There are a variety of website builders that let you create a free website. Most people will struggle to create a great site – but for ultra-small companies, there may be no other choice. This guide is for you.
Hopefully the site will help you grow enough to afford an upgrade sometime down the line.
We’re going to look at setting up a free site on WordPress.com. There are other options out there, but WordPress is a reliable company, with a variety of other advantages . They have a free option, or for less than $50/year allow you to use your own domain and go completely ad-free.
Here’s the how-to:
- Sign Up At WordPress.com
- WordPress Login – Look Around
- Understanding The WordPress Dashboard
- Initial Settings
- Themes and Design
- Creating Pages
- Customizing Pages
- Finishing Up
Start by visiting WordPress.com. Click Sign Up Now and you’ll see this screen:
Pretty self-explanatory – create a username, and then choose Gimme a blog! (Don’t worry, we’re building more than just a blog)
This is what you’ll see next:
This one is more important. If you don’t pay the $15/year to have a domain name of your own (http://yourcompany.com, and highly recommended), then your address will be something like http://yourcompany.wordpress.com. The name you choose in that first box is the part you choose, just like it looks.
Most likely you’ll use your company name. If it’s taken, adding a modifier, such as your industry or city, is a good choice, and not a terrible idea even if your name is available.
The second box is the title. You can easily change this, but it’s good to start with your company name.
Privacy is the last important part. If you un-check this box, the search engines will not find your site. In the long run that is bad, although you might want to hide it while the site is in development. You can change the selection later – but we’re going to put the site together quickly, and want to avoid any indexation problems, so I recommend leaving the box checked.
Click Signup, and you’ll be directed to a congratulations screen. Choose Login, and use the username/password you just created.
Login, and you should see this:
There’s a lot here. Click on your blog’s name (big letters, far upper left) and you can see how your site looks to the rest of the world:
There are a number of settings/tweaks to make this ready for use as a business site.
To do anything, you’ll need to go back to the initial screen – At the far top of the screen, click My Dashboard.
In the main area, there are a number of boxes:
Right Now – Some basic information about your site. Can help you navigate as well, with shortcuts to pages, posts, categories, and comments.
Quickpress – Allows you to add to the site directly from the Dashboard. Not something we’ll be using for now.
Recent Comments – You can let other people comment on your site. A demo comment is included at setup, and you can see it here. Hover over the comment to see a small menu – click Trash to remove this.
Recent Drafts - When you start writing posts, they will appear here when waiting to be published.
Stats - One of the nice things about WordPress.com is that it has a simple stats system built in. Here you will be able to see how many people are visiting your website, and what they look at on the site.
Incoming Links - If other sites link to yours, they may show up here.
Your Stuff - Shows activity on the site, right now just displaying the default WordPress posts/pages.
On the left hand side of the screen, you’ll see a long menu. Most of these labels will expand when clicked, revealing a number of options.
Dashboard - The top menu item, Dashboard, will bring you back to the Dashboard of your website. The only other option you might need is Blog Stats, a more detailed version of the widget we discussed.
Upgrades – You can purchase upgrades for your blog. This is where you could get your own domain, for ~$15, or remove all ads, for ~$30. There are other options, most of which should not be necessary.
Posts – This is where you can create blog posts. Click the menu item and you’ll see a “Hello World” blog post – hover over this and choose trash, just like the demo comment. As our primary goal is not the creation of a blog, most of our work will be done under the page menu instead.
Media + Links – These menus allow you to manage the pictures/video/audio you upload (media) and your link list. Both can be ignored for now.
Pages - This looks a lot like the Posts menu. There is already an “About Us” page. We’re going to want one of these, so you can leave it.
Comments, Ratings, and Polls – Comments allow you to moderate comments left on the site. Ratings and polls are things you can add – we’ll ignore all this for now.
Appearance – Note this menu, as it will be important soon.
Users + Tools – You can allow employees to login to your blog by creating a user for them. Tools may be useful if you decide to move your site off WordPress.com, or if you want to register with the webmaster areas at Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
Settings - Click Settings, and you will see many items. We’re going to tackle this next.
This has several choices. Key here is to make sure your site’s name is correct (it usually calls it a blog, you can delete this), and choose a new tagline. With the default layout, your tagline appears on the top-right corner of your site.
Can be left as-is. We may want to change the default category if you decide to start a blog – we’ll cover this later.
These setting should be mostly ok, you may revisit them if you are blogging regularly. Take note of the first choice “Front Page Displays.” We will change this later.
Here you can edit comment settings. Allowing comments on your site can be good practice, but makes many businesses uncomfortable. To disable comments, un-check Allow people to post comments on new articles. To minimize management, I would also suggest un-checking Allow link notifications from other blogs.
The other settings under this tab will be of use if you decide to allow comments.
These settings should be fine for now.
Remember the choice at the beginning about blocking/allowing search engines? Here is where you can update your decision. It is also possible to completely remove your site from public view.
OpenID, Domains, and Webhooks
OpenID and Webhooks are not important. Domains will help you manage options (you can setup Gmail for your domain) if you purchase a domain name.
WordPress uses Themes to customize the design of a site. These are similar to what some people would call templates. When you’re on the Themes tab, you’ll see a selection of those available at WordPress.com. Last I looked, there were 92 – with many more accessible to those using WordPress on another service, such as Pagely.
92 sounds like quite a few choices, but there is a caveat, in that not very many are great designs for a business site. The default theme, referred to as “Twenty Ten,” was recently selected by the WordPress team. This is a well-designed, flexible theme, and I will be writing the rest of this article assuming you are using it. If you want to browse through the themes and pick something different, go ahead, it is easy to switch back. Some of the alternate themes are great, and most of what I write here will still apply.
You can upload a file for use as an image background – be careful with this, as it’s easy to end up with something far too over the top. A design/texture can work. For most people, a better idea will be to leave the background gray, or consider going with another color or white. Click Select a Color, and a helpful color-wheel will come up, allowing you to make a selection.
WordPress provides a number of header images. You can also upload one of your own, which will probably fit better for most businesses. I highly recommend taking a picture of your business, yourself, employees, or product, as this will serve to make your business look much more real and trustworthy. If this is not an option, it is also possible to purchase an inexpensive picture from a site such as Shutterstock.
In the main area are the available widgets, and the right hand side shows the available locations. You can drag a widget from the left side and drop it onto the area you want it to appear. Multiple widgets can be placed in one area, and ordered by drag-and-drop. Check out this example of Twenty Ten’s widgetized areas:
Look closely, and you’ll see Twenty Ten has a primary and secondary widget area on the right hand side, and four widget areas across the bottom of the page. The same widgets will appear on every page on the site.
I have chosen some useful widgets as examples. These include:
- Text – Creates an area for the insertion of any text you like.
- Pages – Like a secondary menu, this allows to insert a list of site pages.
- Meta - Provides an easy way to login.
- Recent Posts – If you are blogging, this provides an easy way to display a recent posts/company news section.
- Images – An easy way to insert additional images of your business/employees/certifications, etc.
- Twitter – If you use Twitter, this widget will allow you to import your posts.
There are other widgets as well, which you can browse through on the widgets page. In designing your site, you will at least want to include a couple widgets over in the primary widget area. Depending on your content, it might be good to use the footer widgets as well. In addition to the basic use discussed above, some ideas for these areas include:
- Testimonials – Inserting a testimonial or two with the text widget can provide powerful validation.
- Contact Information – Inclusion of your physical address and phone number on every page is a good idea, for both usability and the search engines. A text widget can do this.
- Mini-About Us – Although you will have an “About Us” page, a quick description of your business will help people quickly grasp who you are. Another job for a text widget.
- Other Trust Signals – Pictures, certifications, awards, memberships – or anything else you would tout in an offline environment. Can usually be added with text or images widgets.
- Social Links – Have a page on Facebook or profile on LinkedIn? Consider adding a link in a text widget, or insert a links widget (use the Links menu to edit what appears in the links widget).
At the top there is a title area, which will appear on the published post. Directly beneath that is the Upload/Insert menu, which is used to add pictures and other media to your page.
Below the Upload area is the main writing menu. It may look different – there are two things to look for:
- On the far right of this menu are two tabs, Visual, and HTML. This should be set to visual, unless you want to directly code the HTML.
- If you have only a single row of buttons, the far right button will “show kitchen sink,” adding all the other options in the second row.
Beneath the menu is the main writing area. If your tab is set to Visual, the actual page will look very similar to what you create in this space.
Go ahead and write some text. Anything you do can be deleted.
After writing, you will see that beneath the writing area is a discussion menu. It is easiest to disable both of the options in this menu for now.
Over on the top right is the publish menu. Here you can save your work, see a preview, or publish the post (and also schedule for posting at a future date). Click Save Draft, then try the Preview button. You’ll see how the post is going to turn out.
Beneath the publish menu is the attributes menu. This has a few more advanced, but important options. The parent selection allows you to set an existing page as a “parent,” which will make for a fancy drop-down menu when someone moves their mouse over the parent page in the menu on your site. Template will vary from theme to theme – in Twenty Ten the option is to create a page with no sidebar (the widget area on the right side of your site). Order is another option related to the menu. Your pages will be ordered in the menu based on the number selected here.
There are a large number of buttons on the full WordPress writing menu. The buttons you will likely use most include:
- Bold/Italic/Strikethrough – The first three buttons control text formatting.
- Lists – The next two buttons are for lists, either with bullets or numbers.
- Quote – The quote button will create a unique style for a portion of text. Can be used for things other than quotes, and is sometimes useful for testimonials.
- Alignment – Three buttons near the middle of the top row control text alignment. (left, center, right)
- Links – The chain and broken chain create and remove links. Highlight a piece of text, click the chain, and you will be given a chance to input the address you are linking to.
- Formatting Box - Jumping to the bottom row, the format box allows you to create headlines within your text. If text formatting is ever causing a problem, highlighting the text and selecting paragraph (the default selection) will often help.
- Underline and Align Full – More text formatting.
- Text Color – A drop-down allows you to choose from a variety of colors. Please don’t overdo it.
- Embedded Media – Jumping over a few buttons, the embedded media button looks like a film-strip. The easiest way to add video to your site is by uploading it to somewhere such as Youtube, and then following these instructions for embedded media.
- Indent – Skipping again, there are indent left/right buttons. Most websites do not indent paragraphs, but these are good for managing bulleted lists.
Most of these options work much like your Word processor, although the system is not quite as flexible.
The title will be based on your file name. If you have a reasonable file name, that will be fine – now make sure you also fill in an alternate text that is relevant to your page and image. The caption can be used if you want a caption displayed on the page. The description can be left empty. The Link URL defaults to a large version of the image. This is where people will go if they click on the image. You can change this to a different URL, or choose None to make it so nothing happens on a click.
Once you have filled out all the boxes, decide how you want the image aligned. Default is none, but the other options usually look better. Finally, choose a size. If you uploaded the image just how you want it, use Full Size. If you just put up a large version, one of the smaller choices may work better.
Finally, click Insert into Post. This will save everything – clicking Save all changes will close the box without inserting the picture.
As a side note – there is a link above for Use as a featured image. In the Twenty Ten theme, this will allow you to use the image as a header on that particular page (otherwise the header is the same across the site).
Choose A static page, and then select the front page you just created from the drop down menu. The posts page selection can be left as-is. Go to your site, and the new home page should appear.
If you do not see the form, but see [contact-form] instead, then it was inserted while using the visual editor – go back and make sure you have the setting on HTML before trying again.
here. To summarize:
- Create a map at Google Maps.
- At the upper-right hand corner of the map, click link.
- Two boxes appear – one is labeled Paste HTML to embed in website. Copy the code in this box.
- Paste the code into your WordPress.com post (This seems to work in both the visual and HTML editor).
You should end up with something like this:
One tip: After inserting the map, if you go back to the page edit screen, there will be a section of code several lines long. Near the end of this code, there will be a section that looks like: w=425&h=350. The w= controls the width, and h= controls the height – modify these to make your map larger or smaller.
guide to Google Places, or how to market your business online. If I’ve left anything out, feel free to leave questions in the comments – and don’t forget to subscribe to this blog – RSS, email, Twitter, or Facebook.