Build a business website for next to nothing

Build a business website for next to nothing: Theme it

Broadly speaking, the way you add functionality and visuals to a WordPress site is by choosing themes and installing plugins. 1&1’s WP Basic package includes a wizard that takes you the WordPress Dashboard and helps you begin the setup process; if you’ve used a different provider, you can access these options from the Appearance and Plugins menus.

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The first thing we suggest you do is click the Get Started button and choose Business Website from the list of site types. This filters the themes you’ll see at the next step, so you won’t be swamped by inappropriate designs; for this example, we picked the Sparkling theme from colorlib, but one of the great strengths of WordPress is that you can try out as many designs as you like without affecting any other aspect of the site. Whichever you pick, make sure it’s responsive (see Think mobile) – this will always be in the description of the theme. Click the Select button to install Sparkling.

The wizard now invites you to add a selection of useful plugins: we recommend you choose WordPress SEO, Google XML Sitemaps, Site Manager, Simple Page Ordering and Akismet from this page. We don’t have the space to describe these plugins in full, but a quick web search will describe how they can help make your site easier to find, manage and – if you’re planning to allow visitors to leave comments – relatively spam-free.

We also recommend installing the Jetpack set of plugins – this provides all sorts of useful features, including website stats, integration with social networks such as Twitter and Facebook and warnings if your site goes down. You can find the installer by simply clicking Plugins at the left of the WordPress interface. You should see Jetpack at the top, where you can click Install Now. If it’s not there, use the Search Plugins box to find and install it. Jetpack is built by the company behind WordPress itself and requires a free account on WordPress.com, the widely used blogging platform. To set this up, simply install Jetpack and click the Connect to WordPress.com button.

There are plenty of other plugins to choose from too, to enhance your site in various ways. Some work entirely behind the scenes, while others add visible elements – usually in the form of “widgets”. Go to Appearance| Widgets and you’ll see a series of widget areas, the main one being “Sidebar”. The available widgets are listed on the left, and you can simply drag and drop those you wish to appear onto the sidebar, reversing the process for those you want to remove. For example, by adding the Twitter Timeline widget (part of Jetpack), you can embed your recent Twitter posts into the site’s sidebar. By dragging Blog Subscriptions onto the page, you can allow users to sign up for updates by email – a powerful feature that’s almost effortless to implement.

Build a business website for next to nothing: Spit & Polish

You can now take a look at your site by opening it up in a separate tab. It won’t be too impressive at this point but we’re about to polish it up. First, we need to reorganise the site’s structure so it works as a business website rather than a blog. To do this, go to Pages | Add New, create a home page – for now this can simply be a placeholder – and click Publish. Now, go to Settings | Reading and, under “Front page displays” change “Your latest posts” to “A static page”. Choose your new home page from the Front page dropdown box and this will now be the page that greets all visitors.

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We can add features to the home page by making use of the three widget areas that appear beneath the text you added when you created the page. Go to Appearance | Widgets and drag and drop widgets into the areas marked Homepage Widget 1-3. Note that you may not see the same arrangement of widget areas if you’ve selected a different theme to us.

It’s now time to start filling out the site content. Create a “Contact us” page and click the Add Contact Form button (another function provided by Jetpack), then choose which fields to include and click Add this form to my post. You’ll probably also want an “About us” page, plus further pages relating to the service or product you offer. The WordPress interface is very simple to use for adding content: to insert images, click Add Media on the Edit Page screen. 

This is also a good point to think about comments. Inviting visitors to comment on your pages is a good way to add value to your site, but spam can be a real problem. Go to the Dashboard and you’ll see a prompt to enable the Akismet plugin. As with Jetpack, this needs to be linked to your WordPress.com account; once you’ve done this, it’ll do an excellent job of filtering out junk comments. To keep the net tight, go to Settings | Discussion and select either “Comment must be manually approved” or “Comment author must have a previously approved comment”.

Now you can start to get more ambitious: the walkthrough opposite shows to add a carousel to your home page and smarten up the site. With this done, the first version of your new website should be ready to roll. In the coming weeks, you should aim to enhance it, adding plugins or widgets to suit your particular customers. You should also install a database backup plugin, so that you can make a regular copy of the site in case of disaster.

By choosing a WordPress based hosting package, you’ve set up a professional web presence in next to no time, with no need for specialist expertise and a tiny investment. It’s easy to update and manage, and by default it’ll be SEO-friendly, so you’ll have a head start on rising through the rankings and if you’ve chosen a responsive theme it’ll also be suitable for viewing on all devices. It’s never been easier to create a quality website that will enhance your reputation, so if your business is still getting by with a holding page, it’s time to upgrade.

Build a business website for next to nothing: Think Mobile

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You’ll almost certainly be creating your site on a desktop or laptop PC, but it’s important to remember that people may well be viewing it on other types of device. By the end of June 2014, the average e-commerce site was receiving 38% of its traffic from smartphones and tablets, and the percentage is rising. It’s essential therefore to create a responsive site – that is, one that automatically adapts itself to the multitude of different screen sizes, shapes and orientations your potential customers might use – just like Alphr.

Fortunately, there are plenty of WordPress themes with responsiveness built-in, so the hard work is done for you – you simply need to adapt the design so your purposes. And don’t forget, when testing your site, to check it on a smartphone to see how the layout adapts – for example, to discover whether important links get pushed off the bottom of the screen.

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