Something we hear quite often from beginners at WordPress North East events and other business events is the confusion – or perhaps the totally unknown distinction – between building a website on WordPress.com, and building a self-hosted WordPress website.
What is WordPress?
Let’s start off with the basics: what is WordPress?
WordPress is a content management system. At a very basic level, this means it provides non-technical users the ability to add and edit content on your website without any (or very little) knowledge of website design.
WordPress is open source, which means it is free to use even commercially, and a community of web designers and developers around the world contribute to WordPress to keep it secure and add new features all the time.
What web design agencies such as Peacock Carter call “WordPress core” provides the functionality to run simple websites. In WordPress, these have content split in to two basic types: “pages” for timeless content such “about us”; and “posts”, typically used for timely news articles or blog posts.
You can add and change WordPress’ functionality by adding what are known as plugins to your website. These can add features such as image slideshows and carousels, contact forms, e-commerce (functionality to sell products and take payment online) and more.
It’s also possible to change the way your website looks through WordPress themes.
WordPress.com offers free websites – all you need to do is register an account. This provides the basic building blocks you need to create your own WordPress website.
By default, WordPress.com websites are published on a sub domain of WordPress.com, such as YourBusiness.WordPress.com.
With WordPress.com, you can:
- add and edit pages and posts on your website
- add a limited selection of functionality with a limited range of plugins
- change your WordPress theme (and thus your website’s design)
You may need to pay for:
- using a custom domain name (eg, yourbusiness.co.uk) for your website
- some custom designs (known as themes)
- some custom functionality (known as plugins)
WordPress.com websites allow you to manage your content and not have to worry about security updates to WordPress.
Self-hosted WordPress websites
Self-hosted websites can be built with WordPress, too these use WordPress as downloaded from WordPress.org. They will allow you to manage your content in a similar manner to WordPress websites built with WordPress.com, and also:
- allow you to customise the design of your WordPress website via themes (both freely available and paid-for themes)
- allow you to add both free and paid-for plugins for additional functionality
You will likely need to pay for one or more of the below:
- A domain name, such as YourBusiness.co.uk
- Web hosting, which is storage for your website to allow it to be accessible on the web to visitors
With self-hosted WordPress websites, you are responsible for keeping your website’s software up to date and secure.
WordPress.com versus self-hosted WordPress websites
Now you’re familiar with the two versions of WordPress available for building your website, here’s it overview for easy comparison:
Self-hosted WordPress websites
Free, though you will need to buy a domain name and pay a small annual fee if you want to your website to show on a custom domain such as YourBusiness.co.uk
Requires web hosting; we also recommend a security certificate which can be acquired for free.
Yes, ideal for beginners.
With greater functionality, less technically comfortable users may find they need a little guidance to grasp everything, but the basics – adding and editing content – should be easy to grasp.
Ideal for who?
Beginners in blogging and small businesses dipping a toe in to the web world.
Best suited to those keen to establish a more developed web presence. You may find our WordPress training courses handy!
Can I sell online?
Yes, with WordPress Premium, from £7 a month (billed annually).
Yes; there are a range of WordPress plugins available including WooCommerce.
Of course, if you’d like any advice on which platform is best suited to you, please do get in touch!
We’re presenting a talk at WordPress North East in Gateshead tonight on search engine basics for WordPress websites. Here is a summary of our notes for new WordPress users on making their website search engine worthy.
The talk is entitled “Search engine basics for WordPress websites”, and is designed to cover content for new WordPress website users and small businesses attending the meetup.
What is search engine optimisation?
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of improving and monitoring your website to improve its rankings in search engines. This is typically split in to two categories:
- Onsite SEO is how your website is built, the content on your website, and the relevance of your content
- Offsite SEO is external links & references, Google Business listings, (and a few other bits we won’t cover here)
Healthy websites use a mix of both offsite and onsite optimisation.
1. Make sure search engines can find you
One common issue we see with new WordPress websites set up by small businesses is that a fundamental setting preventing search engines such as Google and Bing from indexing (or “reading”) their website’s content. To check this isn’t the case on your WordPress website:
- Navigate to Settings > Reading in your WordPress control panel (if you can’t see this setting, you may not have the right permissions – contact your web designer or hosting company if in doubt).
- Look for the Search Engine Visibility heading in this setting page.
- Ensure that the Discourage search engines from indexing this site box is unchecked – this will mean that search engines aren’t blocked from reading your website.
- That’s it!
2. Use search engine friendly URLs
A URL is a page address – a place on the web where your content can be read. It’s unique to that page on the web, so website1.com/about is different from website2.com/about.
Good URLs (page addresses):
- Contain relevant words related to the content of the page. Luckily, WordPress does this for you!
- Don’t change frequently: to be most effective, the content on the page needs a stable home address (or URL) to be visited at, so pick carefully the first time round and avoid changing your page’s address once it’s published.
For example, cheeseshop.com/about-us is better than cheeseshop.com/?p=123 or cheeseshop.com/page123. To change your WordPress website to friendly URLs:
- Navigate to Settings > Permalinks in your control panel.
- Under common settings, chose an option other than “Plain“. We recommend either Post name, or Month and name.
- Save changes. This may require you to create a .htaccess file; if you’re unsure of how to do that, check WordPress’ guide here, or consult your web designer or hosting company.
Beware that making this change on an already-launched WordPress website can create issues with search engines so please consult a web designer or digital marketing professional before making any changes.
3. Use relevant, unique page titles
A page (or post) title is one of the major items on your website that a search engine considers when ranking your website.
As the page title is one of the main factors in your onsite optimisation, and gives a strong indication of what your page is about, chose carefully. A good page title:
- is unique on your website, and, ideally, the whole web!
- is relevant to the content of the page it describes
- tends to contain your brand or company name after the descriptor of the page’s content. E.g. “About us | The Cheese Shop” is a better page title than “About us”. Most WordPress themes will add your website’s name to the end of the page title anyway.
4. Keep your WordPress content relevant and well-written
Similarly to page titles, the content you provide for each page on your WordPress website has an effect on where search engines rank you. Here is some general guidance for page content:
- A minimum of around 300 words is a good target to aim for.
- Ensure page content is written in full prose (ie, full sentences) for the most part, though use of bullet points can be effective. The important thing is that the content makes sense to human visitors to your website.
- Make use of headings (Heading 2, Heading 3 etc) within WordPress to help break longer page content in to sections.
- Link to other relevant content in your website (see Internal links, below), and other websites too (so long as they’re not competing with you).
5. Use internal links in your WordPress content
An internal link is a link to a page or post in your own website. Adding these are natural points within your website pages’ content can help boost the relevance of phrases on other pages. Good page links:
- Use relevant anchor text (the text that is used to link to another page). E.g., “click here” isn’t a good anchor text as it’s very vague, whilst using “
- Don’t go overboard! A few links in relevant places in your content can be much more effective than tens – or hundreds – of links!
6. Use image alt text in WordPress
Alt text – or alternative text – provides a text description of images within content. When images are relevant to the content, this can help SEO. Luckily, WordPress makes it easy to add alt text for your images; when inserting an image with the Insert Media tool in WordPress, look for the Alt Text field; add a brief description of the image you’re inserting there, and click the Insert image button. You’re done!
7. Pick your WordPress theme carefully
If you’re using free or cheap WordPress themes, you will need to chose carefully to avoid having an impact on your website’s SEO. A good WordPress theme:
- is mobile-friendly (responsive)
- uses good, search-engine friendly HTML. This is a lot harder to spot if you’re not familar with the world of web design and development. If you need advice about a WordPress theme, approach your web designer, or ask in a WordPress user group’s discussion area for opinions from those with more experience. Alternatively, if you have the budget available, consult a local web designer with WordPress experience.
8. Install a good WordPress SEO plugin
Yoast is a popular SEO plugin for WordPress websites, and provides a range of tools for free to help improve your website’s search engine worthiness. In particular, the Yoast SEO plugin:
- can create XML sitemaps, which search engines can use to better understand and index your website with.
- allow you to use breadcrumbs to help search engines better understand the hierarchy of content within your WordPress website. This can be particularly beneficial if you have a lot of content on your website.
- can add structured data for Knowledge Graph, which can add and confirm your business’ contact details and addresses, so as in the box on the right-hand side in the screenshot below:
9. Monitor and refine your website over time
There’s not much use in optimising your website if you’re not monitoring and refining your website over time. There are two free tools you can use to help you with this:
Both of these options are free to use (at a basic level, at least), and provide visitor data and other insights about your website. WordPress plugins exist for both; if you’re new to the world of websites, I would suggest that Jetpack is probably the first one to try as it is WordPress specific, and easier on the eye!
10. Pick a good website hosting company
Finally, a good website hosting company can help in a few ways:
- ensuring your website is performing at a good speed. There are also many WordPress performance plugins available – a source of enough content for several more talks, I suspect!
- Adding a security certificate to your website. This is a recommendation from Google and has been for some time now, and free SSL certificates are available through organisations like Lets Encrypt.
Need more help with WordPress and your website’s SEO?
A copy of the slides from the event is available online here.
2019 has flown by – another year almost finished. If, like many business owners, you’ve been focused on your day to day operations, it can be easy to forget to stay on top of your website.
These three tips are designed to be quick and easy to check and implement, and ensure your website’s still running smoothly in to 2020.
Are your telephone number and email address up to date?
It’s worth checking your website and ensuring your email address and office telephone numbers are up to date – these can easily slip through the net during the year and cost you potential customers.
We advise checking:
- contact details in your website’s header
- contact details in your website’s footer
- your website’s contact or enquiry page
- for limited companies, that your registered office address is up to date wherever it appears. For WordPress websites, you’re able to search your content for this in the administration panel.
If your website uses contact forms, check they’re functioning, and that messages sent through them arrive at the relevant business email address.
Are costs for products and services up to date on your website?
If you display costs for your products or services on your website, make sure they’re up to date, alongside any brochures or price sheets linked to in PDF or other document formats.
Is your security certificate up to date?
Having a security (SSL) certificate for your website has been a recommendation from web developers and search engines such as Google for quite some time now. These ensure that data sent between your website’s server and visitors is securely encrypted, which is particularly important if you accept any data entry (such as contact forms) through your website.
Security certificates on our web hosting are set to renew automatically, and don’t have to be expensive these days – Let’s Encrypt even provide free certificates.
Of course, if you don’t have the time to look at these tasks yourself, get in touch with your local web design agency (ahem) and we’ll be happy to help!
Come and join us every second Thursday of the month at Head of Steam Quayside in Newcastle upon Tyne for an informal evening of WordPress talks and community discussion at WordPress North East.
The group meets from 6pm each month in Newcastle upon Tyne for a talk or demonstration on a WordPress related topic, and a chance to talk to others about your current issues and experiences.
Who is WordPress North East for?
As organisers of the event and WordPress developers ourselves, we love to see WordPress users (website managers, self employed business people, and content manangers), web developers and designers of all abilities coming together to learn and share their own knowledge and experiences. We usually meet in Newcastle upon Tyne, but the group’s remit extends to North East England, attracting attendees – and speakers! – from Northumberland up to Berwick and the Scottish border, County Durham, Teesside (including Middlesbrough), and Cumbria including Carlisle.
It is free to attend WordPress North East events (RSVP to future events on the Meetup group here) – we organise the events for free as a way to give back to the WordPress community (after all, WordPress is built by the community and free for all to use, and as a WordPress web design agency we work with it daily!), and since the meetup began in Newcastle in July 2013, we have run over 40 events.
The lovely people at the WordPress Foundation also help to cover our running costs to make this event free for all to access.
Upcoming WordPress events in Newcastle 2019
This October 10th, we have a speaker from Canada coming along, discussing plugins and themes in WordPress, and the distinction between them. An important topic to understand for both WordPress users and developers, as there’s often a lot of overlap here.
November sees a talk on Custom Post Types in WordPress – something that can make WordPress really powerful for managing larger websites’ content.
We hope to see you at a WordPress North East event soon!
Do you have a self-hosted WordPress website which is taking a while to load?
This can be a common issue, particularly with self-built WordPress websites using off-the-shelf themes and websites with lots of plugins installed. Here are three things you can do to improve the speed of your WordPress website, courtesy of the WordPress experts at Peacock Carter:
1. Check your WordPress hosting service
Free hosting services tend to have a higher number of websites sharing their resources, meaning your website may be affected by other websites. It’s worth paying a reasonable amount for hosting (even £5 a month) to ensure optimal up-time (the amount of time your website is online for) and for improved website speeds.
For WordPress websites, we recommend hosting companies such as Siteground.
2. Compress your website’s images and photographs
Modern websites often make use of large, hi resolution photography and images to showcase their products and services. They can provide a huge boost to a website’s design, and yet large image file sizes can also have a large impact on your website’s loading speed. Of course, there also isn’t a huge amount of point in having a first class hosting company for your website if your website doesn’t make an effort to minimise the size of images files for your visitors!
Large images are perhaps not such a big deal as they used to be if you’re connected to a modern Internet connection, but many web users use their mobile and tablet devices to browse the web these days, and they may be connected to 3G or 4G connections rather than high speed broadband. We recommend minimising your image file sizes with a WordPress plugin such as Smush It to compress your website’s images and reduce your page load times.
3. Cache your website for extra speed!
By default, each page loaded by a visitor makes a lot of requests to the server to fetch files and content need to create your WordPress website. Caching minimises these requests by creating a single version of your page with all of the information and content it needs to be served as a single file. There are many WordPress plugins which can provide caching for your website, but we recommend the Speed Booster Pack plugin for ease of set up and the results we’ve seen on client websites.
In addition, hosting companies such as Siteground also provide an additional layer of caching which can be beneficial for your website’s site speed; just be sure to test heavily before enabling as this can potentially break some plugin functionality!
Still need help to improve your WordPress website’s speed?
If you’re still in need of help to improve your WordPress website’s loading times, get in touch with the WordPress experts at Peacock Carter; we’re happy to help!
As you may have discovered by now, having a WordPress website probably isn’t enough to start crawling up search engine rankings for relevant phrases for your business; there is a lot of competition out there, and your website will need time and effort to start bringing in new customers.
1. Create an XML sitemap with Yoast SEO
A sitemap provides a list of content on your website, to ensure that search engines were able to find it all to be considered for inclusion in their rankings. These days, search engines are much more adept at finding content, but XML sitemaps can help to ensure – especially for websites with a lot of content – that they are aware of the content.
A XML sitemap does exactly this, in the “XML” format – designed for search engines to read. To enable this feature in Yoast, you will need to specifically enable it under the General Settings > Features screen (documented in the guide linked below).
Yoast SEO has a guide on how to add an XML sitemap for your WordPress website here.
2. Make use of structured data in Yoast
Structured data provides additional information to search engines about your website and your business.
Yoast’s structured data tool takes the form of a wizard, which walks you through the information it requires to add the relevant structured data to your website; see Yoast’s free guide here. Specifically, adding your company name, address, telephone number and logo is recommended to help confirm this information for search engines, and it can sometimes be used to populate Google’s Business Listings, as seen below:
Structured data can be used for a huge list of other improvements to search engine friendliness for your website, too, including:
- Navigational breadcrumbs – great for helping search engines to create a hierarchy of your website’s content
- Integrating your website’s own search feature in to Google’s search listings
3. Change your page titles with Yoast to be more relevant
By default, most WordPress websites will use the title of the page you have provided as the title of the page for search engines (also known as the meta title). This is usually fine, but Yoast SEO plugin allows you to fine-tune your website’s page titles to be more effective in search engines.
For example, a page with a title of “WordPress training courses” in your website might create a page title of “WordPress Training Courses – Peacock Carter” for search engines, but with Yoast you could amend it to say “WordPress training courses and workshops in the UK – Peacock Carter”, which provides a little more context both for the search engines, and potentially for users who are searching for your products or services.
If you’d like to learn more about how to effectively use the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress, try our Yoast SEO workshops.