There are many ways to create a professional WordPress website in 2024, so you may not know where to start. I’m here to show you everything you need to know to create your very own WordPress website.
Web Development has evolved much since the days of coding everything with HTML and CSS. These days we have systems like WordPress which offer many perks over competitors like WIX, Shopify, Joomla, and the dreaded Magento. WordPress offers a massive library of Plugins and Themes and is suitable for Beginners and Advanced users alike. With so many options available WordPress can seem like a daunting adversary to most people, but never fear! I am here to take you through everything you need to know to create a simple WordPress website in 2024.
As this will be quite an extensive article let’s make life a little bit easier shall we? Below you will find a Table of Contents outlining each of the steps required to build your own website from start to finish. If you have already completed the basics feel free to skip ahead!
- Getting Started
- Theme install and WordPress setup
- Designing your WordPress Website
- Adding Plugins to your website
- Finishing Touches
Choosing the right Hosting plan
The first step in your WordPress Web Design journey is to choose the right Hosting plan to suit your needs. Hosting plans differ depending on the use case for your website, but for a simple website without a ton of images, pages, blog posts, email storage (if needed), then a basic plan should do well for you. It is important to choose a reliable Hosting provider that offers great support and that doesn’t rip you off.
When looking for a reliable Hosting Provider you need to take into account the Hosting/Server Location, Type of Hosting (Shared or VPS), Amount of Storage Space, and Support Availability.
If you tick the boxes on all of these you should be pretty much set. Be sure to check out VentraIP for 50% off all first time sign-ups!
Register a Domain Name
During your signup process you should be prompted to also register for a Domain Name. This is the url that will be displayed at the top of your Browser. Your Domain Name should directly reflect your Brand for consistency and SEO purposes. If you register your Domain Name with another company that’s fine because you can easily link it to your existing Hosting. If you have any trouble your Web Host tech support team should be able to help you out in no time.
A Domain Name will set you back around $15/year, but can vary depending on the extension used (.com, .com.au, .melbourne etc.).
Setting up WordPress
Now that you’ve bought your Hosting and Domain name it’s time for your first step towards building out your epic new website – Installing WordPress on your Hosting platform! This is a very simple process that can be done in a few clicks. You will first need to navigate to your cPanel account, which should be included in your Hosting package. If you cannot find this be sure to reach out to your Hosting company for support.
Once in your cPanel account scroll down to the Softaculous App Installer section and click on WordPress, or simply search WordPress in the search bar and it should come up. Then click the button that says ‘Install Now’. Once you’re in the installer select the directory that WordPress will be installed on (your domain name), and make sure there isn’t an extension at the end of it such as /blog. This should also be set to https:// or if that isn’t an option get in touch with your Hosting provider to set you up with an SSL certificate. There shouldn’t be any fees attached if you ask for a free SSL certificate, but some Hosts require you to pay an annual fee (a bit of a scam really).
Continue through the prompts to set up a Site Name, Site Description (keep it short and sweet!), set a Username, Password, and Admin email address. Then just scroll down and click Install! Don’t worry much about choosing a Theme at this point as we’ll get to that next.
Once you have successfully installed WordPress onto your website you should see some default WordPress stuff on the front-end of your site. This is a good sign! You can now navigate to the back-end of your site by heading to domainname.com/wp-admin (just replace domainname with your domain name obviously). Enter your Username and Password and you should be in the WordPress dashboard!
Choosing the right WordPress Theme
Every WordPress Website is based on a Theme. Think of your WordPress Theme as the foundations to a building. Some come in a flatpack design where the structure is already formed and all you need to do is decorate. Others come with solid foundations ready to be built upon in the way that you see fit. I would always advocate for these types as they do not limit your potential for creativity and scalability in the future. Much like hiring a builder, these Themes are often bundled with a Page Builder that will act as your visual drag and drop system for creating the design of your web page.
There are many popular WordPress Themes to choose from, but arguably more important than the theme is the Page Builder that it uses. Each page builder has it’s own unique features when you get into the nitty gritty, though they are all very similar in functionality.
Below I’ve listed some of the most popular Themes and Page Builders in order of my personal preference:
X Theme and Pro Theme
X Theme is a powerful Theme that has its own integrated Page Builder called Cornerstone. The Theme is lightweight, meaning it loads very fast. This is basically a build from scratch option with some templates available for page structure as well as elements that can be included. Building with Cornerstone is a breeze and allows for myriad customisation options. It is what I use on a daily basis and doesn’t have a very steep learning curve for beginners. X Theme is quickly becoming the most popular WordPress Theme on the market and has an incredible ticket and forum support system.
X is a paid Theme but is only a once off payment and will set you back about US$29 which is an absolute bargain! Pro Theme is the supercharged version of X that you will pay a bit more for but will give you lots of added benefits. You are looking at about US$79 for a single license but you get the added benefits of a more powerful page builder and the ability to manipulate the Headers and Footers of your site which can play a significant part in creating an aesthetic and functional UI. The once off pricing structure is also a massive perk.
The great thing about Elementor is that there are several extension plugins that offer more features and Elements than the standard Page Builder incorporates. You can also install the Elementor Headers and Footers plugin for more control over the Headers and Footers of your website, instead of sticking with what your native Theme offers.
Okay this is a controversial one… Divi is a massively popular Theme with its own integrated Divi Page Builder which has all the functionality you need and more, plus some very epic features like bundled animations and transitions available for elements. Building with Divi is quite straightforward and has a clean User Interface that is somewhat simple for beginners to get their head around.
In saying that there are a couple main issues I have with Divi…
1) The Theme is very bloated, meaning it has quite a large initial filesize that will slow down the page load time of your website. This is due to the large assortment of features crammed in to the Builder that are largely unnecessary.
2) It is very difficult to move away from Divi when you have built out multiple posts or custom post type content with it due to posts running on shortcodes only comp
WPBakery – Visual Composer
Visual Composer by WPBakery is a Page Builder that comes bundled with most (cheap) Themes. It is mostly Compatible with any Theme, though I’ve found that it doesn’t always work as expected when new updates arise and it has limited customisation ability. While you do have the option to add custom CSS fairly easily, the main element selection and customisation options aren’t broad enough to encompass any heavy duty web design. This option is lightweight and good for getting the basic infrastructure up, especially when bundled with a cheap Theme, but there are definitely better systems out there.
Theme install and WordPress setup
Set up your WordPress Theme
Now that you’ve installed WordPress on your Hosting Platform and chosen your desired Theme it’s time to install your Theme on your WordPress Dashboard. To do this, on the side panel, navigate to Appearance > Theme > and select your chosen Theme, or if it is a custom Theme select Add New > Upload Theme. Select the .zip file that your Theme should come in, if purchased from a third-party side such as Envato, and click upload. If any errors appear this is usually due to post_max_size, max_execution_time, or memory_limit parameters set too low. You can change these through the Select PHP Version app in your cPanel or just ask your Web Host to help you out.
Congrats, you’ve officially laid the foundations for your new Web Design!
Your groundwork is in and it’s time to make some design choices. Most modern Themes come with Theme customisation options which is where you select the Theme default settings such as Logo, Fonts, Featured Colours, Navigation layout etc. You will want to locate this for your chosen Theme by either looking for your Theme Settings on the main left WordPress sidebar or by finding it in Appearance > Theme Options. Some Themes do this differently so you may have to look in some different spots. After choosing your basic Theme options you should have completed your setup and should see these settings now render on the Front-End.
Set up WordPress for Development
The next step is to create your pages by navigating to Pages in the left sidebar and clicking Add New. You don’t have to create all your pages and you don’t have to spend any time at all customising them at this point – just give your pages titles and save them out. There may be some layout options on the right sidebar here depending on your Theme so be sure to check those out.
Once you’ve created all your pages you need to set a Home page.
To do this go to Settings > Reading. Set your home page display as ‘Static Home Page’ and select your home page, then click save. Another important thing to do in Settings is to change your Permalinks to Post Name instead of the default ‘Plain’ structure. This means your pages will display the page title in the URL instead of random numbers which is terrible for SEO! You can also set your default language region, date and time settings through ‘General’ as well as your Website title and short description.
Don’t touch the site url and WordPress url if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Create a WordPress Navigation Menu
Now it’s time to collate all your pages into a Navigation Bar which will sit at the top and/or bottom of your site. Head to Appearance > Menus and Create a New Menu with it’s own title like ‘Main Menu’. Then select all your pages from the left side and add them to your Menu. You can rearrange these as needed and even create Dropdowns by dragging one menu item directly under another. You can also change the Menu title without changing the page title by clicking on it and changing the menu item name from the dropdown. Set this menu as your primary header and/or footer menu with the options at the bottom and click save.
If you got through all this without your head exploding or some fatal error then you officially have your WordPress site set up for Development. Congrats!!!
Designing your WordPress Website
It’s finally time… The moment you’ve been waiting for… The BUILD!
Now that you have some sweet foundations set up we can commence building your website. Since every Theme and Page Builder is different I’ll give you a general overview that should be enough to help you get the ball rolling. Before I start on any Web Design project I always look for inspiration, either directly from the client or from Pinterest or Dribble. You can always pick a simple design and try to duplicate it in your own site as practice. Just be sure to pop it on a Sample page.
Let’s start on the Home page.
Head to the Pages tab, hover over your Home page and click the ‘edit with’ option if you have it. This should be something like ‘edit with Cornerstone’, ‘edit with Elementor’ etc. based on your selected Page Builder. If you do not see this you can just click ‘edit’ and somewhere on your page you should have an ‘edit with’ option. If not then you may not have a Page Builder installed and/or activated! If your Theme doesn’t have a page builder the easiest option is to just use the Elementor plugin and this will give you Page Builder functionality quick and easy.
Using your Page Builder
Page Builders differ depending on which one you choose to use, so I won’t be going too in depth with the actual page build. I will base this example off of X/Pro Theme but the same principles can be applied to any Page Builder. Once your Builder has loaded you will have a main interface that visually shows your site layout, and a secondary panel where you will be able to select your elements and layout structure from.
There are 4 critical elements to any layout:
Sections are used to ‘categorise’ your page content up into it’s different parts when scrolling down. For example having a Header section, an About section, and a Contact section would be good use of sectioning for a simple layout. X Theme has some good formatting on sections that help you separate your structure out smoothly and consistently.
Rows are contained within sections and will contain columns within them. There can be multiple Rows within a Section to separate bits of content and Rows generally have more versatile styling options, such as adjusting widths, paddings, min height, background colours/images, adding box-shadows and plenty more!
Within each Row will be at least one Column. The amount of Columns obviously directly affects the layout you are building and may need to be adjusted on different screen sizes for mobile device usability. The Columns will contain the Elements you decide to use which is generally a drag and drop process. They may contain headlines, buttons, quotes, or a GIF of a cat getting scared of a cucumber (look it up, it’s hilarious).
Each Page Builder has its own Elements to choose from, but they are generally pretty similar. Elements are what will be used to create your epic Web Designs and are usually very customisable to give you a range of options.
Using Elements in conjunction with each other gives you limitless layout and Design possibilities. It will take some time to get used to your Page Builder but with custom formatting options available for your Elements the possibilities are endless! You will soon get the hang of things and really enjoy the process – I guarantee it. Once you’ve finished creating your layout make sure you hit the save button (it’s good practice to save your work periodically) and move on to the next page!
You will now have a (pretty much) fully operational website. Just make sure each page has been adjusted for mobile displays to keep your users happy at all screen sizes.
Note that roughly 50% of all websites are viewed on mobile so optimising for different screen sizes is a MUST!
Adding Plugins to your website
As you build out your website you may notice there are some features that your page builder cannot offer you. These can generally be found as plugins and can be installed by hovering over Plugins in the left sidebar and clicking ‘Add New’. Some common plugins used include Contact Forms, Instagram Feed Embedding, Testimonial Sliders, and a very wide range of others. When choosing plugins there are some simple rules you must follow to ensure the security of your site:
- Check when the plugin was last updated – If it was not within the last 3 months it’s probably not safe to use.
- Check if it’s compatible with your version of WordPress – there should be a little notification next to it telling you this. If it is not compatible DON’T INSTALL IT.
- How many installs does it have – How many people have installed this plugin and what is the rating? This will give you a good guide for how widely used it is and if it’s reputable. It depends on the plugin but generally 100,000+ installs and a 4+ star rating means it’s a reliable plugin. It also means there will be a higher level of support from plugin developers and through community forums should you need it.
- DON’T OVERLOAD YOUR SITE WITH PLUGINS – Plugins consume extra resources in order to load on a page which means increased load times. Try to use as few plugins as possible in order to avoid extra strain on your site load and to avoid any potential errors or conflicts that might arise.
Once you’ve finished building out your pages there are a few things you can do “post-dev” to really optimise the heck out of your site. These finishing touches will get you ranking on Google, speed up your site, and keep your site secure, as well as giving you a great platform to monitor your search traffic through Google Analytics.
Important MUST USE Plugins
Below I have listed a few plugins that are imperative to any website completion in order to get your site loading fast and ranking on Google.
- SEO Plugin
You must install an SEO plugin to get your site properly indexed and found on Google. There are a variety of SEO plugins on the market and it depends on how active you will be with things like blog posting and optimising the meta tags on your posts and pages. Yoast is the most popular with over 5 million installations. Yoast is great for general SEO if you don’t want too much involvement, but if you’d like more control over what Google is displaying you can try the SEO underdog – Rank Math. This allows control over many aspects of your site that Yoast restricts without paying for the Pro version (eugh!). There is a Pro version of Rank Math too but the free version is very versatile. There are many other things that you can do to help boost your SEO, such as using Google My Business to target local search results. For example, if you were an SEO company based in Melbourne you would likely try to rank for something like Melbourne SEO, so Google My Business would help you with this.
- Caching Plugin
Having a caching plugin set up will help your web page load faster for your end user which means a reduced bounce rate, a better User Experience, and better rankings on Google. Caching means that the browser will save a ‘snapshot’ of your webpage after a user has accessed it so that the next time they load it up it doesn’t need to load a ton of unnecessary resources, resulting in faster load time! A great Caching plugin that I frequently use is W3 Total Cache. It is worth looking up optimal setup options for this to get the most out of your caching. Other great plugins include WP Fastest Cache and WP Super Cache.
- Image Optimisation
While you should be optimising your images anyway, there are plugins that can really compress your images to their lowest file size without losing quality.
This is arguably the #1 technique for increasing your page load speed as it reduces the size of the page, allowing the browser to serve it much quicker.
My personal favourite Image Compression plugin is ShortPixel Image Optimiser. This plugin offers great compression results, but with the Pro version you can truly take it to the next level by serving images in WebP format. This is basically the smallest possible image size, allowing for super quick load speed. It can be used in conjunction with ShortPixel Adaptive Images to serve scaled images at different screen sizes – another vital part of image optimisation. Other contenders on the market include Smush (not worth it unless you get Pro), ReSmush.it, Imagify, and EWWW Image Optimiser.
- Security Plugin and protocols
WordPress is a very secure platform provided you follow a few key protocols on a regular basis (once a month is fine):
Backup your site, update WordPress, update plugins, update your Theme.
With these areas of your site kept up to date you should be pretty on top of security, however I would also recommend installing a security plugin. Defender is a great security plugin and offers a variety of recommendations to keep your site secure and hack-proof. It is worth BACKING UP YOUR SITE before proceeding with any suggestions as some of them may alter your database or core WP files. For long term protection you could also use iThemes Security. It is not recommended to use them both in conjunction with each other, but I have found iThemes to be a good plugin to use for long term protection once the initial suggestions from Defender have been implemented. Just make sure you deactivate the one before installing the other!
- Analytics Plugin
It is important to monitor your website traffic and the best way to do this is through Google Analytics. I’ve added this in the plugins section because there is a very handy plugin that will help you link your Google Analytics account to your WordPress Dashboard called Monster Insights. Simply set up a Google Analytics account, install the Monster Insights plugin and follow the simple setup prompts to connect them together so you can now monitor your website traffic directly from your dashboard!
Submit your website to Google
Lastly you will want to submit your website and sitemap to Google through Google Search Console. This may mean inputting your Google verification code through your SEO plugin or adding verification through a txt record in your cPanel DNS Records. Once you have access to your Search Console make sure you navigate to the ‘sitemaps’ tab and submit your sitemap URL which is pulled from your SEO plugin and should look something like yoursite.com/sitemap.xml (look it up to make sure). Then head to the URL Inspection tab and pop in your registered URL. Click ‘Test Live URL’ then click ‘Request Indexing’ to get Google searching for your site immediately, though it may take some time to appear in results.
If you’ve made it this far I commend you.
You have officially set up a BOMB WordPress website with top notch optimisation and a competitive advantage in your industry! There are plenty of other important aspects to WordPress Web Development that I’ll be addressing through other articles so be sure to have a browse.
Or you can hire an expert WordPress Developer
If this all seems like too much to do, you don’t have the time, or you’d like some fresh eyes I would love to help you out! You can easily get started with me by requesting a quote, or for more general enquiries don’t hesitate to get in touch.
A bit About The Author
Will Web Designers be Replaced by AI?
How to Maintain a WordPress Website: A Comprehensive Guide
Is WordPress good for Web Design?
How to choose a web designer
WordPress Web Design in Melbourne
South East Web Design
How to create a simple WordPress Website in 2024
How to choose the best Australian Web Hosting Plan
Why you should hire a WordPress Developer instead of doing it yourself