themes is limited, and because you’re not technically a customer you are at the mercy of the theme designer. Many free themes are already dead in terms of support, which can make it tricky to resolve problems that might arise.
Those with experience of blogging tend to recommend buying a premium WordPress theme. These don’t have to cost the earth, but they can give you a more professional look to your website with a better design, while offering greater functionality over basic, free themes. Premium themes are less buggy (because more time and energy has been spend on their coding), and most premium options make it easy to integrate Google Analytics and social media buttons.
Here are a few different premium themes that are available:
StudioPress – From the guys at Copyblogger, StudioPress affords you the choice of hundreds of stylish, well-designed themes with SEO at their core. While a single theme costs $99, they look fantastic and help engage visitors for that next visit. And for those conscious of the support available, StudioPress is one of the best to choose.
Thesis by DIYthemes.com is another commonly used premium theme. It’s fast, stable and easy to customize in the most suitable way for your website. The design itself is minimalist and may require some development, but as a blank canvas Thesis is excellent to work with. The basic version has a price tag of $87.
Premise from Copyblogger is another option, providing you with a framework that even works retroactively with your existing theme. Those building a membership site, for example, can use Premise to add essential features to their site (including landing pages), designed to make it easier to sell through your site and grow your membership base. While Premise does cost $165, it’s money well spent for those looking to build a stable membership site that is ready for growth.
“Installing Your Theme And Content”
The next step is to install the theme you have chosen. This video gives a quick overview of this simple process:
Add a logo
No business website would be complete without a logo and branding, demonstrating the identity of the business it represents. If you need a new logo designed, check out 99 Designs where new logo design costs just $99. Or, you can find cost effective British Logo Design here for the same price.
Add basic pages
Now your site should be starting to take shape, the next step is to add the essential pages that will help establish credibility and give your site the content it needs to convert customers. Whatever it is you’re trying to sell or promote, it’s essential to get visitors to know, trust and like you as quickly as possible.
As part of that process, you should add at least the following pages to your site from the WordPress interface.
- The Home page – this is arguably the most important page of your site where most buyers will see what you have to offer for the first time. A clear call to action is essential to ensuring you can sell through your site.
- The About Us page – usually an informational page about the website, its creators and its purpose, About Us is a good chance to win over prospective customers with your vision and personality.
- The Contact Us page – to enable visitors to get in touch with you.
- The Products/Services page – where information about your products and services will be displayed. The more information you can provide, the better, and it might be worth creating additional product and services pages as your business requires.
- The Archives – where all your best content is linked, making your website as accessible as possible.
- The FAQ (frequently asked questions) page – the page where you can reduce support issues, queries and questions, while establishing yourself as an authority in your business.
- The Testimonials page – testimonials act as social proof, and help convince buyers you are a worthwhile choice. You’ll find Wordtracker’s reviews page here.
For more information on how to create landing pages that work for your website and your business, check out this guide: Discover the secrets of a great landing page
Out the box, WordPress isn’t set up to be optimized for the main criteria of the search engines. This means that there are changes required, in most part to the structure of your internal link URLs (page addresses) to make them more tailored for search engine ranking.
This is easier than it sounds, and Wordtracker’s guide to optimizing WordPress demonstrates how quickly and easily this can be achieved.
Installing the right plugins
Plugins are the website owner’s best friend, and another staple advantage of WordPress over other types of content management systems. These free and premium plugins are readily available and allow you to add a variety of features to your website. Whatever you want your site to do there will almost certainly be a plugin available for achieving that end – whether it’s finding broken links, adding newsletter sign-up forms or dynamically setting meta data (for better SEO).
The following quick video shows you how to install the plugins you need quickly and easily.
“Other Tips For Your Site”
Social media is big news for website owners, and it’s essential that anyone that thinks your content is worth it can share what you’ve got to offer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, WordPress has taken care of this, or rather the folks behind the Shareaholic plugin, which enable you to easily set up social media buttons. The Shareaholic plugin allows buttons for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, Tumblr and more. For those looking to add alternatives, this video shows you how:
Install Google Analytics
Online marketing guru Dan Zarrella has said “marketing without data is like driving with your eyes closed”. Installing Google Analytics on your site will open your eyes to the world of data available, which helps you make better decisions about how to market your website. This video shows how to get started with your free Google Analytics account, so you can start tracking your website traffic data immediately.
Create Your RSS Feed
Setting up your RSS feed allows visitors to make the decision to receive all of your content directly (rather than you relying on them to come back and check when you’ve posted something new). FeedBurner is one app, run by Google, that makes the process of creating and tracking RSS feeds easier. However, there is talk that this service may be on the decline – here are a list of alternatives you can use to achieve the same effect.
Other Plugins You Should Consider
CommentLuv plugin – this plugin allows you to post ‘follow’ links for comments, encourage visitors to join in the discussion around your content. Follow links pass SEO juice, so other webmasters will be more inclined to link to you.
The Akismet plugin – this is an essential partner to CommentLuv (and still extremely useful on its own), fighting back against spam and preventing automated spam comments from being left on your website.
For encouraging engagement with your content and more click-throughs from those already on your website, Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP) also comes highly recommended. This suggests related posts for readers to click on at the foot of your content – perfect for keeping visitors on your site for longer.
For those with a free theme (or a premium theme that doesn’t have SEO functionality the All-in-One SEO pack and Google Sitemap Generator are also useful in keeping Google in the loop about how to rank your site.
Manage your widgets
The sidebar on your WordPress site is one area that presents the same information on every page, no matter what the specific content of that page. So, for example, if there are functions you want to include on all pages, perhaps an ad or a search box, the sidebar is the place to go. This is controlled through widgets – module-like boxes you can drag and drop to create the sidebar you want for your website.
Some common widgets include:
- Search box – if you want to be discoverable through the search engines, you’re going to need at least 25 pages of quality content on your website. Eventually, this will expand upwards, and it is essential that your visitors can easily find what they are looking for. A search box widget allows for searches through your content, making it easier for visitors to find the information they want.
- Subscription options box – attracting a visitor once often isn’t enough to make the sale – some studies suggest it can take up to 7 points of contact to solidify a lead. Subscriptions options boxes allow visitors to sign up for email updates, or to sign up to your membership site from any of your website’s pages.
- Categories – categories keep your site well organized, and make it easier for visitors to find what they’re looking for, no matter which page they are on.
Site navigation is important as far as helping organize your content is concerned. Find our more about site navigation here. This quick video shows how you can change the navigation of your site and change menus in WordPress to make your site as easy as possible to manage.
For an overview of how to set up and manage widgets on your site check out the following video: