For the uninitiated – and by that I mean the non-WordPress user – the idea of launching your own self hosted WordPress site can seem a bit intimidating. The truth of the matter is that it’s actually really easy to do and it continues to become easier with each new version.
From the beginning WordPress has been a platform designed for content creators first and everyone else second. It’s strength is in making the basic functions (the core product) easy for anyone to grasp and use in minutes while providing advanced features that more tech savvy users can implement if they choose to. This approach has made WordPress the world’s #1 blogging platform and content management system (CMS). It has been so successful that over 50% of the web’s top 1 million websites are built on WordPress. Obviously they’re doing something right.
Oh, and it’s FREE!
So if you need a website for your business, blog, online portfolio, or anything else – WordPress is most likely your best bet. Which is why in the post below I’ve created a streamlined guide to launching your website using WordPress. It’s designed to give you the bare essentials you need to effectively launch your blog, business, or portfolio on WordPress, while also linking you to articles under each section that can provide more in-depth help or commentary on optimizing specific steps. So let’s get into it and get your site launched!
Step 1: Domain & Hosting
First things first, you’re going to need a domain and hosting. There are a few highly trusted and extremely popular hosting options out there that I recommend. There’s bluehost, dreamhost, and if you’re really looking to supercharge things WPEngine. The most affordable out of these options is undoubtably bluehost at $4.95/month – but any of those options will get the job done well.
After purchasing your hosting package it’s time to buy your domain. If you don’t already own a domain through another service, it just makes sense to register the one you want through the hosting service you’re using. Just use their built in domain registration service to find a domain that’s available and add it to your account.
Once you’ve purchased your new domain, it’ll appear under “your domains” or possibly “manage domains”. In that section, go ahead and select the option to add web hosting to that domain.
Step 2: 1-Click Installation
1-Click installation is as simple as it sounds. After you’ve successfully added hosting to your new domain, just navigate to your hosting service’s 1-Click install section (located within your new control panel). Then select the WordPress option, select your domain and click “Install it for me now!” – easy as that.
Step 3: Basic Configuration
Ok so now that WordPress is installed on your self hosted domain, it’s time to get in there and configure some basic WordPress settings. To do that you have to name your site and create an admin profile. Go to your email and open the “get started” email your hosting service sent you after using their one-click install. It may take 10 minutes or so to appear after installation.
You will only need to click the top link highlighted below.
Next you’ll want to name your site, create a username, and set a password up. When you’re finished finalize your installation by clicking on the “Install WordPress” button.
Next you should see this screen. Click “Log In”.
Ok, now you’re in! Welcome to your new WordPress site! This of course is the Dashboard or Admin section where you customize, configure, add content, and manage users.
Right away you’ll notice a nice assembly of helpful links/prompts. The most predominant being a prompt to customize your site. Lets actually put that on hold for now and deal with some basic settings first.
To do that navigate to your Settings in the Admin sidebar.
General – Under the general section the only thing you really need to worry about is changing your tagline. “Just another WordPress site” does not actually represent what your site is, so you’ll want to come up with something that does.
When you’re finished adjusting your general settings you will need to click the blue Save Changes button at the bottom before navigating away from that page. You’ll have to do the same with each settings page.
Writing – Everything on the writing page is basically fine as is. You may want to change the emoticons converter as well as your default post category and default post format once you begin publishing regularly.
Reading – This step is important. If you want your site to be more than just a blog, but rather a full web page that contains a blog, then you’ll want to change your front page display settings.
To do this select “A static page” as your front display option and then choose Home for your front page and Blog for your posts page. Don’t have any pages to choose from yet? Well that’s because you need to create them first! For now just go to Pages in your Admin sidebar and add two new pages (be sure to publish them!). Name one “Home” and the other “Blog”. You don’t need to do anything else with them at this point.
Discussion – This section will become more important as your site begins to generate social engagement. For now you can browse the options and change things as you see fit, but you’ll probably have a better idea of what you really prefer when the comments begin rolling in.
Media – Unless you have a strong style preference this page can probably stay as is.
Permalinks – This is a big one. The best permalink setting for search engine optimization (SEO) – which refers to your ability to generate free organic search engine traffic – is the “post name” setting. Select that and click Save Changes.
So those are your basic settings. Now you’re ready to begin customizing the look and feel (and functionality) of your new website.
Helpful Links on WordPress Configuration:
- First Steps with WordPress
- Getting Started with Your WordPress Site’s Settings
- Useful WordPress Configuration Tricks That You May Not Know
- Are You Setting Up WordPress For SEO Success?
Step 4: Choosing & Installing A Theme
If you’re completely new to WordPress you may not know what a WordPress theme is. A WordPress theme is a pre-packaged web design for your WordPress website. You can get that help turn your WordPress site into just about anything: a blog, a business site, and eCommerce marketplace, a portfolio site, and much more.
The current version of WordPress (version 3.5) comes with the Twenty Twelve theme installed and activated. This theme is a fully responsive WordPress theme that looks good on any device whether that be a desktop/laptop computer, tablet, or phone. It’s minimal design is intentionally sparse in an effort to make re-branding it easy with the addition of a custom menu, header image, and background. But the fact of the matter is that most people will want a premium theme designed for exactly what they’re trying to do – and Twenty Twelve is pretty generic.
I recommend buying a premium WordPress theme from either ElegantThemes, Themeforest, WooThemes or Mojo-Themes. These are – in my opinion – the theme sources where you will get the best value for your buck.
If you can find a theme that best suites your needs at ElegantThemes then you’re really getting a good deal. On the other hand if you specifically need to set up a site for eCommerce then WooThemes is your best bet. For everything else it’s just a matter of using the search filters under WordPress on Themeforest or Mojo-Themes and finding something you like.
A few of my favorites this year include:
There are a lot of great themes to choose from so make sure you take your time and choose the one that’s perfect for you.
You can read some of our posts where we list many theme choices:
- 30 Inspirational Free WordPress Themes Released in Late 2012
- The Best of the Newest Premium WordPress Themes
- 25 of the Best Free Responsive WordPress Themes
- 20 Best WordPress eCommerce Themes
- 15 Best Travel WordPress Themes
Once you’ve picked one, purchased it, and downloaded it’s zipped file – here is how you install it:
In your WordPress Admin navigate to Appearance > Themes > Install Themes > Upload and install the zipped file you purchased. Sometimes you will have to unzip the folder you purchased and zip an internal one to install here. If that is the case then your theme author will most likely make that clear on the purchase page wherever you buy your theme.
When the theme is successfully installed, click activate. You have now installed a new theme! There is most likely a lot of customization ahead, or at the very least some uploading of a few images in order to brand the site as your own. But we’re not going to get into that here.
If you bought a high quality theme they will have an extensive set of theme options with plenty of help, forums, etc. to make sure you know how to use and customize your purchase. What you need to do next is move on to more immediate things like installing some must have plugins.
Step 5: Installing Recommended Plugins
Again, for those of you who may be brand new to WordPress, a plugin is a script that you can install on your WordPress site to add or enhance functionality. If you can imagine a genuinely useful feature that you would like to have for your WordPress website, chances are there’s already a plugin for it.
Here is a list of free plugins generally considered to be “must have” WordPress plugins:
Contact Form 7
Contact Form 7 can manage multiple contact forms, plus you can customize the form and the mail contents flexibly with simple markup. This is an excellent free option for basic form building. If however you need something a bit more serious there’s also Gravity Forms.
Google Analytics for WordPress
The Google Analytics for WordPress plugin allows you to track your blog easily and with lots of metadata.
Akismet checks your comments against the Akismet web service to see if they look like spam or not and lets you review the spam it catches under your blog’s “Comments” admin screen.
Relevanssi replaces the standard WordPress search with a better search engine, with lots of features and configurable options. You’ll get better results, better presentation of results – your users will thank you.
W3 Total Cache
This plugin improves your site performance and user experience via caching: browser, page, object, database, minify and content delivery network support. Warning, do not activate until you are finished customizing your theme and all of your settings are final. Otherwise you will be really confused as to why none of the changes you make actually work while you’re making changes during site customization.
With Digg Digg by Buffer, you have an all in one social sharing plugin for your blog. Display all social sharing buttons nicely on your blog and make it look amazing, just like Mashable.
Do backups and more for your WordPress Blog. Essential if you ever get hacked, lose or accidentally delete files, or something unforeseen happens at your host.
Better WP Security
#1 WORDPRESS SECURITY PLUGIN. Better WP Security takes the best WordPress security features and techniques and combines them in a single plugin thereby ensuring that as many security holes as possible are patched without having to worry about conflicting features or the possibility of missing anything on your site.
WordPress SEO by Yoast
Improve your WordPress SEO: Write better content and have a fully optimized WordPress site using the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast. Another worthy mention in this category of plugin is the All in One SEO Pack.
Once you’ve downloaded these plugins it’s time to install them. To do so simply go to Plugins > Add New > Upload > and install the files you downloaded from the WordPress Plugin Directory. After that you can manage all of their options from within WordPress itself. If you have trouble configuring a plugin each one has fairly extensive forums and help sections.
Edit Flow empowers you to collaborate with your editorial team inside WordPress. It’s features include: Calendar – a convenient month-by-month look at your content; Custom Statuses – defined stages of workflow; Editorial Comments – the ability to have a threaded discussion between writers and editors on the post edit page; Editorial Metadata – the ability to keep track of important editorial data; Notifications – emails about content you’re creating, following, or in charge of; Story Budget – a view of your upcoming content budget; and User Groups – the ability to organize site users by department and function.
ou can also check this post to see what plugins we use:
Step 6: Create A Coming Soon Page & Build An Email List
At this point some people decide to jump straight over steps 6, 7, and 8. They immediately begin publishing pages, posts or other types of content and then wait patiently for the web to flock to their new website. Unless you already have a large social following that strategy is almost certain to fail.
There are a few obvious reasons for this: (1) No one knows your site exists yet; (2) Search engines haven’t had time to crawl and therefore rank and include your site in their search results yet; (3) you don’t actually have a finished site or content published. You have a blank theme that needs a decent amount of work put into it.
That’s where a good coming soon page can come in and really change the game. In a few hours you can put up a coming soon page that informs anyone who does come to your site what it’s all about and how to follow you for future updates. “But where will those people come from?” you might ask. After all, no one knows your site exists and search engines aren’t even paying attention yet. Good question. And the answer is that you will drive them there!
The idea is simple: it’s going to take you a while to get your site ready to show the world. So while you’re tweaking its design, its functionality, and building up a backlog of quality content – you can promote the future launch of your site with a coming soon page so that you have a captive audience when you reveal the final product.
My favorite plugin for this is the the Ultimate Coming Soon Page plugin. This plugin is free but you can upgrade to its pro version for extra features.
“The Ultimate Coming Soon Page plugin works with any WordPress theme you have installed on your site. Anyone who isn’t logged in to your site will see the specific page, while you or any other logged-in staffers can access the site as normal to work on your changes or content.”
Helpful Links on Coming Soon Pages & Email List Building:
- How to Create Beautiful Coming Soon Pages in WordPress with SeedProd
- 5 Reasons Why Everything You Know About Email List Building is Wrong
- How to Build Your Free Email List with WordPress
- How to Build Your Email Marketing List with a WordPress Website
- How To Start Building An Email List For Your WordPress Blog With AWeber
Step 7: Promote Your New Site
Promoting your new WordPress website is something you’re going to want to do before and after your official launch. Before your launch the goal should be to drive visitors to your coming soon page and build an email list. After your launch you will want to continue to build your email list but you will also want to encourage other forms of engagement.
The smartest way to begin is by taking advantage of every effective form of free promotion before resorting to ad purchases or other costly forms of promotion. In fact, many people find so much success with the methods below that they never buy an ad or pay anyone for promotion at all.
Lets look at the options:
With over a billion active users Facebook is by far the largest and most essential social network. If you’re trying to attract new followers and point them towards your content, you need to be on Facebook. Chances are you already are, so all that’s left is learning how to leverage Facebook’s powerful features to promote your new website. For that, please see the links at the end of this section.
Twitter is another essential social giant. It may not be as big as Facebook when it comes to active members, but those who are active on twitter are REALLY active. When Twitter is used properly it can drive an insane amount of traffic to your site.
With 500 million registered users and 235 million active users – all in under two years of existence – it’s the fastest growing social network on the web. Undoubtedly it’s most popular feature is Hangouts. Google+ Hangouts are multi-person video chats that are excellent for putting on spur of the moment (or planned) video conferences, webinars, etc. It’s an excellent way to foster real and loyal community around your brand and site.
This one may not be for everyone. However, if you are a brand with visually-appealing content (wedding photography, chef, interior design, etc.) you should probably create a Pinterest account.
Again, this one may not be for everyone. For a lot of websites and businesses Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ can feel like more than enough social networking. But if you’re business is B2B then there are a lot of benefits to being on a purely business oriented social network.
Acquired by Google a few years ago YouTube has continued to dominate the world of online video. If you have or can create video content then getting on YouTube and establishing a presence there is a smart move.
Something as simple as commenting on other blogs or websites where your ideal target audience hangs out can provide a huge boost in site exposure. The key is writing something thoughtful and including a link back to your site; or better yet to high quality related content that you have created.
Speaking of high quality content that you have created, guest posting on other blogs or websites when possible is a great way to let others know who you are, what you do or write about, and where to find more of your work/content.
Real Life Networking
This one gets passed over a lot due to the proliferation of social networking online, but simply telling people you already know or meet about what you do and where to find you online can become an important source of site traffic and loyal community.
Helpful Links on Blog and Site Promotion:
- 30 Ways to Promote Your Blog Posts
- How to Leverage Twitter for Blogging Success
- Blog Promotion – Go Where The People Are
Step 8: Create A Content Plan & Build A Backlog
Getting into the nuts and bolts of how to create a content plan is not what this section is about. However, I can summarize: In its simplest form creating a content plan is the act of distilling your brand message down into the most basic terms possible and then figuring out how to best re-tell that message via blog posts, Facebook statuses, Tweets, YouTube videos, Webinars, etc.
The important thing to remember is that everything you create and publish should in some way be communicating your core message to a specific target audience. How you do that is a matter of preference and best practices, which the links below will help clarify.
The main reason for the inclusion of this section in our guide is to point out that while you are tweaking your site design and promoting its upcoming launch, you should also be populating it with content. Not just your static pages and a post or two, but a calculated backlog of posts that will allow you to stay ahead of the game once your site goes live.
For example: If it takes two weeks to launch your website, try writing two posts each day so that when you launch you have a full month’s worth of daily content ready to go. This will take a great deal of pressure off you in terms of keeping the site current early on. In turn this will allow you to spend more time promoting your site and developing quality content at a manageable pace.
Helpful Links on Creating Great Content:
- Literally anything on Copyblogger
- How to Create an Agile Content Marketing Strategy (and Stay Sane Doing It)
- How to Build a Referral Engine the Works
- How to Create and Implement a Content Plan on WordPress
- Keyword Research: Our Three Step Process
- 7 Step Checklist for SEO-Optimized Posts
- DIY SEO for Startups
Step 9: Ready, Set, Publish!
Ideally, here’s how things have progressed up to this point: You bought a hosting package with the hosting provider of your choice. You then registered a domain and added it to your hosting. Once hosted you installed WordPress and configured its basic settings. You then found just the right theme and installed it. After that, you downloaded and installed the essential plugins listed above and configured their settings according to your preferences.
At this point you resisted the urge to immediately begin publishing and instead created a coming soon page and began systematically promoting the future launch of your amazing new website. While safely hidden behind a gorgeous coming soon page you were then able to fully customize your theme using it’s built in theme options. Additionally, you created a content plan and a month’s worth of quality posts so that you would not only be prepared to launch – but ahead of the game.
It is now time to go live.
Go into your coming soon page settings and switch your “coming soon mode” to off. Your site is now live to the world; You did it! Feel free to do a little dance, publish daily, promote like crazy, and always be genuine (it’s the best way to build community).
Helpful Links for Maintaining a WordPress Website:
- Learning WordPress: Most Useful Tips and Tutorials
- 4 Simple Ways to Secure (and Maintain) Your WordPress Website
I hope that this guide has been helpful in launching your website with WordPress. If at any point during your launch process you cannot find the answer to a question in either this post or the links it contains, please let us know in the comments below. We will either answer your question there or dedicate a future post to resolving your WordPress issue. Best of luck!