Do you need a website for your business, an organization, a personal blog or for anything else? If so, this guide will show you once and for all how to set up your own website step by step and save a ton of money. I’m a website designer and freelancer myself and know what designers charge for websites – normally $500 and up. If you follow my guide you’ll be doing it for less than $100 and learn valuable skills that will save you lots of money, effort and time in the future.
Disclosure & Why I am doing this
It’s great to help people and build connections. For every person that buys hosting through my affiliate link I will get a commission. This is however small in comparison to what I normally get paid to design websites. If you don’t know what hosting is, don’t worry, I’ll explain in a second.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a quick 15 minute set up, you’ll need to spend a few hours setting this up. It will largely depend on your level of computer knowledge and ability to follow instructions. Usually saving money means spending time doing it yourself – it’s just the way it works. I’ve also opened the comment section at the end of this guide so if you have any questions simply leave a comment and I’ll help wherever I can. You can also download this guide in PDF format by clicking the button called “Download this guide via PDF” in the sidebar.
Words you need to understand
Domain: This is the address of your website. As an example: google.com is the domain name for the Google United States website. Domain names come in different extensions with .com / .net / .org being most popular. Domains do cost money, usually $10-$15 per year, but I’ll show you how to get it for free for your first year.
Hosting: You need a location, somewhere on a server, to store your website’s information such as content and images. Shared hosting, which is what we’ll be using, normally costs $4 – $12 per month and often times is payable yearly in advance. In the following section I’ll show you my recommended host.
WordPress: This is your CMS or content management system and the base of your website. This platform is installed on the hosting you purchase which then enables you to easily add content, change your design and add a bunch of functions to your website. WordPress is free and in 2014 was estimated to be used by almost 20% of websites on the internet.
Plugins: Think of plugins as an added functionality to your WordPress website. Having a plugin that displays an image slider on your website is an example.
Themes: This one is self-explanatory; however WordPress allows the user to add specific website themes to their website. This can make your life a lot easier as it means you can find themes designed specifically for business, travel blogging, real estate or whatever you like. Themes can cost money, but I’ll be focusing on using free ones for this guide.
Mobile / Responsive: More and more people are using their mobile devices to browse websites. For this reason it is essential that your website is mobile responsive – meaning it should resize automatically when browsed via a mobile device. Most WordPress themes are responsive these days, however it’s worth mentioning so that you understand the lingo.
Step 1: Buying your domain and hosting
This is the part of the process that is essential since a website cannot function without a domain and hosting.
The hosting provider I recommend is Blue Host. Blue Host is a reputable hosting company with great support and offers cost effective hosting solutions. These guys are currently hosting over 2 million websites so they know what they are doing. Currently they are running a promotion on their website which will enable you to get hosting from $2.95 – $5.45 per month depending on the payment period you choose. This hosting package includes a free domain, email accounts, a 30-day money-back guarantee and everything you need to run your website. I’m not sure if the promotion will still be active when you visit their website, but it’s worth mentioning.
Here’s how to purchase your domain and hosting:
1. Visit the Blue Host website here: bluehost.com
2. Click “get started now” or go to “products” > “shared hosting” on the top menu. See the screenshot below.
3. On the next page make sure you select the “basic” plan. See the screenshot below.
4. On the next page choose the domain you want to register by entering your domain name under the “new domain” section and choosing your extension. For demonstrational purposes I’ve chosen “bestwebguide2016” and selected “.com”. Next click the “next” button below to be directed to the payment page. If your domain is already registered simply try a different variation or you can even use a domain that you already own. Just follow their instructions. See the screenshot below.
5. On the next page it’s time to register your new account and enter your credit card information. That part if self-explanatory so I’ll leave it to you. Rather draw your attention to the “package information” section in the middle of the page. Here you have the option to select your payment period (the longer the cheaper it gets) and add a few extras to your account. After selecting the package information and entering all your details all you have to do is confirm Blue Host’s terms and conditions at the bottom of the page and click the “submit” button. See the screenshot below for the options I’ve chosen.
The hosting package I chose ended up costing $65.40 . If for some reason the promotion isn’t running when you decide to sign up you’ll be paying just over $100. After buying your hosting and registering your account you can now sit back and relax! You’ve basically paid for your whole website’s set up already and won’t need to spend any more money from here on out. Congratulations!
Step 2: Installing WordPress
Installing WordPress is basically the same for almost any website hosting service provider. For this guide I’ve created a sub-domain on my personal website called websiteguide.smitmediagroup.co.za to demonstrate the process to you. However here are the instructions from Bluehost to install WordPress:
- Log in to your Bluehost cPanel account using your domain / username and password by clicking here: https://my.bluehost.com/cgi-bin/cplogin
- Find the Website section and select Install WordPress.
- Click the Install button.
- Choose the domain name to install it to. In the field next to the domain, you can enter a sub-folder such as ‘blog’ or leave it blank. It is better to leave it blank is that will eliminate any possible confusion.
- You can edit the email address, username and password for the new WordPress installation by clicking “advanced options” or you can leave those details as is. Please remember to save this information somewhere as you will need it to log into your website after installation.
- Make sure to read the license and service agreements and check the boxes.
- Click on the “install now” button.
Alternatively you can also follow these instructions directly from Bluehost: https://my.bluehost.com/cgi/help/wordpress
I’ve decided not to add lots of screenshots to the process as it is self-explanatory and not as important as setting up the website itself. After you’ve installed WordPress you should get a screen with your website and log in link. You should also save both these links as we’ll be using them in the following sections. Keep in mind that your completion screen might look slightly different and obviously the domain or URL you used won’t be the same as mine. See the screenshot below.
WordPress words you need to understand
Pages: This is a page on your website.
Posts: This is a post on the blog section of your website. In reality posts and pages are almost 100% the same. The only difference is that posts are used for your blog, also known as “Blog posts”. You can have both posts and pages on your website.
Categories: This is how WordPress classifies and organizes posts. The process entails creating categories and once a post is created the user can select under which category it should fall. As a stock standard WordPress has one category which is called “Uncategorized”. If you do not create additional categories or place posts in separate categories they will fall under the “uncategorized” category. Pages normally aren’t placed in categories.
Themes and plugins: This was already covered in the beginning of this guide so be sure to read through the “Words you need to understand” section if you missed it.
Media: This is where you can upload images, audio and video files to your website.
Log in screen: This is where you log in to your website’s back end. The back end is the section where you make changes to the website which the rest of the internet will see. Your log in screen is always websitename.com/wp-admin. Just replace websitename.com with your actual website or domain name.
Dashboard: This is the first screen you see when logged into your WordPress back end.
What I will be showing you in the up and coming sections
Keep in mind that WordPress is very flexible and can be used for almost any type of website. However with this guide I’ll try and keep it as simple as possible. The focus here is to help you set up your first basic and functional website. For that reason I’ll be creating a simple website with a few pages, a blog section and posts. Even if this is not exactly what you want to create yourself you’ll soon see how this process can be applied to your specific website needs. The key here is to get you to understand the process and enable you to design just about any website you want.
Step 3: Logging into your website and making initial adjustments
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. These are the initial steps I take when setting up a website. I do this for almost any website I set up so I urge you not to skip this section.
1. Visit your log in screen by going to websitename.com/wp-admin (just replace websitename.com with your own domain name. Type in your username and password you used to install WordPress during step 2 and click “Log In”. When visiting this page you might get an option to set up WordPress in a different way, but simply click “no” or take me to WordPress and log in normally. See the screenshot below.
2. Next you’ll be taken to your WordPress dashboard. Have a look around and remember all the words I mentioned in the “WordPress words you need to understand” section. Again your screen might look slightly different than mine. See the screenshot below.
3. We’ll be following this checklist:
- Delete unwanted pages
- Create home and blog page
- Delete unwanted posts
- Create your first blog post
- Create categories
- Change website settings (home page, blog page)
- Change website settings (permalinks)
- Delete unwanted plugins
- Install plugins
- Yoast SEO
- Wordfence Security
- WP Fastest Cache
- Custom Share Buttons with Floating Sidebar
- WP Fastest Cache settings
- Custom Share Buttons with Floating Sidebar settings
- Create a menu
- Test the website
4. Delete unwanted pages + create home and blog page: At the left side of your screen click on “Pages”. Next I’m going to select the page called “Sample Page” by ticking to box next to it > under “Bulk Actions” select “Move to trash” and click the “Apply” button. See the screenshot below.
5. Create home and blog page: On the same screen (the title should be called “Pages”) click on the “Add New” button. This will take you to a new screen where you can create a new page. The home page can be called anything, but usually I would call it “Home”. Enter the title of your page > add some text in the section below > click the “Publish” button. You’ll notice that the section where you add text for your page is very similar to that of a Word document. Do the same and create a page called blog however for this page you don’t need to add any text for the page itself. See the screenshot below.
Once you’ve created both pages it should look something like this:
6. Delete unwanted posts: This process is very similar to the previous steps we’ve just completed. Start by clicking on “Posts” on your left hand side > select your “Hello world!” post > “Bulk Actions” > “Move to Trash” > click the “Apply” button.
7. Create your first blog post: Again this process is similar to creating a page. On the same “Posts” page click on the “Add New” button. Now you should enter the title of your post, add some text to the page and click the “Publish” button. See the screenshot below.
8. Create categories: On the same page scroll down to the “Categories” section on the right hand side of the page. If you have an idea what your blog is going to be about you can create a few categories in advance. You can even leave this as it is now or come back and change it whenever you like. A post can also be put in and taken out off any category at any time. To create a new category click on “+ Add New Category” > enter the category name > click the “Add New Category” button. I’ve added two new categories called “General”, “Technology”, removed the blog post from the “Uncategorized” category and added it to Technology. Whenever you make changes to posts or pages remember to click the “Update” button in order to save the changes you made. See the screenshot below.
9. Change website settings (home page & blog page): At the left side of the screen hover your mouse over “Settings” and click on “Reading”. For this set up I want a page as my home page. You can also have your blog posts show on your front page. Next to “Front page displays” select “A static page (select below)” > for “Front Page” choose “Home > for “Posts page” choose “Blog” > click the “Save Changes” button. See the screenshot below.
10. Change website settings (permalinks): Permalinks are how WordPress organizes your links. I’m not going to go into too much detail with this. Just know that if you change this setting your links will look more organized and that it’s better for SEO (more on SEO later). Under “Settings” click on “Permalinks” > select “Post name” > click on the “Save Changes” button.
11. Delete unwanted plugins: At the left side of the screen click on “Plugins” > select plugins that are installed (this is similar to deleting pages and posts) > “Bulk Actions” > select “Delete” > click the “Apply” button.
12. Install plugins: At this point in time you shouldn’t have any plugins installed. Next we’re going to install all the plugins on my list. I’ll show you how to do one and leave the rest up to you as the process is exactly the same. At the “Plugins” screen click the “Add New” button > at the top right corner where it says “Search Plugins” search for the plugins on my list starting with “Yoast SEO” > once you’ve found it click the “Install Now” button next to the plugin > click the “Activate” button. Now follow the same process with the rest of the plugins. After you’ve installed all of them your “Plugin” screen should look like this. See the screenshot below.
13. WP Fastest Cache settings: At the left side of your screen click on “WP Fastest Cache” > select all the options I’ve selected in the screenshot below and click the “Submit” button. This plugin helps make your website faster which is very important when it comes to have a great experience for your website visitors.
14. Custom Share Buttons with Floating Sidebar settings: This plugin allows you to have social sharing buttons on your website. This allows visitors to easily share your content on Facebook, Twitter and more. On the left side of your screen hover over “Settings” > click on “Custom Share Buttons With Floating Sidebar” > select “Enable Sidebar” > select the social share buttons you’d like displayed > click the “Save Settings” button. See the screenshot below.
15. Create a menu: On the left side of your screen hover over “Appearance” and click on “Menus” > enter a menu name > click on the “Create Menu” button. Depending on the basic theme you have installed you might have different menu locations compared to my installation. However I’m going to select the pages I want added to my menu > reorder them by clicking on the item and dragging them in the order I want them to be > set my “Theme locations” as the “Primary Menu” and click the “Save Menu” button. See the screenshot below.
16. Test the website: This is last thing I will do before getting into customizing the website. At this point in time you should visit your website address. For example the address of this test website is websiteguide.smitmediagroup.co.za.
A quick summary before customizing your website
If you have gotten this far I am really excited for you and you should be as well. You’ve just completed most of the hard work. Now the fun part begins. If you’ve followed my instructions you might have noticed a few patterns in the way WordPress is set up, how to change content, make changes to settings etc. I’m actually confident that you would be able to figure the rest out for yourself, but I’ll give you a few pointers before I’ll leave you to it. If you do however decide to venture off on your own from this point and have a few issues somewhere down the road, remember to post in the comment section below and I’ll help out where I can. Also keep in mind that there are thousand of other articles and videos on how to use WordPress so I quick Google search will definitely help.
Step 4: Customizing your theme and the look of your website
99% of the time I don’t keep the standard theme I installed WordPress with as not all themes cater to the specific needs of my clients. Here’s how to install a new theme, change your logo, customize it and make a few more changes.
1. Install a new theme: On the left side of your screen hover over “Appearance” and click on “Themes” > on the “Themes” page click on the “Add New” button > search for themes by using the search function at the top right corner, clicking on “Popular” / “Latest” / “Favorites” or using the “Feature Filter”. If you hover over a theme you get the option of previewing how it would look on your website or you can click the “Install” button to install the theme and “Activate” to activate it on your website.
2. Customizing your theme: Once you’ve installed your new theme you can now make some custom changes to the website. On the left side of your screen hover over “Appearance” and click on “Customize” > make the changes you want for your website including adding a logo, adding a header image, changing the background color and more. Always remember to click the “Save” button after making your changes. It’s important to mention that not all themes will have the same customizable options. This is how my “Customize” screen looks – see the screenshot below.
3. Sidebars & widgets: On my website’s home page, or any other page for that matter I have a right hand side bar. In that sidebar section I have headings called “Recent Posts”, “Recent Comments”, “Archives” and so on. Each one of those headings is called a “Widget”. 99% of the time a post will have a widget or sidebar area either on the left or right hand side depending on your theme. Pages can also have a sidebar however I normally like to have them displayed without one. See the screenshot below.
4. Changing pages to full width: Not all themes will have this option, but luckily the theme I installed does so it’s easy to demonstrate it to you. On the left side of your screen click on “Pages” > click on the page you want to edit or make full-width > scroll down and under “Template” click “Full Width Template” > click the “Update” button. See the screenshot below.
5. Changing widgets: On the left hand side of your screen hover over “Appearance” and click on “Widgets”. On the “Widgets” screen you have different elements you can add in different locations on your website. For instance my current theme has a primary and home page sidebar as well as two footer locations. The footer is the area at the bottom of your website. Simply drag and drop elements into different locations, edit them and remember to save each individual one you’ve made changes to.
What is SEO and do I really need it?
SEO or Search Engine Optimization is the term used to rank your website higher in search engines for specific keywords. There’s always a lot of buzz around this, especially for first time website owners. The whole point of SEO is for your website to get more targeted traffic. If you’re a business owner more targeted traffic could mean more clients and sales for your business. Since this is a website set up guide I’m not going provide much information on this as there have been countless books written about the matter. If you’d like more information surrounding it a quick Google search will help a lot or you can leave a comment and I’ll respond as soon as possible.
Thanks for reading and I really hope this guide helps you to set up your very own website for a fraction of the real cost in no time. Please share this post of Facebook, Twitter or whichever social media platform you are active on as I would really appreciate it!