There is good reason why WordPress is the world’s most popular website platform and in this How to Guide, I am going to show you how you can build a WordPress website from scratch.
Now it doesn’t matter whether you are looking to build an ecommerce website using WooCommerce or Ecwid, a portfolio or business website or a blog. The process of getting started with WordPress is always the same.
I have got a fair bit of experience with WordPress as I have been building sites using the platform since 2015 and have built everything from full ecommerce sites to single page business websites and blogs such as this site you are reading right now.
For this guide, I am just going to be looking at a self-hosted WordPress website, not a hosted one using wordpress.com and I am also going to assume that you have already got your domain name. With that said, lets get on with the guide!
Step 1: Web hosting
The first thing you need to do before you can start building your website is to buy some web hosting. For the majority of WordPress websites all you are going to need is some basic website hosting, now there are lots of great options out there.
But for this guide, I am going to be showing what it is like using Krystal Hosting as they are my web host of choice. Some Cpanels may look slightly different depending on the host that you are using but the principles are the same.
You will also need to redirect your domain name, so that it is pointing towards your web hosts servers. Check with your hosting provider and your domain name registrar as to how to do this.
Number 1: Install an SSL certificate
The first thing that you want to do is install an SSL certificate, it is much easier to do this before you install the WordPress software as you can install it on the https protocol and it saves you from having to change it from http to https in the future.
When it comes to installing an SSL certificate, most hosting companies will give you one of two options.
Lets Encrypt SSL (Free)
The first is to install a free SSL certificate from Lets Encrypt and this is nice and easy to do. Click on the Lets Encrypt icon in the security section of your Cpanel, then scroll down to the issue new certificate section and click on this issue button next to your domain name.
You can then select all of the domains including www. and non www. version you want the certificate to apply to, once you have selected the ones you want, simply click the issue button and you are done.
Paid SSL (Comodo, GeoTrust, Thawte)
The second option is to install a paid SSL certificate from the likes of Comodo and Thawte, with these you can have Domain Validated ones which are similar to the lets encrypt ones or more specialist Organisation or Extended Validation certificates, the latter two are recommended for larger companies and ecommerce websites.
To install a paid SSL certificate, click on the SSL/TLS option in the security section of your Cpanel and then click on Install and Manage SSL for Your Sites. You will see any SSL certificates that are already installed but at the bottom of the page you will see a section to add a new SSL.
In here you need to select the domain you want to install the SSL on and then boxes for your certificate code and your private key, there is also a section for a certificate authority bundle but for most certificates, you won’t have to worry about this.
Once you have copied and pasted your certificate code and private key, click install certificate and it should be installed. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, then you can always ask your hosting provider if they can do it for you or at least provide some assistance.
Number 2: Change your PHP version
The next step before getting actually installing the WordPress software is to change the PHP version that is set by default in your Cpanel.
Now I know that this may sound scary and quite technical but it really is quite simple to do and it will really benefit your site because it will run significantly quicker. The majority of web hosts will selection version 5.6 for new accounts and that is why I recommend changing the version as the latest one if 7.4.
Now many places recommend using the latest version of PHP but I have encountered problems with doing this is the past as some themes and plugins might not work properly with the latest version, so to be on the safe side, I always use the one before the latest one.
The actual process of changing your PHP version is pretty simple, just click on the Select PHP Version option in the software section of your Cpanel and it will bring up the following screen.
To change the version you are using, click on the arrow next to PHP version at the top and it will show you a selection of all the ones you have available. Select the one you want and then click set as current, it is as simple as that.
If you select version 7.3, you might need to tick the:
options, as sometime WordPress won’t work properly without these being checked. But, that is how simple it is to change your PHP version.
Step 2: Install WordPress
You are now at a point where you are ready to install WordPress. Now once again, how you do this exactly comes down to which hosting company that you are using as there are a couple of different ways to do this depending on the software installer that they use but I will go through the two main options below.
Install WordPress with Installatron
The first method is done using the Installatron Applications Installer. This can be found in your Cpanel and clicking on it will bring up a list of applications that you can install on your hosting. Under the content management section of apps, you will see WordPress icon.
Click on this and it will bring up some information about the application, to begin installing it click on the Install this Application button and it will bring you to the page below.
You then need to choose a Admin username, password, admin email, website title and website tagline and you want to make sure that your username and password are strong, so it makes life difficult for not so nice people. I would recommend before clicking install at the bottom of the page is to click the advanced settings and set a schedule for site back-ups, you can select weekly or monthly.
Once you have filled out everything in and checked all the boxes that you need to, scroll to the bottom of the page and it click the Install button and it will begin installing WordPress for you. Once it has completed, you will then be able to access your admin area as well as being able to see the front end of your website.
Install WordPress with Softaculous
The second way to install WordPress is using Softaculous Apps Installer. In most Cpanels, this will have its own section and it show the WordPress app on your Cpanel dashboard. Whether you click on the WordPress icon or search for it within Softaculous, it will still bring you to a screen that gives you all the information on the WordPress cms.
To start the install process, click the install now button and it will bring you to the page as seen in the image below.
Within this page, you can choose which version of WordPress you want (always install the latest one), which protocol (choose https if you have installed an SSL certificate) and which domain name you want it installed on.
You will also need to create your website name, description, admin username, admin password and set an admin email address. Once this is all done, you are pretty much set to go. If you want, you can expand the advanced options menu and this will present another selection of options. If you are just getting started, this might be best to just leave it as it is.
Once you have done all of this, scroll to the bottom of the page and click the install button and your WordPress site will be installed. Once this is done, you will then be able to access your WordPress admin panel.
Step 3: Installing WordPress Plugins
Now, you have got the basic WordPress cms installed and while it is pretty decent out of the box, there are a few things that you want to improve on the system and the best way to do this, is to install plugins.
The WordPress developers have made this a very easy process, just go to the Plugins section of your WordPress dashboard and click on Add New. This will bring up the WordPress Plugin Library that has thousands of free plugins to choose from.
All you have to do to find the plugin you want is to start typing the name in the search bar in the top right of the page. Once you have found the one you want, click install now and then activate to make it useable on your site.
If you have bought a premium plugin, the installation process is slightly different. You will have received your plugin in a Zip file format and to install it on your site, click the Upload Plugin button, search for it on your computer and then click the install now button. Once it is installed, you can then click activate to use it on your site.
When you are new to WordPress, it can be confusing to know which plugins to install and which ones to avoid. Now many of the plugins you decide to use will be down to what you are planning to do with your site but there are three areas that need addressing on every website and I will cover these below and recommend plugins to get you started.
Because WordPress is an open source software, it has allowed the more undesirable members of society to be able to see exactly where the weak points of the system are.
And while the developers behind WordPress do their best to patch these up, it is always advisable to use a reputable security plugin to enable you to add some more protection to your website.
There are some really good plugins out there such as Wordfence but my recommendation is All In One WP Security and Firewall as it not only offers a large selection of ways you can protect your site but it is very user friendly and best of all, it is free to use!
The next issue with WordPress that you want to address is optimisation as there are quite a few improvements that can be made to the standard WordPress software.
Optimising your WordPress sites is very beneficial, as your site will load faster. This is good not only as it is a ranking factor for search engines but also improves your visitors user experience as they aren’t waiting for your website to load or clicking off because your site is taking a long time to load.
There are three main areas that you want to look at when it comes to optimising your WordPress website and they are:
- Optimising Your Code
- Using a Caching Plugin
- Optimising Your Images
This might sound quite daunting as a beginner but fortunately, there are plugins out there that make this very easy to do. It is very easy when reading online guides and tutorials to go with the plugins that are quite complicated to use and in some cases, you can end up doing more harm than good. So that is why the plugins I recommend below are all beginner friendly.
- Cache Enabler – There are many caching plugins out there but this is one of the easiest to use, as with Autoptimize, it is a case of just clicking a few buttons. It has also been designed to work with Autoptimize so that they work together help your site perform at its best.
- Smush – There is an image optimisation feature in Autoptimize but from experience, the Smush plugin does it slightly better. It is very easy to use and can be set up so that images are automatically optimised when you upload them.
This combination of plugins will give your site a real boost in performance. If you are using a web host that uses litespeed servers (such as Krystal), then you want to consider using the LiteSpeed Cache plugin. It does the same job as Autoptimize and Cache Enabler in one plugin but it does have more of a learning curve to make sure it is working as effectively as it can.
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
The next type of plugin that you want to install is one that is going to make SEOing your site easier to do. Now the WordPress platform is pretty good when it comes to SEO as standard but installing a dedicated SEO plugin will make it much better as they will allow you to control your meta information and create sitemaps, that you can submit to search engines.
As with pretty much any type of plugin on WordPress, there is more than one option out there and the two most popular options when it comes to SEO plugins are:
- Yoast – The most popular option when it comes to SEO plugins, with over 5 million active installs. It is easy to use and has a good number of options as standard. The Yoast blog is also a great resource for getting the most out of sites SEO. It is also my SEO plugin of choice.
- All in One SEO Pack – No, this is not made by the same people as the security plugin, it just shares the name. A very popular option with over 2 million active installs, it offers more options than Yoast but isn’t as easy to use, especially for beginners.
Both of these are great options when it comes to improving the SEO capabilities of your WordPress site and while I personally use Yoast, many website owners have had great success with other plugins.
Step 4: Installing a New WordPress Theme
Now that you have set your WordPress site up, it is time to start looking at the aesthetics and the main thing that you can do is to not only change the theme on your site but also customise it and I am going to cover both of these things below.
Installing a New Theme
Installing a new theme on your WordPress site is very easy and follows pretty much the same process as installing a new plugin, like I mentioned above.
Instead of going to the plugin section of the dashboard, you instead want to go the the appearance section and click on themes. This will show you what themes are already installed on your site and you will see a selection of the default themes including twenty-nineteen and twenty-twenty.
To add a new theme, click the Add New button at the top of the page and your screen should look very similar to the image below.
This is the WordPress theme library and every theme that is in here is free to use. When it comes to browsing the theme library, you can use the options at the top such as featured and popular or you can use the search bar to look for keywords, these could be things like WooCommerce or adsense.
This will then return a selection of themes that has that keyword mentioned somewhere in the description. Alternatively, you may already know what theme you want to use and you can search for it by typing the theme name into the search bar.
If you have purchased a premium or paid theme, you will need to upload it to your dashboard and this is done by using the Upload Theme button, which allows you to upload your theme in Zip format.
Whichever method you choose, you will have to activate the theme before it is visible on the front end of your site.
Creating a Child Theme
Before I get into how you customise your theme, you want to create a child theme for your chosen theme. The reason for this is that whenever a theme gets updated, it will override any changes that you have made to the theme, meaning that you need to go in and customise it all over again.
With a child theme, all of your changes and customisations remain, even when the parent theme is updated. There are a few different methods out there for doing this, which involve create new files within your Cpanel file manager or uploading new files to your Cpanel but the team at Lilaea Media have made a very useful Child Theme Configurator Plugin that does it all for you.
Customising Your Theme
Once have installed your chosen theme and created a child theme for it, you can then begin to customise the look of your theme so that it better fits your business and brand.
WordPress has a great tool for being able to do this and it can be found by clicking the Customise option under the Appearance section of your dashboard. This will then take you into the WordPress Customiser, which is a live editing tool that allows you to see changes instantly and preview them before publishing them to your site.
The amount of options within the customiser is entirely dependent upon the theme that you are using. Some themes will offer you lots of options and really allow you to customise your site and others will be pretty limited. The icons in the bottom left of the screen let you see how your site looks of desktop, tablet and mobile devices, this is really useful and is worth checking to make sure everything is displaying properly.
Within the customiser, you will also be able to change your websites favicon, which is the icon that appears in the tabs on web browsers (like to black G on the gold background for EcommerceGold). This may only seem like a small thing but it is another aspect of branding on your website. This can be found in the Site Identity section, which is also where you can change your websites logo.
Another important thing you can do within the customiser, is set what is going to be your websites homepage. The two options are for your latest blog posts, which is the default setting or you can select a page, which has been designed for the purpose of being your homepage.
Before you start customising your new WordPress theme, it is always worth checking to see if the developer has created any documentation on the theme. Many will have some sort of guide on what options they have and how you can set it up properly.
Step 5: Creating Pages and Blog Posts
The last thing that I am going to be looking at in this guide is how you create content for your new WordPress website and the reason why I have put pages and posts together is that they work in a very similar way but there are a couple of subtle differences between the two.
- Posts are for creating written content on your site, exactly like this post that you are reading and as you create new posts, the older ones get pushed down the list. You can also organise your posts into categories.
Creating a new page or post is very simple, just click on Add New under the posts or pages section and it will bring up a blank page for you to start working on, as you can see in the image below.
The new Gutenberg editor allows you to build and design pages and posts using a block system. In the standard WordPress, there is a really good selection of blocks that allow for lots of formatting options including columns, images, lists and paragraphs.
There are also a selection of plugins that offer a greater range of blocks and really allow you to create custom posts and pages. Whether you are using standard blocks or ones from plugins, you will be able to see options for the block that you are using in the sidebar menu on the right, the amount of options does vary from block to block.
The other tab on in the sidebar gives you options for the post or page as a whole, including the featured image, permalink (URL) and tags. For posts, you can also select which category you want the post to be in.
Once you have finished adding content and formatting your page, you can click the preview button at the top to see how it looks on your site and when you are happy with it, clicking the publish button will allow you to make it visible to the public, private users or behind a password.
You can also set if you want the post or page to go live immediately or schedule a date for it to go live.
If you plan to start creating blog posts for your website, it is useful to organise them into categories. Not only does it make them easier to manage but also for your sites visitors to navigate around. You can only create categories for your posts, you can’t do this for pages.
To create a new category, go to the posts section of your dashboard and click on categories and you will see a layout like in the image below:
To create a new category, you only need to type the name and it will auto generate the slug for you. If you want to, you can edit this but for the majority of categories, the auto generated one will work perfectly.
You then decide if you want it to be a parent category by selecting none from the drop down menu or a child category by selecting another category from the drop down menu.
If you want, you can add a description and it does have some SEO advantages. Depending on the theme you use, this description may or may not appear on your site when someone clicks on the category. This can be a determining factor as to whether you fill this out or not.
Once you have filled it out as you want, click the Add New Category button and your new category will appear in the list on the right hand side. To assign an existing post to a new category, you can use the quick edit option in the posts page and update the category.
So that brings me to the end of this tutorial on how to build a WordPress website. I hope that you have enjoyed it and more importantly learnt something from it as I have tried to cover everything that anybody who is new to WordPress would need to know.
I know that this may seem a bit daunting to start with but as with any software, there is a learning curve but as long as you don’t try to rush things, you should have a website up and running in no time.