So You Want To Create WordPress Websites (With No Experience)

Traditionally, websites were – and still are – created through the combination of a variety of programming languages that no beginner could even begin to comprehend. Before the days of content management systems (CMS), chances were that you would have to hire an expensive web developer to create a site for you if you weren’t willing to put in months of work practicing development.

Thankfully, we live in the world where CMS does all the dirty work for us.

What is a CMS

A good website is a combination of functionality, design, and content. A CMS separates those three features in such a way that a person with little computer knowledge can work on creating the content, and they can outsource the more technical aspects of functionality and design to a third party developer.

What is WordPress

WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS, owning over 50% of the CMS marketplace, and currently powering just under a third of all websites. To put that in perspective, the two largest CMS contenders following WordPress, Joomla and Drupal, power less than 6% of all websites, combined. 

How has WordPress almost monopolized the CMS market?

WordPress was actually based on b2/cafelog, a blogging platform created by Michel Valdrighi in 2001. B2/cafelog was a game changer in the sense that it was capable of reaching into the MySQL database and dynamically generating pages. Valdrighi disappeared from supporting the platform in late 2002 and left his relatively large audience adrift.

One of those users, Matt Mullenweg, decided to take the problem into his own hands and he set himself to taking all the things that worked for b2/cafelog and using them to create a new platform with brand new features. The final product, built by Mullenweg and Mike Little, turned out to be WordPress.

As WordPress was able to utilize the pre-built audience from b2/cafelog, it came out of the gate flying, especially in the blogging community. WordPress has come to be known as a very user-friendly platform with a smaller learning curve than other systems, and it also has a tremendous developer community that creates thousands of popular themes and plugins to make the user experience better. Part of the reason for WordPress’ popularity is because of its large plugin library, which exponentially increases its admin panels functionality.

Due to many users demanding WordPress, many hosting companies have simplified the installation process (WordPress has to be installed on the hosting server) making WordPress more popular than ever.

Installing WordPress on your site

Once you’ve purchased a domain name and rented a server with a web hosting company, you will have to enter your cPanel – your host will send you an email with your cPanel address, username, and password. On your cPanel’s homepage, there will be a WordPress icon with a variation of “Quick Install WordPress”. Upon following the link, you will be walked through a simple process of choosing which domain you’d like to install it on, what you’d like your name to be presented as, and what you would like your username to be.

After a successful install, you’ll receive an email with the password that has been automatically set to access your WordPress dashboard.

If it’s been more than a day since you started your hosting service, you can access your WordPress site by typing in your domain’s URL followed by ‘/wp-admin’ (ie. facebook.com/wp-admin). Upon entering your username and the password given to you in the introductory email, you’ll be presented with your first WordPress dashboard!

How to build a WordPress website

The best way to learn WordPress is to get your hands dirty right away and just start building. Just because WordPress has an easier learning curve than other content management systems doesn’t mean that it’s going to be simple. I started by watching several 2-3 hour videos – like this one –  on Youtube and following them step-by-step through:

  • changing my WordPress admin password
  • creating posts
  • changing the permalink structure
  • customizing my header and footer
  • adding a logo
  • sectioning pages

And so many more.

By building your site up from scratch (for completely free), even if you’re just copying a Youtube video, you get much more comfortable with the process. Once you feel comfortable working with WordPress’ regular functions, I recommend completely wiping your WordPress installation and creating a brand new site that fits your goals.

*Most of these “how to create a WordPress site” videos make money by referring you to poor web hosts, so make sure you put in some research before following their links. Bluehost, GoDaddy and Hostgator have big affiliate programs that pay Youtubers to get their viewers to make purchases and there is a good chance that you’ll see at least one of them being mentioned.

Once you get the hang of using WordPress, you’re going to want to look into getting a theme – or creating your own theme from scratch –  and finding some plugins to work with.

What is a WordPress theme?

Themes are in control of all the style that eventually makes it to the frontend of your site where the user interacts with it. Your theme will control your:

  • header and footer designs
  • color
  • font styling
  • page styling
  • post styling
  • widget locations
  • other design alterations

To alter anything in your theme – say you wanted to change the font size of your post titles – you would have to either use a plugin or learn some CSS.

Choosing a theme that fits the purpose of your site is important as different themes will output different designs. If you’re building a blog, you’ll want a theme that emphasizes good readability, while if you’re building a photography site, you’ll want a theme that’s better optimized to portraying your pictures properly.

What is a WordPress plugin?

To add new functions to your WordPress site, you’re either going to have to learn how to use the PHP coding language, or you can skip all of that and just find a plugin to do what you need.

Do you want to add customized sign-up forms for your business that aren’t supplied by WordPress or your theme? There’s a plugin for that.

Do you want to find a drag-and-drop builder to help you streamline your site-building process? There’s a plugin for that.

Do you think need some help writing content with good SEO? There’s a plugin for that.

If you have any interesting ideas for functionality on your site, chances are that you’ll be able to find a plugin to suit your needs.

If you’re worried that adding too many plugins will slow down your site, here’s a good article detailing how plugins interact with your site’s speed, and how to implement dozens of plugins without slowing anything.

Creating a WordPress website for free (and why you shouldn’t)

One of the beautiful things about WordPress is that it has a massive community of developers, and many of them create great free themes and plugins that make it possible for you to create a solid website for $0 outside of setup costs. In fact, WordPress publishes it’s own free theme once per year. If you’re not a capable programmer, this is where WordPress comes through in spades. There are free drag-and-drop builders, free galleries, free image optimizers, and just about anything else that you can think of, and you don’t have to know even the tiniest bit about programming to put them into use.

However, as the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true…

There are several negative aspects that you need to be aware of when using free software on your site:

  • Chances are that your free theme was created by as practice by a programmer just getting the feel for creating themes for WordPress. When this happens, you’ll wind up being stuck with bloated code that will slow down your site.
  • Why support a plugin or theme when they’re not even paid for it? When WordPress updates, your free software may break, and not having paid for it, the development team will be slower to fix any broken code if they even get around to updating it at all.
  • Many popular free plugins and themes are the ‘light’ version, and you can upgrade to the full versions by paying. So even though you’re getting them for free, you will be extremely limited in what you can do without upgrading.

What you should look into purchasing

A common piece of advice for those of you that are just looking to build one website for yourself is just to buy a premium theme and do the rest for free. Some premium themes offer drag-and-drop builders to make your life a little easier, and a good theme will have high-quality coding to boost its speed. If you pick a suitable theme for your needs, you shouldn’t find yourself doing much work changing any of the styles.

Even with a great theme, you are going to find some things to change regarding your site’s layout. One piece of advice: learn the bare minimum about HTML and CSS if you’re building a WordPress site. Code Academy makes it easy and you can work through their hands-on beginner tutorials in a day or two.

If you’re planning on developing sites as a form of creating some income, you might want to look into purchasing some plugins that streamline your workflow while delivering a top-notch product. I use Beaver Builder and some accompanying plugins, but do some research and find a solution that works for you. Most drag-and-drop builders have a free version to let you test out their software before deciding on a purchase.

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Robert works part of the year as an international tour guide in Asia with Life Before Work Travel . When he's not getting paid to travel the world he's out in the field taking photos, on his laptop creating new sites, or sitting in the gutter petting stray dogs.