How to build your first WordPress website

This is the ultimate step-by-step guide to getting your WordPress site up, running and looking great.
Feb 27, 2020 • 9 minute read
Zohaab Ishrat @zohaab85
Technical Co-pilot
Cover photo for How to build your first WordPress website

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WordPress is powerful, scalable and pretty darn easy to use

There are about 1.3 billion active websites on the web, and among those websites, almost 455,000,000 websites are powered by WordPress. That's nearly 20% of the internet.

Sites use WordPress as a platform because it's fairly user friendly, but also highly customizable and scalable. It can be used for websites ranging from a blog, to an ecommerce site to a major media company to a Fortune 500 enterprise.

If you have made your mind on making a website on WordPress, then first of all congratulations and welcome to the club. It's one of the most versatile content management systems in the world. But to get the most out of WordPress, you'll need to choose the right plan.

Different WordPress services

WordPress.org is used to host your website on through a third-party hosting provider. You download the WordPress software from there and buy a domain name from a third-party host. It is ideal to use if you want full control over your website and have previous experience (even little will suffice). Just buy a domain name, install all the plugins you want, customize and edit the site's code, set up a theme and plan security. The service is free to use, but of course, you pay for hosting and other things that are associated with having a website. Your website URL will look something like this: www.websitename.com

WordPress.com hosts your website for you, so the hard work will be done for you. No need to pay for hosting or buying a domain. The website URL will look something like this: www.websitename.wordpress.com. But if you want to get that "wordpress" out of the URL, you can pay for a premium plan. A premium plan will also get you access to more themes, tools and functionality.

Done with that? Now let’s start the actual process. We’ll go step by step to have everything laid out that makes it all easier to understand.

How to set up your WordPress site

Sign up and select a plan

The first step is to sign up. WordPress signup is super easy. Just click the "Start Your Website" button on the homepage.

If you already have a Google account or Apple account, you can sign in using one of those. If not, just sign up with your name and email address.

Next, you'll need to select a plan. For the .org site, the plan is free, but you have to buy everything else. This includes domain, plugins, themes, hosting provider and other services related to the development of your website. With the .com site, there are five plans. The first is, of course, free. The others include personal, premium, business and e-commerce with a monthly fee of $5 USD, $8 USD, $25 USD and $45 USD, respectively.

Next, you'll be asked to choose what kind of site you're building. You can choose between "Blog," "Business," "Professional" and "Online store." A quick note: the difference between "Business" and "Professional" is that a business site is a site for your company, while a professional site is one that showcases your individual work; for example, a graphic design portfolio.

wordpress signup screen

Set up your domain name and hosting

The next step is setting up the domain name and choosing a hosting service provider. Just to make the whole concept clear, think of the domain name as the address of your house. The hosting service provider is like the neighbourhood/city, that is where the house is located. So all your belongings are stored in the house which is situated in that city, which can be located by the address of your house. Simple, no?

For a domain name, you want to pick something short and easy to spell. Preferably, you want it to be the same as your business name. You'll be prompted to type your domain name into a text field, and WordPress will tell you whether or not it's available, and will give you some alternatives. If you're signing up for a paid plan, you can get your domain name through WordPress.

When it comes to hosting, there are a lot of hosting service providers available online who provide exceptional and economical hosting for WordPress based websites. Or, if you've signed up for one of the the WordPress.com paid plans, you'll get hosting included. Totally your choice. If you do use a third-party hosting service, just be sure that they meet the following criteria:

  • Provide HTTPS support.
  • Support PHP version 5.6 at least.
  • MariaDb version 10.1 and MySQL version 5.6 (at least).

Install WordPress

You'll only need this step if you're using third-party web hosting. Log into your account provided by the web hosting service provider. There should be a menu option for web hosting, and when you follow this link it should show a number of apps, including WordPress.

Select WordPress from there and click install.

Now, this process might be slightly different from one web hosting provider to the next. But, each hosting provider should have ample documentation to walk you through the process.

Apply a theme

Who doesn’t like nice things, right? If you want your site to look nice, you need WordPress themes and templates.

wordpress themes

The default theme WordPress provides is rather plain and may not appeal to the visitors. That's why there's a plethora of themes and templates to select from. Ranging from free to paid, these themes will give your website a professional look. Each theme is suited for a different purpose and type of website, whether it's for a business or an e-commerce platform, a blogging website or particular to your business niche, there is a theme for it on WordPress somewhere.

But, if you want your site to stand out, you should consider getting a bespoke WordPress theme created. There are plenty of graphic designers who specialize in creating WordPress themes. They can help make your site look professional and unique. And even if you do choose one of the available WordPress themes, you're going to want a graphic designer to apply your branding and visual style to it.

So, how do you actually apply a WordPress theme? Head to the admin dashboard, click "Appearance," then "Themes." Select a suitable theme and click install. Once you've installed, head back to "Themes," hover over the theme you've just installed and click "Activate."

Adding pages and posts

In the admin dashboard, you'll see options for adding both pages and posts. So, what's the difference?

The difference is that the pages are the static sections of your site. They're your main site architecture. These are areas like your homepage, your contact page, your "About Us" page and your landing pages.

Your posts are the timely content you publish. They show up in reverse chronological order, so visitors see the newest content first. Posts live on pages, so they're a good choice for your blog entries.

So, let's say we want to set up our homepage. We're going to create a new page, as you can see below:

wordpress homepage example

We'll add some content and hit publish. But now how do we actually turn this into our homepage? Simple.

Head to "Settings" and then click "Reading." The top option will say, "Your homepage displays:" and will let you choose between "Your latest posts" and "A static page." Choose to make it a static page. Then, we'll choose the page we just created from the dropdown menu. We'll save our changes, and boom. Our homepage is created.

wordpress setting homepage

Now, let's add a post. Pretty simple and self-explanatory. We just click to add a post, throw some content in there and hit publish.

But wait? Where does our post live? It'll show up on the homepage by default, but what if we don't want it to? What if we want a dedicated blog page?

OK, easy enough. We just create another page. We'll call it "Blog." Over to the right, you'll see a dropdown box that says "Parent page." Select your homepage. Once we hit publish, we head back to "Settings," then "Reading." Now, you see the option under "Homepage" that says "Posts page"? This is the page where our posts are going to live. We just select our newly created Blog page from the dropdown menu. Click "Save," and that should do it.

creating new page in wordpress

Now, a quick word: Some WordPress themes are set up to show latest posts by default on the homepage. This can be a bit annoying if you've gone to the trouble of creating a separate blog page. Fortunately, there are plugins you can use to stop posts from displaying on your homepage. Also, this is another great reason to get a custom theme built rather than just choosing from WordPress' library.

Set up navigation

Now we've created a homepage and we've created a blog page. That's great. But how do we get from one page to another? We have to create a navigation menu.

Now, some WordPress themes will automatically display a navigation menu, and some will even automatically add new pages into that menu. But let's say we want to customize our navigation. We simply head to "Appearance" and then "Menus."

This will let us add new pages into our top navigation. On the left, you'll see a dropdown list of all the content on your site. Under "Pages," we see our blog. Just drag it to the right into the menu and hit save.

setting up wordpress navigation bar

Now let's get fancy. Let's say we want to divide our blog posts into different categories. To do that, we need to create categories. We'll make two different blog categories: "Ramblins'" and "Gripes."

Head to "Posts" and select "Categories" from the menu. Now create a new category. We'll add the name that will appear on the tagged blog posts, the slug that will appear in the URL and a short description of the category. Now when we create a new blog post, we can categorize it and it will appear only under the relevant category.

creating wordpress categories

Now we head back to the menu editor. Under "Categories," you'll now see "Ramblins'" and "Gripes." We'll add both to the menu, but drag them under and slightly to the right of the Blogs item.

See how both are now listed as a sub item? That means success. We've created a multi-layer navigation menu.

Customize

OK, so we've added a theme. We've made a custom navigation menu. We've added some categories to put our posts in order. But our site still looks a bit … plain.

It's time to customize. Click "Appearance" and then click "Customize," and you'll be presented with a dizzying array of options.

Now, we want to take a moment to once again STRONGLY ADVISE that you get the help of a web designer here. The customization options are pretty robust, and if you don't know what you're doing or exactly what you want, it's going to be pretty overwhelming. First of all, see that item on the menu that says "Additional CSS"? That's how a web designer is going to make your WordPress site look awesome. CSS, or cascading style sheets, is a markdown language that dictates how a website looks. It lets you add nice looking buttons, custom colors and fonts, tables, columns and a whole host of other nice flair. Basically, if it's a static element on your website, CSS can make it look great.

But what about dynamic elements? In other words, elements users can interact with and that change depending on how a user interacts with them? For this, you'll need to add JavaScript widgets. Think of widgets as simple applications that live on your page. For example, it could be a calculator or a pop-up form. JavaScript is a programming language that allows dynamic, interactive elements to be added to a webpage.

Now, if you want custom functionality for your website, you'll need to talk to a web developer who's skilled in JavaScript. And to make those custom functions look good, you'll need a web designer.

There are also a lot of out-of-the-box widgets you can add to your site via WordPress' Plugins are pieces of software offered by WordPress (mostly free, some paid) that add functionality to your site. How many are there? Oh, just 55,000.

So, just head to the Plugins section in the admin dashboard, click on add new, browse through the library and click "Install Now" on the one you want. Once you've done that, click on Installed Plugins, find the one you just installed and click "Activate."

Getting your site up to speed

Next you need to optimize your website to improve its performance. Website loading speed is critical when it comes to user experience. Slower speed means poor customer experience. For that, try using a cache plugin to enable browser caching. This will improve the loading speed of your website. When you're done, go to the plugin page, check the enable box and click on submit (at the bottom of page) afterwards.

You'll also want to make sure you optimize the images you use on your site. Large image files will make your site run slower.

There are a lot of different actions you can take to make your site faster. Fortunately, we've produced an entire guide on how to speed up your website.

Final words

WordPress is a great platform for building a website. It's not quite as simple and straightforward as a solution like Wix or Squarespace, but it makes up for it by being endlessly customizable, easily scalable and great for SEO.

To get the most out of WordPress, get some help from a graphic designer and a web developer. If you want your site to look professional, hire professionals. If you're not quite sure what you need to get your site up and running, talk to one of our Technical Co-Pilots. The initial consultation is free, and they'll help walk you through every step of the process.

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