So you’ve decided to start a website or a blog – but you don’t know how to go about it.
That’s the reason for this page. It’s the result of all of you, my readers and subscribers, that have been asking how this site is put together.
I’ve been running this site since 2016 but didn’t take it seriously until late 2017. I had not decided to start the blog because I procrastinated and fear kicked-in – would anyone read the articles? Are they good enough? What will it do? The usual self-doubt questions.
You are not going to be stalled by this. Since you are here then you have thought of starting a blog or you have definitely decided that you are going to have a blog and you don’t know how to go about it.
First rule – it will never be perfect. You’ll notice that this site keeps changing as well. The front page is always in the development stage. The blog content is the only constant that now exists. I got into a rhythm and a method for the blog content and I’ve kept it going.
I have allowed comments below, so when you decide to start your blog, comment below and update it with a link of your site when you have your website/blog up and going, so we that read this can have a look at it. This is an accountability measure. In other words, every week I’ll be checking up on your progress and asking you “Why haven’t you started yet?” if you haven’t.
I’m not going to take you through a step-by-step process of how to create your blog or your website, because the guys at wpbeginner do a brilliant job doing that. Go here to see how to build your WordPress website and here on how to build your WordPress blog.
I am going to tell you what I use (like the plugins), what they do and give you links (when needed) to direct you to the services I use.
Affiliate Disclosure: there are going to be links that are AFFILIATE LINKS, which means that if you purchase or subscribe to anything from that link, then I may get paid a commission for your purchase. There is no extra cost to you. If you do purchase anything, thank you for your support.
I’ll talk a bit more about affiliate links later on.
If you Google/Bing/Yahoo for what platform to use, you’ll come across several options. There are many including WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, Shopify (yes, it’s also a website builder) and so on.
They all have their differences. One is not “better” than the other, but it has more to do with what you are looking for, specifically what the website is about and what you intend to do with it. For me it’s WordPress.
I chose WordPress because it was the one that provided me with the choices that I wanted, such as the themes, the plugins and… I preferred it to the rest for my purposes.
The thing to be aware of with this site is that I have heavily influenced it using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). This is the coding language that defines what a website will look like.
This is what this page looks like without CSS:
CSS is the “style sheet” for your website. It’s a load of code that tells the browser (Google Chrome, Edge, Safari, Firefox, etc.) how to display the website.
Look at the “menu” I have circled in the images above to see the difference between with and without CSS. It’s also obvious with the pictures that are no longer in a carousel but displayed individually. The CSS side of things is not going to affect you. It’s just a bit of knowledge so you understand what’s going on with the way your site will look.
When you choose a “theme” for your website/blog it will all be ready to use. It is a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) idea. You will have to do nothing more than customise a few things that you can change within the parameters of the theme you choose – such as the colours you want to use, the font, font sizing and so on.
Basically put, a theme is the look of your website. There are plenty to choose from, free and paid. It’s all down to taste.
Each theme has different accessibility and allowances to customisation. With some themes, you can have a massive background picture (a hero image) behind the top menu and with others, you can’t. With some, the menu will be below the header area, with others inside. Others will give you the option for one or the other.
Each theme has its own pros and cons. You can search for themes within WordPress (the “Themes” tab under the “Appearances” menu tab) and through the internet. There are free themes and themes you pay for.
And not breaking the flow, here is what a theme is.
I use WordPress for my site. The domain name has been paid for and I have a paid hosting plan (with Siteground).
What that means is that the domain name is MINE and no-one else can have the same name on the “.com” domain. It makes it individual. It also means that I have invested money and, more importantly, time in it.
You see, money you can always make and always get back. Time, once it’s gone, it’s gone – can’t get it back. You have to be prepared to do the same. Invest the money and your time.
Carrying on and this is !important:
When you register a domain name you CANNOT change it.
That’s the name you will call your website/blog – mine is “christosharrison.com” – look in the address bar of the browser.
There are two types of WordPress – WordPress.org and WordPress.com. Go to this wpbeginner page that provides you with an explanation of the difference between the two.
Socrates and Socrates Toolkit
“Socrates” is the theme I’ve used from the beginning. As it stands, it is a flexible theme with the kind of support that is second to none. The “Socrates Toolkit” is a plugin that comes along with the theme that increases what you can do with the theme. Dan Nickerson, the owner, also has a YouTube channel with “How to’s” on the theme and the toolkit.
As of June 2020, Dan has created WPUnite, where you will find the Socrates theme, as well as the new ACME Theme.
I cannot emphasise how much effort Dan has put into not only the themes but what he provides his customers with, like me. The latest evolution includes a list of how to best approach social media. For that alone and his own insights, it’s a massive value for money. And NO, it’s not expensive!
And one important fact – it is a responsive theme, from mobile to desktop.
The Socrates Toolkit is part and parcel of the Socrates Theme – it expands the usability of the theme through short-codes, links, ….. a lot of tools. Like the shortcode for the button below!Get the Socrates theme
Below are the “Plugins” that I currently use. I will update this list when I change anything and tell you why I’ve deleted or added a plugin.
All the plugins listed below, except those that are from my theme, Socrates, are free. I have no subscriptions with any plugin and I have not paid for any of them. I did have ones that I paid for, but I got rid of them in preference to the ones below. So I made the mistakes so you don’t have to.
With time you may choose to upgrade the plugins below to the paid versions but it is not something you will need to do to start off with. At least refrain for a while until you find you need to.
What is a “plugin”?
A plugin is software that gives your website more functionality. For example, in the list below there’s “Smart Slider 3”, which allows me to add the slider or carousel you see at the top of my home page. The theme itself doesn’t provide that functionality.
These plugins exist because people have found that they are needed for websites. This allows Theme developers to focus on the basic theme with the knowledge that there are plugins that provide the extra code.
Let’s get on with the plugins that I have on my site.
This plugin protects my website from being hacked (such attempts are more common than you may think). That is why it’s first on the list.
Below is a screen capture from the 30th 0f November 2019. The picture on the left is the attacks on my site in one day. The picture on the right is the number of attacks on all the sites that the Wordfence plugin is installed and activated on, that have been attacked worldwide.
This plugin is the first one you should install on your site before it goes “live” on the internet.
UpdraftPlus saves the setup and content of your website to a cloud service of your choice. For example, I’ve got UpdraftPlus linked to my Google Drive, with daily saves. This should be the second plugin you add to your site. It lets you save the work you’ve done, so if anything happens, you’ve got your worked saved.
It lets you save as you go on, allowing you to save several versions or to overwrite, with the option to lock saves so they are not automatically overwritten.
I have four saved versions at any one time, mainly because I add to my blog weekly. However, when I make changes to the site I tend to make saves more often.
What all this means is that if you decide to change your theme, all your content is saved off the server and, if you decide that you want to change back, your settings are saved to do just that.Get the Updraft Plus plugin
Akismet puts the spam comments right into the virtual trash bin. An absolute necessity because comment spam can quickly get out of hand. You can then look at the comments by clicking on the “Comments” tab and delete them permanently (when they are spam) or approve them and let them show in the comments section of a post.Get the Akismet Anti-Spam plugin
“Above-the-fold” content is the part of the website page that is visible on your device when you first go onto a website. The other part is “below-the-fold” and only comes into view when you scroll down the page. The term comes from newspapers which are folded in half, so you see the top of the front page first – you have to open up the newspaper fully to see the bottom part of the first page.
“Render” means “Loading”, so if something is “render-blocking” it means that it’s keeping the page from loading as quickly as it could.
“Defer” or deferred, means that the script is executed (run) when the page has finished loading. The defer attribute is only for external scripts (should only be used if the “src” attribute is present – “src” stands for source, where it’s coming from).
You will have external scripts, especially when you use a cookie consent, as required by GDPR.
Without going into all the technicalities as above, it’s sufficient to say that this plugin optimises your website, for speed (you’ll see as you read on that speed gets mentioned quite a bit – it’s !important).
Once they are set up correctly (does take a bit of tweaking and each website is different), you will notice a distinct difference on your websites speed to render.
Get the Autoptimize plugin.
With the new Gutenberg block editor in WordPress, some of us still like to use the “old” classic editor.
This plugin gives you the option to switch from block to classic. If you are happy with the new block editor you don’t need this plugin.Get the Classic Editor plugin
Contact Form 7
This is one of the longest-lasting contact form builder out there. It’s also one of those that you are told not to use because they are “heavy” for a website. Personally, I have not found any grounds in that, and that’s why I use it.
It’s compatible with Mailchimp, it does what it is meant to do and, with a bit of CSS knowledge, you can change the form to look as you want it.
If your CSS skills are not there, the basic form will do to start with and you will find that it is easy to use.
This form is usually used in your “Contact” page, so that individuals can send you an email to your chosen email address, such as your admin or info email from your website. You can see mine in the Contact Us page (the link is actually at the top left-hand corner of my website page, in the top bar)>
In my contact form, you will see a few security protocols to prevent spam and bot emails being sent. If you want to know more send me an email!Get the Contact Form 7 plugin
Featured Images in RSS Feeds
This is a simple plugin that allows the images from your posts to be shared on social media. In addition, you get the option of making those images a link.
This image sharing does not come as a standard in WordPress and needs additional support through plugins like this one to make that happen.
Another benefit of this plugin is that it works great with AddThis, below. As of writing (June 2020), I can share my posts directly from my post with the image attached as a link via AddThis, except Twitter – this has something to do with Twitter’s algorithm, so the picture is added on “manually”.
One other point that is crucial for your newsletters – if you are a “Mailchimp-er”, this plugin adds the post image to your email newsletter sent by Mailchimp.
A must-have!Get the Featured Images in RSS Feeds plugin
Share Buttons by AddThis
I’ve tried different types of sharing platforms and plugins and I am more than happy with AddThis. It’s easy to use and even easier for your readers.
They see the post and are given a multitude of sharing choices to go for, from the most popular to ones you may never have heard of.
You will need to create a free account on the AddThis website to give you functionality for the plugin. On top of this, it will also provide you with analytics of how things are shared on your site.
Get the Share Buttons by AddThis (link takes you to the AddThis website)
Smart Slider 3
Some themes come with a build-in slider. Socrates doesn’t and I am grateful it doesn’t, because I have the choice of what slider I use. It also means that Socrates is a “leaner” theme.
Smart Slider 3 does what you can see on the home page of this website. It’s the carousel effect with the images and links – the plugin provides all of that for you. It also allows you to alter what you see and how you see it across all devices.
That makes it responsive, meaning that it works great on all screens, from mobile to desktop (go on, try it and you’ll see).Get the Smart Slider 3 plugin
The Smush plugin reduces the size of your images without the image losing quality. It optimises and compresses the images on your website.
Large images (not how BIG the image is in size but how many Gb or Kb it is) affect the speed of your website. Smush reduces the bit size of the image which in turn can prevent the image from affecting your websites speed.
WordPress Popular Posts
This plugin displays the most popular or trending posts. Don’t confuse it with “WP Show Posts” below.
This plugin would ideally go in the sidebar area of your site, showing your visitors the current most popular posts. You can set the plugin to refresh after a certain period of time, itself dependant on how many visitors you get daily.Get the WordPress Popular Posts plugin
WP Fastest Cache
This is a plugin that caches your website. Imagine that every time you go on a website the whole thing would refresh itself before it loads onto your screen – it would take more than a few seconds and, lets face it, people want fast loading pages.
Thats the purpose of this plugin. It saves the site pages so that visitors don’t have to “reload” the page again. That improves the sites speed.Get the WP Fastest Cache plugin
WP Show Posts
This plugin displays the latest posts on your site. It uses a short-code that you can add anywhere on your site.
The purpose of this plugin is to, as it says, show your latest posts; so you are more likely to use this on your home page.Get the WP Show Posts plugin
The must-have WordPress SEO plugin. It helps to analyse whether your page/post/article are SEO friendly or not.
It does not replace a professional SEO specialist but it does help in making sure that you start off on the right foot.Get the Yoast SEO plugin
Why have Affiliate Links?
“Affiliate Disclosure: there are going to be links that are AFFILIATE LINKS, which means that if you purchase or subscribe to anything from that link, then I may get paid a commission for your purchase. There is no extra cost to you. If you do purchase anything, thank you for your support.”
The above statement is called an affiliation disclaimer and you saw mine at the beginning of this page. Anytime you have an affiliation link you have to declare it. It’s a requirement and it shows honesty and transparency.
Affiliation links help monetise a website. Your affiliation links will send your readers to a “landing page”, that the provider has on their side, that should explain to the reader what they are purchasing. So, make sure to test those links.
To be able to use those links, you have to do is join the affiliate program and then they will give you what you need to advertise their services/products on your site.
Affiliate marketing is a job on its own and there are people that make money from doing this alone. A blog or website, one that for you is what you want to do because you are passionate about, can have many of these links.
BUT do not sell anything you don’t use yourself. All the links on my site are to services/subscriptions I use and have used for a while. I can sincerely and honestly say that they work.
GDPR or General Data Protection Regulation is in relation to the protection of personal data. When it comes to websites we are talking about the personal data that visitors and customers put into the forms to subscribe or buy products, and what is done with that information.
This system is implemented in the European Union, which means that if your visitors and customers are in the European Union or you are, then you have to comply with the GDPR regulations.
One way to do this is to have a “Cookie Consent” banner, but one that has functionality. For this reason, I use Cookieyes.
When you first arrive on my website you will see a cookie banner at the bottom of the page.
If you click on the “Settings” button you will get a pop-up window that will give you choices as to which cookies to accept and which not.
This makes this cookie consent banner functional and not just for the eye. It is compliant.Get Cookieyes
Adding your website email(s) to Gmail?
If you have a Gmail account and you want to be able to receive all email sent to those addresses and to be able to send from those emails there is a process you need to go through.
BUT, rather than explaining it to you myself, I’ll direct you to the place where I learned how to do it – if it works why change it!
Go to this post, written by Mike Lee, on How to Link SiteGround Email to Gmail Tutorial. Do exactly as he says and you’ll be up and running in less than 10 minutes (that’s how long it took me!).
If you are not with Siteground, then your own provider should be able to provide you with the details you are after. Chances are that they also use the CPanel framework and you’ll be able to find those details in the same place as shown by Mike Lee in his article above.
Hopefully the above will help you and give you the confidence you need to get on with creating your own website or blog. Trial and error is the learning experience.
If you have any questions you can post them below in the comments section or use the form in the contact page.