When you are starting out making websites, you have a lot of options. If you have absolutely no experience in coding, the best option to take is starting a website using WordPress. Wordpress is an incredible piece of software that you upload to your hosting service that allows you to instantly customize a site to your liking. The problem with WordPress comes from the multitude of options you are inundated with. It’s quite easy to start downloading plugin after plugin and overload your site with a bunch of useless nonsense. That’s not where we want to be. Fortunately for you I have a lot of experience making websites using WordPress and after all these years I have developed a list of the essentials you need for your site.
The first thing you need to do when installing wordpress is to decide on a theme for your site. Themes are basically pre-made designs for your site that you can upload instantly. There are a million themes available out there, many of which are complete garbage. The key is finding a great functioning theme as well as a great design. Fortunately I have waded through the waters of all the themes out there and have come up with a list of the best.
Among themes, Genesis is the creme of the crop. Genesis comes out of the box with advanced SEO features, incredible customization with widgets, rock solid security features, and very streamlined code which makes site load times much faster. Genesis also features some of the best looking designs I have ever seen. This mix of functionality and design are why I suggest to everyone to buy Genesis. The only downfall is that it’s a bit pricey coming in around 100 dollars. That said, it’s totally worth it!
Before using Genesis, I was a heavy user of WooThemes. WooThemes offer an incredible assortment of themes to choose from for any kind of site you are creating. While not as expensive as Genesis, each theme is it’s own entity which leads to an initial period of confusion while setting up your site. However, if you are just setting up one site and need a quick theme to throw in, WooThemes would work great for you.
Thesis was basically the top dog of themes before Genesis came along. It’s very similar to Genesis in that it offers incredible options to customize your site any way you see fit. Most people would recommend Genesis over Thesis, but if you are more comfortable with customizing your site from scratch, Thesis may be more to your liking. If you do decide to use Thesis, you really can’t go wrong, my issue with it has that I can always tell if a site is using Thesis because the basic design always looks the same to me. To each their own.
ThemeForest is a marketplace where developers can upload themes they have created. In my experience, the themes on ThemeForest are hit or miss. There’s a load of bunk themes that you can buy for 3 dollars on there that are pretty garbage. That being said, there’s also a number of really great themes on here. The trick is that if you see a design that you like you need to do your due diligence and research reviews of it. I have found some hidden gems on here that have turned out really great for me though, so give it a look.
OptimizePress is an amazing theme that serves a number of purposes. OptimizePress allows you to easily make squeeze pages, landing pages, sales pages, thank you and confirm pages, and membership sites. This is done with ease by utilizing a multitude of templates that come with the package, or you can fully customize your look to suit your own needs. If you are serious about making some kind of product and building your list, you need to look into OptimizePress.
After you have your theme figured out and uploaded to your site, you are going to want to get some plugins. Plugins allow extra features to WordPress that aren’t initially included. All you have to do is upload a few plugins to your site and boom, new features. However the downside to this is that there are so many plugins that it’s hard to know which are essential, and which are just fluff. Here’s my list of essential premium plugins.
Although Genesis has very robust SEO options right out of the box, I still prefer to install Yoast SEO for even more advanced features. Yoast SEO is considered the top SEO plugin for WordPress by pretty much everyone. One of the features I love about Yoast is that it will give you a reading from red to green whether your posts are optimized to it’s fullest extent or not. It’s a nice feature if you aren’t completely familiar with SEO and just want guidelines on what to do next. Although there’s a bit of a learning curve setting it up, once set it’s really the best option for SEO.
WP Super Cache
Having a caching plugin is absolutely essential to any WordPress site. Imagine a scenario where something you produce goes viral. This would create a traffic spike on your site, and if your site isn’t equipped to handle spikes, then your site will go down. The result of which would be potential loss in revenue, future readers, and a potential bad reputation. What WP Super Cache does is basically limit the amount of data needed to be loaded from your site when people access it. Besides potentially stopping your site from crashing from too much traffic, the faster load times will also give your site a small SEO boost.
When I created my first site a number of years ago, I didn’t install this plugin. I would get around 5-7 emails a day notifying me about comments made to the site. All of them were spam. Once I installed Akismet that stopped. Learn from my mistakes and install this from the get go and you will never have to deal with spam on your site.
If you are interested at all turning your traffic into a revenue source through affiliate marketing, it would do you good to cloak your links. Pretty Link is the plugin I use for this as it’s extremely simple to use. Just download the plugin, put in your affiliate links, and change them to whatever you want the new url to be. That way whenever you are sending out a link to a product you are promoting, the link doesn’t look like a bunch of jibberish.
Gravity Forms is the top of the line when it comes to making forms for your website. The sheer amount of options and fields you can include are staggering. Gravity Forms works across all themes unlike some of the other plugins that are out there, and any time you came across a problem, Gravity Forms actually has a support team waiting.
Lead Pages is a plugin that makes creating landing pages a snap. It’s easy to use interface can have you a beautiful looking page built in no time. Although Lead Pages is somewhat pricey, the value that it provides is more than worth it. Another great thing is that Lead Pages allows you to build responsive pages, meaning they will work on mobile, tablet, and web seamlessly.
Perhaps your site is all about selling products. One option would be to go out and hire a team of people to build a professional looking site for thousands of dollars. Another option would be to use inexpensive ecommerce platforms that you can customize yourself.
WooCommerce isn’t technically an ecommerce platform, it’s a shopping cart plugin for WordPress. That being said, if you already have a WordPress site built, it’s an easy way to add products to sell to your site. Many sites run their stores exclusively with WooCommerce, so it certainly has the track record of a winning system. While many other Ecommerce platforms have monthly costs and transaction fees, WooCommerce is free to download. However, because of this it’s pretty basic. The good news is that you can buy some of these premium features with extensions.
Although technically not WordPress, if you have no web presence Shopify is a very simple way to get set up with a very robust looking ecommerce store. Shopify is basically another Content Management System like WordPress that is specifically geared towards running an ecommerce store. Shopify has a number of payment plans to choose from which may make it less desirable than a free option like WooCommerce, but ease of use, the ability to start selling in a matter of hours, and a huge community of developers make Shopify a really good choice for anyone.