From this article, you’ll learn about the process for building a website. We’ll look at domain names, hosting and the software you need to create a website. We’ll also look at the basic set up of that software so you can make a presentable website in just a few hours.
The process for building a blog is almost identical. You’ll find more details about that in this article: How to Start a Blog.
Let’s get the ball rolling by looking at the software options. I’ll try to limit the techspeak but I do recommend you learn the terminology so it’s easier to explain technical issues and understand tutorials in the future.
Recommended software for building websites
The world’s favorite software for building websites and blogs is WordPress. (If you’ve never heard of it, read this post – What is WordPress? – for a detailed explanation.)
In short, WordPress is a content management system (CMS) typically used for blogging. But it’s also used for building websites. In fact, WordPress powers almost 40% of all websites and blogs you see online. Including some operated by major brands.
You’ll be pleased to know you don’t need any technical knowledge to install WordPress. Why? Because most web hosting companies, such as Bluehost and others, offer a push-button solution that does most of the work for you.
You will need to add details such as your site’s name, your username and your password, but the technical side is automated.
The majority of the time, WordPress installs without a problem, so if you run into an issue, contact your hosting company straight away and ask them to help you out. If you get a specific error code or number, make a note of it in case it’s needed.
Here’s a screenshot from inside a typical hosting account. To install WordPress, click the Install this application button and follow the onscreen instructions.
That’s all you have to do to setup WordPress with most web hosting companies.
Looks simple, right? That’s because it is. And if you get stuck, your hosting company is there to help you.
Okay, so that’s quick overview of how to set up WordPress. But before you get to that stage, you need to consider the other parts of the process – choosing a domain name and buying hosting.
1) Choose a domain name for your website
To create a website, whether you’re using WordPress or other software, you’re going to need two things: a domain name and web hosting.
We’ll get to web hosting in a moment, let’s look at domain names first.
What is a domain name?
The term ‘domain name’ refers to the web address people type into their browser to view the homepage of your website.
In my case, it’s ‘stephenduckworth.com‘.
Every domain name is unique and similar domains can be owned by different people and companies.
The .com part of a domain is called the top-level domain (or TLD). Another term you might see is generic top-level domain (gTLD). If you want to attract traffic to your website from across the globe, ideally you need to use a gTLD such as .com, .net or .org as these are not country-specific.
One alternative type of domain is a ccTLD. Which stands for country code top-level domain.
For example, websites in the UK end with .co.uk or .uk, in France it’s .fr, Germany is .de and Australia is .com.au, all use a ccTLD.
The domain extension is specific to each country and should be used whenever you want to focus on traffic from one country.
Another option you might want to consider is a different kind of gTLD – one that describes your business or type of website. A few examples include .blog, .casino, .coach, .furniture, .lawyer etc. You could even go for .blue, .black or .red. There are hundreds to choose from.
Where do you buy a domain name?
A lot of web hosting companies let you have a free domain for the first year when you sign up for their services. It’s the easiest and quickest way to get a website online for complete beginners. Take a look at the screenshot below for an example.
When the free period ends, you can renew your domain for another year (or more if you like) for around $10-$15.
However, the best way to manage domain names and hosting when you have more experience is to buy them separately and connect them through DNS (Domain Name System). It’s sound confusing and technical but it’s easy enough to setup.
I’ve bought lots of domains over the years and found Namecheap to be the best all-rounder. First-time purchases and renewals are cheap and their system’s easy to use. They have good online support via a chat facility too.
How much does a domain name cost?
Prices for domain names vary from one company to another. On a good day, you can pick up a domain through a special offer or by using a discount code for as little as $1. On average, a .com domain costs between $10-$20 per year and country-specific domains cost a little less.
Specialist domain extensions are usually more expensive.
2) Buy web hosting from a reputable company
In this next section, we’re looking at web hosting – what it is, what’s the best option for a brand new site and how much you should pay.
What is web hosting?
The term ‘web hosting’ refers to the location on the internet of all the stuff you need to run a website – think software, images, files and you’re in the right place.
What’s the best hosting for a brand new website?
There are a few different types of hosting available to you. The cheapest and most popular for new websites is ‘shared hosting‘. This is the cheapest available and means your site shares server space with other websites. It’s perfectly fine for beginners and sites with low traffic.
If your site gets popular, you may find a few issues start showing up because your site uses too much bandwidth and server resources. When this happens (which is a good thing, right?), it’s time to upgrade your hosting with your current provider or move to a new one.
Of course, a sudden spike in traffic from somewhere that’s mentioned one of your articles will die down within 24 hours, so don’t rush out to upgrade your hosting if this happens. Only do that when you see a steady increase in traffic that looks like it isn’t going away.
Once again, upgrading might sound difficult and technical but it’s often as simple as clicking an ‘Upgrade Hosting’ button inside your account.
Moving your website to another host is quite technical but a lot of companies offer a free migration service when you move to them.
How much does web hosting cost?
For the sake of this article, let’s stick with shared hosting and its nearest equivalent, cloud hosting.
To host one site with Bluehost (a popular option for beginners), for the first year costs just under $60 (that’s the price at the time of writing and without any addons). After the first year is over, the price jumps to $120. Which is about the average price for shared hosting.
For help choosing a hosting company for your WordPress website, check out Website Hosting Services for First Time Bloggers and Webmaster and for a detailed explanation of web hosting, read A Beginner’s Guide to Web Hosting.
3) Install WordPress
Once you’ve bought your domain name and hosting, the next step in the process is to install WordPress.
Back in the day (circa 2006), when I was new to WordPress, I did this manually and the process frazzled my brain. These days, it’s as simple as clicking a button following the onscreen instructions.
All the technical stuff – creating a database, adding a user to the database and running through the setup process are done for you. You can have the whole thing done in fewer than five minutes.
The exact method varies from host to host, but typically, you’ll need to provide some or all of the following information:
- An admin username (the name you use to log in)
- An admin password (choose something hard to guess)
- An admin email address (your main email)
- Your website’s title (you can change it later)
- Your website’s tagline (you can change it later)
You might also be asked, by virtue of checking radio buttons, if you’d like to add additional features such as two-factor authentication and limit login attempts.
Once the form’s complete, hit the Install button and let the system set up your site.
It typically takes about a minute or so. Once it’s set up, you’ll see the login details on your screen. You may also be asked if you want to receive the details in an email. I recommend you say yes and store that email somewhere safe.
You should now have a fully working WordPress website! It’ll look something like this.
There’s not much to look at right now, but the basic structure’s in place so all you need to do is build upon it. Which is what we’ll get to now…
The next steps in the process are making your site look good and adding some functionality. We do this by installing a theme and plugins.
4) Install a WordPress theme that suits the purpose of your website
Okay, so you might be thinking ‘what is a theme?‘.
In WordPress, a ‘theme’ is a series of custom files and templates that create the look of your website.
There are thousands of free themes available from within your WordPress site, but if you’re wanting something a bit special, you could buy a ‘premium theme’ from one of the many WordPress premium theme shops.
Let’s stick with a free theme for now. You can always look at the premium options later.
WordPress comes packaged with three default themes. Upon installation, the latest theme, Twenty Twenty-One activates.
For some people, one of the default themes is good enough. If it isn’t good enough for you, take a look around the theme directory for a better one. To access the themes, click on Appearance > Themes in the main menu on the left.
On the Themes page, look for the Add New button and click it.
On the next page you’ll see a whole load of free WordPress themes.
What you’re presented with is a group of thumbnails representing the themes. When you click on one you like the look of, you’ll be taken to a demo page so you can see the theme in more detail and in demo mode.
When you find a theme you like, click on the Install button.
After a few seconds, the button changes to Activate so you can activate it.
Then Customize, so you can, yep, customize it.
Everything you see in the Customizer is theme-dependent. Each theme has different options and settings. And by changing options and settings inside the Customizer, you can change the way your site looks.
People have a lot of fun using the Customizer! All the changes you make are visible on the page so you can see what your site looks like every time you make a small change.
However, just because you can do this doesn’t mean you should. If you’re not comfortable using the Customizer, choose a theme you like and leave everything set to default. In fact, oftentimes, on your first site, you’re better off leaving the Customizer well alone. You can make changes another time.
5) Install some WordPress plugins
A plugin is an additional script that adds functionality to the core WordPress files. A plugin can contain one file with a few lines of code or hundreds/thousands of files with multiple lines of code. It all depends on the job it’s doing.
Once you discover the world of plugins it’s easy to go crazy and install more than you need.
I’d advise against that in the early days because they can have a negative impact on your site if you install an underperforming plugin or one that conflicts with another.
To install a WordPress plugin, click on Plugins > Add New in the menu on the left.
When you access this section, you’ll see a screen like this.
And here’s a detailed look at one of those plugin boxes.
In the top right hand corner, there are two links. One says Install Now and the other says More Details. I recommend clicking on More Details before installing a plugin, unless it’s one you’ve used before or know you want to install.
The More Details link opens up a lightbox window so you can read more about the plugin.
The information here can be a little techie, but typically look for plugins with good reviews, that are up to date and compatible with your version of WordPress. Most other features will be specific to your needs.
When you’re happy, click on the Install Now button to install the plugin.
The lightbox window will close, you’ll return to the main plugins page, and the Install Now box in the right corner will say Activate.
Click the button to activate the plugin.
Once the plugin’s activated, more often than not, you’ll need to set it up. The way to do this varies from plugin to plugin. You generally find the options in the left hand menu under Tools, Settings or in its own section.
In this screenshot, my plugins for SEO, Link Whisper and LiteSpeed Cache have their own link in the menu. Other plugins sit under Settings or Tools and some plugins place themselves near the top of the menu.
What plugins do you need?
Every website has different needs and what may be ‘essential’ to me, may not matter to you. For example, many people are ditching SEO (search engine optimization) plugins in favor of using the theme’s options instead.
When you setup your first website, especially if it’s a content-based website that provides information, I would forget about installing plugins and concentrate on adding the content. As you go along, you’ll discover the plugins you need when you want to perform a certain task.
I realize this information is a little vague, so here’s a list of the plugins I use on this site, which is almost 100% based on providing information to its readers.
- Ad Inserter (for placing ads inside content)
- Insert Headers and Footers (for placing Google Analytics code in the head section of all pages)
- Kadence Blocks (runs in conjunction with Kadence theme for creating content)
- Link Whisper (for managing internal links)
- LiteSpeed Cache (for creating cached copies of the website’s pages so they load quicker)
- ManageWP Worker (for website backups)
- Pretty Links (for managing affiliate links)
- Remove Category URL (for removing the /category part of the post’s permalink)
- The SEO Framework (for managing SEO settings)
- WP Forms Lite (for adding a contact form)
These plugins are installed and active all the time. If I need to do a task that requires a plugin, I’ll install the plugin, activate it, do the task, then deactivate the plugin and uninstall it. You can do the same.
It’s worth saying, that I’ve worked on client sites that have 30-40 plugins installed. Which is fine as long as they’re well-coded and always updated. Problems occur when plugins aren’t updated or they clash with another one in your set up.
For me, I like to keep things lean and simple. I suggest you read WordPress Plugins Explained: A Guide for Beginners for a more detailed explanation of working with WordPress plugins.
6) Add content to your new WordPress website
A website isn’t a website without content!
In WordPress, there are two basic content types. They’re called Pages and Posts. You can read more about them and how they work in this article: In WordPress, What’s the Difference Between Posts and Pages?
In short; Posts are organized into Categories, while Pages stand alone in website’s structure. Posts are typically used for blogging and Pages are used for the legal stuff, contact us and about us etc.
Whichever one you choose to use, they’re created, edited and published using the same editing screen although you will need to choose Post or Page before you start. And, if you later decide you want to change a Post to a Page or vice versa, there’s a plugin that can do that for you.
How to create a Page in WordPress
In the left-hand menu, click on Pages > Add New
You’ll be presented with a screen like the one in the screenshot further down. It changes from site to site because it adapts itself to look like your theme, so you can better visualize how your content looks to viewers as you create it.
(On the demo site I’m using for the screenshots, I’ve switched off the default theme and installed Kadence instead.)
WordPress uses a series of blocks to create every section of the page. In this first screenshot, if you look to the right, you’ll see Page has a blue line under it. The indicates I’m working at Page level.
If you look at the second screenshot, you’ll notice I’ve added a title and some paragraphs of text.
If you look to the right again, you’ll notice Block is underlined, which means I’m working at Block level. And if you look at the content section, you can see the Block I’m working on is indicated by a black square containing a + sign.
What this gives you is complete control over every element of the page. You can increase font size, change text color, add background color and change the space between lines without ever touching code.
Some of the more popular blocks for simple information websites include:
- Headings, paragraphs, quotes, tables and lists
- Images, galleries, audio files and videos
- Buttons, columns, spacers and separators
- Embed content from YouTube, Twitter, Soundcloud, Spotify, Flickr, Vimeo and more
Once you get to know WordPress, you’ll be able to dig deeper into the rest of the blocks to create some amazing designs and layouts.
When you’ve added the content you want, hit the Publish button and your page is live on the internet! If you’re not ready to go live, just hit Save Draft.
To get used to using WordPress, create a few pages and use the different blocks to see what they can do. They can be easily deleted or changed later on.
How to create a Post in WordPress
In the left-hand menu, click on Posts > Add New and follow the same process as above.
Before you hit the publish button, you’ll need to add the post to a Category. Which you’ll have to create.
Categories are places for you to organize content on specific topics. You can go as wide or as narrow as you like, and you can use as many categories as you like.
I prefer to keep things simple and use broad categories, you might prefer to go narrower. A lot depends on the topic and the number of posts in the category.
That’s about it for the basic setup of a WordPress website. We’ve looked at buying a domain, setting up hosting, installing WordPress and adding content. As you can see from each of the steps I’ve described, the process is reasonably straightforward. And it’s probably one of the easiest and cheapest ways to set up a personal or business website.
Of course, there’s a lot more to learn but I hope this basic overview has opened your eyes to how easy it is to set up a WordPress website.
Products and services mentioned in this article:
- Namecheap for domain names
- Bluehost for US hosting
- Guru for UK hosting
- Genesis premium WordPress theme (now available for free)
- Kadence free theme with premium version available
- WordPress.com for a free, basic website
- WordPress.org for the standalone, self-hosted version of WordPress
*Please note, this article contains affiliate links, which means, if you buy after clicking one of our links, we earn a commission from the sale.