WordPress 101 (Plus, Why I Love This Platform)

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Want to get up and running with a web site for your business in under an hour? Think you lack the technical skills needed to launch your online presence?

Well, read on, because WordPress is going to become your new BFF.

But before we get into how to quickly set up your WordPress site, let me explain WHY I like to go with WordPress over such platforms as Squarespace, Wix, Strikingly, and the like.

I think that the latter have their advantages — namely, ease of set up, and the ability to create beautiful, clean sites (particularly with Squarespace). But here’s the thing: WordPress has been around for ages, which means it ain’t going anywhere, and a gazillion people develop for it. Because a gazillion people develop for it, there are a plethora of plugins at your fingertips that can help you pimp out your site (aka: help you with internet marketing) — your only limit is your imagination!

Oh, and then there’s that little fact that search engines love it (more on that below), especially if you use one a well-regarded SEO plugin, such as the All in One SEO Pack or the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin.

While most commonly known as a blogging platform, WordPress is also a solid content management system ideal for small to medium-sized web sites. With 60 million-plus sites—ranging from heavy hitters like CNN.com and flickr.com to the smallest mom-and-pop shops—WordPress is so popular because it’s easy, it’s free, and it’s uber-reliable.

Here’s a step-by-step on how you can get your own WordPress site up and running in less time than it takes to watch the latest episode of Scandal Chopped…

Pick Your Path: Ways to Set Up WordPress

1. WordPress.org (self-hosted)

In this path, you download WordPress software (for free) and install it onto your web hosting service (which charges a monthly fee). You use your own URL and have access to a slew of themes (templates) and plugins (more on these in a minute). Installing WordPress is not terribly difficult, but a bit of tech savvy goes a long way toward easing the process. Note that this route can also be a bit more time consuming because you are responsible for setup, upgrades, spam, backups, and security.

2. WordPress.com (hosted)

With this totally free offering, you simply sign up for a WordPress.com account and begin building your site. While somewhat limited compared to the self-hosted option (you get about 100 themes versus 1,000 and can’t upload plugins), this is ideal if you don’t want the task of securing a reliable web hosting service (the choices can be overwhelming) and going through the install process (which at minimum can require an understanding of FTP directories). Going this route means you automatically get a URL that looks like this: “yoursitename.wordpress.com.” However, if you’d like to use your URL without “wordpress” tacked onto it, you can easily do that for a small yearly fee with domain mapping. There are several other paid upgrades that increase capabilities of a WordPress.com site such as Custom CSS or Video Press.

Something that could tip the scale: Because WordPress does such a good job of filtering spam blogs, Google indexes WordPress-hosted sites more quickly because they’re trusted. What does this mean for you? You get much better search engine results for your WordPress.com site!

The path you choose ultimately depends on personal preference, but unless you’re technically inclined and interested in having total control over every nuance of your site (custom coding and such), you’ll likely find that a WordPress.com site delivers what you need and then some. Here is a complete list of pros and cons for each path—check it out before you begin.

Next Steps

If you opt for a self-hosted site, you’ll need to download and install WordPress. But before you do that, you need to have your host in place. There are literally thousands of web hosts that meet the WordPress minimum requirements, but do yourself a favor and if you’re not already committed to one particular host, check out their recommendations, which include service companies that work seamlessly with their software. Add Host Gator, Dreamhost, and Green Geeks to the list.

Once you’ve selected a web hosting service, download the software.

WordPress is known for its “famous 5-minute install,” but the seriously time-strapped may like the “one-click” WordPress install option offered by more and more web hosting services. (Note: If you’re interested in a one-click install, make sure your web host offers it before you commit to them.) One-click pros: No fuss; you’re installed in 5 seconds instead of 5 minutes. One-click cons: Lack of security; this type of installation makes it possible for hackers to compromise your files.

Get Familiar with the WordPress Dashboard

This is your site’s content management hub so take some time to explore the setup. The Dashboard allows you to easily select a theme, create pages, create posts (if your site includes a blog), modify settings for your site, add content (text and photos), add widgets, and more. It also includes valuable metrics relating to your site’s traffic and visibility. Check out this great overview video of all the bells and whistles you’ll find on the Dashboard.

Pick a WordPress Theme

Now for the fun part—picking a theme, a templated look and feel for your site. If you’re not careful, you could lose a week in the decision process!

You have a plethora of theme options, easily accessed through the “Appearance” tab in the left-hand column of your Dashboard. Filter by any number of criteria to help narrow your choices; i.e.: If your company’s identity features a lot of blue, search for themes with that color.

Here’s a tour of free available themes (for WordPress hosted sites) and a video describing what to consider when selecting your theme. Here’s where you can view the 1,300-plus free templates for self-hosted sites. Also, if you are self-hosting your WordPress site, there are several commercial outfits offering paid designer themes ranging anywhere from $15 to $100 and up.

WordPress Posts, Pages, Plugins, & Widgets

Now that you have your theme, you can begin adding the content that pertains to your business. Pages, posts, plugins, and widgets make up the framework. Use posts for information that changes regularly, as posts show up on the site in chronological order. Use pages for static info—ostensibly, you could build your entire site with static pages!

Entire books have been dedicated to plugins, but here’s what you need to know about them:

1. Plugins are only available to folks who go the self-hosted route

2. Plugins give you the option of adding special services or functionality to your site with bits of canned PHP code—WordPress’s Plugin Directory has more than 30,000 to choose from!

Similar to plugins, you can add widgets to the sidebars, headers, and footers of your site to give you added functionality (think: calendars, Twitter feeds, category clouds, archives, and much more). You can see what’s available to you by clicking on the “Widgets” tab under “Appearance” in the left nav. When you see a widget you like, merely drag it over to the appropriate header on the right-hand side of the dashboard. Widgets are available to both hosted and self-hosted WordPress sites, but vary depending on the Theme you choose.

Don’t be afraid to add a bunch of these elements to your site and preview until you hit on the magic mix of content, images, pages, and special features that will make your site sing!

Other WordPress Resources

There’s no shortage of information available online and in book form to help you get your WordPress site live. Googling WordPress-specific questions will almost always turn up a link to the company’s Codex, which has a ton of useful tips, explained in a practical way, but here are a few more resources to get you started:

Blogs/Links:
WPBeginner – Beginner’s Guide to WordPress – http://www.wpbeginner.com/
From the WordPress Codex – http://learn.wordpress.com/

Books:

Do you need help with your blogging effort? If so, I’d love for us to put our heads together to come up with a strategy that works for you. Click here to schedule a time to talk. (AKA: a free 30-minute pow-wow!)

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