WordPress Basics: Set Up Your Website

by | Sep 1, 2018

You’ve chosen WordPress for your website – smart choice.  The statistics are overwhelming in your favor. WordPress is the world’s premier content management system, developed and maintained by hundreds of thousands of programmers and IT developers who support it’s functionality.

In case you’re unfamiliar with WordPress or Content Management Systems (CMS) in general, let’s start out with a little explanation of how WordPress works.

WordPress 101

Back in the day, websites were typically built by programmer who created them in html and JavaScript. You had to be somewhat technical to do it and there was little standardization on how sites displayed in various browsers (Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari). Suffice it to say, early on websites went a little wonky.

In 2003, the WordPress platform was introduced as an open source, first of its kind CMS. WordPress is built with php files that sit on top of database. (A database is like a spreadsheet on steroids – in this case, the application is called MY SQL.)

When someone comes to your website, they see a perfectly displayed page. What happens behind the scenes is the php code calls the content (text, images, scripts, etc.) from the database and dynamically puts it together. Then it provides the html your browser needs to display it. All within seconds. Pretty cool, right?

What WordPress does best is give website owners – whether they’re techies or not –  the option to create, design and maintain their own site.

WordPress Dashboard

When you open an account with a hosting provider, you can reach your sites WordPress application once you’re logged in.  What you see when you get there is a dashboard with menu running down the left side.

You’ll also notice a lot of different boxes on the right. Here’s a tech tip – you can make them go away. Up in the right-hand corner, there’s a button called Screen Options. Click it and uncheck the boxes you don’t want to see (i.e. list of WordPress camps or events.)

Now let’s walk through how to use the dashboard menu to get up and running.

Setting Up Users

Menu: Users

When WordPress is installed by your host, typically the user name from your hosting account is automatically added as an administrator (admin.) An admin can do anything on the site – they have total control over everything – content to themes to plugins – basically any setting on the site.

If you need to create a new admin account (for yourself or anyone else) please do not choose Admin for your user name. It’s the equivalent of taping a “please hack me” sign on your site.  Once they’re created, user names can’t be changed, so if this warning comes too late, make a new admin account, login using it and delete the other one.  (Don’t delete until you set up the new one!)

Many businesses also have technical people who design or maintain their sites who need admin privileges. Setting in WordPress keeps their access limited to the WordPress dashboard and out of your hosting account.

Other User Types

Not everyone on your site needs to be an admin. User roles in WordPress come with built-in permissions giving them access to some things but not others:

Role What They Can Do
EDITOR An editor can access all the content on the site. They can reply to comments, change or delete any text or image on the site. Sometimes, they are setup to pre-approve content from contributors before it can be posted. They can control and manage anything related to content.

But they can’t touch themes, add plugins or change settings. They also can’t set up new users. (More detail on Themes below).

AUTHOR An author is just what it sounds like – someone who writes blog posts. Authors can create their own posts, adding images and content.  They can edit or delete their own work too.

Unlike an Editor, they can’t change other people’s work. Their site access is only for posts not pages – so they can’t access any of the pages (About Us, Contact, etc. (More detail on Posts vs Pages below.)

CONTRIBUTOR Contributors are authors with limited access. They can write and edit blog posts, but they can’t publish the posts. Either an Editor or Admin is set up to the do the review and they publish it piece when it’s approved.  Contributors don’t have access to the Media Library


Choosing Your Theme

Menu: Appearance/Themes

Every WordPress installation will offer you a selection of themes. Themes are like templates – apply some standard styles and colors to your site.

Some themes are really just for blogging (have a sidebar on every page), but others craft large websites, eCommerce stores and help small business have a competitive edge.

Some themes are free, and others have to be purchased. We recommend you play around with some of the free ones before you make any choice.  Just click on a theme, then click Activate.  It will apply the theme to the pages on your site.

Heads Up

Just so you don’t freak out, that cool picture of the home page you clicked on isn’t gonna be what your page looks like. You’re going to have to add stuff to get that look – pictures, text, slides, buttons. Also, sometimes those themes have really tweaked the page by adding to Cascading Style Sheets (CSS.)

If you’re not familiar with CSS, it may be uphill battle that you just don’t need – or an opportunity to learn some new stuff – depending on how you approach it.  Either way, that’s why playing with a free theme first is always a good thing. FYI – you can activate and deactivate themes at will without losing your content.

Post or Page

Menu: Posts/Add New

About Posts

Remember WordPress originally designed for blog posts. Now literally one third of the internet runs on WordPress and not just for blogging. The design of the original infrastructure was for posts – that were displayed by date in descending order (most recent first) and included a sidebar for widgets. (See more detail below.)

When you create a post, your theme will automatically display it in blog format. Unless you customize the display, people see the date and author at minimum. You can also add categories (also on the menu) to your posts – i.e. How-To, Installation, Recipes, etc.

Featured Image

When you’re working in a post, on the right side of the page, there are some options. Usually near the bottom is Featured Image. A featured image shows up on top of your blog post and really makes a difference whether people open them.

The image can also be used as a thumbnail image in blog post listings.

Menu: Pages/Add New

About Pages

As WordPress grew in popularity, more and more entire sites were built on the platform, so pages became a priority. Unlike posts, pages aren’t controlled by date. They are separate entities, with a header and a footer built into the template code.

The exception is a landing page. A landing page has no header or footer – it is a single page with a single purpose or call to action (CTA.)

When you use a theme, they may have built in styles or modules for a “header” with the page title and an image. Others may have a standard footer display social media icons or even another menu.

Where are posts are automatically displayed when published, pages have to be added to a menu for viewers to see them.

Creating Menus

Menu: Appearance/Menus

Most WordPress themes let you set up more than one menu. Premium themes usually offer three menu locations – Primary, Secondary and Footer. The cool thing is you can add different menu items to each one.  Your footer menu doesn’t have to be the same as your primary navigation

This lets you increase the reach of your navigation without putting a gazillion menu items at the top of a page. Too many options can actually have an opposite effect – leaving users confused or overwhelmed. Breaking out key links in different areas makes a lot of sense.

Three Menus

Menu Description
Primary This is the main navigation bar. It will have all the pages relevant to your business. It’s typically placed with your logo and can have drop down menus to categorize navigation by topic: i.e. Services: Demolition| Grading| Junk Removal)
Secondary Depending on your theme, this menu can be in a number of different places, but for the most part, it’s a bar at the very top of the page. It might be used for a clickable phone number, a link to a third party like Bookeo, a log in for members or a shopping cart on a store.
Footer The footer menu is at the bottom of the page. It’s a good place for policy pages (Privacy, Returns, Terms of Service) Support or Help links. You can also use it to replicate a page you want people to see – Reviews or Recent Projects.


When you create your menu, give it a name (i.e. Main Menu) then check the box below to identify which of the menus it will be.

On the left, there is a list of published pages. Check the ones you want for this menu – they automatically display on the menu. You can change the order by dragging them around or shorten the name.

If you have a drop down (separate pages under Services) just give them a tug to the right. They will indent and display under the main page. Save the menu and repeat the process with any other menu’s you’re using.

What’s a Widget?

Menu: Appearance/Widgets

Widgets are actually little apps for your website that come with WordPress. Some themes will add new or customized widgets along with the standard set.

You can stick widgets on a few places but usually in your blog sidebar or sections of your footer. When you go to the widget page, you see widgets on the left and the locations they go on the right.

You simply drag the widget you want to the right location – you can use multiples in the same one. Your sidebar, for example, would include widgets like a Search Bar, Recent Posts and Categories. As time goes on, you can add an Archives widget that shows older posts.

You might use a Text Widget in your Footer with a brief About Us paragraph or for contact information. Just click the little arrow to open the widget and type what you need. You can add html too if you want to create links.

Widgets automatically appear on every page or post in the footer or sidebar. They are a global item – so if you change it or update it, the revision is made everywhere.

Two Final Things

Menu: Appearance/Customize/ Site Identity

Site Identity

WordPress automatically puts in a lame site identify and tagline when the system is installed. Click Customize and change the site identity to properly represent what your site is all about (we usually use the site name or associated key word) and a niche tagline. Depending on your theme – they may or may not be visible to the public, but the search engines see them no matter what.

(FYI Some themes put Site Identity under Customize/ General Settings. Don’t be afraid to poke around.)


Menu: Settings/Permalinks

Permalinks are a fancy way of describing how the URL for your pages/posts will be displayed. Again, we need to be thinking more about search engines than users.  Based on that criteria, the only real option in the list you’re provided is fifth on the list: post name.

That means if your website has a page for Services it will be displayed as www.mywebsite.com/services. That was tricky, huh?  As for the rest of the list, adding a date only lets everyone know how old your content is and numeric is just silly.

Why would I want a URL without the page name: www.mywebsite.com/444?

Set up your permalinks properly from the beginning because changing them later can mess with the standing you’ve built with Google and Bing.

There you have it – your site is good to go.

Hey, What about Plugins?

Plugins are different than widgets, though WordPress will offer you a standard set. A plugin literally plugs in extra functionality for your site.  Some are free, some can be purchased, and some are licensed by the number of sites.

Plugins might include an advanced contact form, an image slider, spam protection or SEO support or and social media buttons.  Explaining plug-ins requires its own post – which you can find here.

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