Building your first WordPress website
By Nathan Jorgensen of Software Alliance Wales
Where to start
As a business owner looking to create a new or revamped web-presence the first decision is whether to outsource the task to a web designer or to dedicate some staff resource to create your own using off the shelf software.
Many people, from business owners to professional web-designers are now turning to content management systems to easily make professional, adaptable and scalable websites which are simple to maintain and update. A content management system (CMS) is a type of programme which allows you to create websites with little prior knowledge of how websites work, and allows anyone to easily manage and update website content. If you do decide to outsource the website design, you can even specify that a CMS is used so that future updates of the site can be done in-house.
There are three main content management systems currently available to choose from, all of which are free to download and use.
There are of course, pros and cons involved with each approach. Drupal is one of the most comprehensive and adaptable CMS systems available. Many of the BBC websites are designed using it, though it’s a little too daunting for the novice user. Joomla is also a formidable CMS, again it’s targeted at a more experienced user. The table below demonstrates the varying levels of knowledge and complexity of each of the CMS systems.
This article focuses on people new to the world of website creation, so on the basis of this, we will focus on the user-friendly option of WordPress.
What is WordPress?
Although WordPress was originally developed as a ‘blogging’ platform, it has evolved to become a full CMS system which is secure, scalable and highly adaptable. WordPress is now often the choice for web designers as the CMS aspect allows the end users to make changes to the site easily when needed.
WordPress is described as an open source and a dynamic content management system (CMS). The open-source aspect means that it is free to use, and the code is available to so you can modify it as you wish. This is a useful aspect of WordPress as there is a massive community of developers that design themes, plugins and enhancements for your site, many of which are free to download and modify. These plugins allow your website to be completely adaptable to your requirements. The fact that themes are openly available means that you can change the complete look and layout of the website, by simply choosing a new theme. The massive choice of plugins means that you can easily add enhancements to your site, like links to Twitter and Facebook pages in a few clicks of the mouse.
How to get started with your first WordPress site
There are two options available if you choose WordPress for your website: self-hosted on your own server, or managed hosting through WordPress.com. If you choose self-hosting, you have full control over your website, and access to all the plugins and features mentioned previously, though there is normally an annual charge. If you choose managed hosting, through WordPress.com, there are no costs involved, though you have a loss of functionality.
If you choose self-hosted, you are also able to use your own web site address (e.g. www.example.com) as opposed to a ‘sub-domain’ on WordPress.com (e.g. example.wordpress.com). The other issue involved is cost, as hosting any website can cost between £10-50 annually, though if you choose WordPress.com hosting, it is free. You may already have hosting, especially if you have an existing website, and the nominal fees involved in hosting should not be a deciding factor.
If you do wish to attempt the WordPress.com managed hosting, a set-up guide is available on WordPress.com to assist you once registered, though the remainder of this article focuses on the set-up and features of a self-hosted WordPress site.
Hosting your WordPress website
When choosing a web-host, one of the best options for the novice user would be to select one which offers a ‘one click install’ of WordPress. Many webhosts offer this and a quick search of Google (search for ‘1 click install WordPress hosting’) should assist you in choosing one. If you are unsure, WordPress.org list some of their ‘approved’ hosting companies which offer ‘1-click installation’ and costs around $5 a month.
If you already have an existing website, and simply want to update it, you need to create a MySQL database and upload the WordPress installation file to your web server (the WordPress package can be downloaded from WordPress.org). As details on creating databases and uploading files vary depending on hosting providers, you will need to consult them - though the process should be well documented in the ‘help’ section of your chosen web hosting provider.
Once your website is uploaded, you simply navigate to your website, and you are offered the ‘famous five minute installation’ of WordPress. This part of the process allows you to enter details such as usernames and passwords, and the details of the database which you created in the previous step. Always choose a difficult to guess password when registering for anything, this short video made by anti-virus company ‘Sophos’ will give you some tips on how to create a strong password.
Once these steps are completed, you will be presented with your new website. As WordPress is a content management system, you will be provided with the framework to add your own content, and this is completely up to you. To make changes to your site, simply visit the admin area at ‘yoursite.com/wp-admin’ and enter the username and password you created during setup.
This will take you to the control panel of your website where you are able to change the layout and look of your site.
Changing the look and feel of your site
The first thing you may want to do is change the look of your website from the default which WordPress gives you. To do this, simply click on the ‘Appearance’ tab, and select ‘Themes’. You will be presented with the themes which are available to you, and are all free to use. You may then select one which you wish to use for your site and it will be installed and activated instantly.
The next step would be to add some content to your website, which is achieved by adding a new ‘Page’ to the site. Again, select ‘Page’ from the navigation menu and click ‘add new’. Your first page could be the home page of the website, or perhaps an ‘about us’ page, which provides company information. The content of each of these pages can be added simply by typing it in the editor on-screen and saving it, much like you would do with a Word document or an email. Once pages have been created, they should automatically add to the main menu on your website.
One of the best aspects of WordPress websites is the extensive plugins which are available. These can all be accessed an installed by choosing the ‘Plugins’ option on the menu, and choosing ‘add new’.
There are plugins available for anything you can imagine, from polls and quizzes to twitter and social network integration. Some of my top plugins can be found in the table below, and can be installed on your website by searching for them in the administration area.
What it does
Provides a simple and flexible contact form (use it on your ‘contact us’ page)
Provides a checkbox on the editing page which you can check to exclude pages from the primary navigation. This allows you to exclude pages from your website which you do not want visitors to see, such as member-areas
Adds some extra security to WordPress by restricting the number of failed logins to your website
Link your Dropbox account to you website and have it automatically backup to your Dropbox
Add picture galleries to your website to showcase images or photos
A simple way of 'implied consent' to show your website complies with the EU Cookie Law, which came into force on 26 May 2012
Adds sharing buttons on the side of pages or bottom of posts in order to encourage people to ‘share’ your content on social media
This plugin helps you to keeps your old posts alive by tweeting about them and driving more traffic to them from twitter. It also helps you to promote your content
In conclusion, if you are looking to develop your website in-house, outsource it to an external company, or simply develop some new skills, WordPress is the content management system which is far more than a blogging platform.
If you have any questions or comments on the article, please do so by emailing Nathan Jorgensen of Software Alliance Wales at firstname.lastname@example.org