What can you do with WordPress if you aren’t a developer (or aren’t inclined to set up a development environment and get “into the weeds”)?
Quite a bit, actually!
This session walks through my standard flow for getting a new WordPress site up and running. I’ll walk through each step: domain registration, WordPress installation, installing a theme & plugins, even connecting to Google Search Console and Google Tag Manager.
We won’t touch any code along the way. (I promise!)
If you’re new to WordPress, this is a crash-course walkthrough that’ll give you an idea of how quickly a site can be built.
If you’re an experienced WordPress user and want to start building sites for others, this is a good opportunity to see how you can get a foundation in place for a client without breaking a sweat.
Let’s get into it.
1. Domain & hosting
Your domain name is like a phone number. It sticks with you. And like a phone number, the domains that are easy to remember are worth something.
Think about the vanity numbers that businesses love to use. Those vanity numbers are investments. And the value of that investment comes from the number’s memorability and use.
The more often people hear it, the more often it appears in advertising, the more valuable it becomes.
Domain names are like vanity phone numbers. They’re an investment. And that’s one reason why your domain name should never change, no matter where your website is hosted.
Over time, as you use your domain name in marketing and advertising, as you earn more links from other websites to your domain, and as the domain ages, it’s growing in value.
So here’s the first half of step number one. Register the domain. And when I’m trying to register a domain for a business I’l either go with a .com address, because it’s standard, and because everyone is familiar with a .com address. Or I’ll go with a .ca, because I’m Canadian, and I think it’s important for a Canadian business to have a .ca domain.
Now one question I get asked quite a bit is “what should I do if I’ve registered multiple domains for my business”?
Well, for a website, you should only have one primary domain. Any other domains that you’ve registered should redirect to this primary domain. Likewise, your email addresses should all use the primary domain as well.
So in my case, I own both andymci.ca and andymci.com. I use andymci.com for my website and for my email, and I redirect andymci.ca to andymci.com.
Alright. So that’s domains. What about hosting?
If your domain name is a phone number, your hosting is the phone. It’s the device, the hardware, that handles incoming calls. And if you think about choosing a phone, well there are a lot of options, and it’s the same thing with hosting.
So on the low end, we’ve got the cheap stuff. For phones, we’re looking at cheap Android devices, or old iPhones, right?
For hosting, we’re looking at cPanel shared hosting. The five-dollars-a-month plans. And there’s nothing wrong with that, if it does what you need it to do.
The problem with the low-end devices, and the low-end hosting, is that it maxes out pretty quickly. Start running a handful of apps on a low-end phone and it slows right down.
It’s the exact same situation for basic shared hosting. If you install WordPress and a bunch of plugins, that resource usage is going to cap out pretty quickly.
So we start moving into the middle ground, with better tech specs. For phones, maybe this is a mid-tier Android phone, or an iPhone that’s a generation or two behind.
For hosting, we’re looking at upper-tier shared hosting. It’s a bit more expensive but the performance boost is worth it.
But what if it’s still not enough? What if you need more power? We move into the higher tier. On the phone side, you could go for the latest-and-greatest Android hardware, or you could pick up the newest iPhone. It’s top-of-the-line performance, but you’re going to pay for it.
At this level we start to diverge a little bit. I think that top-tier Android devices are a lot like cloud hosting or dedicated hosting. The hardware is stellar, lots of customization options, but if you’re looking for support, you’re on your own. Meanwhile, top-tier iPhones are a lot like managed WordPress hosting. What you lose in customization you make up for in support.
Personally, I like the middle ground. I’m consolidating a lot of my stuff on a business hosting plan at GoDaddy because it’s the familiarity of low-end cPanel hosting combined with the performance level of a VPS server. I get the customization I want with the tech specs I need.
So that completes step number one. We’ve got the domain, we’ve got the hosting. Now let’s get into installing WordPress.
2. Install & configure WordPress
So, sticking with the phone metaphor: If your domain name is like a phone number, and your hosting is like a phone, then WordPress is like an app, and installing WordPress it’s a lot like installing an app on your phone.
(If you’re using a Managed WordPress hosting plan, this point is moot, because WordPress comes pre-installed.)
Now there are few different ways to get WordPress installed. One method is to do it manually, but that’s kinda hard, and it takes time. Another method, and one I’ve come to prefer, is to use whatever software installer comes bundled with your hosting.
A software installer is like an app store for your hosting.
For our cPanel business hosting at GoDaddy, we have Installatron. (Fantastico and Softaculous are another couple of common installers.) So if I install WordPress via Installatron, Installatron will handle all the technical stuff I’d have to do manually, like creating the database.
So go through the installer, install WordPress, and once that’s done, log into the WordPress admin. We’ll start configuring WordPress.
Sidenote: This is where I drop the phone references. Past this point we’re basically talking about “configuring and customizing your app”, which doesn’t really need any more explanation than that.
I tweak a few options on all my new WordPress sites:
General Settings -> Site title: Keep it short! I usually stick with the name of the business.
General Settings -> Tagline: Description. May or may not appear on your site, depending on the theme that you’re using.
Reading Settings -> Search Engine Visibility: Check “discourage search engines from indexing this site”. Want to keep the site hidden until it’s ready to go live. Just gotta remember to uncheck this box once the site does go live… I’ve made that mistake more than once.
After the settings are tweaked, if I’m working with someone else on this site, for example a client, I’m actually going to add them right away. And the reason for that is because I want them to be part of the website building process.
I don’t want to hand over a new website and then they’re sitting there, completely overwhelmed, they don’t what to do, and once they start digging in they’ll inevitably have questions or change requests. So why not just pull them into the process from the beginning, and deal with those questions and requests as they come up? That’s my thinking on it, at least.
Users -> Add New: I’ll give them a restricted role, usually Editor, because they’re going to focus more on the content than anything else.
3. Add your theme & plugins
Alright! So we’ve got our domain name, our hosting, and we’ve installed & configured WordPress. Next step: Let’s get our theme and plugins.
Standard theme: GeneratePress
I’m a big fan of the GeneratePress theme. It’s absolutely free, and the premium upgrade is well worth the $40 price tag. It doesn’t hurt that Tom Usborne, the theme’s creator, is a fellow Canadian. Plus Tom provides an amazing level of support through both email and the GeneratePress group on Facebook.
So I’ll install GeneratePress from the WordPress repository.
Then I’ll upload the GeneratePress Premium plugin and enter the license key.
My “stack” of standard plugins
I use pretty much all of these plugins on every website that I build. If it’s a hobby site, or one that I’m just doing for kicks, I’ll stick with the free version of all the plugins. If it’s a business site, or a site that I expect to monetize, I’ll pay for premium upgrades where needed.
Members: For limiting access to the site and customizing user roles and permissions.
Beaver Builder: I use Beaver Builder to handle all of my complex page layouts.
UABB: Additional Beaver Builder modules.
Powerpack: More additional Beaver Builder modules.
Ninja Forms or Caldera Forms: I used to swear by Gravity Forms, but the lack of a free version was really limiting. Even though I have a developer license for Gravity Forms, if I’m making recommendations to new users, I don’t want to throw another price tag in front of them.
Jetpack: If you’re not familiar with Jetpack, it’s a beast of a plugin that connects a self-hosted WordPress site to the WordPress.com service. So you get to leverage some of the WordPress.com perks, like their CDN and simple email subscriptions. I know Jetpack can be a contentious subject, not everyone agrees with the approach this plugin has taken, but I adore the amount of functionality they’ve built into it.
Really Simple SSL: Enforcing SSL protocol (https) across the entire site.
Wordfence: My go-to security plugin for WordPress.
Sucuri: My other go-to security plugin for WordPress. There’s some redundancy between Wordfence and Sucuri, but they don’t conflict with each other.
Yoast SEO: Formerly known as WordPress SEO by Yoast, Yoast SEO is the most popular search engine optimization plugin for WordPress. We use it at work for the GoDaddy blog, and I’ve been using it for years.
DuracellTomi’s Google Tag Manager: Google Tag Manager, aka GTM, manages the deployment and configuration of tracking codes on your website. So once you get GTM up and running on your site, you don’t need to modify anything on your site to deploy new tracking codes. You just do it all through Google Tag Manager. DuracellTomi’s GTM plugin handles the installation of Google Tag Manager on your site, handles some WordPress-specific GTM integration, and lets you customize the configuration even further. Good plugin, well reviewed, highly recommended.
4. Set up placeholder pages & forms
Now we have WordPress installed and configured; we’ve chosen a theme; and we’ve got plugins installed. The next step is to create our placeholder pages and forms.
We’re not going to worry about content or layout yet, we just want to get these pages created:
Your Home page is the first impression. It should introduce new visitors to yourself or to your business. Briefly touch on everything that you cover through the other pages, and link off to those pages with additional details.
Your About page is where you tell your story. It’s all about you, or your business. If you have a team, profile them here. If you have multiple locations, list them here. Media assets? Same deal. This is all about you.
Products & Services
This page lists everything you offer. If you’re building an eCommerce site, this would be the shop. If you’re selling a service, this is your pricing page. If you’re building a restaurant website, this is your menu page.
The Blog page is where all of your posts will appear. Somewhere on this page you should have an email capture form for people to subscribe to email updates.
Support & FAQs
The Support & FAQs page is a starting point for a Help or Support section of your site. List out all the common questions people have about your business. If necessary, embed a contact form for submitting a support request.
Request a Quote / Contact
If you’re selling a service, the Request a Quote page is important because this is where your lead capture form is going to be embedded. If you’re selling products online, this could instead be a page for a custom order inquiry form. If you’re building a restaurant website, this could be a page for requesting reservations.
If nothing else, it should contain a general Contact Us form, so people can reach you directly via your website.
Update your reading settings
Once you’ve created all your pages, you’ll need to update a couple of the options under Settings -> Reading. Change your “Front page displays” option to “A static page”. Set your Front page to “Home”, and your Posts page to “Blog”.
5. Connecting to other services
There are a handful of plugins mentioned in step #3 that require third party services to function. So, as a final step, we’ll need to connect these plugins to the appropriate services.
Google Analytics is a free and incredibly powerful tool from Google that lets you monitor activity on your website. You’ll need to create a Google Analytics account first, and then create a new Property within Google Analytics that’s tied to your new website.
Once you’ve created a new Property within Google Analytics, head over to Google Tag Manager. Create a Container for your new site and follow the prompts. The Container ID goes into the Google Tag Manager plugin settings.
Formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, Search Console is the service Google uses to communicate with website owners about SEO issues. Sign up for Google Search Console and verify site ownership via the Yoast SEO settings.
Follow the prompts in Jetpack to create and/or connect your WordPress.com account. Once that’s done you’ll be able to use all of the free Jetpack features.
I really dig ManageWP because it lets you manage multiple WordPress websites from a single dashboard. It also includes premium upgrades for features like backups and site cloning.
GoDaddy Pro Sites is built on top of the ManageWP platform, and integrates with the GoDaddy Pro suite of tools. Since I host my sites on GoDaddy, I also get backups and cloning for free, which is pretty nice.
With all of this done, we can start going through the customization work. That means customizing the theme via the Customizer; creating custom page layouts with Beaver Builder; maybe adding some new plugins to handle additional functionality.
After that, we get into the maintenance phase: running WordPress updates, tweaking page content, publishing new posts, and so on.
So let’s take a quick look at what we covered in this session:
- Domain & Hosting: Domain names are like vanity phone numbers, and your hosting is like a phone. Domains are investments that grow in value over time, and the best hosting plan is the one that best meets your requirements.
- Installing WordPress: Installing WordPress is like installing an app on your phone. The easiest way to do it is by using your hosting’s software installer, which acts a lot like an app store.
- Theme & Plugins: GeneratePress is my theme of choice, and I have a basic “stack” of plugins that I use for nearly all of my sites. These aren’t necessarily the best, but they work for me.
- Pages & Forms: Basic set of pages for most business sites: Home; About Us; Products & Services; Blog with an email capture form; FAQs; and Contact Us with an embedded form.
- Other Services: Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager; Google Search Console; WordPress.com (via Jetpack); GoDaddy Pro Sites or ManageWP
If you’re interested in going through this in more detail, I’m running a series of hands-on fundraiser workshops in 2018 called Getting Online with WordPress. We go through this same process over three hours, so everyone can follow along.