The great thing about WordPress is that it works with interchangeable designs – called themes.
Meaning, you can switch the way your WordPress website looks with just one click.
For example, this is what a WordPress website looks by default, right after the installation:
With just a couple of clicks, and with a popular free theme called Hestia, for example, we can get it to look like this:
a) Pick a theme that you like
As I mentioned, WordPress themes are out-the-box design packages that define the way your website looks. You can install them quickly and then change them in the future if need be.
The critical detail here is that themes don’t change the contents of your site but only alter the presentation.
There’s a huge abundance of WordPress themes out there. Just looking into the official directory at WordPress.org, there are hundreds of themes there.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot more free themes on the web on third-party sites (like JustFreeThemes), and there’s also a whole other world of paid themes that are distributed by independent theme stores (like ThemeIsle or aThemes) and even theme marketplaces (like ThemeForest).
Even though there are myriads of paid themes out there, for most users, free themes are a great option to start with. The surprising thing about some of the best free themes is how many impressive features they bring to the table without asking for anything in return.
So, how to pick a theme that’s right for you? Here are some tips if you want to give this a more in-depth look. Generally, though, you don’t need to spend too much time on this and go a simple route instead.
We can do that because the theme you choose today doesn’t have to be your final decision. You can always come back to it later on and change it in a matter of minutes.
Therefore, we’re going to go for a safe bet and use one of the most popular free themes in the market today to demonstrate how WordPress themes work. That theme is the aforementioned Hestia.
🎨 Note. While we will use Hestia as the example in the following section, it’s not the only free theme that you can use.
1. Install your theme
If the theme you’ve chosen is available in the official directory at WordPress.org then the only thing you need in order to install it is the theme’s name. Yep. That’s it.
Here’s how theme installation is done:
Go to Appearance → Themes from your WordPress dashboard and then click on “Add New.”
From there, input the name of the theme that you want to install, like so:
You’ll see it displayed on the list below the search field. Just click on the Install button under your desired theme:
After a second, the theme will be installed. To fully enable it on your site, click on the “Activate” button that will appear in place of the “Install” button.
Hestia is one of those themes that offer some excellent onboarding for new users. To see what the theme has in store for you, click on the button from the welcome prompt.
You’ll see your main Hestia panel from which you can learn about the theme and extend its out-the-box features with some extras. Let’s do that now.
First, click on the “Recommended Actions” link to see what’s available.
Out of the options proposed there, let’s go with only “Orbit Fox Companion” for now. Just click the “Install and activate” button.
💡 Note. Orbit Fox Companion is a plugin. We’ll talk about WordPress plugins more in depth later in this guide on how to make a website.
Orbit Fox is a nice addition to Hestia as it delivers some cool features to upgrade your site’s looks. For instance, you get some useful new modules for the homepage, a template directory that will be helpful when building your sub-pages (such as “about” or “contact”), and custom menu icons.
At this stage, your new theme is active on your site. You can see it in action simply by going to
Though, what you’re seeing there is far from the theme’s potential. Right now, we’ll take care of adapting the design, menus, and other elements to make the site look exactly like you want it. Here’s how:
2. Customize the theme
While the out-the-box look of your theme might be already quite nice, you should still do some basic customizations to make it fit your needs hand-in-glove.
To begin, go to Appearance → Customize. You’ll see the main WordPress Customizer interface.
From there, you can fine-tune a load of things. We’ll start with the homepage, since it’s the most representative.
Setting up your homepage.
Do the following:
- In the sidebar, go to “Homepage Settings.”
- Select the option, “A static page” under your homepage display setting.
- Click on “Add New,” to create a new page to act as your homepage.
- Input the name for the page – “HOME” seems like a good idea – and click on “Add.”
This will replace the default listing of your site’s most recent articles with a completely custom homepage. By default, you’ll see some cool elements on your new homepage.See here:
For starters, let’s change the main headline on the page. It’s a good idea to put either the name of your business there or anything else that serves as the title for the entire site.
To make the changes, click on the pencil icon that’s next to the headline.
When you do so, a customization panel will appear on the left.
Through it, you can:
- change the background image – make it something related to your business
- change the title
- change the text under the title – you can remove this completely if you want to
- change the button text – usually leading to your products or most crucial pages (more on that in a minute)
Underneath that, you get to adjust any of the other available homepage blocks. By default, you get all of these (see this list by going to “Frontpage Sections” from the Customizer sidebar):
- The Features section is a great place to explain what your company has to offer or what the purpose of the website is – that “purpose” is probably the no.1 thing to keep in mind as you learn how to make a website.
- The About section is a great place to talk about your story.
- The Team section you can use if more people work in your business and you’d like to highlight them.
- The Ribbon is another place where you can mention your primary call to action.
- The Testimonials section is awesome when you want to showcase what your previous customers had to say about your business.
- The Contact section is where you can display your contact information and let people know how to best reach you.
There are also a handful of more sections available. It’s best to browse through those and pick the ones that make sense to use for your business and in your specific situation.
When you’re done adjusting the homepage, don’t forget to click on the main “Publish” button that’s at the top.
Adjusting the typography.
The next thing to do would be to take care of your site’s typography – the fonts used throughout the site.
You can do that by going to Appearance Settings → Typography from the WordPress Customizer sidebar. In there, you will be able to pick a font and see it on your site immediately.
Out the box, your new theme is going to use a couple of primary colors that define its default color scheme. You can change that setting in the WordPress Customizer. Just click on Colors in the main sidebar.
The Accent Color is usually the color used for buttons, links, and everything else that’s meant to stand out from the rest of the site’s design.
After doing the above, your website will start feeling like it’s truly yours. You will have made all the necessary tune-ups and customizations to make it fit with your brand.
💡 Note. There are many more settings in the WordPress Customizer to experiment with. For instance, you can:
- pick the default layout of your website – whether you want the sidebar to be on the left, right, or nowhere,
- how you want the blog listing to be displayed,
- whether you want a main background image for the entire site,
- the shape of the buttons, and much more.
3. Get plugins to extend your website’s abilities
Plugins are to your WordPress site what apps are to your iPhone. 📱
In other words, they extend the standard functionality of your site by adding some much-needed features. Essentially, as you’re figuring out how to make a website on your own, plugins are how you can get some great features without knowing any coding.
Here are the plugins you should consider getting – best of all, they are all free:
- Yoast SEO – helps you make search engine optimization tweaks and make your site more accessible to the search engines in general.
- Google Analytics for WordPress – this one integrates your website with the most popular traffic analysis solution on the web.
- Wordfence Security – improves the security of your WordPress site.
- UpdraftPlus – does automatic backups of your website.
- Optimole – optimizes your images.
- WPForms – lets you add interactive contact forms to your website, which your visitors can use to reach you directly – much better than displaying your email in plain text on your site.
- Also look through this list of the most popular WordPress plugins of all time. You might find something interesting there as well.
Installing plugins is simple. If it’s a free plugin that we’re dealing with, then all you need is the plugin’s name.
Go to your WordPress dashboard and then to Plugins → Add New. From there, input the name of the plugin that you want into the search field, and then click on “Install” and “Activate.”
4. Create basic pages
There are some pages that all websites should have, regardless of their purpose or goal.
But first, how to even create a page in the first place:
To do that, simply go to your WordPress dashboard, and then Pages → Add New. You’ll see this screen:
- (1) A place for the headline of the page.
- (2) The body section – the main content of the page. The interface is very similar to MS Word. You get all the basic text formatting features (like bold, italics, aligning text to left/right/center, creating lists, etc.).
- (3) You can add images by clicking this button.
- (4) Switch between the Text and Visual editors. Use the former only if you’re at least vaguely familiar with HTML code.
- (5) The Publish section. This is where the main Publish button is.
- (6) Discussion. Decide whether or not you want to allow comments. The “trackbacks and pingbacks” setting you can leave unchecked.
- (7) Featured image. Most WordPress themes take that featured image and display it somewhere in a prominent spot alongside your page.
When you’re done editing the page’s content, click on “Publish.”
Now, with the how-to out of the way, here are the pages you should consider creating:
- About – I’ve mentioned this a couple of times now since it’s really an important one. Your About page is where you get to tell the story of what your website is and why people should pay attention. This one page is basically a must-have for everyone who wants to learn how to make a website.
- Contact – this is where you can display some contact info along with a nice contact form, through which people can reach you directly (you can get such a form via the aforementioned WPForms plugin).
- Portfolio – a place for you to showcase your past work.
- Store – a crucial thing if you want to sell anything from your site. To make this work, you also need a popular WooCommerce plugin – the best e-commerce solution for WordPress.
Once you’re done with those, you can also check out this list of 12 valuable pages worth having on your site.
5. Consider starting a blog
A blog (as well as marketing through content – aka “content marketing” in general) is among the most effective ways to promote not only your website but also any products that you might want to sell through that website.
And it’s not just me saying this; there’s raw data proving that blogs are a superior tool for marketing online, with 55% of marketers saying that blogging is their top inbound marketing priority.
Running a blog is a straightforward concept. What you do is publish articles related to the topic of your website and do it regularly.
From a technical point of view, WordPress has blogging tools built right into it from the get-go. In fact, WordPress started as a blogging platform.
To create a new blog post, all you need to do is go to Posts → Add New (from your WordPress dashboard).
The process itself of creating a blog post works nearly the same as creating a new page. The editing panel looks nearly the same (the screenshot below), and the options are mostly the same as well.
One of the few differences is that you can also assign your posts to categories and tags.This is what adding a new blog post looks like:
Once you’re done working on a blog post, click on “Publish.”
To make your posts easily accessible, you should designate one of your pages to serve as the main blog listing for the posts.
- To do it, first, go to Pages → Add New and create a blank page. Call it “BLOG” – just to make things clear.
- Next, go to Settings → Reading, and select your newly created Blog page as the “Posts page” like so:
At this stage, you can navigate to that new page and see all your recent blog posts there.
Of course, the tough part about starting a blog is to write blog posts regularly and to make them attractive for people to read.
6. Adjust your site navigation
With all your key pages online (and perhaps your blog started as well), it’s now a good moment to adjust your site’s navigation and make it overall easier to consume for the visitors.
We’ll focus on two elements here:
Menus are the primary vehicle through which visitors navigate your site, thus they’re crucial when figuring out how to make a website.
Depending on your theme, you will have a couple of options to choose from regarding menu settings. Here’s what you can usually do (on Hestia’s example):
First, go to Appearance → Menus in your WordPress dashboard.
You’ll see this default panel:
To the left, there are all the pages you can choose to add to a menu. To the right, you can see the menu structure itself and all its settings.
Let’s start by selecting a couple of key pages and adding them to the menu. A good idea is to pick About, Contact, plus whatever other one or two pages you consider to be important, and add them to the menu.
The great thing about this whole panel is that you can drag and drop the menu items to reorder them.
When you’re done, select the menu location at the bottom. Usually, selecting the location labeled “Primary Menu” will result in showing the menu in the top section of the website. This is probably what you want for your main menu. Click on “Save Menu” to save the settings.
💡 Note. You can create additional menus as well. Just click on the “create a new menu” link that’s visible in the screenshot above. This will show you the same menu creation panel. Each menu needs to be displayed in a different location. So, for this new one, you can assign it as the “Footer Menu.”
When you go to your site now, you’ll see the menu in place.
Widgets are an old-school feature in WordPress. In simple terms, a widget is a small block of content that can be displayed in various places around the website.
The usual placement of those blocks is in the sidebar or the footer of the site.
To see what this might look like and to set your widgets, go to Appearance → Widgets in your WordPress dashboard. You’ll get this screen:
The Hestia theme offers a number of widget areas apart from the sidebar or the footer, but let’s not focus on those additional placements for now.
To add any widget to a widget area, just grab it from the left-hand side and drag-and-drop it onto your chosen widget area on the right.
For instance, as you can see, on my site, I have Search, Recent Posts, Archives, and Categories in my sidebar (screenshot above). Here’s what those widgets look like when I go to my About page, for example:
After you’re done with your widgets and navigation, your site is basically ready for the world to see!
That’s it! You’ve just learned how to design a website! 🍾🎊
The cool thing about the process presented here is that you can do it all by yourself and don’t have to hire anyone. Creating a website with WordPress as your platform is the most budget-friendly solution available.
If you have any questions about how to build a website from scratch, ask away in the comments below!