30-Minute WordPress Setup Guide

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We have called it “marketing malpractice” not to have a law firm website. That is because most people, whether they are potential clients or referral sources or networking contacts, will expect you to have one so they can look you up online before they contact you. If they don’t find a website, chances are good they will call someone else — someone who does have a decent-looking website.

If you do not have a website, you are probably missing out on clients, networking opportunities, and more. Although you’ll never know unless you get with the program and get yourself a website.

Fortunately, getting a website is really cheap and really simple. This tutorial will walk you through setting up a website using WordPress, the most-popular content-management system (read: a website you can easily edit yourself) around. It is free and open source, and it powers everything from Lawyerist and our Sites network of websites to some of the world’s biggest websites.

All you need to get started is an internet connection and a credit or debit card. The total cost is less than $5.

Disclaimer: This may take you more than 30 minutes. I have not timed myself, to be honest. Sorry if it takes you longer. That said, I’m pretty sure it will take you 30 minutes or less to get a WordPress website up and running.

Sign up for shared hosting and get a domain name

Difficulty: Piece of cake.

hostgator hatchling plan 30 Minute WordPress Setup Guide

There are many options for shared hosting. We recommend going with one we have used before, that comes with good support, and that is a great deal: HostGator.

To sign up for shared hosting, visit HostGator and sign up for the Hatchling Plan. You can buy three years up front and get a great deal, but I think it’s a good idea to start out with a month-to-month plan to get started, and commit to a longer term, lower-priced package once your website is up and running.

Once you click the ORDER NOW button, you can pick a domain name. (Use the option on the left, which is selected by default.)

hostgator domain selection 640x163 30 Minute WordPress Setup Guide

Choosing a domain name is important. Good domain names contain keywords relevant to your practice, use the .com top-level domain (as opposed to .net, .us, etc.), are short (10 characters or less), and are easy to tell someone over the phone. No hyphens, either.

If that gets your head spinning, just go with the name of your firm. If you can get a great domain name, that’s great, but there is a lot more to good search-engine optimization (SEO) than a domain name. Convenience is worth a lot, too; it gets tiring spelling out your email address military-style (“Charlie Tango Foxtrot law firm dot com”) a dozen times a day.

When you have picked your domain name, go ahead and check out. You should get a confirmation email shortly after completing the payment process with the information you will need to set up WordPress.

If you already have a domain name, you will need to use the box on the right, then forward your nameservers after you complete the setup process. To do this, go to the place where you bought your domain name — try GoDaddy if you aren’t sure — and set your nameservers to ns1.hostgator.com and ns2.hostgator.com. Follow GoDaddy’s instructions and select the “I have specific nameservers for my domains” option. You will also need to transfer your email to your new server. How you do this depends on how you use email; you should contact HostGator or get help in the Lab before you forward your nameservers.

Install WordPress

Difficulty: Still really easy.

Follow the link in the email you received from HostGator to your control panel. This is the central control panel for your hosting account, which lets you set up email accounts, upload and download files, and much more. For now, find the Fantastico De Luxe icon and click it.

fantastico de luxe 30 Minute WordPress Setup Guide

Then, click on WordPress in the sidebar under Blogs, then on New Installation.

Here is what goes in each box:

Installation location

  • Install on domain. The domain you just registered.
  • Install in directory. Leave blank.

Admin access data

  • Administrator username. Whatever you want to use to log into your website.
  • Password. Pick a password.

Base configuration

  • Admin nickname. Put your name here as you want it to appear on the site.
  • Admin e-mail. Your email address.
  • Site name. The name of your website. For now, you can just use your firm name.
  • Description. You can leave this blank for now, or insert your firm’s slogan, if it has one.

Once you have filled in all the fields, click the Install WordPress button. On the next screen, you will get the address to log in to your new WordPress website! Bookmark the address, then click the link and log in.

Your new WordPress website is up and running! (Check your watch — did it take more than 30 minutes?) Be honest, you thought that was going to be a lot harder, didn’t you?

Of course, a blank WordPress install is not much use as your website, so let’s get it cleaned up, configured, and start adding content.

Configure WordPress

Difficulty: Like taking candy from a baby.

Now that you have WordPress installed, you should tweak the settings.

To make these configuration tweaks, you need to be logged into the WordPress Dashboard, the “backend” of your new site. The address is usually http://yourdomain.com/wp-admin/ (replace yourdomain with the domain name you registered), and you should have bookmarked it a moment ago.

wordpress menu 12 30 Minute WordPress Setup Guide

Here are some of the things I do to configure a new WordPress install:

  1. Delete default posts. WordPress helpfully starts you out with a Hello World post. Click on Posts in the WordPress Dashboard sidebar and then on the Trash link under the default post (the Trash link only shows up when you hover the mouse cursor over the post name).
  2. wordpress menu 22 30 Minute WordPress Setup GuideModify the default settings. Click on Settings in the sidebar. Under General, update the Timezone to yours. This is also the place to update the Site Title and Tagline if you need to.
  3. Under Writing Settings, enable XML-RPC under Remote Publishing. (Make sure the Atom Publishing Protocol is enabled, too.)
  4. Under Reading Settings, you can decide whether you want the front page of your website to be a static page or to show your latest posts. (A static page is usually a good idea for law firm websites.)
  5. Under Permalink Settings, select Custom Structure under Common settings, and paste this into the empty field: /%postname%/

That takes care of the basics. However, you are not quite done. First, we will install a few plugins to trick out your new website. Then, you can make it pretty.

Install and Configure Plugins

Difficulty: Slightly less easy, but still easy.

One of the reasons WordPress is so popular is that it is so extensible. There are thousands of plugins that add features and functionality, and the vast majority of them are free.

Installing plugins in WordPress is a piece of cake. Just go to Plugins in the WordPress Dashboard sidebar and click on Add New. Use the search field to look for each of the following plugins and install each one by clicking Install Now:

  • Broken Link Checker. This plugin will tell you if you have any broken links on your site and allow you to fix the links from a central dashboard.
  • WordPress SEO by Yoast. This plugin will take care of most of the easy SEO settings, give you access to more-advanced SEO tools, if you need them.
  • Jetpack. This Swiss-Army-Knife plugin from WordPress contains a bunch of great modules, including basic analytics, Markdown support, email subscriptions, social-media sharing buttons, better comments, and much more. (In order to speed up your site, deactivate any modules you do not need or want.)
  • iThemes Security. This plugin will help “harden” your WordPress install to keep it safe from hackers and malicious code.

After you install each plugin, go ahead and click the Activate Plugin link on the next page. Broken Link Checker and WordPress SEO will start working without any additional steps, but the rest take a little more work.

Jetpack

Being from WordPress, Jetpack is a user-friendly plugin. Sign into WordPress.com as directed, and you will get to use all the features, including site stats. To activate a module, click the Activate button (some will be activated by default). To deactivate modules, click the Learn More button on any module and then click the Deactivate button.

Here are the modules I would activate for a new site:

  • Publicize
  • WordPress.com Stats
  • Jetpack Comments
  • Subscriptions
  • Sharing
  • Related Posts
  • Contact Form

iThemes Security

Go to Security > Dashboard in your WordPress dashboard to access the iThemes Security options. You should click Fix It for each of the items under High Priority.

There are many (many many) other plugins you may find useful; these are just a few that everyone with a WordPress site should probably use. A word of caution, though. Keep plugins to a minimum. Many plugins will slow down your site, so make sure there is a tradeoff in terms of functionality. Also, plugins can occasionally cause conflicts that can break your site. A few carefully-chosen plugins should be fine; go wild, though, and you may regret it. All of my own WordPress websites have fewer than 10 plugins active. Lawyerist, which has a lot more going on than the typical law firm website or blog, has 28.

Add Content

Difficulty: Pretty hard, unless you hire someone to do it for you.

Your WordPress website is now set up, so my work here is technically done. However, I would not be doing my job if I let you stop at an empty website. You have a website, but you need to add content. To start with, at least, you need three pages:

  1. The front page/introduction
  2. Your bio page, and
  3. A contact page

Start with those and build your site out further when you can.

As you know now, setting up the basic website itself is pretty is easy. Writing compelling copy that helps turn potential clients into paying clients is another story. Keep it simple, straightforward, and short, so that potential clients can quickly understand who you are, what you do, and why they should hire you.

If you get stuck or come down with writer’s block, and your brand-new website is in danger of stagnating, start thinking about hiring someone to take the copywriting off your hands. A professional copywriter is a great way to get top-notch content and lower your stress levels.

Here is what I would recommend. Set a reminder for 4 weeks from today. If you still haven’t finished at least the three pages above at the end of 4 weeks, hire a copyrighter to help you get it done. If you cannot get your site content squared away in 4 weeks or less, you probably aren’t going to.

Next Step: Design

Difficulty:  While it is easy to play with your site’s looks, hire someone unless you have a lot of time and tech savvy.

At some point during this process, you probably looked at your website and were not very impressed. That is because all you did was put together the default WordPress install. It is pretty plain.

Nevertheless, design is crucial. It probably has more to do with the impression you make on visitors than anything else. To get you started, there are a ton of free and paid themes for WordPress. To start exploring themes, just click on Appearance in the sidebar, then on the Install Themes tab. Have fun.

There are also lots of professional premium themes out there. Two of our favorite theme frameworks are Genesis/StudioPress and WooThemes. These themes are generally more polished than what you can find for free, and they come with support.

Of course, not everyone wants to deal with customizing a theme, no matter how premium. If that is you, hire a designer to create a custom theme for your website. You can hire a designer (like us) directly.

Though it comes last and receives the least attention in this tutorial, design is one of the most important parts of building and maintaining your website. Build an amateurish site, and potential clients will think of you as an amateur lawyer.

Parting Thoughts

Difficulty: That depends on how painful you find my prose.

I put together this guide because it seems like there are a lot of lawyers without websites, probably because they do not realize how easy it is to get started and set up a website themselves. It really is easy, and it doesn’t take long to set up a website. The hard part, it turns out, is not getting a website online, but filling it with compelling content.

So get started, and get help when you need it.

This was originally published on November 4, 2011. It was updated and republished on April 14, 2014.

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  • http://gyitsakalakis.com Gyi Tsakalakis

    This is fantastic. I know you intentionally kept this simple, but here are some additional recommendations:

    Security: Security can be an issue with WordPress if you’re not mindful. Check out the steps here to harden WordPress against attacks.

    Permalinks: I prefer /%category%/%postname%/ or even /%year%/%monthnum%/%day%/%category%/%postname%/

    Plugins: I like Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin.

    Privacy: If you want people to find your site via search engines, you better make sure that your privacy settings allow search engine spiders in.

    Contact Form 7: Also install Really Simple Captcha to keep spam and bots at bay.

    WWW: I recommend moving your install to www for consistency, but not a huge deal.

    Google: I’d also install Google XML Sitemaps plugin and register your new site in Google Webmaster Tools.

    Again, really helpful and actionable stuff here Sam.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      That security link is broken. I would fix it, but I’m not sure where you meant it to go.

  • Jonathan Moody

    Here’s a dumb question – what’s the benefit of using hostgator over godaddy? Does godaddy not have something included that is needed for this process?

    • http://www.attorneysync.com Gyi Tsakalakis

      Hey Jonathan, we’ve used both with success, however, I’m with Sam on Hostgator of Godaddy in terms of quality of hosting (site speed, support, etc). If you do go Godaddy, make sure you have a hosting plan that will support a wordpress install. I know their basic economy class hosting doesn’t (at least last time I checked).

      • http://www.attorneysync.com Gyi Tsakalakis

        *over

        • http://lawyerist.com/author/karinconroy/ Karin Conroy

          GoDaddy’s economy hosting works with WordPress as long as you choose the Linux operating system.

          • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

            I don’t think hosts do a good job explaining that if you don’t know what you want, you probably want Linux. I’ve heard from a lot of people who choose Windows because it is what they would use on their own computers.

            The internet runs on Linux.

  • Nichole

    Can you do this with Square Space? I was able to import blog content but not the theme. Would this method enable me to import the theme as well?

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      You can generally take the content from any blog and import it to any other blog. This is usually simple, but not always.

      The theme is a different story. SquareSpace is different software than WordPress and Thesis. You can recreate the look and feel with a WordPress theme, but you cannot import the them from SquareSpace to WordPress.

      • Nichole

        Thanks Sam. I actually meant the other way (import from wordpress to squarespace) but see that it wouldn’t work. Appreciate it!

        • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

          Yeah, you’d run into the same problems in revers. I’m not sure why you would want to switch to SquareSpace if you are already using WordPress, though.

          • Nichole

            I have a group website already hosted on SquareSpace so figured I’d do my practice site there as well. I don’t really have any experience with WordPress–I just set up blogs with my domain name and was attempting to figure out how to import them. There’s no actual content on my WordPress blogs yet.

  • http://www.PAinjurycase.com Dave S

    Thanks Sam. I am on godaddy’s website tonite platform. It was a lot of work to get the site where it is – and the problem is that Godaddy’s website tonite has a lot of kinks and strange formatting issues. Also, it’s way more limited that wordpress and thesis. I can install wordpress through godaddy but am not looking forward to rebuilding on wordpress even though I know it’s better that I do. At least I have copy to use and am not starting over there. I may just hire someone to do it.

  • Whitney

    I wasn’t able to find the setting under “Reading Settings” that lets you choose whether you want the front page of your website to be a static page or to show your latest posts. Does it have anything to do with the character encoding?

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Here’s what you should see. (It doesn’t have anything to do with character encoding.)

      WordPress reading settings

  • William

    An important part of setting up your website is to continually maintain it. Usually, that entails keeping the information updated, writing new articles as needed, and the like. You also have to keep the WordPress installation and all its plugins updated to prevent against hacks.

  • borgy

    Can I suggest to visit http://www.borgyborgy.net It offers some free 1000×288 pixel size headers, to customize default TwentyEleven theme. Useful for blog beginners. It allows you to easily customize a standard installation, allowing a newbie to have a customized and ready blog in a few minutes. All images are taken by me and provided under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.

  • Andrew Stewart

    Wouldnt using content from another blog on your own blog be considered duplicative by google thus hurting your SERP?

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      It depends on how you use it. If you are just taking the content without adding anything, then you would probably harm your blog. Also, you would be a jerk. If you are quoting and adding substance (i.e., how the internet is supposed to work), you will be fine.

  • Steve

    Is there a reason to choose WordPress over Joomla? I was on Hostgator’s site today and debating which one to use. Joomla looked better to me, but I don’t know much about maintaining a website. Thanks.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Joomla is much more complicated and has a much smaller community. I think it’s more of a competitor to Drupal than WordPress.

      I’m installed Joomla a few times to play with it, and every time, I’ve given up pretty quickly.

      • Steve

        Thanks so much. You probably saved me a lot of time.

    • http://gyitsakalakis.com Gyi Tsakalakis

      There are a variety of reasons that I generally prefer WordPress, but if you’re looking of a pretty comprehensive comparison, check this out: Site builder shootout: Drupal vs. Joomla vs. WordPress

      For the overwhelming majority of legal websites/blogs, WordPress is the natural choice. There are some things that Joomla and/or Drupal do better, but usually not essential for a law firm website.

      If you’re rather technical, you can probably get around Joomla ok, if you’re not, you should probably stick with WordPress.

      My .02

  • http://www.sjfpc.com Steven J Fromm

    I currently have my blog set up as frommtaxes.wordpress.com. Should I be thinking of converting to take advantage of all the plugins and perhaps a shorter name? I assume the plug ins you speak of are not available to me under my current format. If I do convert how difficult is it to do? And does it leave me with greater upkeep and security issues?
    Great post Sam.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      You can either pay WordPress to use your own domain, or set up your own WordPress install on your own domain. Which you choose is not crucially important; the important thing is getting your own domain, and getting off of ___.wordpress.com.

      • http://www.sjfpc.com Steven J Fromm

        Thanks Sam for your input. Sam I am sorry I am so dense or ill informed but can you elaborate more on the two choices you mention as I am not sure what you mean or how to do this? How do these options impact s my other concerns?

        • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

          If you don’t know, I think you are better off staying put until you can hire someone to take care of it for you. Or, you can try posting your question in the LAB.

          • http://www.sjfpc.com Steven J Fromm

            OK, thanks Sam for you input.

          • http://www.sjfpc.com Steven J Fromm

            Sam I did some looking and it seems wordpress allows you to shorten the name and eliminate the .wordpress for a small fee. In thinking about doing this thing called mapping do I lose my search engine rankings from places like Alexa (and as a result my blog ranking at Avvo or other places) for my blog? Does my prior history transfer over?

            • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

              That’s what I was referring to, above.

              You should really take this discussion to the LAB, where it’s easier to answer your questions in long-form.