How to Build Your Own Website Using WordPress

Last updated on February 7th, 2023 at 09:15 pm

As a web developer, I can testify to the blazing inspiration that comes to one in the middle of the night, when an idea hits you so hard and you think “I’m gonna make a website!” And then the fever takes hold and you have mock-ups and notes and you’re browsing the interwebs for inspiration before you have a second thought: “I don’t actually know how to do that. Huh.”

That happened to me once, and now I’m a professional web developer! But not before spending endless hours sorting through endless confusing tutorials and conflicting advice in order to learn the ropes of web development. I’d like to make it easier for folks like you to follow that spark of inspiration. And while I’d love for you to consider hiring me instead of building it yourself, I believe if the fire’s in you, you should have the chance to build something you’re proud of.

So without further ado, let’s get you all the tools and foreknowledge you need to build your web masterpiece with WordPress.

Interested in building a site with something other than WordPress? Like maybe your own nimble fingertips and the mystical powers of code? Look out for my next article: How to Build Your Own Hand-Coded Website.

Things You’ll Need

Websites come in all different shapes and sizes and with numerous types of inner-workings, but every one of them needs a few specific components to function. These are:

  • A file structure — This is handled by your CMS if you use one. A CMS is a Content Management System like WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, or Webflow.
  • A web host — This is the server where your site actually lives. This server will handle your site traffic and literally serve up your site to users when they connect to your domain name.
  • A domain name — This is the unique URL that identifies your site, and that browsers will connect to when a user searches for content on your site, like studiooriley.com, for example. 😜

What is WordPress?

WordPress is a Content Management System, and in 2022, it powered 43.2% of all websites on the internet. A CMS gives you standard, pre-coded templates and themes to work off of and customize, saving vast amounts of time and energy that can now be spent on what your website was made for: content.

But know this: WordPress takes two distinct forms. There’s wordpress.com and there’s wordpress.org, two separate site-building tools, as different as salt and pepper.

wordpress.com

Most people will be perfectly happy with wordpress.com because it takes care of things for you behind the scenes and doesn’t require a lick of code. This is a paid version with full tech support and some badass features to boot.

wordpress.org

For those who crave direct file access and more code customizability, though, wordpress.org is the way to go.

It’s important to choose the right version of WordPress at the beginning of your project, because once chosen, you can’t switch without starting over.

Building Your Website

Step 1: Buy your domain.

Or don’t! It’s up to you. There are lots of options out there for free domains. Most CMSes provide them, but with the catch that your domain must include the company’s handle, something like studiooriley.weebly.com. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it creates a more professional impression to give your site its own domain.

A good place to look is Google Domains, Studio O’Riley’s domain host. Many domains can be bought for as little as $12/year, though high-demand names can cost thousands annually.

Step 2: Create a Hosting Account

My favorite hosting provider is SiteGround, which has grown in popularity over the last few years. Their affordable plans, accessible support team, and reliable service have served me well. My only critique is that many of their tutorials were vastly out of date last time I checked.

Not sold on SiteGround? That’s ok! No one’s sponsoring this article anyway. Look into BlueHost or GoDaddy instead. Many CMSes like WordPress.com, Wix, and Webflow also offer hosting in addition to their site building tools.

Step 3: Install WordPress

This step is where we bring everything together! You can install WordPress manually (I’ll cover this in another article), but the easiest way is to install it through your hosting provider. We’ll use SiteGround as an example:

  1. Log into Siteground.
  2. From your dashboard, select the “Websites” tab.
  3. Create a new website.
  4. Follow the onscreen instructions and opt in to install WordPress automatically.
  5. If your site needs a store, you may also choose to install WooCommerce along with WordPress. WooCommerce is the standard WordPress e-commerce solution used by most sites and fully integrated with WordPress.
  6. Set up an email and password to be associated with your brand new website. Write this down. Now.
  7. No, you won’t remember it. Memory is a myth. Don’t write it later. Write it down NOW. Don’t blame me if you forget your password.

Step 4: Get Familiar with WordPress

This is the last step! Because once you know WordPress, creating your site is as simple as using the tools you’ve learned about to add content that’s worth visiting your site for!

Here’s an introductory look at the WordPress interface. It’s a deep program and there is a learning curve. Rest assured, I’ll be releasing a complete WordPress Tutorial in the coming weeks. For now, just play around with your dashboard and you’ll soon develop a working “muscle memory” for the site-building process.

Log Into WordPress

To access your site, simply copy/paste or type in the domain name you chose for your site. If you chose a WordPress theme, your site will already have some dummy content, which will show up automatically and may look something like this:

The look of your site will depend on the WordPress theme you chose when you set up your site. You can change this later.

This is called the “front end” of your website, what your visitors will see. To access the “back end,” simply search your domain name followed by “/wp-admin” and sign in when prompted. For the purposes of this tutorial, I’ve created a site with a temporary domain: liamo30.sg-host.com. Your site might be susanscarpentry.net or garysflowershop.com. So to access any of those sites, you’d search the following in the browser:

  • liamo30.sg-host.com/wp-admin
  • susanscarpentry.net/wp-admin
  • garysflowershop.com/wp-admin

Then just sign in using the email and password you created when setting up your website on SiteGround. Which brings us to our next adventure.

Your WordPress Dashboard

You’ll do most of your work from here. WordPress is divided into a whole lot of different sections and pages, each of which give you different ways to customize your site. But wherever you are on WordPress, you’ll find yourself coming back here:

The WordPress Dashboard

The above view is your WordPress Dashboard. The majority of the page shows optional services that we won’t cover here. We’re most interested in the sidebar on the left and the toolbar at the top of the page. There’s too much to cover all of the options available, so I’ll cover just the most useful tabs, those that will get your site up and running quickly.

The WordPress Logo

In the toolbar at the top of the page, in the leftmost position, you’ll see the WordPress Logo. By clicking on this, you can return to the WordPress Dashboard at any time, from anywhere in WordPress.

The rest of the tools on this toolbar are useful, too, but you don’t need to know about them yet.

The Sidebar

On the left sidebar, you’ll see a long list of tabs beginning with “Home.” These tabs take you to different sections of WordPress where you can customize your site’s content and functionality. Note that some of these tabs may be different for you, depending on which theme you choose.

In an effort to make the web development process as painless as possible for newcomers to the process, we’ll only discuss the most important tabs in this article.

Posts — Click here to manage blog posts. You can write, edit, delete, rename, save as drafts, and publish from this tab. At the top left of the page, select “Add New” to create a new post. Or to edit an existing post, simply click on its name or hover over it and choose “Edit.” There are many, many options in the post creation page, which I’m leaving for another time for the sake of brevity.

Posts are just like pages, but the options are streamlined for writing. As you may have guessed, this article was written from the Posts editor!

Media — Surprise, surprise, this is where your media lies. Photos, videos, and files are stored in the Media tab. You can access them again while editing any post or page, or from the dashboard.

Pages — For normal purposes, this tab is your best friend. Similar to the Posts page, here is where you create your web pages. WordPress provides a tool called the “Block Editor,” which allows you to mix and match elements to create complex, interactive web pages at will and without knowing a lick of code!

When you’re done making changes to your page, navigate to the top right of the page and click on “Publish,” or if you’re not quite ready for public viewing, choose “Save Draft” and come back to it later!

WooCommerce — This tab will be important for businesses with products to sell. WooCommerce is the web standard for online stores. It enables you to display and accept payments for products on any site where it’s installed. And best of all, it’s a free feature (with some standard percentage fees associated with payment processing.)

Products — Here’s where you’ll actually create product listings. This page functions a lot like the Posts and Pages sections. I’ll write up a comprehensive guide to the Products tab in a future article.

Analytics — This is where you’ll come to see how your site is performing for visitors. WordPress automatically tracks your number of visitors, site speed, and other metrics to help you keep your finger on the pulse of your website. This can inform content decisions as you create a compelling space for your visitors.

Appearance — You’ll want to become familiar with this tab. Back in college, my web design professor was fond of saying “You should be able to change a theme like you change a shirt.” And should you want to change your site’s theme, this tab is where you’ll do it. Simply hover over or click on Appearance, then choose Themes, and select a new look for your site!

You can also make other changes. One of the options I find most useful is Additional CSS. You’ll find it a few options below Themes. CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets, and is a coding language responsible for most of the styling of web pages on the internet. This option does require knowledge of the CSS language, and if you’re not careful, you can easily “break” your site by writing faulty code. So it’s best to know your stuff before you try.

(Additional CSS is only available for users of wordpress.org, so if you went with wordpress.com at the beginning of the process, you’re fresh out of luck.)

Plugins — The Plugins tab can be dangerous, but not usually because of malice. Plugins are like browser extensions, or like little “apps” that can add functionality to your site. They are quick and easy to install, and usually safe. Developers create them to make the site-creation process easier and more convenient.

However, if a plugin isn’t updated along with new versions of WordPress, they can create problems for you, even render your site broken until the offending plugin is disabled. And if you’ve made a lot of changes to your site that rely on a faulty plugin, it can be a headache of headaches to fix. For this reason, its best to use popular plugins when possible, as they’re usually popular because they work and are well-maintained.

Users — If you’re working with others on your site, you can manage your users and their permissions here. Note: Only give user access and permissions to people you trust. Anyone with site administrator permissions can change or delete your site. That’s not a power you want to give to just anybody.

Settings — These are your WordPress settings. You’ll be able to manage things like your domain name, your account settings, password, and other options from here.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Wrapping Up

Congratulations! If you’ve followed the steps in this tutorial and practiced a bit with the WordPress Block Editor, then you’ve just built your first WordPress site! This is a huge step, and you’ll thank yourself for taking it. Whether you’re starting a band and you need a site to advertise your music, or whether you just want to be more valuable at work, the ability to build or edit a simple website is useful in countless scenarios.

Looking for more tutorials on web development? Check back here every once in a while. I publish new content every two weeks. Stick with me and you’ll soon be building websites with the best of them. 😉

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