I’ve recently helped a few people by auditing their site and fixing common issues. I want to write about a lot of the pitfalls and misunderstanding that I see some people making. I plan to help as many people as possible but I don’t want to continue repeating the basics. This is a beginner’s post so if you’re not a beginner, please explore other parts of the site.
If you’re looking for a more step by step guide to start your own website, I’ve consolidated this article to make it more streamlined.
Here’s a great WordPress 101 Guide that will get you up to speed on everything you need to know about the platform.
Note: If you’re a developer, know that I’m not a developer. If I get something slightly factually wrong and you feel the need to call me out. Go sit in the corner by yourself. This is to train non-developers on the basics of starting their own website.
Per one of my first tweets, your first project is likely going to bomb. That’s ok though. You’re here to learn and grow. If anybody could follow the below and immediately start printing money like the fed, well then I wouldn’t be writing this.
The point is to just start. Now. Well after you finish reading this post.
Note: There’s some affiliate links scattered throughout the site. If you don’t want me to get rewarded (at no cost to you) when you click on them and purchase, clear your URL parameters and cache/cookies after you land on the site. If you would like me to get rewarded due to me providing VALUE then go ahead and click on those links and purchase.
Note 2: This is going to be the densest thing you read all day. No pretty pictures, just raw information. Lastly before we start. Go through the below flowchart for figuring out what platform to use. The directions in this post is for a WordPress site.
Table of contents
This is more important than you imagine and also less important than you imagine. This is where everybody gets stuck on and you need to not get stuck on it.
There are literally hundreds of websites about everything. Don’t believe me? Google different variations of lamps and you’ll see how many affiliate sites are out there writing about lamps.
The niche topic broadly speaking *does not matter*. As long as you can continuously write about and promote the topic, go with it.
How niche you go definitely does matter from an SEO perspective. If you don’t plan to have Google give you traffic, then go as broad as you like. If you do want that wonderful free traffic from Google, know that the broader you go, the harder it is to compete in the SERPs. If your site is about “business” or “traveling”, good luck building up any domain authority on that topic quickly.
Going back to lamps. Google “best lamps”. Notice how most of the sites are either big names (domain authority) or are about a home (niche down) and the sites are sectioned off under folders like “/lighting/” or “/lamps/”?
This website (BowTied Opossum) originally focused on one thing and one thing only. Google Data Studio. I niched down to one product and was able to rank pretty quickly. It helped that the space wasn’t crowded but I focused on one thing and that’s what Google knew my site for.
Enough about SEO. I’ll get to that in a later post.
Just pick the niche and get to work.
Your domain is your URL. You should know that. The problem people have is that they don’t pay attention to the difference between the 4 domain types.
The above is just naming convention. You should always use https (meaning secure) and we’ll get to SSL below. However, you should always pick a www or non-www version and use it everywhere in your hosting, WP, links, everything. I prefer leaving the www (World Wide Web) off and just sticking to https://bowtiedopossum.com.
You can pick up a domain at SiteGround or any hosting provider that you use below.
Hosting is nothing more than where your website is stored that is easily accessible to the rest of the web. A website is essentially just a file folder on your computer. You can even host your website from your personal computer if you know what you’re doing. Don’t actually do that though. For so many reason.
So what you’re paying for when you buy a hosting service is the storage space on their servers (computers), the CPU, their tools/interface to easily access the server, and their customer service.
This site is now hosted on SiteGround. I used to use Bluehost not because it’s the best or cheapest. Their customer service has however been great at solving issues that I’m not technically inclined to do. It’s great for a beginner.
After switching to SiteGround, I’m now convinced that you should use that if you can splurge a little in your hosting.
Everyone has their personal opinion on what hosting service they like and I’m sick of hearing the debate. There’s hundreds of them. I think the Ox uses Namecheap hosting so he may be able to speak on his experience there. Choose whatever you want. WordPress has a list of their recommended vendors. It honestly doesn’t matter in the beginning as long as you know what you’re doing OR you pick a vendor that someone you trusts recommends. Feel free to ask your other friends what they use.
If you’re getting your domain from the same company that you’re getting your hosting from, you won’t have to fiddle with your DNS. DNS stands for Domain Name System. It’s essentially the phone book for the internet.
Every device has an IP address (Internet Protocol Address). The DNS helps your browser look up the domain and retrieve the IP address to locate the website where ever it’s served from. It’ll be served from your hosting provider’s server.
You can save $10-$20 a year by getting a domain from a different vendor than your hosting BUT why waste the time in the beginning learning how to redirect your DNS just to save $10.
Your Content Management System is the platform in which your website is built on. There’s a ton of CMS’s and even some confusion on what a CMS is. Salesforce is a CMS that can integrate with another CMS like e-Spirit. That’s getting too far down the rabbit hole though. You need to know the basic CMS’s that are commonly used for non-enterprise websites.
No. That is all. Just. No.
Unless you’ve got 6 figures for the website and a dev team. I would advise against this.
This is a fairly intuitive CMS that takes a lot of the guessing and technical work out of the equation. It’s easy to stand up since hosting, CMS, SSL, etc is all taken care of for you. However, it should *only* be used if you’re standing up a site for a local small business or restaurant.
It’s what I started on and was an easy transition into building websites because I didn’t have a guide like this at my disposal back in the day. It’s very limited in its functionality since most of it is a walled garden. It is not scalable.
Shopify is great(ish). It is the leader in e-commerce. If you’re building an e-commerce site, this is where you start. Forget everything else in this article and go to Shopify to start.
Shopify takes care of all of the things Squarespace does but it’s not a walled garden. The other benefits of Shopify is huge discounted shipping rates, not having to have a merchant account, great seamless integrations, and a very active developer community.
There is a downside of Shopify though. If you think there’s a potential that Shopify will blacklist you or your site, you lose everything. That’s the nature of a centralized ecosystem.
You can get around that by building a headless e-commerce solution with a Shopify CMS, but that’s above the depth of this article.
This is likely where you should start. WordPress powers over a third of the web. It’s one of the few open source CMS’s out there and is the most flexible CMS ever made. This is due to its history and very active developer community.
The beauty of WordPress is that you can easily plug most anything onto the site. If you start building a content site then later would like to sell and add on e-commerce functionality. It’s easy to do that. Add on Woo commerce OR integrate with Shopify to get all of the benefits of Shopify without being relegated to their code and hosting.
A theme is the codebase/layout/design of your site and the functionality for changing that design without having to write code.
GeneratePress is what I use because out of the themes I’ve tried, it’s the best. I’m sure there’s others that are better but we’re all creatures of habit. Think of themes in terms of humans. Fat would be crappy code from a bad developer. Muscle would be the functionality of the theme. In my non-developer view, GeneratePress (especially premium) is like the BowTiedOx. Big and Lean. The premium version has a ton of functionality that can really limit the amount of plugins you need.
If you’re serious about starting your first income stream, get the free version of GeneratePress. Once your site is stood up, reach out to me (on Twitter) and I’ll give you a copy of the premium version for free.
The basic objectives of website design are easy. Getting it right on the other hand, takes plenty of time and a keen eye.
You should jump start your results by downloading a premade template from GeneratePress’s Site Library. This will ensure you have a good visual appeal of your website and save you a ton of time.
Plugins are code that enhances some functionality of your site that your theme doesn’t innately have. If you get a good theme, you can limit the amount of plugins that you have to have to make your site what you want.
Below are some of my must have plugins for many of my sites.
Site Kit by Google
Site Kit just makes it so easy to install Google Analytics and to register with Google Search Console. Both of which you’ll want to do. Unless you know how to access the header file, you’ll probably be relying on a plugin to install GA and GSC.
Choose this plugin over the default Monster Insights.
I’ve been told there is better SEO plugins but we’re all creatures of habit. Get some sort of SEO plugin. If you don’t know which one to get, start with Yoast.
I almost left Jetpack off of the list. Remembering how much spam it’s helped me filter from my inbox and the downtime monitoring, made me need to keep it.
Elementor is a page builder that will help you build more beautiful pages. While WordPress has a built in page builder that is a lot better than it used to be, sometimes it’s not enough. It’s optional to use Elementor but depending on your site, you might need it.
Do note that Elementor is going to bring a lot of weight (size) to the pages you build with it. This will in turn slow down your site. There’s a trade-off between beauty and speed that you’ll need to manage. Bounce rate increases and conversion rate drops the longer your site takes to load.
I like my sites to load fast. Autoptimize is a great starting point for getting your site to load faster. It’s an all in one plugin for minimizing files, implementing preconnects, etc. There are better options but this is the best FREE version I’ve tried.
Go to Google’s Page Speed Insights or GTMetrix to see what I mean.
UpdraftPlus is a plugin that constantly backs up your site. *When* you screw something up, you can just revert back to a previous version of your site. They’ll store this backup where ever you like.
As soon as you set up your site, install UpdraftPlus and do a backup immediately.
Really Simple SSL
For some reason, implementing SSL is always difficult. Really Simple SSL makes it simple. Your hosting provider will likely provide you with an SSL certificate and Really Simple SSL does most of the lifting for you. My Really Simple SSL settings below.
Secure Sockets Layer encryption is what gives you the “s” after http. It’s the certificate that encrypts your data as it flies across the web. Technically, SSL is no longer around and the web has moved on to Transport Layer Security. However, almost nobody has changed their verbiage and we’re all calling TLS by its incorrect name of SSL.
A Content Delivery Network is a network of servers that host *most* of your website. Above, I mentioned that your hosting is just your website on a server somewhere in the world.
While that’s true. When you add a CDN to the mix, much of your website is hosted on servers all around the world. Since the servers are closer to your audience, most of the content can be delivered in a shorter time frame allowing for a faster page load time.
Cloudflare is the big player in the space. Most hosting will give you free basic Cloudflare which will allow you to speed your site up more. Every once in a while, they’ll go down and a large chunk of the internet will as well.
How to Get Started NOW
How To Build a Website With WordPress
Pick your Niche
- Signup for hosting
Go to SiteGround, Bluehost, or whoever is going to start your website and sign up for their basic $3 or $5 a month WordPress hosting package.
If you go with Bluehost, you don’t need any of their add ons. No on Bluehost SEO Tools, no Single Domain SSL, no SiteLock Security Essentials, and no on Bluehost Website Builder.
You do want Domain Privacy + Protection. If you don’t get that, your name, email, and phone number are there for the world to see.
Bluehost -> WordPress -> WordPress Hosting
Go through the prompts and pick a domain name.
- Install WordPress
They’ll be easy to use prompts helping you do this.
Change themes to GeneratePress and get rid of the default Twenty Six or whatever it is now.
Download a pre-built design from GeneratePress’s Site Library.
Download the Plugins from above and set them all up. Go through each of their settings.
Activate your CDN from your hosting plan. If your hosting plan doesn’t have a free CDN. Sign up for free at Cloudflare and go through the steps to get set up.
- Learn Settings
Go through the setting of everything to learn what the setting do.
Get to building, writing, and marketing and stop making excuses.
If you can’t do 1-10 with the steps clearly laid out for you. NGMI
As you get to step 10, I heavily advise reading the article on Your Path to WiFi Money. It’s a collection of resources that lays out your learning and “take action” path after your new site is built.
When you finally decide to get smarter about all things digital and get your first second income stream built to make that WiFi Money. You need to sign up for my Substack below. Start with the article on Your Path to WiFi Money.
If you're looking at how to start your own website, I've created an easy guide for that too.