Getting Started with WordPress, Shared Hosting and a New Domain
If you’re looking to build your first website using WordPress, you’ve made a great choice. WordPress is simple to use, a fantastic content marketing tool, widely loved by the WordPress developer community, and can be configured to look and feel exactly how you need it to.
However, if you’ve started to look around at the various services in play when it comes to development, hosting, domain registration and ongoing support of your WordPress site, there are a number of options to choose from which can be confusing.
In this article we’re going to show you how to ensure your WordPress site is a success. We’ll be walking you through the basics of WordPress, what a quality WordPress implementation looks like and the factors you have control over now that can affect the success of your WordPress site over time.
Because hosting selection is such a critical factor when launching any site, we're going to provide you with some insider tips on selecting hosting for Wordpress that will keep your site up and running, is affordable to maintain and will work well with an ongoing support partner.
And finally, if you haven’t registered a domain name, we’ll talk domain strategy. This may be a new concept for many of you, but it’s a really important factor for business owners today as the domain markets dry up with fewer quality domains out there. So let’s get started!
Getting Started with WordPress
Whether you’re looking to build and host a WordPress site yourself, or are looking to partner with an agency with expertise in WordPress, the process of setting up WordPress is the same. WordPress is what’s called an ‘open source content management system’. This means that WordPress is available for free download and installation on your server, and for those of you who are budget conscious has a very reasonable set of requirements which has in no small part contributed to why WordPress has been so popular over the years.
Because WordPress is known for it’s ease of use, it only takes a short period of time to get used to where everything is and to begin using WordPress as a content author. Some of the key areas you’re going to want to get used to include the following:
If you’re using WordPress to run a blog, the Posts section of your Dashboard is one of the most important sections you’re going to want to get familiar with. The Posts section lets you add your article content, tag content, categorise articles, add preview images for your WordPress home page feed and schedule articles for release.
If you’ve ever visited a major blog built with WordPress, even if the site has hundreds of posts, all the articles on that site will sit within the Posts section of WordPress and can be managed using WordPress’ simple to use content management interface.
In WordPress, the Pages section of your Dashboard lets you configure static website pages. Regardless of whether you’re setting up a WordPress blog or brochure site, you’ll more than likely want to configure some pages on your site. Examples of this may include an About Us page, Contact page or landing page specifically built to work with a marketing campaign.
The really great thing about WordPress Pages is that they can have design templates applied to them to create an individual ‘look and feel’ using WordPress Templates. This can be configured by selecting a template from the Page Attributes widget on the right of screen. Page Template development is a task your agency will undertake for you, so don’t worry if you can’t see any templates when you first log into your Dashboard.
If you’re running a WordPress blog, the Comments section of your Dashboard is a section you’re likely to spend some time in.
The comments section let’s you moderate, delete and edit comments that come through your WordPress blog. What many newcomers to WordPress may not realise is that you can actually setup your WordPress blog to either not include comments, require approval of incoming comments, or automatically approve all comments. In my experience the best option is to moderate comments at least until you have a solid user base where your community will begin to set the standard for commenting. The reason for this is that link-builders undertaking spammy link-building practices may try to utilise your comments section for their own good which can damage the look and feel of your articles.
In addition to the Comments section of your Dashboard, check out the Settings > Discussion menu for some ‘other comment settings’ as shown below. This section is very useful for configuring site-wide settings which can make your life much easier when it comes to managing comment volumes.
If you’re going to run a successful website or blog, you’re going to want your site to look good and provide a solid user experience. The Media Library section of your admin console is where you can upload your images, video and documents for use across your site and is incredibly easy to use.
Out of the box WordPress’ Media Library provides a really nice interface for managing media. Some of the features you’ll enjoy using is WordPress’ date sort functionality which lets you sort by upload date and media tagging which will help you with your SEO by describing your images in more depth for Google.
The Appearance section of your WordPress admin console is where your developers will apply what’s called a Theme to your WordPress instance. Each year WordPress release a new parent theme named after the year it was released (i.e. Twenty Seventeen). Your developers will create what’s called a Child Theme which utilises core elements of the parent theme and then overlays certain areas of the Parent theme with new functionality and designs in a Child theme. This practice is particularly effective because it saves development time and utilises the latest parent attributes that WordPress themselves have built for your use.
When it comes to themes you may have seen WordPress theme sites online where you can download themes at very little cost and apply them to your site. If you're new to WordPress I caution you against this as you really do get what you pay for when it comes to WordPress themes. In this instance you're likely to be provided a nice looking theme which has been quickly constructed with little consideration for page load times, performance and ongoing maintenance. So watch out!
Two other great features you’ll no doubt want to take advantage of in your WordPress instance are the Widgets and Menus options. The Widgets menu allows you to manage the available widgets in your WordPress Dashboard, and the Menus menu allows you to do the same for your menus. These two options are handy as they can help customise your views and assist you with rapid implementation of content and structural elements of your front-end.
When developing any website it’s important to have a security model in place that allows you to manage user access to administrative functions and and content. When using WordPress this can be managed from the Users menu.
The Users menu allows you to add users, edit their details and apply Roles to those users. The Roles component of the Users section is important as it allows you to provision various access levels to content and publishing. WordPress has taken a stock-standard approach to user management and permissions and it works well. Whether you’re looking to add a hundred users or just a few, the model works and is very easy to use.
Any good CMS will come with a number of tools that allow you to export and import data, and WordPress is no exception. WordPress has both an import data and export data tool which you'll no doubt use at some point in your content management journey.
Both tools are easy to use and allow you to export and import filtered data from your WordPress database with date range filters a highlight.
What about plugins?
Plugins are one of the core components of WordPress and make rapid implementation of WordPress features possible. However, beware because excessive use of plugins is what’s given WordPress sites a bad name in some circles.
That being said, if you’re looking for a plugin to do pretty much anything that's possible on the web, the WordPress Plugin directory will have it. With thousands of plugins available for download, it can be tempting to install every second plugin you see. We encourage you by all means do this during your testing phase, but remember the more plugins you install the slower your site will load and the more potential code conflicts you may be subject to.
At OSE we definitely operate on the lean side when it comes to plugin use. We do use plugins, however more often than not develop custom-built code for use with client projects to limit un-tested plugin use. Some of the plugins we just can’t do without include:
- Akismet: If you’re looking to decrease the amount of spam you receive through form and comment fields then Akismet is the best WordPress plugin out there. Now offered as a core plugin as part of the WordPress standard install, Akismet has had a ton of R&D put behind it to ensure your WordPress instance stays safe and secure over time.
- Contact Form 7: Every WordPress site has to have a contact form right? Well chances are if you’ve filled out a form on a WordPress site of late it will have been built using Contact Form 7. This simple to integrate yet powerful contact form lets you configure your form layout and email responses with a limited amount of technical know-how and a whole lot of flexibility.
- Yoast SEO: There are literally hundreds of SEO-oriented WordPress plugins out there but none outperform Yoast SEO. Yoast has been around since 2008 and has been under constant development to provide the best SEO assistant to non-technical content marketers. Yoast can be used to help you write better titles, meta descriptions, permalinks and evaluate the written quality of your content in relation to specific keywords you're looking to rank for. If ranking higher in Google is a priority for you, Yoast is a fantastic WordPress plugin which can help you achieve this and is now active on over 3 million WordPress sites.
Selecting a shared hosting service for WordPress
There are a lot of misconceptions out there when it comes to shared hosting, so let’s dispel a few. If you don’t know much about shared hosting, basically your site is sits on a sever with a number of other sites. These servers are very powerful and can hold up to hundreds of other sites.
For those of you who are shaking their head and think that shared hosting may not be for you because your site might receive too much traffic, will be affected by the other sites on the shared server, these are valid concerns, but you have to remember major hosting companies who offer shared hosting are very good at load balancing these servers and ensuring issues such as this do not occur. So keep and open mind.
In my experience shared hosting has always offered fantastic value for money. This is especially true when it comes to start-ups, blogs and brochure sites. Shared hosting is highly affordable and best of all comes with all the pre-installed software you’re ever likely to need. Shared hosting can easily be migrated to more powerful hosting solutions such as a VPS or dedicated server, or potentially a custom-built cloud solution such as Amazon Web Services, so if you’re starting out with a new site, shared hosting is a solid bet.
One particular piece of software that most Linux based shared hosting solutions come with is cPanel. cPanel is widely loved by the developer community and let’s you undertake a variety of tasks without the need for command line coding experience and is a must for those new to web hosting. With cPanel you can:
- Manage your domains
- Manage SSL certificates
- Manage your databases with phpMyAdmin
- Install WordPress directly
- Configure server software such as PHP
- Manage email accounts
- Add and edit user privileges and security, and
- Report on your server's performance
Supporting your shared hosting service
One of the common mistakes we see with first time customers starting out hosting a new site is that they purchase their hosting directly from a major supplier when they don’t have the expertise to manage the service themselves.
Shared hosting, the same as any other form of hosting requires support. What most people don’t realise is that when you purchase shared hosting directly and something goes wrong, if it’s not a server wide issue and is related somehow to your code, you’ve got no leg to stand on. If you’re going to run a successful website, you need to ensure your site never goes down and if it does, is brought back up as quick as possible. 24-hour downtime is completely unacceptable and the best way to avoid this is by partnering with a shared hosting partner.
At OSE we support our WordPress customers with 24/7 hosting support. This comes in various packages which we can tailor specifically to your needs. From pre-purchased support hours to monthly rollover support plans, when we build a site using WordPress we stand behind the entire solution. If you’re looking for a quality WordPress solution, we strongly recommend a supplier who can assist you in this way if you’re not technically minded.
Strategies for selecting a domain for your WordPress site
I’ve been around website development and hosting long enough to have heard a lot of different points of view when it comes to selecting the perfect domain. Some people suggest a short domain, others suggest a domain which states exactly what your site does, and some suggest going abstract like Google.
The reality is that I’ve seen all these strategies work. If you’ve got a good product, know how to market it online and have a solid technical foundation then you’ll generally do well. There are however some things I have noticed that don’t work well when selecting a domain. These include:
- Selecting domains that have multiple same letter combinations in multi-word domains (i.e. carrestorations.com)
- Domains which could be construed as having negative connotations
- Domains which are in excess of 10 letters long for the core part of the domain (i.e. excluding the extension) or difficult to type, and
- Domains that are in no way memorable
So where do I buy a domain?
You can buy a domain from any number of vendors online. We do have some suggestions around this which will make things easier for you moving forward. This includes:
- Waiting until you’ve decided on where you’re going to host your site. This will allow you to purchase your domain from the same organisation making administration a lot easier in the long run and avoiding having to transfer your domain from another reseller if you decide to do so.
- Make sure you make your purchase from a reputable reseller. Generally larger organisations such as GoDaddy are a good bet.
- Don’t get too caught up trying to purchase every domain extension for your site. This can be very costly and is rarely necessary.
What about premium domains?
At OSE we chose to go with a domain that is an acronym of our company name Online Solution Experts. We were also looking for a domain that was very short in our local extension. We actually used a domain broker to purchase our domain and paid $2000 AUD for it. That seems a lot you say? Well actually it’s not. Three-letter Australian domains can go for as much as $10,000 AUD due to their branding potential, so we did quite well.
If you’re looking to purchase a premium domain, you can do so via a premium marketplace. The big ones include:
Each of these sites have thousands of premium domains for sale and auction, some with prices and others which are up for negotiation. This is a great place to start and is often where we start a search if engaged by a client to find a domain due to the time involved in searching the regular markets for a domain and the lack of inventory.
Developing, hosting and selecting a domain name for your WordPress site requires insight into a number of key areas that all need to work together if you’re going to be successful. However, if you make a few minor missteps along the way, it’s surprising how quickly what’s supposed to be an exciting and enjoyable activity can become a real pain.
If you’re new to website development and WordPress, I strongly recommend getting in touch with an agency to assist you. Not only will you avoid the common mistakes many business owners make, but you’ll ensure your web solution moves ahead in leaps and bounds without any barriers to success!