Welcome to the fourth installment of our Dough Roller podcast series, How to Start an Online Business. If you are just joining us, be sure to check out the first three installments, covering what it takes to run one, how to pick a topic, and picking your domain name.
This week, I’m going to be walking you through the actual setup of your website, using a WordPress platform. It’s very easy and, in fact, I didn’t even know if it would be worth a dedicated podcast. But I think it’s a great topic, so here you go.
While you don’t have to use WordPress, I believe it to be the easiest platform around. It’s easy to set up the actual design of your site, easy to launch your site, and easy to publish content to your site. You have limitless options as far as what your site can do, and it grows with you whether you’re a beginner or experienced webmaster.
WordPress is also very reliable. I personally use WordPress for Dough Roller, and even Forbes uses it. The platform works well for small companies and big companies alike, no matter whether you have a traditional website or a blog. Of course, the line between the two is a bit grey these days, but the point remains. WordPress can work for anyone.
Oh, and did I mention it’s free?
Getting It All Up and Running
Before your site can go live, there are a few steps to not only get it all online, but also set up the website itself. They’re all fairly easy, though, and you’ll learn as you go.
Set Up Your Hosting
As mentioned last week, I used Bluehost when I first started Dough Roller, and I still recommend them after 10 years. They’re cheap, have great customer service (including tech support by phone, which I find extremely valuable), and are easy to navigate. You can’t ask for much more, especially if you’re just starting out.
When first launching your online business, it’s very important to keep costs down where you can. Bluehost is great for this, as their plans start around $3.50 a month for hosting. Also, if you sign up with them for hosting, you get your domain name for free (saving that $10-15 a year).
Sure, you could pay more for hosting and also get your domain from another company, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s easier to keep everything in one place, and save a bit of cash in the process.
To set up your hosting, go to Bluehost.com and click the big, green Get Started button. You can then choose between basic, plus, or pro hosting; unless you’re going to have more than one website right away, basic is all you need. The longer you sign up, the cheaper your monthly charge will be. Either way, it’ll range between about $3 to $6 a month.
After you choose your plan, it’s time to put in your domain. You’ll remember how, last week, we talked about the likelihood of your first choice being unavailable. So, you’ll need to have a few backup options. Once you find one you like that is available, select it and click to continue.
You’ll need to fill out your account info next, and it’ll also give you some options for add-on services. These include domain privacy ($0.99/month, which means that your personal info won’t be shown when someone looks up the website owner), backup services ($3/month; backups are very important to have, but WordPress does have plugins for free that do the same thing), and site-lock security ($2/month, which I don’t think is a worthwhile expense).
So, complete your payment information, and you’ve got yourself a live domain! Now, it’s just time to set up the WordPress site.
Setting Up WordPress
Within the Bluehost c-panel (your webmaster dashboard, of sorts), you’ll see a number of options. One of them will be Install WordPress. You simply click on it and it will walk you through a number of easy questions. If you have trouble, they do have a live online chat that can help. If you really need it, you can even pay a fee to have them set up the WordPress portion of the site for you. It’s about $99. Personally, I think WordPress is simple enough that you can figure it out without paying such a large chunk, but it’s up to you.
During this process, you’ll also set up a WordPress username and password for the site, which you’ll need to keep safe. This login is how you will actually run your website from day to day.
Accessing Your Site
Of course, visitors will go to www.yourdomain.com. But how do you access the back end of your site, to actually add content and make changes? With WordPress, that’s through a special URL. You’ll type in www.yourdomain.com/wp-admin and enter the username and password you set up in the last step.
This will then take you to your WordPress Dashboard, from which you will publish content, manage authorized users, change the site design, etc. There are thousands of online tutorials teaching folks all about WordPress; Google will be your friend at this point (as it was mine), and you will figure it out as you go.
WordPress Features That Make All The Difference
There are two specific features I want to cover within WordPress, as they will help you considerably with your website. They are called themes and plugins, and you will soon see how these are the reason WordPress is so revered and loved within the online community.
This term, theme, is effectively what makes the site look the way it does. Themes are the reason one site looks considerably different from the next, and control every design aspect within the website. Fonts, colors, sizes, sidebars, photo slideshows… these are all controlled within the theme.
WordPress will automatically give you a free theme, called Twenty Sixteen. Yes, there is a new one each year, and the name changes. This free theme is a decent option, particularly if you want to have a placeholder site up and running quickly. I would recommend, though, that even if you go with the Twenty Sixteen theme, you spend some time and effort customizing it and making it stand out a bit more.
The theme I would recommend isn’t free, but is the gold standard as far as site customization is concerned. It’s a framework called Genesis, and it runs about $60. This framework sets up your website from its foundation, and allows you to then buy (or download free) child themes, which can customize your site as much, or as little, as you want.
That might sound confusing, calling it a framework. Well, think of it as building Legos. When you pick a basic theme, it’s like buying a small, specific Lego design. You get maybe 30 blocks, which is exactly what you need to build that car or rocket on the box. But what if you want something different in the future?
Genesis is sort of like buying a complete set of 10,000 Legos. You have everything you’ll need at the ready, no matter what you want to build now and in the future. If you want to build a Millennium Falcon with those blocks, you just need to get a guide (a child theme), and off you go. Two years from now, you want to replicate the Eiffel Tower? No need to buy new blocks, just get a new guide.
Genesis works the same way. The framework gives your site all of the coding it needs to perform any of the tasks you might need from it, now or later. If you want to add in new features as you grow and learn, the framework will support them. You can easily create something that’s unique. If you want to change your site design in the future (as I’m doing with Dough Roller right now), you just need to install a new child theme and customize. It makes it much easier to convert your existing site over and really make it your own.
The Genesis framework certainly isn’t required, and Twenty Sixteen will work fine if you’re on a budget. It is one more (great) option for you, though.
These add extra features or functionality to the WordPress site, and many of them are free.
There are seven plugins that I would recommend for your new site. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll want to add as few plugins as possible. Too many plugins can slow your site down, so make sure there’s a good balance between what you need and how many you install.
This is a simple plugin that helps you capture spam comments. When you start blogging, spam comments are an inevitable reality. Askimet helps you weed them out easier.
2. Yoast SEO
SEO stands for search engine optimization, which is the science of having your site rank well in search engines. Yoast SEO is a free plugin (though they do have a premium version), which analyzes the posts on your site to make it more SEO-friendly. It’s very easy-to-use and comes with great instructions.
3. Google Analytics
This free tool allows you to track your site traffic. You’ll sign up, put a snippet of code in your site (easy to do in WordPress), and then you can see all sorts of thing about the visitors to your site. You’ll see which site they linked in from, the pages they visited, if they clicked on another link to leave your site, etc. This won’t be very important when you’re first starting out, but once traffic picks up and your site is making you money, Google Analytics is a handy tool to have.
4. Quick Adsense
This is another Google product that helps you monetize your site. You use the Quick Adsense plugin to insert ad code in an article or sidebar, which earns your blog money.
This plugin creates those social icons you see on doughroller.net or other blog sites. It allows readers to share your content on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or wherever, with just a click. It’s not the only way to set up sharing links, but Sharebar is very easy and free, so I recommend it.
This plugin, as I mentioned earlier, is very important. You absolutely want to back up your site — I have two backup systems for my site, in fact. Bluehost offers this service, but plugins like Backup by Blogvault also do the same thing. Except, for free.
7. Genesis plugins
This isn’t one particular plugin, but a number of them. If you go with the Genesis theme that I mentioned above, you’ll find that there are a ton of Genesis plugins to make your site run smoothly and be as unique as you want. Some of them, like Genesis Simple Edits, make it easy to edit areas of your site, like the footer. Others, like Genesis Simple Hooks, make it easy to add code to different areas of your site for additional customization. They have plugins for image sliders and others for newsletter sign-ups. I believe all of them are free, too, and I find them to be very helpful.
So, Let’s Go!
This may seem like a lot of options, but setting up your WordPress site is actually very, very easy once you get going. You’ll have questions, of course, as everyone does throughout this process. You’re always welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or join the Dough Roller Facebook page and post questions there. A lot of bloggers are on there and would be happy to answer your questions.
So, that’s all I have for you this week. Get started on purchasing your hosting, setting up WordPress, and installing a theme. Let me know how it goes. Next episode, we’ll be moving on to creating content, and I’m really looking forward to that. See you next week!
By Rob Berger