Once you have decided to create your own website, you may still not have very much of an idea how to get started. What do you need to consider? How much time will you need? And how much money will it cost? This practical guide will take you step by step through how to get up and running with a WordPress-powered website.
WordPress is the world’s most popular web publishing software. According to WordPress.com there are now over 70 million websites running WordPress. That’s about 12.5% of all the websites in the world. Not only should that reassure you that WordPress is a good choice, but it means that there is a rich ecosystem around the platform. Everything from tutorials and support forums through to off-the-shelf themes and advanced functionality are very easy to find and use.
Most importantly, WordPress is easy to learn. If you’ve ever logged onto email or sold something on eBay, you’ve got all the skills you need to create and run your own website. You’ll be up and running with the basics within an hour, but there’s enough sophistication and power at your control to keep you learning for a lifetime.
Plan your website
Before you do anything else, you need to plan your website. This is perhaps the most important part of the whole undertaking, so spend time on it. I put a presentation together last year on planning a successful website that covers the basics:
• Housekeeping – are you ready for a website?
• Visitors – who do you want to look at your site?
• Marketing – how will you get people to see it?
• Content – what is the site going to contain? Words? Pictures? Videos?
• Calls to Action – what are you going to ask people to do once they’re on the site?
• Design – what’s it going to look like?
• Workflow – how are you going to keep the site updated?
• Infrastructure – where are you going to host your site? What domain will you use? How about email? Backup?
• Commercials – how is this website going to justify its existence? Websites cost money, time or energy and usually all three. How will it pay its way (even if the answer isn’t given in currency)?
That’s just an overview of the sort of things you need to think through before planning a site. Don’t let this list put you off: thinking these things through should help you clarify your ideas
WordPress: .com or .org?
Once you’ve planned your site, one of the first things to do is to decide whether WordPress.com or WordPress.org is the best match for your requirements. Here’s a quick overview, but there’s a full guide here.
Both WordPress.com and WordPress. org are powerful solutions. About half of everyone that uses WordPress is using WordPress.com.
For a few reasons, this article is going to focus on WordPress.com:
• It’s a low-cost, low-risk, quick-start option that is safe and trouble-free
• If you’re new to WordPress, the .com version is easiest to get into and lets you learn the core principles and features of WordPress
• If you outgrow WordPress.com, it’s easy to migrate your content to WordPress.org in the future
That said, a lot of this is applicable to WordPress.org too.
It is very easy. Head on over to: https://en.wordpress.com/signup/. The WordPress.com team will sign you up in a few steps. Once you’ve got your blog* set up, head back here and find out what to do next. In fact, the WordPress.com platform does a good job of guiding you through using your site, so feel free to follow their guides too.
* Don’t worry that it says ‘blog’ – by changing the settings, you can use WordPress as a full-featured website too.
Ignore the fact that you’re signing up for YOURSITE.wordpress.com – you’ll be able to customise your site to use your own domain later on.
Your Dashboard and Admin Area
You can think of WordPress as two websites. The Dashboard is the ‘homepage’ of your new admin area (also known as the Back Office or Content Management System [CMS]) is a private, secure area for you and anyone you invite. The other website (often called the ‘front site’) is the public one that visitors will see and interact with. You’ll use the Dashboard to control your website, including adding and editing your content, approving comments and changing the look and feel of the front site.
If you’ve ever used Facebook, you’ve already experienced the way this works. There’s one version of Facebook that is private to you, then there’s the profile that everyone else can see. Think of your front site as your profile.
The general layout of the admin area is a left-hand menu (with Dashboard at the top). Everything in this menu from ‘Posts’ down to ‘Ratings’ controls your site’s content. The second group of menu items (from ‘Appearance’ through to ‘Settings’) controls both the front site and the admin area of your WordPress site.
The main, right-hand side of the admin area is the content of whichever section is currently selected in the left-hand menu.
WordPress comes with a comprehensive help feature. In the admin area, look to the top right of the screen and find the ‘Help’ tab. If you click that, it’ll drop down a contextual help feature to guide you around what’s on the current page.
If that doesn’t tell you what you need, searching for it on Google will usually do the trick: just make sure you’re looking at help for WordPress.com, not .org (although, again, many of the same principles apply).
Now, this isn’t the most exciting part of WordPress, but let’s gets it out of the way. Click ‘Settings’ (the bottom item in the left-hand menu) and check over those settings, updating them where necessary.
At this point, you may wish to put your new site into ‘Private’ mode, so that you can work on your site before unveiling the finished, polished result to the world. To do this, go ‘Settings’ > ‘Privacy’ and choose your option there.
Now it is time to start adding your content to the new site. A lot of the other settings you’ll want to look at will only make sense once you’ve got a basic structure to the site in place. Likewise, it’s often easier to see how a particular look and feel will work once you’ve got some content in place.
Content strategy is a new and powerful approach that provides a framework to ensure that your communication is timely, interesting and relevant. You may wish to consider a more-or-less formal content strategy for your site.
A content strategy can be framed by these concepts:
What types of content will be produced?
• Static pages
• Blog posts
A good first step for substance is to do keyword research. What do you do?
Which search terms do you want to be found for? What is the competition like for these terms? Which does it feel sensible to target in a methodological way?
• Static content will be handled on static website pages
• Dynamic content sections are handled by posts
• Photos and videos can be included on either, but are probably better off being hosted by a third-party service like YouTube, then embedded on your site.
• Assigning targets for content production
• Planning workflows and processes such as planning, drafting, finalising and publishing content
• Using one piece of content to spawn different media – blog post, tweet, YouTube video, etc
• Simple, automatic ways to syndicate that content
Some kind of editorial governance is a good idea to ensure that blogging/ content production is consistent and in line with the site’s strategy and objectives.
So, that’s the (basic) theory behind site content. What about the practicalities? First it’s critical to understand the difference between the two main types of content in WordPress: posts and pages.
Posts vs Pages
Basically, think of a page as a ‘web page’ – something fairly permanent and stationary. As for ‘post’, think ‘blog post’ – an update.
Basically, pages are static content – About, Services, Contact, Terms and Conditions – that sort of thing. Pages are handled through hierarchy and placement in menus.
Posts are used for blogs, news and any other content that is likely to be updated continually over time. Posts are handled by assigning them with dates, authors, categories and tags – they’re usually found on both a listing template (a list of all blog posts, or all news posts with a certain category or author) and a view or ‘single’ template that shows the content of the post in full and often has tools for commenting on or sharing that post.
For a more detailed explanation, see:
Adding Posts, Adding Pages
Now you can go add your content, both as posts and pages. Use these guides:
Once you’ve got the basic content for your site in place, it’s time to start making your WordPress site look and feel like your own.
Using WordPress as a website
If you’re mainly after a blog, you’ll probably find that your WordPress site is already looking pretty much like a blog. If you’re after more of a traditional website look, there’s a handy guide here: http://en.support.wordpress.com/ using-wordpress-to-create-a-website/. It covers tips like using a static page as your homepage and adding a contact form.
At this point, all we’ve really done is to change the content and settings of your site to match the basic structure and purpose of the site. What we’re going to look at now is themes.
Themes control your site’s appearance: from colours and fonts to page templates and functionality. Many themes offer a number of built-in options to modify the theme from within the admin area itself. For example, Twenty Eleven (the default WordPress.com theme) comes with two colour schemes, the ability to change link colours, and tools to upload your own header images, as well as a wealth of different template options to suit your content.
As of March 2012, there are 173 themes (some paid for, most free) available for users of WordPress.com: http://theme. wordpress.com/themes/ – some are clearly suited to blogging, some more for traditional websites and many can be repurposed to both.
To manage your site’s themes, just head to ‘Appearance’ > ‘Themes’ in your admin area – and while you’re there, check out the other options available to you. These will change depending on the theme you’re currently using and any premium upgrades you’ve made to your site.
Theming is a quick, easy and powerful way of making your WordPress site unique.
One of the big changes in how people access the web at the moment is the growing prevalence of smartphones. It’s worth considering these users when choosing a theme.
WordPress.com has a special filter on their themes page to show you sites that are ‘Responsive’ – i.e. adapt themselves for different screen sizes rather than just shrinking down.
This seems like a good time to point out a few of the premium features available to you through WordPress.
• Premium themes (as above)
• Use your own domain (we’ll get to this in a minute)
• Custom design – edit your theme’s CSS – this is probably something you’d want a web developer to do for you unless you’re proficient in CSS already. It’s essentially a way of modifying many of the settings that control how your site looks – colours, font sizes, etc.
• Use custom fonts (also part of Custom design) – if you are tired of the preset font you can choose a new one from a wide variety within your admin area.
If you really max out the free options and themes with WordPress.com, premium features add a whole new level of tools and customisation to your site at an affordable price
Using your own domain
Having done all the above, you are now ready to get your site live and accessible at your own domain. Domain mapping is something that WordPress makesquitesimple.However,awordof caution is that domains, nameservers and DNS records are a headache even for web professionals. If you find it all confusing, don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Read the guide carefully and be prepared to secure a bit of time from a professional to help you if you get stuck. Here’s what WordPress has to say on the process: http://en.support. wordpress.com/domain-mapping/
Emails with Google Apps
Usually, if you have a website at www. yourwebsite.com, people expect to see an email address like yourname@ youraddress.com on the contact page (or on the side of your delivery van). It just looks that much more professional than your Hotmail, Gmail or BT Connect email address. Google offers a free (well, free as long as you don’t have more than a few users and don’t mind the restrictions of a free account) web service called Google Apps that is designed to offer you Email, Calendar, online document publishing and more. With WordPress.com you can set this service up using your site’s domain: http://en.support.wordpress.com/ domain-mapping/google-apps-email/
We are now straying beyond the incredibly straightforward side of WordPress here, and it may well be that paying a professional to spend an hour getting this up and running for you is a good idea.
Found in the ‘Appearance’ > ‘Widgets’ page of the admin area, widgets are handy bits of functionality or content that you can drag and drop into your site. Widgets live in sidebars, which in turn are placed into your theme’s templates. Different themes use different sidebars, and the availability of different sidebars can play an important part in your choice of theme.
The basic premise is that you can use the Widgets admin page to drag and drop a widget to one or more sidebar areas, then configure it with your own settings (these settings are pretty simple). Once you save that widget, it’ll appear immediately in your site wherever that sidebar is displayed.
Widgets can show things like:
• Recent Comments
• Recent Posts
• Text areas (into which you can insert your own text or HTML content)
Typically, widgets are used for ‘calls to action’ – i.e. the things that you want users to do once they’re on your site. That might be providing contact details, useful links to your other content or links to your social media profiles so that people can keep in touch with you.
Blogging and comments are close allies on the web. If you have something to say, it’s nice to show that you’re keen to hear what people think about that too. However, it’s not always appropriate. Usually, a good rule of thumb is to allow commenting on posts but not pages. You can control your site-wide commenting settings under ‘Settings’ > ‘Discussion’ and you can control per- post (or per-page) settings on the Posts or Pages listing screens (or individual edit screens).
It’s usually a good idea to choose quite restrictive settings for commenting – ensure that you have to approve each comment before it’s displayed on the site for example, or you may end up with comments you don’t want (there are some pretty odd people on the web).
Another form of discussion is trackbacks (or pingbacks). WordPress will search for other blogs that link to your site, and will display an incoming link like a comment. You can think of trackbacks as comments, just ones that are on someone else’s site rather than your own. It’s a neat principle and using comments and trackbacks really helps to build connections between different sites which can be mutually beneficial. Remember, your website isn’t an island: it’s just one part of a global community.
Social media is a topic discussed at length elsewhere in this guide. However, one of the key reasons to have a site is to help drive and realise value from social media. Social media is an excellent way to connect with stakeholders (your target audience, peers, even your own staff), but not necessarily a good way to distribute the content itself: trying to tweet an insightful analysis of current foreign exchange markets might be tricky work. Typically, social media is better used for directing people to your site by providing a link and a description of why people should click it.
Sites typically interact with social media in four ways:
• Allowing your visitors to share your content via social media platforms – this is what the Facebook ‘Like’ and Twitter ‘Tweet’ button are for. WordPress.com comes with its own tool for managing sharing – under ‘Settings’ > ‘Sharing’.
• Telling your visitors about your own social media profiles, so that they can see what else you’re up to and follow/connect/subscribe so that they can keep in touch with your latest activities. You’ll see ‘Follow us on Twitter’ and ‘Find us on Facebook’ links on most sites these days.
• Bringing content from your social media activities into your WordPress site. Love taking photos or tweeting? Connect those services with your WordPress site and show off your latest photos or tweets in your sidebar. Here’s a good guide to how to integrate Twitter with your WordPress site: http://en.support. wordpress.com/twitter/ – a quick Google search will find similar pages with how-to guides for other social media platforms.
• Perhaps saving the best for last, WordPress.com makes it easy
to syndicate your site’s content automatically to your social media profiles. The idea here is to minimise the amount of work you have to
do yourself. Instead of manually tweeting that you’ve just posted a new article on your site, use a service like Twitterfeed to do that automatically. This principle works for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and lots of other social media platforms either by using out-of-the-box tools and settings, or by leveraging third- party services. You concentrate on publishing content, then let the power of the web enable your audience to consume that content in whichever way suits them best.
WordPress is built for publishing content and managing your site in the most efficient, real-time manner possible. To help you to keep your site updated, manage comments and more, the WordPress team have developed apps for mobile devices that connect to your site and let you control it from wherever you can find an internet connection: http://wordpress.org/extend/mobile/
These mobile apps also add a new feature: the ability to geo-tag your posts so that users can see where you were when you published a particular post. While that’s probably not an option you want to use if you’re sitting on your sofa at home, it definitely has its place for sites that cover news, sporting or other events where location is relevant to the content.
There are, fortunately, good resources out there to guide you through at least the basics. Just do a Google Search and look through what’s available.
Remember to enjoy yourself. Web publishing can be a thrilling, even addictive experience. Take things at a sensible pace: don’t expend all your creative juice in an initial flurry. Use WordPress’s publishing workflow tools (drafts, scheduling posts and moderation) to your advantage – save ideas as draft posts, work them up later if they still seem like a good idea. Don’t be afraid to experiment and play – WordPress has tools to help you recover previous versions (“revisions”) of posts and pages, you can take your whole site or any post or page offline quickly (but remember that Google and other services may have cached them).
Most of all be timely, interesting and relevant and you will do well.
David Lockie is the founder of Pragmatic Web Limited
This piece is taken from The Journalism Foundation’s free toolkit on how to build a local website. Get the guide in full here
To read more about The Journalism Foundation’s local journalism project in Stoke-on-Trent click here