Learning how to make a website can be intimidating and appear overwhelming at first glance. I break it down for you in 3 easy-to-follow steps that beginners can follow (with pictures and all). You'll be able to use this guide to set your website up today, if you're feeling eager!
Here's what you'll learn:
- How to choose a web host & select a domain name
- How to install WordPress on your site
- How to use the WordPress dashboard to choose a theme (design platform) for your site
- How to add pages/posts/menus/etc to your site
By the end of this guide (shouldn't take you more than a few minutes to read through) you should know the basics steps for how to make a website that you can launch easily today. Let me know how it goes and be sure to reach out to me if you have any questions along the way! Here to help.
So let's get started!
Choose a Platform
Shop for Domain/Web Host
Setup & Design
Step One: Choose a Platform
Choose WordPress – if you’re reading this, chances are you’re not a web developer and don’t have tons of experience within the space. If that sounds like you, WordPress is your best option. Here’s why:
- WordPress is free and an open source platform, meaning thousands of people are constantly developing new themes for you to play with. It’s an open community that is very friendly and constantly growing. And did I mention it’s free?
- WordPress is awesome for beginners. My first website were wordpress websites (and they turned out pretty well). The great thing about WordPress is that there are a million and one resources out there for you to use that will help you create a beautiful website without any coding or programing. By using WordPress themes and compatible WordPress plugins to fill in all the gaps, your site will be well built, without too much leg work from you.
- WordPress can scale. Doesn’t really matter if the site you’re building is for personal purposes, or if you plan to turn it into a huge, high traffic site. WordPress has the capability to scale to be as big as you need or want it to be.
- 21st century websites can be built with WordPress. If you’re new to this world, chances are you’ll be lured into the idea of using a web host’s drag-and-drop website builder. It sounds convenient and like a great idea at first glance, but don’t be fooled. You’re better off using WordPress. WordPress has a ton of themes that are equally as intuitive to use as a silly old website builder (with designs straight from 1999). WordPress themes are constantly evolving and are contemporary in design and easy to use.
Once you’ve decided on WordPress (and against things like Drupal and Joomla, which are great, but not ideal for beginners with no programming experience), you’re prepared to move onto step two.
Step Two: Shop for a Domain Name & Web Host
Choose whatever domain you want. Honestly, there are tons of people out there who have opinions on what sort of domain name you should invest in. Sure, there are a few hard and fast rules you should abide by, but if you have an idea in mind and it’s not terribly long and hard to spell, go for it.
- Don’t make the domain name too long
- Go with a domain that ends in .com, .net, or .org (or, if your target audience is country specific, go with that address… example: you’re in the UK and your target audience is only in the UK, a domain ending in .co.uk is okay)
- Don’t accidentally misspell your domain name when purchasing (had to say it, but people do this all the time… be careful)
- If you already have a company or a brand, your domain name should match that (or be as close to that as possible)
- For personal portfolio websites, or just any sort of website for yourself, go with YourName.com (read this article on why you need to own your name dot com)
Advice about domain names: act now. If you have something in mind and it’s available, your best bet is to secure it before someone else does. People are in the business of purchasing domain names and reselling them later to eager buyers at high-ticket prices. If you happen to come across a catchy domain name (even you don’t plan to do anything with it) it’s best to snag it now and resell it later.
Next step is finding a host. For web hosting reviews, click here. If you want to skip the reviews and go with one of my two recommendations below, awesome, check them out (links open in new window)
Recommended Web Hosts
Read more web hosting reviews. For a review of best web hosts for students, click here.
What to look for in your web host?
Like mentioned earlier, if you choose one of the above hosts, your bases are covered. But, here’s a summary of top items to look into when web host shopping.
- What are their uptime stats? Should be as close to 100% as possible.
- Do they charge for a domain name? Most web hosts will give you a free domain name with purchase (and then charge you for subsequent years, industry standard).
- What are their email plans like? Do they give you unlimited email addresses? If you’re looking to be more professional than a @gmail.com or @yahoo.com email, get one that ends in your domain name. Your web host should provide you access to create email accounts.
- What’s their customer support structure? Do they have at least two of the three: chat, phone, ticketing system/email support?
- How much storage is included with each package? For first time websites, you won’t need too much storage. Just know what you’re purchasing before you purchase.
- Do they support your CMS or CMF? If you opted for WordPress, most web hosts support WordPress. BlueHost, in fact, is a certified WordPress web host.
Now that you’ve secured web hosting, you’re prepared to move onto step three.
Step Three: Setup & Design
All web hosts should have an easy install feature for WordPress that allows you to place it on your site literally with the click of a button. It shouldn’t take you more than 30 seconds honestly.
Follow these steps:
- Go to your cPanel (control panel) or web hosting dashboard
- Find wherever it says WordPress and click on it to install (don't ever pay for a web host to install WordPress for you... you can literally do it in one click)
- Choose the domain you'd like to install WordPress on (will only be one domain if you only have one in your account)
- Finalize installation
Here’s what will happen next:
- You’ll probably be taken to a page that says something like “view your credentials”. If you’re using BlueHost, you’ll see “view credentials on the top right hand side of your screen and in the middle of the screen. You’ll also get an email with your credentials. Keep these safe. This provides you the information on how to access your website from the WordPress admin.
- Once you have your credentials, go to [insertyourdomainname].com/wp-admin to login - you'll now have two logins, one for your web host, and one for WordPress. To edit the design of your site, you'll use the WordPress login, which will take you to your website's "backend"
How To: Change Your Password
WordPress will have auto generated a long and complex password. It’s recommended to keep that long and complex password to avoid hacks or breaches. If you do decide to change it though, don’t use a silky, hackable password for your site. That wouldn’t be a good situation at all. Here’s how you change your password.
Click on "users" on the left hand side of the dashboard. Then scroll down until you reach "Account Management". Click "Generate Password" to change your password.
How To: Choose a Theme
WordPress is your platform, but the theme you choose to install on your WordPress website will dictate how your site will visually appear to visitors. When you first login to your WordPress site, you'll have the auto theme twenty sixteen. It's a clean, crisp, blogging theme. But the great thing about WordPress is that there are a TON of themes for you to choose from. The options are literally endless.
For one, you get to choose between free themes and premium themes (paid themes). I’m not a huge fan of free themes (read why here) but the decision is up to you.
If you’re creating a small blog just for yourself, a free theme is probably fine. If you’re trying to expand your site, scale and monetize it, you’re probably going to want a premium theme.
Premium themes are helpful because instead of stocking up on a tun of plugins, your premium theme already has tons of functionality built right into their code.
Read: Top 3 recommended Premium WordPress themes
If you do choose to go with a free theme, there are a ton of great options out there for you. Whichever way you go, make sure you meet the following criteria:
- Your theme should be SEO optimized
- Your theme should be responsive (it should respond to the browser size it appears on – whether that be a mobile screen, tablet, or desktop computer, your site should respond).
- Make sure your theme is compatible with major plugins
- Look into support offered by your theme (technical support should be available to troubleshoot if you need them – but chances are they won’t be if you opt for a free theme)
Here’s how to shop for a theme (warning: it’s fun):
Navigate to your WordPress dashboard. On the left hand side you’ll see all sorts of different tabs. Find the one that says “appearance” and click on it.
Then look to the top left of your screen where it says “Themes”. Right next to that, to the immediate right, you’ll see where it says “Add new”. Click on that.
This will take you to a new screen with a search bar. You can use the search bar to browse through thousands of WordPress themes. Have fun!
If you want to go with a premium reputable theme, you’re safe with one of the themes from elegant themes or theme forest. Check them out to find what suits you best.
How to: Upload a Theme
If you purchase a theme or membership to a theme library, you're going to need to upload your theme.
- Purchasing the theme will allow you to download the theme file from whatever website you purchased from. So your first step is to download that file.
- Navigate to Appearance > Themes > Add New > Upload (on your WordPress dashboard)
- Upload the theme file from your computer to your WordPress dashboard
- Activate the theme on your site.
Pages vs. Posts (what are they and how to add them)
When learning how to make a website in WordPress, many people get confused between a page and a post. A page is a static page on your site (like the home page, or the contact page). Pages are used for content that won’t change very often. A post is more like a blog post. You’ll likely be adding posts more frequently than you’ll be adding pages (if you’re writing blogs/articles) so it’s important to know up front how to use them and create them. They are typically sorted in chronological order and are sorted into categories to make it easy for your readers to find the relevant content.
How to add a Post:
On the left panel of your dashboard, you’ll see “Post”. Click on that. Then click on “Add New”. Next, write the name of your page. Whenever you finished editing your page, click “save”. If you want to preview your page, click “preview”.
How to add a page:
Same deal as adding a post. On the left panel of your dashboard, find and click on where it says “page”. Then click “Add New”, write the name of your page, edit it, and save/preview.
How to: Add a Plugin
Plugins literally “plug-in” the gaps that your theme doesn’t take care of. They expand the basic functionality of your site without you ever having to write a single line of code.
Here are 3 top plugins you can’t get away without having
- Contact Form 7 – the most popular WordPress plugin! If you want to scatter contact forms throughout your site, use this plugin. It’s free, easy to use, and will be a life savior. Sometimes themes come with contact forms. Those are OK, too, but my preference is to use this plugin.
- Yoast SEO – an extremely popular SEO tool that’ll help you make sure all of your posts and pages are optimized to perform as well as possible in the search engines. Don’t handicap yourself by not installing this plugin. It makes SEO extremely easy to follow, even for the beginner.
- Google Analytics – want information on who’s visiting your site, what the highest traffic pages are? How long people are staying? What’s the bounce rate? All of this information (and more ) will be visible to you once you download the Google Analytics plugin and connect it to your account. Super easy, and will help you make informed decisions about where your site should go next based on data, rather than gut.
Adding a plugin is simple, and follows the same process as adding anything else (like a page, post, theme, etc). You can choose to browse through the plugins right on WordPress, or you can download a file from elsewhere, and upload it to WordPress.
- Find Plugins on the left hand side of dashboard and click on it
2. Click on Add New at the top of the screen
3. Either click on Upload Plugin at the top of the screen or search plugins to add by using the search bar on the top right of the screen
Additional tools (not plugins) that I recommend (you would use these outside of WordPress):
1) Canva – again, not a plugin, but this is for all those people who aren’t graphic design genies. It’s a free tool for you to make beautifully designed and perfectly sized graphics and images for your site.
2) Trello – keep yourself organized with this free tool. I use it to keep a backlog of my blog ideas, but you can pretty much use it for anything and everything. Check it out!
How To: Update/Create a Menu
You've now created pages and posts so you can customize your own menu! Here's how you do it.
- Click on "Appearance" on the left side of your menu
- Click on the sub menu item "menu"
3. Now you're able to add Pages and Posts (along with categories, tags, etc) to your menu. Simply check the pages/posts that you want added to the menu and click "Add to Menu" (see red arrow below). When you're all set, click "Save Menu" to the right. Note that if you want to change the order, just use your cursor to move around the menu items (they are drag and drop - note how "Contact Me" is floating in the image - that's because I was moving it while this image was taken). Always save the menu when you're finished. When you go to view your website, your changes will be reflected!
Congratulations! You lived.