Setting Up a WordPress Web Site

These instructions will guide you through the process of setting up a basic WordPress web site using shared hosting.

WordPress Logo

At the conclusion of this tutorial, you should be able to set up a basic WordPress web site from scratch, including domain registration, establishment of web hosting, and installation of the WordPress software. You should then be able to perform basic operations needed to add and maintain WordPress content.

These skills will enable you to set up your own web site in the future and/or provide guidance to individuals or small organizations on how they can set up a web site using shared hosting. These skills will also provide a foundation if you wish to further develop the IT skills needed to support more complex enterprise web infrastructure used by large organizations.

What is WordPress?

WordPress is open source content management system (CMS) software that runs on a web server and is used to create web sites.

WordPress software is best known for blogging. The term blog is short for weB LOG and emerged around 1999. A blog is a website that contains a personal online journal as well as reflections and often reader comments and links to sites that the blog author finds interesting.

For example, the Library of Congress hosts their blog using WordPress software.

Library of Congress blog

WordPress is also commonly used as a general-purpose CMS for small and medium-sized web sites that do not accept comments. For example, Champaign's own Art Theatre uses WordPress for their website. The WordPress Showcase gives numerous additional example websites.

Art Theatre

WordPress is extremely popular and is fairly easy to use (by CMS standards). In 2016, the folks that manage WordPress estimated that there were around 68 million websites worldwide using their software. Each month, around six percent of the world's population views 22.2 billion web pages generated with WordPress, which include 42 million new posts and 54.5 million new comments.

WordPress statistics

Aside from ease of use, a major reason for the popularity of WordPress is that it is open source, which means that it is both free as in beer and free as in speech. The software can be downloaded and installed at no cost, and anyone with programming skills can customize it to their needs, although most users rely on the work of a core group of developers to fix bugs and add new features.

Another major advantage of WordPress is that the appearance of pages can be modified with loadable themes that include basic layout of pages and CSS styling of page elements. By keeping presentation and content separate, the appearance of all pages on a site can be easily changed by installing a new theme or customizing an existing theme.

How Does a WordPress Website Work?

WordPress uses three specific types of information to generate web pages:

When a web server receives a request from a web client (browser), the following steps occur:

WordPress request control flow

The administrator(s) of a WordPress website make modifications using the Dashboard, which is a web page in the wp-admin directory under every WordPress website. Use of this administrative interface is described further in the lab for this assignment.

WordPress dashboard

How Can You Get WordPress?

There are three basic ways in which you can get WordPress:

WordPress.org

WordPress.org is the site where you can download the WordPress software at no cost. Anyone with modest web skills and access to a web host that has the PHP scripting language and the MySQL database can set up a website using WordPress Software. WordPress.org is also where you find the WordPress Codex documentation, which is surprisingly good by (ordinarily low) open source standards.

WordPress Codex

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is a web hosting company that only offers sites using WordPress software. The service is free and anyone can sign up on wordpress.com and start blogging in minutes, although whether anyone will read what you write is another question.

WordPress dot com

As in life, there is no free lunch and if you use the WordPress free service there are limitations to what you can do:

WordPress.com does offer premium features you can pay for, such as your own domain name, removal of the web ads, or limited customization of themes. The cost of these premium features is competitive with other hosting services, with the advantage that WordPress.com's systems administrators handle keeping the software updated and functioning smoothly. If you are dealing with a client that only has limited personnel for maintaining their website, you should consider hosting with WordPress.com.

WordPress Installed By Your Hosting Provider

The third way to get WordPress is to sign up with a web hosting service that will install WordPress for you. This can either be a standard shared hosting site with a one-click installer, or this can be Managed WordPress Hosting. Managed hosting is more costly and is most appropriate for users who are concerned about security but don't want to have to deal with the mundane aspects of site administration.

Managed WordPress hosting

Setting Up a WordPress Website

There are three basic elements you need for a WordPress website:

Understanding that these are three separate things will help you plan for changes in the future:

Getting a Domain Name

When you sign up for shared hosting you will be asked for a domain name that you already own or for a domain name that you would like to have.

A domain name has at least two parts or labels that are separated by periods. With google.com, the .com part is called a top-level domain. The labels go from right to left in order of hierarchy. For example, with www.lis.illinois.edu:

While you may not want to keep the hosting account, the domain name may be something you want to hang on to in order to have custom e-mail accounts, or just to have if you do want to set up a web site for yourself in the future. Therefore you should choose this name carefully.

WhoIs Privacy

When you purchase a domain name, the name, address and phone number for that domain are made public in the WhoIs database. If this is a privacy concern for you, after signup you may want to change your contact info to a public address and phone number (like that of your university department) on your registration. There are services that will anonymize your WhoIs information, although that will cost extra.

That being said, if you ever need to transfer your domain name registration to someone else, that involves a complex validation process to prevent unauthorized transfers. Be sure not to misspell your name or the contact e-mail for your account.

Finding a Hosting Provider

There are scores of web hosting providers that you can easily find by googling web hosting. These providers offer a wide range of services at a wide range of costs, and it's hard to know the good guys from the scammers. For this assignment you should find a provider that will allow you to set up a shared hosting account with one-click WordPress installation.

Shared hosting means that you are on a web server that is shared with a number of other web sites. This is generally acceptable for small sites if your provider is good, but as in life, you usually get what you pay for, although paying more doesn't guarantee better service.

If in the future the traffic to your site starts to get heavy, other more-expensive options that you can consider later include:

The following are providers that I have either worked with or know to be at least modestly reputable:

Installing WordPress

During the sign-up process for your hosting account, you may be given the option for your provider to install WordPress (or another CMS) for you. This is the safest option, especially if you are new at this.

If your hosting provider will do the installation for you, skip to the next section on administration.

Hosting signup

If you have confidence in your technical skills and wish to get a slightly deeper understanding of WordPress installation, you might consider doing the installation yourself rather than having your provider install the software at account creation. The process is fairly simple and is explained in the WordPress Codex. Install in a subdirectory rather than at root so your demo site doesn't get indexed by search engines. If your technical skills are minimal or you have limited time, you should forgo this option and choose one-click install at account signup.

The video below will walk you through the following steps:

Basic WordPress Administration

The following video will walk you through basic administrative tasks with a new WordPress web site:

The Website Life Cycle

All websites have a life cycle:

Note that WordPress is not something that you can just install once and forget about. All software has bugs and security vulnerabilities, and there are frequent new releases of WordPress that fix these bugs. If you install WordPress on your own server, you need to periodically update the software - which can be done with one click in the WordPress dashboard. However, this is something that many non-technical administrators may not remember to do or be aware that they need to do on a regular basis. This is an advantage of using managed WordPress hosting or WordPress.com, where systems administrators are responsible for software upgrades.

The last phase is also one that many folks running small websites do not consider. You should not leave a dormant website hanging around on the web, especially if it contains personal information or is a demo site for your client that may get stuck in the search engines. Many hosting providers have auto-renew and will happily continue to take your money to host a forgotten site until you actively cancel your account.

Even if you close your hosting account, you can still keep your domain name by paying the yearly fee. Most registrars offer free URL forwarding, so typing in your domain name in a browser will redirect to a page you choose, like your Facebook or institutional affiliation page. E-mail forwarding is also often available, so your mail sent to your domain can be received in a webmail account like gmail.