- 1.Setting Up a Professional WordPress Site in a Day [Complete Guide]
So, you have decided to create your first website and now you’re trying to find out how best to go about it. That’s great, and helping you set up your first site is exactly what this guide is for. First though, I want to be clear about…
Table of Contents
- 1 Some assumptions I am making about you
- 2 How to Create the Foundation for Your First Professional WordPress Blog, Including Essential Plugins & Optimizations – In Ten Steps and Under Five Hours (Potentially)
- 2.1 Step 1: Choosing a name for your site
- 2.2 Step 2: Finding a suitable hosting provider
- 2.3 Step 3: Registering your domain name
- 2.4 Step 4: Installing WordPress
- 2.5 Step 5: Getting an SSL certificate
- 2.6 Step 6: Activating Cloudflare
- 2.7 Step 7: Installing and configuring essential plugins, introducing your website to Google
- 2.9 Step 9: Adding a navigation menu
- 2.10 Step 10: Choosing and configuring a theme for your site
Some assumptions I am making about you
You want to create a blog/content website
If you are planning to start up a web shop, product page, or company website, the website creation portion of this guide still applies and you can read on. Just be aware that most of the extra tips are aimed at bloggers, and that I will refer to your site as a blog henceforth.
You already have a topic in mind
Many blogging guides out there start you off with doing keyword and competitor research on a profitable niche to choose the topic of your blog. I think this is a fundamentally flawed approach, as you will never be passionate about your writing that way, which will show in its quality. You are also much more likely to give up sooner when faced with low or no traffic (which will be more likely because of the quality of your writing). In my opinion, the key to success as a blogger is to write about a topic you are passionate about, in a way that answers questions people might google. More on that later.
You are planning/hoping to make money off of your blog
Even if we are writing about a topic we are passionate about, I think it’s fair to assume that most of us go into blogging with the goal of turning a profit in the process. As long as you realize that it is highly unlikely you will be able to make a living blogging anytime soon, and you are willing to stick with it for months on end no matter what, it is entirely possible you will end up with a decent supplemental income from a somewhat popular site in about a year’s time.
How to monetize your site will be the topic of another guide, but whether or not you plan to is an important consideration for our first steps. More to the point, if you want to monetize your site, you will have to pay for (quality) hosting and domain registration. This doesn’t have to be much if you start small, but you should expect at least $60 for your first year (up front). I assume this is what you want, because otherwise the following guide has only one step: Start a blog on Medium or similar. They will let you write to your heart’s content for free and keep all the profits for themselves.
How to Create the Foundation for Your First Professional WordPress Blog, Including Essential Plugins & Optimizations – In Ten Steps and Under Five Hours (Potentially)
Step 1: Choosing a name for your site
Unlike your future site’s content, it’s entirely okay to not have a name in mind yet. It is also not unheard of to agonize over your (domain) name more than about your character’s name in a new RPG. It’s also something nobody can just give you a solution for. My advice is to not overthink it and to go with something that sounds good to you, even if it doesn’t seem related to your topic at first. Again, you could try to include relevant keywords, but shoehorning them in will do more harm than good. If you do want to optimize and need some help, moz.com (basically the authority on SEO) has a great guide on domain names.
You can already check what names are available right here:
Find a domain starting at $0.88
powered by Namecheap
Step 2: Finding a suitable hosting provider
There are so many hosting companies out there, choosing the right one can feel overwhelming. While it is true that you can always switch hosts later on, you are committing to a year’s worth of hosting up front, at least financially. So it does make sense to sign with your best choice from the start. Ideally this will be a host with multiple plans that will accompany you from the small fish you start out as with a cheap, shared hosting plan, to one of the biggest fish out there with your own private dedicated server. Your priorities should be speed, stability (uptime), and customer support.
There are a number of good choices, but in my opinion, Siteground fulfills these priorities better than anyone out there, at least in the same price bracket. Which is why I am very happy to have switched my first blog over to them, after initially going with Bluehost. Bluehost had hooked me with a very cheap offer and promises of flawless uptime and great support. Because I was trying to save money, because I thought it will do fine until the site becomes popular, and because I saw them recommended in various blogging guides such as this one, I thought I had made a good choice. Well, I learned my lesson, did my due diligence and transferred to Siteground (a process they took care of for me for free) despite having a few paid months left over at Bluehost. But you can read about that in the linked post, if you like.
What I wish I knew back when I started
Bluehost is owned by the Endurance International Group, which is apparently known in the industry for cutting corners wherever they can, to optimize profit of course. This means overloaded servers and lackluster support.
Then why are they recommended everywhere? Because they pay their affiliates so much for referrals. At the time I signed up, the blog that recommended them to me probably got around $100 for that referral. As of writing this article, their bounty sits at $65-120 (depending on number of sales per month), which is still much more than Siteground is and was offering for referrals. Yes, that’s right, Siteground will pay me a commission if you sign up for one of their plans because of my recommendation (at no extra cost to you). However, the reason I am recommending them is because I have been a happy customer for years now, and I don’t see a better solution out there for my needs. After all, I could earn roughly double if I recommended Bluehost instead.
Speed: For the price I am paying, no other host can offer me the page load times Siteground does. For example, this picture heavy page in a feature rich theme (total) loads in just one second with a server wait time of ~55-80ms per request, according to Pingdom. That’s fantastic!
Support: Whenever I had an issue, Siteground’s support has been on the case within minutes of opening a ticket and usually resolved the problem within another few minutes. Even when I have requests that have nothing to do with hosting per se and that they wouldn’t necessarily have to help me with, I have always had my problem fixed, or questions answered to my complete satisfaction.
Uptime: None of my sites has ever been offline since I have been with Siteground (1.5 years as of writing). Enough said.
Which plan to choose?
If you do decide to go with Siteground, you basically have three plans to choose from. There are more, but you don’t need to concern yourself with cloud- or dedicated hosting for the time being (probably).
Which plan you choose depends entirely on how much you are willing to spend, and how many features you would like to have access to. For example, when I switched to Siteground, I was already getting some traffic and had more than one website. GrowBig would have sufficed, but out of a mix of future-proofing and perfectionism, I went with GoGeek from the start to have access to such features as automatic backups.
Those visit limits are not hard caps by the way, but rather estimates for how much traffic your server allocation will be able to handle before reaching an hourly/daily/monthly limit. If you have some caching optimizations in place, you can probably get much, much more traffic without hitting your limit (as I have).
Step 3: Registering your domain name
Once you’ve settled on a hosting provider and -plan, it’s time to register your domain name. Again, you have some options. You could register directly through your host, or through a domain registrar. Doing it through your host has the advantage of simplicity (no extra steps), but things might get tricky if you decide to change hosts later on. If you go with a registrar, you can usually get the domain a bit cheaper, hosting moves become simpler, but you’ll have to enter the DNS records you get from your host (really simple and part of this guide).
When it comes to registrars, you can basically choose between GoDaddy and Namecheap. I chose and recommend Namecheap simply for the fact that their CEO is not a recreational elephant hunter (allegedly).
Registering your new domain with Namecheap
Simply enter your desired domain name, and if available, add to cart. Ignore all the upsell attempts, as you will most likely have no use for any of them, depending on your hosting plan.
Do make sure to get the free WhoisGuard, if you don’t want people to be able to find your real name (and address) from looking up your website.
Finally, select your new domain from the list, and point the nameservers to your host i.e. copy paste the DNS information from your host into these fields. If you are with Siteground, this will be in your “My Accounts” section. Usually it works right away, but allow a day or two for the records to “propagate” if there are issues.
Step 4: Installing WordPress
Time to set up WordPress. If this is your first website, most hosts will have a wizard ready to guide you through the very simple installation. If you’re with Siteground, it will look something like this:
If this is not your first site, that wizard won’t pop up on its own. Instead, you can install WordPress using softaculous, as I have done, or entirely manually (but why?).
In any case, installing WordPress should not take much more than the push of a button and take about 2-3 minutes of your time. If prompted, I recommend installing Yoast and JetPack, but not Monster Google Analytics (free version is useless).
Step 5: Getting an SSL certificate
Https has become all but essential for a successful website, both because google likes it and because that nice little green lock gives your readers a sense of security, misguided as that may be in many cases. Be that as it may, getting an SSL certificate can only be a good thing for your blog.
Depending on your hosting plan, you will have access to free SSL certificates. In the case of Siteground, the free option is “Let’s Encrypt”, and I would’t worry about any of the paid options unless you run an online store. To add a certificate to your site, go to cPanel (from “My Accounts”), and find the “Let’s Encrypt” icon in the security section.
Next up, just select the domain you want the certificate for, and hit install. You can do this for all your domains should you have more than one.
Step 6: Activating Cloudflare
Cloudflare acts as both a CDN (Content Delivery Network) and site speed and availability optimizer. What this means is that whenever someone from a faraway location tries to access your site, your content will be served from one of cloudflare’s much more closely located servers instead of the origin (your) server, reducing load times. It also means there is less load on the origin server, which in turn means your subscription can bear more visitors per month. Their caching solutions also help with site speed in general.
Siteground users can set up a cloudflare account through cPanel, with other hosts the procedure may differ.
Once you linked your site, you can log in to your cloudflare dashboard and activate all the recommended settings in the speed and caching sections. For the moment, I would recommend adding just two special page rules, if you run a blog without dynamic content (for example shopping carts): Cache everything, and don’t cache your admin area.
Step 7: Installing and configuring essential plugins, introducing your website to Google
Once WordPress has been installed, you’ll be able to log in to your admin dashboard through https://yourdomain.com/wp-admin/ and will probably see something like this:
Now, don’t get overwhelmed by the amount of menu items. You will not have to concern yourself with all of them yet, and it’s really all fairly simple. Step by step. First, there are some small Ts and Is that should be crossed and dotted ASAP, as changing those settings later could be a royal pain in the donkey. Namely, the URL and post taxonomy settings.
The former can be found in your general settings, where you can also choose your site’s display name, tag line, language, etc. (these can all be set later, but why not now). Check that your URL is what you want it to be (with or without www.). If it isn’t and you need to change it, it’s possible that you will need your host’s support for the first time, as your site may throw an error after changing this setting.
The latter is hiding in plain sight in its own subsetting. Ideally before your first post gets indexed by google, you should decide what you want your post URL syntax to look like. Since keywords are a thing, and so are eyesores, not including the post name in the URL is basically a no-go in most cases. So what you are left with is the choice between including or excluding the post’s date.
This is a bit a matter of personal preference, but the consensus is that including the post date only makes sense if you are publishing news articles, where the recency may be the only difference in the title of two articles. Otherwise (for evergreen content), it just lengthens the URL for no good reason, pushing the slug further back into the unreadable parts of a google result.
For more information on best URL practices, see this moz article.
Now, let’s move on to installing and configuring some essential plugins. (Left menu > Plugins > Add New).
Yoast will not directly improve your SEO, but it will help you get a feel for how optimized your posts are before you publish them. They also have a handy tool for connecting your site to the google search console, which you will want sooner or later for analytics reasons. I see absolutely no reason to pay for the premium version.
Go ahead and connect your site. What’s done is done. If you need help with this step, Yoast has you covered.
While, once again, there is no good reason to pay for the premium version (if you have a good hosting plan), Jetpack’s free version supplies you with some basic but useful stats about your website and the site stats dashboard is usually the first thing I check about my sites every day. In the beginning, it will look like this, of course:
If you keep at it, however, you may very well be greeted by sights like this (or better) soon(ish):
For some help with getting there, keep reading 😉
Google Analytics Dashboard for WP (GADWP)
Sooner or later, you are going to want to connect your site to google analytics. Maybe you won’t even care that much because Jetpack’s stats suffice for you, but once you have the necessary monthly sessions to qualify for a worthwhile ad network, they are going to want to see a google analytics report for the past three months. Would be a shame if you left that money on the table because you have to connect google analytics and wait out those three months now.
Simply install the free GADWP plugin, and authorize it in the General settings. After setting up a google analytics account of course, but that’s a matter of minutes and the plugin has a great guide you can follow.
It’s possible that this plugin will be superfluous by the time you read this guide, but if that happens I will try to have deleted this section in time.
With version 5.0.0. WordPress pushed the Gutenberg editor live, which many if not most users see as jumping the gun. The editor has some nice features, but it just wasn’t ready for release. There are numerous issues with picture formatting, for example.
To get back the classic editor, this plugin strikes me as the best solution. I would recommend still allowing the new block editor, but making it possible to switch between the two.
Moving on to site speed optimization, one of the easiest things you can do is installing a caching plugin. The most recommended option for the job is WP Rocket, but that’s a paid option and the free Autoptimize does a great job too. Recommended settings for starters:
If you know what you’re doing, you can have a go at the advanced settings too.
If you chose Siteground as your host, you have access to their own optimization plugin “SG Optimizer”. This lets you make the most of your hosting plan by taking advantage of Siteground’s many fantastic speed features such as Memcache. Recommended Settings:
Note that the Frontend Optimization options are all automatically turned off because there’s a caching plugin already doing those things.
Next up, we’ll prepare your site’s main navigation menu. For this purpose, we need some categories (and/or pages) to add to it, so go ahead and create a few categories that you think you will use for your future posts. Don’t worry, you can always change both categories and your menu structure later on.
Once you have something to add to the menu, you can do that from Appearance > Menus:
Step 10: Choosing and configuring a theme for your site
At last, it’s time to choose a theme for your new blog. Why only now? Because with everything else set up, including a page to preview, you can actually see what your site will look like with various themes.
Once again, you’re faced with a tough choice. Even though you can always switch to another theme, there is a certain amount of effort attached to setting it up, and once you’ve become familiar with it, chances are you’ll be attached to the way your site looks and works, as well as comfortable with the existing solution and averse to change.
So how do you chose a theme?
You have some options:
- Stick with one of the standard, pre-installed themes. While certainly an option for the beginning, I wouldn’t recommend this, as it will make your site look run of the mill and you’ll be missing out on some great features of better themes.
- Browse the available free themes within your theme settings (Appearance > Themes). You can set filters for theme features (most of which will not make much sense to a new blogger) and go by popularity, user reviews, and of course just what strikes your eye.
- Browse theme markets for professional (and paid) themes. A little bit less convenient to install and update (download and upload zip file within your theme settings instead of pushing the install/update button), but usually the only way to run the really good themes, depending on your needs. One such market is https://themeforest.net/
- Search google for best/fastest themes and find an article that seems both informative and trustworthy. Good luck.
- Take one of my recommendations. Good luck 🙂
This website is running the “Total” theme by WPexplorer (not to be confused with the Total / Total Pro theme by Hashthemes that you can find in the WordPress Themes settings). Being my newest website, it will serve as a testing ground for the theme, but so far I am very happy with its performance and will phase my older sites over as they become big enough to warrant a premium theme (each site needs a separate license).
Of course, I am barely scratching the surface of what this theme can do, so it may be overkill, but I like the look, feel, and speed of it so much more than anything I tried before. At $59 regular price, it is also not the most expensive theme I’ve used before.
Zerif Lite is a relatively fast, clean, and free theme you can find within WordPress. Caveat: They recently stopped development in favor of a new theme I haven’t tested yet.
evolve (free, WordPress market) is not the fastest theme out there, but it does come with a lot of features and customization options not present in most free themes, such as content boxes.
Whatever you decide, I recommend deleting all the unused themes from your installed selection, as their update prompts will just annoy you in the future. To do this, open a theme’s detailed view and find the red delete button in the bottom right corner.
Customizing your theme
Almost there. The final step is to customize the theme you chose (Appearance > Customize, or the customize button in the Themes settings). That means choosing menu styles and positions, fonts, colors, widgets, and depending on your theme hundreds of other customization options. To start off though, it will be enough to…
- add a sidebar with some basic widgets (search, top posts, whatever you prefer)
- configure site layout (full width or limited as usual, sidebar left/right)
- configure homepage settings (static homepage that you write/design and add, or a dynamic overview of your most recent posts)
Unfortunately, I cannot give you a complete guide here, as both the available options as well as their placement and nomenclature in the customization menu will vary greatly from theme to theme. A good theme will have a manual to guide you through this part. But an example solution for the latter:
What you see here is a text widget placed in the footer (Widgets > Add > Custom Text) with html links to those legal pages. You may also notice I wasn’t quite finished with ImperialBlogging’s customization myself at the time of taking this screenshot.
If you feel up to it, you can also add an icon to your site identity (that will display in browsers next to your site’s name). For this, you can hire a designer (can be very cheap or very expensive depending on where you look), you can give it a go yourself with professional tools (can be very expensive too), or you can just open MS Paint and draw/write some symbols on a colored background like I did.
If your site doesn’t look perfect from the beginning, don’t despair. The truth is, as long as it loads fairly quickly and the text is readable, most visitors don’t care about – or even notice – what a (content) website looks like. You’ll have a lot of time to fine tune various settings as you go on. Much more important is that you begin/continue producing quality content, but that is a topic for another post.
I hope you found this guide helpful. Feel free to leave a comment below, and may you find much joy (and prosperity) with your new blog 🙂