After a client recently asked me to review their DIY business website, I started thinking about the first websites I ever designed (oh I wish I had kept some screenshots!). If you are building your own Content Management System website, get started with the top 10 things to consider.
Looking for answers about building your own website?
1. WordPress.com verses WordPress.org
Don’t get me wrong, websites such as wordpress.com or Wix have their place. I still use these platforms for certain clients, when appropriate.
They are a good choice for people who are on a budget and need to be able to maintain their own personal site. If you don’t need any features, and there is little chance you’ll ever need to expand your website, this is probably an acceptable choice.
However, in most cases building a self-hosted website is going to be a better choice. You’ll hear a lot about WordPress.org because it’s the most flexible and user friendly for non-developers. Yet, if you want to expand later and hire a developer, you can do that as well.
2. Child Themes
If you decide to host your own site (good choice), installing a child theme is critical. I’ll admit, back in the day I learned the hard way (raise your hand if you did too?).
What if you built your own blog or site and didn’t install a child theme? As long as you didn’t change any code (for example, the php or css files in the “editor”), you should be ok to upgrade your theme without loosing changes.
Even if you aren’t planning any custom code, it’s a good idea to install a child theme in the beginning! If your theme doesn’t come with one, you can use something like the One Click Child Theme plugin to create one.
3. Photo Sizes
This lack of knowledge can create a big headache later on. Once you start analyzing site speeds it will make more sense.
You can resize image dimensions in the image editor of your website, but take note that it won’t change the file size. Read more about optimizing images for your website.
Protip: Make a cheat sheet with all the correct dimensions for your website (and social media) in the beginning. Optimize and scale your images before you upload them.
Protip: Use Shift+Command+4 on a Mac to do a screenshot of the different parts of your website and write down optimal sizes.
Some general suggestions to get you started:
- Full Width Slider images: 1920(w) x your choice(h)
- Widget images (can vary depending on your widget size): 470(w)
- Blog post images that take up full content body: 800(w)
- Featured images (thumbnail): 250-287(w)
- Facebook Featured Image: 470(w)
- Twitter Cards: 280(w)
- Pinterest: 735 (w)
5. H-Tags and SEO
You mean H-Tags have a purpose? Yes, they aren’t just about making your page look pretty.
It’s important to note that WordPress automatically makes the title of the page/post an H-1 tag. If you are using a CMS site that does this, start your subheading with a H-2 tag and keep your pages optimized for search engines.
Building good SEO (search engine optimism) is a whole separate topic, but if you can think of a few words people will use in a search, use these keywords in your “alt tags” and H-tags. Always use dashes instead of underscores to name your images.
6. Google Site Speed Verifier
Such a nice little tool. And it’s free. My recommendation is to use it on any theme demo you are considering. It’s a great way to test the speed of the theme before you buy it. Starting with clean theme is the first step to a fast website. Test your site: Google Site Verification
7. Twitter Cards & Social Media
If you are wondering why your website links don’t look the same on twitter as John Smith, it might be because your website doesn’t have social cards set up. For WordPress, something like Yoast can be a good option because it also enables all kinds of SEO options. There are also other plugins available, as well as ample instructions online for getting this set up with code.
8. Email List
Email lists are not dead. My advice would be to spend time building your email list. You’ll want to put up an email opt-in form into your site right away, but take note that it won’t magically do anything on its own. Take advantage of the many creative, effective ways to build your list through your website.
9. Google Analytics
To put it simply, if you want to know just about anything other then daily “page hits”, get a self-hosted site and don’t miss out on the benefits of an analytic service or plugin.
10. Bloated Themes
Don’t be fooled by the theme that seems to “have it all”. You’ll spend $50 on the theme, and then you’ll need to spend another $50 on plugin purchase codes so you can update them later.
The best advice I received was from a WordPress consultant that told me to “buy a simple theme and build the features independently”. If you need to do anything complex, like e-commerce or memberships, bundled themes often won’t actually provide all the features you are really going to need. One of my most highly recommended theme providers right now is Elegant Themes [affiliate link].
A Final Note
I love the complexity of designing and building a journey for the website user. This divides my interests between both design and development. It is my hope that this article will be a helpful resource to those researching the internet for answers.