How to build a professional website with Wordpress
You’ve got a blog, you’re Twittering away, and hopefully you have a book or ebook you’re using them to publicise. But how do you make that next step to a more professional website?
A blog can be a useful showcase for your writing skills, but it doesn’t give you the flexibility to control how visitors view your site. Say you want a professional web presence that you could direct editors to, with a section for your writing CV, a selection of clippings, a gallery of images you’ve taken to illustrate past commissions, a link to sell your book. You can achieve some of those in a blog, but not as smoothly or intuitively as the now-familiar set of navigation links at the top of a ‘real’ website. Your blog profile page can only go so far to showcase the many writing strings to your bow, and putting the information in posts risks burying them under your most recent observations about coffee cup fungus or other mums on the school run.
Why use Wordpress to build your website?
Taking complete control of your web presence and coding your site yourself can be rewarding but it is very time-consuming, and remember that however fancy, a website is just a tool, a means to an end, and wouldn’t you rather be getting on with the writing you want it to showcase?
Although Wordpress is pitched as a blog tool – essentially a more sophisticated big sister to Blogger – it is more customisable, and can provide a very classy, professional, feel, more in line with traditional websites. If you’re already familiar with Blogger’s template-driven approach, it is easy to get the hang of, and you can tailor it to your needs with thousands of plug-ins and themes, or create your own. It gives you the freedom to upload or tweak your site whenever you have the time and inclination.
Before you start building your website
Top tip #1 - buy your own URL
Buy a personal domain name or URL now, such as www.yourname.co.uk, to point at your Wordpress account.
If ever you decide to change your web host, or move away from Wordpress, your true web address will change, but you can keep your personal URL, and just change where it points to. Then you won’t risk losing friends who can’t track down your new site or have to build up your following from scratch.
If you use Wordpress hosting, your URL will be fairly simple – usually in the format http://yourname.wordpress.com – but if you are hosting Wordpress on your own webspace, the URL could be much less memorable or intuitive, eg www.yourisp.co.uk/personalpages/yourID/wordpress/ so give potential site visitors your more memorable personal URL instead.
There are hundreds of companies offering domain name registration, many of which will also offer hosting for your site’s contents if you need it. There’s not much to choose between them, but make sure your provider allows you to change your settings easily. We use www.123-reg.co.uk, where a co.uk domain costs £2.99 a year. Use the control panel on your domain host’s website to point your URL to anything you choose – Blogspot, Wordpress, even your Twitter profile page if you really want – and if you ever change hosts or switch to an even more sophisticated website, just go back to your domain host’s website and change the address settings.
Top tip #2 - do you need webspace?
If you have your own webspace (many providers give you hosted webspace as part of your internet package; or buy some from the provider you register your URL with), you can download and install Wordpress to run from there (visit http://wordpress.org). As a slightly more straightforward alternative, Wordpress also provide a free hosted service at http://wordpress.com, which skips the need for installation so you can jump straight into designing your site. The bad news is that on this service, Wordpress will put some, occasional, advertising onto your site. The good news is that you can remove the advertising by paying an annual fee ($29.95). This is definitely worth the investment: the site is your shop window, and when you’ve worked hard to attract customers, you don’t want them to be distracted by the reflection of the department store across the road.
How to build your website using Wordpress
If you are installing Wordpress to run from your own webspace, the setup and configuration are the same as for the hosted service, but you won’t need to register, so skip to step 3.
1 Register at http://wordpress.com with the name you would like your blog to have. As with Blogger or Twitter, try to pick something short, memorable and relevant to you and your writing. If you’re lucky enough to have a name that is not already in use, it’s probably best to pick that.
2 Click the link in the activation email Wordpress sends to activate your account and you will be logged in and ready to start setting up your site.
3 Just below the toolbar of your browser, you should see a number of links to access your Dashboard and settings. Only you can see this control panel, which can also be accessed by typing http://yourname.wordpress.com/wp-admin into your browser.
4 Visit www.learn.wordpress.com for an overview of how it all works, or jump right in and learn as you go.
5 Be prepared to go backward and forward through the next few steps as you get to grips with how Wordpress navigates. The default settings are not that different from Blogger, displaying your most recent blog post at the top, but we’re after a different effect here. Wordpress allows you to customise your homepage and navigation, giving a more static, professional feel. It would be logical to start with your homepage, which should be simple, appealing and highlighting the content you’ll be displaying in sub-pages. Unfortunately, you’ll need to add those sub-pages and content first, so that you can link to them from the homepage.
I would strongly recommend, at this stage, sketching out a sitemap like the one below (click the image to view a larger version) to keep track of where you want everything to appear.
Wordpress offers three types of item for inclusion in your navigation – Pages, Categories and Links – but you can have as many as you want, each labelled exactly as you choose. Categories (in red on our sitemap) are for grouping similar posts, and you can even create Categories within Categories. Links (blue on our sitemap) can be anything, within Wordpress or elsewhere on the internet.
6 Adding your writing news, biog, sample articles, short stories or any other text can all be handled in a very similar way to blog posts. But be careful not to confuse Pages and Posts. Pages are static, and cannot be linked into Categories, so only use them for sections that users will navigate to individually, such as your About Me. Posts will, by default, be listed in the relevant category or categories with the most recent first.
7 From the Posts link in the lefthand sidebar, you can define your Categories (Poetry, Short stories, etc). Then, from the same link, create a Post (eg a single poem or story), and assign it to a category.
8 To control the look of your site, your homepage, and that all important navigation bar, click the Appearance link on the left hand side. The Themes button controls the overall look, and you can dig as deep as you choose into customisation, with fonts, colours, images, etc, and even manually edit the site’s style sheet (CSS) for everything from how external links appear or borders on images to fancy effects such as popout windows, button rollovers or even animations. Google ‘CSS’ to get a better idea of what it can achieve if you really get to grips with it. The other important link here is Menus, where you can define your navigation buttons. Refer back to your sitemap and make sure that everything is clearly labelled, points to the correct area, and that no section is inaccessible.
9 Just like a blog, the default Wordpress setup will display Posts on your homepage, with the most recent at the top – which might not be the desired effect for our needs. If you want a crisp, static introduction to yourself and your writing, rather than launching into samples of your poems, stories or recent news posts, write your desired content into a Page and give it a title, then go to the bottom link of the lefthand sidebar, Settings, then Reading. The first option is Front page displays:. Select the title of the Page you just wrote.
10 You’re off! Update all your contacts and friends about your new site, update it regularly, and keep digging. When you’ve got the hang of managing your site, investigate plugins, which can help you do everything from automatically improving your search engine ranking to creating a simple bookshop.
Top Tip #3 - keep readers on your site
When linking to external sites, eg a friend’s site or review on Amazon, always use target=“blank” for the links, to open the link in a new window, rather than allowing visitors to click away from your site.