There are many different web platform options available for your small business website—Joomla, Drupal, .NET, ColdFusion, or custom-coded CAKE, HTML5 or .NET—however, these can be expensive, requiring the expertise of a programmer. None of the aforementioned choices are as cost-effective for a small business’s online budget as WordPress.
While many may think of WordPress as a mere blogging platform, it has evolved into so much more. A WordPress website can easily be maintained by a rank amateur with just a small amount of training. (Building a custom WordPress website is a different story, however.)
The evolution of WordPress
In its 10-year history, WordPress has matured from that simple-to-use blogging platform to a full-blown content management system (CMS) that rivals the sophistication of other CMSs like Joomla and Drupal. With a limitless selection of plug-ins, WordPress can run anything from a community Web portal to a large e-commerce site.
Automattic is the software company behind WordPress.com, an adaptation of the open source WordPress.org project. The company was founded by Matt Mullenweg who continues to be the primary developer and spokesman for the company.
WordPress actually has two uses, which can be confusing to beginners. WordPress.com is a free service that allows anyone to create blogs using pre-built themes and tools.
[blockquote align=”right” cite=”~ W3 Techs”]WordPress is used by 55.7% of all the websites whose content management system we know. This is 18.2% of all websites.[/blockquote]
The other is the standalone platform —a content management system — that any small business can install on a web host and have up and running in short order.
7 beginner WordPress tips
1) Purchase the right WordPress hosting package
Hosting should never be an afterthought—after all, it’s your website’s HQ. If you skimp on hosting, it can can negatively affect website server speed, uptime, and even SEO factors such as site speed play into how well your website will be ranked. First off, WordPress has to run on Linux servers, so you’ll need that. Second, you need to find a company that specializes in WordPress hosting. At one time, I used GoDaddy, but switched to Hostgator for better performance. Don’t be tempted to go the free hosting route because the results will be unreliable, and the company providing the “free service” will be serving ads all over your website, which will devalue your brand. Also, it goes without saying, make sure you buy your own domain name; you don’t want your URLs to end up looking bush-league: www.yourcompanyname.wordpress.com.
Note: As far as hosting companies go, I recommend Hostgator, BlueHost, or WPEngine. You need to make sure you use a company that has packages dedicated to WordPress, otherwise, your site is likely to run too slow. Site speed being a factor in search engine optimization, you want to ensure your website loads pages efficiently. Not to mention, users hate slow websites and are less likely to return.
2) Choose a workable WordPress theme
This is one area that most people agonize over — for good reason. The theme is both the background, structure, and visual aesthetic of the blog. It provides the viewer with an understanding of what is to be offered and it allows the blog provider with a platform that can be molded to the business’s specific needs. WordPress offers hundreds of themes and there are other companies that offer more that can be further customized to your blog. Although many of the WordPress themes are free, there is a premium service that offers blog themes that are more customizable.
3) Customize your WordPress theme
Customizing the theme with your own logo, pictures and personality show something about the blog and allow you to draw people in to your website. Even if you’re cash-strapped, avoid using free WordPress themes; while they offer some customization, the premium themes can be changed in many more ways to suit a specific need.
4) SEO for WordPress category pages
A blog post can have one or a multitude of categories which thematically organize your posts. If a viewer is looking for something specific on your site, they can more easily find it by searching categories. But from an SEO-perspective, WordPress category pages are an excellent opportunity to use keyword-rich names rather than generic ones i.e. for an attorney, a blog post category entitled, “Drunk Driving Defense Cases” would have much more SEO potential than “Drunk Driving.” Also, a key part of this strategy is to make sure you optimize the <TITLE> and <META DESCRIPTION> tags, rather than presenting only a list of links to this content. This will make your category pages more useful to search engines and users.
5) Use original pictures and/or video
Pictures are another great way to differentiate between posts, and video can help you either sell or inform readers in a more in-depth and personal way. There are many sites on the web that have a multitude of free pictures on almost any subject that can be had either for free or at a very minimal cost. I’m of the opinion that it’s a mistake to use generic stock imagery – the two businessmen shaking hands, the smiling lady with the headset, the people around the conference table – this make your brand look generic. Why not be creative and commission your own photographer, put some money into the local economy and hire a local photographer. Besides the visual differentiation you will lend your WordPress website, there are other considerations: Google’s algorithm can actually detect stock imagery. If the photo has been used on hundreds or even thousands of other websites, Google will detect it. It may not be a penalty factor (yet), but it definitely doesn’t help what should be your website’s number one mission: to produce unique, original, compelling content.
6) Use the right plugins
WordPress offers a plethora of plugins, but they do not always play well together. Make sure that the add-ons you choose to enhance your site’s functionality, but that they also perform optimally together. A free, useful plug-in I recommend is GoDaddy’s P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler). A quick scan can show you all of your plug-ins and how each impacts your site’s load time. If one is simply hogging up the load time, you should seriously consider whether your need it (or try an alternative).
7) Keep WordPress updated
Don’t let this one fall by the wayside. WordPress has many advantages, but if it’s not running on the latest version, it can not only compromise the performance of your site, but the security itself. The platform’s ubiquitous popularity has painted a large red ‘X’ on its back for hackers. By updating to the latest WordPress version, you will greatly reduce the chances of running into a bug that may cause problems down the road.
Despite some bad Internet press in 2009 due to some hacking, the WordPress core is secure, but WordPress site owners must take responsibility for their own security, maintain strong passwords, and keeping plugins and themes up to date, as well as identifying poor plug-ins which might potentially be vulnerable.
With 64 million installations and counting, the numbers in WordPress’s favor as the web’s CMS of choice are compelling. No other technology (Ruby on Rails, Python, etc.) even comes close to having so much widespread adoption.