When you’re starting a new online business and don’t have the budget for a developer, knowing you’ll have to build your own website can feel a little intimidating. What if you waste a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure everything out on your own and wind up with something you can’t use? Or even worse, makes you look like an amateur? Don’t worry, that’s where this guide comes in. I’ll show you step by step exactly how to start a website and get it setup on the best platform for building an online business, WordPress.
All about the ‘Press
I know there are tons of website builders like WordPress.com (which is different from the self-hosted version of WordPress) and SquareSpace that let you get right into creating a website without having to fool around with geeky, technical stuff like setting up your hosting or changing your DNS. But do realize that along with the initial headstart these websites give, are a lot of restrictions and limitations that will hold you back from making something more than an online brochure. These other platforms won’t give you the flexibility WordPress does in letting you make your website look and work exactly the way you want.
But the most important drawback of all is that you won’t really own the website you create because you’re locked into their platform. Let’s say one day they do something that makes you want to drop them completely and move your site elsewhere. Aside from exporting a CSV with your page content, you won’t be able to just up and move your entire website. You’ll have to take your little export file and rebuild the whole thing somewhere else. Another worst case scenario is if they decided one day to stop doing business and shut everything down. In that case, the site you worked so hard on could disappear right along with theirs.
That’s why I recommend starting with the self-hosted version of WordPress available at WordPress.org from the jump. The self-hosted version gives you practically unlimited control over the look and functionality of your site. So it can be just as simple or as complex as you need it to be. And since you’re responsible for hosting it, you’ll have full access to all of the files and data that make up your website. With nothing tying you down to a particular service or hosting provider, you can do things like move your site anywhere you please, anytime you want, and never have to worry about starting over from scratch.
Decide on and register a domain name
Before you start building your site, you’ll want to figure out your domain name. A domain is an address people use to get to your website. So you’ll want it to be memorable, relatively short, and similar to your business name. It’s also a good idea to do a quick google search to make sure it’s unique. If the name is close to another business in the same space as you, you’ll not only be in direct competition with them for search engine rankings, but you could also be opening yourself up to trademark liabilities. (Cease and Desist Letters = no fun.)
DOMAIN NAME BEST PRACTICES:
- Always try to go with “.com” when possible. It’s considered the standard for domain names and easier for people to remember. If that isn’t available, “.net” and “.co” are good alternatives.
- Avoid using numbers or hyphens. When people hear the domain, they could mix the numbers up or get confused about whether they’re typed out. The same is true for hyphens — it’s hard for people to remember them or where they go.
After you’ve picked out your name, head over to a domain name registrar to purchase it. Out of all the companies I’ve used so far, Namecheap is my favorite. It’s user-friendly and they give you free domain name privacy for the first year. This keeps the personal information you use when registering off the internet for anyone to look up and get access to.
Now you may have noticed a lot of companies allow you to register a domain name and get hosting in one package deal. It’s definitely something you can take advantage of, but best practice is to buy them from different companies. That way if something bad ever went down with your hosting account, you don’t run the risk of losing your domain along with your website (and vice versa.)
Sign up for web hosting and connect it to your domain
You’ve purchased a domain name, now it’s time to set up your site hosting. This is where all the files that make up your website will live, so it’s very important to find one that offers reliability, speed, security and great support.
Over the years, I’ve used several site hosts and SiteGround is my favorite by far. Their loading speeds are crazy fast and so is the support. And best of all, it’s super affordable with their shared hosting rates starting as low as $3.95/month. So needless to say, this is who I personally use to host my own website.
Siteground has 3 website hosting options to choose from:
StartUp Plan – If you’re just starting out and want to test the waters with only one website, this might be the plan for you. It gives you all the hosting basics you need.
GrowBig Plan – This plan allows for unlimited websites and even throws in a free SSL certificate for 1 year, which will come in handy if you plan to sell products and process payments directly on your website. Other convenient features added in at this level are their Backup and Restore service, and their very own site cacher to help speed up the loading times on your site.
GoGeek Plan – This includes everything mentioned above, as well as more storage space, and increased bandwidth for more site visitors. This plan also offers one-click staging which will allow you to make changes and test out new features on a private staging site that looks exactly like your live site.
First, you’ll pick the package that works best for you by hitting one of the GET STARTED buttons.
Now’s the time to claim your domain! Select I already have a Domain and type it in.
Next, you’ll be taken to this screen where you can verify the plan you selected, and select the data center (based on your timezone) and how frequently you want to be billed.
At this point, you’ll see some extra services that you can add on to your account. The decision to order them is up to you but I tend to not use them. Plus you can always decline now and add them on later if you change your mind.
Make sure you fill out your payment information, agree to the terms, then hit the PAY NOW button.
Once the order goes through and your new account is created, you’ll be transferred to SiteGround’s customer area. Click the red button on the top right that says Set up in 2 min! When the popup appears, select the option to Start a new website.
This will take you to the Account Setup Assistant which will help you set up your website in 2 easy steps.
First, you’re going to select the type of website you need, and WordPress as the software you are going to use.
On the next page, you’ll choose your WordPress login details. You’ll use this to log in to your website’s admin area once everything is set up. So make sure you write it down, or even better, use a password manager like LastPass to keep track of it.
Pro tip: choose something other than “admin” for your username to help keep your site hack proof.
You’ll also be asked to choose a free theme to install, but you can skip this and just hit the SUBMIT button.
The final page will confirm that the WordPress installation was successful and will show you one last time the login information you entered on the previous page and the link where you can log in to the WordPress dashboard.
If you bought your domain from somewhere else, this login link isn’t going to work just yet. First, you’ll need to tell your domain registrar where you’re hosting your site since they automatically assume it will be with them. The way you do this is by changing your domain’s nameservers so that they’re pointing to the servers over at SiteGround. (I know it sounds painful, but I promise it’s not.)
Back in the Customer Area (where you started the WordPress setup,) click on the My Accounts tab.
Under Information & Settings, you’ll see a section labeled Account DNS that contains two web addresses (don’t worry about the part in parentheses.) These are your nameservers and the info your domain registrar needs in order to associate your domain name with your new hosting. Save those two URLs and login to your domain account to add the new nameservers. The exact steps on how to do this are a little different for each registrar since they all have their own interfaces. But here are specific instructions for Namecheap, the registrar I mentioned earlier, as well as one of the more popular domain registrars, Godaddy.
If the process of changing them gives you too much trouble, you can always contact your domain registrar for assistance.
Once you change your nameservers, your domain should start working in a few minutes, but it can as long as 24 hours for the change to go through.
Meet your new website
After your nameserver changes take effect, you can finally click the login link that you saw after successfully installing WordPress. When you do, it will take you to a page like the one below. Enter the WordPress login information you entered earlier. (Tip: To log in to your site, you can always go to http://yoururlhere.com/wp-admin)
You did it! Congratulations on setting up your domain name and hosting, installing WordPress, and logging into your dashboard for the first time.
THE WORDPRESS DASHBOARD
There’s a ton for us to dig into here, but to get started let’s go over a few of the most important parts of the WordPress dashboard.
This is the dashboard’s home screen. You’ll notice a toolbar at the top and a vertical panel of links on the left-hand side.
You’ll see the top toolbar on every page of your site, as long as you’re logged in. This way, you’re always one click away from the Dashboard and common administrative tasks like adding new content.
The left-hand menu contains every configuration or settings page available on your site. When you install a new plugin, you’ll more than likely see a new link to that plugin’s settings page appear here.
Towards the bottom of this menu is a link labeled Settings. This is where you’ll find the main WordPress settings to change things like your timezone and the email address where site notifications are sent.
One of the most important settings you should change before you get to work on adding content is the permalink structure. A permalink is a URL to an individual post or page on your website, and WordPress gives you a few options for how you can format them. It’s best to keep these short and sweet, so go to Settings and click on Permalinks, then select the Post Name option.
Choose a WordPress Theme
So now that you’ve gotten your website in working order, it’s time for the fun stuff: dressing up your site with a new theme. WordPress comes preinstalled with its own “Twenty Seventeen” theme, but you’re probably going to want to switch to something with a little more style.
If you head over to the Themes section (under Appearance in the left menu), you’ll find thousands of free themes available to install right there from the dashboard. But as tempting as it may be to use one of them, I highly recommend going with a premium theme from a reputable provider.
Since anyone with a little coding knowledge can slap together a theme and put it on the market, it’s pretty common to find ones that look great on the outside but are out of date and badly coded on the inside. And using an old or badly coded theme is like playing with a ticking time bomb. Everything can be going along just fine until the day you decide to run an update and your site falls apart. And since support from the developer is unlikely with a free theme, figuring out what the problem is and how to fix it will fall completely on you.
With a premium theme, the developer is more likely to have followed best coding practices and will stay on top of keeping the theme up to date. They’re also more likely give you hands-on support in the event something goes wrong. All of which is why I’m such a huge fan of the Genesis Framework and use it on just about every website I build.
If you’re wondering what a framework is, it’s technically a theme, but one that’s used along with another separate “child” theme. Needing two themes for just one site might sound a little weird, but you can look at them as one having the brains while the other has all the looks. The child theme is what contains all the styling and other bells and whistles that make your site look beautiful, while the framework contains all of the functionality that keeps the theme (and your site) running smoothly. Using the framework/child theme setup to keep things separate also makes updating your site a breeze since all of the customizations are safely stowed away in the child theme and you only need to worry about updating the framework.
You’ll also find a variety of styles to choose from. StudioPress, the makers of the Genesis Framework, has over 40 child themes available for purchase on their site, including some from 3rd party Genesis child theme providers. So finding something that fits your brand shouldn’t be a problem.
Pro Tip: When you’re deciding on a child theme, pay attention to the layout and overall structure of the theme. You’ll be able to change things like images, colors, logos, and typography pretty easily. But changing the overall layout and structure of the theme can be a little more difficult.
Once you’ve picked out the perfect theme, you’re going to download two .zip files. One containing the child theme and one for the Genesis Framework. Head back over to your WordPress dashboard and go to APPEARANCE >> THEMES. This will take you to a page that shows all the themes currently installed on your site. To upload the themes you just purchased, hit the ADD NEW button in the top left and then UPLOAD THEME.
Make sure you upload the Genesis Framework first before uploading and activating your child theme. When you upload Genesis, you’ll see the option to activate it which isn’t necessary since the child theme is what contains the actual site design. Instead, click Return to themes page so that you can upload your child theme. Follow the same steps as before except this time, hit the Activate link.
Hey, your site is really coming along – but we’re not finished yet. Let’s teach your website some new tricks by installing a few plugins. Plugins are a convenient way for you add additional functionality to your website without having to mess with any code. You can search for new ones and install them right from the WordPress dashboard, just go to Plugins in the left-hand menu. With over 50,000 plugins available to install for free from the WordPress.org site, you should have no problem finding one that adds the functionality your looking for.
Here are some that I almost always install on a new site:
- Akismet. This is a plugin to reduce/eliminate spam comments.
- Yoast SEO. This will help you write your blog posts so that they rank higher in search engine result pages. It also makes WordPress pull the correct image, title, and description when a post of yours is shared on social media.
- Genesis eNews Extended. This will allow you to add an email signup form to any widget area on your site. If you’re using Genesis, the signup form automatically pulls the styling from your child theme so everything matches. This plugin can be configured with most email marketing services like MailChimp and ConvertKit.
- Genesis Simple Hooks. This plugin makes it easy to add bits of code or change the default text in various places on your site (for example, the copyright info in the footer of most Genesis themes) without having to directly edit your theme files. You’ll need the Genesis Framework to use this plugin.
- Genesis Simple Share. Use this to add social sharing buttons to your posts and pages. This is also designed to work with the Genesis Framework.
- BeaverBuilder. This is a drag and drop page builder that will allow you to build complex layouts (for things like sales pages) without having to touch any code. This comes in both a free and paid version.
- Genesis Dambuster. Use this on your Genesis site along with Beaver Builder to allow edge to edge, full-width layouts.
- Contact Form 7. Use this to create basic contact forms.
- Ninja Forms. This is a more sophisticated form builder, so in addition to contact forms, you can create longer, more complex forms like surveys, questionnaires, etc.
You can search for and install all of these plugins directly from the Plugins tab in the left menu of your WordPress dashboard.
As fun as plugins are, try not to get too carried away with them. As you install more plugins, you’ll also face more potential issues with things like site speed and security. So try to keep the overall amount of plugins you have installed down to a minimum. And try to go with only recently updated plugins that have good ratings and a decent amount of active installs.
Phew, we covered a lot! But if you followed all of the steps, you should have a good looking, responsive WordPress website setup on your very own hosting account and connected to your domain name. But if you’re looking for even more information on how to use WordPress to build the website of your dreams, I’ve got you covered! I’m working on a WordPress toolkit called Get Pressed that will show you step by step how to DIY your brand, customize your theme, and get everything ready for primetime so that your website looks just as professional as you are. Find all of the details about Get Pressed here.