How to build a website using WordPress.com

hand and globeHave you ever wished you could build a website, but didn’t know where to start? Have you mastered the basics of WordPress.com for your personal needs, and ever wondered if you could adapt your knowledge for use at work?

This was published prior to the introduction of Custom menus. Go to Create a WordPress Website Step By Step


A custom menu allows you to display Categories with drop-downs to sub-categories in tabs along the horizontal navigation where normally only Pages tabs are displayed. If you wish you can also include Pages with drop-downs to sub-pages and/or Tags pages and/or Custom Links in your custom menu as well. You are in charge of what appears in a custom menu. You choose the order in which to display any and/or all the foregoing in your custom menu. You choose which to display and which to hide. http://en.support.wordpress.com/menus

More and more mainstream companies and businesses are finding that WordPress.com offers an adaptable platform for their internet presence. But could you do the same, and how exactly would you go about it?

In this post, our guest contributor Roads of Stone offers some practical advice on how to build a website using WordPress, however big or small your internet plans may be.

Why use WordPress.com to build your website?
It’s not always appreciated that WordPress.com is an accomplished and straightforward content management system which offers a near-perfect low cost solution for building websites.

Using WordPress.com is simple, since neither webhost nor professional design skills are required. And yet it’s a fantastic business tool, since with the domain mapping upgrade you can build a custom website for your own domain with access to e-mail for up to 50 users.

So how can you adapt a blogging platform to build a website ? Here are ten easy steps to set you on your way.

1. Build content around pages
This is the key step to appreciate. Rather than using WordPress to build a journal-based timeline of regularly published posts (a blog), you will need to build a website around an architecture of pages.

Under ‘Settings-> Reading’, select the option to display a static front page. Design a front page for your site — this can be as simple as you like, and you can call this page ‘home’, ‘[project title]‘ or ‘[company name]‘ — and then make this your static front page. This will be the home page for your site.

If you purchase the domain mapping upgrade, you can set up your site so that all hits to yourdomain.com will now land here.

Under ‘Pages->home->edit->discussion’, select the ‘comments off’ option for this home page (and all subsequent pages you create) and under ‘Settings-> Discussion’, select ‘do not allow people to post comments’ for your site as a whole.

Under ‘Settings->Privacy’, select ‘make my site visible to everyone, including search engines’ and then publish your page.

You’re up and running.

2. Subsidiary pages
Create additional pages carrying further information. Each page should have a self-explanatory title:

‘Contact’ — put your business contact details and maps here. You may prefer to use a contact form rather than putting your own e-mail address and private phone number online and attracting loads of spam messages and calls;

‘About’ — here you can describe your company and its history;

‘People’ — can provide brief profiles of key contact personnel;

‘Products / Services’ — can describe what it is you sell.

Add more top line pages for each key information stream you want to present — for example, you might use different pages for your activities in different geographical or business areas.

In general, try to keep the number of these top line pages to around five or less, so that they will fit on a single line of your top navigation bar.

You can then always add ‘child’ pages to each of these, and keep on going to build a navigation architecture for your site. Thus you can build additional pages for each product or service and for each area you work in.

In website design, it’s important to appreciate that less is often more, at least to start with. Try to keep both your site and its architecture as simple and uncluttered as you can.

If you do finally end up with many pages (more than a dozen or so) it may be a good idea to add a site index page to the top bar navigation, to help people find their way around your site.

3. Select a suitable theme
You want to choose a theme for your site which is both simple and unobtrusive and which also carries a top bar menu. The top bar menu will now carry the names of your key pages. If you wish, you can select a theme with header image to set the scene for your site.

Although you can change this image later on, do bear in mind that the image will come up on every page of your site and will be a part of your website branding, so try to choose one which won’t date instantly and wears well upon the eye.

4. Add Custom DNS records — Google Apps and e-mail
Custom DNS records can give you access to additional features offered by other providers. Adding Google Apps to your site will soon offer a whole range of new functionality, and already offers the ability to provide e-mail on your domain for up to 50 users.

Personal e-mail addresses may be fine for the early days of a start-up, but as your business grows you may wish to keep work mail out of your home inbox.

Just think how impressive and professional it looks to send e-mail from you@yourdomain.com — and, once tried, the Google Apps webmail platform provided (it’s based on Gmail) is really hard to beat for flexibility, ease of management and storage.

I’ve built and run two small business e-mail systems for up to 10 users over almost 5 years following this method, and I’ve never heard a single complaint from my colleagues. They’re a demanding team, so that’s saying something.

5. Add your site to Google
Although all WordPress.com sites now feature Google XML sitemaps, you may wish to notify Google about your site. This will help Google to find your site and to retrieve updates as you make them.

It will take around 30 days for Google to display your site — this is a filter designed to help weed out spam sites, many of which are very short-lived. But once Google has registered your site, and provided that you update it regularly, updates should then appear within a day or so. Timethief has many more tips about becoming a Google Webmaster.

6. Stats and counters
Keep an eye on your stats. It’s important to monitor the search terms that lead to your site, so that you can adapt your key word selection and web design around them.

As well as making use of the standard WordPress.com stats, it’s a good idea to add an additional counter so that you can monitor where your web visitors arrive from. Several providers offer free counters which will give most of the basic information you need.

Sitemeter.com offers a basic free counter (remember to specify ‘keep results private’, so that the stats are only visible to you). Some users prefer statcounter.com, which also provides an invisible free counter to avoid cluttering up your site.

Watching where your traffic comes from and where site users are located will help you adapt your marketing strategy accordingly.

It’s well worth registering your site with quantcast.com since this will also provide some basic demographic information, estimating the age, sex, interests and approximate income bracket of your users. Used over time, the service can also help you to monitor usage figures in comparison with competitor sites.

7. Maintain and update regularly
A company website can fulfill a range of requirements. A single page bearing your contact details may be enough for a small business, but for larger companies you will want to refresh your site regularly and add key news updates.

Keep an eye on your site, and even if you haven’t changed anything recently, it’s a good idea to check the site every day to ensure it’s loaded properly and that no coding errors have resulted from any recent background updates to the WordPress.com platform or your theme.

These really shouldn’t affect the look of your site, but the fact is that just occasionally they do.

8. Ad-free option
Although you won’t see them when logged in and so may never realise it, WordPress.com adds advertisements when it displays your website to other users.

There is a no-ads upgrade which allows you to specify that these ads should not be shown, and if your website is designed to market your products or services, you should consider paying for the upgrade to remove these advertisements.

The reason is that contextual advertising algorithms operate by searching keywords on your site to target ads most effectively.

This means that if your site is marketing office furniture for a company based in Manchester, the kinds of ads which appear will tend to be for companies selling office furniture in Manchester.

The effect is that your competitors’ advertisements may be carried on your site, and this is definitely not going to help your business.

9. Look around for inspiration
The best way to find the look you need for your website is to look at other sites and see what looks good and which elements work well.

Adding the css upgrade will allow you to do many more things to individualise your design — although it’s by no means necessary to do this and using the upgrade effectively requires more specialised expertise which you will either need to learn or buy in.

To illustrate just what’s achievable, take a look at some of the many company sites now hosted on WordPress.com’s VIP programme — this offers enhanced capacity for heavy traffic on mainstream websites.

Current examples of mainstream sites using WordPress.com for all or part of their service include the LA Times, Adobe, CNN’s Political Ticker, the flickr blog, the Harvard Gazette, BBC’s Top Gear, GigaOm, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, The Independent, the US PGA Tour, the Ann Arbor Chronicle and Time Magazine.

10. Planning for the future
Of course it’s true that many mature businesses like those listed above have hired professional internet specialists to design and maintain their websites. As your business grows, you may finally do this yourself, but in the early stages and for many small companies, building your own simple website with WordPress.com offers a low cost and flexible alternative.

Another advantage of building your own site to start with is that you’ll learn many important lessons about website design and architecture. You’ll find out what’s possible, and appreciate the mistakes to avoid.

This experience will stand you in good stead whenever you upgrade your internet presence in the future — because an understanding of website design will be ever more important for companies of all scales and sizes in the business world of tomorrow.

And many of the same principles about website design apply whether you are doubling turnover to $100 a year, or just about to list on London’s FTSE-100.

So good luck, and with best wishes from England!
Roads

Related posts found in this blog
Better Blogging at WordPress.com: Pages and Posts
Static Front Blog Page, Yay or Nay?
WordPress.com Blogging: Changing Themes
Custom Menus Arrive at WordPress.com
Building a post index at WordPress.com with archives shortcode
Setting up a self-hosted WordPress.org install
Business: Blog, Website or Both?

36 thoughts on “How to build a website using WordPress.com

  1. Yes, Bob — I agree with you that businesses have a lot of choices to make about how to structure their online presence, and that these choices have to be carefully oriented towards what it is that the business is trying to achieve..

    For obvious reasons, it would probably be inappropriate for comments to be allowed on those key structural website pages which are designed to lay out the fundamental information about a business, or describing their products and services. Any comments that are allowed will in most cases need to be closely moderated.

    That said, and to agree further with Timethief, many businesses have also set up their own business blogs, Facebook and even Twitter pages which by definition they have set up to act as a forum for information flow to and feedback from customers.

    Following this route, businesses can choose to have ‘structured’ pages as well as more informal website areas where interaction is positively encouraged, if still perhaps monitored.

    There is an interesting facility available to locate a WordPress.com blog onto a subdomain of your primary domain. Thus if you run your business at yourbusiness.com, it would be perfectly possible to place your company blog at yourbusiness.com/blog, for example.

    Depending on exactly how this was done, the architecture of the site would then ideally be set up so that the site front page featured a link from the top menu or sidebar to the blog area of the site.

  2. Yes Panos describes how to use the gigya shortcodes for javasccript and Flash countdown tickers and clocks, etc. in his blog. See here > http://en.forums.wordpress.com/topic/countdown-widget-1?replies=21#post-398224

    http://en.forums.wordpress.com/topic/help-with-an-anime-clock?replies=7#post-421438

    It’s my opinion that there must be a reason why WordPress.com staff have not yet included the gigya shortcode in the support documentation.
    There are non-JavaScript countdown tickers as well and the posts in my blog containing those sources are among my most popular posts.

    http://onecoolsitebloggingtips.com/2008/03/11/how-to-add-a-countdown-ticker-to-your-blog/

    http://onecoolsitebloggingtips.com/2009/12/16/free-christmas-countdown-tickers-for-your-blog/

  3. Thanks very much, Timethief.

    As well as the established WordPress shortcodes, Panos has made brilliant use of the gigya shortcodes in workarounds which enable the addition of all kinds of javascript widgets to WordPress.com sites — following this route and with the cass upgrade, restrictions no longer apply: see Panos — all about the Gigya Shortcodes for full background and coding details.

  4. Val
    Some of the most advanced website counters require javascript, which is not allowed on WordPress.com. However, the simpler html equivalents provide a wealth of basic information which goes beyond the standard WordPress.com stats in some areas and offer supplementary traffic information which will be sufficient for many purposes.

    For those more advanced users who have bought the css upgrade, there are many workarounds available using shortcodes which can solve just this kind of problem. The elegant wizardry you will need is all explained on Panos’ excellent site, over at: wpbtips.

  5. Andrew,
    Yes, it’s true that you can find any host you like for your domain. Ultimately using a domain hosting service will offer enhanced flexibility and portability. Nevertheless, using WordPress.com to host your domain is a simple and straightforward route to getting a website up and running quickly — and another advantage is that there are no new ‘upgrades’ to load as these appear. In WordPress.com, new upgrades are rolled out automatically and typically just a few weeks after they become available on WordPress.org.

    • Yeah, it does seem to have some advantages. Also, from what I understand, wouldn’t this give you better stability in the event of big traffic spikes because your blog is spread out over more servers? For example, if one of my posts on my economy hosting plan happened to go viral, it would quickly shut the site down. If you host for free on wordpress.com, though, your site would automatically be allocated more space (I think) I have one site on a “grid” hosting plan that seems to do the same thing.

      I’ve learned a lot from this post, which is cool because I’ve hosted my own wordpress blogs for a while now. There’s a lot more to wordpress.com than might meet the eye!

  6. Thanks to all for the very useful discussion, and to Timethief for answering more questions so comprehensively.

    I suggested to Timethief that readers might raise questions about the WordPress Terms of Service, so thanks to Val for doing so, since originally these specified strictly that WordPress.com sites could not be used for commercial reasons.

    The definition of ‘commercial reasons’ isn’t very clear. Although it seems likely that direct e-commerce operations from WordPress.com sites would not be allowed, in fact ways have been found to add PayPal buttons to WordPress.com sites, and as far as I am aware this facility hasn’t been specifically shut down.

    A narrow interpretation of the policy wouldn’t allow any business to use a WordPress.com site, since in the broader sense every business uses its website as part of its marketing strategy which is in most cases ultimately directed to helping that business to make money.

    I can’t recall seeing any announcement that the Terms of Service have changed, but in reality the WordPress.com environment is now very different from the days when the original Terms of Service were formulated, and for the following reasons:

    1) WordPress now posts its own advertisements on your WordPress.com site, so it is making money from your pages;

    2) WordPress.com now offers a ‘no ads’ upgrade for those cases where users would prefer that third party advertisements are not shown. This is a paid upgrade, so WordPress makes money from that route also, should you choose to follow it:

    3) WordPress.com enthusiastically fanfares its role as the platform of choice for a diverse set of openly commercial, high profile ‘VIP sites’ (some of which I’ve listed above). The businesses concerned are clearly using their WordPress.com sites to help them make money from their business, and WordPress.com is itself clearly making money from the placing of these sites upon its platform.

    It would therefore be hypocritical if WordPress then prevented other users from using their WordPress.com websites for similar but typically much more modest commercial purposes.

  7. whoops sorry roads of stone, I just realised this is a guest post! Consider my previous comment addressed to you!

  8. TimeThief, I’m a little bit mind-boggled by this because I thought that with WP.com one couldn’t use it for anything commercial (unless one’s a VIP), couldn’t advertise on it, couldn’t take money via it (ie, seems okay to have a paypal donate button on WP.com but not a paypal shopping basket or ‘pay’ button or whatever it’s called. Did I miss the point somewhere? (If so, maybe you could point me in the direction of where all this is explained clearly).

    Also – how does one put a statistics counter on a WP.com blog and have it count where people come from and go to without using flash or script because – again unless I’ve missed the point – one can’t use either of these on WP.com. I use statcounter but have to use the html version which limits things a lot.

    I don’t know if this idea might help some other people, but I recently created a quasi-website on WP.com (don’t know if you want the link or not, but you can delete it if you like, or if you want link it to my name instead of my current link), it’s here: http://artbyvalerde.wordpress.com At the moment I can’t be bothered with a domain mostly because I’m not sure if it’s going to be on wordpress forever, I might move it to a different host and I really don’t want to pay for something on WP if it’s not going to stay here long. But anyway, my point about it is that I decided against having a static page, but instead have a sticky post with clickable thumbnails on it, so that people have different navigational options. I’ve also provided a contact me page and a post right at the ‘back’ of the blog that people can use for comments on posts should they want, and I’ve (individually) turned off comments on each post except that. The link to the ‘comment’ post is in the sticky post so is always visible there. There are other pages, too. I spent quite a lot of time on it and think it looks nice for the limitations of a free site.

  9. For a business, it would be good to not have comments on, but this is not a must, as I only have two pages without comments. I also do have a question about the comment policy, until late April of this year I didn’t have a website, so would I not have been allowed to comment on the site? The website field is not marked required.

    • Although some businesses may not require blogs at all and others may choose to restructure a blog to create a mock website, I disagree with the notion that all businesses do not require commenting. Granted a business or even personal site may not have comments set up for every page but having a means of commenting is one of the 5 characteristics that makes blogs different from stand alone websites.

      http://onecoolsitebloggingtips.com/2009/05/02/business-blog-website-or-both/

      Not using a commenting system simply renders the site as a stand alone notice board and purchase and check-out stand that has a cold impersonal and distant feeling. It does not provide for end user feedback on products, testimonies, nor for a means of accepting complaints and dealing with issues that may arise.

      The new age of marketing has dawned, and it’s a fact that people need to feel a personal connection to your business before they are willing to get on board with your product or service. That’s where blogs come in because a blog does something a website doesn’t do. A blog allows you to personally reach and interact with far more potential and existing clients than you can reach by any other means. All businesses these days are aimed at creating customer and client loyalty. Customer loyalty is established through relationships that are built on two way communication flow and that’s why businesses have commenting on their blogs.

  10. Thanks, Andrew. As you imply, the way we use the internet is changing rapidly. WordPress.com startef as a blogging platform, but the additional functionality it has steadily acquired along the way also makes it a reasonable first-pass solution for a simple business website, too — provided that the site is set up in a different way.

    WordPress.com themes include a footer saying Blog at WordPress.com‘, although this is perhaps not that big an issue, I have seen several folk ask if it might be possible to disable this as they’re using their WordPress.com sites in other ways. In fact it is possible to remove this, although you would need the css upgrade and to modify the theme code to do so.

  11. Greetings, Moonbeam. The domain mapping upgrade is the first one you really need, with custom DNS to follow if you want to have e-mail from your domain, and then the no-ads upgrade if you’re using your site to market a business with competitors.

    There are other ways of achieving the same results — not least via WordPress.org which provides more control and more flexibility of design. But that route requires a webhost, and may itself be too intimidating for the beginner. My point is that you can meet nearly all the early website needs of a start-up business with WordPress.com — and still have time left to run the business.

  12. Wow– I’ve been considering an upgrade for a long time, but have been too intimidated to do it. Now that you’ve walked me through, I think I can actually accomplish this. Saving this post as a guide. Thank you SO much, TiTi!

  13. Hi Bill, and I’m pleased you found this guide useful. Good content, good design and persistence are the keys to the success of any website or blog. Keep reading here and you’ll learn much that you need to know.

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