This post is the third in a series called The Complete Guide to Building Your Own Artist’s Website.
There was a time (pre-2005-ish), when to build a website, you had to know how to write HTML, which is the language that web pages are written in. If you wanted to edit any text on a page, or add an image, you had to dive into this complex code. This meant that there was a steep learning curve involved in creating your own website, which created a significant barrier to entry for beginners.
Over time, web developers saw the need for creating systems whereby people with very little technical knowledge could edit the content of their own websites through a simple interface, much like a word processor, without having to know anything about HTML. This need led to the development of a type of website platform known as a content management system (CMS).
These days there are many different website platforms with a CMS built in, making it easier than ever before to set up and manage your own website, without knowing so much as a single line of HTML.
I could list several web platforms here and discuss the benefits/drawbacks of each, but for the sake of simplicity I’ll just say that the only one I would recommend wholeheartedly is WordPress.
WordPress was first released in 2003 as a blogging platform, but it has grown significantly and developed into a full-featured CMS, powerful and flexible enough to adapt to the needs of almost any website, and it’s used today by over 60 million people worldwide. In short, your website needs to run on WordPress.
There are many benefits to using WordPress to build your website. It has a nice-looking and easy to use interface, which allows you to easily add and edit website content. It has blog functionality built-in, making it easy to add a blog to your website (we’ll talk about this more later). There are lots of professional themes that you can easily add to your site to change its appearance, and there are thousands of plugins which can be used to add all sorts of cool functionality to your website.
Best of all is that WordPress is open source software, which means it won’t cost you a penny!
In the past, installing WordPress was not a simple task for the uninitiated. You had to download and unzip the WordPress software, upload it to the root directory of your web server, create a MySQL database and user, edit certain php config files and run an installation script. Have I lost you yet?
Fortunately, most good web hosts have made this task much simpler with the addition of one-click installer scripts, which as the name suggests, allow you to install WordPress with a single click. The database and config files will all be taken care of for you.
(If for any reason you feel like installing WordPress manually, the instructions are all here.)
To install WordPress on your HostGator web hosting (which I discussed in the previous post), you need to first log into your cPanel, scroll down to the Software/Services section and click Quick Install (in other hosting packages this may have a different name, such as Install Scripts or Fantastico. Check with your web host if you’re not sure.)
From the list of software packages on the left, click on the WordPress option, then click ‘continue’. (Again, this may be laid out slightly differently in different hosting packages.)
Now you just need to fill in a few options, click ‘Install Now!’ and your website is good to go (more detailed instructions can be found in the HostGator documentation, or the support pages of your own hosting provider.)
You should now be able to type your web address into your browser’s address bar and see your brand new website! Easy wasn’t it?
The WordPress Dashboard
Now that your website is up and running, you can log in to the WordPress dashboard. This is where you’ll go to manage the content of your site, add images, edit blog posts etc.
To log in to WordPress, navigate to www.yoursite.com/wp-admin, or just click the link in the email you received after installing WordPress. That email will also contain the username and password you’ll need to log in.
After you log in to the dashboard, you’ll see a long menu down the left hand side, which lets you control various aspects of your website.
I won’t go through every aspect of WordPress in detail here, but I will take you through the most important aspects that you’ll need to know about to run your site.
If you want to explore WordPress in more depth, you can start by reading through the WordPress Codex.
As it stands, WordPress is a pretty awesome piece of software, but what makes it truly great is that because the software is open source, third-party developers can write little pieces of software that plug in to WordPress, to extend its functionality. There are several of these plugins that I will be recommending for your artist’s website, and I’ll go through each of them as the need arises.
Many plugins are free, and can be added to WordPress through the dashboard. In the left hand menu, go to Plugins > Add New. Use the search bar to find the plugin you need and then click Install Now.
Note: While plugins are often super useful, they can occasionally contain malicious or insecure code, which can leave your site vulnerable to being hacked, so you should only install plugins written by developers who you trust.
If a plugin has a high star-rating, based on a large number of ratings, then chances are it’s probably ok, but if in doubt, don’t install it!
All of the plugins I recommend in this guide are ones that I’ve used on my own websites without any problems, but I can’t guarantee them, so you should do your own research if you want to be really safe.
Hiding your website
At this early stage, Google won’t even know about your website yet, and if you haven’t told anyone your new website address then chances are nobody will be looking at it, but in any case, while you are still setting up your website, you probably won’t want people to see it in its half-finished state, so let’s install a plugin that will put your website in maintenance mode, so that nobody but you will be able to see the content of the website until it is ready to be seen.
(Update: since this post was first published, the Maintenance Mode plugin has been replaced by See You Later, which is a paid plugin. There are free alternatives available if you prefer, but See You Later is an inexpensive and solid choice.)
This plugin is actually part of a suite of plugins called WooDojo, created by WooThemes. WooDojo is free, but it’s not listed in the WordPress plugin repository, so you won’t find it through the plugin search in your dashboard, you need to download it directly from the WooThemes website.
Now navigate again to Plugins > Add New in your dashboard, but this time click on Upload. Click Choose File, and select the woodojo.zip file you just downloaded. Click Install Now. Then click Activate Plugin once the installation is complete.
You will now find a WooDojo menu item in your left hand menu, and if you click it, you will see all of the features that come bundled with WooDojo.
We will look at some of these later, but for now, scroll down to Downloadable Features, find the Maintenance Mode feature, and click Download & Activate.
Once Maintenance Mode is activated, you can navigate to WooDojo > Maintenance Mode and check the box to turn on Maintenance Mode for your website.
You can leave the rest of the settings as they are, or you can customise the message that visitors to your site will see.
To test that it’s working properly, you can log out of WordPress and try to visit your site. You should see a message telling you the site is in maintenance mode. If you log back in again, you’ll be able to see your website, but anyone else who happens to stop by will only see the maintenance mode message.
So now you have a website online, accessible via your own domain name, but safely hidden from public view. All good? Ok, in the next post we’ll discuss how you can go about making your new website look the part.