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This tutorial will walk you through setting up a website using WordPress. All you need to get started is an internet connection and $7.16 on a credit or debit card.
Disclaimer: This may take you more than 30 minutes. I have not timed myself to make sure it only takes me 30 minutes, actually. Sorry. 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.
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 your domain name. (Use the box on the left.)
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, click on the CONTINUE TO STEP 2 button 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 join the LAB for help doing this properly before you forward your nameservers.
Difficulty: Still really easy.
Follow the link in the email you received from HostGator to Your Control Panel. This is the 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. Then, click on WordPress in the sidebar under Blogs, then on New Installation.
Here is what goes in each box:
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.
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?
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.
Here are some of the things I do to configure a new WordPress install:
- 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).
- Delete default links. Click on Links in the sidebar, and delete all the default links.
- Modify 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.
- Under Writing Settings, enable XML-RPC under Remote Publishing. (Make sure the Atom Publishing Protocol is enabled, too.)
- 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.)
- 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.
- Contact Form 7. This plugin makes it easy to insert an email contact form into your site, which is kind of important if you are hoping a potential client might contact you.
- Google Analytics for WordPress. This plugin will help you track visitors to your site.
After you install each plugin, go ahead and click the Activate Plugin link on the next page. Broken Link Checker will start working without any additional steps, but Contact Form 7 and Google Analytics take a little more work.
After you install and activate Contact Form 7, you will have a new Contact option in the WordPress Dashboard sidebar where you can configure your form. It is fairly straightforward, but to get you started, here is what you can put in the Form field:
[text* name "Full name"]
[text* phone "Phone number"]
[email email "Email address"]
Then, just put your email address in the To: field under Mail. You can tweak other settings, but that should get you a functional form to start with. To get the form onto your new site, scroll to the bottom and click the Save button, then copy the code that appears under the Copy this code . . . line at the top of the Contact Form 7 page. Now, go to Appearance in the sidebar, then Widgets. Drag a Text widget over to the sidebar and paste in the code you just copied. Click the Save button, and your contact form should show up in your site sidebar.
For Google Analytics, you first need to have an Analytics account. If you already have a Google account, you just need to go to Google Analytics and add a new profile. If you do not already have a Google account, create one, then click the Google Analytics link.
When you access Analytics, just enter your site’s address under Add a Profile for a new domain, click Finish, and go back to your WordPress dashboard. Once there, click Settings, then Google Analytics. Click the Authenticate with Google button, select the profile you just added in Analytics, and it should be working.
There are many (many many) other plugins you may find useful, but these three are what I consider the basics.
Difficulty: Really really 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 that will draw in potential clients.
So start adding 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.
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, which 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.
Or, just install Thesis. It’s what we use for Lawyerist, and it is the foundation—on top of WordPress—for all of my websites. Thesis is powerful, flexible, and makes your website look slick and professional right out of the box.
Of course, not everyone wants to learn to program in HTML, CSS, and PHP in order to customize a theme. If that is you, hire a designer to create a custom theme for your website. You can hire a designer directly, but you should also consider using 99designs, where designers will compete for your project bid.
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.
Difficulty: It depends on how painful you find my prose.
We 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,
So get started!