Building a WordPress Website

Why WordPress?

With all of the choices available that you could use to build your organization’s website, why should you use WordPress?

WordPress is a CMS (content management system) that now powers over 27% of websites worldwide. Some of the world’s biggest and most powerful brands use WordPress for their web presence, include many nonprofits, like Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art, Barack Obama Foundation, and The American Foundation for Equal Rights. (To see some of the non-profits that use WordPress, check out the Non-Profit showcase on WordPress.org at https://wordpress.org/showcase/tag/non-profit/.)

WordPress is open-source software, meaning there is no charge to use the software. It was developed in 2003 as a fork of another open-source project in order to enhance and build on the functionality of that other project. (https://wordpress.org/about/)

WordPress can do almost anything. Because the software is open-source, anyone can develop themes and plugins to extend the baseline functionality of the site. WordPress sites can be used as basic brochure sites, blog, video blogs, business directories, e-commerce sites, magazine sites, and so much more. (https://wordpress.org/showcase/)

The WordPress repository is home to thousands of  Themes (https://wordpress.org/themes/) and 48,596 Plugins (https://wordpress.org/plugins/). There are many places to find themes and plugins outside of the official repository, some for free and some “premium”, meaning you will pay a fee to be able to download the theme or plugin. However, I caution you to be careful of downloading free themes and plugins from unknown sources as these can contain malicious code that could expose your site to hackers and damage your site, your reputation, and your relationship with your audience. Avoid purchasing premium themes and plugins from anywhere other than the original developer’s site, as these are frequently “nulled” software, which contains broken or malicious code.

WordPress is easy to learn. The WordPress community is great for creating and offering free and/or low-cost training and tutorials to help you feel more confident while managing and maintaining your WordPress site. Check out my YouTube channel for some free videos, or my websites at https://beyondtheoffice.com and http://thewptoolbox.com for free and low-cost training resources.

Basic Parts of a WordPress website:

There are several main parts of a website – any website – that you should have a basic understanding of it you’re going to be building one.

The domain is the address of the website. My preferred domain registrar is NameCheap.

Hosting is basically leasing space on specially formatted computer so that your website is always visible to visitors. My preferred hosting service is SiteGround.

If your website was a house, the domain would be the address you obtained from the post office, and hosting would be the land your house is built on.

WordPress. While there are many other CMSs and website builders, WordPress is by far the most popular and most versatile. (If you need more convincing, review the Why WordPress section at the beginning.)

WordPress official recommendations for hosting are PHP version 7 or greater, MySQL version 5.6 or greater and HTTPS support. WordPress also works with PHP 5.2.4+ and MySQL 5.0+, but these versions no longer supported and may expose your site to security vulnerabilities. Please keep these recommendations/requirements in mind when looking for your website host. My recommended host, SiteGround, meets the requirements for a WordPress site, and offers free SSL certificates for every domain hosted on their account.

Google-friendly recommendations:

Mobile Friendly Website

Starting in April 2015, Google changed their algorithm to show mobile-friendly websites higher in search results that originated on mobile devices.

To check to see if Google thinks your website it mobile friendly, check your URL here -> https://search.google.com/search-console/mobile-friendly

If your site is not mobile-friendly or responsive, there may be some simple steps you can take to get it there temporarily. If you have a WordPress site, check out the WP Touch plugin, or see if your current theme has released an update that makes it more mobile friendly.

HTTPS/SSL Certificate

Google first started talking about this back in August 2014, stating at the time that it was going to be a “lightweight” ranking factor that they estimated would affect fewer than 1% of global queries. (https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2014/08/https-as-ranking-signal.html)

In December 2015, Google announced that they would be adjusting their indexing to look for more https pages, looking for the https version of http pages without being told to. Additionally, Google says that if both http and https versions of a page exist, they will choose and index the https version, assuming it isn’t blocked.

Enabling HTTPS on your website requires the use of an SSL certificate. SSL certificates and HTTPS protocol encrypt the information sent and from your computer to the internet so that it can’t be intercepted and read by unknown parties.

Previously, these were mostly only purchased by people who collected sensitive information or processed payments directly on their website, in no small part due to the cost. But, starting in 2015, an organization called Let’s Encrypt began offering free SSL certificates in an effort to make the web more secure. Many hosting companies now offer Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate registration and installation in an easy to use interface on your control panel. Check with your hosting company to see if they offer this benefit. My preferred hosting company, Siteground (bit.ly/btohosting) announced that they spent some time over the holidays issuing “several hundred thousand” Let’s Encrpyt SSL certificates for all domains currently hosted on their servers, and will automatically issue them for new domains and accounts. (https://www.siteground.com/blog/https-2017/)

If your website isn’t using HTTPS, I can help. Get in touch so we can discuss options.

Before you Build

Before you start building your website, it is important to make sure you have done the appropriate planning and preparation.

Who is your target audience?

You’ll hear this advice from a lot of people, that in order for your website to attract your target, you have to know who they are. Make a list of the characteristics that your target audience has in common including, gender, age range, income level, education level, technology comfort level, marital status, kids or no kids, stage of life, industry, job position, humor, skill level, audio, video or text preference, etc.

It’s really important to be as specific as possible here. The most common objection to this is that by being too specific, you feel like you’re leaving people out. But the truth of it is that you can’t attract
everyone. If you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll most likely end up connecting – really connecting – with no one. So, think of who you want to work with most, who you’ve enjoyed (or think you would enjoy) working with the most. You may not have a definition for everything I’ve listed above (or you may come up with some extra criteria points – great!) but try to be as specific as possible.

There’s no right or wrong here. This is all about who you want to target. The only way to go wrong is if the target you’ve defined isn’t interested in or has no need for your product, such as targeting baby boomers with kids lunch containers.

Once you know who your audience is, the rest of the process should be a lot easier.

What is your content niche/conversation?

One of the most important steps when planning your website – if not THE most important step – is defining your content niche, which is just a fancy buzzwordy way to say what your website is about. Your content niche and your target audience are very closely related, and subtle shifts in one can affect the other. Yesterday, we talked about the audience, but today is all about the content.

If you think of your website as a conversation, your target audience is who you’re having the conversation with, and your content niche is what the conversation is about. So what conversation is your website having? No matter what specialty you have or who your target audience is, your content has to be focused to really have impact. If you’re trying to market to everyone, you won’t appeal enough to enough people to truly be successful. I’ve seen this myself.

I had trouble narrowing down my own niche, concerned that I was going to be missing opportunities. But, once I took that big step, things got a little easier for me. Now the content niche of my website is
focused on training & teaching – helping people to be better friends with their WordPress websites, and not feel so much anxiety about managing it. It’s easier for me to create content because it’s a smaller conversation. Before there were so many possibilities in the conversation that I never knew what to blog about, what to post about on social media, what products to offer, or even how to describe what I did. But with a more specific content niche, the conversation is a lot more free flowing. It’s more like having a conversation with a good friend than speaking to a room full of strangers.

What is(are) your call(s) to action?

What specific actions do you want visitors to take while they’re on your website. While an e-commerce website might want visitors to buy their products, for a non-profit, some possible calls to action might be:

  • donate
  • participate
  • how to use/request your services
  • subscribe to your newsletter

Content planning

Now that you’ve defined these major factors, you can start planning the content for your website. Content refers to all of the ways you present information or offer interaction on your website, not just the words. This means videos, graphics, downloads (preferable in PDF format),
infographics, staff/volunteer photos, contact forms, application forms, etc.

Make sure you think through how all of the content is going to work together – links, page titles, etc., so that when you start to build your website, you don’t find yourself missing content and working in circles. Believe me – I’ve been there – it’s very frustrating.

Getting started

Installing WordPress

Installing WordPress is fairly easy, as most hosting companies that cater to WordPress sites offer a one-click install option. While I usually don’t recommend that for some security and optimization reasons, that may be a bit more technical that some people are comfortable with. If you’re interested in learning how to set it up that way, check out this video on my YouTube channel – https://youtu.be/WCw6rhusw-g.

Settings

Some common settings that usually need to be addressed or changed are the following:

  • Settings > General
    • Make sure your website name in both the WordPress Address and Site Address fields includes “https” if you are using an SSL certificate for your site.
    • Email Address – This is referred to as the Admin Email address and many notifications will come to this address by default. This should not be a “throw-away” or unmonitored email address.
    • Timezone – Change this to “New York” instead of UTC –5 to ensure that it properly adjust for Daylight Savings Time. This can affect scheduling of blog posts and pages, and how some plugins work.
    • Week Starts On – Not super critical, but I always like to change this to Sunday, as is the convention here in the US, especially if I know there’s a chance my clients are going to be using and event or calendar plugin, as this might affect the calendar display.
  • Settings > Reading: In most cases, you’ll want to set the front page of your site to a static page and you’ll select that page here, as well as which page should be used to display your blog posts. If you don’t choose a page, your home page will default to a blog index page. If you don’t plan to use a blog, set a static page for the front page, and leave the “Posts Page” field unchanged.
  • Settings > Discussion:These are the settings regarding comments for your site, in general. Some themes allow additional options, but it’s always a good idea to start here. Some of my preferred options are:
    • Leave all boxes unchecked in the first section, “Default Article Settings”
    • Under “Other Comment Settings”, check the first box, requiring commenters to include their name and email, and the 4th box to enable nested comments. The others can be unchecked unless you have specific preferences regarding them.
    • Email Me Whenever section should have both boxes checked. These notifications will go to the admin email address identified on Settings > General page.
    • Before A Comment appears, I typically leave it as “Comment author must have a previously approved comment.” as this cuts down on the work for the site manager if there’s some frequent visitors that often comment.
  • Settings > Permalinks: The default URL for a WordPress page or post is example.com//p=123 (or some other number). This URL structure is not user-friendly, does not make it easy for you to simply give someone the URL of a specific page of your site (example.com/donate), and is not helpful for SEO purposes. I generally recommend changing the permalink structure “Month and Name” or “Post name”. This will allow pages to be displayed at something like example.com/contact or example.com/resources, and blog posts will be display using the year and then month that it was published, as in example.com/2017/01/postname-here/.

Selecting a theme

Selecting your theme is an important step in creating your website. Sure, WordPress makes it easy for you to switch your theme if you want to. and that’s part of the beauty of it. But, especially if your building this website for your business, you don’t want to start changing themes every week, as that can be confusing to your customers.

When it comes to theme selection, the mistake that I see a lot of people make is that they start looking at themes before they’ve really figured out what kinds of content they want on the site. Then they fall in love with a theme that has a slider at the top, but they don’t really have anything to put in it. Or there’s space for a video on the home page, but they hadn’t planned on putting a video on the home page, so they end up just sticking something in there and it looks like it. That element ends up feeling rushed and out of touch with the rest of the site. This is what I had you spend several days figuring out who your audience is, what you’re going to tell them, and how you’re going to tell them before we start talking about themes.

But where do you find themes? Well, there’s really 2 options when it comes to themes – buy “off the shelf” or have a custom one made for you. Now, each of these options has some options that go with it.

If you have a really specific idea in mind, then a custom theme may be the way to go for you, as it is often less involved to go with a custom theme than to spend time finding one that’s “close” and then adjusting it to fit your vision. This can be a pricey way to go, though, if you don’t have design or coding skills.

So you buy off the shelf, so to speak. You buy a ready-made theme that can be customized to include your brand and colors and style and flair. Easy enough. There are some really great theme frameworks out there that give you lots of options to really make it your own. One that I’ve worked with a lot is StudioPress Genesis. Some other frameworks/theme shops out there are Woo Themes and Elegant Themes.

Another option is to use a page builder theme or plugin. Some of the more well-know ones are Divi (available as a theme or plugin), and Beaver Builder and Elementor plugins (which have a free version available, or a premium version that has more options for a fee). We’re going to be using a builder theme during this workshop called Astra. Although we will be using the free version for practical reasons, there is a premium version available that offers more options and functionality.

When you’re looking around, spend some time on the demo sites. Look at the different page layout options and make sure they fit your needs. You don’t have to use all of the layout options, but you should make sure there’s enough options for what you want. At a minimum, they should have a left sidebar, right sidebar, and full width page option. Check out the home page layout – sometimes this can be changed, other times not, so be sure it has the elements that you’re looking for and no extra pieces that you’ll have to figure out what to fill it in with.

Important Note: Some of the recommendations that I gave are premium themes, which means that you have to pay a license fee to get the theme. But with that license fee comes support and updates, which are super useful. We’ll talk about updates later, but the support part is pretty important when you’re trying to build your website on your own.

While there are literally hundreds of thousands of free themes available, but you do have to be really careful when considering a free theme, unless it comes from wordpress.org/themes, as there’s usually little to no support available (sometimes yes, for an extra fee) and there could
potentially be malicious code in there to serve as a backdoor for your site to be hacked, or post spammy content and links on your site without your knowledge. Spammy-ness is a very quick way to get your site downgraded or even blocked by the search engines, which definitely wouldn’t help your cause.

Choosing and Using Plugins

Plugins are a great part of WordPress. Themes change the design and look of your site, but plugins are what allows your WordPress site to do more, to be different and unique. Basically put, plugins are little bits of software that add functionality to your site, anything from automatically inserting social media sharing buttons to additional security protocols, and the possibilities are about endless. There are probably hundreds of thousand of plugins already, and because WordPress is open-source software, anyone can create their own plugin, to perform a specific function.

The easiest place to find plugins is in the WordPress plugin repository (http://wordpress.org/plugins). For the most part, you can feel safe using plugins from the repository because the code is supposed to be checked when the plugins are submitted for inclusion to make sure that it doesn’t contain any malicious code. There is also now a notification available if the plugin hasn’t been updated in a while (over a year, I think), which could be an indication that it could have problems cooperating with current versions of WordPress and other plugins and themes – use those plugins at your own caution.

To install a plugin from the repository, check out this post for instructions – https://beyondtheoffice.com/blog/install-wordpress-plugin-from-repository/

One of things I get asked a lot is what are my favorite plugins. Below are some of my favorite, go-to plugins for common functionality.

BackupBuddy – This is a premium plugin for easily creating manual and automated backups of your WordPress site. WordPress sites have both a file and database component, and this plugin makes it easy to backup both components. Additionally, and possible one of the most important features of a backup plugin, it makes it really easy to restore a backup if needed.

Updraft Plus – Updraft Plus is a free backup plugin for WordPress that also offer the ability to make manual and automated backups of your site. While it does have a restore feature, it is not as automated as restoring with BackupBuddy. This plugin is available from the repository.

iThemes Security – this is a reinvention of a plugin that used to be called Better WP Security. The people over at iThemes liked it so much, they brought the developer on board and added some tweaks. This plugin will help you lockdown your WordPress site from most intrusions even if techy stuff isn’t your thing. It’s available in the repository, so just search for the name when adding plugins. This plugin actually takes the place of several security plugins that used to be on my go-to list, so yay! for streamlining. There is a video showing you how to get started with iThemes Security plugin available on my YouTube channel at http://youtu.be/4kA5YV0dP6M

Contact Forms by WPForms – This is a relatively new, free theme that offers an easy to use graphic interface to create contact forms and other kinds of forms for your site. This is a lite version of the plugin that is available for free in the repository, but there is also a premium version that offers more functionality.

Gravity Forms – I LOVE this plugin for creating any kind of form on a website. You can create a basic contact form in less than a minute, and even fairly complex forms don’t that long. You can watch a quick demo of the plugin here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KD1jnzFVEeg. This is a premium plugin, so there’s a licensing fee to get access to the software and you’ll need to upload it versus installing it from the repository. You would upload it the same way you did for BackupBuddy.

Yoast SEO – This plugin is generally regarded as the best SEO plugin available for your WordPress site. It makes it super easy for you to set Title, Keywords and Description for each page and post of your site, so you can take advantage of those areas for some keyword optimizations. There’s also ways to include specific descriptions for social
sharing, and it will help you set up Google Authorship, which can help increase your search rankings as well. This plugin is available from the repository.

Google Analytics by Monster Insights – This plugin used to be called Google Analytics by Yoast, the same guys as the SEO plugin above. They turned it over to Monster Insights team so they could focus on the SEO stuff. There are several Google Analytics plugins available, but this is the one that I’ve been using. One of my favorite parts is the ability to turn off tracking for logged in users, which you can set by user role, so it’s not tracking your visits when you’re working on your site and skewing your visits and views. And it’s super easy to install. This plugin is available from the repository.

Easy Forms for MailChimp – If you are using MailChimp for your e-newsletters (or plan to, if you haven’t started already), then you just might fall in love with this plugin. It allows you to easily create forms and link them to your MailChimp account, so you can add multiple optin opportunities to your site without playing with code. It is available for free in the repository.

GiveWP – Give is a relatively new plugin that hit the WordPress world with much applause. The purpose of this plugin is to allow website admins to easily create donation forms on your site, as well as automate the notifications for both the organization and the donor. It is available in the repository.

Easy HTTPS (SSL) Redirection – This plugin automatically redirects all pages, posts, and site elements to their https equivalent. If you have enacted HTTPS on an existing site, this plugin will take care of a lot of pesky problems with the URLs for embedded media and internal links. After installing, activating, and configuring this plugin, check the pages of your site at whynopadlock.com to make sure all of the pages on your site will display with a green padlock (and not the red one). You will have to enter each page of your site individually to check.

Juiz Social Post Sharer – You know those nifty little share icons that are at the bottom of blog posts? Well, this is how you get them. I like this plugin because it’s super simple, and doesn’t give you 80-million different social networks to choose from. It covers the basics, and the buttons (and you do have some options for the button style) are
attractive with just a little bit of funky. If you want a preview of the look or functionality, head on over to my blog and take a look. This plugin is available from the repository.

Editorial Calendar – This fun little plugin gives you a visual display of all the posts you’ve published, and when draft posts are scheduled for publication. It also lets you drag and drop the posts around on the calendar to reschedule them. If you’ve got a lot content and you want to make sure you have it all scheduled out the way it supposed to be, this plugin is for you. This plugin is available from the repository.

Broken Link Checker – This one really doesn’t need a lot of explanation; the name kind of says it all. This one is a must for me on clients sites with older content and links (especially to other sites, where info might get taken down or moved) and also when I’m moving a site from my development server to a client’s server to go live. Sometimes there’s legacy links to the development URLs and this plugin makes it easy to find and fix those. And its simple – install and activate, and you’ll get an email anytime it finds a broken link. This plugin is available from the repository.

Redirection – This one is also somewhat self explanatory – it give you an easy interface to create redirects from one URL to another. So, say instead of giving your Facebook page as http://facebook.com/beyondtheoffice, you want to be able to tell people to go to https://beyondtheoffice.com/Facebook (also allowing you to better track who’s using that URL to access your profile), you can use the Redirection plugin to do it. Also handy for making easy to remember URLs to your affiliate links for your favorite products. This plugin is available from the repository.

BTEV – This plugin monitors and logs events that happen on your website, such as logins, content changes, plugin & theme installation and activation, and other things. I usually use this plugin as part of my security favorites. Although it doesn’t prevent anyone from accessing the site, it’s useful to keep track of what’s happening on the site,
especially if you have multiple people creating content and managing the site. This plugin is available from the repository.

Coming Soon Page & Maintenance Mode by SeedProd – This plugin displays an alternative landing page when its activated if you want to hide your site while it is under development or maintenance. It gives you the option of adding some content for the landing page, to explain what is going on with your site. This plugin is available from the repository.

There. It’s not a lot, is it? I know a lot of people use A LOT of plugins on their site(s). I like to keep my plugin page limited to just what I consider essential. This helps to reduce server load and also reduces the likelihood of conflicts with other plugins. Also, in general, it’s important to delete any plugins you’re no longer using. Even if they are deactivated, the code is still potentially accessible to hackers and can be exploited for unauthorized access to your site.

Where to find images for your site

A very common problem when building a site is not having enough images to break up text-heavy areas of the site. A common follow-up problem is that many people don’t know where to find images for their site, and/or think that you can simply grab one from Google to use. In most cases, grabbing an image from an internet search to use on your site is a copyright violation and you could be facing heavy fines and legal battles if you choose to go this route.

So, where do you find legal images to use for your site, if you don’t have your own cache of pictures from events and what not to use? This is where stock image sites come in handy. While many stock images can seem familiar (because they are used often), it is possible to  find a good fit for your site with a little work. Some stock image sites offer free images, while others you have to pay for, with the cost
ranging from $1 to several hundred, depending on the source and size of the image. Here are some of my favorite stock image sites:

  • Freeimages.com – these are, as the name says, free to use. There may be different license requirements (attribution, not for commercial use, etc.) so be sure to look at that information closely.
  • iStock.com – this site has been around for a long time and has a huge selection to choose from. In addition to photos, they also offer illustrations, video and audio files that you can use in your work. Costs vary by many factors, including image size, so make sure you know the pixel size needed for its intended use.
  • CreativeMarket.com – this site has some very interesting graphics, available fairly inexpensively. They also offer different free
  • products each week, so I tend to snag those in case I need them in a later project.
  • Unsplash.com – Free (do whatever you want) high resolution photos
  • Pixabay.com – Free high quality images
  • Pexels.com – Free high quality images

Links to other places to find stock photos:

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