TL;DR Any WordPress website is made up of the following:
- Domain – your site needs a name (sitename.com, mysite.org, etc.), and it’s super affordable.
- Hosting – your site has to “live” somewhere. And rent isn't free. Not all hosting is created equal, so weigh your needs against the cost of different kinds of hosting.
- Theme – the look and feel of your site. Some themes are free, others are paid.
- Plugins – the functionality of your site (i.e. eCommerce, accept payments, contact forms, registrations for events, email opt-ins, etc.) Like themes, some plugins are free and others are paid.
- Content – the meat/message of the site. What do you want people to know or do after visiting your site.
You (yes you) can build a WordPress website
If you think building a website is something you could never do on your own, the mere thought of attempting such a feat might seem daunting. But I can just about guarantee it's not as complicated as you might imagine. In recent years, user-friendly platforms like WordPress have made the website building process a lot less complex than it used to be. In this post I’m going to outline the 5 essential components of a basic WordPress website. Once you have a handle on the general concepts presented here, you’ll see that putting a WordPress website together is something that you can definitely pull off. When you grasp the concepts outlined here, you'll be well on your way to having your very own WordPress website.
The 5 Essential Components of Every WordPress Website
In simplest terms, a functional WordPress website is made up of the following five components:
A bit more descriptive way to think of these components might be:
- Domain = your web address (www.mysite.com). It’s similar to your mailing address. But for your website.
- Hosting = where your site “lives” on a web server – your digital real estate.
- Theme = look and feel, general design of your site
- Plugins = functionality; the ability to do stuff (i.e. email list opt-ins, contact forms, eCommerce, etc.)
- Content = your message, purpose, call(s) to action Those five elements are the meat and potatoes of any WordPress website. Now let’s explore the role each of these components play in making a website work.
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A domain or domain name is simply the web address of your site. It's the bit of text that identifies “where” search engines should take people when they click or type in your website. Domains come in a variety of flavors. And they don't always have to end with the more commonly recognized suffixes known as top level domains (TLDs) such as .com, .org, .net. For example, the site you're reading this on ends with “.studio” instead of “.com”. Your domain can end with whatever TLD you like.
Quite simply, you should pick a domain name that represents your business and ends with a TLD you're happy with. Someone in the technology industry might use a trendy TLD like .tech or .io and someone in the fashion industry might want something like .style or .fashion. But at the end of the day, it makes no difference what TLD you choose. Some prefer staying with the more recognizable TLDs like .com, .net, .org, etc. but you do you. If you'd like to use a less common TLD, you might even save a few bucks as they're typically a bit less expensive than more common ones.
I recommend purchasing your domains through Namecheap, primarily because I’m a sucker for a user-friendly interface. I’ve found it really easy to navigate their dashboard and make the domain name system (DNS) setting adjustments required to point a domain to a server. I'll discuss pointing a domain below. Another great company to manage your domain name is Cloudflare. But they are far more than a domain registrar.
Cloudflare is a content distribution network (CDN) and security tool that enables tons of benefits for your site for free. I won’t lay out everything Cloudflare does here, but you can listen to more about it on Episode #36 of WP the Podcast or just view the show notes available at the same link. The primary benefit of using Cloudflare’s DNS is the fact that any settings changes made on Cloudflare are reflected almost instantly worldwide while most other DNS providers can take 24-72hrs for propagation to complete.
Bonus Tip Propagation refers to the amount of time a change made on your server takes to be reflected across the internet worldwide. Since Cloudflare uses its CDN to store parts of your website all around the world, propagation time is much shorter than domain registrars who aren't using a CDN.
Here’s a video that explains DNS propagation in under 2 minutes:
Where your domain is registered makes no difference in your website’s performance. Ultimately, any domain registrar will do. But as mentioned above, domains registered through Cloudflare or using Cloudflare’s nameservers will reflect DNS changes more quickly across the web. So if you’re the patient type, you may not be interested in using Cloudflare for your domain registrar. But if you’d rather not have that waiting period, it may be the right choice for you.
Find a domain name that suits you and purchase it before someone else snags it. Once you've secured a domain for your website, you need to purchase some digital real estate where your website can be built – so let's talk hosting.
Like I mentioned above, hosting refers to the bit of server space where a website lives. Hosting is technically server space that you “rent” from a company that allows you to store your website on their equipment. And rent isn't free. Hosting is typically paid for on a monthly, annual, or multi-year basis. Types of hosting range from very affordable with minimal features and little-to-no support to very expensive with loads of features and support and everything in between.
The most affordable type of hosting is Shared Hosting. It can be appropriate for a basic use cases like low-traffic brochure-style sites, but there are many applications where shared hosting is not advisable. I’ll explain. Shared hosting it's cheap for a reason. You share resources with, sometimes, thousands of other websites on the same server. So rather than having your own allotment of resources for storage, speed, etc. you get a piece of the pie that everyone else is vying for.
And if there are bigger sites with higher levels of traffic getting a lot of traffic on your shared server, your site might get shorted on resources (slower page loads, server errors, etc.) making for a poor user experience on your site. So by no fault of your own, your site performance takes a hit. Shared hosting is also the least secure form of website hosting. If someone on your shared server isn't abiding by best practices for security, they could open up a back door to your site making it easy for your site to be compromised for someone else's bad behavior. This means you’re more vulnerable to hacks, malware, and ransomeware – even if your site is doing everything correctly. Bad actors can still end up getting access to your site and doing damage.
For small, low traffic websites that aren't running eCommerce or some other important arm of a business – shared hosting may be just fine for some websites. But if eCommerce or lead generation is something that matters to you, I highly advise you opt for some form of “dedicated” hosting. Dedicated Hosting means you get dedicated resources. This is better for performance as you’ll never experience performance dips due to other sites on your server getting high levels of traffic (because you’re not sharing a pool of resources with other sites). And you’ve also got your own allocated server space, so you’ll never run out of space due to other sites taking up more than their fair share of resources.
Dedicated hosting is also better for security as your site can’t be accessed by bad actors through server-side backdoors that are more readily exploited on shared hosting setups. If you want to run an eCommerce store or some other valuable arm of your business, dedicated hosting is for you. If you can’t afford poor performance, dedicated hosting is for you. Basically, if your business depends on your website always being fast and available, dedicated hosting is for you.
Bonus Tip: My hosting recommendation: dedicated cloud hosting from Flywheel
I personally use and recommend Flywheel’s dedicated cloud hosting. I’m presently running 9 different sites on Flywheel and I’ve got to say I’ve been thoroughly impressed every step of the way. Flywheel is blazing fast, super secure, and their customer support is amazing. Did I mention their customer support is amazing? When a company is in charge of your website’s performance, their customer support really needs to be on point. Because if you need some help getting an issue resolved, the last thing you want is a less than enthusiastic support person to begrudgingly walk you through attempting to fix your problems. Been there. Done that. Not fun.
If you plan on keeping up with your site on your own (i.e. not hiring someone to manage your site for you) you really really need to consider the headaches you’ll save by going with a premium hosting company like Flywheel. Going with cheaper shared hosting might feel like you’re saving money in the moment. But, take it from someone who’s wrestled with some pretty meh hosting companies in the past. The time and frustration you’ll save yourself by having awesome support from your hosting company is more than worth the extra money you’ll to get that peace of mind and reassurance that everything regarding your website is going to be okay.
In short, if you’re serious about your business you should be serious about your hosting. There's a time and places to pinch pennies to save money. But I implore you: penny pinch somewhere else. Invest in a good web host and solid hosting plan. You won’t regret it.
Getting Your Domain & Hosting to Work Together
A domain, or web address, is what users can search to find a website online (i.e. www.yoursite.com). Hosting, on the other hand, is the real estate where a website actually resides. Since these two components are separate entities, they are usually purchased separately and then connected so that they can work together.
Bonus Tip Although it’s possible to purchase both a domain and hosting account from the same company, it’s very more common to purchase them from separate companies and connect them together.
Connecting a domain to a hosting account is called “pointing a domain” to a server. This process takes those two separate entities and associates them with one another. Pointing your domain to your server where you site will be hosted requires visiting the site where you purchased your domain and adjusting some settings. This makes it possible for web searches for your domain to send users to the correct site.
Imagine what would happen if your street address didn’t match the house numbers on your mailbox. Your neighbor or someone else would receive your mail instead of you. In the same way, if the domain “google.com” was incorrectly pointed to the server that actually houses “amazon.com”, anyone that searched “google.com” would end up at Amazon instead of Google.
So you see how a domain and an website are two separate things that need to be coordinated to work together. It’s just like how your house numbers need to match the numbers on your mailbox so that you receive the mail that’s intended for you. With a domain and hosting account squared away, you’ve got yourself a piece of digital real estate where you can setup your website. So let’s talk about that.
A WordPress theme is the general look and feel (and sometimes function) of your website. If you have a particular style in mind for your website, you can find a theme that gets you pretty close to the look you're aiming for, install it, and boom – you've got yourself a website that looks great! A theme takes care of the heavy lifting for the general look and feel of your site. And you can fine tune the design from there. Of course you could build your site from scratch, but in my experience using a theme is the easiest jumping off point.
I'm personally a fan of the Divi theme and framework. Divi out of the box is pretty vanilla (doesn't have much of any styling applied). But that's where child themes come in. Child themes build upon their parent themes’ scaffolding to add form and function that is not already present in the parent theme. If you’re in the mood to learn more about child themes, I highly recommend this article or the companion video from Tim Strifler at Divi Life. Otherwise, for now you can think of a child theme as being the same as a theme.
So you see, I started with a template in the form of a child theme and then tweaked it and made it my own. And you can do the same. Find yourself a theme and/or child theme that suits your needs, install it, and you should have something that looks like a website. Do further tweaking on the design if you like, but once the aesthetics have been taken care of, you’ll need to flesh out the site with functionality and content. So let’s talk about plugins and content next.
Out of the box, WordPress doesn't have the ability to do things like accept credit credit card payments, collect contact form submissions, display pop-ups, etc. WordPress is just the foundation on which you build your website. To make your website “do stuff” we need to add a little something to your WordPress installation. That's where plugins come in.
Plugins are bits of code that add various functionality to your site. If you need to sell tickets to an event, there's a plugin for that. If you need to book reservations for a bed and breakfast, there's a plugin for that. If you need to sell digital or physical products, there’s a plugin for that too. I could go on, but you see where this is going. When you determine what you need your website to do, you can search for plugins you can use to make it happen.
The WordPress repository is home to thousands of free plugins, many with freemium pricing structures (free for the basic version with option to pay for premium features) enabling you to start with the basics and opt-in for premium functionality later if needed. And many third-party WordPress plugin developers and marketplaces sell premium (paid) plugins that offer support after your purchase and more robust features than some of the free plugins out there.
Here are a few of my favorite plugins for common functionality needs
These plugins have a free/freemium versions unless marked as “premium” indicating there is no free version of the plugin.
Payment gateways – Braintree for WooCommerce (accept payments via credit card, Venmo, Apple Pay, and more)
Migration – Migrate Guru (free)
Bonus Tip You may have noticed many of the plugins I recommend here are made by the folks at WPMU Dev. While they offer free versions of just about all their plugins, they offer premium versions of their plugins, 3 super fast hosting accounts (managed Digital Ocean Droplets), and 24/7 chat support for $50/month. It’s a killer deal. If you’re the type that likes premium plugins and support staff to help you out when you’re in a pinch, they’re a solid company you and your business can rely on. I’ve been a subscriber for over 2 years now and I can’t imagine trying to manage my and my clients’ sites without them.
There are plenty more plugins where that came from, but those should give you a good starting place. Once you’ve got your major functionality needs covered with various plugins, you’ll probably need to fine-tune or configure those plugins to get things working just right. After you’ve got everything working as it should, it’s time to work on the most important aspect of your entire site: content.
“Content” can refer any text copy, images, etc. that communicate a message on your site. And what would a website be without content? As far as this post is concerned, from here on out assume content is referring to text/copy. Images can help tell stories, but what really matters most on a website is words. The words you use to describe what you do and how you help people are incredibly important. A pretty website that doesn't say anything compelling might be nice to look at. But it probably won't persuade anyone to take any meaningful action (hire you, buy your product, get on your email list, etc). But a site with less than impressive aesthetics but excellent copy can still be very effective.
Think about amazon.com. I’m sure it doesn’t strike you as a beautiful site by any means. But no one can argue that their site gets the job done. Think about the last time your purchased something on Amazon. You probably didn't just look at pictures of a product and click the “buy” button. You likely read a product description (words) which confirmed the product in question satisfied your needs. Then to remove any doubt, you scrolled to the bottom to check out the reviews. And those words further solidified the fact that the product would be right for you.
You might initially be attracted to a product by snazzy photos. But you didn't buy based on looks alone. You ultimately bought because words on the page, whether from the vendor or a previous customer, convinced you that the product was indeed what you were looking for.
Conversely you've probably run into the opposite situation where the product looked like what you needed in the photos, but the description or reviews turned you off. The product may have actually been perfect for you. But the words you read in the description or reviews convinced you otherwise. So you went looking elsewhere until you ultimately found a product that had more compelling words. And when the words were right, you pulled out your credit card. Words matter a lot. And for the sake of your website you don't want to get your words wrong.
What does your website need to communicate?
It's nice to have a website. But your site needs to have a clear message. And there needs to be a clear path for your visitors to follow in light of that message. In other words you need a clear call to action (CTA) that compels visitors to do something. This is called strategizing for conversions. Your website or marketing campaign should aim to convert visitors into leads, warm those leads up to the idea of doing business with you, and ultimately convert those leads into customers.
If you don’t strategize for conversions the default path your site’s visitors follow might look like this: visit a page -> leave without doing anything meaningful -> have no reason to return. In other words you're leaving money on the table. Not good.
Be direct with your words
Do you want your website visitors to get in touch with you? Do you want them to buy something? Do you want them to opt-in for a freebie on your blog so you can market to them via email? Whatever it is, you need to make a clear and direct CTA. A great CTA Something that effectively communicates, “if what you've just read sounds like something you're interested in, here's what you need to do next.” Don't beat around the bush with passive statements like “get started” or “learn more”. Tell visitors “schedule a call”, “buy now”, “download the guide”, etc. The primary way anyone is convinced to take action on a website is by reading or hearing words that clearly compel them to do something. Words matter greatly. So take great care crafting the messages you display on your website. The words you choose will either make you money or cost you money.
Bonus Tip If you struggle to describe how your business helps people, you need to get your message straight. I highly recommend a book called Building A StoryBrand by Donald Miller. This book help you get crystal clear on your message. It’s a crash course in marketing strategy that anyone can understand. When you read this book, you walk away with several types of messages you can use in your website copy, emails, etc.
Here’s a little video summary of what you can expect from Building A StoryBrand:
StoryBrand has an excellent podcast. So if you’re not in the mood to read the book just yet, check out the podcast instead.
The five components of a WordPress website are super simple in concept. Admittedly, the content part is where most people struggle (myself included). Getting the nuts and bolts of a website online is relatively straightforward. But in my experience, getting content squared away seems to require the most effort.
So with that said, let it be known that getting a WordPress website online is relatively simple. Filling it out with content is the tough part. If you followed along with this post but got stuck somewhere, feel free to shoot me a message or leave a comment below and I'll do my best to help you get back on track.
And if the whole DIY approach feels a bit more involved than you're feeling ready for, I'm available for hire to take care of everything for you. Get in touch with me and we can explore the possibility of working together.