How to set up a WordPress Website in 2023 – Hosting to Theme Customization

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In our modern era, it seems like everyone has a website - so why don't you? If you answered, "I just don't know where to start!" - breathe a sigh of relief. You're in the right place!

If you've been wanting to launch a website, blog, or online side-hustle, this article will walk you through everything you need to know. Not just theory - but simple, straightforward, step-by-step directions for spinning up a website all on your own. Even if you have the technological prowess of a cocker spaniel, you can follow these steps and be well on your way to building your online empire.

What this article covers

*Denotes an affilliate link.

1. Domain Name

The first step in setting up a WordPress website is to get a domain name.

A domain name is your website address - it's the URL people will type into their web browser to find your content. It's usually the name of your blog or business and ends in "dot-com".

For example, I own the domain codeconfetti.com.

Domain names need to be purchased from a domain registrar, a company that allows you to purchase, register, and manage an internet domain name. There are many domain registrars, and one that's familiar to most of us is GoDaddy. That's not to say that GoDaddy is the best domain registrar out there, but it's been around forever and virtually everyone has heard of it, so it's a popular choice.

Reserving a domain name is not a one-and-done ordeal. In most cases, you'll pay an annual renewal fee to keep your domain. The price varies depending on who you purchase your domain from, but it also varies due to how "searchable" or "popular" your chosen domain name is. In fact, your first choice may not be available, or the price may be so high that you're forced to compromise. That's okay.

Your domain name doesn't need to end in "dot-com" to be relevant. There are many ways to drive traffic to your website, so you don't have to rely on people typing in your exact URL in order to find your content. Consider .org, .net, or other popular extensions like .biz or .blog - whatever is relevant to your business. Expect to spend on average ~$15 per year on your domain name.

So where should you purchase your domain name?

Nowadays most domain registrars also offer website hosting, which we'll cover next. You don't have to purchase your domain name and hosting from the same company, but it does make things easier. Here are some popular domain registrars/hosting providers:

  • GoDaddy

  • *Siteground

  • Domain.com

  • Hostinger

  • Namecheap

  • Hostgator

I recommend *Siteground. I've used them for over a decade because they are affordable and reliable (speedy servers with limited service interruption, good security, support & daily backups). I've also worked with many web design agencies who use Siteground professionally to host client websites.

But always explore your options. This article from WP Beginner compares "The 7 Best Domain Registrars".

2. Hosting Provider

The second step in setting up your WordPress website is putting your domain name online with a hosting provider.

Don't let the terminology scare you. To put it simply, a hosting provider owns the servers where your website files are stored online. This is what allows users to view your LIVE website when they type your URL into their internet browser or click on your links.

As mentioned previously, you can purchase a domain and hosting through the same service provider. Again, I personally use and recommend *Siteground. You'll see a lot of bloggers recommending Bluehost, but I would steer clear. I've worked with them in the past and found their service to be unreliable and their customer service to be a headache.

Hosting providers offer different pricing packages based on how many websites you're hosting and some other details. The first time you register for hosting, you get a STEEP discount - something like $2.99/mo, but you will pay for at least 12 months up front, so plan on spending ~$50. If you don't know which plan to pick, start with the most basic - you can always upgrade later.

Like your domain name, hosting is not a one-and-done ordeal. You'll have to renew your hosting, usually annually, and the price will go up significantly when you do (ie. from $2.99/mo to $14.99/mo). If it's in your budget, take advantage of sales & holiday offers on Black Friday or Cyber Monday to get the best price.

If you purchase your domain name and hosting through the same provider, you're ready for step 3 - installing WordPress.

However, if you already have a domain name with one company and you decide to purchase your hosting from a different company, you'll need to Google "how to point my domain name to my hosting provider" and follow the steps in the article from your hosting provider. It's usually a simple process, and often customer support is able to assist or even complete the steps for you. Here are direct links on how to do this from popular hosting providers:

3. WordPress (100% Free Open-Source Content Management System)

The third step in setting up a WordPress website from scratch is installing WordPress!

But what even is WordPress? WordPress is a 100% FREE open-sourced CMS, or content management system. According to Wikipedia, "Open-source software is computer software that is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to use, study, change, and distribute the software and its source code to anyone and for any purpose. Open-source software may be developed in a collaborative, public manner."

Don't worry about the open-source part if it's confusing. It doesn't mean that just anyone can come in and make edits to your website. It actually means you get to use WordPress developer's code and modify it to your needs! And the icing on the cake? It's completely FREE to install, modify, and use.

When installed and maintained correctly, your WordPress website is secure. If you follow WordPress best-practices and keep it updated with the latest version, you'll limit any vulnerabilities or hacking attempts.

The main benefit of using WordPress is that you have a backend GUI (graphical user interface) for adding and maintaining your content called the WordPress dashboard. This allows you to easily add media files, write blog posts, design page layouts, and even sell products online without worrying about what's going on "under the hood" - and trust me, if you knew what was actually going on under there you would've given up three steps ago! So don't forget to count yourself WordPress-blessed. Generally speaking, your WordPress backend looks like this:

Wordpress backend dashboard

How do you install WordPress on your website?

WordPress is SO popular and used by SO MANY PEOPLE globally that hosting providers have made it easy for you to install WordPress on your website - usually just one click.

Login to your hosting provider and select the domain name where you want to install WordPress. The steps will look different depending on who your hosting provider is, but look for something along the lines of "Install & Manage WordPress" (this is what it's called in Siteground) and let the setup Wizard do the rest! When in doubt, never hesitate to reach out to your hosting provider's customer service or GTS! (Google that sh*t!).

Articles for how to install WordPress on popular hosting providers:

After WordPress is installed, you'll login to the backend of your new WordPress website at:

[yourdomain.com]/wp-admin

You can also access the backend without logging in through your hosting provider account.

Before you move to the next step, I recommend watching this video from WordPress on how to navigate the backend of your website: Getting Familiar with WordPress.

Check out these FREE WordPress Courses
Wordpress.org has a catalog of FREE courses that will teach you how to navigate, edit, and build a WordPress website. If you're a WordPress beginner, I highly recommend devoting some time to these tutorials.

4. WordPress Themes & WEbsite Templates

Step 4 in setting up a WordPress website is choosing a theme.

If you completed steps 1-3, you've successfully purchased a domain name & hosting, and you've installed WordPress on your website. Congratulations! You deserve a pat on the back for getting through that "technical stuff" that no one enjoys.

Now it's time for the fun part - making a website that looks the way you want it to! And you're going to start by choosing a WordPress theme.

Your new site already has the latest WordPress theme installed by default. In the backend of your WordPress site, hover over Appearance and then click on Themes to see which theme is currently active on your site.

What is a WordPress theme?

A WordPress theme is a collection of files that control the way your website looks (and in many cases, functions). The good news is you don't need any coding skills in order to use a WordPress Theme - in fact, that's the whole point: a lot of the style work is done for you.

I hate to overwhelm you, but there are 11,119 FREE WordPress themes (and counting) you can choose from to get your website up & running quickly. You can browse all the available themes here.

But how do you choose which theme is best for you? Here are three ways you could go about choosing:

  1. You can choose a theme based on LOOKS.

  2. You can choose a theme based on FUNCTIONALITY.

  3. You can purchase a premade theme or template with the LOOKS you love and FUNCTIONALITY you need.

As a WordPress theme designer, I recommend option 3! It's the quickest way to get a website up & running so you can get back to what's most important - creating content, building your audience, selling products, etc. You can browse or purchase my WordPress themes here. All of them are built on top of the free Kadence Theme. Technically speaking, they are Kadence "Child Themes" which means they use the Kadence Theme for functionality and my child-theme design for looks.

If you want to design your own website from scratch, here are some free WordPress Themes I recommend:

The reason I recommend these themes is the functionality they provide and the ability to build virtually anything. These themes "unlock" many areas of your WordPress website that other themes don't, allowing you to customize without needing to know how to code. They are all free, but each of them offers a "pro" version of their theme that allows you to unlock additional features.

To install one of these themes, in the backend of your WordPress site, hover over Appearance and select Themes. At the top of the screen, click "Add New" then use the search bar to find the theme you want to install. You'll select it, click Install, and then click Activate. Congrats - your theme is installed!

After you install a theme and then preview your LIVE Website, it isn't going to look like anything. Don't panic - that's because you don't have any content yet!

Don't worry - we'll get to that next.

5. How To Customize Your WordPress Site

Step 5 in setting up a WordPress site is customizing your website.

For many, this is the most time-consuming part of the process. Besides adding your site name, header, footer, logo, fonts, colors, etc., you need to decide how many pages you'll need and what they should look like. If you're a beginner, or if you don't have good design skills, this task can be especially overwhelming.

This is where many wanna-be bloggers and online biz owners get stuck or quit altogether, but it doesn't need to be! WordPress templates and child themes are very affordable, and unlike your domain name and hosting, they are a ONE TIME PURCHASE!

Website designers like me spend a lot of time creating an entire website template so that you don't have. All the features and pages you want are already built out, and all you have to do is plug in your own content. When you purchase a Code+Confetti theme, you get step-by-step video tutorials that walk you through everything you need to know about editing your template in the backend of your site.

If you still want to go the route of designing everything yourself, check out this free course creating a 4 Page Business Website from scratch.

6. Gutenberg Blocks - What are they?

Step 6 in setting up a WordPress website is understanding Gutenberg.

You won't get very far in your WordPress journey before you encounter terms such as "Gutenberg" or "Block Editor" or "Full Site Editing (FSE)".

What is Gutenberg?

Gutenberg is a series of block elements that allow you to build custom layouts in WordPress without any coding knowledge. Not long ago, in order to design or build a WordPress website, you needed knowledge of coding languages such as PHP, HTML, and CSS. Armed with only a basic text editor for adding content to posts and pages, you were severely limited in what you could do with WordPress unless you could code.

Enter Gutenberg. Gutenberg has evolved over the past few years into (allegedly) full site editing (FSE). Why do I say "allegedly"? Well, Gutenberg is meant to compete with popular builders like Elementor and Divi (more on these in the next section), but it's capabilities are very basic in comparison.

However, many modern themes come with their own set of "custom blocks" to extend or enhance the page building experience in Gutenberg. Kadence is one such theme with a great set of free blocks and even more options if you upgrade to the pro version.

I highly recommend Kadence Theme. This free theme is what my child themes are built on, or you can upgrade to *Kadence Pro to unlock additional blocks & features.

A major pro of using Gutenberg or a Gutenberg-friendly theme like *Kadence theme is that they are "lightweight," meaning they load quickly and aren't as likely to bog down your website with bloated code as other page builder options are.

But what about page builders? What do you need to know, and how do you know if you should use one?

7. Page Builders for WordPress

The seventh step in setting up a custom WordPress site is choosing a page builder - maybe.

What is a page builder?

A page builder is a plugin or theme that allows you to build your WordPress website in a "drag and drop" editor. Page builders are not required to design a great WordPress website, but they are extremely popular with people who don't know anything about styling or code. They are feature-rich and allow you to build custom page layouts very quickly.

What are some popular page builders?

  • Elementor Pro

  • Divi

  • SeedProd

  • Beaver Builder

  • Visual Composer

Some of these builders, such as Elementor, have a free version that you can get started with, but to get the most features out of your page builder, you'll need to pay for the premium version.

While page builders are enticing with their abundance of features, they aren't a perfect solution. One con of page builders is they can be quite cumbersome and bloat your site with unneeded code, which may cause it to slow down. Each builder has a unique interface and it's own features, so expect a big learning curve out of the box.

8. WordPress Plugins

The eighth step in setting up a WordPress site is adding plugins.

What are WordPress plugins?

Plugins are little packages of code that extend the capabilities of your WordPress website. If you can code, you can even create your own WordPress plugin, but most likely you'll be installing a plugin offered by a third party, available through WordPress' plugin repository.

  • For example, you may want to pull in reviews from your Google Business profile and display them on your website. A plugin can do that.

  • You may want to add a live Instagram feed to your website. A plugin can do that.

  • You may want to add a live chat bot to your website. A plugin does that.

  • You may want to build a sales funnel that generates new leads. A plugin can do that.

  • You may want to sell products or accept payments on your website. Plugins do that.

  • Whatever you want to do on your WordPress website that goes beyond writing blog posts or building page layouts, there's probably a plugin for that.

Free Versus Paid Plugins

WordPress plugins are easy to install. From the backend of your website, hover over "Plugins" in the sidebar and select "Add New". You can search for plugins, browse popular plugins, or upload purchased plugins.

Just like themes and page builders, there are many awesome FREE plugins for WordPress, but the really good or really specific functionality is going to cost you, and in most cases is well worth the money.

9. WordPress Updates & Website Maintenance

The ninth step in setting up a WordPress website is Maintenance.

Now that you've got your WordPress website up and running with your chosen theme or page builder, plugins installed, and awesome content - you can just leave it, right? Wrong.

Following WordPress best practices and performing routine maintenance is key to operating a secure and trustworthy website.

How do you maintain a WordPress website?

  • First of all, read this article from WordPress about security.

  • Only use trusted themes and plugins.

  • Install an SSL certificate (your hosting provider should provide this FREE of charge. Never pay for an SSL certificate).

  • Keep WordPress, themes, and plugins updated.

  • Consider adding a security plugin.

  • Don't use "admin" as your login username, and set a strong password.

When updates are available, you'll find them in your WordPress backend. Red circle icons will appear next to "Dashboard > Updates" or "Plugins".

10. What about e-commerce?

The tenth step in setting up your WordPress website is all to do with e-commerce.

What is e-commerce?

E-commerce is an online store, and you can sell products through your WordPress site with plugins and third-party software.

Popular e-commerce plugins for WordPress are:

  • Woocommerce

  • Bigcommerce

  • Shopify (buy now button)

While e-commerce is possible with WordPress, I won't pretend like it's the easiest or best option if you want to have an online store. If I was serious about e-commerce, I'd use a solution like Shopify or Square. These all-in-one platforms cost a bit more per month, but everything is easier to manage.

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