In 2017 WordPress passed the 27% mark, running more than a quarter of all websites — and for good reason. It has a loyal user base and scores of dedicated developers who bring better features to the system year round.
There is no doubt that WordPress is the best content management system (CMS) for your website. This article is covers everything a non-technical small business owner or entrepreneur needs to know and do to develop and maintain a robust and fast money-making website with WordPress.
That’s why unlike other similar guides, I won’t just talk about domain, hosting, wordpress setup and stop there. I’d continue with the things you must know and do to make sure your website is always up, loads fast and is optimized in terms of both design and functionality to generate as much traffic, leads and sales as possible.
This guide is quite lengthy and split into 5 parts. So I thought it would be easier for you to see what we’ll be talking about in advance. If you already know about some of these, use it as navigation to skip to the parts you’re interested in.
Part 1: Domain, Hosting & WordPress
Now you have probably heard that WordPress is free. You might be wondering why is it free? What’s the catch?
There’s no catch. It’s free because you have to do the setup and host it yourself. In other words, you need a domain name and web hosting.
A domain name is what people type to get to your website. It’s your website’s address on the internet. Think google.com or smemark.com. The domain name shouldn’t be confused with the URL — domain names are a part of URLs. To further our understanding, let’s analyze a URL that has all components and see what’s what.
This URL has many distinct parts:
http:// is the protocol that tells browsers how to retrieve data. Some well-known ones are http, https and ftp.
blog. is a subdomain that allows you to segment your website into different bits and pieces. A subdomain is the domain that appears before the root domain; sub.example.com, for example. Once you own a root domain, you can create subdomains at no additional cost.
mywebsite.com is the domain name, also called root domain.
The end of the domain name (in this case, .com) is called a top-level domain (TLD). The most ubiquitous TLD and the one you will be most familiar with is .com. That’s why most great .com domains are already owned.
/post/awesomeness.php is the path to the resource on the server. In this case, there may well be a folder named articles and a file named awesomeness.php, but the path doesn’t necessarily point to an actual file on the server.
?edit=false&view=true are parameters — two of them, actually. The first key-value parameter is preceded by a question mark; all subsequent pairs are preceded by ampersands. The server-side code picks up on these values, and the values can be used to modify views or save data, for example.
#comment-5 is an anchor that can be used to take the user to a specific place on the page right away. If you visit the link above, you will be taken lower down on the page to a specific comment.
If you don’t understand all of that, don’t worry about it; a lot of this isn’t relevant in everyday use. The only part you’ll need to focus on is the domain name because this is how users will refer to your website.
Choosing A Domain Name
You can find all sorts of tips on choosing a domain name, but it almost always boils down to keeping it short and memorable. A good domain should be concise, memorable, unique, easy to spell and easy to pronounce.
Most domain registrars have an easy interface for buying domain names: Just search for something and follow the on-screen instructions. My favorite domain registrar is Namecheap, but you could also use Hover. Both are equally popular and great options.
Buying A WordPress Hosting Package
Choosing the right host and package is extremely important. Get it wrong and your website will suffer. The one you pick will depend on your website’s needs and your funds, and the below elements.
- Limitations: Does the host support WordPress? How many domains can you host? How much bandwidth and storage are you allocated? What up-time percentage are you guaranteed?
- Company: How long has the company been in business? Does it have positive reviews by users? What kind of support does it offer?
- Pricing: How much is the package you need? Are upgrades available if required? Are there any additional costs (IP addresses, software, etc.)? Is there a trial period?
There are three ways to go if you’re looking for a good package: shared hosting, VPS hosting, managed WordPress hosting. Let’s look at what these are and their pros and cons.
Shared website hosting is the most popular option for customers with small to mid-sized businesses who seek an affordable way to begin building their online presence.
As implied by the name, shared hosting involves sharing of a single server among multiple websites belonging to different customers. This allows the customers to be able to have good quality hosting at low cost such as $5 a month.
While this is a great price to get started, there are some downsides — the largest of which is the bad-neighbor effect. Because hundreds of websites are running from the same hardware, what happens if there’s a coding bug in one of them that causes it to use up to 80% of available memory?
The remaining websites (which could be hundreds) will grind to a halt and could become unavailable. The same issue arises with security; some attacks aim for a single website and end up affecting all of the other websites on the same server.
The only reason to use shared hosting is if you are on a very tight budget. It can work just fine, and your website will probably not go down for hours or days on end.
A virtual private server (or VPS) is similar to a shared environment, without the negative side effects. The hardware is still shared, but usually among a few users only, and the hardware is partitioned equally.
Another account on the same server cannot use up to 80% of the resources. Attackers also have much more trouble accessing other accounts on the server through a single website. You will generally pay around $15 to $20 per month.
If you have the money, then definitely do choose either managed WordPress hosting or a VPS over a shared environment.
A lot of hosting companies have come and gone over the years, and only some have survived profitably. But that doesn’t mean the ones that have survived are good.
Many companies such as Bluehost, GoDaddy, Hostgator, A Small Orange and more have built a solid brand perception over the years not due to quality of their hosting but just because they advertise a lot.
That’s another reason you should steer away from them and pick from two of my favorite options: A2 Hosting & Siteground. I have been using both for over 3 years now, and not once have I been disappointed. They have met my expectations on all 3 grounds: speed, uptime and customer support.
Managed WordPress hosting is a bit different. In this case, the server’s entire architecture is tuned to work with WordPress as efficiently as possible. This makes your website a lot faster and more secure as well. Automatic updates, server-level caching and truly professional WordPress-specific support are just some of the benefits of managed WordPress hosting.
If you don’t want to meddle with server settings and you just need a well-oiled WordPress website that is maintained for you, then this hosting solution is a great option.
You won’t need to muck about with installing WordPress and making sure it is safe, secure and fast; all of that is built right in. You can start creating content within minutes and focus on what really matters. The best-known and best-rated managed WordPress hosts are Kinsta and WPEngine.
Configuring The Nameservers
After you’ve purchased a hosting plan, the domain needs to be pointed to the hosting provider so that when someone accesses it through their browser, they are directed to the appropriate server. If your domain came with your hosting package, this step is not required.
This is most often done using nameservers, sometimes referred to as account DNS. You’ll need to log into the website that you registered your domain with and change the nameservers for the domain.
When you signed up, your hosting provider should have sent you the names of the nameservers. Or you would easily find them somewhere in your hosting account dashboard. They look something like ns1.nameserver.com and ns2.nameserver.com. My SiteGround account has the following information for example:
- ns1.siteground362.com (184.108.40.206)
- ns2.siteground362.com (220.127.116.11)
Navigate to your domain’s control panel, and search for something along the lines of “change nameservers.” This is where you will enter the nameservers.
For example, if you bought the domain from Namecheap, click on the “manage” button which is right next to the corresponding domain name.
Then, on the next screen, you’ll see a section to change nameservers. In the dropdown menu, pick ‘custom dns” and copy+paste the nameservers provided by your host. Then click on the green tick mark icon to save.
Once this step is completed, you will have to wait up to 24 hours for the change to propagate. You will know that it’s working if your domain shows your host’s landing page when you enter the URL in a browser.
If you can’t locate where to change the nameservers, do not hesitate to contact your domain registrar. It would be happy to point you in the right direction.
Installing WordPress is easy with most hosting providers. They provide the option to install WordPress with one click, through an interface called the cPanel. Look for a button or link in your hosting account which either lets you install WordPress automatically, or takes you to cPanel.
Once you’re in the cPanel, you’d be able to find a section which looks somewhat like this.
All you need to do is click on WordPress and fill in a few details. You’ll be able to do this by filling out a simple form.
WordPress will request some basic information to complete the installation and create your account. The process is short and self-explanatory.
Security tip: Do not set choose the username “admin” because it is too easily guessed by hackers. And do not use wp_ as the database table’s prefix. By changing the prefix to something unique, you make the database less vulnerable.
These things are automatically taken care of in the cPanel associated with good hosts (like Siteground) so you should be good to go.
Once you have submitted this information, WordPress will get installed in a few minutes and you will be able to log into the WordPress admin panel at
You will also receive a confirmation email. Upon visiting your URL in the browser (type yourdomain.com in the address bar just as you would open any other site), you’ll see that your site is now up and running.
Although right now it is using a theme which WordPress installs by default on all new installations. It’s time to get our hands dirty and start setting up our actual website from within WordPress.
Installing WordPress Plugins
The next step is installing and configuring some essential plugins and making tweaks that will dramatically improve the speed, security and ability of your website to turn visitors into leads and sales.
Plugins allow you to add new features to WordPress such as add a gallery, slideshow, etc. The easiest way of installing a free plugin from WordPress plugin library is to use the plugin search. From your WordPress admin area, click on Plugins » Add New.
You will see a screen like the one in the screenshot above. Find the plugin by typing the plugin name or the functionality you are looking for, like SEO. You can pick the plugin you want and click the ‘Install Now’ button. A WordPress plugin can be installed on your site, but it will not work unless you activate it.
To install a premium plugin not listed in the WordPress plugin directory, you will need to download the plugin from the source (which will be a zip file). Then, go to WordPress admin area and visit Plugins » Add New. Upload the plugin file you downloaded earlier to your computer.
Once installed and activated, you would have to configure the settings to fit your needs. There are thousands of free and paid plugins available for WordPress for any scenario you could think of.
WordPress does make it really easily to completely customize a website. But problems like poor security, pages grinding to a halt or a bad user interface arise when aren’t careful and start installing poorly coded themes and plugins.
Before buying and installing a theme or a plugin, always check if they have good reviews, a sizable user base and active development team. This will negate or minimize any negative impact on your website. And don’t forget: You can change a plugin any time if you aren’t happy!
But I want to save you precious time. So in the next chapters, I’ll show you some great plugins that I install without thinking and how to best configure them. These are essential for making your content shareable, securing your website, optimizing for conversions and more.
Picking A WordPress Theme
While a WordPress plugin is usually meant to add a single feature or functionality to your site, your WordPress theme is the design foundation for your website.
Literally thousands of free and premium themes are available, with some boasting a lot of features, like support for eCommerce, forums and so on.
You will also need one or more plugins depending on your business model. These work in conjunction with your theme and WordPress’ back end to provide specific functionality. Let’s go over a few common setups.
- WooCommerce has become the standard plugin to use for e-commerce. It contains everything you need to start an online business right out of the box.
- If you are looking to build a membership site in WordPress, plugins like Memberpress & Restrict Content Pro are easy to use and robust.
- WC Marketplace is a plugin to build a marketplace website which connects vendors with customers, kind of like what Amazon does. Vendors can create individual stores, manage inventories and shipping while you can earn commission on their sales.
- A directory or classifieds website like Yelp or Craigslist can also be easily set up using plugins such as the business directory plugin and classifieds plugin.
- The Reviewer plugin allows you to build an affiliate review and comparison website in a quick and easy way. You can create a gorgeous recap box for your full review post. Users and visitors can leave their reviews.
Once you have your base plugins (you can use any number of them together), I recommend adding some content in your pages and posts. This will make it much easier to gauge your theme.
There is almost no such thing as a perfect WordPress theme. The reason they are usually not perfect for your exact needs is because they are made to serve a large user base. If a theme is perfect for you, then it probably lacks features for other people.
There are some guidelines for choosing a good theme, many of which you can tick off with some research. Here are the absolute minimum requirements for the perfect theme:
- solid, secure, clean and fast code (including valid HTML and CSS)
- strong focus on content and readability,
- compatibility with the latest version of WordPress,
- extensive support and documentation.
- good design, including easy navigation;
- regularly being improved and updated;
- compatibility with popular plugins (like WooCommerce)
With the space being so competitive, all reputable theme providers will offer these features as standard. At the beginning, I suggest settling for a 90% perfect theme, and tweak it using settings, CSS and plugins.
When you buy a theme, it comes as a downloadable zip file. Once you have a theme zip file, then you need to go to Appearance » Themes and click on the Add New button on top of the screen. On the add new theme screen, you need to click on the Upload Theme button on top of the screen.
Locate the zip file on your computer and click on the install now button. Once you have successfully installed a WordPress theme, go to Appearance » Themes where you will see all the themes installed on your WordPress site.
Take the mouse over to the theme you want to activate, and you will see an Activate button below that theme. Once activated, you can visit the front page of your website to see the new theme in action.
After you’ve installed and activated a theme, you’d want to make some tweaks to change the look and feel of certain parts. Or may be add a new feature or functionality with a plugin.
But before you do any of that, it’s important to know how to do so safely and effectively, without compromising on uptime, user experience and how your site looks on mobile devices. And that’s what part 2 is about.