How to get started with WordPress

WordPress. It’s the free content management system (CMS) that powers everything from your favorite anime fan site to rolling stone the magazine’s online presence. In fact, WordPress.org, the website that hosts the open source software, states that WordPress powers 43% of sites on the World Wide Web. That’s a lot of people and businesses running WordPress-powered websites.

WordPress is a remarkably flexible CMS that has numerous themes and plugins (more on those in a bit) to enhance front-end and back-end experiences. No coding is required unless you want a really custom functionality or website layout. As a result, creating a WordPress-powered website is not particularly difficult. Still, people unfamiliar with the process may need a helping hand. Let us be the guide on your content creation journey by breaking down everything you need to know about WordPress. You’ll have a site up and running in no time.


WordPress.Org vs. WordPress.Com

Let’s start with a little background. WordPress.org is where to download the CMS, as well as themes and plugins. WordPress.org invites you to self-host a WordPress installation by pushing you to third-party hosts, as it does not provide web hosting packages. If you decide to go this self-hosted route, please note that there are many excellent third-party web hosting services that offer robust and flexible plans for less than $10 per month. Some of these services also offer dedicated WordPress hosting plans. Some PCMag Editors’ Choice winners to consider are A2, Bluehost, and WP Engine. A self-hosted WordPress installation gives you the freedom to install almost any theme or plugin you desire.

It is important to point out that in addition to WordPress.org there is also WordPress.com and the two are not the same thing. The latter is a blogging platform owned by Automattic, a company co-founded by Matt Mullenweg, a major WordPress developer. WordPress.com differs from WordPress.org in that it provides both free and paid hosting services. However, it has some general limitations. For example, none of WordPress.com’s offerings allow you to use Secure Shell (SSH) to access your server, or File Transfer Protocol (FTP) to hack code. You can do this with WordPress.org because you need to use it with a third-party host. And, only the top-tier Business plan of WordPress.com allows you to install third-party plugins. It’s probably a little easier to get started with WordPress.com, but you have a lot more control over your site if you go the self-hosted route, and that’s what we recommend.


What’s in a domain name?

If you’re planning to build a website, you probably already have a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) or domain name in mind. It could be the name of your business, your weekend band, or just a musical. This is an extremely important choice, as your domain name is an essential branding element, so do your research, choose something memorable, easy to type and impactful – and be prepared to find that your top picks are already taken. .

If you want to look presentable to guests, especially those you want to give money to, you should opt for a custom domain name that ends in .com, .net, or any other relevant extension. You don’t want a non-personalized URL that includes the name of the host, like joescoolshop.blogspot.com.

Also note that domain name prices can range from extremely cheap to extremely expensive, depending on whether or not domain squatters are looking to flip a valuable piece of online real estate. Check out How to Register a Domain Name for Your Website for a deep dive into what it takes to grab a URL. Getting a free domain name for your website is another solid starting point.


Choose a WordPress theme

What is a theme? It is basically a website design template, which includes everything from layout to fonts to the types of modules available. Your website needs a face, after all, a face that is attractive, welcoming, highly functional and non-threatening.

You can make your WordPress site look great and adhere to the latest web standards and conventions by using a quality theme. If you want to post on a simple blog, a free theme may suffice. But, if you have professional aspirations, you need to shell out the money for a premium WordPress theme. Expect to pay a one-time fee of around $40 for a high-quality single-use professional theme. You can expect to pay upwards of $1,000 for an extended license that grants you or a client a theme that you can sell to others.

Premium themes usually have greater functionality and no branding from the company that created the theme. Look for themes from designers who frequently update their work. WordPress is updated quite often and you want to make sure your site stays up to date. You don’t want it to crash following an update, nor do you want to miss out on the benefits of the latest developments and features.

Fortunately, we have already prepared a guide that will help you find the best WordPress themes for your blog. A good theme, after all, is one that meets your needs. For example, photographers should not install a text-focused theme; they should roll with the one that showcases galleries and slideshows. So think carefully about your site’s needs and your client’s eyes before you open your wallet to buy a WordPress theme.


Choose your plug-ins wisely

Choose your WordPress plugins

Another reason why the CMS is attractive to so many individuals and businesses is the rich plugin library of WordPress. It has many website improvement tools, including those to improve search engine optimization or SEO, create user forums and manage comments. If you can think of features you would like to add to your WordPress setup, there is almost certainly a plugin for it. The plugins we recommend as part of a “plugin starter pack” include:

  • Protect WP Admin. Every WordPress installation uses the same admin panel URL extension, which makes a hacker attack relatively simple. This plugin lets you customize the default admin URL to help foil nefarious hacking plots. If they can’t find the /login URL, trolls looking for handy fruit are likely to move on.
  • All-in-one SEO package. If you want people to find your site through Bing, Google, or Yahoo search engines, install this plugin. It provides site-enhancing sitemaps, title optimization, and other groovy features.
  • Akismet Anti-Spam. Think of this plugin as the wall that keeps your blog from being hammered by ads in the comment section for foreign women and potency pills. Speaking of reviews, you should also install…
  • Disqus comment system. It replaces the default WordPress commenting system and gives you plenty of administrative tools to help you keep things civil in the snake pit known as Internet public forums.

These are just four useful plugins that can enhance your WordPress experience. There are many, many more, so we encourage you to explore the WordPress.org plugin library to find more. There are nearly 60,000 plugins to browse at the time of writing.


Optimized and Managed WordPress Hosting

Many hosts offer some form of WordPress hosting, in an optimized or managed environment. Both types feature platforms specifically designed for WordPress. In each, the CMS is pre-installed, so you don’t need to download and configure a WordPress installation like you would when using a traditional web hosting environment.

Depending on the host, you can take advantage of a variety of site-specific features, including automatic data backups, page caching, and automatic CMS updates. Please note that some web hosts limit certain plugins because they can duplicate functionality already built into the optimized or managed setup, or they negatively affect your site’s performance.

Managed WordPress relies on optimized WordPress hosting in a few key areas. Your website will be assigned a customer support team that is not only very knowledgeable about all things WordPress, but also ensures that you never have to worry about going to the backend of your site to do anything other than create content. Managed WordPress hosts, such as Media Temple and WP Engine, typically offer site staging for posts and pages so you can test them before they go live. They often include automatic malware detection and removal, as well as enhanced security.

Be aware that the line between optimized WordPress and managed WordPress is often quite thin, depending on the host you use. Be proactive and contact a host’s customer support team to find out the specifics of their WordPress hosting.


Contact customer service

Consider this advice that we hope you never need. If there is a problem with your WordPress installation, you may need to call or live chat with customer service. If you installed WordPress on a third-party host’s server, you’ll need to contact that host, like GoDaddy, for example.

Conversely, if you ride with WordPress.com, the customer service experience will vary. With WordPress.com’s most basic (free) plan, any questions you may have regarding your installation are handled by the community. If you want professional help from the WordPress.com customer support team, you should sign up for one of the premium plans.


Get started with WordPress

If you’re ready to get started with WordPress, take a look at our top picks for WordPress hosting services, especially those for small businesses. And our How to create a website primer contains a lot of useful information that can also apply to your WordPress site.

Esther L. Gunn