How to Build a Custom Website With WordPress

So you need a website for your business, and you’ve heard WordPress is the way to go. The good news is, you are probably right. WordPress is the most popular website publishing platform in the world. There are now a billion WordPress sites, making up more than a quarter of all websites.

The beauty of WordPress is that it’s accessible to beginners, but can also be customized and extended by professionals. We are going to look at what WordPress is and how to go beyond the basics – to build a custom, professional website for your business.

What is WordPress?

WordPress is a tool that makes building websites easier. Web developers used to have to manually code all the HTML, CSS and Javascript just to get a basic page running. WordPress does a lot of the hard work for you, so you can focus on other things – like writing content.

This has given WordPress a reputation as a framework for noobs to whip up a basic site in a couple of hours. While this is possible, it is capable of so much more. It is one of the few platforms that’s mastered the balance between being easy-to-use, and powerfully customizable.

Every year the WordPress core is updated with awesome new features, and 2017 is the best time to be getting into WordPress.

What Can You Do With WordPress?

A basic site can be created in minutes. Straight out-of-the-box everything works well, and you won’t have to do any coding at all.

The basic setup goes something like this:

  • Get a domain name
  • Buy hosting
  • Install WordPress
  • Log in to the WordPress dashboard
  • Customize your site’s appearance
  • Add features with plugins
  • Create your website pages
  • Add a post

Boom! You just set up a blog that looks… OK.

But, this is just the beginning. The platform can be extended to do just about anything you can think of – from blogging to running a full eCommerce store.

How to Customize WordPress For Business

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The downside to this ease of use is that millions of websites have used the same methods, and now look exactly the same. Internet users can spot these cheap cookie-cutter sites a mile off – in fact, 35% of customers won’t buy from a poor website!

If you want your business to be successful online, you’ll need to take things to the next level. Every office should be a reflection of how a company does business. In the same way, your website should give the right impression, charm your users, build trust, and show your authority.

Here are some examples of great websites built on WordPress:

  • Techcrunch
  • Time Magazine
  • CNN
  • The New Yorker
  • BBC America

In this article, I’m going to go show you how you can use the hidden power of WordPress to build a professional brand, an awesome website, and a fan base of happy, paying customers.

Building Blocks of A Great Website

We’re going to go through step-by-step how to customize your WordPress site. Not everything will be important to you immediately, so you can skip ahead to whichever sections are relevant right now. Here they are:

  1. Define your strategy
  2. Build your site on a solid foundation
  3. Create a flawless user experience
  4. Make your site beautiful
  5. Provide the features your site visitors want
  6. Integrate an SEO and social media plan to generate leads
  7. Optimize site’s performance
  8. Use automation to save time and money
  9. Secure your website
  10. Put it all together into your brand package

Define Your Strategy

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Before diving into code or hiring a developer, you need to have a plan. You want to make sure the site you end up with aligns perfectly with your business needs.

Download Our Project Specification Template

Here are some key questions you need to ask yourself:

  • What is the purpose of your website?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • How do you want them to view your business?
  • What action do you want them to take?
  • What is your competition doing?
  • What is your unique value proposition?
  • What is your budget?
  • How do you plan to expand in the future?

If you can answer all these, you are doing well. Knowing this will give you a sense of direction, and an idea of what you need to be aiming for.

IT budgets are notorious in the business world for being expensive and unpredictable. This mostly comes down to lack of required knowledge and poor planning. Going back and fixing things is much more expensive than getting it right the first time.

The flexibility of WordPress means you can start with the essentials, and build from there. Having clear goals will make sure your start to build your site in a way that will save you headaches in the future. Which brings us to the next step…

Build On Solid Foundations

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Every website needs somewhere to live. This could be:

  • Your own computer (not recommended)
  • A server you share with other websites
  • A dedicated server rented from a hosting company
  • In The Cloud

You can use your own computer for testing purposes, but not for a real website.

The next step up is to use shared hosting. This is the cheap way of getting a personal website or blog up and running. However, for your business, you’ll definitely want something faster and more reliable.

Dedicated hosting is what most businesses use for their websites. It works by hiring a dedicated server from a web hosting company like Hostgator or Godaddy. This method can work well, but can be expensive to set up and won’t work well if you have a sudden rush of users.

Cloud Hosting

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Cloud hosting is gaining popularity very quickly – and it’s easy to see why. Services such as Amazon Web Services can be cheap, fast, reliable, secure, scalable, and you only play for what you use. If you’re building a website that you expect to grow, it’s probably worth investing in cloud hosting now.

The ability to scale up and down instantly, depending on your demand is an obvious benefit. Anyone that’s run a successful website has had the experience of paying for an expensive server even when traffic is low, and then have that server overload just as you get a big spike in users you desperately need.

With cloud hosting this isn’t a problem, you could only pay for 10 viewers per day for a year, then scale up instantly to 1 million users for an hour, then scale straight back down again. This could save you a lot of money, and perhaps more importantly, keep your site running when it’s needed most.

There are also other benefits. Usually, when building a website, you will develop and test on a local machine or server, then upload it to your real server when it is ready. This leads to many problems that web developers have wrestled with for decades. There are now some awesome cloud services that offer the ability to build, test, and deploy your website all in the same environment – leading to lower development costs.

Also, you can check out our article on the benefits of cloud hosting for business for even more reasons.

Create a Flawless User Experience (UX)

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User experience is going to be the most important factor in pleasing your customers. Unfortunately, it’s often overlooked. You could have a beautiful site, great content, and every possible payment option, but it will all come crashing down if your user experience is poor.

It’s not enough for you site to look nice – it must feel nice and be completely intuitive to use. That pretty header image you love isn’t doing you any good if a user can’t find the buy button on the first try.

You also need to get the user experience right on every device your customers use.

The number of Mobile users overtook desktop users a while ago. And, mobile eCommerce purchases is exploding all over the world. Your site needs to cater to these users to be competitive.

In WordPress, your user experience is created with Themes and Plugins. You might think using your favorite free WordPress theme will do the job, but won’t be up to the standard your users expect. WordPress lets you customize themes and plugins to get the feel and flow you want.

UX design is very hard for most people. To get it right, you’ll need to consult with a professional UX designer. Fortunately, most WordPress development teams will have a dedicated UX designer. The most efficient way is to use a paid theme and get a professional that knows it inside out.

Remember, your users are learning how to browse websites by using other websites, yours must align with current trends in order to be usable and familiar.

Provide the Features Your Site Visitors Want

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If you answered the strategy questions mentioned earlier, you know what features you need to provide. Out-of-the-box, WordPress offers a good blogging platform. With a little more effort, it can be extended to become almost anything.

Features can be added easily through plugins. There are 10s of thousands of free plugins available in the Plugin Directory. Some are just incredible, while other are so bad they actually put your site at risk of failing completely. Knowing which are the good ones is important.

An example of a great plugin is WooCommerce. This plugin transforms WordPress into an eCommerce platform. It’s so good that it powers over 28% of ALL online stores. That’s pretty incredible. Every good WordPress development agency will have experts in using WooCommerce.

Customize WordPress Under the Hood

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If your business is unique in any real way, you may well need to add custom features. You can do this by developing your own custom WordPress plugins. This allows you to ‘hook’ into the core code of WordPress and add just about anything you can think of.

Read How We Helped a Marketing Company to Build a Back-Office Custom Ads Dashboard

Custom post types allow your site to have any type of content – not just pages and blog posts. For example, you might want a portfolio for you users to browse, or a set of records they can flick through. These can be programmed into your site with custom post types.

APIs are becoming more important on the web – and WordPress is jumping on board. They provide a way of separating your content from how your site is displayed. This means you can have your WordPress site set up as normal, but access all the content from say – a mobile app. To get your mobile app working, you only need to build the user interface.

By getting down to the core in this way, your users will be able to engage with your content exactly the way you want them to.

Make Your Site Beautiful

After you’ve nailed your functionality and user experience, the next step is to make it look amazing.

WordPress deals with style in Themes.

  • Free Themes are a good place to get started. There are some quality designs on the WordPress Theme Directory to test out some ideas. Unfortunately, the good ones are either too general to provide everything you want or are used by so many people that you won’t stand out.
  • Custom Themes are built from scratch using HTML and CSS. If you have the time and money to invest in a completely custom theme, this gives you the greatest flexibility to be unique.
  • Paid Themes are the way to go for a balance between professional design and speed of development. Some of the best ones like XTheme are highly customizable. This means you don’t waste time on tiny details and can focus on the aspects that make your band stand out.

Any serious website will either use a custom theme or a highly customized paid theme. This will require some web design skills…

As with UX design – web design is something best left to the experts. There are so many subtle elements to a beautiful web page that amateurs just don’t know about. Things like:

  • Color schemes
  • Positioning of frames
  • Ratio of text sizes
  • Right amount of white space
  • Sliders
  • Images / videos
  • Where to emphasize/draw attention

All these elements demand a highly trained mind to get right. But, users will spot poor design in milliseconds. This will lower your trust and authority, even if users can’t quite put their finger on exactly what is wrong.

A professional designer will be able to capture your business’s unique look, keep up with online trends, and use subtle techniques to deliver your message with style and efficiency.

Have An Unstoppable Lead Generation Plan

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Let’s be honest, your site doesn’t exist just to look nice. It’s there to earn you money. Your website needs to drive you regular, qualified clients and customers, and deliver to your bottom line.

That’s not going to happen by accident – the way to get there is to use proven methods.

SEO is still extremely relevant in 2017. If you’ve followed the above steps, you’re already most of the way there. Search engines like Google love well-built websites and will send more search traffic to them. Combine that with lots of quality, relevant content and you will be rewarded with streams of visitors.

Social Media is perhaps becoming an even more important lead generation tool than SEO. Having an active community of followers and fans will be your business’s most valuable asset.

You need to be fluent on all the popular platforms like

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Snapchat
  • Pinterest
  • Linkedin

WordPress integrates nicely with all of these. There are some great plugins that add share and follow buttons wherever you need them.

Combining the above methods is called content marketing. Putting out awesome info to help your prospective customers is a fantastic way to generate leads and earn you money!

Optimize Site Performance

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The potential downside to using lots plugins and extensions available for WordPress is having a slow, bloated website.

The time it takes to load a web page from your site is vital. Loadstorm made this awesome infographic demonstrating how load times affect your users.

A single second increase in page load times leads to 7% loss in conversions, 11% fewer page views and 16% less customer satisfaction.

Put another way, if you can decrease your page load time by 1 second – you can increase your profits by 7% instantly. That’s huge!

There are many factors that go into page load time. Using an excellent web host is the most important factor. After that, there are many optimizations you can do. Here’s a quick list of things to think about:

Possible optimizations to improve page load times

  • Use good core technologies (e.g. good web host, latest WP version)
  • Remove all unnecessary plugins and elements
  • Prioritize your content
  • Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
  • Enable Caching
  • Unclutter and optimize your database
  • Decrease and optimize database queries
  • Know your tools
  • Minify files where possible
  • Load scripts in the footer
  • Utilize plugin activate, deactivate, uninstall hooks
  • Disable hotlinking

I don’t have time to go into detail on each, but a good developer will do all these things instinctively. There will always be a compromise between design and speed, so make sure you strike the right balance. Make sure all tools, plugins, and features are all essential before adding them.

Automate To Save Time and Money

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If done correctly, your website won’t just make life easy for your customers – it can make your whole business more efficient.

WordPress offers some amazing tools to do things like:

  • Build multiple sites from the same core installation (called multisite)
  • Track user’s behavior
  • Receive useful feedback from customers
  • Automatic posts to social media

You can use all of this info to automate many processes in your business. Maybe you could collect user information, and automatically trigger special offers when conditions are right. Or, laser target new Facebook ads to users who used your site in a certain way.

I wrote a whole post on this type of business automation. You can cut costs and increase sales at the same time. WordPress offers all the tools you need to set up a killer, cash-generating system.

Secure Your Website

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Security is just as important as any of the other ideas we’ve discussed. WordPress offers reasonable security out-of-the-box, but you’ll need more to withstand the barrage of modern cyber-attacks.

Here are some of the key steps you can take to protect your site:

  • Maintain a complete, automated backup
  • Use only quality, secure plugins
  • Have a strong password policy
  • Set up user permissions correctly
  • Use a Web Application Firewall
  • Keep everything up-to-date
  • Hide and secure your wp-login and wp-admin pages
  • Store passwords securely
  • Prepare for the worst with a recovery plan

For some more detail into each of the above, check out the great tutorial from wpbeginner.

Web security shouldn’t be an afterthought. It needs to be part of your design from the start. Trust me, you’ll be happy with this decision later.

Put it all together into your brand package

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All of these steps will eventually combine to make your unique brand. The way you balance usability, design, security, creativity, features, and speed will determine how users will perceive you and your business.

You probably won’t get it exactly right the first time, but don’t worry. WordPress is easily extensible and customizable, so you can keep trying until you hit the sweet spot with a help of professional WordPress Developers.

Ask Professionals to Help You

We know you can build something basic that works by yourself. But, if you want a serious website that is going to make you money, you are going to need professional assistance.

Even the best individual WordPress developers can’t be experts in every aspect of developing an entire site.

A good development team will use the power of WordPress to build your site quickly, effectively, and at a low cost. They will also have specialists in each of the areas we’ve discussed – giving your business the best possible chance of thriving in the online world.

What Are You Waiting For?

WordPress is still the most popular and most powerful platform for building websites in 2017. By taking advantage of all of its features, you can build a website that your customers will love, makes your life easier, and earns you more money.

Sam Palmer

Sam Palmer

Web Developer and Tech Writer
Sam Palmer

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