Featured Partner: Russell Miller on Getting Started with WordPress
Russ Miller is an entrepreneur and startup marketer who has built WordPress sites for his own projects and for companies he's worked at. He can be found on Twitter @russellm and at digitalmarketing.land. He'll be leading a workshop on WordPress Like A Boss at Parisoma on October 26.
WordPress is the web’s most popular CMS (content management system), running on roughly 60 million websites. It’s been around since 2003, and is now maintained by WordPress.com (run by Automattic, Matt Mullenweg’s company), as well as WordPress.org, the WordPress foundation.
Why build your site on WordPress?
Friendly Back End
You don’t need to be a programmer to run a WordPress site. Many of the core features, such as new page creation, user management, and changing your site’s look and feel are available in a straightforward administrative interface.
When considering WordPress, you’ll also no doubt consider host website platforms such as Wix, Weebly, SquareSpace and Shopify. While each offers a variety of templates, each service will have a “house look” with an overall similar layout and styling elements.
WordPress sites can have a much wider look and feel because it’s an open ecosystem that anyone can design for. A few examples from the WordPress Showcase:
Plugins are another area where WordPress stands out from the competition. Plugins are small programs that can extend WordPress’ capabilities. They’re written by companies and individuals, and there are over 29,000 of them, in areas like e-commerce, SEO, forums, chat, voting, and social media integrations. You can search for and install plugins from within your WordPress admin screen. Most plugins can be installed and configured without any programming knowledge.
The WordPress ecosystem is attractive for developers because it’s open source and free to develop in, and because there’s a large installed base, easy distribution, and easy monetization. What this means for you is that new plugins are frequently released, and you can easily hire programmers to create custom plugins for your site.
Because of the huge ecosystem, there are also a variety of low-cost support options, ranging from individual developers to WordPress maintenance companies, as well as many online forums for learning how to make tweaks yourself.
How to get started?
Getting started on WordPress involves picking a hosting company, installing the WordPress software, theming it, and then choosing which plugins to add in.
While any hosting company could host your WordPress site, it’s best to go with a company that specializes in hosting WordPress, as they can provide the best tech support, and their services are optimized for WordPress.
To find a WordPress host, simply search “WordPress hosting”. WordPress.org is also revamping their list of recommended hosts. At this time, they only recommend BlueHost.
In doing your due diligence, look at reviews and mentions of the host on Twitter. Check the host’s status page to see if they’ve had any recent major outages.
If you want to just play with WordPress without committing to a host, just signup on Wordpress.org and create a test site – you’ll have a site you can try out in minutes.
Most people want their own domain, rather than using the host company’s domain, e.g. “host.com/myblog”.
After you buy your domain from a registrar, you’ll want to point your domain to your host’s nameservers. Find out what these are from your host – usually “ns1.hostname.com” and “ns2.hostname.com” and then put them into the domain record on your registrar:
Once you’ve selected a host and pointed your domain, sign up and install WordPress. This will be a fairly simple process, as hosts offer tools (e.g. Fantastico) to automatically install WordPress for you. It won’t take more than a few minutes.
Dreamhost, for example, offers a one-click WordPress installer:
Note the option at the bottom to indicate which domain you want to use for your WordPress installation.
After installation, you’ll want to customize the theme of your site. WordPress offers a number of free and paid themes that can be installed from within your admin panel. There are also third-party marketplaces, like ThemeForest, that sell themes. Marketplaces are a good choice if you have a more specialized use case than a generic blog. Theme installation varies in complexity. Themes within WP admin are 1-click installations. Marketplace themes generally require a file upload to your host through the WP admin, but this is pretty straightforward. After installing a theme, you may want tweaks, at which point you could hire a contractor.
Themes are now available for WordPress for very specific use cases, such as e-commerce, restaurants, startups, directory sites, etc. I favor Themeforest for finding more specific themes, as well as looking through theme ratings and reviews.
There are over 20k plugins. Which to use? Here’s a short list of the ones I’ve found most useful:
Akismet – Spam detection
BuddyPress – Makes your site into a social network: member profiles, activity streams, use groups and messaging
Google Analytics Dashboard – Show GA stats on your WP dashboard
Simple Ads Manager – Define advertising sections on your site, run ads and show stats.
WordPress SEO - Add SEO content to pages
Wufoo – Add custom contact forms to your site
WooCommerce – The e-commerce standard for WP
When evaluating plugins, look at the ratings and the most recent release date.
I generally will only use plugins that have been updated in the past 6 months, and have many positive reviews.
Once you have your site up and running, what then? You’ll probably want regular maintenance and tweaks. Find a developer off of UpWork, Scriptlance or another site, or use a WP specialist firm like WP Curve (try googling “WordPress Maintenance” for others).
WordPress is a great platform for getting your business off the ground due to its variety of plugins and themes, easy to use admin panel, and large community of developers available for custom work and maintenance.
Ok, enough explanation. Go to WordPress.org and try it out!