Have 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org — 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!
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?