A Guide to WordPress for Small Businesses
Why Use WordPress?
Whether you're looking to use it for your small business's main website or as a blog, there are a couple of reasons to consider using WordPress. WordPress is a free and open-source blogging and content-management system being used by more than 18% of the world's top 10 million websites. It's a favorite amongst beginners and experts alike for various reasons: it's free, customizable, powerful, and easy to master.
WordPress makes sense for small businesses because you don't need web design or programming experience at all. Pretty much anyone can create a website on WordPress; however, there are a lot of options and roads you can take, so I've outlined a guide to get you started properly.
Before You Begin: Everything You Need to Know
WordPress.com vs WordPress.org
The first thing you need to know about WordPress is that you have two options:WordPress.org and WordPress.com. WordPress.com is more for beginners since the platform hosts the blog for you, gives you analytics right on the service, and is pretty hands-off overall. You sign up, you get a yourbusinessname.wordpress.com URL, free themes, and you can get started right away. WordPress.org, on the other hand, is for the more seasoned blogger who needs full power to tweak and customize every aspect of the site from media to HTML. WordPress.org does not host your site for you, they only give you the software to build and run your site. If you want to use WordPress.org, you need to sign up (and pay for) a web-hosting service like BlueHost or HostGator. You can find out more about the differences between these to on their official page.
WordPress.com Free vs. Premium Versions
For this blog post, we'll focus on WordPress.com (WordPress.org guide coming soon), which has two versions. Once you go to sign up, you're offered the free and Premium versions. Before you make a decision, let's walk through the differences:
- Domain name and mapping: If you choose to go with the free version and you want to use your own domain name (something like mybusinessname.com instead of mybusinessname.wordpress.com), you will have to purchase domain mapping on WordPress. Once you've purchased the domain name on a registrar like GoDaddy.com orNamecheap.com, WordPress (free version) will charge you #13 to use it on your blog. On Premium, WordPress does this automatically and you can also purchase the domain right when you sign up.
- 10GB Space Upgrade: All WordPress blogs come with 3GB of space for files and images. With Premium, you get 10GB extra plus the ability to upload audio files.
- No Ads: This one is very important. WordPress.com blogs will have banner ads on them. It's the trade-off you get for not paying for the Premium version. It's not a huge deal, though. You won't have ads 100% of the time and they're not that big, but if you care about having a small to medium-sized banner ad at the bottom of a post, then consider Premium or WordPress.org.
- Custom Design: With Premium, you can change your fonts in your theme, color schemes, and CSS. Pretty much, you have more ability to control your esthetics. If you're looking to have 100% control of things like this, then skip Premium and go for WordPress.org.
- VideoPress: Simple: do you want HD video on your blog or not?
Don't go for the Premium version. Stay on the free version, try it out, and if you really like it, switch over to WordPress.org. I also suggest you don't buy your domain name on WordPress.com. Check out GoDaddy, NameCheap, or just Google 'Domain Name Registrars'and you'll find cheaper options. A domain name can cost you up to $25 on WordPress when it will cost you about $13 on Namecheap.com.
Choosing a Theme
A 'Theme' on WordPress is the template for your website's outer skin - what it looks like when people visit your site. No need to design one yourself, you can easily choose from a wide variety of customizable themes right on WordPress itself. As with everything WordPress, you have a lot of options here, just visit themes.wordpress.com. You can choose to go with a Free theme or pay for a Premium theme, but before you go ahead and start making big decisions like that, let's walk through some tips you should consider for your theme:
- Social buttons: You already know the importance of social media for small businesses, so you have to be able to showcase or at least link to your social media presences directly from your website. You're already investing time into your online presence, so don't let this opportunity go to waste. Don't go for themes with small social icons on the top corners, get one with social icons on the sidebar, preferably with a counter or a direct 'follow' button.
- Visual media: Think about how much visual media you will be showcasing on your website. Are you a bakery and intend on putting up pictures of cupcakes every other week? Then you should find a theme with large spaces for visual media, maybe even a slider at the top. If you're using images, you don't want them hidden inside posts, you want them previewing on your front page! Visual media always works great, but if you're not going to be posting pictures all the time, then find a theme that focuses more on text presentation than showcasing images.
- Colors: You have your logo and your color scheme, and you want your site to be compatible with them. A lot of themes are customizable in terms of colors but very few have a wide variety for you to choose from. You also don't want your logo to be hidden in a corner. So, ask yourself these two questions when searching for themes: 1. Is there enough real estate space for my logo to sucessfully capture attention? and 2. Does it have the colors on my logo?
- Don't overlook the navigation bar: One of the most important and frequently overlooked aspects of a website is navigation. Your navigation bar is extremely important to your visitors for two reasons: getting where they want to go, and knowing where they currently are. Find a theme with a navigation bar that tells the visitor where he/she is located on the site by either highlighting or making the current page stand out (like below).
- How much are you willing to spend?: Premium themes on WordPress go anywhere from $30 to $150. People choose Premium (paid) themes because they are generally more customizable, higher quality, and have better customer support. While the first two may be mostly true, that isn't an indication that support for free themes is bad. WordPress has a serious rating and review system that you can trust -- for example, Suffusion andResponsive are two popular free themes known for having good support, and it's shown on their reviews.
Recommended Pages to Make
Pages are individual sections of your website dedicated to a specific piece of content. For example, 'About', 'Product', 'Pricing', etc. Think like a first-time visitor to your website and the questions they seek to answer - What do these people do? Where are they located? Who are they? Structure your site around questions like these, and write the appropriate pages. Your pages depend on your business type, but we recommend you at least get your basic ones: About, Contact, and Menu/Product(s)/Shop, whichever is most relevant. Sometimes, business owners will add clever names to these (e.g., 'Get in touch' for 'Contact'), but this also depends on the image you are trying to portray.
Deciding the kind and amount of content you want to publish on your site revolves heavily around your website's goal. If your goal is to drive customers to your physical store, you should constantly update your website with your latest offers, specials, and deals. If your goal is to showcase what you sell so people know they can find a given item at your store, then you should showcase your entire inventory or menu. If your goal is to build a recognizable brand, your website should feature any media attention you've received, for example. Of course, you probably have some combination of goals you want to achieve online, and there are many ways of going about populating your website to reach those goals. You may have potential for good visual media like pictures of your products or items, or videos of life behind the scenes at your shop. You may have received awards or media attention. It is up to you to decide the content that goes on your site, but for every piece of content you add or think about adding, you should always ask yourself if it helps you get closer to reaching one of your goals.
If you have decided that you want your website to be a portal for you to blog on, then that's great. Blogging is a great way to get attention online, and an even better way to get new people to visit your site. WordPress was originally built as a blogging tool, so you can get started right away!
This guide first appeared on Leaf's Small Business Blog.
Álvaro J. Soltero is an Content and Social Media Strategist for Leaf, a Cambridge based tech startup that provides a mobile point-of-sale system and an intuitive business management platform in the Cloud. You can check out Leaf's Small Business Blog here. Álvaro also runs a social media blog for higher education called The Social U, where he writes about privacy and networking using social ...
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