How to kickstart your WordPress website without relying on just a flashy theme

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raphic design, especially web design, isn’t just about making stuff look good or pretty. A big part of it, however unsexy that will sound, is basically solving problems. When building your own website, you’ll run into quite a few…

One problem (or challenge, to put it more positively) is very likely to occur the minute you start putting content into that beautiful WordPress theme you picked and purchased after a considerable, and often nerve-wrecking, amount of deliberating. Which one suits your needs best and looks great, too? You’ll probably find out that what you’ve been working on doesn’t quite match your expectations, risen by the promising, beautiful screenshots of the theme’s sample pages. Or, in other words: It looks like one big jumble, and not anything ‘like the ad said’. What’s happening?

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Content vs. context

Well, it’s a very common trap to fall into. A lot of themes (even free ones) are a great way to get you going, without having to do any programming whatsoever. They may have some cool, solid design elements that would take a whole lot of time to create and implement yourself (or someone who is doing that for you). BUT, there’s one obvious element that is, ironically, often being overlooked: Your own content. Sample pages are often designed with placeholder content which happens to fit perfectly: The logo, color schemes, the amount of text, the length of the headlines and the choice (and quality) of the images…These can not possibly anticipate YOUR specific content.

It might just be that you and the services you offer have nothing to do with hipster models watching the sunset on a Bali beach resort, that you don’t happen to sell slick, minimalistically designed appliances, that your logo doesn’t have a vintage vibe and isn’t square-shaped at all, that you don’t have 40 blog posts lined up already, or that you don’t (yet) have a woman in a business suit and professional headset, answering calls of potential customers. Let alone a professionally shot picture of her.

Start with a plan, not with a theme

All the Divi Themes in the world aren’t going to guarantee you a good and/or beautiful website. What your website will look like, as simple as it may sound, has to do with what it will actually contain. The good news is that is is mostly in your hands. Page builders, visual composers, themes and plugins, however, are simply great tools to get you started (we would especially recommend a ‘drag-and-drop’ page builder). They add functionality and expand your possibilities, without having to have web programming skills. But they are all just means to an end.

A good website essentially relies on good content…and a good-looking website is the result of good preparation. So think of WHAT to do first, then think of HOW to achieve that. What you need is a plan.

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Step by step

So, what’s often missing, effectively, is a plan. And just purchasing a shiny WordPress theme and going from there doesn’t exactly constitute as such. A website is a beast that contains many, many different elements that should ideally intertwine in a graceful, coherent and consistent manner. A symbiosis between functionality, design, concept and copy. When we build websites for our clients, we rely on a solid branding foundation and then build from the ground up….to the top! And we do this meticulously. It’s a fun process that will definitely pay off in the end, but it’s also hard and time-consuming work, especially when you want to get EVERYTHING right.

Building your own website can be a challenging, very emotional and sometimes frustrating endeavour. But if you prepare well and follow at least a couple of basic guidelines, you might find it can also be fun and rewarding. Let’s have a look:

Get structured

First of all, ask yourself:

  • What’s the actual purpose of my website?
  • What’s the message I want to convey?

Then think of how you want to do this and how you want to structure it. Is one page enough to display your content, or do you need to divide your content into several (sub)pages? Take a pen and paper and start scribbling and sketching, or, if you’re more digitally inclined, use your computer. Try to think of a structure, of what content goes where and how you want it displayed.

Get your branding in check

Already have a logo? If so, great. If not, find someone who can do that for you or start getting creative yourself. Besides that, what you definitely need to consider then, BEFORE building your website, is what fonts you want to use, what web colours you are going to have and what kind of images you’ll be needing. Of course you can hire someone to do this for you, but if you don’t have the financial means to do so, or just really want to get creative yourself, there are plenty of online tools and resources to help you out.

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Putting it together

What you want to do then, is try putting the pieces together. Knowing what branding elements you want to use, and what your content consists of, try to picture how these two will work together. No harm in making some sketches and gathering (concrete) ideas BEFORE you even start getting jiggy with your WordPress at all.

So now, what theme will I use

Every WordPress site needs a theme, which is like the foundation of your content and functionality. Themes come in many different shapes, from blank themes with only the bare necessities, to more advanced themes with tons of features. Finding the right theme can be a real pain, since there are sooooo many to choose from. Picking a powerful, multi-purpose theme like the ever so popular Divi, might be the right choice for some people, but can be very overwhelming for others. Although Divi is a exceptionally great tool for building websites, it’s also full to the brim with features you might not even need and is subsequently equipped with some serious amount of ‘bloated’ code, possibly making your website perform slower than expected. Might you ever be in need of some customization, themes like these are not exactly developer-friendly. And if you ever consider changing themes, prepare for a shock as Divi will leave your carefully curated content in a mess of shortcodes, which is very hard to re-use in a different setting.

Our advice would be to pick a minimal, framework-like theme like Beaver Theme, Underscores or Generatepress, and combine it with a visual page builder, like Beaver Builder or Elementor.

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Don’t underestimate your copy

So, creating a visually coherent website is what you’re aiming for. But what’s equally important (if not more so) and yet disturbingly often overlooked (or just swept under the rug) is the copy. Text. Words. Meaning. You want to tell people your story, show them who you are and what you have to offer. What you don’t want is for people to get confused, doze off just by looking at the sheer amount of text, or even back off because your texts are full of mistakes. When writing text for your website, try to:

  • Be genuine and clear, not artificial and confusing
  • Write short and snappy, yet meaningful headlines
  • Not write a book; stay focused
  • Chop up long texts into different paragraphs

If you don’t feel comfortable enough writing your own copy, consider hiring someone to help you out. At the very least, try and gather some feedback and have your stuff proofread beforehand.

bright idea build your own website

DIY with Bright Idea

If you have the feeling that you don’t want to do EVERYTHING yourself, and could do with some extra guidance for your upcoming project, we got your back! We have gathered a fair amount of experience regarding this topic throughout the years, and we’ve bundled all of it into a five-week website workshop called DIY Kickstart, in which we’ll share some more in-depth knowledge of what it takes to successfully build your own website. We’ll set up all the tech bits for you, including hosting and a ready-set-go WordPress installation, including a lightweight theme and page builder. On top of that, we give you our quick-start guide and offer access to helpful tutorials regarding WordPress, webdesign and copy. During the five weeks, you’ll also be able to turn to us with questions, which will be answered and discussed in our weekly live call on Facebook. Find out more about our DIY Kickstart workshop here.

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A five-step guide for beginners

The Website Plan

Creates clarity and conquers confusion

Don't stay stuck trying to DIY your website - here are some ace impulses on content, layout, copy, images and typography to outsource overwhelm and get you moving in the right direction again!

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