There are many ways to build a website. Most of them will work but won’t get you the results you are looking for. These days speed and SEO (search engine optimization) are of the utmost importance so every step in this guide has been optimized for those. This page will show you the steps I take and tools I use when I make a website or blog for a client.
The steps how to start a website:
Get A Domain Name
What is a domain name?
A domain name is a friendly name used to get to your site. An example is ProSiteHelp.com or Google.com. The computer that is going to hold your website has an IP address like 22.214.171.124 which is hard to remember. That IP is how the web browser finds your site. To make it easier for people to get to your site you buy a domain name and assign it your website IP. So when someone types YourDomainName.com they will get to your site.
How much does a domain name cost?
The cost of a domain name depends and can vary greatly. A .com(dot com) domain name that isn’t currently in use is around $10 per year at NameCheap.com. If someone currently owns the domain name you want, they can charge any amount they want to transfer it to you and it would renew at around $10 per year. Usually it is best to find a name that is unregistered but sometimes you can make an offer to the current owner and not be totally ripped off.
How to choose a domain name
There are a few things you should consider when choosing the domain name for your new website.
First, length. Shorter is better. You want your visitors to actually get to your website and not have to type a paragraph on their phone’s keyboard. I like 1-3 word domain names personally. Twitter limits usernames to 14 characters, so if you want to get a matching username on Twitter you should keep it 14 or less.
Next is difficulty to spell. I am not sure where I heard about the telephone test but it is genius and I have used it ever since. The idea is the domain name should be easy enough to spell that if you said the name to someone on a phone call they would be able to type it into their browser without issue. Some people get creative adding or leaving off letters of words. Just don’t get too crazy or people won’t be able to remember how to find your website.
I know this can be hard when many domain names are already taken but spend some time to find the best one you can.
Where to buy a domain name
I prefer Namecheap.com because they are cheap as their name states and they have features to help your personal privacy. They give free whois guard where many other domain registrars charge for the protection. Whois is a record that contains the domain owners address and contact information. Some people use this information to sell to you or send you spam. Namecheap’s whois guard puts their information in the whois record and they will forward correspondence to you instead of your personal information being freely out there.
Do not get a domain name through your web hosting company even if they offer it for free. If for some reason down the road you need to switch to another host it will be harder to switch.
How to buy a domain name
The steps are pretty similar between domain registrars.
- Go to NameCheap.com or another registrar if you prefer.
- Use the search box on the homepage to search for your new domain name.
- If it is available press the button to add to cart.
- Ignore any upsells or hosting offers (you do not want hosting through NameCheap).
- Accept free whois guard (not all domain extensions support whois, .co.uk as example).
- Click checkout and pay for your website’s domain name.
Get Website Hosting
What is hosting?
Hosting is a service that allows you to have a website on the internet. Every website must live on a server. A server is a computer running special software that is powered on and connected to the internet at all times. A web host leases out space on their servers to allow your website to have its own home on the internet.
How much does it cost for website hosting?
Web hosting costs anywhere from free to thousands of dollars per month. Every host charges different rates and has different features. You absolutely do not want any free web hosting. The host I recommend SiteGround, for those starting a new website is $4-15 per month depending on what options you want. More on that below.
Why the host you pick is so important
Important factors to a successful website are that it is fast, secure and always available. Choosing the right host for your website is the first step in accomplishing those goals.
Some web hosts put speed as a priority. This is good because no one wants to wait for a slow website. In fact Google found out that half a second delay in web page load time cost them 20% of traffic and killed user satisfaction. Similarly Amazon found that every 100 milliseconds of time spent loading significantly reduced revenue. Source: Marissa Mayer at Web 2.0 by Greg Linden.
If your site is infected with malware for too long Google may blacklist it and this will kill your traffic. You want a host that is serious about security because no matter how secure your website is, if your host isn’t secure you could end up with a hacked site.
You want to make sure you choose a hosting provider that has good uptime. Check 3rd party reports not just what is claimed on the host’s website as many hosting providers have had unexplained downtimes. If the server your website is on is down then no one will be getting to your website which could cost you significantly.
The best web hosting service for most people
I have used many hosts over the years and researched dozens more. Right now I believe SiteGround is the best web hosting service for most people. They are hosting this site and it is the provider I recommend to all my clients.
- Sites hosted there load fast
- I haven’t experienced any downtime in the years I’ve used them
- Clients sites I’ve hosted with them haven’t had malware issues
- They always deploy the latest technology (you won’t be stuck on an old version of php for example)
- Fast support via live chat
- Free SSL certificate (This keeps your browser from saying unsecured)
- Daily backups
My only concern with SiteGround’s hosting is That it is great until you reach 100,000 monthly page views. Most sites do not exceed that. If you exceed that, their offerings aren’t as good. Reach out to me if you need hosting advice for over 100,000 monthly page views.
Why not Bluehost?
If you have been around WordPress for any amount of time you have probably heard a recommendation for Bluehost. But please, please, please do not use them. Most of the people recommending them are not technical and do not know much better. Bluehost also donates a lot of money to WordPress and are on the recommended list along side Siteground on WordPress.org. Bluehost used to be good. I’ve hosted a few sites with them in the past and was an affiliate. The problem is they were bought by EIG and it has gone downhill since. EIG has bought up many hosting companies such as Hostgator and Site5. They own over 80 now. Wikipedia has a list of their brands here. They overload the servers and I have helped clients who have been hacked on them and their support isn’t stellar.
How to buy web hosting
- Go to SiteGround.com
- Pick a plan and click Get Plan. Startup is good for 1 website and up to 10,000 visits per month. On GrowBig you can have unlimited websites but their combined traffic is limited to 25,000 visits. GoGeek is good for unlimited sites and up to 100,000 visits per month. With the GrowBig and GoGeek plans SiteGround will migrate an existing site to their service for free.
- Select “I already have a domain” (you should have bought one from Namecheap or another registrar), then type in your domain and click proceed.
- Fill out your billing information and select the period you’d like to prepay for 12, 24, or 36 months. (The promotion price is only good for the first billing cycle so picking 36 months will save you the most money. Duration will not affect my affiliate commission so please choose based on your situation). Do not select the SG Site Scanner up-sell. You do not need it.
- Congratulations at this point you should have a domain name and hosting.
- Install WordPress using the instructions below.
I am an affiliate for Siteground and will get a small commission at no extra cost to you if you buy using my link. This is how I can offset the cost of providing free WordPress support for those starting out. Being an affiliate for Siteground does not determine my reason for recommending them. All hosting companies have affiliate commissions and as I said earlier I used to be an affiliate for Bluehost. I will always recommend what I believe is the best option at the time.
If you chose to use Siteground hosting, the first time you login to the control panel it will open up a wizard.
Click Start a new website.
Enter your email, username and a password. Then Click confirm.
Uncheck Add SG Site Scanner and confirm.
Click Complete Setup.
If you chose another hosting company or have already logged into Siteground previously, log in to their control panel and look for WordPress under Auto Installers or Softalicous. Work through their wizards similarly. Once WordPress is installed, remove any plugins the auto installers added using the instructions in the plugins section below.
Point Your Domain To Your Hosting Server
Login to your Namecheap account (or the domain registrar you used if different) and set the nameservers option to point to your SiteGround hosting.
- Sign into your Namecheap account.
- Click Domain List on the left and select MANAGE next to your domain.
- In the Nameservers section, choose Custom DNS from the drop-down menu.
- Enter your SiteGround name servers. To find them, log into your SiteGround account, click the Websites, then click SITE TOOLS and copy the Name Servers listed in the Site INFORMATION section.
- Save your changes in Namecheap by clicking the green check mark.
How To Login To The WordPress Dashboard
In your browser’s address bar, type yourdomain.com/wp-admin and be sure to replace “yourdomain” with whatever domain you picked. Once there type the username and password you set during the WordPress install.
Get A WordPress Theme
A WordPress theme controls how your new website will look. There are themes for specific types of sites (like food blogger, magazine, anything you can think of really) and there are generic ones that you can customize to fit your needs.
My personal approach is to use a high quality generic theme that is optimized for speed and then customize the design to fit the site topic instead of buying a niche specific theme. There are some great generic WordPress themes made by teams of developers that are updated regularly and really focused on speed. Themes that are too niche specific may not be big enough to get proper updates and with so many security threats updates are critical to maintaining a healthy website.
Free Or Premium WordPress Theme?
Free WordPress themes are great. This site is currently running on one called Astra. That said when picking a free theme you must be careful. Similar to picking too niche of a theme, free WordPress themes may not get the regular updates needed as the developer isn’t making money from it. Safe bets for free themes are ones put out by Automattic (WordPress’ parent company) and free themes that have a paid option. As an example, the Astra theme is made by a company called Brainstorm Force. They have a paid version of Astra that unlocks a few more features and paid plugins that support their company. This allows them to dedicate time to even the free version of Astra without going out of business.
Premium themes generally have a team of developers behind them so they will not get left without updates. That being said it is still important to find a reliable team. You want to make sure they are not known for creating bugs in their updates. Being a paid premium theme doesn’t automatically make the theme better than a free one. Though the likelihood of a paid theme getting much needed updates is better.
Best WordPress Themes
This is not a full list as there are thousands of themes but a list of themes you can’t go wrong with.
All of these themes are:
- Optimized for speed
- SEO friendly
- Responsive to look great on desktop or mobile
- Updated regularly
Acabado – Very fast and optimized without the need for extra plugins. Built specifically for blogging.
Astra – One of the fastest themes and when paired with a page building plugin like Elementor you can do anything. Has both free and paid version. This site is currently running it. Also good for e-commerce stores running WooCommerce.
Divi – You can build literally anything with Divi, it has the best built in page builder. Not as fast as the others listed here but faster than other themes with built in page builders. Divi is a premium theme, there is no free version. However, their license allows you to use it on an unlimited number of sites including ones you build for others. It also includes any of their other themes and plugins. Their Monarch plugin is probably the best social sharing icons plugin available. It also has a very inexpensive lifetime option. I bought the lifetime deal years ago and have built many sites using it.
Generatepress – Like Astra, very fast and can be paired with Elementor to build anything. Free but also paid. Hides more of the features in the paid version than Astra does.
Twenty Twenty – This is the newest default WordPress theme provided by Automattic. If you like the style nothing wrong with keeping it. It will receive regular updates and loads fairly quickly.
How To Install A WordPress Theme
In your WordPress Dashboard, click Appearance. At the top of the page click Add New.
If you chose to use a free theme. It is probably in the directory on the add theme page. You can use the search at the right if needed to find it. Once you find your theme, click on it and click Install. After the theme installs you will want to click Activate to make the theme live on your site.
If you chose to use a paid or premium theme, you most likely will have to install it from zip. You purchase the theme from the creator and they will give you the ability to download the theme files as a single zip file. Once you have the theme’s zip file on your computer, you can upload it to your site. From the WordPress Dashboard, click Appearance. At the top of the page click Add New. You will see the theme directory page but at the top you want to select Upload Theme. On the upload theme page click choose file, then select the zip file you previously downloaded. Click install now and wait a few moments. After the theme installs you will want to click Activate to make the theme live on your site.
After you have installed your new theme select all other themes and delete them. To do this click Appearance from the left of the WordPress Dashboard to see all of your installed themes. To delete, click the theme you want to delete. Then click delete. You do not want extra themes installed that need to be kept up to date if you are not using them.
Add Useful Plugins
With Plugins, generally less is more. Most plugins will slow down your site even if slightly it all adds up. Only add plugins to meet your needs functionally. For example, you don’t need WooCommerce installed if you are never going to have people buying products on your site. The same is true if you have comments disabled, you wouldn’t need an anti-spam plugin. Plugins can be very powerful and also create conflicts between themselves and other plugins. Plugins, like themes can be security risks if not updated regularly so the less you have the less you have to worry about.
That being said here are some types of plugins you may want:
- Page Builder
Check out my up to date WordPress Plugins List to see the plugins I recommend for each category.
How To Install A WordPress Plugin
To install themes, it is similar to the process you used to install a theme. In your WordPress Dashboard click Plugins on the left side of the page. This will show all of the plugins installed on your site.
If this is your first time here delete the plugins that were installed by default, you don’t need any pre-installed plugins. If a plugin is currently active select Deactivate and then delete.
To add a new plugin click Add New at the top of the page. If the plugin you’d like to install is free, it is probably in the directory on the add plugin page. You can use the search at the right if needed to find it. Once you find the plugin, click on it and click Install. After the plugin installs you will want to click Activate to make it live on your site.
Configure WordPress Settings
There are a few things that I do on every WordPress site after the initial setup. None of them are required but all of them are key in helping you have the best site possible.
- Delete Default Content
- Set Timezone
- Set Permalinks
- Set Homepage
How To Delete Default Content
WordPress by default adds a post, a page, and a comment. These are meant to be examples of each of the content types. You will want to delete these.
In your WordPress Dashboard, on the left click Posts. This will display a list of all your posts. The default post included with WordPress install is “Hello World”. Hover over it and select Trash. Repeat the process for pages and comments if there are any.
How To Set Timezone In WordPress
In your WordPress Dashboard, on the left click Settings. Since you are here double check your site name and tagline are set properly then set the timezone.
How To Set Permalinks In WordPress
In your WordPress Dashboard, on the left click Settings then Permalinks. Then select Post name and click save changes.
Setting your Permalinks to Post name is the best for SEO optimization. Google doesn’t want to see a gibberish post ID string.
Set Home Page (Optional)
If you are creating a blog style website and want the homepage to be you most recent posts, there is no need to do this step. If you want to have a specifically designed homepage, you will want to do this.
Before you can set your homepage you must create a page you want to be your homepage. In the WordPress dashboard. Go to Pages then Add New. Set the title to Home and click publish. You can add content to it now or later doesn’t matter. Then add another new page and call it Blog. This Blog page will be left blank. Do not put any content on it as WordPress will automatically add your new posts to this after doing the next step.
Now that you have your Home and Blog pages created. Click Settings then Reading. Select A Static Page then from the drop down menu pick the Home page you just created and the Blog page you just created. Click save changes.
Congratulations, you’ve made it. You have a brand new website that is already better than most. Now you have to put great content on it to make it the best website in your niche. Your website is nothing without content. Now that you have a WordPress website that is optimized, you can fully focus on content.
If you need help writing content, I recommend these resources:
- How to Write a Perfect Blog Post in One Hour – YouTube
- How to Write a Blog Post in 2020: The Ultimate Guide