How To Use WordPress Website Builder

You may think it's really hard to build a WordPress website, and way beyond your skillset. But it doesn't have to be.

Yes, there's the complicated way to use WordPress, where you configure your own hosting and write most custom code sections yourself. But did you know it's easy enough to use WordPress as a website builder?

The hard way of using WordPress is WordPress.org, but we're going to look at the no-code-needed version. That's WordPress.com – it has hosting included, plus a visual website editor. (And you can add bits of code if you want to.)

Use the free plan to publish a simple blog or level up with a subscription for $4-$45 per month (paying for one year upfront).

Here's a quick overview of the steps:

How to Build a Website With WordPress

  1. Create an account at www.WordPress.com
  2. Choose a domain name
  3. Select your WordPress plan (free or paid)
  4. Pick a template design
  5. Begin editing your website
  6. Add your own images
  7. Write or upload blog posts
  8. Click “Save”
  9. Publish!

Now let's go through these stages in some more detail.

Getting Started with WordPress Website Editor

It's fast and easy to get started with WordPress, especially if you're just looking to experiment. You won't have to pay anything up front or give any credit card details. The free version of WordPress allows you to try Premium features, which gives you a helpful insight into how well you'll get along with the editor.

You start by choosing a website URL name (known as a domain), which you'll have to pay for unless you're happy having “.wordpress.com” at the end of it. Like many popular website builders, though, WordPress offers you the first year of your domain name for free.

You can also skip this step, and you'll get a randomly generated “.wordpress.com” subdomain related to your username or the website name you chose.

WordPress pricing plans in USD

Then you select your plan type. The WordPress wizard asks what your main goals are, and you choose between options like publishing, promoting your business, or selling online.

After you've chosen what type of category your website falls into, you're ready to pick a website theme.

Now, you may have heard the perk of WordPress is huge number of free design options. That's more true of custom WordPress creations, such as those built with WordPress.org. You can add your own themes with some extra wizardry later down the line, but for now, on the free website builder plan, WordPress offers you a limited selection.

six template designs underneath a menu of themes
WordPress has dozens of templates but only a select few are free.

Getting to grips with the finer details of the Editor is more challenging, and takes some getting used to. You'll need to invest at least a couple of hours tweaking the template design to your preferences. But looking through the design previews gives you an idea of the website looks you can achieve.

For instance, here's the tablet preview of my chosen template design “Loudness”:

preview of a website design with icons above indicating device type
WordPress shows you previews of your chosen template across various device types.

Once you're happy with the preview, continue through to the WordPress dashboard. Now you've made it this far, let's get stuck into the Editor itself.

My Eyes, My Precious Eyes

Some of the color schemes on the free plans are a little… bold. That's possibly deliberate, as you have to pay to publish a website with your own choice of colors. And pretty soon into editing you're going to want to get some of those default colors off your screen.

How to Navigate the WordPress Website Editor

The WordPress Editor is not intuitive. You'll get stuck very quickly without some guidance.

Think back to when you first learned your way around your local grocery store. You couldn't find anything at first, and you kept stopping to ask for help. But now you breeze around in a few minutes because it's become second nature.

Well, this is going to feel like that.

Editing Sections on Your Page

You should know that WordPress divides your web pages into sections. The name for a section is a “Group”.

The good thing about this is it makes it easy to move an entire Group above or below another Group on your page. For example, you can spend some time editing a row of images of your staff. But then decide you'd like to move it higher up on the page.

Now, you don't have to move each individual image, because you can simply select the entire Group and move it as one unit.

Using the List View

This is where you need to understand the “List View”. This is the “map” of your page structure.

At first you will hate it, because it seems overly complicated. But then you will quickly see why it's incredibly useful.

Open and close the List View by clicking the icon with three horizontal lines at the top of the Editor page.

screenshot from Wordpress Editor showing List view
Rearrange the structure of your page easily in the List View.

The beauty of the List View is the dropdown arrow function. Nothing makes sense until you use the dropdown arrow function. 

Click an arrow to the left of any word, and it will reveal everything it contains. Click it again and it collapses. Now you can gain a clear overview of how each Group is arranged on your page.

It's easy to rearrange your page structure from this View. You can drag and drop a Group above or below any other Group to move its placement on the Page.

A Group contains “Blocks”. Next we'll look at what a “Block” is.

Editing Elements Within Sections

When you want to edit a line of text, a button or an image on your webpage, click on it. A little menu will pop up with editing tools for that particular element. Click the three vertical dots to open up a menu with more editing functions on the right-hand side. The dropdown arrow also opens more editing tools.

For better or for worse, every element (text box, button, image, etc.) is known as a “Block”.

Blue box outlines two lines of text with a small pop up menu of editing icons above it. A blue line is beneath the box
Every block has its own editing options.

Moving Content Around the Page

WordPress website builder is not as easy to use as Squarespace, where you can click and drag any element like you're making a scrap book. Instead, WordPress offers a snap-into-place style of moving content that takes some effort to master.

To move a Block, click on it. Then choose one of three options:

  1. Open the List View. You'll see the Block highlighted. Click and drag up or down the list to move it into place.
  2. Click the up or down arrow in the floating menu. The Block will shift above or below the Block it's immediately next to.
  3. In the floating menu, to the left of the arrows is an icon made of six dots. Click and drag this into place.

While you're moving a Block, you'll see a dark blue line or box appear. This shows you where the Block will land once you release the click.

Prefer a Grid-Based Editor?

Squarespace recently updated its visual editor so you can drag-and-drop web page blocks with greater precision. A grid appears in the backdrop, making it easy to position any image or text box in line with another. If you're curious, take a detour to our Squarespace review to learn more.

Adding Content to the Page

When you want to add an image, text box or another page feature, there are a few ways to do this:

  • Click “+” symbol in the top left corner.
  • Find a section with dotted lines, click it, and then click the plus symbol in the bottom right corner.
  • Click anywhere on the page, and select the three vertical dots in the floating menu.
dropdown menu overlaid on editor showing "insert before" option highlighted
Insert a Block immediately above or below any other Block with "Insert before" or "Insert after".

Then you'll see either a floating menu with a search bar, or a sidebar on the left-hand side. You can simply type in the name of the feature you want to add, or browse through the options if you're unsure.

If you didn't get either of those menus, click the black “+” symbol in the top right corner of the new block. Or – as the on-screen prompt reads – simply type the “/” symbol then start typing a word related to your feature. For instance, “/mail” brings up suggested options of “Mailchimp”, “Contact Info”, “Subscribe”, and more.

Adding Blocks is a convenient editing method  – albeit with a bit of a learning curve. It allows you to spontaneously add in a new page feature without planning it in advance. That means your page evolves as you have new ideas, and you're not limited to a rigid design.

WordPress Not Working for You? Find an Alternative
What's More Important to You?
Answer to Go to a Recommended Website Builder

Essential WordPress Website Editor Tips

There's a lot to take in when you're learning to use WordPress. So it's worth remembering these top tips above all else:

1. You have to click the “Save” button

Luckily there are little reminders built in that should stop you from losing work by mistake. However, you should get into the habit of regularly clicking “Save” in the top right corner of the Editor.

This isn't the case when you're writing a blog post, though. Once you've saved a draft, any changes you make are auto-saved every 15 seconds.

2. Find the Editor under “Appearance” in the left-hand menu of your dashboard

If you close the Editor window by accident or because you need a break, it's tricky to find again. Go to your WordPress Dashboard, and on the left-hand menu you'll see a paintbrush icon near the bottom next to the word “Appearance”. If you click it, you'll see “Editor” pop up under “Appearance”.

Click “Editor” and then click the preview of your website on the right to get back into editing again.

screenshot of WordPress dashboard with a red box around the Editor menu item
The Editor can easily slip out of sight, but here's a reminder.

If you've started to create more than one site, remember you can switch between them by clicking “Switch site” in the top left corner of the left-hand menu on the main Dashboard page. Just make sure you're under the “My Sites” tab.

3. Ctrl + Z is “Undo” (or just click the Undo arrow)

I used this constantly when I was first getting to grips with the WordPress.com Editor. If you don't already know, holding down the Ctrl key and tapping “Z” will reverse the last edit you made. It's a real life-saver.

If you're not a fan of keyboard shortcuts, then the arrow pointing left (at the top left of the screen) does the same thing.

Looking for an Easier Editor?

If you like certain aspects of WordPress' editor, such as the undo button, but it's proving too tricky overall, look into Wix website builder as an alternative.

It's arguably easier to use, although it could cost you more than WordPress, as there's monthly subscription fees as well as (optional) premium plugins. Read our Wix review for more on its benefits and weak points.

2023 Updates to the WordPress.com Website Editor

In March 2023, WordPress hailed the arrival of WordPress 6.2, nicknamed Dolphy. Menu navigation is arguably simplified, but it also means everyone has to get used to the new layout. So if you were used to the old one, then sorry.

But existing tutorials and guides around using WordPress as a website builder mainly center on the older version. Some of WordPress.com's existing support guides and video tutorials are now out of date. For example, the basic guide “Use the editor” (uploaded in 2022), is based on the older style editor. That means the menu toolbars look slightly different as of 2023.

wordpress editor screen with two red boxes showing an onscreen guide indicating an icon that's not on the top toolbar
Even the onscreen guidance is a little out of date.

For instance, one of the initial set-up steps indicates a Settings icon (a cog) which is no longer on the top toolbar.

And you can no longer “add” extra text editing options to the sidebar menu by clicking the “+” symbol, as you used to. Instead, that symbol has been replaced with a “⋮” which lists the options to reset each property back to its default.

screen clipping of old editor beside the 2023 updated version
Text editing functions have moved around in the 2023 update of the WordPress editor.

Quick Tip: How to Check Whether a WordPress.com Tutorial Video is Old

It can be really hard to tell if the tutorial video you're watching is old or new. To check the publishing date of a video when you're on the WordPress website, click the video title that appears overlaid on the media player. It will open a new window.

My browser blocked YouTube from opening up (WordPress probably wants to keep you on their website). But all you need is the Video ID, which is the 11 characters after “v=” in the URL.

broken link message on web browser and red line underlining YouTube video ID in URL

Highlight that code. Then go to the URL bar, delete everything in it, and type in “www.youtube.com/watch?v=” then paste the code you just copied. Hit “Enter” and the video you were watching on WordPress.com should now load on YouTube.

You can find the date the video was published in the grey box beneath the video player.

screenshot of YouTube video player webpage with video ID underlined and publication date highlighted
Be sure to check when your WordPress help guide was uploaded – it may be referring to an older version.

Whew! If all that was just one too many steps too far, you may be wondering if there's a simpler way to build a website. The answer is: yes. In our review, GoDaddy emerges as one of the quickest ways to put together a solid, decent-looking business website.

With GoDaddy, you won't have to worry about reading lots more long blog posts about how to edit or add new features. GoDaddy's editor options are somewhat similar to WordPress, in that you can move sections up and down by clicking arrows. However, the editing tool is much more basic, overall. That means your design options are limited compared with WordPress. But that simplicity could save a lot of headaches if you get started with WordPress but can't get used to its intricacies.

Should I Build with WordPress?

WordPress is a powerful website host, and a reliable home for millions of websites around the world. But it's really geared towards publishing new content.

So, if you're eager to commit to a website that grows over time, with custom features and a thriving news or blog section, then WordPress is a great choice. While it's possible for beginners to publish a WordPress site, it's a good idea to have some professional developers on hand. That way you can create specific elements to better structure your webpages and carry out business functions like collecting customer data.

But if you're only looking for a relatively static digital presence, such as promoting your services as a local business, then WordPress isn't for you. We've put together an easy website builder comparison page with an overview of pros and cons of the leading platforms. Check it out for expert research-backed recommendations that'll suit your website project best.

FAQs

Is WordPress a good website builder?
Yes, WordPress lets you build scalable custom websites that boost the professionalism of your brand. Its Business plan includes extra security features and automated updates, helping to curb downtime.
Can I build a website with only WordPress?
Yes, WordPress has its own built-in website editor that lets you customize your design. Hosting is included with WordPress.com (not WordPress.org) websites. So it's perfectly possible to publish your own website with WordPress alone.

Most people choose to add plugins to their WordPress site, though, as these expand what your website can do. For instance, if you want to add an online store to your website, then you'll need a plugin such as WooCommerce.

Some more advanced designers opt for external programs such as Elementor to build custom designs for their WordPress sites.

Can a beginner build a website with WordPress?
A beginner may struggle to get to grips with the WordPress Editor, as it's not as simple as drag-and-drop editors like Squarespace. But if you're willing to put the time in to learn your way around WordPress 6.2, then you can master it.
Why not to build a website with WordPress?
There are a few reasons WordPress may not be the best website builder for you:

  • You're not looking to publish articles or blog posts regularly
  • The Editor is not the easiest to use
  • There are simpler website builders, such as Wix or Squarespace
  • You don't have the technical expertise to manage plugins and troubleshooting

While it's possible to build a website with WordPress.com where you don't need to edit code, you may struggle to scale up the site if you're not familiar with installing plugins and solving publishing problems. Often it's best to use custom-built WordPress features, but you'll need professional developers to do this.

Written by:
Sabrina Dougall
Sabrina is a business journalist whose career began in news reporting. She has a master's in Investigative Journalism from City University London, and her work has appeared in The Times, The Daily Express, Money Saving Expert, Camden New Journal, Global Trade Review, and Computer Business Review. She specializes in writing about SEO (search engine optimization). Having run her own small business, Sabrina knows first-hand how critical digital marketing is to building a client base and local reputation.