In this next instalment of hands-on articles, creative business consultant, Sinead Mac Manus, uses blogging platform WordPress to create a web presence for theatre companies and artists.
A dedicated web presence is an essential marketing tool for every theatre company and practitioner. But how do you build a web site for yourself or your company with no money and no programming skills? Until recently, many artists turned to volunteer programmers from IT courses who wanted a chance to show off their coding skills. Others took evening courses in HTML, Dreamweaver or Flash. For most, these options were seen as a stop-gap, a way to get online until the money was found to pay for a ‘proper’ web designer.
And then WordPress came along and made the process of getting online available to anyone who could use a web browser and a word processor. WordPress, like Blogger and Typepad, started as a blogging platform. Although it is still seen as the blogger’s choice of platform, it is also used as a powerful Content Management System (CMS) that drives many well-known websites around the world. The beauty of WordPress is that it is an open source platform, which means that anyone with programming skills can contribute to the code, adapt and use it for their own purposes.
There are three main reasons why WordPress is perfect for small creative companies and artists: firstly, it is free to install and adapt, the only expenses incurred are registering a domain name and paying for web hosting. Secondly, the WordPress CMS is easy to get to grips with; in fact anyone at ease with using Microsoft Word or an equivalent word processor will be able to publish a website using WordPress. Lastly, there is a dedicated, worldwide community of WordPress users that devote time and expertise to the project in the form of free support, free design themes and free ‘plug-ins’ (extensions).
You can use WordPress to build any kind of site, it doesn’t have to be a blog. You can insert videos, a forum, a social network, a photo gallery, or almost any type of function you can think of via the plug-in directory.
This week we will look at how to get your WordPress site up and running. Part II will delve deeper into the capabilities of the software and look at design and functionality.
Step One: Get a Domain Name and Hosting Package
WordPress is essentially a set of files that your install on a database in your web space. If you already have a domain name and web hosting company, visit WordPress.org (not to be confused with WordPress.com, the hosted version) and follow the steps for their famous ‘5 minute installation’. This does require some knowledge of how to transfer files to your web space using an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) application.
Fortunately, there are a number of reliable, open source FTP programs with simple user guides to achieve this. Alternatively, and in recognition of this additional task, more and more Web hosting companies now offer a One-Click Installation of WordPress. In terms of recommendable hosting companies offering this service, I find Bluehost works well and you can read about my experience here. Alternatively see this list of WordPress.org endorsed companies. Please note that most of these companies offer .com, .org or .net domains only. If you wish to use a country-specific domain such as co.uk, search for ‘WordPress UK Hosting’ in Google and review your options.
Using Bluehost as an example, once you have signed up to a new account and registered or transferred your domain name, you are ready to install WordPress. Login to the Bluehost Control Panel using the domain name and password you chose when setting up your account. Once in the Control Panel, scroll down to Software/Services and click on Simple Scripts. Find WordPress, click on New Installation and follow the simple instructions. Congratulations! WordPress is now installed on your hosting account and you are ready to start building your website.
Step Two: Configuring your Website Settings
To log on to the admin area of your new WordPress website, in your web browser type in your domain name followed by /wp-admin e.g. http://sineadmacmanus.com/wp-admin. Enter the username and password that you gave during the install process and login in. You are now in the administration area of your website. Have a look around.
There are a number of small settings we need to take care of straight away. Go to Settings>General and enter the website name in the Blog Title field and your Tagline in the Tagline field. Set the time and date display as you require.
Next click on Settings>Reading. WordPress gives us two display options for the home page (the first page visitors see) of your site. The default display is a blog (‘Your latest posts’) and the second option is a ‘Static page’. We will come to Posts and Pages in a moment. There are advantages to having your Posts page as the front page of your website – search engines such as Google like original content so having continually changing material on your home page will rank your site higher in the search engine listings. Many companies and artists also use the blog facility of WordPress to provide Latest News and updates on their home page which can make a site more interesting and dynamic to visitors.
To control how visitors can comment, if at all, on your site, click on Settings>Discussion and make the required changes. Next, to ensure your site appears in search engines, click on Settings>Privacy and select the right option. To help with SEO (search engine optimization) and the ability for the search engines to index your website content, click on Settings>Permalink to set the format of the URL that will be used for your Posts and Pages. Choose the Month and Name option.
Step Three: Creating Content for Your Site
To add the main content to your site, you will need to add a series of Pages. Pages are static pages that link from your home page. Examples of static pages could be About Us, Past Productions, Current Production, Education, Contact Us and so on. Click on Pages to see the list of default static pages and edit and add your own here. To add a new page, click Add New. Enter the title of your page e.g. About Us and add your content in the main field. To format the content use the text editing tools. WordPress uses similar formatting icons and tools to Microsoft Word. Pages will appear by default in alphabetical order, but you can adjust this using the settings. Here you can also decide if you want the page to appear in your navigation bar. You can also create Parent and Sub-pages which could be useful for past productions, as an example. When you have finished editing your page, click Publish to publish this page to your site.
To add Posts to your website, click on Posts>Add New. Posts will be displayed by default with the most recent at the top on your home page. You can use Categories and Tags to categorise your Posts to make your content easier to find.
You can use the Appearance>Widgets menu to decide what to display in the sidebars of your home page. If necessary, remove the default widgets and use the ‘Add’ button to add the ones that you want. For example, you could choose to display your Recent Posts, a Tag Cloud and your list of Categories.
If you follow the steps above, you can have your own website, hosted on your own domain name, up and running in less than an hour. In A Practical Guide to WordPress (Part 2), we take a look at customising the design and capabilities of your site using Themes and Plug-Ins to make a unique site for your theatre company or practice.