So, you want to create a website?
Your own personal corner of the web where you can share your hopes, dreams, passions, knowledge, and observations with the rest of the world.
Or maybe you just want to make a bunch of money (that’s totally cool too)!
For most newbies, setting up their first website is a terrifying thought.
There are hundreds of different options for publishing your content online, and that’s one of the main reasons why many budding bloggers, with the best intentions, never take action and actually get a website up.
When I built my first website (way back in 2008) I was scared stiff that I would make a dumb mistake that would cost me hundreds of hours of lost productivity, or fall for marketing hype and buy a bunch of stuff I really didn’t need.
I did so much research it’s a wonder that I ever got my first site up.
What I really wanted was for someone to tell me EXACTLY what I should do.
So, that is what I will do in this guide. I will show you the EXACT steps you should take to get your Blog online.
I won’t give you hundreds of options and variables. I will show you how I (and other knowledgeable Internet Marketers) set up profitable websites in 2020.
As you progress in your online marketing journey you will undoubtedly find your own favorite ways to do things. You may end up changing everything I tell you.
But for now, I will give you the exact steps you need to get your new blog online in the next 30 minutes.
This guide is broken down into 9 main steps:
- Pick a Memorable Name for Your Blog
- Purchase a Domain Name and Web Hosting
- Point Your Domain Name at Your Host’s Server
- Install WordPress Software
- Pick & Customize a WordPress Theme
- Install WordPress Plugins
- Customize Your Settings
- Site Structure & Navigation
- Go Live
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to accomplish any of these steps. I have laid it all out with plenty of pictures.
Before we begin let’s look at why we use WordPress.
There are hundreds of different website building platforms and website builders available online; WordPress, Wix, Joomla, Drupal, Blogger… Just to name a few.
But which one should you choose?
Here’s a graphic that shows how other people are building their websites in 2019:
As you can see WordPress is the most popular open source Content Management System (CMS) in the world. It is used to develop and edit approximately 60% of new websites – and for good reason:
- WordPress software is 100% free. Site builders like Wix.com have a monthly fee.
- WordPress is easy to install, customize and update.
- The software is constantly updated making it fast and secure.
- As the most popular CMS in the world there are thousands of developers creating themes and plugins that add just about any functionality you can think of.
- The massive user base means amazing support. Any WordPress question you have has already been answered on one of the numerous WordPress forums.
- Mobile-Friendly – Your WordPress site will perfectly resize on mobile browsers
WordPress really is the easiest and most intuitive content management systems available.
There are very few technical hurdles keeping you from publishing your content. But, at the same time, it is flexible enough to suit everyone, from mommy bloggers to fortune 500 companies.
In fact, some of the biggest companies in the world use WordPress for on their websites including:
Hey, if it’s good enough for Angry Birds!
Okay, so hopefully you’re convinced that you should build your website on WordPress, but before we move on to step 1 – here are the answers to some of the questions you may have:
Why Not Just Use a Free Platform Like Blogger.com?
The problem with building your site on someone else’s platform is that you never really own your site, they do.
Blogger.com is owned by Google, and they have been known to shut accounts down without warning for violating some vague term of service.
Can you imagine waking up one day and having all your hard work gone with no recourse?
I have a friend who spent a year and about $12,000 building a Facebook page to over 1 Million Fans. Then when Facebook was taking flack after the last US elections, they just shut his page down without warning. 1 Million fans gone… POOF!
So, if you want to build a real business the only choice is a self-hosted version of WordPress.
Also, having ownership of your domain name and hosting looks a lot more professional than having your site run under a company’s umbrella-like – yoursitename.wordpress.com
WordPress.com vs Self Hosted WordPress – What’s The Difference?
Some people may get confused as there are 2 different versions of WordPress.
WordPress.com is a platform owned by someone else. Your website is hosted on their servers and they can do whatever they want with your site including deleting it without warning.
This article is about building a Self Hosted version of WordPress. This means you have total control over every aspect of your website.
If you’re not sure what the difference is, you can read this post for more on the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org/self-hosted WordPress
What Is a Content Management System (CMS)?
I will be using the term Content Management System or CMS a lot in this article so here is a quick description of what it means
In short, a content management system (CMS) is software that allows you to create, manage, and modify content on a website without having to write any code at all.
If you can use Microsoft Word – you can use a content management system.
Step 1 – Pick a Memorable Name For Your Blog
Before you create your new website you will need to pick a name. Make sure you spend some time on this step. Picking the right name for your blog can go a long way to helping your brand and its message.
Katie from Orb Online says it best…
Brand is one of the most important things when starting a blog or any website, that name stays with you, everything you do is to build that name so it has to be something you’ll look back on as a great choice!
Unfortunately, once you start looking for the perfect name you will quickly find that most of the really great domain names have already been purchased.
Don’t get discouraged!
I wrote an entire article on how to choose a name for your blog, so if you’re having trouble finding a name you like, be sure to check that post out.
Here are some key points to keep in mind when deciding on a domain name for your site:
Picking A Domain Name – Pitfalls to Avoid
Try to Get a .com Domain
If at all possible, try to get the .com version of your domain name. It is by far the most popular domain extension and most legit sites will end with .com.
If the .com is not available you could use .net or even .org if your subject matter supports it.
Don’t Make Your Domain Name Too Complicated
Your blog name should be something people can easily remember. If you use a long, complicated name your readers are less likely to return to your site.
Don’t Go Too Narrow
If you pick a blog name like – germanshepardpetfoodreviews.com, and you later decide to write about other dog breeds your domain name will no longer make sense. So, leave room for expansion.
Don’t Use Special Characters and Numbers
In general numbers and hyphens in a blog name look spammy. If your brand is something like ‘Global 66” then, by all means, use numbers otherwise avoid them if possible.
Make Sure Your Name Works As a URL
Since there are no spaces in URLs, words are joined together. That can lead to a disaster. For instance, if your blog name was “Experts Exchange” – this is what your URL would look like…
Which could be read as “Expert Sex Change”. Probably not what you had in mind!
Are Social Media Accounts Available?
Social media is one of the greatest sources of blog traffic. Ideally, your social media usernames would be the same as your Blog name. Do a check to see if they are available.
Don’t USe Brand Names And Trademarks
Using another brand name in your domain name is a violation of copyrights, and you will probably get a cease and desist from the Trademark holder.
Just keep in mind, while a great domain name will definitely help your branding and memorability, ultimately it will not be the factor that determines your success or failure online.
What’s most important at this stage of the game is to just get a site up and running.
Step 2 – Buy a Domain Name and Hosting
Making your website accessible to people around the world requires two things; s domain name and hosting.
A domain name is the address of your website that people type into the browsers URL bar. It is analogous to a permanent address for a house or apartment. For example, mine is bighappyprofits.com.
Like a house, you will own this domain name forever (as long as you pay the yearly renewal) – it is your own little virtual real estate on the web.
WordPress software is 100% free, but you will still need somewhere to physically store all the images, content and files that make up your website.
That’s where hosting comes in.
When you purchase hosting you are basically renting space on a computer at one of your host’s data centers. Depending on the quality of the hosting plan there may be several dozen, to hundreds of other people sharing space on that machine.
That’s why it’s called “Shared Hosting”.
If you don’t like to share you can always get a Dedicated Server, that’s your very own computer sitting proudly in a rack in some giant server farm.
There are MANY advantages to using a dedicated server, but they are MUCH more expensive and really not necessary unless you are making real money with your blog
Where to Buy Your Domain Name
Namecheap has been my go-to registrar for years and there is really no reason to look elsewhere to purchase your domain. I’ve purchased almost 1000 domains from Namecheap in the last 10 years and have not had any problems.
Here are my 2 Golden Rules of buying a domain name:
- Don’t EVER buy your domain name at GoDaddy.
- Always buy your domain name at Namecheap.
Note: You can also buy a domain name in conjunction with your hosting package in the next step of this guide, you will end up paying 50% more per year for the domain but it will simplify the setup process a bit.
Personally, I like to keep my domains isolated on Namecheap as they have the best prices and great security. The choice is yours.
Buying a domain is the easy part – now let’s move on to hosting.
Which Web Hosting is best for a WordPress Blog?
A lot has been written about the best web hosting companies – most of it by affiliates trying to sell you web hosting packages.
Here are the most popular web hosts for starting a blog in 2019:
- A2 Hosting (www.a2hosting.com)
- Bluehost Hosting (www.bluehost.com)
- iPage (www.ipage.com)
- Dreamhost (www.dreamhost)
- InMotion Hosting (Inmotionhosting.com)
- HostGator (www.hostgator.com)
- SiteGround (www.siteground.com)
All these web hosts look similar on the surface, the prices are roughly the same, they have 1-click WordPress installs and free site migrations etc.
But there is one host that constantly comes out on top in, legit reviews, webmaster discussion forums and polls like these…
Siteground.com is the clear winner and the current darling of the webmaster community.
Why do so many savvy webmasters love Siteground?
I could write 10,000 words about why Siteground is a superior host, but we need to keep things moving along so here are some of the main points:
- Street Cred – Siteground is one of only 3 web hosts officially recommended by WordPress.org
- Speed – Siteground has its own proprietary caching system which makes your website load super fast. You get premium hosting speeds for 1/10th the price of a host like Kinsta.com.
- Security – Siteground’s security is second to none – I have never had a hacked site on either of my SiteGround accounts (I have 2)
- Support – People rave about Siteground’s support. I can’t vouch for this one first hand as I can’t remember ever having to use it – my sites just work.
Alternatives to Siteground
While SiteGround is my #1 choice for the best low-cost hosting – it is certainly not the absolute best hosting available.
SiteGround is all you will need until your Blog is consistently getting more than a couple thousand visitors a day.
Reaching 2000 visits a day may take several months or several years depending on how aggressive you are with creating content, doing SEO and posting to your social channels.
There are a couple of instances in which you may want to skip over SiteGround and start your blog on a more powerful host from day 1:
Reason 1 – If you have an existing source of traffic that will send a flood of visitors back to your site from day one, such as a large Instagram following or an active Youtube channel, then you may want to go with one of the more powerful choices below.
Reason 2 – If money is not an issue and you are one of those people who runs out and buys a $40,000 Ducati Panigale V4R Superbike before you even know how to ride (you know who you are) then SiteGround may be a little underwhelming.
If you fit into one of those categories here are 3 alternatives to SiteGround for your consideration:
WPX is the next step up from SiteGround. Their cheapest plan is around $20 a month to host up to 5 sites.
Their main selling point is speed. Independent testing has ranked them as the #1 fastest host online. Bighappyprofits.com is hosted on WPX Hosting and I am very happy with them.
WPX will be able to handle more visitors than SiteGround and if you ever get a spike in traffic they will be able to scale to handle it better.
- If you want more power but don’t want to spend and arm and a leg WPX Hosting is a great choice.
This is my current favorite Managed WordPress Hosting. I have my 2 biggest earning sites hosted on Kinsta.
Kinsta is a bit expensive, I have the “Business 1” plan which allows me to create 5 WordPress sites. The plan limits me to 100,000 visitors per month (they tack on an overage fee if I go over that allotment.)
If you start your website on Kinsta you will probably never have to move it. As your traffic grows you can just scale your plan up to keep pace.
Kinsta’s servers are bulletproof, and their support is excellent and lightning-fast. This last point is important if you have a website making real money.
- If you want the absolute best Managed WordPress Hosting and money is not an issue try Kinsta.
If you only have 1-2 main websites I would stick with Kinsta – but if you will be building many sites then a managed WordPress Plan on Bigscoots.com may be a better option.
Their Professional plan is $98.95 per month but allows you to create up to 10 WordPress Sites. And there is no monthly bandwidth allotment so the plan is a bit more flexible than Kinsta.
I had one of my viral sites on Bigscoots Managed WordPress Hosting. I was getting 10,000-20,000 visitors per day and the server was rock solid.
Unfortunately, when Facebook killed off Viral pages my traffic dropped to a couple hundred hits per day – so the $100 a month was not worth it and I dropped the server.
I currently have 2 of their VPS Cloud Hosting Plans.
- If you think you may need the flexibility to build multiple WordPress sites and want the absolute best support in the universe, sign up for Bigscoots.
If you decide to purchase hosting on one of these alternatives you can skip the next section of this guide. All 3 of them will pretty much handle setting your site up for you.
Why I Don’t Recommend BlueHost
If you have done any sort of research into “Best WordPress Hosting” you have probably seen the name Bluehost.com pop up quite frequently as the #1 choice for beginning bloggers.
This is mainly because Bluehost has a VERY aggressive affiliate program with some of the highest payouts in the business. This obviously incentivizes affiliates to recommend Bluehost over other hosts who are more deserving.
I’m not saying that Bluehost is a bad host. They were the first hosting plan I bought back in 2008, and I still have that plan active. Their servers are fast and dependable…
There are better hosts available for roughly the same price (like Siteground). So, don’t fall for the marketing hype.
If you are dead-set on using Bluehost, here is my affiliate link — Please feel free to use it – the sweet commission will keep my cats in Whiskas for a week!
Signing Up For Siteground – Get The Most Bang For Your Buck
So, now it is time to buy some hosting.
I’m sure you have bought stuff online before but I will run you thru it to make sure you select all the best options.
Click Here to Go To SiteGround
The plan you want is the WordPress Hosting. Click on the “Get Started” button and it takes you to the page where you can choose your plan.
You are presented with 3 options:
- StartUp (
$11.95$3.95/mo): Host 1 website, 10GB of storage, 24-hour support, basic caching.
- GrowBig (
$19.95$5.95/mo): Host unlimited websites, 20GB of space, unlimited bandwidth, priority support & an advanced caching system. RECOMMENDED
- GoGeek (
$34.95$11.95/mo): Same as the previous plans, advanced backup solution, Git repository & a staging area.
At $3.95 a month, the “StartUp” plan is dirt cheap, but I recommend going with the “Grow Big” plan instead.
For an extra 2 bucks a month, you get advanced caching, a staging area and best of all, the ability to create unlimited sites.
Believe me, once you see how easy it is to build a WordPress website you will want to make more.
If you want to buy your domain name at Siteground, choose option 1 “Register a New Domain”
If you have already purchased your domain at Namecheap choose option 2 “I already have a Domain” then enter your domain in the empty field.
We covered this before but I will say it again. There are many advantages to having all your domains in one central dashboard over at Namecheap, cost being the most obvious.
Cost of a .com domain:
- Namecheap – $8.88 per year (includes free who.is protection)
- SiteGround – $15.95 per year
As you can see, SiteGround’s prices are not exactly competitive. The only real benefit to buying your domain along with your hosting plan is that it will simplify the next couple of setup steps.
After making your decision… Click “PROCEED”
You will be taken to a pretty standard checkout page. Go ahead and fill these out:
- Account Information
- Client Information
- Payment Information
Next is Purchase Information – this is where we need to make some adjustments:
1. Data Center – The first thing you need to do is decide where you want your server to be located. Your options are:
- United Kingdom
- Europe (Amsterdam)
IMPORTANT! – You should choose the location where most of your visitors will come from. If you are a blogger based in the USA, choose USA. This has a significant effect on the speed of your website.
2. Period – Next, you need to decide how many years to purchase in advance. Assuming you decided to go with the GrowBig plan, your final bill for the first year will be as follows:
- 1 Month Trial: $5.95 (+$24.95 setup fee) Don’t even consider this one! All the plans have a 30-day money-back guarantee, which is basically a free trial if you refund.
- 12 months: Total bill $71.40
- 24 months: Total bill $142.80
- 36 months: Total bill $214.20
Your first thought would be to choose the 12-month option and then just renew at the end of the year.
The problem is, when you renew, you will have to pay full price for your Grow Big plan which is $19.95 a month instead of the $5.95.
That comes out to $238.40 a year.
If you purchase 2 years in advance now, you lock in the promo price of $71.40 for the second year as well.
So, you are basically saving $167 for each year you purchase in advance.
That is a pretty massive saving. If you end up staying with SiteGround for 3 years you could have saved $334 by paying upfront.
NOTE: I’m not trying to upsell you to get a bigger affiliate commission. I get the same amount no matter what option you pick. I just wanted to point out the massive savings.
So – go ahead and pick how many years you want to pay for.
3. Extra Services – The final part of this section only applies to people who want to move a site from another host. And you don’t need SG Site Scanner so just ignore these.
Finally, agree with their terms & condition and click on the pay now button.
On successful completion of your transaction, you should receive a confirmation email from SiteGround.
You will need to wait for your new SiteGround account to be set up before you can proceed, so if you haven’t received the welcome email yet, go get a cup of coffee or clean your sock drawer and check back in 20 minutes.
Step 3 – Point Your Domain Name at Your Hosts Server
This next part of the setup process is the most confusing for most people.
Before your new website can appear online, you need to tell the entire World Wide Web where your site is physically located.
This step is analogous to sending a change of address notice to the post office. You’re telling everyone – hey – I moved my website to this server at SiteGround’s Arizona data center – please send all further requests there.
Your request then “Propagates” to various other virtual post offices (registries) in every corner of the world.
So, now when someone types “yourdomain.com” in their browser – they are directed to your server where they can access the files that make up your WordPress website.
This process is called “Changing Your Nameservers” – and it is not half as complicated as it sounds.
Just follow the steps I have laid out below.
Setting Up a Domain You Purchased At SiteGround
If you purchased your domain name along with your SiteGround hosting account, the good news is, there is no need for additional setup because it is automatically configured for you.
You can skip to Step 4 of this guide.
Setting Up A Domain You Purchased at Namecheap
STEP 1 – The first thing we need to do is find out what the nameservers are for our specific hosting account.
SiteGround has many different nameservers so you need to be sure and use the ones that are specific to your account.
You can find this information over at site ground so go ahead and log into your new account then go to your User Area.
Then click on → My Accounts → Information & Settings → Account DNS:
Here you will find your nameservers – in my case they are:
STEP 2 – Next, you need to enter these nameservers over at Namecheap.
1. Sign in to your Namecheap account.
2. Select Domain List from the left sidebar and click the Manage button next to your domain:
3. Find the Nameservers section and select “Custom DNS“.
Now replace the existing nameservers with your SiteGround nameservers.
IMPORTANT! – Click on the green checkmark to save the changes.
Nameserver changes do not propagate instantly.
Once your nameservers are changed, it may take up to 24 hours (more, in rare cases) for local ISPs to update their DNS caches so that everyone can see your website.
Step 4 – Install WordPress Software
There are 2 different ways you can install WordPress to your SiteGround hosting account and once again the method you use will depend on where you purchased your domain name, Namecheap or SiteGround.
Installing WordPress On SiteGround Using the Setup Wizard
The first method is for people who purchased their domain name at SiteGround along with their hosting package and it is about as simple as it gets.
SiteGround has an awesome installer called the Account Setup Wizard which will walk you through the process of setting up your new website in minutes.
When you sign in to your User Area for the first time, you should see a pop-up asking if you would like to Start a new website on your account.
Select the WordPress option and click “Confirm”
A new section will appear where you should enter the login information for your new WordPress site. it is pretty self-explanatory. Fill it out and click on the Confirm button.
On the next page choose what Enhancements you wish to add to your account. I would just ignore these.
Click on the Complete Setup button.
That’s it! You can now go to the front page of your site and check out the newly installed WordPress application.
Installing WordPress On SiteGround Using Softaculous
So what’s Softaculous? Basically, it’s a software script library that automates the installation of content management systems like WordPress (also Joomla, Magento etc.).
SiteGround offers Softaculous which makes it easier for any non-technical user to install WordPress or any other script in minutes.
Step 1: Login to your SiteGround customer area and click on the button that says – “Go to cPanel”.
Step 2: Scroll down until you find the WordPress Installer and click on it. It will look like this…
This brings up the Softaculous installer page. There are a lot of distractions on this page. You can ignore all of them and just click on the Install button.
WordPress Software Setup Settings
This will reveal the site setup options. They look a bit intimidating so let’s just work thru them one at a time:
1: Quick Install – This will hide many of the installation details. I would not select that option as it is best to get your site set up correctly from the get-go.
2: Choose the WordPress version you want to install – It should default to the latest version and there is no reason to change it.
3: Choose Protocol – There are really 2 decisions to make here:
- a) Do you want your site to be www or non-www. This is totally up to you. If your domain name is on the log side I would go without the www.
- b) Do you want your site to be http or https (secure). You should select https as it is a signal to Google that your site is legit.
SiteGround now offers free SSL using LetsEncrypt & this will ensure your site will be served on HTTPS version. It should have been automatically installed when you signed up for the account.
So, if you want to use www and https the dropdown should look like this…
4: Choose Domain – At this point, you should only have 1 domain available, the one you used to sign up for your account, so this is a no-brainer.
5: In Directory – IMPORTANT: This should be blank. If there is something in there like “wp” delete it.
6: Site Name – Enter the name of your site here.
7: Site Description – Enter a ‘tagline”. Most themes won’t display this but you may as well add it if you have one.
8: Enable Multisite (WPMU) – Make sure this box is unchecked as you don’t want WPMU (Multiuser) enabled.
9: Admin Username – For security purposes, don’t use the name of the main author here. Pick something hackers can’t easily guess like “AmyL202”
10: Admin Password – The installer will auto-generate a secure password, feel free to use it or pick your own. Just be aware that hackers love WordPress sites so don’t make it easy on them – use a VERY secure password!
IMPORTANT! Be sure to store your username and password somewhere you won’t lose them.
11: Admin Email – Use an email you have access to and check frequently.
We are in the home stretch now – just 4 more options to cover:
12: Select Language – Choose the language you would like your WordPress platform installed in. The list of supported languages is huge.
13: Select Plugins – There are 2 optional plugins you can install here. Leave the boxes unchecked. There are better choices which we will install later.
14: Easy Setup – IMPORTANT! Uncheck this box!
This is a new installer script that SiteGround recently came up with. While it does simplify the remainder of the WordPress site set-up procedure, in my opinion, the themes and plugins they push are not the best choices and you will eventually need to replace them.
So, we will UNCHECK this box and install my preferred Themes and Plugins instead.
15: Advanced Options – These are mostly added security features to keep hackers from ravaging your website. Just leave everything at the default values – SiteGround has your back here!
16. Install – Hit the install button and WordPress will begin installing the software on your server. When it finishes you will get a message like this:
That’s it for the installation process.
I know it seems like a lot to take in, but once you get the hang of it you can zoom thru the steps. It took me about 30 seconds to install the demo site which I’ll be using in the next section to show you my favorite plugins and themes.
From here you can click the link to look at your new website which, which will look REALLY, REALLY boring at this point, so instead click on the “Administrative URL” link and you will be taken here…
This is your standard WordPress login page – it will always be: yourdomain.com/wp-admin.
Go ahead and enter your Username and Password (hopefully you wrote them down earlier). You will be taken to your WordPress dashboard.
This is where the real fun begins!
Step 5 – Pick, Install & Customize A WordPress Theme
The visual appearance of your WordPress website is controlled by a WordPress theme.
Every time you create a WordPress site, a basic theme is installed by default. This theme is pretty ugly and no one ever keeps it.
If you visit your new website it will currently look something like this:
Pretty darn ugly, huh?
But don’t worry, there are literally thousands of beautiful WordPress themes, free and paid, that will transform this Plain-Jane into a SuperModel…
How to Change Your WordPress Theme
At this point, you should be logged in to your WordPress admin dashboard. If not you can log in here:
(Be sure to replace yourwebsite.com with your own domain name.)
Most of WordPress’s options can be accessed from the lefthand menu. You can change your theme by clicking on Appearance » Themes…
On the next page click on the “Add New” button.
Pick Your WordPress Theme
Now comes the hard part – actually picking a theme to use on your site.
There are thousands of themes to choose from and you could spend hours on end perusing the WordPress theme gallery to find just the right one.
As I write this there are 4254 WordPress themes in the Popular category alone!
So, how do you filter it down to just one?
In the past, you would try to find a theme that was as close in looks and functionality as you could get to your ideal. It usually wasn’t perfect, but you would just live with it (or constantly change themes thinking the perfect one was still out there!)
But times have changed.
In the past couple of years, a new breed of WordPress themes has hit the market.
They are super-flexible, and when combined with a page builder plugin they can do anything you can think of.
My workflow has gone from using 50 different themes on 50 different websites, to using just 2 main themes on all my websites.
My 2 favorite themes currently are GeneratePress and Astra. And my favorite page builder is Elementor.
GeneratePress and Astra are very similar themes but Astra comes with some very nice free “Starter Sites”, so we will be using Astra in the next section of this tutorial.
If you want a more comprehensive overview of how to pick the perfect WordPress theme check out this article.
Install Astra WordPress Theme
To install Astra on your site type”Astra” in the search box at the top right of the Theme Gallery page. When the theme appears, hover over it and click the Install button.
Once the theme is installed – be sure to activate it.
If you go back and look at the front end of your website now, you will see that it has changed. It looks a bit better but it still needs work.
One of the great things about the free version of Astra Theme is that it comes with “Starter Sites”.
These starter sites are what will really make your site look professional. Here are some examples of their free starter sites:
All of those sites were built with Astra and can be installed on your site with a couple of button clicks.
Basically, Astra had some professional designers go into the back end theme preferences and create some very slick site designs.
This is a great starting point for your site and will usually get you 80% of where you want to be in terms of the form and function of your WordPress site.
The other 20% can be accomplished by tweaking the fully extensible preferences in Astra and your chosen page builder.
If you want to check out the complete library of Astra’s Starter Sites CLICK HERE.
You will notice that some of the most beautiful site designs are reserved for their paying customers. This is one of my favorites themes ever, I want to start a kids site just so I can use it!
But there are plenty of free starter sites as well.
How to Install an Astra Starter Site
So, let’s install a Starter Site.
In the left main menu, click on Appearance » Astra Options… Then over on the right find the “Install Importer Plugin”
This option box will appear…
What is a WordPress Page Builder?
A page builder is an optional WordPress plugin that allows you to edit the contents of a WordPress Page or Post in a visual manner.
They provide you with preformatted building blocks that you can simply drag and drop in the visual editor to build beautiful website layouts that look as good as anything a professional designer could create.
Some of these Page Builders (like Elementor) also allow you to customize ever element of your website, Header, Footer, Sidebar, Archive pages etc – so you have FULL control of every page on your site.
Currently, there is a bit of a Page Builder war in progress with dozens of companies trying to position their page builder as the Go-To solution.
The current forerunners are:
- Beaver Builder
- Visual Composer Website Builder
- Themify Builder
- Page Builder by SiteOrigin
Here’s Elementor in action:
Elementor is my favorite page builder. It is the most intuitive, has the best support and is not about to go out of business any time soon.
So, select Elementor and click Next.
This takes you to the site-library. If you broke down and purchased the pro version you will have 104 Astra starter sites to choose from, if not, click on the “Free” filter at the top of the page to view only the Free themes.
There are 49 free starter sites to choose from – scroll thru them until you see something that strikes your fancy then click on the site and a detailed view will pop up.
This is an actual working copy of the site – so you can click on the menu items and explore the look of the various pages on the site.
If you aren’t crazy about the starter site you can click the left and right arrows to go to another site or click X to go back to the library to keep searching.
NOTE: Before You Click Install
You should be aware that the installer is going to make an exact duplicate of the Demo site you choose, complete with logo, articles, images, and pages.
You will need to go in and swap everything out with your own content.
This is not a mistake, it is what we want. As a newbie, having this demo content in place will allow you to visualize what your site will look like when you have flushed it out.
It is a bit of work but it is MUCH easier than trying to build a site from scratch.
OK, once you have found a starter site you like – click the Import Site button.
Astra will give you a progress message and about 40 seconds later you should see this:
Click the View Site button to see what you have created!
Pretty cool, right?
What just happened in the background is nothing short of a miracle. Astra installed and configured plugins, created and populated Pages and tweaked all your Astra settings.
If you hired a web design firm to build this site for you they probably would have charged $3,000.
We will make more changes to the backend settings later – but first, let’s install some plugins.
STEP 6 – Install WordPress Plugins to Add Functionality to Your Blog
While themes are mostly about appearances and navigation, plugins are more focused on helping you add functionality to your website.
There are currently 55,244 plugins available in the WordPress plugin repository. Plugins can help you with things like creating contact forms, gathering leads, speeding up your site and protecting you from hackers.
There is a plugin for just about every use you can think of. The fact that there are so many plugins available is one of the reasons that WordPress is such a great platform.
But, not all plugins are created equal.
Many are poorly-coded or made by mom & pop developers who quickly lose interest in updating the plugin leaving your site vulnerable to hackers or glitches that could crash your server.
So, in this next section, I will show you where to find plugins and how to install them. Then I will show you the essential plugin stack I use on 90% of my websites.
HOW TO INSTALL WORDPRESS PLUGINS
To install a plugin head back over to the left-hand menu – Plugins >> Add New
This will take you to the plugin page where you can find all the plugins in the WordPress repository.
All of these plugins are free to use, this is required if they want to be included in the repository.
Many of the plugins have Premium upgrades that add additional features however all of the plugins I will be recommending work fine without upgrading.
To install a WordPress plugin you simply type the name of the plugin you’re looking for in the search box and when you see the plugin you want – click the “Install Now” button.
When the plugin is finished installing, make sure to press the “Activate” button.
NOTE: If you want to manage your existing plugins go to Plugins >> Installed Plugins
Now that you know how to install plugins, let’s take a look at the essential plugins you need to install to turbo-charge your blog.
8 Essential WordPress Plugins To Install
I’ve written an entire post on the best WordPress plugins and all of the ones I list below are on that list, so if you want to know more about the plugin I suggest you check that post out.
Here are the WordPress plugins you must have to make your blog fast, secure and functional:
Yoast SEO simplifies the process of optimizing your blog for search engines like Google and Bing. This will help you rank higher and in turn get more traffic to your site.
There are other great options, but as a novice, I would stick to Yoast SEO – it does everything you need.
WPForms helps you create a contact form which helps your readers get in touch with you. You’ll need this as WordPress doesn’t come with a default contact form.
If you installed an Astra Starter Site you will most likely already have this one installed.
Google Analytics Dashboard For WordPress – By Monster Insights
This nifty little plugin helps you configure Google Analytics on your WordPress site. I like to install it as soon as possible so I can monitor the progress of the traffic to my site.
You will need to set up a Google Analytics account to use this.
This plugin was automatically installed when you created your Astra Starter Site. It is the page builder that allows the slick design of things like your home page and “About Us” page.
Ultimate Addons for Gutenberg
This plugin should already be installed as well. It is created by the same company that makes Astra Theme. Gutenberg is the new WordPress default content editor. Ultimate Addons adds additional functionality to your editor.
This is the #1 security plugin for WordPress. It will help keep hackers from messing with your site.
A simple to use Backup plugin. Most legit hosts will take daily and weekly backups of your site but it is always a good idea to create your own as well, especially when you can automate the process with a plugin.
SG Optimizer (SiteGround Hosting Users Only)
If you’re using SiteGround as your host, you should install the SG Optimizer plugin. This plugin interfaces with the caching system on your Siteground server and allows you to achieve amazing page load times.
This plugin also has a ton of other great optimization features like Image compression and lazy-load.
It can be a bit tricky to set up correctly – here is a tutorial that will run you thru the settings.
Go ahead and install all the plugins – don’t worry you can always dump them later with the push of a button if you don’t like them.
Step 7: Customize Your Site Settings
We’re in the home stretch now. We have installed everything we need, now we just need to make some adjustments to the Theme and WordPress settings.
Change Theme Settings
To further customize your theme, you need to use the WordPress Customizer. This interface lets you make certain tweaks to your theme without needing to know code.
You can access it by going to Appearance → Customize:
With the customizer you can:
- Make changes by using the options in the left menu
- See a real-time preview on the website on the right
- Make your changes live by clicking Publish
Upload Your Own Logo
Whether you used an Astra Starter or just choose a random theme from the WordPress theme directory, the first change you will need to make is to upload a custom logo for your site.
If you have design skills you can make the logo yourself or you can get a custom logo made at Fiverr.com for around $10 bucks.
Don’t worry about getting this perfect. Some of the biggest brands in the world started with Logos that were pretty basic:
Changing their logos didn’t seem to negatively affect any of those 3 companies – so just get something up that is close to what you want – you can always improve on it later.
Here is how you upload a new logo to your Astra Starter Site (Note: This may be slightly different if you are using a different theme):
From the left hand customizer menu choose Header >> Site Identity
You will see 3 options for uploading your custom logo:
Logo – This is where you upload your main logo. Just click on the “Change Logo” button. Find your custom logo on your hard drive and upload it to the WordPress media library.
If you want to make your life easier you should try to design your logo so it’s the same height as the demo logo on your starter site.
The demo logo on the starter site I choose is 180×60 pixels. You can find the dimensions of any image (including your logo) by right-clicking on the logo and dragging down to “Inspect”.
Try it on the image below…
If you did not keep the same height as the Demo Image you may see something like this during the upload process:
You will need to hit the Skip Cropping button or your Logo will be cropped before upload.
Retnia Logo – This is a great feature, it allows you to upload a double-sized logo which will be displayed on High-Res Apple devices like Ipads and iPhones and MacBook Pros.
You should definitely take the extra time to upload a larger image here as it really will make your logo pop on Apple devices
Different Logo for Mobile Devices – Checking this box allows you to upload a separate logo that will be displayed on mobile devices.
Uploading a smaller version of your main logo will not make a difference in your page load speed so, in my opinion, it is not worth doing unless your mobile logo design is different than your main logo.
Here is what my settings look like after uploading my new logos:
Notice that the logo on the site simulator has been updated in real-time.
IMPORTANT! Be sure to press the Publish button in the upper left corner of the interface or the changes will not be saved.
Upload a Site Icon Image
If you scroll down a bit from the logo upload interface you will see the Site Icon upload area.
A Site Icon (or favion) is the little image that displays inside each of your browser tabs (see image below).
Many beginning bloggers just leave the theme’s stock site icon, but I think this is a big mistake.
Site Icons are tremendously helpful with branding and for browser navigation. I usually have at least 20 tabs open in my browser and site icons allow me to quickly switch tabs and find the site I’m looking for.
I highly recommend taking the time to make something bold and memorable here. As you can see from the selections of site icons above, there really is no standard practice. Just make something that reads well as a tiny 16×16 px image.
One of the most popular (and easiest) options for creating a site icon is to just use your site’s initials. So for my demo site – bigbadtiki.com – I could do something like this:
That took me all of 5 minutes and is already 100 times better than the stock site icon. I will probably swap it out later for something more appropriate like a simple Tiki mask.
Here is what it looks like in the browser bar. I dropped the yellow background before uploading as the letters did not pop enough.
Astra makes the process of adding a site icon very easy, you just upload one image and they will scale it for various devices.
The process for uploading the Site Icon is the same as for the logo so I won’t bother to detail it.
IMPORTANT! The recommended size for your Site Icon is 512×512 px – even though it will be displayed much smaller.
Change WordPress Settings
Now it’s time to make changes to the WordPress settings. These will be pretty much the same for everyone regardless of the theme you are using.
Set Your Permalink Structure
When you first set up your WordPress blog, your permalinks will look like this by default:
That’s pretty ugly and we need to change this for 2 very important reasons:
It is not user-friendly – This is the URL to my “Blog” page – but you would not know that by looking at the URL.
It is bad for SEO – The stock permalink structure is TERRIBLE for search engines like Google and Bing, and if you keep it how it is, you will find it VERY hard to ever appear in search results.
As an example, let’s say I have an article with the title – “10 Best Tiki Bars in California”. With the stock permalink structure, the URL would be – https://bigbadtiki.com/?p=505
But if we make a couple of changes to our settings we will now have – https://bigbadtiki.com/10-best-tiki-bars-in-california.
Much better for your users and for Google.
So, let’s change those permalinks.
Go to your WordPress dashboard and in the left sidebar menu click on Settings >> Permalinks
Then choose Post Name. This is the best option for useability and for Google.
Be sure to click Save Changes at the bottom of the screen.
Disable Pingbacks & Trackbacks
Pingbacks and Trackbacks are very hard to explain, so I won’t even try. If you want to know more about them you can check out this article.
What you need to know is that they’re left over from the early days of WordPress and in my opinion, are virtually useless in today’s spam infested World Wide Web.
The only people who really care about trackbacks and pingbacks anymore are Spammers, and if you leave them enabled you WILL get spam.
So do yourself a favor and just disable the suckers.
- Go to Setting >> Discussions.
- Uncheck “Allow link notifications from other blogs (pingbacks and trackbacks) on new articles”.
- Be sure to click the Save Changes button at the bottom of the page.
Now that you have these settings in place, it’s time to move on to the next step, create your core pages.
Step 8 – Site Structure & Navigation
A well-structured website is key to keeping your users (and search engines) happy.
So, let’s take a bit of time to set up the basic structure of our website and add some menus that will help our users find our best, most profitable, content.
Create Your Core Page
By default, WordPress comes with two different content types: posts and pages.
Posts are blog content listed in reverse chronological order (newest content on top). You will see posts listed on your blog page.
Posts belong to categories and have other information associated with them such as a publish date and an author.
If you are using WordPress as a blog, then you will end up using posts for the majority of your website’s content.
When first starting a blog, I recommend setting up the following static pages:
- About Page
- Contact Page
- Custom Home Page
Before I show you how to create and edit a page in WordPress, let’s first look at the pages and what function they serve.
Custom Home Page
Your home page will most likely be one of the most visited pages on your site and you want to use this prime real estate to your advantage.
There are quite a few factors to consider when designing your home page and it is based entirely on the goals of your site.
- Do you want to drive viewers to your best (and most profitable) content?
- Do you want to capture emails?
- Do you want to display information about your business (restaurant, gym etc)?
All the Astra starter sites create very professional looking custom home pages when you install them. Now it is just a matter of customizing them to suit your needs. We will cover how to do this in the final step of this tutorial.
On your “About” page, you should introduce yourself to your readers and talk about what they can expect from your blog. Link out to your other social profiles so that your readers can stay in touch with you.
If you used an Astra Starter site it will have created a custom “About” page for you. These premade about pages are usually pretty fancy and might be more than you need.
You can either edit the existing page or delete it and make a new one – which I will show you how to do below.
Having some sort of contact information on your site is essential. It lets your readers (and Google) know that you are a legit site.
You could put your email in the footer of the site, but spammers have spiders constantly scraping the internet for emails that they can spam. So, a much better option is to use a contact form.
Your starter site will probably have a contact page of some type in the main header menu – although it may not be called “Contact”.
For instance, mine is called “Get Fit” because my starter site is based on a Yoga Studio.
When I look at my “Get Fit” page I can see that it is actually a pretty slick custom contact form:
It would take quite a bit of work to create something that cool so I will rename and repurpose it. I will show you how to do this a bit later in the tutorial.
These 3 pages should be enough to get you started. So now let’s look at how to create and edit them in case you need to add additional pages.
How to Create a Page in WordPress
Let’s create our own “Contact” page so you can see how much better the Astra version is.
To add a new page in WordPress – in the left sidebar menu – just click on Pages >> Add New.
Type “Contact” in the title field.
When you’re done, just click the Publish button and the page will be live on your site.
Now we need to add the WPForms shortcode to our contact form.
In the left sidebar menu select WPForms >> All Forms… Then Right-Click and select Open in a new tab.
Go to the new tab and you will see that a form has already been created for you. Now all you have to do is copy the shortcode at the far right of the interface. Mine is
Paste the shortcode into the text area of your contact page (right below the title) – click the “Publish” button… Now a second “Publish” button slide in. Press that too.
Your contact form is now live.
Click on the “View Page” button directly below the Publish button and you will be taken to a page that should look something like this:
I like the Contact form that Astra created so we will use that in the finished demo site.
Create Your Categories
Now it’s time to sketch in your site structure.
Categories are like file folders that help to organize your posts. They may not seem all that important now since you don’t have any articles on your site, but when you get 100, or 1000 articles your site will become a navigation disaster without them.
So, doing a little brainstorming at this early stage will save you headaches later in the game.
Once again, the number and type of categories you choose will depend entirely on the type of site you’re running.
For the purposes of this tutorial, we will assume that you will be running some type of blog on your site
One of the easiest ways to come up with your categories is to simply look at other sites in your niche and see what they are doing.
I would try to avoid outright copying their category structure, but there is nothing wrong with taking inspiration from the sites that are killing it in your niche.
As an example – say you were creating a finance blog. You could look at one of my favorite sites in the niche – Nerdwallet.com.
Here is their main menu that shows the top-level categories:
- Credit Cards
That is a beautiful and elegant category structure that can work with just about any article they choose to publish.
After 5 minutes of researching other Tiki sites online, I came up with these 5 categories for my demo site BigBadTiki.com:
- Tiki Bars
- Tiki Culture
- Tiki Gear
- Tiki Cocktails
- Tiki Travel
I can always add more categories later, but this will get me up and running.
So, take a couple of minutes to come up with some preliminary categories for your own site….
Ok, let’s look at how to add your categories to your website.
In the left sidebar menu click on Posts >> Categories.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the Astra Starter Site Script has already created some categories for you. The names and amount of categories will be different for every starter site.
“Uncategorized” is the stock WordPress category. It can’t be deleted but it can be renamed, which we will do in a moment.
My starter site script created a category called “Yoga”.
Obviously, I won’t need this category for my Tiki site, so I am going to change the category name to “Tiki Bars”
To change the name of the category – hover your cursor just underneath the category name and a little menu will appear. Click on Quick Edit.
Now type in the name of one of your categories.
IMPORTANT! – You also need to replace the “slug” with your new category name or your category URLs will retain the old category name.
You can also just delete the old slug – a new slug will be automatically created from the new category name.
After filling in the name of your category, click the Update Category button.
Do the same thing with the “Uncategorized” category.
NOTE: If you have a main or default category you should use that one here because this is where a post will go if you forget to assign a category to it.
If your starter site created other categories you can also replace those with your own. If there are more than you need, go ahead and delete them by hovering your cursor under the category name and clicking Delete.
You can also create new categories.
Just enter the name of the category you want to add and click the Add New Category button.
You don’t need to enter anything in the “Slug” field – it will be automatically created from the category name field.
NOTE: We could have just deleted ALL the categories and created new ones from scratch – but the starter site demo has created a number of posts inside the demo categories that we want to keep.
These demo posts are invaluable for helping us to visualize what our site will look like when it has real content on it.
Create Your Main Menu
Now that your pages and categories have been created, it’s time to add them to the main menu of your new blog.
What you include in your main menu is largely dependent on what type of site you have. To illustrate this I will show you 2 different scenarios.
Scenario 1 – Tiki Construction Company Website
BigBadTiki.com is the website for a construction company that specializes in creating world-class Tiki environments for bars, hotels and private residences.
The front page of the site will be dedicated to showing potential customers who Big Bad Tiki is, and the amazing things they can do.
The main menu items would support the idea of WOWing visitors and turning them into paying customers.
Here are some of the things you may want to add to the main menu:
- You would definitely want a nice “About Us” page in the main menu to talk about your past achievements, education and awards.
- A “Contact Us” page would also be crucial so potential clients don’t have to go digging around your site if they want to hire you.
- To generate search traffic on Google and Bing, Big Bad Tiki also runs an active blog. So, we would want to include “Blog” in our main menu as well.
- A page that highlights past jobs would also be something potential customers would want to see. We will call this page “Past Creations”
- A “Home” link is alway niche to include in your main menu if you have room as well.
So, let’s create our first menu…
To create a menu go back to the left sidebar menu, click on Appearance >> Menus.
You will notice that a “Main Menu” has already been created for us by the Astra starter site script. If you chose a different starter site your menu items will look very different than mine.
This menu controls the current header menu on the site.
All of these menu items link to pages that were created by the Astra starter site script. But they aren’t exactly what we need so we will have to edit the page titles before we proceed.
In the left sidebar menu click on Pages >> All Pages. Here you can see all the pages that have been created so far.
We will only be editing the page titles at this point – not the actual content on the page so all you need to do is hover your cursor over one of the page titles and a small sub-menu will pop up – click on Quick Edit.
Now you can edit your page titles to suit your needs. I will change “About Me” to “About Us” since this is a company website not a personal trainer like the demo site.
NOTE: be sure to change the “Slug” field as well. You can just delete the slug and when you press the Update button, the slug will be recreated from the new title.
I also changed the “Get Fit” page to “Get in Touch”.
I will repurpose the existing “Publications” page and use it to display all my best past builds. So I renamed the page “Past Creations”.
I deleted the “Classes” page as I will not be needing it.
You can always “Unpublish” unneeded pages instead of deleting them if you think you may use them in the future. I just deleted mine to keep this tutorial streamlined.
Here’s what my pages look like when I’m done editing:
Now let’s add all those pages to our main menu.
In the left sidebar click on Appearance >> Menus to go back to your main menu interface.
If you deleted any pages in the last step you may see a pink menu item. This means the page no longer exists. We can go ahead and delete the menu item.
Just click the littl arrow at the right of the menu item then click “Remove”
No go ahead and rename the remaining menu items to match the pages we just edited. When you have finished press the “Save Menu” button
My menu interface now looks like this:
Just one more change…
I want “BLOG” to be the last menu item. To rearrange your menu items simply drag and drop. Be sure to press the “Save Menu” button again.
Now the site menu looks like this:
Scenario 2 – Tiki Blog
For our second scenario, BigBadTiki.com is a classic blog that publishes articles about All Things Tiki.
Our goal is to allow our users to easily reach all of our content, so our main menu will contain our categories which are:
- Tiki Bars
- Tiki Culture
- Tiki Gear
- Tiki Cocktails
- Tiki Travel
For this scenario, we will build a menu from scratch.
In the left sidebar menu click on Appearances >> Menus.
Click create a new menu.
Enter a name for your menu. I usually call mine “Main Menu” but since that is already taken let’s get creative and call it ‘Main Menu 2″.
Click “Create Menu”.
A blank menu is created. Now we need to add all of our categories.
In the Add menu items box select Categories >> View All – then put a checkmark next to all the categories you want to appear on your menu. See the animated gif below.
Be sure to click Save Menu.
Now you need to assign Main Menu 2 so it will appear in the header of your website.
To add the menu to your header, click on Manage Locations tab, then select your menu in the location where you want it to appear.
NOTE: Your menu locations may be named something different depending on the starter theme you chose, but usually, there’s a primary, main, or header menu area for you to add your main menu to.
Be sure to press Save Menu.
Step 9 – Final Cleanup and Go Live!
Delete Demo Content
If you used and Astra starter site there will still be some stray post. While these are great for visualizing how your archive and blog pages will look – we don’t want to leave these posts up on our live site.
So here is how you delete them.
Write Your First Post
Before you make your website visible to search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, you should have at least one original article up on the site.
So, either write something yourself or hire a writer to write your first post. It doesn’t need to be Hemmingway quality, you just need something that Google will consider quality content so they will see your site as something worth paying attention to.
There is something called “The Google Sandbox”. Google is very leery of brand new sites – so you will find it very difficult to rank in the top 20 search results until your website has a bit of age.
This Sandbox period typically lasts for 2-3 months – so even if you will not be actively publishing articles on your blog for some time, you should have at least one up immediately so when you are ready to work on your site you are already out of the sandbox.
Make Sure Your Blog Is Visible to The Public
IMPORTANT! This last step is CRUCIAL if you want search engines to send you any traffic!
You need to make sure that your blog is visible to the search engines so that it can be ranked.
To make sure that it’s visible, you need to do the following.
- Go to Settings » Reading
- Make sure that the box in the search engine visibility section is unchecked.