I generally stress that if you want to work online, you need to market yourself a bit. A really nice way of doing this is with your own website. I think it’s key to establishing yourself as a reputable business or contractor. Not too long ago, we had very little choice; you could either pay someone to develop a site for you, or you could become an HTML expert overnight and unsuccessfully attempt it yourself. This situation resulted in amateur websites that were average at best, horrible to use at worst. Low budgets and the lack of competition were poor motivators to professional developers which resulted in a large number of second class products.
Over the last decade, the face of the internet has dramatically transformed into something beautiful, engaging and functional. The knock on effect is that the expectations of your regular site visitor has increased at an even higher rate. ‘Average’ just isn’t going to cut it anymore! Your current audience now EXPECTS a high quality, trusted & friendly experience. Provide this or face losing a potential customer
Change For The better?
Fortunately for you and I, the tools that facilitate the creation of great, user friendly websites have evolved to give you greater functionality and remove a lot of the legwork out of creating and maintaining a high quality website. Traditional webmasters still exist but they have quickly realised that they can’t just nail any old junk together and expect success.
Nowadays, it is really easy to put together a personal or even a business website and build a good online presence. There are sites like Wix, Weebly, MySpace, Facebook, Contently etc that allow you to very quickly and easily put together a simple content based website or webpage. There are numerous content management system (CMS) packages out there such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, & ExpressionEngine, that in many ways take a lot of the legwork out of building a rich professional looking website.
With choice comes confusion.
Sure, these are bigger and better toys to play with, but which one is the right choice? Will it do what I need? How much is it going to cost? How long will it take to get up and running? What is the maintenance involved? Can I do it on my own?
Do these questions sound familiar? If you are asking yourself these questions, then you are definitely pointed in the right direction.
What About WordPress?
I’ll try and answer some of these questions about the one package that I am familiar with: WordPress. A few sites in the Gadgitech portfolio are built entirely on WordPress. There are also many other notable high traffic websites out there that also use this framework . Here are a few examples:
Those are just a few examples of what you can do with WordPress. I just wanted to highlight the range of appearances that you can achieve with WordPress. There are ton’s more out there, so your options are limitless.
The WordPress information overload can be a bit overwhelming – there is so much information out there.
Let me put it simply
WordPress is the answer to almost any content based website, especially so if you are starting out. You can create anything from a single page site to blogs and online stores, and it does this with minimal configuration and in a user friendly nature.
It’s free, it sounds perfect, but you are still not convinced. I wasn’t either when I first heard about it a good many years ago. There was a lot of cross talk about Joomla, Drupal and Expression Engine which made it a little more difficult to decide. While they are good frameworks in their own right, they are nowhere near as well supported as WordPress.
Now WordPress can do a lot of things, but it is not always the best choice. Example, Amazon does not run on wordpress, neither does Facebook, Twitter, Google etc. They are custom built applications for a specific purpose. WordPress on the other hand is a generic infrastructure that you can use as is or build on and customise to make it your own without any programming knowledge.
Can a single web-based resource really deliver on such a promise, or is it the greatest hype in internet history, generated by people whose main aim is to get you to click on an affiliate link? This is a criticism that can be thrown at many products and services online, but when we’re talking about WordPress the argument has one major flaw, almost everything you need to run a successful WordPress site is absolutely FREE. This is fantastic if you are getting started. I encourage people never to spend too much to get started with their online presence. Just the bare necessities. Paid premium plugins (add ons), do exist and will add value but not everyone needs them and the ones that you do need are generally also free. Sounds good right! And there is no catch.
Let’s talk numbers.
WordPress was is now over ten years old. In internet and technology terms, that’s mature. It’s established. It’s proven. Version 3.8 has been downloaded 20 million times in just a few months. We are currently on version 4.
Calling WordPress a success is a bit of an understatement. Recent statistics suggest that 17% of all of the world’s websites are based on WordPress. We’re not just talking bloggers and small businesses, this is everyone from solopreneurs to CNN and Forbes (not forgetting those I mentioned earlier). In fact if you visit ten websites a day, there’s a better than average chance that at least two are running WordPress. It’s come a very long way from where it started as a basic blogging platform.
But why should you care? Big numbers might be impressive at a glance, but how does that help you and your business? .. I’ll answer that in a minute..
A Moment For Clarity
There are two distinct parts to WordPress (three if you count the WordPress Foundation – see, told you it was confusing).WordPress.com is a free blogging platform a little like Google’s Blogger – except you’re not supposed to use WordPress.com for commercial ventures. They do not allow you to link to affiliate programs nor do they they allow you to run adverts. So it’s great for hobbyists, clubs, not-for-profit organizations – but not what you want for your online business?? I’ll get to that in a bit.
WordPress.org is the home of the actual WordPress software (which is free), plus tens of thousands of other resources (which we’ll get to in a moment), plus a huge community of developers who have become part of probably the largest and most comprehensive support network ever created.
In case you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a big fan of WordPress. It has completely changed the way I work. It frees me up to concentrate on the actual content and layout of the site so that my audience has a much better experience. I really don’t have to worry too much about the internal mechanics on a day-to-day basis. Once it is set up, it can generally run unattended ‘indefinitely’.
Having said that, it’s only fair to also say that WordPress is not without its competitors. Anyone looking into this area will almost certainly come across Joomla and Drupal. There’s little wrong with those programs and there are those that would suggest either as a viable solution. By all means investigate them. The clincher for me is the sheer weight of support behind WordPress. So much more combined development time has gone into it. In a survey of blogs/CMS platforms in use today, 60% are WordPress, 8.3% are Joomla, 5.2% are Drupal. Enough said.
But I digress. The question was how does this help your business…
Low Cost and High Performance?
Let’s take a moment to look at practicalities and baseline costs.
As we’ve already said, the core software is free. You need a domain name, which will cost around $10-$15 a year. You need some hosting, which will be around $5 – $7 a month. In terms of up-front costs, it can be as little as that. That’s pizza money. Skip one cup of high-street coffee a week and you’ve got it covered.
Throw in a premium theme (more on that later), but even then, the upfront costs are indeed minimal. Keep in mind that the main costs are the monthly hosting costs. Everything else is negligible.
Putting It Together
Then you’ve got to put it all together. So this is where it gets scary, right?
Choose the right host and WordPress installation is a breeze. A few clicks, a username and password, done. I’ve actually put together a walkthrough here that takes you through the process with Bluehost. Most other hosts offer the same one-click installation so have a look around and choose one.
The theme (what WordPress calls its ‘template system’) controls the overall look of your site. The toughest thing about installing a theme is choosing one. Get over to WordPress.org and you’ll find over two and a half thousand of them – and all of those are free. Enter “WordPress theme” in your favorite search engine and you’ll find thousands more.
Personally, I tend to choose a premium (paid for) theme. While free themes can often provide all you need if you’re looking for a basic blog set-up, they can limit your expansion. Then there’s a question of support. Will the theme be updated and maintained? Free themes are often developed by individuals who simply want to see if they’ve got the skills. Nothing wrong with that necessarily, but will they be there if you need them? Personally, I have my themes custom built on top of the Genesis framework. It costs a little more than a premium theme, but I get exactly what I want, it’s unique and fast. Don’t worry too much about that for now but keep it in mind.
HTML? CSS? You might learn some along the way, but you don’t need to. Even if you come across a challenge that seems insurmountable, there’s that huge support network, metaphorically twiddling their thumbs, waiting for you to ask the question. Thanks peeps!
What you can also find with premium themes is tightly-focused solutions. Want to run a real estate agency? On online shoe retailer? These and many other designs that already exist, waiting to be modified to suit your own taste.
A Quick Walkthrough
Coming soon to a youtube channel near you! hint hint…
Extending Your Reach
If themes offer you tremendous creative potential, plugins give your WordPress site a whole world of automation, flexibility and power.
Plugins are, as the name suggests, add-ons that extend functionality. They can provide useful management tools like automatic submission to search engines, automated back-ups – they can allow you to run a store, build a subscriber list, charge membership fees, display tweets inside your site, translate your content into different languages… If you think you need it, there’s probably a plugin for it. You can easily search and install these plugins within your WordPress Admin console. The premium ones will sometimes have to be manually uploaded. But it’s not that complex.
We’ve spoken about big numbers a couple of times and here’s another. Over at WordPress.org this morning there were a little over 34500 plugins available – and every single one of them is free!
Whatever You Want
A combination of the right theme and the correct set of plugins will almost certainly deliver what you’re looking for – at a fraction of the cost of any other form of website development.
Even if you grow beyond what is readily available there’s an army of software engineers out there capable of building what you need. Because there are so many, it’s a competitive market, and competition is really good for you! It means it will be more cost-effective to get things done. At some point, share the details of the talented designers and developers I use – after I get their permission of course.
Flaws and Weaknesses
Over the years, WordPress has been criticized for a couple of reasons. Firstly, that it’s not as secure as it should be. Whilst this may have been valid in the past, do you really think people like CNN would be running a site with inherent security flaws? No, of course not. Today it’s a subject that’s always at the top of the developers’ agenda and there are numerous plugins to enhance the basic stability.
The second criticism has been that a template system is, by its nature, a bit inflexible – and so all WordPress sites look similar. When there were ten themes, or a hundred themes to choose from, this might have had some validity. Today there are tens of thousands, and many of them have almost infinite variety built in. The only people propounding this particular argument now are those traditional web designers who are losing business to people like you, people who have decided to build a powerful, attractive and dynamic web presence on their own!
Now I know I’ve touched a little on a lot of different subjects and motivations above but I’ve not really provided you with the resources you need. I thought I’d summarise it at the end. So up next, you will see a useful set of links that will allow you to investigate a bit further and finally make a decision
I really hope that this has helped you with your decision to create an online presence. Good luck. Drop me a note when your site goes live, I would love to take a look.
WordPress Cheat Sheet
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links for which I will receive a small commission if you decide to use it. I only recommend these services because I use them and they have helped me grow my online businesses. If you would still like to use it but not using my link, please simply Google for their name. You should find it quite easily. Good luck to you and thanks for the support.
Where to get WordPress?
- Google.com (Search for your issue. I’d be willing to bet that someone has already had that problem and posted a solution)
WordPress Resources, tutorials and info
Hosts with one-click wordpress installations
- BlueHost (I’ve got a walkthrough on how to do this which you can find here) They now have optimized WordPress hosting which is great!
Premium WordPress hosting
DIY WordPress Hosting
Where to find someone to custom build my Theme?
- Elance (These guys and oDesk below have merged so use either service or both if you like)
- oDesk (I use it all the time)
WordPress Theme Frameworks
- Genesis (I use this)
- Thesis (not tried this, but heard good stuff about it from reputable site owners)
- Cherry (I’ve tried this and it’s not bad at all)
Plugins you should be using (All Free)
(while I don’t use all of these, they come highly recommended)
- BackWPup (Automatically backup to dropbox, to folder etc)
- Duplicator (Another back, migration facility)
- BWP Google XML Sitemaps (Better search engine visibility)
- Redirection (Implement page redirections. Great if you change post or page names)
- Scroll Triggered Boxes (Opt in’s)
- Top 10 (Popular Posts)
- W3TotalCache (Page, Css, Js caching)
- WordPress Notification Bar (provides alerts at the top of your page when you need to)
- WP SMTP (Allows you to specify a custom SMTP server to send emails if you want)
- Jetpack (Requires a free WordPress.com account. But has a host of great features)
- Limit Login Attempts (Security for blocking brute force attack attempts)
- Contact Form 7 (As the name says, contact forms)
- Yoast WordPress SEO Plugin (SEO optimisation. You don’t really need this if you use Genesis)