WordPress is worlds most popular CMS (Content Management System), and for good reasons. It’s a modern and user friendly environment in which you can build and manage the front-end of your website. This means that you can login to your website, and easily manage the content of your posts and pages. It’s a very strong and secure tool, maintained with passion by a large community of well-respected developers. And best of all, it’s free!
While the WordPress CMS is free, running a website is usually not. A website needs to be stored somewhere on a server that is always running in order to access that website anytime. This is called webhosting. And to actually reach that website, you’ll need a domain name, which is a friendly name, such as “google.com”, that on the background redirects to the server’s IP adress. These both things are not free. Though it’s not expensive either. You could do this using WordPress hosting or any other webhosting providers around. I can also recommend TransIP. It’s a Dutch company providing very complete, fast and secure services.
After setting up your domain name and webhosting, it’s time to install WordPress. Some webhosting providers have an automated WordPress installation service, which does the whole job for you. If not, you will have to do it manually. WordPress requires a database, so make sure you have created one and stored the username and password. Download the WordPress core files from wordpress.org and upload them to the root of your public_html directory using FTP. After the upload has finished, go to your website adress (your domain name) and follow the steps in the browser to complete the installation (this is where you will need your database username and password).
This article in the WordPress support is a very extensive documentation on how to do this.
When you are logged in to your WordPress dashboard for the first time. Make sure to go through all settings. Probably the most important setting is “Permalinks”. This is how your url’s are formatted and by default, this is not done very search engine optimized (SEO). A good option is to set it to “Post name”, but you could also consider a custom structure such as “/%category%/%postname%/”. You should do this once and as early as possible to avoid other websites or search engines link to an old page not existing anymore later on.
There are many themes in the WordPress repository you can choose from. But how to choose the right one? A theme should be chosen very precisely, since it is the basis of your website on which everything will be build. And switching themes after some time could be problematic depending on how much you rely on it.
Many themes are so called multipurpose themes. These themes are very flexible, customizable and can be widely used for various purposes. While they are very powerfull, the big ones often sacrifice efficiency, and of course, they are not free. Many good themes aren’t though. But they often have a free version too, which will get you started. And if you are a techie, you could make a child theme and customize it to your needs using code. But buying the premium version allows you to do most – if not all – required customizations without any coding. Also, page builders can help you with that, but more about this later on.
At all times, consider the below aspects when choosing a theme:
- What is the purpose of your website? Blog, portfolio, photography, webshop, informative, or something else?
- Verify the theme is still being updated and is it compatible with the latest major version of WordPress?
- Verify the developer, is he from a recognized company, does his website look professional and trustworthy?
- If you are planning to use a pagebuilder, consider choosing a barebone theme (more about this below).
As a techie and hobbyist web developer myself, I’m a guru when it’s about clean code, structure and performance. I always download a theme first and open it in my code editor for inspection. I find it important that a theme is conform the below aspects:
- clean and well-coded;
- lightweight and fast;
- without (too much) bloat;
- not loading style and script files when they are not required;
- not unnecessarily including dependencies / libraries such as jQuery;
- has a good documentation and is developer friendly (includes action hooks and filters);
- responsive / also for mobile;
- good for SEO (Google friendly);
- compatible with popular plugins such as WooCommerce;
- works well with page builders such as Elementor;
- still being updated and supported.
I recommend the very popular WordPress theme GeneratePress. It is based on the starter theme Underscores by WordPress, so it has an excellent heritage. It has a free version and a premium version. There are only a few customizations available in the free version, but with a child theme, the possibilities are endless. Its code is beautiful, well-commented and is full of action hooks and filters. However, if you prefer not to code, consider the premium version, which is quite affordable.
The premium version takes the form of a modular plugin, allowing you to activate only the modules that are required. This results in less overhead and the shortest possible loading times. It also offers plenty professional website templates to install. The premium version is for you if you want a very good theme with many customizations available, without the need for a child theme to do it yourself with code. And it offers unlimited site installs.
In addition to your theme, you could consider installing a page builder.
A page builder is a visual and extensive editor for your posts and pages. Elementor is a young and modern, yet very solid and advanced front-end drag & drop page builder. Create high-end, pixel perfect websites at record speeds. When you want to build your website completely using Elementor, it might be a good idea to choose Hello Elementor as your theme. Hello Elementor is a very lightweight theme, it’s almost a starter theme, no bloat at all, as it expects the Elementor page builder to do all the work. Therefore it’s a perfect combination and makes for a very performant WordPress website.
Also Elementor comes with a premium version. If you plan to build a beautiful website and want endless possibilities. Then consider a premium version of Elementor. It adds 50+ more advanced widgets, a visual form builder, marketing integrations, WooCommerce support, effects such as parallax, and more.
With plugins, you can further extend the functionalities of your WordPress website. Think about widgets showing a feed from your social media network such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Or make responsive image sliders and galleries. But they can also help you with writing good content and further optimizing your website for search engines (SEO), which is quite important. Below I’ve collected a few plugins I think are essential and should be installed on every WordPress website.
Essentials is my very own WordPress plugin that adds essential functionalities to your WordPress installation such as basic security options and brute-force protection, development tools, changing the login form logo, Google Analytics and a tool to find and fix broken hyperlinks. After activation of the plugin, each module is available in the admin dashboard as if it had always been there out of the box. You decide which modules to enable, which gives you the freedom to disable a module if you prefer to use another plugin for it instead.
The problem with WordPress is not the lack of, but the overwhelming amount of options that exist to choose from. Whether it’s choosing a theme or a plugin, there seems to be a never ending amount of options that all seem to provide the same or similar styling and functionality.
What ends up happening is your database can get overly cluttered with what’s known as orphaned data that’s taking up space and decreasing the performance of your WordPress Website and Blog. That’s where database optimization comes in.
I’ve previously blogged and vlogged about this plugin and it’s still one that I highly recommend. Unlike other plugins in this test, WP Sweep is focused purely on manually optimizing your database from your dashboard. There are no options to schedule optimization but it does give you the ability to choose what to optimize. It also, if chosen by you, aggressively optimizes the database and removes all transients. This is why it performed so well in my test. Below are the results.https://www.pixemweb.com/blog/wp-optimize-vs-wp-sweep-vs-optimize-database-vs-advanced-database-cleaner/
Yoast SEO is the leading plugin when it’s about optimizing your website for search engines such as Google and to help you write search engine optimized content.
Its biggest competitor is the plugin All in One SEO Pack. This is also a quality plugin and it does more or less the same job. The biggest difference between them is that Yoast SEO is managed by a team of SEO experts with knowledge of IT whereas All in One SEO Pack is managed by a team of IT experts with knowledge of SEO. This is where Yoast SEO wins my trust when it’s about coaching you to write good content.