WordPress is a Content Management System (CMS) originally designed for blogging that has now become one of the most popular website creation tools on the planet. WordPress has become popular for a number of reasons, it’s easy to use, has a great plugin library, and my favorite – WordPress has the best-looking themes out there, and there are tons of them. WordPress has enabled bloggers and website developers to deploy great-looking sites without writing a single line of code. Powerful plugins allow for the addition of sophisticated features that can be customized through a familiar GUI.
In this tutorial I will be taking you from start to finish so that if you know nothing about WordPress right now, you’ll know everything you need to get started by the end. I mean this, if you don’t know how to build a website, you will in under 30 minutes. I will also share some of my favorite plugins and the best places to find great themes so you can leverage the work of professional designers on your own sites. Ready to get started? Let’s rock!
The first step to using WordPress is installing it. Luckily, just like everything else in the WordPress world, there’s a simple GUI you can use to install WordPress for you. This GUI is available with most popular hosting companies but I highly recommend Hostgator. Hostgator has great pricing, phenomenal technical support, and cPanel which has a really cool tool that will install WordPress for you on any domain name, in a couple of clicks. (If you want to save 25% on Hosting with WordPress you can use – “MorganLinton25OFF”)
What most WordPress tutorials forget to explain is how you get your domain name to point to your hosting provider, I’m not missing this step – it’s important! When you sign-up for a hosting account with a provider like Hostgator they will send you a welcome email which includes two nameservers. To point your domain name to your hosting account you will replace your current nameservers with these. If you don’t know how to do this I’ve included tutorials from a few major registrars below:
- Changing Your Nameservers at Go Daddy
- Changing Your Nameservers at Moniker
- Changing Your Nameservers at Network Solutions
- Changing Your NameServers at 1 & 1
- Changing Your Nameservers at Tucows
- Changing Your Nameservers at Fabulous
Once you have updated your name servers you may have to allow anywhere from 30 minutes to 24-hours until the changes propagate. The next step is to add your domain to your hosting account. Hostgator has a great tutorial that walks you through the entire process of setting-up an Add-On Domain through cPanel. You can also watch the video tutorial below:
Okay, so now you have your domain name pointing to your hosting account, and your hosting account now knows to expect it. I’m still amazed how this step is left-out of so many tutorials. This is the hardest part, with this behind you it’s onto the fun stuff! The next step is to use a free tool called Fantastico De Luxe to install WordPress on your domain name. No coding or downloading and FTPing things from one server to another. You simply click on Fantastico De Luxe, select WordPress, and fill-out a simple form, it does the rest for you. If you have any trouble with this process please take a look at Hostgator’s FAQ on How to Install a Script using Fantastico.
That’s it. If you’ve followed the steps above then you now have WordPress installed on your domain. Once you’ve done this a few times it honestly takes less than five minutes, and notice that you didn’t write a single line of code. Welcome to WordPress, let’s get started!
Initial WordPress Setup
Once you have WordPress installed the next step is to start getting it setup for your specific site. Over the years I’ve developed a set of best-practices or a routine that I follow when setting-up WordPress. Everyone has their own way of doing things, my focus initially is to make sure WordPress is secure and optimized for search. If you follow the steps below five minutes from now you’ll have a much more secure blog and be ready to rank!
To follow these steps you do need to understand how to install plugins, luckily, just like everything else in WordPress, this is fairly straightforward. To install a plugin simply select “Plugins” from the navigation menu and then “Add New” – that’s it. Search for the plugin you want to install and hit “Install” – it really is that easy and all the plugins listed below are completely free so you won’t pay a dime getting setup.
- Install the Secure WordPress Plugin – this plugin has some essential security features in it, best of all it’s completely free.
- Install the WP Security Scan Plugin – critical plugin to monitor the security of your site.
- Install WordPress File Monitor Plugin – my third and final defensive measure, this plugin can help you determine if any code injection is being done. WordPress Spam link injection happens to sites all the time, this plugin can help you know if your site has been compromised.
- Activate Akismet – spam comments are annoying, get an API key for Akismet and activate it, this little guy will take care of honestly 95% of all the spam comments you would normally get, save a lot of time.
- Install All In One SEO Plugin – my personal favorite SEO plugin for WordPress, after you install it you’ll have to activate and configure the plugin
- Permalink Structure – for SEO purposes it is critical to setup your permalink structure so that it shows the post-name rather than a simple page number. You can do this by going to Settings, Permalinks and then selecting “Custom Structure” and enter the following: /%postname%/
- Remove Admin User – I recommend removing the admin user and picking a different username for your admin account. If someone’s trying to hack-into your site the account they’ll be trying to get access to is the admin account. If you don’t have an admin account or it’s been demoted to a subscriber you’ll be much safer.
- Confirm Site Visibility – WordPress has a crazy feature that allows you to hide your site from search engines. You’ll want to make sure that your site is not blocking search engines but instead welcoming them with open arms. To do this go to Settings, Privacy and make sure that you have the option check which says, ” I would like my site to be visible to everyone, including search engines (like Google, Bing, Technorati) and archivers”
There you go – a nice base of security and SEO – a process you can easily follow with each site you create. Now that you have the foundation built it’s time for my favorite part of all, picking a kick-ass theme for your site.
Finding A Kick-Ass WordPress Theme
I hope none of your are offended by my user of profanity here, but I do mean what I say. What I love the most about WordPress is the truly rich theme library with tons of themes created by professional designers. I’ve used a lot of different themes designers over the years but have found WooThemes to really be the best of the best.
My favorite features of WooThemes is that all their themes are designed by professional designer, and most importantly, they all work flawlessly. Nothing can be more frustrating that buying a theme that looks great, only to find-out it has a ton of bugs and issues, which, if you’re new to WordPress you probably won’t know how to fix. WooThemes makes rock-solid themes that work perfectly and are easy to configure using the dashboard.
The Theme itself defines everything about the look-and-feel of your site. You can also easily customize the themes based on their down Dashboard module. You can setup things like color scheme, homepage layout, font, etc. all through the theme’s dashboard module.
WooThemes has a Club Membership that allows you to access all of their themes for a low monthly fee. I’ve been a club member for a while and it’s been great. Every months a brand-new theme comes-out and I always have a ready supply of great-looking themes every time I want to build a new site. It’s a bit like having a professional design team constantly building great sites for you and you’re paying less than $50/month. Pretty darn cool if you ask me, and no I’m not being paid by WooThemes, just one very happy customer!
Well now you know how to find great WordPress themes, the next step is actually installing the theme.Installing WordPress Themes
This is another one of those topics that I’ve found nonexistent in some WordPress tutorials. While it’s not difficult to install a theme I think it is absolutely an important topic to cover, and since this is WordPress 101, it should be in here. To install a WordPress Theme that you’ve downloaded to your desktop (often as a Zip file) you can follow the steps below.
Step 1: Go to Appearance from the Dashboard’s navigation Menu
Step 2: Now select the “Install Themes” tab at the top.
Step 3: Click “Choose File” and select the Zip file containing your theme
That’s it, three simple steps and you now have a completely new look-and-feel for your site. If you’ve picked a them from WooThemes you even have one designed by a professional designer! With the initial setup complete and a shiny new theme you’re ready to start customizing your site.
Customizing WordPress Sites
Once you have your foundation built and a beautiful theme on your site it’s time to start customizing the site to fit your specific needs. As you’ve probably learned by now, you can do this without writing a single line of code. In most cases (and with all WooThemes) you’ll find a nice custom section in the Dashboard for your theme. You’ll have access to a lot of different options here from color scheme to layout. There are a few customizations that I recommend:
- Go with something other than the default color scheme. Since you aren’t the only person in the world who will be using this theme why not be a little different. Most people use the default theme, selecting another one will help you stand-out.
- Pick a different font. Same reasoning as above – it’s the little things that count. Using a different color and font can often give you a nice custom look without a ton of tweaking.
- Add Google Analytics Code. You can easily copy and paste Google Analytics tracking code, this is critical to understand how many people are visiting your site and where they are coming from.
- Add Widgets. In the Appearance menu there are some great widgets you can add to your site which will fill-out the page more and provide increased functionality. I recommend adding Categories, Search, and Links at the very least.
- Setup the Homepage just the way you like it. Often there will be options for configuring the layout of the homepage, things like where the sidebar(s) appears and if full posts are shown.
There are plenty more great customizations you can make, play-around and have fun. You aren’t writing any code and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you can do with the simple GUI that WordPress provides.If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this tutorial then you can now proudly say, I know how to build a website using WordPress. While you might not be a web development pro, you can build a website, populate it with content, and continue to update it as you please. Using Plugins you can add more advanced functionality and if you every want to refresh the look-and-feel there are new themes being created every day.I hope you enjoyed WordPress 101, if you have any questions or comments feel free to post them below!