WordPress runs more than 30 percent of the internet and holds 50-60 percent of the global content management system market, making it one of the best options when starting a blog or website. It’s versatile, user-friendly, mobile-responsive and fits all shapes and sizes, whether you’re just entering the digital world or are a seasoned veteran building WordPress websites for clients or for your business. If you’re debating on using WordPress or aren’t sold on its functionality compared to other CMS’s, this post highlights the benefits of WordPress, why you should be using it and how to set it up on your own site.
As of February 2017, mobile devices accounted for 49.7 of internet browsing and website traffic worldwide, causing many developers to begin designing website from a mobile-first perspective. This number will continue to grow, but most modern websites are designed to be responsive, or to change depending on the viewing experience of the user.
Before responsive design was implemented, developers would create three versions of a website for desktop, mobile and tablet viewing experiences. Certain elements of a website that look great on desktop will look cluttered or broken on a device with a smaller screen resolution, but making three separate designs for every element and landing page increases the workload exponentially. For a short stint I did this for a few clients; it drove me crazy seeing how great the site looked on desktop only to have my work rendered meaningless when I switched to a mobile or tablet viewing experience.
Instead of designing three separate website pages, responsive design focuses on making sure the mobile version of your site looks great and resizes to match for desktop and tablet. WordPress has an endless supply of free and paid themes that utilize responsive design, which ensures that every user visiting your website is given a user-friendly experience from an aesthetic standpoint. Even if the theme that you choose doesn’t use responsive design there are also various plugins such as Jetpack that will display a different version of your site to mobile users.
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Piggybacking off responsive design, most themes on WordPress provide a mobile-friendly experience to users browsing your site on their smartphones. Your site should load quickly and be lightweight in terms of page elements like photos and coding delivery, considering smartphones are vastly underpowered compared to their desktop counterparts. Google has started ranking sites based on how quickly a site loads on mobile with the expectation of a three second load time on a 3g network. Users expect a site to load within two seconds and will bounce from your site if it takes longer than five seconds to load on their phones, making mobile load times a major priority in considering the theme and design of your website. You can check out how you stack up with the competition by using the Google Analytics Benchmark Report.
Whether you’re starting a blog or want to create a fully functional e-commerce site, WordPress has a myriad of options to choose from to suit your unique needs. There are more than 11,000 different themes to choose from, leaving it entirely up to you on finding the right theme for your business. While some themes use page designers like Divi to arrange the elements on your page, there are plugins such as Elementor that allow you to create a fantastic-looking static homepage or landing page from scratch instead of relying on the layout of your theme.
This site uses the paid Elegant theme and I can literally do anything I want, whether it’s adjusting font sizes, website colors, widgets in the sidebar, rotators on the homepage or creating landing pages with the Divi builder.
The biggest draw to using WordPress is its intuitive content management system. All you need to do is click a button to create a new post, add a title and write! It’s reminiscent of Microsoft Word but with more functionality, but anyone can boot up the CMS, write their post, spruce it up with images or video and hit the publish button to have it go live. If you’re more tech savvy, you can adjust coding elements in the CMS, create meta descriptions and tags, perform front-end design work or do some on-page search engine optimization.
Creating your website through WordPress is surprisingly simply. The first step is to choose your domain host. A domain host is like renting space on a computer to hold your website; your host assigns an address for your site and stores your files to your domain name so that other users can find your website when searching on the web.
There are various web hosts that are available. If you’re just starting out I wouldn’t worry about spending a lot of money on a more expensive domain host. WP Beginner is highly praised but prices are pretty high; I personally would recommend Blue Host, Host Gator or SiteGround to start with.
My website is hosted through SiteGround and prices start at $48 a year for sites that get less than 10,000 monthly visitors. When signing up you have the option of transferring over your current platform to WordPress. SiteGround will does this at no charge, although they’ll inform you if your site will transfer cleanly depending on the previous platform you were using.
If you’re just now creating a website, they’ll ask which content management platform you would like to use and get an account set up in the C-panel along with the credentials needed to sign into the backend of your WordPress site.
You’re going to need a domain name for your site, which is separate from the domain host. SiteGround offers this service for $15 a year, but you can sign up with any other domain name provider. I would also recommend purchasing an SSL certificate, especially if you’re planning on building an e-commerce website.
An SSL certificate basically encrypts customer information so it isn’t visible or accessible when browsing a site. It also sets up an HTTPS connection instead of an HTTP connection, which is vital if you plan on ranking in Google. If you don’t have an SSL certificate, your site will be penalized by Google and your customer’s information isn’t safe from prying eyes.
In the C-Panel I would also install Cloudflare, which is a CDN that provides content delivery services, DDoS mitigation and internet security for your website. Cloudflare will help boost the delivery speed of your website and help you to provide a more user-friendly experience and a better ranking on Google.
If you have any questions or get lost, I would highly suggest reach out to SiteGround’s customer support. They’re quick to respond and are fantastic when it comes to guiding you through any issues that you might be having.
After setting up your domain name and domain host, the next step is figuring out what WordPress theme is the right one for you! Search around and see what appeals to you, but make sure that your theme is mobile-responsive, looks clean, is customizable and that it tags your headers properly (I made that mistake on my previous theme and it hurt my organic reach for eight months).
The final step after choosing your theme and playing with the design is adding your plugins! Here are a few recommendations that I’m currently using on this site:
Used by millions, Akismet is quite possibly the best way in the world to protect your blog from spam. It keeps your site protected even while you sleep.
Like I mentioned earlier, this speeds up and protects your WordPress site.
While my site now uses Divi, I previously relied on Elementor as my go-to frontend drag and drop page builder. You can use it on any theme, page or design.
This plugin reduces file sizes for images within WordPress, which is incredibly important to make your page load as quickly as possible. If your images are too large, your site will load slowly and cause your bounce rate to skyrocket.
If you’re going to be tracking your website analytics, you’ll want to be using Google Analytics, but the beauty of MonsterInsights is that it pulls important information from Google Analytics and displays it right on WordPress’s backend in an easily digestible, one-page format. Make sure that you're actively removing spam referral traffic in your Google Analytics reports for a more accurate representation of how you're website is performing.
If you’re just starting out making your website you might not do much with Google Tag Manager, but it allows you to insert tags without performing hardcoding to track things such as conversion rates, site analytics, remarketing or testing on a site.
There’s a lot of love and hate with Jetpack, as it performs many of the same functions as the other plugins I’ve highlighted so far. It will automatically optimize your website design for mobile if your theme isn’t mobile-responsive; it offers website analytics tracking like MonsterInsights; it reduces file and image sizes for faster load times; and it helps filter and protect against spam. If you’re using these other plugins it might not be necessary to have, but I still like having it on my site considering how robust of a plugin it is.
This plugin is primarily for guest posters and making sure that they can’t access your website backend via the account login once you add them as a contributor.
This plugin is automatically loaded once you sign up with SiteGround, but it helps with various performance optimizations.
If you’re doing a lot of blog posting, this plugin is neat in that it creates a table of contents like in Wikipedia articles to help with easier user navigation for lengthier pieces. It can also output a sitemap listing all pages and categories.
Another performance plugin, W3 Total Cache improves the speed and user experience of your site with browser, page, object and database caching as well as minifying and content delivery network (CDN) to WordPress. It’s a little similar to EWWW Image Optimizer, but it’s focused on caching content on your site for faster retrieval.
If there is one plugin that you should have, Wordfence Security is the best anti-virus, firewall and malware scanner plugin to have for your site. It acts as another line of defense so your site doesn’t get hacked into and will alert you if there is suspicious activity occurring.
This plugin is cool if you’re trying to get a better understanding of bounce rate on your site. It will send scrolling events to Google Analytics and let you know at what part of your web page a user bounces, whether it’s at the 25%, 50%, 75% or 100% mark. Bloggers usually have a 70-80 percent bounce rate, which isn’t helpful if a user’s average sessions spans for several minutes, so it’s important to know how far down a reader got on your page before bouncing from the site.
For anyone looking to get into search engine optimization, Yoast SEO is a light-weight plugin that includes on-page content analysis, XML sitemaps and other features to get you started on ranking in Google organically.
A few words of caution when looking into adding plugins to your site. Having too many plugins installed will start to bog down your site speed, so try to avoid adding unnecessary plugins when you can if your theme offers a similar feature or you can add a bit of coding to your theme template to achieve the same effect.
Some plugins might not be compatible with your theme and can cause a few issues, so be cautious when it comes to downloading plugins without doing research. The other thing is that plugins are routinely updated, while others might be outdated and no longer receive support. I would avoid these plugins as it offers an easy, exploitable way for hackers to find a way into your backend or tamper with your site. In that same vein, make sure that you’re constantly updating your themes and plugins (WordPress will alert you when new versions are available to update).
That’s it! If you’ve followed this guide you should have a fully functional website running through WordPress. I hope you found this to be helpful and be sure to share this on social media if you think it’ll be beneficial for anyone looking into starting a website of their own as a passion project.
Next week I plan on discussing how to recycle blog posts into content you can share on social media and build your following, so stay tuned! In the meantime, I would highly recommend taking a look at #GetSocialSmart: How to Hone your Social Media Strategy by Katie Lance, as it really helped in my content curation and social media strategy.