Note: this is not the most recent update list. See here (January 2017).
It’s been almost three years since Create Your Own Website Using WordPress in a Weekend came out and inevitably there have been changes. WordPress has developed and improved, some plugins have been replaced by other, better ones, and some of the themes I recommend are no longer available.
So here’s your latest update list. I’ll go through the book chapter by chapter and let you know when there’s something different that you need to know about. If you want to print this out, click here for a pdf version.
Chapter 2 – Your domain and hosting
Choosing a domain name
There are a lot of new domain name extensions available which is great when trying to find a good domain name. It’s so hard to find a good .com these days that hasn’t been snatched up. Among the numerous new possibilities are .website, .online, .press, .agency, .boutique, .clothing, .fashion, .photography, .kitchen, .restaurant, .cafe, .design, .actor. And many of them are at extremely good prices per year as well. You don’t have to go to a special website to register these new domain names – just go to Namecheap or Godaddy as usual and have some fun browsing around with what they’ve got.
Be ready to buy when you find your ideal domain name. I haven’t had this happen, but I’ve had people tell me that they’ve found a domain name, waited a day or two and mysteriously found that it’s since been grabbed – how this has happened we do not know as it’s illegal behaviour for domain name registrars to snap up a name because they see it’s being searched, but if you find your dream domain name, it’s not worth risking losing it.
Choosing your hosting
I have a few changes in hosting recommendations to pass on to you. Personally I prefer Bluehost now to DreamHost, which used to be my top recommendation. (I’ve come across some complaints about Bluehost from time to time, but personally I’ve always had good service from them and am happy to recommend them.) Siteground is often recommended so you might alternatively want to have a look at them. In the book I didn’t recommend WP Engine as they are significantly more expensive than any of the other hosts, however I’ve heard reports that their customer service is really incredible and that it’s worth going with them for that alone. So if you think you might need quite a bit of handholding, and might want to ask rather more far-reaching questions than those strictly concerning hosting, WP Engine might be the hosting company for you.
In addition, apparently Google now prefers people to host their websites locally to where they are based, which is a new consideration since the book was published. Your best bet is to ask around for recommendations and then Google those hosting companies to check reviews. As well as good reviews, you want to look for an excellent uptime record, unlimited storage, the possibility to host unlimited domain names, unlimited databases, and unlimited bandwidth. Either live chat or telephone support is a must – you don’t want to wait 24 hours for an email reply if your site goes down.
For those in the UK, I recommend Heart Internet.
Linking your domain and your hosting
The Namecheap interface has changed since the book was published. In essence, you do exactly the same – you paste the nameservers your hosting company has given you into the blank fields in the nameserver area (DNS) of your registrar’s website. Here’s a screenshot of how the Namecheap interface now looks, and if you want to check you’re doing exactly the right thing, see this article.
Page 21 – How to point a domain to a website
Pointing another domain to your main website, within Namecheap, is now much easier. Go to your list of domains, click “Manage” next to the domain you want to point, and you’ll see a “redirect domain” section, as shown.
Chapter 3 – Planning your website
Finding and using images
Page 30 – Some good places to get stock photos for use on your site
There are many more good places than this, including the wonderfully useful Librestock that lets you search 43 free stock photo libraries at once. See here for an article in which I list lots of other places.
Page 31 – If you want to get a logo made…
Buildabrand is unfortunately no longer in action. Here are some good alternatives:
I have also become a huge fan of the “1-1 Projects” service of 99Designs. You can get a logo designed here without undergoing the whole competition element that was the original idea of 99Designs, and once you find a designer you like, you can get everything else you may need designed by them as well (business cards, other printed stuff, ebooks – whatever else you might need) at a really reasonable cost.
I wrote a blog post here on how to create a logo yourself using an interesting font – for many people, this is all that you need, and it can look brilliant, as shown by this screenshot and the examples on that blog post. All you need to do is choose a font that suits your style and you’re away. (You can get fonts at Creative Market – see below.)
I’d like to say some more here on the subject of graphics for websites in general.
First of all, since I wrote the book, a wonderful tool now exists that you absolutely need to know about as it’s just perfect for the do-it-yourself website builder, and that’s Canva. Whether it’s large pictures for your blog (that are ideal for your website visitors to pin on Pinterest or share on social media) or graphics for your sidebar, it’s fantastically easy to use and what’s even better for people who aren’t brilliant with the design side of things, it has hundreds of ready-made, stylish-looking templates that you can just take and customise for your own purposes. You can see in the screenshot below some of the templates that are provided for you as starting-off points.
As well as graphics for your website, Canva can also produce images you can use on social media (all pre-sized to exactly the dimensions you need) and can even create ebooks, if you have needs in that direction, or material you can take off to print (brochures, posters, etc.).
PicMonkey is another tool that you may find invaluable in creating graphics for your website – many people like to use Canva for some things, and PicMonkey for others. Picmonkey has some great textures and background (chalkboard for example) and you can create collages with round corners for each image if you want to. You can’t use your own fonts with the free version of Canva, whereas with PicMonkey you can access all the fonts on your computer.
Another idea for creating square graphics for your website is to use one of the apps that are created for Instagram. You can create the graphics with your phone and email them to yourself, then you can upload them to your website from your computer. Examples of apps that are good for this are Over, Typorama, A Beautiful Mess, Instaquote and WordSwag. Of course, you choose a style that suits the kind of website you are creating. They are great for sidebar images that direct the visitor to different areas of your website, or for putting in a row across your home page, for example (lots of themes provide a space where you can add three or four images for different products or services you provide).
Creative Market is a brilliant place to get patterns, illustrations and other graphic elements for your website. You can also get fonts, which you can download to your computer and use via either Pixlr or PicMonkey, images especially created for social media posts, and design elements (buttons and other graphics) you can use to add some individual flavour to your site.
You can also find a lot of ready-made “kits” to be used on websites on Etsy. Search “branding kit” or “web graphics.” These are often of a particular “look” that’s very much in vogue at the moment, and if this is what you’re looking for, you may have found the perfect source of graphics for your website.
Chapter 5 – Step-by-step: creating a basic model website
Obviously, since the book was written, the default theme has changed several times. In order to follow the tutorial, you’ll have to use the Twenty Twelve theme.
Twenty Twelve was the default theme when the book was published, so readers would find it ready installed the moment they set up WordPress. Now that it is no longer the default theme, you need to install and switch to the Twenty Twelve theme. It’s really important that you do do this as you won’t be able to follow the tutorial otherwise – all themes, even default themes, work a little differently and my instructions won’t make sense. But it’s entirely easy to do.
Go to Appearance > Themes. Click the grey “Add New” button right at the top of the page. Type “Twenty Twelve” in the ‘Search themes” search box. When you see the Twenty Twelve theme, mouse over the picture of it, then click the blue install button, as shown below. Click “Activate” when it’s installed. You can now follow the tutorial.
Since I wrote the book, the version of WordPress has obviously changed, as well as the default theme. The interface looks different – more modern (for example, the side navigation is black, as you can see above and in your own interface) but functions in basically the same way with a few tweaks that have improved usability. The major difference in terms of using it is that it is now miles easier to work with images. You can resize them right inside the editing area just by dragging the corners (as shown below), and easily add to and rearrange galleries (as you can see in the lower image below). Where once it was a bit fiddly, it really is easy now.
Page 78 – I used to recommend All in One SEO Pack as the preferred choice to prepare your pages for the search engines. There is now a consensus that WordPress SEO by Yoast is better – it apparently has less of an impact on site speed (though personally I have no proof of that). The Yoast plugin has a different interface (you can see a screenshot below where I talk about Chapter 9), but the essence is the same – you choose a title and a description for all the pages of your site. So, don’t use All in One SEO Pack, use WordPress SEO by Yoast instead.
Note that it is now not necessary to add keywords (“meta keywords”) to your pages for SEO purposes – of course these should be in the actual text of your page, but you don’t need to add them individually into any area of the interface so that they are present in the code of your web page, as we did before. Google declared a little while ago that it no longer goes by these, so this is one step you can leave out.
An additional feature that Yoast has that is really useful for optimising your pages for the search engines is its red, amber and green trafic-light system. Following the prompts, you can adjust your title, page text, and so on, in order to get the “green” status for each of your pages and blog posts, which indicates that you have done as much as you possibly can to achieve optimisation for each page.
You can find a tour around the Yoast plugin if you go to the “SEO” section that appears within your navigation once you’ve installed it, and if you want to go further, you can read their very detailed article about optimisation here: https://yoast.com/wordpress-seo/.
The information contained here is extremely detailed and my advice would be not to get too hung up about it while you are creating your website, but to come back to it afterwards.
Reading the section on Search Engine Optimisation in Chapter 9 of the book will give you the broad outline of what you need to know while you’re building your site – and it’s important that you do read it before you do your building as it will explain to you the importance of the wording on the site pages, the way you label your images, the titles you give to the pages, and so on, which you won’t want to re-do. Once you are armed with this knowledge, I advise you to complete the site to your liking and get it live, and only at that point dive further into SEO and carry out whatever tweaks may be necessary. Otherwise you risk getting caught up in details and having overwhelm take over before your site is even live.
Chapter 8 – In focus
Free business theme, page 102
The Pagelines theme I chose for the book as an example of a good, free business theme is no longer available. But times have changed! This theme would now look totally outdated if we chose it today. There are now many, many more wonderful-looking free business themes available than there were when I wrote the book. More are being created daily and added to the collection, as WordPress has become a standard for all types of site, rather than being used primarily for blogs.
When looking for a free theme, you can look inside your Appearance > Themes area (click the “Add New” button at the top as this will let you access the directory). Below we can see the results of a search I did for “business.”
Once you’ve identified themes that look interesting by looking at the thumbnails, open up the WordPress free themes directory in a new tab (https://wordpress.org/themes/) and search each theme by name. This way you can, in most cases, access the “Theme homepage” for each theme and from there, see a demo version of the site as it could look when fully customised. The “Preview” look that you’re given from within the Appearance > Themes area will just show you how the theme would look at its most basic, but these days with themes offering more and more customisation options, this doesn’t show you the theme as it’s really designed to look, so you need to see the demo in order to understand what you can potentially do with the theme.
Free portfolio theme, page 109
The Visual theme is still available and it still looks great. Understated and arty, it’s perfect for artists and designers who want a very minimal look. (By the way I love the themes created by Dessign. While you’re on their site, I think it’s really worth having a browse around.)
Free magazine theme, page 114
Sadly, the free version of the Structure theme is no longer available, only the premium version. This theme has entirely stood the test of time and is still one of Organic Themes’ most popular themes, only now you have to pay to use it.
There are dozens of other beautiful free magazine-style themes available, which you’ll see if you search the free theme directory (Click “Add New” within the Appearance > Themes are and type “magazine”.
Free e-commerce theme, page 120
Mystile is still available and it still looks good. You might want to look at Storefront (https://www.woothemes.com/storefront/) which is now WooThemes’ basic webstore theme, but to get it looking as good as their demo with the really modern full-screen image or video at the top, you’d have to add a paid-for extension.
Chapter 9 – Your live site
Growing your audience
Page 129, point 2
In the book I don’t mention Pinterest or the phenomenon that Instagram has become. Both of these are brilliant for marketing – of course, depending what you are doing or selling. There is no obligation to use these social media, of course not, but it could be that your niche suits them perfectly. If what you do is at all photogenic, do consider them; for ideas, see what others in your niche are up to. (You can also create graphics of slogans or quotations and use these on Instagram.)
Point 3 – Facebook ads are vastly effective. Instagram now also takes ads, since very recently, so if you think it could suit what you are doing, it could be worth a look.
I could add a point 9 in this section, which would be “Add a blog to your site.” (I actually wrote about this subject in the next section but it is also a good way of growing your audience, not only keeping your existing audience tuned in.) I’m a massive believer in adding a blog, even if yours is a serious business site, for many reasons – and if you look around the web, you won’t see that many busy or successful sites that don’t have a blog attached. One very powerful reason is that a blog gives you scope to add relevant material to your site and this gives it value in Google’s eyes, meaning your site will get a better ranking. I’ve written a blog post about all the good reasons for blogging on your site so if you need more convincing, hop over here and have a read.
Maintaining relationships with your visitors
There are a few resources worth knowing about in the context of email mailing lists.
Your email service provider will provide you with a signup form that you can put on your site, but these aren’t generally very nice looking. Some ways of getting nicer signup forms on your site, and generally increasing your signup rate, are:
Popup Ally (https://wordpress.org/plugins/popupally/ – you can add the free version straight from your admin area – or http://ambitionally.com/popupally-pro/) – this plugin, which comes with free and premium versions, can provide you with nicer-looking signup forms, including one that fits into a strip right aross your page which is very much in vogue at the moment (most usually positioned right underneath a large full-width image at the top of the site; you only get this with the premium version but there are many others forms available with the free one). They can also provide you with popups that you can configure to be “polite” – that is, not annoy the hell out of your website visitors. (Popups, although they get very bad press, are massively effective.)
Bloom (http://www.elegantthemes.com/plugins/bloom/) – a premium plugin (by Elegant Themes, but you don’t have to be using a theme by them to use the plugin) that provides very nice-looking signup forms and popups, and is easier to configure than the option above (I actually prefer it, though you don’t get a “design-from-scratch” option, nor the full-width form).
SumoMe (https://sumome.com/) – these people provide all kinds of brilliant tools to increase your signups and make your website more effective in general. One is a strip across the very top of your website with a call to action or a newsletter signup form in it (you’re bound to have seen these all over the web), another is a popup, or a “welcome mat” – a signup form that appears over the entire screen for new visitors, once-only, that is hugely successful in raising signup rates. You really must look at what they offer – many of the tools are entirely free and are very widely used.
I also want to mention Leadpages here (http://www.leadpages.net/; alternatives are Instapage https://instapage.com/ or Unbounce http://unbounce.com/). This is actually a landing page service, that you can use to grow your list, launch products or advertise webinars. It isn’t free, but if list building is a serious aim of yours, you should look into it. They allow you to put links on your website that launch a signup box, and these are extremely effective. (You may yourself have signed up to receive book updates via a form like the one pictured below.)
Here I talk about sending out blog posts automatically using the Jetpack Subscribe widget or the Subscribe2 plugin.
It is very easy indeed to let your subscribers sign up to receive blog posts this way – you don’t have to do anything and they will just receive the blog posts! How effortless! – though there are a couple of drawbacks. One is that with Jetpack Subscribe, your readers will receive emails with “WordPress” written all over them, instead of your own branding. You might be ok with this if branding isn’t a big deal for you. But a very serious disadvantage is that you don’t have their permission to email them outside the agreement to send them blog posts, and you really do want to have permission to mail them whatever information you want – that’s the whole point of getting their email addresses.
A better way of letting your readers receive your blog posts automatically is to set up an account with Aweber or MailChimp instead, because that way you can get emails sent out whenever you post to the blog (or however you choose to set it up) without you having to do anything at all, but you also have the option of mailing these individuals outside of the blog, supposing you ever want to set up a proper newsletter or email them about any offers you may have, as they have given you permission to contact them.
In a nutshell, I’d always go with setting up an email list rather than simply working with a blog subscribe feature, even if at this stage all you want to do is let your readers receive your blog posts.
Another thing I’d add here is that it is common practice to give your website visitors an incentive – or several incentives – to sign up to your list. That is, a video, a guide, a checklist, or whatever it is that you think they might value. Your free giveaway material needs to be really good as free giveaways are everywhere on the web these days – as you are of course well aware. (You can set it up so that your subscribers receive an email letting them know how to download or otherwise obtain their free gift, so you don’t have to do anything manually.)
Search Engine Optimization
As I said above, WordPress SEO by Yoast is the preferred plugin now for your SEO needs. The interface does look completely different, but the principle is identical – you set page titles and descriptions for each of your pages or posts, and in addition, as I explained, the plugin helps you see how well-adapted your page is to your target keywords for that page, which is really useful (see the screenshot below).
I also mentioned, but I want to note it again to make sure you don’t waste time looking for a similar field within the Yoast plugin, that now there is no longer any use for “meta keywords” (which are just referred to as keywords and phrases in the book). So don’t search for where you’re meant to put them in within the plugin – just forget them.
Integrating social media with your website
I didn’t talk about Instagram in the book as I think it was new at that point and hadn’t yet taken off into the hugely important social media platform that it is today. As I said, Instagram may not be for you, but if you do anything photogenic, you may be missing out if you don’t dive into it. Even businesses that don’t necessarily lend themselves to imagery have found they can create graphics using slogans and quotations which means they can be present and create a following there as well. Over to you if this could be something good for your business.
Note that you can only include ONE clickable link in Instagram, and that’s in your profile. What users normally do is post images referring to a particular blog post, recipe, product, or whatever it is, and say in the comments that there is a link to that information in the profile. They then change the link in the profile to the relevant direct link that goes to whatever it is that is talked about in the latest post.
You can only post to Instagram via your mobile; there are loads of plugins that allow you to display your Instagram feed on your website.
Chapter 10 – Useful things to know
Maintaining your WordPress site
I now recommend a different backup plugin, and that’s Updraft Plus (you can install as usual from your admin area), which lets you restore your website at the click of a button if you need to, and saves your backups automatically to Dropbox (you need to set it to do this – it’s of course a great idea, as you don’t want your only back up to be on your server, or your computer).
I can’t overestimate the importance of keeping your WordPress site up to date as hacks are more and more common these days, and one way you can help keep your site secure is by keeping everything (WordPress version, plugins, and theme) entirely up to date.
Given that security is such an issue today, a useful plugin to install is WordFence. This lets you know if your site has been attacked or infected. Should this ever happen to you, first ask your host for help, as they will give you advice, and may be able to restore the site to a previous version for you. If they can’t, and it turns out you need professional help, go to Upwork (https://www.upwork.com/), and seek out a hack repair specialist with a great reputation, who should be able to sort out the situation for you. It’s essential that you have a backup to provide the freelancer with, with so do get your Updraft Plus set up.
WordPress in other languages
Page 153 – Multilingual sites
Polylang is a useful plugin to use for multi-language sites, easier to use than either of the others mentioned.
Adding functionality with plugins
I should add to this list the fabulous Sumo Me suite I talked about a little earlier (https://sumome.com/).
WordPress SEO by Yoast instead of All in ONE SEO Pack
Updraft Plus instead of BackupWordPress
Polylang in addition to WPML and Qtranslate
Coming Soon Page & Maintenance Mode by SeedProd is a better tool than underConstruction (it lets you put a logo, etc, although the latter is perfectly functional, if a bit plain.)
There you go! There’s your list of updates to the book.
If you find something else that really needs explaining, or correcting, please do let me know and I’ll be sure to add it into the next update list, or if it’s urgent, I’ll add it here. Thanks!
The best of luck with your website building.
Last updated on 6 April 2016