Here are the steps I take when setting up a self-hosted WordPress website. I’ve included links to some of the plugins I use, and to helpful articles with more comprehensive instructions.
Obtain Hosting and a Domain Name
WordPress needs a host in order to work. If your site isn’t hosted at WordPress.com (with the restrictions that entails) then you will need to find a host.
While I’m not able to recommend the “best” host to you, I can tell you that my own sites are with UK host Guru. The host I’ve seen most often recommended in Facebook groups is Siteground and, for UK sites, Krystal and Clook have also been mentioned, but I have no personal experience of their services. If you would feel more confident going with managed WordPress hosting, and can afford the considerable extra cost, then you might want to look at Kinsta as I’ve heard that they are good. Nestify seem like an interesting alternative as they claim to offer fully managed hosting at a lower cost for low traffic sites.
Many hosts will include a free domain name. Taking advantage of this can be easiest way to connect your domain name to your site, but it’s generally considered to be a good idea to register your domain with a different company. That way if you decide to switch hosts, you can just point your domain to the new host and carry on. I’ve registered domains with 123-reg and I’ve often seen Namecheap mentioned.
Connect the Domain Name to the Host
If you haven’t registered your domain name with your host then you’ll need to point the DNS records of the domain to your host’s nameservers. Search your host’s documentation to find out what their nameservers are called.
Hopefully, your domain registrar will give you instructions telling you where to input these names. Here’s a link to 123-reg’s instructions but these may be different for other companies: How do I change the nameservers for my domain name?
It may take a couple of days for the change to take effect.
Many hosts will have an easy way to install WordPress from their control panel.
WPBeginner have a tutorial covering the most common auto-installer tools: How to Install WordPress.
It’s very important that you don’t choose “Admin”, or another easy to guess name, as your username.
Note that if your host provides an SSL certificate and you are given the option of choosing https:// rather than http:// then you should do so.
It may be that your host will have automatically installed and configured an SSL certificate, but if not then you should check their support/help documentation for any special instructions about how to ensure that the SSL certificate has been applied to your site. You may be advised to edit your .htaccess file to ensure that all visitors are redirected to https. This isn’t difficult, but if it scares you then you can use the Really Simple SSL plugin.
If you are new to WordPress then you may find this free online guide helpful: Easy WP Guide.
Check the Permalinks
It’s worth checking that the permalink setting will give your pages and posts the structure that you require.
I want a nice, simple, informative url for my WordPress posts – like this:
Which results from having a permalink settings as shown below:
Install and Activate a Security Plugin
I use WordFence .
I’ve heard that it can use a lot of resources, so I turn off Live Traffic (Tool Options: Live Traffic Options) and choose Low Resource Scanning (Scan Options: Performance Options).
I lock users out after 6, or fewer, login failures and forgot password attempts or if they use an invalid user name of “admin” or my website name (Brute Force Protection).
Install a Coming Soon Plugin
If I don’t want people to be able to see my website while it’s being developed, then I use Coming Soon Page & Maintenance Mode by SeedProd.
Under Users: Your Profile you can choose the name that is displayed as the author of posts. So, my username should be something people won’t guess, but I can have a nickname of “Jane” and can specify that this is the name that is displayed publicly.
I usually switch the site language from English (United States) to English (UK) in the General Settings area.
You can also change the date and time format, the site name and description (Tagline) and ensure that you have the correct email address.
This is a good time to check the image sizes in Media Settings, before uploading any images.
Install and Activate a Theme
There are hundreds of different themes to choose from. Many of these are free and can be installed directly from the WordPress dashboard. WordPress makes it easy to change themes and you can try out lots of them to find one you like.
Having said that, I pretty much always use my favourite theme, GeneratePress . Note that this is an affiliate link so I may receive commission for refering you. But I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend GeneratePress even if I wasn’t an affiliate. It’s a very flexible, well written theme by a respected developer who provides outstanding support.
The theme itself is free but, to get the most from it, you need the Premium plugin, which costs $39.95 for the first year with a 40% discount on annual license renewals.
When I’m using GeneratePress, I also install and activate the GP Premium plugin and input my license key. I activate the add-ons I need e.g. Colors, Typography, Menu Plus, Blog, Spacing, Disable Elements, Copyright… Then I can edit the copyright in the footer to be my own name/website name.
Add a Logo and Site Icon
Many themes will allow you to add a logo in the Customiser.
Install an Anti-Spam Plugin
WordPress tends to come with the Akismet plugin ready installed but not activated. A subscription costs £4 a month for a commercial site.
I usually use a free alternative, Anti-spam, to prevent spam comments.
Install an SEO Plugin
A lot of people swear by the Yoast plugin for Search Engine Optimisation purposes. I have no reason to suggest you shouldn’t go for that, but the one I use is The SEO Framework.
Genesis Clubbers have an article explaining how they use this plugin: How to Set Up the SEO Framework.
Set Up Backups
I use the UpdraftPlus plugin and connect it up to a Dropbox account.
See this article by WP Beginner for more information: How to Backup & Restore Your WordPress Site with UpdraftPlus.
Unless the site is merely a blog, you’re likely to want several pages. See Adding a New Page from The Easy WP Guide.
You can specify which page will be the homepage in the customiser.
Set Up The Menu
By default, WordPress will add all your pages to the navigation menu, but it’s likely that you will want to decide which pages appear, and in what order.
WPBeginner have a tutorial explaining how to do this: How to Add Navigation Menu in WordPress.
Most themes have several widget areas, where you can add the widgets that come as standard with WordPress, or are added by plugins.
See Widgets at the Easy WP Guide for an explanation.
Add a Contact Form
If you’d like a contact form then you can choose from various plugins, for example Caldera Forms.
Caldera provide instructions here: Getting Started With Caldera Forms.
Customise the Website’s Appearance
Many themes will provide options in the customiser, allowing you to change various aspects of the site’s appearance. How much control you have does vary from theme to theme.
If you have any visitors to your site who live in the EU then you may want to consider cookie notification. I use the Cookie Consent plugin for this.
You should also consider the ramifications of the GDPR. See “Your privacy notice checklist” on the ico website. This post on the Smashing Magazine website may help: How GDPR Will Change The Way You Develop. See also this article by Web Designer Depot: How to Survive GDPR: The Essential Guide to the Web’s New Privacy Regulations.
A Note About GeneratePress Sites
At the time I am writing this article, in March 2018, GeneratePress has just introduced a brand new feature to the Premium plugin.
GeneratePress sites are described as “Importable demo sites to kickstart your next build.”
If you have purchased, installed and activated the GeneratePress Premium plugin then you have the option to use one of the sites as a starting point for your new website. The starter sites have been developed by several different designers and their exact contents vary. Typically, they will add a few pages (which could include a homepage, about page, contact form and possibly a blog). They will install and activate a few plugins and will import settings to change the appearance of your site – e.g. colours, fonts, layout and some custom CSS code.
You’ll still be able to go into the customiser and change the settings to your own choice of colours etc.
Starting a website using one of the GP sites means you will be able to skip some of the steps I’ve listed in this article but not all the plugins you require will be installed. For example, some of the starter sites will install the author’s favourite contact form plugin, but they won’t install plugins for security, backups or SEO.
Find out more on the GeneratePress website here: Site Library.