This article is from a “how-to” seminar for small business owners and prospective business owners who have not used WordPress before. The goal of the seminar was to teach participants how to use and navigate WordPress—from understanding web hosting options, to choosing a theme, to inserting text and images, and even using WordPress as a blogging tool to communicate to an audience. So from this seminar comes the following comprehensive guide to getting started with WordPress for your small business.
Introduction to WordPress
First of all, what is WordPress?
WordPress is a free and open-source blogging tool and a content management system (CMS) which many small businesses use to create their own web sites. WordPress offers templates and plugins allowing users to create a professional looking web site for a minimal cost. (taken from the Small Business Center’s Workshop Sheet)
Why use WordPress?
If you’re looking to be able to place and edit your own content, you need a CMS (content management system) and WordPress is just about one of the best CMS’s out there. WordPress is wildly poplular, which means it has a great following, loyal users and tons of developers creating plugins and other supporting elements. Blogging is inherent with WordPress. Afterall, WordPress started as a blogging platform and blogs are one of the things WordPress does best. WordPress is easy to manage for new users. And did I mention it’s free?
What is the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?
In a nutshell, WordPress.com is the commercial version of WordPress and a way to have your website hosted on their servers. Worpress.org is an open-source blogging/CMS platform you can install on your own server. If you are looking to simply tryout WordPress or you don’t need your own custom domain, then WordPress.com might be for you. But for the interest of most users (and the purposes of this seminar) I would recommend WordPress.org because it has more options and is much more scalable.
Here’s a great article I found comparing the two: WordPress.org vs WordPress.com: A Definitive Guide
What is web hosting and why do you need it?
When you purchase web hosting you are basically renting space on a high-powered server somewhere in the world. A domain name is the actual name of your website (i.e. www.yourdomain.com). The domain name will point to your web hosting account. I like to think of the hosting as your house, and your domain as your house’s address. Sometimes the domain name is a separate charge, and sometimes it is rolled into your web hosting package.
Recommended hosting options
- SiteGround.com – This is my new favorite hosting platform. Easy to use, great support and highly recommended!
- BlueHost.com – comes with free domain name, plus “1-click” WordPress installation
- Hostgator.com – good, cheap hosting and also offers easy WordPress installation
Word to the wise—you get what you pay for. I myself use MediaTemple.com. It costs a bit more but has a very good reputation in my particular industry and it allows me to host multiple websites.
Another Warning: GoDaddy. While GoDaddy.com is an inexpensive option, and has a WordPress hosting option where it is pre-installed, they do not include e-mail with their WordPress hosting package. You have to purchase this as an add-on or separate service, and in my experience this is a royal pain in the butt!
How do you install WordPress?
This all depends on your hosting service, but for the most part it is a series of questions like any other software installation. You will need to come up with a username and password. Write this down or make it easy to remember!
Here’s a great video showing how to install WordPress on Blue Host.
The WordPress Dashboard
Once installed, the dashboard shows you a few things at a glance. The main thing you’ll need to notice are the links down the left-hand side for Posts, Pages and Settings.
Where do you start?
I like to start with the Settings > General. First you want to modify the Site Title and Tagline. Next, you’ll want to make sure your admin email is correct and you have the time zone and date/week settings the way you want them. Then you’ll want to go through the Writing, Reading and Permalink settings menus. For permalinks, I like to use the “Post Name” option. This allows your site to generate pages based on their titles and it makes them easy to read. This is also helpful for search engine optimization.
Here’s a great article I found on Top 10 Most Important Things to Do After Installing WordPress
How to create pages and posts (and what’s the difference?)
Creating pages and posts is as simple as clicking those links in the left-hand menu of the admin and then clicking “Add New”. But what’s the difference you might ask? Posts are content entries listed on your blog or in another area of your site. If you are going to be blogging, you will be creating a “post” for each blog article. Posts are typically organized by date, category or other criteria. Pages on the other hand, are more one-off content that aren’t necessarily meant to be categorized. Examples of Pages might be About Us, Service and Contact Us.
What is a WordPress theme?
Google’s Definition: “A WordPress theme is a set of files that determine the look and feel of your WordPress-powered website. Themes include information about the general layout of the site, and other content such as graphics, headers, logos and footers.”
The beauty of a theme is that if you modify it or even swap it for another theme, the core functionality of WordPress is still intact as well as your pages, posts and other items stored in your database. However, be careful when switching themes! If you have customized a theme with plugins and widgets, these add-ons may not play nice with the new theme or your site may appear out of whack.
Now, you may be thinking a theme is like a template. However, WordPress does not use these as interchangeable terms. A “theme” is the overall look and feel. A “template” is the look and feel for a specific page. For example, a theme may contain different templates for a home page, interior pages, and specialty pages like a photo gallery or portfolio.
How do you install a new theme?
For the most part, you can install a theme by clicking the Appearance link on the left and then clicking Themes. Once on the Themes page in the admin, you would click Add New. From there you can upload a theme you or someone else has created, or you can install one directly from WordPress.org. You can also install themes via the cPanel of your hosting account or manually via FTP, but those options are for the advanced user.
Theme Resources (free vs. premium)
There are TONS of themes out there for WordPress. A lot of them are free. A lot of them are premium (not free). So which to choose? It really depends on what you are trying to do. Of course the premium themes cost money (usually around $50 for a good one) but in my experience the premiums are better because more development time is put into them and they typically come with support. They are also continually updated for the latest versions of WordPress, so they tend to be more stable. Free themes on the other hand are usually one-off experiments from a developer who is happy to share his development, but not so quick to jump on the support ticket.
Here are a few places to find themes (other than clicking the “Add New” button in the Appearance > Themes area of the admin.)
WARNING: It is more difficult than you might initially think to find a theme that works for you. In my opinion, it’s always best to go custom, and have a professional develop a theme specifically for your needs. (That’s because I’m a professional!) I always tell my clients and prospects to look for themes with plug-and-play capabilities—everything you want, nothing you don’t. Because if you end up not needing a feature, what are you going to use to fill that slot? And vice versa, what if you want to add a feature your chosen theme doesn’t offer?
**Helpful Tip: When choosing a theme, try to stay away from choosing one based on your industry. For example, if your company is technology-based, browse the financial or creative themes. You don’t want to look like anyone else in your industry!**
Inserting text, photos and graphics
Placing text and images in WordPress is as easy as doing so in Microsoft Word. (Probably easier actually!) The WordPress admin has a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) atmosphere. Just move your cursor to the point in the content you wish to edit, and either start typing or click the “Add Media” button to select an image from your Media library. (If you don’t have any images in your Media library, there is an option to upload.)
I went over this in my seminar, but if you want to check out a tutorial, here’s a good article on inserting images from WordPress.org.
WordPress as your blogging tool
There are plenty of blogging platforms out there, but in my opinion none are as good as WordPress if you are looking to produce a total website. As stated before, WordPress started as a blogging platform and evolved into a great CMS. Blogging generates conversations, and WordPress’s commenting ability and organization is crazy good!
Menus, Widgets and other options
Menus and Widgets provide further functionality to WordPress. To create, edit and organize navigation menus, utilize the Menus link under Appearance in the admin. To place additional content and functionality in a sidebar, footer or other available content section, use a Widget.
Again, I went over this in my seminar, but the following are good how-to links:
There’s a Plugin for that!
What is a plugin and how do you view/search for new ones?
Google’s Definition: “WordPress plugins are bits of software that can be uploaded to extend and expand the functionality of your WordPress site. Note: One of the primary advantages of using the self-hosted version of WordPress from WordPress.org is the ability to upload and use plugins on your WordPress site.”
There are both free and premium plugins. Yes, the premiums cost money (sometimes flat fee, other times by subscription) but in my experience the premiums are better because more development time is put into them and they typically come with support.
How do you install a plugin?
I demonstrated this in my seminar, but here’s a good tutorial for installing WordPress plugins.
Remember, the more plugins you have installed, the more bogged-down your site can get. While there is no set number or limit, it’s better to have fewer than more. And if you are not using a plugin, be sure to deactivate it or delete it!
Recommended plugin options
Akismet – a comment spam filtering service
Contact Form 7 – an easy to use contact form that generates an email to your inbox
WordPress Backup to Dropbox – a great little backup plugin, free to use with Dropbox (also free, up to a certain amount of GB storage)
WordPress SEO by Yoast – helps you optimize your WordPress website for search engines
More WordPress Resources for Small Businesses
There are lots of great websites out there offering tips, how-to’s and further support. Here are a few I would recommend for starters…
FirstSiteGuide.com – Easy to follow step-by-step guides and tips to help you get online and be successful. Including video tutorials, niche guides and useful blog.
WordPress.tv – Lots of video tutorials and how-to’s
wpbeginner.com – Great resource for all things WordPress
WordPress Supports – A seemingly infinite site for support and question
I hope this helps everyone looking to use WordPress for their small business website. If you have any questions or thoughts, please feel free to list them in the comments below!