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Starting a WordPress Website from Soup to Nuts

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When I started to build my WordPress website a few months back and found it extremely difficult to find ALL of the steps I would need to go through in one place. After piecing together instructions from hundreds of different websites and blogs, I vowed to document my learnings. You are now reading it.

This tutorial covers every single configuration step to get your site pre-built properly, to help you understand the complete picture. If you don’t think one of the steps applies to you, feel free to skip it. It worked for me but that doesn’t mean it’s a one size fits all guide. This post is not about content, it’s what you will want to have in place before you start content building.

WordPress is my chosen Content Management System (CMS) platform. If you use another one like Drupal, Joomla, or Magento, find a tutorial for those instead, this is very specific to WordPress. WordPress has the largest amount of options and is the most widely used website CMS platform, which makes documentation and open source contributions more readily available. Approximately 31% of all websites are built using WordPress according to w3techs.com. WordPress did not make building the site easy by any means, but it was easier than it would have been with the steeper learning curve of the other options.

Step 1: Pick a domain name

A domain name is the name of your url/website, for example, this one is thehairypotato.com. Search for the domain name you want. If unavailable, use Lean Domain Search or a site like it to get ideas for good alternate website names. Go for a .com extension instead of a lesser known one, if possible, unless you have a reason not to. If you need a specific country or profession to be represented like .co.uk, use that instead.

Step 2: Purchase your domain

I recommend purchasing your domain from a domain registrar like Namecheap – they rank high on preserving customer trust and also offer free WhoIsGuard protection for the life of your domain (as long as it’s purchased/renewed through them). This will typically run about $11.00/yr for the more premium domain names (the uncommon ones start at $.48 cents).

url example
Example of a Domain Name/URL
Although some hosting sites will offer a free domain with your hosting plan, taking the free domain name makes it harder to switch hosts in the future. You also don’t typically get a refund on your domain name if you bought it or received it free with your hosting, so it’s hard to untangle that part of the purchase if you want to cancel your hosting service. I do not recommend using Namecheap for web hosting, just as a domain registrar since this is what they are best at.

Step 3: Choose your hosting service

Make this decision carefully and thoughtfully. Your host is one of the most important decisions for the success or failure of your website. Hosting determines what your site’s up-time and downtime will be, the speed of your site, the limitations on traffic, storage and bandwidth, and so much more.

If you choose the wrong host it will not be easy to migrate onto another. Some sites will migrate you for free but there are ALWAYS some issues with the migration.

Save yourself massive headaches and spend the right amount of time upfront analyzing which hosting service will work best for you. Also understand your selected host’s scaling options for when your site begins to grow, learn how much it will cost and how easy it is to upgrade your package.

I love a great bargain just like everyone else, but I quickly discovered hosting is not an area to skimp on. Do not go for the cheapest option here unless you want to potentially be very unhappy with your service. Make a checklist for what is most important to you and what you expect from your hosting service.

What to consider when looking for a website hosting company:

  • Speed
  • Included backups/restores
  • Reliability (good reputation for uptime and high SLAs)
  • Included Content Delivery Network (CDN)
  • Multiple Domains allowed
  • Unlimited storage/bandwidth
  • Scalability if needed
  • Customer Service
  • Security
  • Free SSL
  • I was torn between 2 hosting services that are almost neck and neck in features/services and both offered at a really good price. These two were SiteGround and A2 Hosting. I have reviewed both of these on the Website Building resources page. While I ended up with A2 Hosting and have been happy with them, I plan to use SiteGround for my next site, just to see how they differ.

    Step 4: Transfer your Domain to your Host

    If you purchased your domain name through your hosting company your nameservers don’t need to be changed. If you purchased your domain name from a separate company you will need to go into the dashboard of your domain registrar (i.e., NameCheap) and put your new domain nameservers (DNS) into the appropriate fields. This is easy, but confused me because the new DNS was generic and I thought I’d have a specific one for my site – no, it’s just the one for the hosting company. I purchased a NameCheap domain and used A2 Hosting as my website host. For A2, shared hosting accounts use ns1.a2hosting.com, ns2.a2hosting.com, ns3.a2hosting.com, and ns4.a2hosting.com (check that these haven’t changed though first). To set my new nameservers I logged into my purchased domain through the NameCheap website interface, selected Manage, then next to Nameservers selected Custom, then added the nameservers from A2 (all 4 of them), then saved the new settings. Note that it will take 24-48 hours for your changes to propagate so once you install WordPress you won’t see anything until this change has taken place. This took about 2 hours to show up.

    Step 5: cPanel Access

    cpanel example
    Example of a cPanel
    For those totally new to the world of building a website like I was, all of the terms and programs can be completely overwhelming. As soon as you purchase your hosting service you will have access to the cPanel, provided your host uses this – some do not. But what is it? CPanel is a way to manage some of the back-end data from your website through a Control Panel, but should not be confused with WordPress. CPanel can be thought of as your file system and database management system that doesn’t usually get a lot of interaction if you’re not a developer. The WordPress dashboard is where you will more than likely spend 95% or more of your time.

    CPanel will be used very seldom but there are important things to do in here. Some of these include editing your .htaccess file, configuring redirects, configuring your email accounts and email forwarding, and enabling some security features like hotlink protection. Some special features your host might provide could need to be configured through cPanel as well. We will go over all of these things in due time here in this article, grasshopper. For now we just want you to be aware of its existence.

    You will get your cPanel login (if applicable) from your hosting company. It was probably sent to you as soon as you completed your purchase. Check your email.

    Step 6: SSL & WWW

    These two things are not really related in functionality but you will need them for the next step. I felt it was important (really important actually) to prevent you from dealing with the mess I ended up with which made me rebuild my site from scratch. Let me say this in bold IT’S MUCH HARDER TO SWITCH THESE AFTER THE FACT RATHER THAN DO THEM RIGHT TO BEGIN WITH. I wish I had this advice when I was starting my setups. I felt so lost and no one made this clear. But hey, now I know better and can prevent others from making my mistakes, and hopefully save you a lot of time and anguish.

    SSL – You want your SSL on the site right away. SSL is what puts the S in HTTPS and stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It means when visitors are on your site the data is encrypted. Google has recently (within the last few months) put a lot more importance on this security feature so your site will rank higher with that S. Also, if you don’t have the S your site will constantly read “Not Secure” in the upper left hand side next to your site’s URL – this is not good for the reputation of your site as being a safe place to visit. I’ll say it again, YOU WANT THIS. What it typically requires is contact with your hosting service. I can’t speak for all hosting services but I do know that SSL is free with SiteGround, A2 Hosting, and WPEngine. A2 uses Let’s Encrypt and with them it’s as easy as a ticket that says “Please Install Let’s Encrypt on www.thehairypotato.com” and then they will get back to you (within a day or so) to let you know this is done. Test it, for me it didn’t work and I had to contact A2 again to see why, at which point they fixed something. Where this gets a little sticky is you will need to set up redirects after you get your S so that if someone types in HTTP://YourSiteName it still goes to HTTPS://YourSiteName. But we’ll talk about redirects later.

    WWW – This one really hurt me. I didn’t set up my site using www the first time I installed my site because I thought it made the navigation to the URL easier without it. You don’t really need it, except that you DO if you use Cloudflare as your CDN. What I didn’t realize when I did this, is that Cloudflare wouldn’t cache my site unless I used a www prefix. I tried every workaround I could to prevent having to change my site name to www, but my site always reported that I wasn’t using a CDN even though I had configured it to route through Cloudflare. My speed was no where as good as it should have been.

    Once I resolved to add the www I entered a world of (website) pain. I contacted A2 to switch me over to www., which was easy to switch in name but it ruined the site once the change went through. I was immediately locked out of my own admin console and none of my plugins worked, all of my caching was messed up, parts of the site worked and parts didn’t. I had uninstalled and reinstalled all of my plugins but they were not working correctly. I went through a few days of having a broken website and trying to set up redirects and hack workarounds to fix it but nothing made it better, it was just getting worse. That’s when I copied my writing content into word documents and just asked for my whole WordPress installation to be deleted, my database to be wiped out, and to start over with a fresh install. It took a bit to get everything back up and running but I will say the second time through was much easier than the first, since I knew what I needed to do this time.

    The long and short of it is, do yourself a favor by adding the www from the start, especially if you intend to use Cloudflare. You will redirect all versions of your site’s name to use the https://www.YourSiteName so it’s much better to have these things in place right off the bat and redirect for the exceptions instead of visa-versa.

    Step 7: Install WordPress

    If you are not familiar with WordPress, it is the interface for building your website that gives you access to not only the pages to write your content but also all or most of your website management tools which can include special formatting, SEO settings, backups/restores, plugins, forms, user data and more. You may have a few different options on how to install your WordPress application including a one-click option sent by your hosting company after you have purchased hosting. For my particular installation (which I ended up doing twice) I used an application available from the cPanel called Softaculous. Softaculous gives you options to install WordPress or other Content Management Systems as well as additional applications and scripts. Once you have installed WordPress, provided your domain has switched to your host by this point, you can visit your URL by typing it into a browser. I remember how excited I was to see that ugly Cactus Page for the first time. Enjoy that moment of temporary bliss.

    Step 8: Your WordPress Dashboard

    After you have WordPress installed, either through the link that your hosting company provided or through the Softaculous installer, you were provided with a URL to use to get into your dashboard. This will be different from the cPanel login and has your website’s URL in the first part. Use the login and password you set up when you installed WordPress to go into your WordPress Dashboard for the first time. We will have you change your admin URL soon with a plugin, for security reasons. For now, use the one you were provided. When you get into WordPress it’s a bit daunting to navigate. Poke around for a bit to get a feel for what each area contains and what it does. Your pages structured different from your posts. Posts are simply blog articles, pages are the site content. So for example, your home page and your about me are pages, not posts. Here is a simple map I’ve laid out of where your components are and what to start doing.

    wordpress dashboard
    Example of a WordPress Dashboard

    Step 9: Configuring WordPress

    This tutorial does not cover how to actually design your site or how to configure your specific personalized settings. These are personal and should be determined by you. If you need some help on the design you can read this article 7 Website Building Tips which is more targeted towards things to consider from a design perspective. But I will give you some critical things to configure right out of the gate that will help you. For all of the settings below, you will find these in the WordPress Dashboard under Settings.

    Permalinks – The first thing to change on your site is permalinks. These determine the naming convention of each of your pages on the site. So for example, this site is www.thehairypotato.com but if I write a page named “website tips” and don’t change my permalinks this will show as www.thehairypotato.com/post-1333 instead of www.thehairypotato.com/website-tips. SEO as well as your users will be better served with the human readable links so you should change this before you start anything. Go into your Permalink settings by navigating to the left side panel inside your WordPress Dashboard and select Settings > Permalinks. Set this to “Post Name” then Save.

    General – Navigate to Settings > General. This is the name of your website and other settings. Fill out your site name with the name of your site. For example, if your site is www.thehairypotato.com write in “The Hairy Potato”. The tagline is whatever you want your site to represent i.e., “Your source for great products and sites” – use something relevant to your site. Your WordPress and site name should be the fully qualified name WITH your https and www if you followed the previous steps. For this site these would be “https://www.thehairypotato.com – yours will be your site name. Fill in your email address with an email where WordPress notifications will go. This account is used when WordPress or any of my other WordPress features send out update information. Some people will enter a tech resource email here if you are contracting out your support. I used my WordPress admin email account. Note: You do have to confirm this account. Go through the rest of the settings and configure these as you would like them to show up – timezone, time & date format, etc., then select Save. These can be changed later.

    Reading & Writing – You can set these however you like. On the writing tab, you may opt to show your blog posts on the home page or keep the home page static. I chose static, but this is one of those things you will most likely want to personalize and decide on as you are building out the site. You can also change all of these settings at a later date. Permalinks need to be set up right away to avoid changing your page structure later – Google doesn’t like page name changes and will throw 404 errors (sad emoji) if the original page name was indexed and is no longer there. Most other configurations can be changed after the fact with no harmful effects.

    Discussion – You can protect your website against SPAM using just the features in this setting area. I am a big believer in the less plugins you can use the better so I don’t use Akismet or any spam prevention. I DO however, moderate all of the email/comments before allowing these to post and also blacklist certain words in this setting area. If you want to protect your site using only the discussion settings go to Settings > Discussion, and checkbox the box for “Before a comment appears: Comment must be manually approved”. You can also check the box below that which will auto-approve additional messages that come from that same commenter, which is safer after you have approved the first comment. People can still spam you this way manually, but it will prevent any spambots from getting through. As long as you are not getting thousands of spam messages which are getting through it is fairly easy to delete comments if someone has tricked you by writing a good comment followed by something spammy.

    Discussion settings also allows you to blacklist specific words, email addresses, and IPs. So, if you have detected that a certain IP is trying to get through with spam, you can put them into this blacklist so that they won’t be able to. I googled a list of blacklisted words and maintain these in the comment moderation queue. To do this, in your Discussion settings enter in all the words (either in comment moderation or blacklist) that you never want to get through. For me, I don’t mind just holding the comments in the moderation queue until I see what they actually wrote. For you, you might just blacklist them so that you don’t have to even see these, they will go directly to the trash. Avatar settings can be configured however you like, but some people do choose to turn these off as they are a bit of a resource hog. I like them myself though.

    Step 10: Plugins

    Welcome to the glorious world of plugins. Plugins can be fantastic, or they can break your whole site. Try not to get carried away with how many you install out of the gate. I actually recommend deleting all of the plugins that come with your default WordPress installation. If you want some of these back it’s easy to get them installed again.

    One thing you may not know is that plugins can really slow your site down and a lot of them are what is called “bloatware”, meaning, a lot of unneeded code filling up space and wasting resources. Whenever I can get away with doing something manually instead of using a plugin I do. Some people prefer a plugin for everything and if that works for you, great. Plugins will add load time to your site speed AND your WordPress dashboard, so avoid them when possible. You will need some plugins no matter what though.

    An additional problem with plugins is each one is coded by a different programmer and sometimes these don’t work well together. If you do want to pack your site up with plugins I suggest installing each one, one at a time and testing that all the other plugins work with every new one added.

    To install new plugins, go to Plugins > Add New > [search] and find the plugin you want to install. Then select the “Install” button, then Activate when you are ready to activate it. To delete a plugin first deactivate it, then delete it.

    People ask what the right number of plugins is to have – this is not measured by a number, it’s the code and what code you actually need. If you have an all in one plugin that takes the place of numerous plugins, you might only need a handful, like 10. Most sites will have at least 20ish. If your plugin is coded well and lightweight, you won’t see too much impact. Weigh the advantages of adding code by what it actually does for you. In the case of something like security, SEO, forms, you really want to have a plugin because the coding would just be a giant PAIN otherwise.

    Extensions are available for some Plugins. These are simply add-ons to the basic functionality and are easily installed or removed.

    Here are the plugins you will definitely want, listed in priority order below.

    Rename WP-Login – This plugin prevents malicious attacks on your site via your admin login. By default, every WordPress admin URL is set to the same thing which makes it very easy for hackers to make login attempts on your site. With this plugin you can change the wp-admin default to your own specified name that hackers won’t be aware of. It’s a lightweight and easy to install plugin which is free and will add extra protection to your site. You will probably also want to change your .htaccess file as well to prevent attacks on your core files as well. We’ll cover that in the .htaccess area.

    Backups – So, so, important. I can’t over-emphasize this enough. Don’t trust that the backups your hosting company does will suffice, they won’t. Backing up and restoring your data through your hosting company is a pain – and it’s done on their timeline not yours. Most hosting companies back up your site only once a week. I have set my backup to run daily and do manual ones at least a few times a day while I a still building content/configuring the site. This WILL save your bacon at least once, I guarantee it. I recommend UpdraftPlus, it is free and works like a charm. I have mine connected to my Dropbox account so my backups get produced and delete old files every time. You will want to send your backup files to a non-local repository that is not WordPress because if you have broken your WordPress installation, your backups will still be accessible and you can restore your data even if WordPress isn’t working. Before any big updates (like theme and plugin updates) take a backup.

    Caching – A caching plugin is essential if you want a fast site. Caching will store large files and data in your visitors’ local memory so that after the initial load the next visit will bring up images and data quicker. It will also minify your code so that it is made as small as possible for faster browser loading speed. You can choose whichever cache plugin you like the most, some good options are W3 Total Cache, LiteSpeed, and WP Fastest Cache. Since my specific setup interacts with my Turbo-Cache optimization I leave the defaults and it configures these to work with what I have. I actually have the A2 Optimized W3 Total Cache plugin which is specific to A2 Hosting so it is probably different from yours unless you use A2 Hosting. Go through instructions on the specific settings for these per your hosting company’s recommendations.

    Image Optimization – Another plugin which is essential for optimized website speed is your image compression plugin. I like EWWW Optimize but have heard good things about Smush as well. These are both free and will help reduce the size of your images for faster loading times and overall website speed.

    Site Optimize – Every time you edit a post you create a revision. This creates tons and tons of old, useless files that will quickly clutter up your database. To clean these out I recommend a free plugin named WP Optimize which makes it super easy to do a quick purge of your post and page revisions whenever you want to clean house. Now, if you are going to revert back to a revision, keep as many as you need to go back.

    SEO – You will want an SEO plugin to help you create your sitemap, create open graphs, and schema information. A lot of people prefer Yoast for this, I chose another SEO plugin though based on wanting to keep something lightweight instead of the heavier components Yoast puts on WordPress by default. I use The SEO Framework, it’s free, and I find it works for my needs. I did need to add extensions for some customizations I wanted. Yoast is a little heavy for my preferences. If I want to analyze any specific posts I use their URL for this instead of letting it all happen through my WordPress. Most of the defaults work for the SEO settings, but you will want to add some custom items like your Social Media links. Go through the settings and figure out what works best for you.

    Contact Forms – Starting your contact list is a critical aspect of any business. No matter what the weather does to things like Google SEO, Pinterest, Social Media of any kind, you can always rely on using your contact lists for loyal subscribers who you want to retain and keep engaged. There are many great contact plugins, a lot of these are free. I use weForms because it’s simple and easy and it works. Other good choices are Contact Form 7, WPForms, Ninja Forms, & Gravity Forms.

    Step 11: Themes

    You will more than likely want to change your default WordPress theme to pick different design options. The theme determines the way your site will look, the structure of the formatting and all of the styling and customizations used. This is all personal preference based on what you want your site to ultimately look like.

    It’s actually easy to switch themes out from one to another but once you have customized this you probably don’t want to switch it out afterwards or your changes will probably need to be adjusted. There are numerous free themes available through the WordPress dashboard and so many other options for pay and other free themes from multiple sites.

    Pick a theme which is well-crafted, lightweight and well coded – and make sure that it matches the layout options you will want to use (i.e., columns/widget formatting). Some of the formatting can be altered but the column layout is the overarching template of your theme structure. Column options are not something that can be easily changed later without getting another theme. We have some suggestions for theme options if you want some ideas.

    If you are not comfortable with doing a little html/css/.php coding you might choose something like Divi which is basically a drag and drop framework that will allow you to fully customize your site and not touch any code at all. Everything is a visual interface with an application like Divi/Beaver Builder/Elementor.

    Step 12: Child Theme

    After you have played around with different themes and settled on the one you want to use, you have the option to create a Child Theme, which you should do if you plan on customizing anything on your site beyond the basic Customize options (meaning custom functions or .css).

    The concept of a child theme is a bit confusing but simple once you get the hang of it and have done a few updates. This is how a child theme works: Your child theme is kind of an overlay of your parent theme. When you first create it, it won’t look any different from the parent theme. But, once you add customizations to the child theme these will stay with your child theme and keep your changes in tact even when updates are done to the parent theme. The parent theme will need to be updated from time to time and this will not impact your custom changes if you use a child theme. Otherwise, all of your changes will get overwritten.

    I was worried when I first set this up that it might add load to my site and site speed, but it’s not an actual duplicate theme. WordPress understands what a child theme does and checks your child first for any functions and custom .css which if found it will use, then calls from the parent theme if nothing specific is found. It really doesn’t add any noticeable load. It’s kind of an if/then scenario – i.e., “look here, if nothing, then look here”.

    To create a child theme, install a plugin like Child Theme Configurator and follow the instructions for creating a child theme per your theme’s specifications (there should be documentation on this, depending on your theme.)

    Step 13: cPanel Configuration

    OK, we’re finally here. We are so close to being done, don’t give up on me now. We are about to tackle some of your more advanced settings, accessible through the aforementioned cPanel. This is where you will configure email forwarding, hotlink protection, redirects, and the beloved .htaccess file. Note that if your host did not provide you with a cPanel, you should still have an .htaccess file where you can set up redirects, hotlink protection, and more. Do a search on configuring .htaccess in google for the specific function you want to add. I find these to be easier to manage through the cPanel under the specific areas though, but you CAN choose to do it through the file instead. It’s a little more manual doing it that way and you run a potential risk of breaking things if you don’t do it right. I only know this because I broke my site for a while after editing .htaccess incorrectly.

    Email Forwarding
    Once you are inside of your cPanel, under the Email heading select “Forwarders”. You don’t have to set up a forwarder but it can help connect your website email to your external mail systems if you want easy access to read it. If you want to do this, select “Add Forwarder” and enter the email you want forwarded and where you want it to go to.

    Hotlink Protection
    Other websites have the ability to use your images and steal your bandwidth by just linking to your images on their site. You can disable this by going into your cPanel and under the Security header choose Hotlink Protection. Make sure you add all variations of your own site and any other sites that you do want to use your images, otherwise you will encounter problems. Variations of your website include the www. prefix, http, and https versions. For this site, we have enabled these as the exceptions to allow Hotlinking (yours will be your website name):
    -http://thehairypotato.com
    -http://www.thehairypotato.com
    -https://thehairypotato.com
    -https://www.thehairypotato.com

    Redirects
    There are two kinds of redirects. There are 404 error redirects which identifies a page not found error, and there are redirects for the actual website URL where if someone types in thehairypotato.com it automatically finds https://www.thehairypotato.com. If you have created and deleted any pages Google has potentially already indexed, you will notice that those pages will display a 404 error page not found, which is bad for your user experience. To fix this through the cPanel, go into the Domains area and select “Redirects”. The type of redirect you want will be a permanent 301 redirect (set by default). Enter the url you wish to redirect and where you want it to go, this might just be the home page if you haven’t replaced the page with something else that covers that same topic. Test that the redirects are working.

    .htaccess
    This little file packs a powerful punch. It is kind of your site’s gatekeeper so be careful when you touch it – it doesn’t have a great debugging system (no specific errors) and therefore one typo can bring your whole site down. Before I touched mine I made a copy of the file and saved it on my desktop in case I did anything irreparable to it – I recommend you do the same. There are tons of things you can set here from a protection and routing standpoint, time zones, etc., but I would try to do these in other areas if possible, at least until you know a bit about what you’re doing in this file and how it can adversely interact with other tools.

    As much as I like to believe I’m a quick study, it actually took me an embarrassingly long time to actually get into the .htaccess file to edit it. This is because the file is hidden and (I felt at least) that it’s not super obvious on how to unhide it. I can tell you where to change this if you use A2 Hosting but it might vary on other hosts. If you use A2, go to Files > File Manager > click on Public_HTML and go to the upper right hand corner to “settings” then select the checkbox for “Show Hidden Files (dotfiles)”. Your file should now appear. Now, download a copy of your .htaccess file first by double clicking it. Next, to edit, click once on the file and select “Edit” from the menu above.

    One thing to be very aware of with regards to .htaccess is that the order of your sections DOES matter for certain conditions. I was getting 500 errors on the entire site after making a change to mine and these were caused because I had incorrectly placed a piece of the WordPress rewrite down at the bottom in my W3 Total Cache rewrites. Keep all your relevant areas together. Once I moved the section I added up to the WordPress section the errors cleared up. This is what I mean by understanding a little about what you are changing here before changing it, else suffer the consequences of having a “what did I do and how can I fix it?” moment. Everything is fixable, but the tricky part is identifying what you broke.

    If your cPanel had tools to change all the previous configurations (redirects, hotlink disabling, email) you might not change anything in .htaccess for now. I did add this one bit of security which will prevent unwanted users from accessing your core files:

    <FilesMatch "^.*(error_log|wp-config\.php|php.ini|\.[hH][tT][aApP].*)$">
    Order deny,allow
    Deny from all
    </FilesMatch>

    Add that to yours if you are comfortable doing so, as another security precaution. Add any other functions you feel are important to have. I would just suggest to add these one at a time in case you see problems with your site afterwards.

    Always test your changes. This is a good rule of thumb for any changes you make at all on your site.

    Step 14: Content Delivery Network (CDN)

    You’ve heard it talked about. But why is it important? We talked about caching earlier, which is the ability to store data locally for quicker access. That is one version of caching which relies on the visitor’s local machine and browser storing data. The other version is using what is called a Content Delivery Network, which delivers files from the “edge”. The “edge” just means that wherever your visitor’s physical location is, a Content Delivery Network has access points which are close to that physical location where it can serve your media from, making it quicker to load. In its simplest form, think of it like Amazon. Because they have warehouses in most major cities, instead of delivering a package from across the country, they can deliver something from the closest warehouse – which will be a lot faster. That’s what your CDN does. So CDN is your media’s Amazon warehouse, basically. Closer to where your visitors are and therefore can significantly speed up the content’s delivery. Most good hosts offer a free CDN, probably using Cloudflare or MaxCDN. To install this you will need to create an account with the CDN company (in my case, Cloudflare) and then you enter in all of your information through their site. When you run speed tests, it will show your CDN as the routing host instead of the actual host, this is correct though.

    REALLY IMPORTANT: Once you have a CDN configured, you will experience A LOT of issues when you are changing things on the site where you won’t see them show up. This is because your items are cached. I have become best friends with Cloudflare’s “Development Mode” and “Purge Everything” buttons. BEFORE I MAKE ANY CHANGES I DO THIS. If you don’t, you will see some really weird behavior and think your site is broken – at least I did for the longest time. Then, I realized I needed to set the developer mode and purge everything before I did ANYTHING in order to see my changes. If your site is acting “funky”, the best technical term I can think of, try this first. Note that this setting randomly turns back on. I have grown accustomed to this and now know that if my updates don’t show up it is because my developer mode has turned off. An added layer to this is if you have your site caching plugin turned on, it will also require purging THAT cache. So many caches, I know. Life is hard. I never said building a site would be easy. Purge them all when you make updates in order to ensure you are seeing what you should be seeing.

    Step 15: Google Analytics

    Analytics to me are the lifeblood of your website’s success. Analytics will tell you what people are looking at the most and what people are disliking – it’s a temperature gauge for your audience to study the behavior of how they use your site. While these might not be critical to analyze on day one, you probably want to start your metrics gathering as soon as possible. Once you insert the Google scripts you will start gathering data immediately but until this is present on your site you won’t be able to go back and retro-actively see visitor behavior.

    You COULD install a plugin for this, or you can just paste a line of code into your editor. I think you probably know by now which I would prefer, but if you’re not comfortable just install another plugin for this called GA Google Analytics.

    If you are comfortable editing your functions.php file you can install it by going into your CHILD THEME and inserting the code below. First, set up your website account with Google in order to get a Google Analytics Tracking ID code. Next, take a backup before you make this change just in case anything goes wrong. Then, change out the words YOURIDGOESHERE with your own unique Google Analytic tracking code ID.

    Finally, add the below code with your own tracking ID inserted to your Functions.php file. Go to Appearance > Editor > choose the functions.php file from the dropdown and add this to the bottom of all the existing text. When you are finished select “Update File”.

    add_action('wp_head', 'wpb_add_googleanalytics');
    function wpb_add_googleanalytics() { ?>
     
    
    <!-- Global site tag (gtag.js) - Google Analytics -->
    <script async src="https://www.googletagmanager.com/gtag/js?id=YOURIDGOESHERE"></script>
    <script>
      window.dataLayer = window.dataLayer || [];
      function gtag(){dataLayer.push(arguments);}
      gtag('js', new Date());
    
      gtag('config', 'YOURIDGOESHERE');
    	
    </script>
    
     
    <?php }

    You will want to test that Google is starting to collect analytics from your site, but these may not show up until the next day.

    I am not going into detail on how to configure Google Analytics. If you want some great in-depth information I suggest this article about Google Analytics Dashboards from Tom at OnlineMediaMasters, he even provides clickable dashboards that let you immediately install his templates so that you can easily create your own dashboards.

    While you are setting up Google Analytics you will also probably want to set up your Google Search Console as well. Search Console can interact with Google Analytics but it’s sort of a separate entity. These are part of what Google calls their “Webmaster Tools“. Setting up and configuring these is easy to do, you can read Google’s tutorials on how to install it and it shouldn’t take more than an hour or so to be up and running.

    Your Turn

    OK – You made it! That’s all the critical stuff you need to know to get you started. From here, it’s a matter of building content and configuring your site to make it the way you want it to look. There are plenty of extras you can add along the way but if you follow these steps you will be off to a great start.

    Website Building Steps You Can't Skip

    What did I forget? Let me know if I missed something or if this information was helpful!

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