If you’re here, chances are you’re setting up a self-hosted WordPress website for the first time or perhaps just need a quick refresher. The words ‘self-hosted’ are important here – it refers to having a website that is hosted on the provider of your choice and gives maximum flexibility, customization options and control. Not to be confused with WordPress.com.

This means you are using WordPress as your CMS (content management system) but are ultimately free to create a site that’s your own. Your finished WordPress.org site will: 

  • Consist of your own domain that does not contain the words ‘wordpress.com’ in the URL 
  • Be hosted on the hosting company of your choice (that you can move around at will)
  • Have the ability to track visits using embedded analytics and tracking code
  • Be free to use (though you will have to pay for hosting, domain, themes and some plug-ins)
  • Have the ability to monetize if you so wish.
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Prefer to watch a video? Check out the video on my channel that I’ll link here.

It’s an easy process but make sure you follow along these steps.

set up your brand new wordpress website and follow the steps in this infographic
Infographic showing how to set up your WordPress website | zoelarkin.com

Above are the basics of getting started with WordPress. We’re going to take it a little further however – keep reading to find out best practices for connecting your GoDaddy domain to your Siteground hosting and setting up WordPress for the first time!

Getting started

Install WordPress on your site with no technical knowledge

Having a WordPress website is so easy and I recommend it even to non-technical people. As a photographer and blogger, I’ve been using WordPress since 2013. Though there is a learning curve, it is definitely well worth investing your time into learning the basics. 

This way, when you want to change things or add things on your site, you’ll already know what to do. (Or a simple bit of Googling will help you out!) Getting familiar with the basics lays the foundation for competency with WordPress that will save you thousands on a web developer and also help you gain new customers!

And as this is SEO is a main topic on this blog, WordPress websites are, as it happens, super SEO-friendly. What does that actually mean? Well, using the power of plug-ins, you can set your own meta-description for each page or post on the site. Customize your page titles, URL slugs, set alt tags for your images… 

You can also create posts that are optimized for good keyword density. Once you get a feel for creating SEO-centered content, you won’t need to rely on the traffic-light system which is a little outdated, but it is fab if you’re a beginner! 

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s dive into how you set up your self-hosted WordPress website from scratch. 

In my example, my domain (aka registrar) is GoDaddy. My hosting company meanwhile is Siteground.

1. Purchase your domain name 

Purchasing your domain name for your new wordpress website

You’ll need to have your domain name registered (i.e purchased) already. This is not something you will do through WordPress but though your domain registrar. It’s recommended to use a different domain provider vs. host, to lessen your risk if there’s an issue. 

As I mentioned, I use GoDaddy for my domain purchases, and would recommend them for their affordable prices and fast US-based customer service. Plenty of other good registrars are available. 

Choosing your domain name is a whole other topic, but you’ll need to have this before we dive in to setting up your hosting.

Select any options for domain privacy which you’ll see under WhoIs. This means that when someone looks at your site in the WhoIs directory, they won’t find your real name and contact info, they’ll see this: 

screenshot from whois record showing a private registration successfully installed which hides contact information of the site owner

Notice the ‘registrant’ is private, and there are no publicly-available email addresses or phone numbers associated with this registration. The above is one of my other sites, and I’m happy because no personal information is exposed.

2. Choose your web hosting provider carefully 

setting up your wordpress website - you'll need to review web hosting providers

Choosing a host definitely needs a little more time to make the right decision. If your site is brand new, chances are your traffic will be very little to begin with. This means hosting will be cheap! Especially if you have just one site. 

I use and recommend Siteground for hosting. I’m a Siteground affiliate (and that is my affiliate code you see on this page), but if I’d had even one negative experience with them, I wouldn’t be promoting their services. I’ve used them from the very beginning and honestly have had no reason to consider switching – even as I went from 1 site to several over the years.

The site you’re on right now isn’t hosted on Siteground but I have several websites.

You want a host that loads sites fast, first and foremost! Do your research and make sure your host has good uptime stats. Siteground was reviewed on HostingFacts and for the most recent month, had an impressive uptime of 99.99%. 

One word of warning: Avoid using hosting/domain services from the EIG Group (more info on this here). In a nutshell, they have been accused of shady practices, silent takeovers, unreliable performance and non-existent customer service. They now own some well-known brands like HostGator, BlueHost and FatCow. Beware of handsomely-paid affiliates who will flagrantly promote a subpar service – that they would never in a million years use themselves.

3. Sign up with your host

sign up with your host and connect your website to wordpress.org

I’ll walk you through how to sign up with Siteground as your hosting provider, even though I already have a GrowBig account with them. When you start out, the StartUp package will be sufficient until you outgrow it. 

screenshot from siteground showing the price of startup, growbig and gogeek packages as on August 2020

Select the hosting that’s right for you. Tip: if you feel comfortable with the investment, it will pay off in the long term to pay for three years in advance. That’s because after your initial purchase (which is heavily discounted), your subscription renews at more than twice the amount per month.

Screenshot of siteground showing where and how to choose your data center

Be sure to choose the correct data center that matches your location or where your customers are.

The onboarding process with Siteground will then take you through more information like inputting your domain.

siteground screenshot showing how to choose your domain when you already own one

Choose ‘I already have a domain’ when prompted. Next up, you will get an email that informs you to point your domain to the new server. Siteground provides the name server details – now, all we need to do is hook up the domain so that when someone visits your URL, they’ll see the website you’ve hosted on Siteground.

You can view your namerserver details by going to Siteground homepage > websites > look for the button that says CPanel.

siteground screenshot from cpanel showing where to get the name server information when setting up a different registrar

The ‘name server’ accounts here begin with ‘ns’. (Yours may look a little different as it will be in regards to a fresh install and new account).

4. Point the default nameservers in GoDaddy to the Siteground ones

Graphic illustration pointing name servers on GoDaddy to Siteground

Copy and paste your Siteground name servers (there’ll be two of them), we’ll need them in a second.

Now, go to your GoDaddy dashboard and navigate to DNS Management. Under My Products > Domains > DNS

GoDaddy screenshot showing how to acces sthe DNS records from your domains under account settings

DNS management screenshot showing the back end of website with godaddy as the domain registrar - changing name servers

One you’re there, delete the GoDaddy name servers and paste in the two Siteground ones. Save and you’re done!

changing godaddy domain to point to siteground's servers using DNS management on back end of website

If, like me, you want to add on another domain, simply go toCPanel > Domains > Add on Domains. You can only do this after you’ve entered your new name servers into your registrar. Fill out the fields along with your password and you’re in.

adding an add-on domain to an existing siteground account - screenshot

5. Install WordPress

graphic illustrating installing wordpress for the first time for beginners

From your CPanel in Siteground, go to Autoinstallers > WordPress.

CPanel of siteground back end screenshot showing how to install wordpress using an autoinstaller

When you hit that WordPress button, the interface will change and take you to this Softaculous screen within Siteground’s WordPress installer.

softaculous back end of siteground CPanel showing how to set up and install wordpress on a new website

Then you’ll see a screen where you will input info about your site (Name, domain, site description which can be changed later).

screenshot from wordpress installation process showing software set up using softaculous and siteground

After that you can put your feet up for a minute, as it’s normal to take up to five minutes for the installation to complete.

6. Add SSL (a security certificate that enables https://)

how to add an ssl (https://) security certificate to your siteground website

SSL stands for ‘secure sockets layer’ but not a lot of people know that. The important part that you do need to know is that SSL enables your website’s URL to start with https:// rather than boring old http://.

The addition of the ‘s’ (which stands for ‘secure’, by the way!), is a small change that makes a big difference. To avoid going down a huge rabbit-hole here, and to keep it relevant, let’s keep this brief. Having SSL encryption set up on your site is soon going to be a ranking factor. Google hinted many years ago that SSL is ranking signal (albeit a weak one) but many experts have speculated that in the future it will be extremely important to your site getting displayed in SERPs.

screenshot from siteground CPanel showing Let's Encrypt SSL free security certificates provided on all Siteground-hosted websites

It’s easier to see visually what you’ll end up with once the installation of your SSL security certificate is complete. You’ll get that little padlock that conveys trust to your users. Even if your site is not e-commerce enabled (users cannot buy anything through it), SSL encryption is never a bad idea.

example of a secure site with padlock and valid security certificate and how to get it for free

Luckily with Siteground, they offer a valid security certificate free with all plans. All you have to do is install it onto your domain!

7. Log into your WordPress dashboard & configure a few settings

graphic illustrating logging into WordPress dashboard and configuring important beginner settings

You’ll get a link to log into your WordPress dashboard once the installation completes. Save this address to your internet favorites or bookmarks for ease of log in.

login screen for first-time log into to your /wp-admin area of WordPress back end

The address to head to is:

How to log into wordpress dashboard - go to yourwebsite.com/wp-admin

So, https://beastlocal.com/wp-admin would take me to the login screen of my WordPress dashboard. (You may need the ‘www’ depending on the canonical or preferred version of how your site URL’s set up).

When you log in, this is the screen you should see the first time. This is your WordPress dashboard – a sight (aka a site) that will become very familiar to you!

screenshot showing fresh install of WordPress on /wp-admin back end dashboard

Now, what I’m about to share with you are my quick n’ dirty best practices for setting up a fresh install of WordPress on a brand new site. Of course, it may be different for you depending on your needs and preferences. One size does not necessarily fit all. This is a guide for beginners who simply want a bit of guidance.

Change permalink settings

First make sure you change your permalink settings, so your blog posts have the optimal URL structure. Go to Settings > Permalinks.

screenshot showing how to change permalink settings on your wordpress blog posts

Select ‘post name’. This means you’ll have a blog post slug that looks like:

beastlocal.com/how-to-set-up-wordpress

instead of

beastlocal.com/?p=123

or

beastlocal.com/2020/08/09/how-to-set-up-wordpress

Do this straightaway! Otherwise it can be risky to change permalink structure once your content starts to be found.

Change your theme

The generic WordPress theme at the current time is a basic one called TwentyTwenty. You’ll want to change this to something that matches your brand personality, and that you helps you stand out.

wordpress back end showing how and where in wordpress settings to change your theme

To do this, navigate to Appearance > Themes and there you’ll see available free and paid themes.

A better move is to shop around first for a favorite theme that really speaks to you. Once you have your heart set on one, purchase it and upload it to the ‘Add New Theme’ area on the right.

A quick search of ‘best WordPress themes for…’ will give you some great results to get started with. You could even use a free theme if budgets are tight – but be aware that you may be stuck with a bloated website that just hasn’t been coded very efficiently (and can be hard to put right if you’re not technically-minded).

The theme I used for the website in this example was called X Theme made by ThemeCo. It’s a highly customizable theme, with its own page-builder called Cornerstone that comes for free with your purchase. That just means you don’t need coding knowledge in order to change your page’s design.

Sure, like most platforms it requires a little getting used to. The help that’s provided by ThemeCo is outstanding. My theme only cost around $40. I will be bringing out a guide to getting started with X Theme soon because I would really recommend it and can’t sing X Theme’s praises highly enough!

Set up your Homepage and Posts Page settings

In case this is not already configured, most of the time you’ll want your homepage to display the WordPress page called ‘Home’, and your Posts Page to display ‘Blog’.

This important setting is tucked away on Settings > Reading.

how to set up your home and posts page correctly on wordpress dashboard

While you’re there, check on the Search Engine Visibility settings. Always make sure that box is NOT checked. If you check the box, this means that users are highly unlikely to find you on Google – that’s not good!

I’m assuming at this point that you will not have any content to add to your site – this normally takes a little while to collect your thoughts and create something that isn’t slapdash.

So, in time you’ll want to create pages (About, Contact, Services etc), articles blog posts (these are just called ‘posts’ in WordPress-speak), and menu items that help guide users through the site. That’s a much bigger topic – and a task for another day.

You’ve done really well to make it this far!

Go celebrate with your favorite tipple or tea, but before you do there’s one more task!

As the website is not exactly searcher-ready, set up a landing page so that Google isn’t indexing your theme’s dummy content.

Set up an ‘under construction’ page

To do this, simply install a plugin. Search ‘Under Construction’ in the ‘Plugin’ tab.

Follow the instructions to activate your plugin, et voila!

example of a landing page configured with x theme's under construction plugin

X Theme actually provides their own plugin, accessible via the X Theme menu (‘X’ on the left hand menu, scroll down to the many, many awesome free plugins that you’ll have access to!).

x theme screenshot showing where to access the suite of plug ins provided by X Theme with every installation of the theme

There are absolutely plugins you’ll need to install on your new WordPress site, but I think that needs its own post. It’ll be linked here once it’s live!


CHECKLIST – in summary

1. Purchase your domain name 

Buy your chosen domain from a reputable registrar.

2. Choose your web hosting provider carefully 

Do your homework and understand what you need from a host.

3. Sign up with your host

Purchase reliable hosting that’s right for your needs.

4. Point the default name servers in GoDaddy to the Siteground ones

Copy the name servers from your host and paste into your domain.

5. Install WordPress

On the back end of your hosting, install WordPress with one click.

6. Add SSL (a security certificate that enables https://)

Enable the settings on your host’s CPanel for a free security certificate.

7. Log into your WordPress dashboard & configure a few settings

Change your permalink structure, set homepage, change theme and create landing page.

DONE!


Hope this was helpful in configuring your WordPress website and getting it all to work nicely! Though my information relates to using GoDaddy as your domain registrar and Siteground as the host, much of this information is applicable for other providers, too – you may just need to hunt around a little to see where the settings are!

In the meantime, check out more posts here on ZoeLarkin.com – I talk SEO and content marketing geared towards wedding photographers as that’s my day job, but there are super helpful tips and tricks that can help any small business owner 😉

Pin your choice of graphic to your Pinterest board and be sure to follow @zoelarkinphoto on Pinterest!

Want to know how to actually set up your WordPress website - when all you have is a domain, a hosting plan, a dream and a prayer? Fear not - I have the guide for you! My tutorial takes you through it step by step so even the most non tech-savvy WordPress beginner can easily grasp the process of configuring your host and your domain so that everything talks to each other and just... works! If you're setting up a WordPress site for the first time, don't miss this! #WordPress | Zoelarkin.com
How to set up your WordPress website – the quick + easy way with no technical knowledge! Zoelarkin.com
Want an easy-peasy, non-technical (but still super detailed) guide to setting up your new WordPress website? If you've recently made the switch to WordPress or are totally to blogging or owning a website for your small business, it can seem like a new world. And it really is! No matter your level of technical expertise, the reality is that anyone can set up a WordPress website - no technical knowledge necessary! Once this step is done, begin your blogging journey!  #WordPress | Zoelarkin.com
A step-by-step guide to installing WordPress on your website for the first time | Zoelarkin.com

Zoe Larkin
Zoe Larkin

I’m Zoe, a wedding photographer based in San Francisco! I also help fellow wedding photographers attract their dream clients with actionable SEO & digital marketing strategies. When I’m not shooting weddings, creating content is my passion! Follow along the blog, Insta and my new YouTube channel for photographers! 

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How to set up your WordPress website – step-by-step [GoDaddy domain + Siteground host]

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