Note: Originally published May 4, 2012 -- updated August 28, 2016.
Step 1. Get Web Hosting
Sign up for Web Hosting, preferably with a company that offers a cPanel, Panelbox, 1-Click or Fantastico from a Web Hosting company such as HostPapa, Funio or HostGator (NOT GoDaddy!). If the company offers domain registration, simplify your life and take it. That way it will all be integrated and working for you. Otherwise, you can get domains from places like GoDaddy (but not web hosting!), HostGator, or NameCheap.com.
What's the issue with GoDaddy? Although they have a great Domain registration service, their web hosting service has been rated very poorly in the past. For example, there are limitation on how much and how often people can visit your website. The last thing you want is for your potential clients to have trouble accessing your website.
Step 2. Login to your Web Hosting's Management Site
Login to your web hosting service as per the instructions provided to you from the web hosting company. Install WordPress and login to WordPress. The URL to login is usually www.yourdomain.com/wp-login/ .
Setting up WordPress
Complete the following steps after having logged into your new WordPress site.
Step 3. Update WordPress.
Depending on your host provider and when you are installing WordPress, it is not uncommon for an updated version of WordPress to be available. It is important to upgrade before you get started as the developers of WordPress are constantly working on fixing bugs and improving security. If any plugins or themes work differently depending on the version of WordPress, you'll want them working the the best and most secure version of WordPress.
If an update is available, a link will appear at the top of the browser window when you are logged in which will take you to a page where you can automatically upgrade WordPress. Click the link. The whole process should take less than a minute or so to complete.
Step 3. Plugins
Start by removing the unnecessary "Hello Dolly" plugin. Click on Plugins and click the "Delete" link near the Hello Dolly checkbox to remove this plugin. Follow the prompts to remove the plugin files. Repeat the same process to remove Akismet. There are more effective anti-spam options available these days.
Next, install some essential plugins including. Remember to activate each of the plugins after they are installed.
If you use the default menu (some themes don't support them), the first 3 plugins will be useful:
- Page Link to: This will allow you to create menu items that point to something other than your own web pages. For example, a PDF file or a different website.
- Simple Page Ordering: This plugin will enable you to sort your pages by just dragging and dropping them in the Pages list.
- Page Comments Off Please: This will enable you to turn off comments for all pages, but not posts, by default on your website. You can of course turn it on on a per page basis.
- Security and Maintenance: Limit Login Attempts, Wordfence Security, Broken Link Checker and Heartbeat Control: You almost never hear people talk about this last one but it can save you from your ISP blocking your website because it is using up too many of your web host resources. It will also enable your site to handle more concurrent visitors.
Optional but useful:
- P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) -- Although not essential, this will help you figure out what is slowing the site down if you find your site getting slow. Note that this plugin currently has problems working in Internet Explorer. Use Firefox or Chrome instead. Once you have optimized your site, uninstall this plugin. You can always re-install it again in the future if you notice poor performance on your website.
- Yoast SEO -- You may want to wait to activate this one until you've added some content to your site as one of the things this plugin will do right away is to start telling the Google, Bing and Yahoo search engines about your site.
- Clipboard Images -- This is a super useful plugin that will allow you to simply copy and paste images from your clipboard right into WordPress. Note that the free version offers no control over the file names so, if image filename SEO is important to you, skip this one.
- Contact Form 7 -- Allows you to create HTML forms in your website. Although it may not be the most friendly application out there, in the world of free plugins, this one offers lots of features that others may leave out. For example, it will not only send you emails containing information that visitors filled out, you can set it up to generate an auto-response back to let the sender know you will get back to them shortly, provide information to a valid email address or even suggest links to additional pages on your site which may be of interest to them. And yes, there are other add-on plugins to give it even more functionality.
- Post Expirator -- WordPress gives you the option of specifying the date on which your post will appear on your site. However if you have an active site where you want to have some also posts "expire", this is the plugin you are looking for.
Step 5: Create your basic website page.
Click on Pages and then on the Sample Page. Change the title of the page to "Home", "Welcome". This will be the home page for your site. Also change the "Slug" to the "home", "welcome" so that it matches the page title.
Create a new page and call it "Blog", "News", "Testimonials" or anything else you like.
Create pages for "Products" or "Services" (optional), "About" and "Contact Us". I highly recommend you don't try to be too original with the name of your About and Contact Us pages as these are words that people will be looking for on your site. The last thing you want is to make it difficult for people or search engines to understand and use your website.
You need not create the content of these pages right now. This is just to give you space to work things out.
Back on the Pages page, drag and drop your pages into the order you'll want them to appear in in the menu.
We will talk about creating additional pages a little later.
Step 6: Turn WordPress into a Website instead of a Blog.
Complete the following steps:
- In the left menu, click on Settings. Review the General Settings and update the information. ClickSave Changes.
- Click on Reading in the sub-menu.
- Set the Font page displays section to "A static page".
- Set the Front Page pull-down menu to your home or welcome page.
Don't forget to scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the Save Changes button.
Selecting a Theme
Step 6: Choose the look of your website
The next step involves deciding how your website will look. WordPress has about free 1,500 themes listed on their website and there are even more companies offering Premium(i.e. pay-for) themes.
To select a theme, click on Appearance and then on Themes. Then click on the Install Themes tab near the top of the screen. You can browse through them, try them out and remove them if you don't like it. Take some time to choose a theme you like as this will be a reflection of the professionalism of your company. Also keep in mind that most themes allow you to change the image at the top of the page while others allow you to change the colours. Others that provide you with even more control are are called Framework Themes.
The most flexible Premium themes include:
- Thesis DIY: One of the most highly rated Framework themes.
- Genesis: One of the most highly rated Framework themes.
- OptimizePress: This Framework theme is specifically designed with Internet Marketers in mind.
I've tried dozens of promising looking themes but eventually, I always seem to paint myself into a corner with no way out or with features that just don't work right. With that in mind, some of the best and highly configurable free themes I have come across include:
- Atahualpa: If you like to roll your own theme, this Framework theme comes very close to the customization level available in the commercial Thesis and Genesis themes. Not so pretty out of the box. Takes a bit of work but you can accomplish great things if you know a bit of CSS.
For people who want to focus on content
Kadence Themes: Unlike many of the framework themes mentioned above, these these look great right out of the box and include many options to modify the look of your site. Kadence Themes currently offer two themes which include Virtue theme and Pinnacle theme. In case you decide to create an on-line store once day, these are even compatible with WooCommerce. Don't forget to also install the Virtue / Pinnacle Toolkit plugin which adds a Portfolio and enables Shortcode functionality in this theme.
If you want more functionality than what is included with the themes from Kadence, you can add Page Builder by SiteOrigin which enables you to easily create professional looking web pages regardless of your skill level. There are tons of Widgets available for SiteOrigin's Page builder including but not limited to: Livemesh SiteOrigin Widgets, Widgets for SiteOrigin, SiteOrigin Widgets by CodeLights and Ultimate Addons for SiteOrigin. If you have a relatively fast computer, you may also enjoy SiteOrigin CSS which adds an easy to use visual editor to SiteOrigin. Note: Only include the add-ons you will actually use. Each plugin may make your website appear a little slower. Also note that some of these add-ons may not be optimized for SEO even if the results look fabulous.
Even though I am a fan of SiteOrigin, if you have even a small budget, spend the money on Beaver Builder instead. It is super intuitive, minimal learning curve, excellent support, loaded with useful functionality and widgets, includes tons of pre-configured page templates and is compatible with most WordPress themes. You'll have your new site up and running in no time with this tool. Otherwise, don't waste a lot of time trying out Page Builders. Trust me on the SiteOrigin recommendation.
Caching is something that improves the speed of your website by just displaying a cached version of a web page instead of re-creating it each time. W3 Total Cache is an excellent plugin that does just that. This particular plugin is compatible with all of the recommended plugins on this page.
Tip: To avoid annoying frustrations while creating your website, only activate this particular plugin when you have completed most of the major work on your website. To understand why, see FAQ below.
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Question: I see two link to my home page in the menu. How can I get rid of one.
Answer: Uncheck the box that says "Include this page in list of pages".
Question: I made a change to my website which is not reflected when I try to view the page. What would cause this to happen?
Answer: First, make sure the page you are editing and the page you are viewing are the same page. I've been caught more than a couple of times with this. If you are using the W3 Total Cache plugin, you may need to clear the cache.
Other Useful Plugins
Widget Logic -- One of the common frustrations you will quickly encounter when using WordPress as a website instead of a blog is it's limited ability to only include certain widgets on certain pages. This is where Widget Logic comes to the rescue by providing you with a way to limit certain widgets so that they only appear on certain pages, categories of pages on your site or only appear under certain conditions.
Cleaverness To-Do List -- If you are like me, this plugin will help you keep track of everything you need and want to do to your website and even let you prioritize each task.
Duplicate Post -- This will allow you to easily clone a page or post on your website. This is extremely useful when you've put a lot of work into creating a page and want to use it as a template for other pages, but it can also be useful when trying to track the results of an ad campaigns
Tip: Create a copy of an existing page on your site and promote it instead of the usual page. This will enable you to use analytics of the cloned version to track the effectiveness of your ad campaign.
Slim Stat Analytics -- If you have a small site and just want to see some useful statistics in your WordPress dashboard, give SlimStat a try. Unlike Google Analytics, it doesn't share your analytics with others as the whole thing runs completely on your website. If you have a large site, Google Analyticator will show stats from Google Analytics right in your website's dashboard too.
Social Metrics -- Gives you a running total of how many likes you received on a per-page basis on your social networks.
Tweet, Like, Plusone and Share -- Add like buttons on your site.
Social Media Widget: Add social media icons (ex: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn) to your website.
WP Edit -- Enhance the WordPress editor adding features like being able to create tables.
s2Member (free) or WishList Member ($$$) -- Allows you to setup a membership site.
WooCommerce -- Create a professional e-commerce website for your products. Not only is this versatile, but it is compatible with the Canadian tax system.
XCloner -- Enables you to make complete backups (database and files) of your website.
WP Simple Paypal Shopping Cart and UI for WP Simple Paypal Shopping Cart -- Easily add items or services for sale on your website. Use Paypal Merchant (Pro is not required) to take payments by Credit or Debit cards. (Not recommended for single payments over $2000.). This is not required if you use WooCommerce.
File Manager -- Allows you to browse and view any file on your website.
JetPack -- Get many of the same features that you will find on WordPress.com. Only use if you are going to make use of some unique feature or you are going to use multiple features. Otherwise just get specialized plugins that will meet your needs.
WP-Poll -- Conduct polls on your website.
3rd Party Services
To get the most from your site, you will need the following services:
- PayPal Merchant -- Take Debit and Credit Card payments online.
- Social Media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube. These are the major sites on the Web. Work on these first and then look for others if you feel like it.
- Google Services -- Google Analytics, Feedburner and Google Search Console
- MailChimp ($$$/Free) -- Autoresponder/Newletter tool. Where as others offer a free trial period, MailChimp remains free for up to 2,000 recipients and a maximum of 12,000 emails in total per month. This is perfect when you are just getting started. If this isn't enough to meet your needs, check out AWeber ($$$) and InfusionSoft ($$$).
- YouTube -- Host you videos on YouTube. Their systems are designed to work with video much better than your host provider's server will ever be.