A website is essential if you’re going pro or starting to teach; but many belly dancers like to have one as a place to collect their photos, video clips, and other dance materials, even if they’re not starting a business.
A professional web designer can create a gorgeous, unique design for you, but WordPress will let you create a fairly spiffy site all by yourself, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot.
WordPress supports websites the way technique supports dancers; it’s the invisible “how-to” that everything else is built on, and can work with any style or type of site.
WordPress is a very flexible tool. I’ve used it to create a wide variety of websites, including this one and Hafla for Humanity. Each site is very different; what they have in common is that I created them myself in WordPress and they each cost less than $10 a month to maintain.
Ready to get started? I’m going to take you through it step by step; if you’re ready to go right now, you can have a basic site built in one afternoon (but it’s best to give yourself a couple of days to tweak it if you’re new at this).
Step 1: Choose a Hosting Service
If WordPress is your technique, then your host is your dance studio; it’s home.
I’ve tried a number of hosts over the years, and I’ve narrowed it down to two that I can wholeheartedly recommend.
Best Host for Beginners: BlueHost
I really, really love this host for beginners. They make the process of registering your domain and getting WordPress installed as easy as it can be, and they provide patient, supportive customer service.
The price is $7.99 a month*, and that covers everything you need including your domain name registration. They offer 24/7 support, a 30 day guarantee, and lots of free extras when you sign up.
*You’ll see lower prices on the sign-up screen but if you look closely, you’ll see that after the first month, your rate will be $7.99. I know it seems dishonest, but this is typical of the way web hosts advertise their pricing, unfortunately.
Best Host for Experienced Webmasters: Siteground
If you’re comfortable with the back end of running websites and you want less hand-holding and more flexibility, you’ll find Siteground to be a powerful, secure, fast hosting environment with excellent service. The price is around the same as Bluehost, but the approach is different. I love Siteground, but it’s definitely not a beginner-friendly host.
If you’re a beginner at this, I highly recommend you head over the Bluehost with your credit card and get ready to move on to Step 2.
Step 2: Choose a Domain Name
Choosing a domain name is like choosing a dance name for your website
Let’s say you’re on Bluehost, you’ve clicked “get started now” and selected the “basic” plan. Your next task is to pick out a new domain name. Of course, the good ones are often taken, but if you type in your first choice, Bluehost will suggest alternatives for you.
Selecting a good domain name
You want your domain name to include “keywords” — the words people might be putting into Google when you hope they’ll find you. Who do you hope will find you? What words will they be using to search for you?
For most of us, that means “belly dance” and the name of our city. If you’re a performer, “bellydancercityname.com” might be good; if you’re primarily a teacher, “citynamebellydanceclasses.com” could be ideal. But you really can’t go wrong with “bellydancecityname.com” or “citynamebellydance.com” if one of those is available. This is the simplest formula for choosing a domain name that will bring you maximum Google traffic.
A popular alternative is to use your dance name, which is an especially good idea if you think people will be searching for you by name. If your name is already taken, add words like “bellydancewith ______” or “bellydanceby ________” or _________bellydance.” Keep it short, but if it’s possible to ALSO work your city name in there, take a victory shimmy.
A note about suffixes
The suffix .com is preferred because it’s easiest to remember. If that’s taken, using a .net or .org or .guru domain will still bring you the Google traffic you want. It is harder for people to remember, and some people who try to enter your address from memory will end up in the wrong place, but more traffic comes from links than from memory. This site has a .net suffix and you are here, so that worked for me.
Once you’ve selected your domain name, finish your Bluehost registration and you are in business, baby! That’s the only thing you have to pay for.
Step 3: Install WordPress
This is where Bluehost rules, with a a one-click install button that takes care of everything. (You may see screens offering you additional services; don’t make any choices that cost money, everything you do from here on out is free.) Just click that blue WordPress button!
In the final step, you’ll be asked to create a username and password for yourself, and to create a new database. The installer may give you a warning that you are overwriting old files. Since you don’t HAVE any old files at this location, don’t worry about that.
Step 3: Create Your First Pages or Posts
Now it’s time to begin choreographing your dance. The “music” in our analogy is your dance business itself; it is who you are and what you do. When you create your website, you choose words and pictures to communicate who you are, the same way you might choose moves to communicate the music.
When you log into your site for the first time, you’ll be greeted with the WordPress dashboard pictured above. WordPress invites you to start by customizing your site’s appearance first, but I highly recommend you add some words and pictures first. None of the customization options will make much sense until you have content on your site
On the left-hand side, you’ll see all the tools you’ll be using. We’ll start with either “pages” or “posts.”
Posts: If you are creating a blog (like an online journal) and want to keep adding new posts and having old ones go into an archive, you will use “posts.” This is not the best option for most dance business sites. Posts are meant for short-term use.
Pages: If you’re building a website for your dance business, you will use “pages” to create the individual pieces. Unlike “posts,” pages stay where you put them and are still readily available to viewers six months or a year from now. You probably only need 3-4 pages. The most common pages for dance sites are:
- About Me/About Dance Name (Use first person if you want to be friendly, third person if you want to create a sense of professionalism)
- Contact Me/Contact Dance Name
Hover your mouse over the word “pages” at the left of your screen and select “Add new.” Then give your page a title and write your text. Play with the formatting tools to create headings, and use the “add media” button to upload pictures. You’ll find a “save draft” button in the top right hand corner (although WordPress is good about saving your work for you). There’s also a “preview” button that lets you see what your post looks like. When you’re done, use the “Publish” button to make that page public and start on the next one.
Don’t get bogged down in the appearance of your site yet; just get your words and pictures collected. We’ll be changing how it all looks in the next step anyway.
Important: Be sure to choose one picture as your “Featured Image,” a setting you’ll find at the lower right-hand corner of your screen. WordPress uses that “featured image” in lots of ways, including when you share posts on social media and when displaying the page to your viewer.
Tips on your content
Choose simple words; just tell your reader who you are and what you do. Think about things from their point of view and try to answer the questions they’ll have about booking you or taking your class. When, Where, How Much. Get your city name and the words “Belly Dance” on every page if you can. Use those words in headings, too.
When choosing pictures, look at all your available pictures and ask yourself “Which of these dancers would I want to hire for my event? Which one would I want to take a beginner class with?” Focusing on your customer’s point of view at every step will give you solid marketing content. Also, keep it short.
Step 4: Choose a theme for your site
WordPress themes are costumes for your website. You can try them on and see how your dance — your words and pictures — look in each one.
In the menu on the left of your Wordpress screen you’ll see something called “Appearance,” and the first option under that menu is “themes.” That door opens the costume closet for your website.
At first, you’ll just see a few themes, mostly named with numbers (like Adele albums, only with years instead of ages: “twenty sixteen” is the newest one). Those are geared toward bloggers and are set up to display posts rather than pages. Hit the “add new theme” button and a whole new world will open up to you. Most of the themes you’ll see are free; there are themes that cost money but you shouldn’t need that for a while. Like costumes, each of these themes has been created by a designer with the intention of making your stuff look great. And, like costumes, the best way to find out which one works best for you is to try a bunch on!
You’ll see a “preview” button that gives you a closer look at each theme. When you find one you like, hit the “install” button so you can get a “live preveiw” — a try-on using your own content. Don’t worry, you can install as many themes as you like, your site won’t change until you “activate” one.
You’ll find that some themes are mostly for bloggers and focus on posts (which you don’t have) while others are intended for site-builders like you. The best way to get a feel for them is to install and live preview the ones you like.
Step 5: Fine Tuning
Once you choose a theme, your site is ready to go. There’s a LOT more to learn about WordPress — it’s an extremely powerful tool — but this is all you need to have a web presence. From here, you can learn as little or as much as you wish.
If you’re ready for more right away, start by exploring the available “widgets.”
If you get stuck, just google your question; the internet has thousands of WordPress tutorials at your fingertips. Or dig into this collection of over 200 step-by-step tutorials to find what you need.