How to Build a Small Business Website with WordPress

Wednesday Jul 13th 2011 by James A. Martin
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After the initial setup, you can easily update and add new content to your small business website -- no fancy footwork or IT degree required.

If you're toying with creating a small business website or blog, allow me to detain you for a moment.

Maybe you're considering hiring a website designer to create, maintain and update your site. It's a perfectly reasonable option, especially if you have no knowledge of -- or zero interest in learning -- website programming.

But there is a DIY option well worth considering: creating a site with WordPress.

WordPress is essentially a highly flexible content management system that can serve as the foundation for a blog or a fully-fledged small business website for online marketing or ecommerce. With a WordPress-built site, you can easily add new pages and blog posts yourself; no knowledge of HTML, CSS or any other mind-numbing acronyms is required.

You can customize the look of your site so that it's unique. You can add new capabilities via hundreds of plug-ins. Plus, your site will be search-engine friendly from the get-go. And using plug-ins such as the All in One SEO Pack, you can optimize each page and post to boost its search engine rankings.

To build a site like this, you need to download WordPress from WordPress.org. The software is free because it's open source. Even better, many WordPress themes (design templates) and plug-ins are free. The only thing you may need to pay for is Web hosting, which can be as low as $6 a month. (Alternatively, you can host your WordPress site on your own server.)

The following is a how-to guide for building a small business website or blog using free WordPress.org software. The steps I've outlined are based on my experience creating a new site for myself, at www.jamesamartin.com. For what it's worth, I have no website design experience whatsoever (which may or may not be obvious if you view my site).

FYI, this article doesn't cover using WordPress.com to build a new site or blog. WordPress.com is a free blogging platform that doesn't require you to have your own hosting service. The downside is that it doesn't provide all the customization (or access to plug-ins) that a WordPress.org-built site offers. For a comparison of WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org, read "Power Your Small Business Website with WordPress" or this support article from the WordPress.com site.

Step 1: Choose a Web Hosting Service

You'll need a service to host your new site or blog. Technically speaking, you'll need a Web hosting service that supports PHP version 5.2.4 or greater and MySQL version 5.0 or greater. WordPress.org recommends Apache or Nginx "as the most robust and 'featureful' server for running WordPress" and says the Web hosts listed in its directory meet all these requirements "with no problems."

After reviewing the options listed in WordPress.org's directory, I chose Bluehost. The service is featured prominently in the WordPress.org directory; offers unlimited disk storage, email addresses and monthly data transfers; and is a good value at it's regular $6 per month price. Currently, the company's running a special $5 per month rate for the next few weeks.

More importantly, Bluehost made installing the WordPress software to my Bluehost hosting account extremely easy. I just clicked to install it using Bluehost's Web-based control panel, rather than having to go through steps 2 through 6, as described below. If you don't have much website design/setup experience, this is definitely the way to go.

The two times I needed help, I called Bluehost's 24-7 toll-free tech support. They answered right away and gave above-average support, though the second rep I spoke to wasn't quite as helpful as the first.

Have you already purchased a domain name for your new site elsewhere? If so, you'll need to log into your domain name registrar account and configure the nameserver settings so that they point to your hosting service's nameservers.

Example: If you bought your domain name from GoDaddy but you've chosen Bluehost as your hosting provider, you'd log into your GoDaddy account, select the domain you want to use for your WordPress site, select 'Set Nameservers,' and enter Bluehost's nameserver addresses (ns1.bluehost.com and ns2.bluehost.com). You don't have to transfer your domain from GoDaddy to Bluehost.

Steps 2 -- 6: Download WordPress; Create a Database; Upload WordPress

If the hosting service you've chosen doesn't offer one-click WordPress installation, you'll most likely need to follow steps 2 through 6 below:

2. Download the latest WordPress software to your computer. WordPress 3.2 is the latest version as of this writing. All the files come packaged together in a .zip archive.

3. Create a database for WordPress on your Web server and a MySQL user with privileges for accessing and modifying the database. The WordPress.org site offers detailed installation instructions for this and all other steps in the process. (If you go the manual route, I highly recommend printing and reading the installation instructions.)

4. Unzip the archive and find the file named wp-config-sample.php. Change the name of that file to wp-config.php. You should edit the file to include your database information, such as the database name and users. Use a basic text editing program -- Notepad on Windows, for instance, but not Microsoft Word, which automatically adds formatting to text files.

5. Upload all the WordPress files to your hosting account with an FTP client. FTP software is required to manually upload files to your hosting account. Among the more popular programs are FileZilla (for Windows, Mac and Linux) and Cyberduck (for Windows and Mac), both of which are free.

6. Next it's time to run the WordPress installation script. If you placed all your WordPress files in the root directory for your domain, type the following in your Web browser's address bar: http://example.com/wp-admin/install.php, substituting example.com for your actual domain name. If you placed all your WordPress files in a subdirectory entitled blog, you'll need to type the following in your browser's address bar: http://example.com/blog/wp-admin/install.php. WordPress will step you through the process from there.

Step 7: Choose a WordPress Theme

A WordPress theme gives your site a particular look and feel. Some are free; others cost money. Some are highly customizable, others not so much. Given the thousands of available themes, you could spend weeks trying to settle on one.

I chose the DIYthemes Thesis theme ($87). Of the themes I investigated, I found Thesis the most easily customizable. A website design novice such as myself can easily tweak fonts and colors, create drop-down navigation menus and tons more. For reassurance after making a change, you click the Big Ass Save Button. And the Thesis theme comes with lots of SEO options as well, such as the capability to customize the title tag and meta description of each page and blog post.

Once you choose a theme, download the necessary files as a .zip archive to your hard drive. For me, installing Thesis was just a matter of logging into my new WordPress site, clicking Themes under Appearance, clicking the Install Themes tab, clicking the Upload button, and then choosing the .zip archive I downloaded.

Other WordPress themes and theme sets recommended to me by colleagues include:

  • Theme Forest: Currently offers more than 4,000 WordPress and other website templates, many of which are inexpensive.
  • Theme Foundry: Vigilance in particular is a crisp, clean, SEO-friendly theme with both a free and pro version ($68).
  • Studio Press Pro-Plus: For $299 you get a variety of child themes you can use, all based on the search-engine-optimized Genesis 'foundation' theme. Or you can just purchase a single theme.

Step 8: Download and Install Plug-ins

WordPress plug-ins add functionality to your site. There are hundreds from which to choose, but here are a few to get you started.

  • All in One SEO Pack -- for optimizing your posts and pages
  • Google Analytics for WP -- an easy way to add Google Analytics code to your site so you can get data on your site's traffic
  • Jetpack by WordPress.com -- lets you easily add WordPress.com features to your site, such as a widget to stream your Twitter feed
  • SMS Text Message -- enables visitors to receive text-message updates when your site is updated
  • WordPress Database Backup -- an easy way to back up your site's files
  • WP Security Scan -- scans your site to ensure it is secure from malicious hackers or other threats
  • XML Sitemaps -- automatically creates XML sitemaps for Google, putting you on the fast track to getting indexed by Google's 'bots'

And then you're done. Now you can update and new content to your small business website whenever you want. There's also a WordPress iPad app, so you can refresh your site on the road.

James A. Martin is a San Francisco-based SEO, social media, and blog consultant. He also writes iPhoneGuide, an iPhone blog for business users and IT professionals. Follow him on Twitter.

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