How I should have started my first Wordpress site

I just recently finished coding and developing my first, very own, Wordpress site. It took more work and time than I had originally expected, but I am pretty satisfied with the outcome. However, if I could do it all over again, I would do things a little bit differently. Here are some of my experiences and suggestions for anyone who is looking into starting their first Wordpress site.

The first step I would take is to decide on your domain name of choice. Seems like a simple one, but I think it is a good idea to snatch up your domain name while you know that it’s free, so no one else can grab it in the meantime. Domain names are pretty cheap, usually around 10-15 dollars a year. It also might make sense to get your domain name from the company that you will use to host your web content with (not necessary though), I used HostGator for my site.

This is the point at which I decided to purchase hosting as well. In retrospect, this wasn’t the best idea, I didn’t factor in how long it would take me to get my site up and running. I ended up paying for about three months of web site hosting while I was still developing my site, ouch. Luckily, hosting isn’t too expensive, lesson learned.

When I started out, I pretty much followed the instructions from this step by step video on youtube, to a T. It is a really great video and it’s definitely worth the time spent watching it. It will get you up and running with a Wordpress site in a couple of hours. However, if you are looking for a more custom feel and want get into the code behind Wordpress and its themes, it might not be the best way to start out.

Once you have your domain, if you haven’t already, learn the basics of HTML and CSS. A really great book is HTML and CSS by Jon Ducket, it reads like a book, not a textbook, and uses a lot of really great examples to get you started. If you don’t feel like paying for a book on the subject, there are a bunch of really great tutorials online. Also, CodeAcademy is another nice resource for web programming which will allow you to practice your code in real time while following their step by step lessons. Learning some basic PHP will also help a lot. Since Wordpress is written in PHP, customizing your site might require you to write some of your own PHP scripts (not always the case depending on how you want to customize your site).

I would then set up your computer to use Wordpress locally, this makes development much easier. You don’t have to worry too much about breaking things on your local server, because you will be the only one who can view all the edits that you will be making. I originally started developing my site while it was live on the net. I quickly learned that this was probably not a good idea, and moved my development over to my laptop.

I use MAMP for my local Wordpress development; it takes out a lot of the hassle of trying to set up the Wordpress environment manually. Wordpress provides a very simple guide for setting up MAMP here. Wordpress’s Codex is a great place if you are searching for information about coding with Wordpress. Chances are, if you run into any issues, you can probably find the answer in the Wordpress Codex or within Wordpress’s forums.

After setting up Wordpress locally, I would figure out what kind of development you want to do for your site. This will basically be the starting point for your customizations. You could start from scratch, use a base framework/starter theme, or use a child theme. I recommend using a child theme if you are new to Wordpress. I originally wanted to use a bare starter theme, but I quickly realized how much work that would be for a noob like myself and opted for child theme development instead. If you are a little more adventurous than I, Underscores is a cool starter theme that gives you the bare bones foundation to get started with building your own theme.

A child theme offers you a way to safely customize your site without having to build everything from scratch. I think the best way to go about this is to find a parent theme that comes really close to what you want your site to be, and then use that as a base for your child theme. Once you have that, you can start customizing your site as much or as little as you want. There are plenty of helpful tutorials online for getting started with custom child themes. Don’t feel like you need a fancy or expensive piece of software to do your web development either. A simple text editor will do just fine.

Once you have finished with your development, and creating content all you would need to do at this point is purchase hosting, install Wordpress on your newly hosted web servers (make sure your hosting provider supports Wordpress), and migrate your site from your local machine to your hosted web servers. A little bit easier said than done, but it’s a fairly straitforward process and there are plenty of tutorials to help you through the details.

I guess the moral of the story here is, start your development locally. It’s totally free, and it’s a good way to get accustomed to working with Wordpress. If you are on the fence about using Wordpress as your CMS of choice, give it a try and let me know what you think. I have enjoyed it so far, and learned a lot in the process. I would definitely recommend it. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.