How to Build a Better Website with WordPress, Part 1

Having a HTML background .. yea,  I used to build HTML websites from scratch, I thought it would be fun to break down and review my site's theme. Many years ago I was introduced to WordPress indirectly when tasked to find code for a pop up. My favorite place, back in the day, to find JavaScript snippets was a site called (which is now Web Hosting Talk). The site is still online under an IP address

I've tested hundreds of themes and thousands of plugins over the years and I'm here to tell ya once you find plugins that play nice with a WordPress theme, and each other, treat them like gold, whether paid or free, stash them in your back pocket and never let go. I say this because after many WordPress builds there are plenty of plugins that don't mesh, or integrate well, with WordPress. 

You may have several plugins on a site that don't integrate well with other plugins, causing display or functional issues. Some even break a WordPress install, which I'm here to tell ya ain't fun .. especially if the site's been around for a while with lot's of content, having to re-install from scratch is a bitch .. just say'n.

I've had plugins that made a whole site disappear, poof .. gone, just a blank page and I couldn't even access the WordPress admin panel, that's a bitch. I had to go through the back door, which is logging into cPanel, opening up the file navigator and deleting plugin folders … yea, lot's of fun. But I digress, moral of the story, test and keep good plugins. 

And the myth about keeping WordPress plugins to a minimum is bullshit. I've read varying opinions regarding the optimum number of plugins anyone should have on a single WordPress site and it's around 10 to 15 .. I have 31 plugins on this site, 27 active and 4 inactive. Having tested hundreds of WordPress installs with varying plugin counts, as long as the site is optimized and the plugins play nice, there aren't any noticeable performance issues. And if there is it's usually a poorly developed plugin.

Having said that, 100's of plugins on a single WordPress install is just silly. It's all about the goal of the site, automation and engagement. I think the total number of plugins I've had on any one site is 30, both back end and front end plugins.

While on the topic of WordPress plugins, there are a ton of them, both free and premium. I like free, who doesn't? But free doesn't always mean free .. wut?! Having tested a ton of free plugins it's usually the free ones that cause the most issues. And most of the so called “free” plugins are very limited compared to how they're described in the WordPress repository on what they can do. Most free plugins are basically advertisements geared toward selling the developer's premium version. Out of the 30+ plugins on my site, 12 of them are free, the rest premium.

The trick is finding plugins that integrate well with each other and the site's WordPress theme, based on goals of the site, i.e. shopping, informational, affiliate, etc… and the only way to do that testing, testing, testing. I'll talk more about the plugins I use later, back to the WordPress theme builders.

Two of my favorite premium theme builders that I use exclusively are very easy to use, customizable and very flexible. I own and run a web design company creating WordPress websites for clients from scratch using a theme builder called Divi. Some of the basic themes, or templates, displayed on our portfolio page are very nice but what makes it really fun is creating the “framework” for each site I design and becomes the backdrop for color, typography, graphics and motion. Divi is very designer friendly.

I created this site using another one of my favorite theme builders from Thrive Themes, which is the topic of discussion for this article.  Needless to say I no longer build HTML sites for reasons explained below, but in a nutshell WordPress is easier, more flexible, and centralized…

WоrdPrеѕѕ Isn't Going Anywhere

As an ореn source CMS (Content Management Sуѕtеm) WordPress is the leader – since writing this article in 2018 WordPress is now powering 26% of the web, more than double since 2011. WоrdPrеѕѕ is рrаіѕеd by web dеѕіgnеrѕ, developers аnd DIY uѕеrѕ аlіkе fоr its ease-of-use. It's also thе rеаѕоn why іt's become ѕо рорulаr, аnd whу іtѕ growth keeps ассеlеrаtіng.

I lоvе stats and hеrе are a few of my favorites:

  • more than 1.1 million newly registered WordPress domains are created every 6 months,
  • users create 41.7 million new posts,
  • 60.5 million new comments are submitted each and every month…

And my most favorite stat of all … WordPress dominates Google's SERP (Search Engine Results Page) with 583,000,000 results! Pretty close to 600 million WordPress related search results. By contrast the word “sex” populates 1.6 billion results .. who knew sex was so popular 😉

WordPress іѕ Cost-Effective… AND It's Frее!

Creating a сuѕtоm CMS platform to do what WordPress does from scratch would set you back a LOT of money, whу not save mоnеу and just use WоrdPrеѕѕ? With WоrdPrеѕѕ bеіng frееlу available and customizable, there really is no nееd tо reinvent the whееl. Like WоrdPrеѕѕ, рlugіnѕ that power the platform аrе gеnеrаllу frее and ореn ѕоurсе, which means уоu can use and edit them free of charge іf уоu nееd to.

WоrdPrеѕѕ іѕ Flеxіblе

The grеаt thіng аbоut WоrdPrеѕѕ, as mentioned аbоvе, is that it's completely ореn ѕоurсе – meaning the source соdе running WordPress іѕ available tо thе gеnеrаl public. Anуоnе саn mоdіfу the соdе іf nесеѕѕаrу аnd customize WordPress to meet goals and standards. Imаgіnе a wоrld-wіdе community wоrkіng tоgеthеr, adding fеаturеѕ and funсtіоnаlіtу – creating a very powerful CMS platform rеаdу to dо whаt you need іt tо, flеxіblе аnd easy tо сuѕtоmіzе.

WоrdPrеѕѕ іѕ SEO Frіеndlу

Sеаrсh engines, like Gооglе, lоvе WordPress because of it is a wеll-wrіttеn code. If уоu'rе lооkіng tо gеt a head ѕtаrt on Search Engіnе Optimization, WоrdPrеѕѕ іѕ thе way tо gо. Whіlе I аm on thе topic, adding frеѕh, relevant соntеnt tо уоur website іѕ also very easy wіth WоrdPrеѕѕ, and highly recommended, аѕ раrt of your online mаrkеtіng strategy. Search engines thrive on content and WordPress makes it easy by pinging SE's when new content is available, which in turn increases a website's rаnk and сhаnсеѕ оf bеіng fоund vіа оrgаnіс ѕеаrсh.

WоrdPrеѕѕ Makes it Easy tо Fіnd a Solution

Plugins аrе bаѕісаllу аdd-оnѕ, or modules thаt can bе еаѕіlу installed via thе WоrdPrеѕѕ dаѕhbоаrd, adding fеаturеѕ nоt раrt оf its соrе code. If уоu nееd a ѕресіfіс fеаturе оr fеаturеѕ that аrе nоt buіlt-іn, thеrе аrе lіtеrаllу thousands of рlugіnѕ, roughly 44,600 plugins available tо еnhаnсе your WоrdPrеѕѕ' funсtіоnаlіtу. In аlmоѕt еvеrу саѕе thеrе is lіkеlу a ѕоlutіоn аlrеаdу dеvеlореd for аnуthіng уоu need – the роѕѕіbіlіtіеѕ аrе lіtеrаllу lіmіtlеѕѕ!

WоrdPrеѕѕ іѕ Suрроrtеd bу Worldwide Cоmmunіtу

Because WordPress іѕ ореn-ѕоurсе, thеrе's lіtеrаllу hundreds оf thousands оf реорlе wоrkіng tо help mаkе this platform even bеttеr. You wіll fіnd WоrdPrеѕѕ has a vеrу active and supported worldwide соmmunіtу оf WоrdPrеѕѕ dеvеlореrѕ, and users (like me). The WоrdPrеѕѕ platform іѕ updated regularly with new funсtіоnаlіtу, bug and security fіxеѕ. Alѕо, bесаuѕе thеrе is ѕuсh a lаrgе community surrounding WordPress, any dеvеlореr саn wоrk on a WordPress-based site tо uрdаtе, mаkе сhаngеѕ, еtс., so you will never bе hеld rаnѕоm bу any one designer оr dеvеlореr. YOU оwn уоur wеbѕіtе!

WordPress іѕ Eаѕу tо Uѕе!

Thіѕ іѕ mауbе mу favoritist thіng аbоut WordPress … yоu don't hаvе to be a tесhnісаl gеnіuѕ tо learn hоw tо use WordPress. I аlwауѕ tеll mу сlіеntѕ: іf you know hоw tо uѕе a Mісrоѕоft Wоrd, (who dоеѕn't?) YOU WILL bе аblе tо еаѕіlу uрdаtе and create соntеnt оn your WordPress site. Thаt'ѕ thе mаgіс оf WordPress!

Bеуоnd еdіtіng соntеnt, WоrdPrеѕѕ uses a bасkеnd admin іntеrfасе thаt'ѕ visually еаѕу to nаvіgаtе аnd vеrу еffесtіvе. Evеrуthіng іѕ organized in logical sections so it's easy to fіnd what уоu're looking for, whеthеr it'ѕ adding/editing a page, adding/editing a роѕt/article, uрlоаdіng images, managing uѕеrѕ, еtс. WоrdPrеѕѕ іѕ hands down thе best Cоntеnt Mаnаgеmеnt Sуѕtеm you can use tо buіld a website.

So let's tear down my site and show how easy it is to have a fully functional website in hours, not days. The theme I decided on was a Thrive creation called “Storied“. The cool thing about Thrive, or Divi for that matter, is the architecture it's built on. With both Divi and Thrive anyone can build a site from scratch using their respective builder's simple drag and drop interface, blocks/modules.

I decided on using a theme this time instead of building from scratch, why? Because it saved me time. All that's left to do when setting up the site is a logo, colors, typography and whatever plugins I needed. Even if you don't have a logo, themes make it easy to display the name of a site just using text.

Another aspect I love about Thrive are the plugins they create to help folks build an asset focused on making their owner's money through a variety of engaging tools. They also have tons of training via Thrive University, which makes it easy for DIY'ers to build a fully functional website from scratch and start making money from it.

Here are a few of the themes Thrive created for their membership…

Storied is a theme that was primarily built for blogging. You have a story to tell and through beautifully formatted multi-media posts (video, audio, image and other media posts are supported), you connect with your readers and build your audience.
FocusBlog is a real multi-purpose theme. That means you can use it to create a corporate website, a marketing site with landing pages and sales pages, a site for a local business and much more. [Demo]
Luxe is a theme that is all about stripping away the distractions and the unessential, and keeping only what truly matters for making your site beautiful and functional. [Demo]
Ignition is a theme that's very well suited for building a marketing website. Check out the demo site to see an example of a beautiful, effective homepage layout that can be used to drive sales or free trial signups. [Demo]
The first thing you'll notice about the Minus theme is the strikingly minimal design. Most pages are carefully composed with typography, white space and very little else. This minimal design makes the theme highly adaptable to almost any purpose and any brand (especially when you start using our theme customization options). [Demo]
Squared is a theme that makes attention-grabbing design choices without losing sight of the business factor. Too many themes try too hard to be especially fancy or "different" looking and end up losing out on usability. With Squared, you can give your site a striking and unforgettable look, but all the conversion best-practices are still in place. [Demo]
Voice is a theme that emphasizes content & authors. The unique, header-less design and the typography put your content in the spotlight. In addition, the post author is prominently displayed next to the content, making it ideal for personal branding (works for single author and multi-author sites). Alternatively, you can remove the author-focus and just display a logo instead. [Demo]
There are many so-called magazine and news themes available for WordPress, but all they do is give your site a certain look. Performag goes much further than that. It's not about looks, it's about the machinery inside this theme. Performag is built from the ground up to increase ad revenue, increase social sharing and increase user engagement on your site. In short: it's streamlined for the business purposes of a magazine website. [Demo]
If your site's design is too flashy, it will be impressive but it will also distract from your content. If your design is too generic and too "comfortable", it won't distract your visitors but it also won't be memorable. [Demo]
The key to what makes Rise tick lies in whom we asked this quesion... Zac Johnson has been a successful affiliate marketer for longer than most of us have even known the Internet existed. Together with him, we came up with the concept for Rise and kept refining it until the theme beat everything else available by miles, for this specific purpose. [Demo]

After downloading the Storied theme and uploading inside the WordPress dashboard the next step was customizing it with Thrive's builder, but first I needed to complete the basics with a theme options page, broken down into several sections…

To my recollection Divi was the first to come out with an options page for all their premium themes and is now the standard with most premium themes. Rather than navigating through several areas of the backend dashboard, creating a centralized options page just made sense. Working through each section takes a few minutes.

I experiment with all the different options by saving one option at a time then opening the site in a different browser platform to see the results. Another nice feature when selecting options are help bubbles that'll pop a text bubble when moused over, explaining each feature with a link to Thrive's Help documents .. again, very user friendly.

The “General Settings” will take care of the logo (image/text), logo position, whether or not you'd like to display a phone number, background, footer text and a few global options. 

Style & Layout Settings” is where one can choose the overall theme color, layout, sidebar alignment and extended menu. It's also where one can add their own custom CSS.

Next up is “Blog Settings” that controls the featured image, meta info, bottom posts, and a few miscellaneous settings. In addition to text over help bubbles Thrive also includes video, walking one through a more detailed explanation.

Then there's “Analytics / Scripts” for stuff like Google, Facebook, etc. I personally don't use this feature as I like using a plugin to handle the analytics. I find that seeing analytics within my WordPress install is easier than navigating to the source to break down numbers.

The next feature is called “Performance“. One of the most important aspects of a website is load times. Not optimizing WordPress for fast loading can drive visitors away if it takes too long for a site to load. The faster the better and Thrive built their platform for speed.  You've heard the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words”… having “heavy” pictures/graphics can slow a sites performance a bunch.

Depending on the visitors ISP (Internet Service Provider) determines how quickly a hosting servers can display a site. If your site is graphic heavy and not optimized for speed the longer it'll take a hosting server to display a site. Slow loading sites lose visitors .. and that's not good for business. Image optimization is key and Thrive makes it easy by including a service that optimizes every graphic/picture on a site for fast loading.

The “Comments” module has several options to display the count, date and whether you want comments on pages. It also gives options to include Facebook comments. There are several videos under the help bubble walking one through the Facebook setup.

Next option is “Social Media” and it's here where we select whether or not to display social media icons throughout the theme. One important note here, there are a ton of social media WordPress plugins out there so when experimenting with Thrive's social media integration make sure you test because it can cause conflicts and not display or function correctly. 

Second to the last option is the “404 Page“. Another nice feature of the Thrive theme is the ability to display a customized 404 page. The default WordPress 404 page doesn't allow admins to tweak (without the help of plugins) and Thrive's 404 page option give it's owner the option to create a customized page to display if a page/post can't be found. Even has the option to display the a sitemap.

And to round out the options page is “Related Posts“. Very handy feature to display related posts on a single article using tags and/or categories. One can even exclude certain tags/categories, handy if topics of the site vary widely. It also allows one to display related posts in a box and whether or not to display a featured image, pretty cool stuff.

With the basic theme options selected, there are a few other things I do with every WordPress install that include category structure, both page and post, general settings to include permalink structure, time zone, home page display and discussion options, and default avatar. This is really done before I dig into theme options.

I talked earlier about WordPress plugins, the pros and cons, free versus premium and cons. I break down plugins by functionality, meaning there are several plugins I use behind the scenes and some used on the front end. The list below is dynamic, meaning it will change over time as I keep testing my site..

Back End[Free] Admin ColumnsManage and organize columns in the posts, users, comments and media lists in the WordPress admin panel. Transform the WordPress admin screens into beautiful, clear overviews.
Back End[Free] Akismet Anti-SpamAkismet checks your comments and contact form submissions against our global database of spam to prevent your site from publishing malicious content.
Back End[Free] Category to Pages WUDAdds categories to pages to help categorize and sort pages.
Back End[Paid] Comet Cache ProIf you care about the speed of your site, Comet Cache is one of those plugins that you absolutely MUST have installed. Comet Cache takes a real-time snapshot (building a cache) of every Page, Post, Category, Link, etc.
Back End[Free] Backup & Restore DropboxSupports WordPress Backup and Restore to/from Local Storage or upload Backups to Dropbox.
Back End[Free] Easy HTTPS (SSL) RedirectionThis plugin will help you automatically setup a redirection to the https version of an URL when anyone tries to access the non-https version.
Front End[Free] GDPR Cookie ComplianceGeneral Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a European regulation to strengthen and unify the data protection of EU citizens.
Back End[Free] Google Analytics Dashboard for WP (GADWP)Google Analytics for WordPress plugin enables you to track your site using the latest Google Analytics tracking code and allows you to view key Google Analytics stats in your WordPress install.
Back End[Free] ManageWP - WorkerManageWP is a dashboard that helps you save time and nerves by automating your workflow, so you could focus on things that matter. It is fast, secure and free for an unlimited number of websites.
Back End[Free] Optimize Database after Deleting RevisionsThis plugin is a ‘One Click’ WordPress Database Cleaner / Optimizer.
Front End[Paid] Shortlinks by Pretty Links – Best WordPress Link Tracking PluginPretty Links Pro is a significant upgrade that adds many tools and redirection types that will allow you to create pretty links automatically, cloak links, replace keywords throughout your blog with pretty links and much more.
Front End[Paid] Reviewer WordPress PluginThe Reviewer is a plugin for WordPress that allows you to insert reviews and comparison tables into your posts, pages and custom post types in a quick and easy way.
Back End[Free] Sucuri SecuritySucuri Inc. is a globally recognized authority in all matters related to website security, with specialization in WordPress Security.
Front End[Free] TablePressTablePress allows you to easily create and manage beautiful tables. You can embed the tables into posts, pages, or text widgets with a simple Shortcode.
Front End[Paid] Thrive ApprenticeBuild beautiful, engaging online courses, directly in your WordPress website.
Back End[Paid] Thrive ArchitectThrive Architect is the visual page builder that is built from the ground up for business and conversion focused websites.
Front End[Paid] Thrive Clever WidgetsUsing the Clever Widgets plugin, you can easily show highly relevant content in your widget areas.
Front End[Paid] Thrive CommentsThrive Comments has collected all the most addictive elements of social media and community forums and added them to your WordPress comments, creating an irresistible channel for your audience to interact with your site.
Back End[Paid] Thrive Headline OptimizerThrive Headline Optimizer is the most effective, most statistically robust WordPress Plugin. It allows you to test your headlines, like the most successful sites do, on your very own website.
Front End[Paid] Thrive LeadsThrive Leads is a lead generation plugin for WordPress. Using it is like having your very own list-building and conversion expert - baked right into a powerful piece of software.
Back End[Paid] Thrive OptimizeThrive Optimize is the A/B testing plugin for WordPress that is defined by what it doesn't do as much as what it does. Here's what it does do: simple, fast, highly effective A/B testing, directly on your WordPress website.
Front End[Paid] Thrive OvationThrive Ovation is an all-in-one testimonial management plugin for WordPress. It allows any business, no matter the size or stage, to tap into the power of testimonials.
Front End[Paid] Thrive Quiz BuilderThrive Quiz Builder eliminates the hassle of gathering insights and turns it into a seamless process by using a quiz to help your visitor decide what they need in a simple and engaging way.
Front End[Paid] Thrive UltimatumThrive Ultimatum lets you take advantage of every aspect of scarcity marketing.
Back End[Paid] WP Link Status ProWP Link Status Pro is a WordPress broken link checker plugin that verifies the HTTP status response codes of all your content links and images.
Front End[Paid] WP PromoWP Promo is a Premium WordPress plugin that helps you improve the effectiveness of your website by showing targeted website messages at the right time to your website visitors.
Back End[Free] WPS Hide LoginWPS Hide Login is a very lightweight plugin that allows you to easily and securely change the URL of the login form page.

Please feel free to share your current blog/WordPress setup in the comments below, what working and not working for you. Also share if you've had any positive or negative experiences with any of the themes and/or plugins I talk about in this article. Thank you for visiting!

Disclosure: Please note some of the links in this review article are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. I review, test and rate each product thoroughly and make no promises to product vendors as to the results. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your business goals.


About the Author


I.M. David Walters and I enjoy giving unbiased product reviews, sharing my experiences through case studies, education, training, tactics and strategies about my favorite subject, Internet Marketing.

Follow David: