This article will cover a lot of the basic skills you will need to manage your WordPress blog, customize your website, make design changes and start publishing pages and posts.
The WordPress Front and Back Ends
WordPress has two main areas that you will become familiar with:
The front end is the content that is visible to visitors as they visit your website. As you make changes in the back end, they will appear on the front end. Whether you are customizing your theme, adjusting your color scheme, adding plugins or publishing new content, the front end is where these changes are seen by readers. The front end also allows readers to take certain actions like signing up for your newsletter, leaving comments and sharing your work on social media.
The back end refers to the WordPress dashboard where you actually manage your website. This is where you do all the hard work that shows up on the front end. Only those who have an account with your blog will be able to gain access to this area. Navigating to your website’s dashboard area is simple: add /wp-admin to the end of your domain address and enter your WordPress username and password to make changes to your site. For example, mywebsite.com/wp-admin would take me directly to the login page.
Navigating the Dashboard
Your WordPress dashboard is the main hub that allows you to complete administrative tasks. The dashboard consists of three main areas that you will need to navigate in order to make changes to your site: the top toolbar, the middle section and the left hand menu column. While each of these sections is important, you will spend most of your time using the left hand menu.
Here are just a few of the creative and practical features available to you:
Posts: Menu options include: view all posts, add a new post, view and create categories, and view and create tags.
Pages: View and add new static pages.
Updates: Find and download updates for both your theme and individual plugins.
Media: View your media library and upload new files.
Plugins: Manage and add new plugins that will increase the functionality of your site.
Tools: Use available tools to import and export content.
Users: Update your own profile, create accounts for new users and manage existing users.
Appearance: Customize and manage your theme by editing your blog’s header, making design adjustments, managing widgets and creating menu items. Some of these options are limited by theme.
Comments: Mark comments as spam, delete inappropriate comments and approve welcomed comments.
Settings: menu options include: writing, reading, editing, discussion, media and general blog setting. You can also format permalinks under settings.
The left hand column will also contain menu options for plugins that you have added to the site. The exact location depends on the plugin and could be listed under any of the general menus listed above or as a whole new menu in the left hand column.
A Closer Look at Your Dashboard
Most content management systems (CMS), including WordPress, regularly release major and minor updates that are meant to fix bugs, provide additional features and improve security. Previous versions of WordPress required you to download and install the latest version of the CMS yourself. WordPress 3.7 and above will automatically install updates, but you still have to opt to update your theme and plugins as changes become available. Not to worry, you will receive notifications when updates are available and it takes just one click to get the latest version. If, for some reason, you don’t want WordPress to automatically update, you can disable this feature in the WordPress Codex.
You will probably visit the Post menu more than any other area of your dashboard. This is where you will add new content and edit previous posts. As you create new content, you will notice that blog posts are listed in descending order, which places the newest posts at the top of the list. The menu also includes the following options:
All Posts: Click here to view a complete list of all your posts. This provides a convenient location to easily edit categories, status, author, tags and comment capabilities.
Add New: Add a new post to your blog.
Categories: Easily view all the categories that you have been using to list your posts and make any adjustments.
Tags: View, edit and add new keyword tags to your existing posts.
WordPress includes a media manager that will help you upload content and publish it to different areas of your website including posts and pages. You can store images, videos, audio files and any other items that will enhance your site and your posts. Visit the manager to preview, edit, add and delete any media files. The media menu also includes:
Library: View all of the media that you have uploaded to your site.
Add New: Quickly add new content to your library.
Unlike posts, pages are static content that typically contain important information for readers. Common website pages include: About Us, Contact, Products, Services, Portfolio, etc. When you click on the Pages menu, you will see:
All Pages: In this section, you can view all your existing pages and edit the page’s status, author, template, parent and commenting capabilities.
Add New: Easily add new pages as needed.
As mentioned above, while posts and pages may seem similar, there are some key differences. Both will be used to publish content on your website, but that have different purposes and behave differently.
What they have in common:
- Can both be added, deleted, updated and edited.
- Contain a title or headline and targeted content.
- Feature meta information – author, date of publication, etc.
- Can be customized using plugins
- Can be made public or only available to certain users depending on certain settings.
- Often contain a variety of media, including video, audio, photos, links, etc.
Why and How They are Different
- Pages have more of an informational purpose and aren’t considered a part of your blog’s main content. They are there to answer common questions, provide contact information and make it easier to navigate your site, but they don’t contain the posts that define your blog.
- Posts, on the other hand, are your blog’s content. Every time you publish a post, it shows up as a new blog entry in your RSS feed. If you want to send readers to a certain page, you will have to provide a direct link.
Comments are by far the best way to interact with readers. They can share their thoughts on a topic, ask a question or provide helpful feedback on a post. Engaging in conversations with your readers will help you build an active community that represents your niche market. While both posts and pages are designed to accept comments, it is up to you create content that starts a conversation and keep the discussing going by responding to comments.
The Comments section allows you to moderate comments, approve any useful comments, mark comments as spam or delete them completely.
It is all right there in the name. Under this menu, you can search for and install a new theme, customize your blog’s appearance by making changes to the header, color scheme and background. Any time you want to change the design or layout of your blog, visit the Appearance menu.
Appearance Menu Options
Themes: Search for new themes to update your site or install themes that you may have downloaded from other sites. More to come on themes soon …
Customize: Every theme has different limitations when it comes to making custom changes. Typically, you can customize the site’s title and tagline, background image, static front page, features content and background image.
Widgets: Widgets allow you to add functional boxes to different areas of your site. For most themes, the homepage, header, footer and sidebar are all widget friendly. All you have to do is drag and drop a widget to crate space for social media buttons, a list of most recent posts or comments, a search bar, a subscription link and much more.
Menus: Create a horizontal menu bar that will appear in the header of your website.
Header: Upload a graphic (be sure to adhere to size specifications) that will be placed at the very top of your blog.
Background: Upload your own background image, color or wallpaper in order to customize your theme.
Editor: This section is for experienced users who have are able to write code. Here, you can edit the theme code in order to program certain changes. When using this feature, remember that readers will instantly see any adjustments you make. For this reason, it is a good idea to edit files offline and test changes before you make them live on the site. Also, be sure to make a backup of the current version of the site. If you run into trouble, you can always revert back to the previous version and give editing another crack.
Think of a theme as the face of your blog. You want to choose a layout and design that is clean, professional and provides the best in both form and function. The right theme will help make your website easy to navigate and won’t turn away readers by bombarding them with too many colors, font sizes and other design flaws. Remember that your theme is your chance to make a good impression. A poor site design and instantly breed distrust and drive your readers to competitors’ sites.
As soon as you have installed WordPress, you can start looking for the right theme. Think about the look and feel you want to create since this is what readers will notice before they even have a chance to read your content. Choose something that compliments and highlights your content.
To add a new theme or browse through more available options, click on the Appearance tab in sidebar menu on the left side of your dashboard. Click on themes and you will be taken to a screen where you can search for and download new themes. There will be a few themes already available for you to apply to your site. These are some of the more popular options available and provide a great place to start.
Factors to consider when choosing a theme:
- Read the description – You can quickly learn about unique features and functionalities and get a feel for how easy it is to customize.
- Check the ratings – Popular themes will have a star rating. Be sure to take into account whether previous and current users like the theme.
- Preview the theme – Take some time to look around and get a better feel for the design and layout.
- Check for responsiveness – Be sure to choose a theme with a responsive design. Most of your readers won’t be viewing your site on a desktop, so you want to make sure that it looks good on any size screen and device.
When you come across a theme that you like, remember that it may not look exactly the same once it is installed. The theme provides the basic bones. You will have to take time to flesh everything out with content, photos, videos etc.
Free, Premium and Custom Themes
If you don’t find a theme you like among the over 2,300 free theme available on WordPress.org, you can spend some money to get exactly what you want.
Premium themes are created by individual developers and companies. A single-use license can cost anywhere from $30 to $500 depending on the theme. If you want to further explore this option, you can start by visiting these top sources:
StudioPress, Elegant Themes, Themefuse, Thesis, WooThemes, Cssigniter Themes and ThemeForest.
Custom themes are by far the most expense route for designing a website. This involves hiring a developer to customize an existing theme or create a new theme from scratch. While a custom theme has some clear advantages, the price tag may simply be too much for beginning bloggers.
Examples of Good Themes
Check out this article for a comprehensive list of the best free WordPress themes.
As for premium themes, you can search through the sources mentioned above and take a look the creations from StudioPress. They have a reputation for excellent service and professional themes that are easy to customize. Here are just three of their themes that are a great fit for blogs:
- Wintersong – The minimalist design gives it a clean and calm appearance that lends itself well to a variety of topics and sites.
- Beautiful – This theme is packed full of thoughtful details that allow you to customize all sorts of features for a truly unique look.
- Modern Blogger – Perfect for bloggers, this modern theme has a contemporary feel that is bold and colorful.
Now that you know how to choose a theme, we can talk more about where and how to customize your blog.
Plugins are small packages of codes that act like software and can significantly affect the way your blog looks and feels. They allow you to add an almost infinite number of functionalities.
Perhaps the best part about plugins is that the vast majority of them are fee.
List of Recommended Plugins for New Bloggers
Start with adding these plugins to your theme and you will have a solid foundation for starting and tracking your blog. These plugins will make your website more reader friendly and help drive quality traffic.
- Google Analytics – Monitor your website and view a detailed analysis of your traffic.
- Contact Form 7 – Create a quick and easy contact form so that readers can easily reach out to you.
- Digg Digg – Add social media icons to encourage easy sharing.
- Yoast SEO – A free and comprehensive tool that will help with your SEO efforts.
- WP Super Cache – Improve the load time of your blog.
- Akismet – Built in protection from spam comments.
- YARPP – Create a list or related posts that will automatically appear at the end of each article and encourage readers to keep browsing through your site.
- Authors Widget – Easily display multiple authors and track their activity on the site.
Additional Menu Options
When you visit this section, you will be able to add new users to your WordPress blog. You can also create and edit your own profile. Each user can be assigned one of the following roles:
Administrator – This designation allows unlimited access to all of the blog functions. In most cases, only the site owner and trusted contributors are allowed to take these actions. Be careful who you allow to become an administrator since they will have the ability to lock you out of the site.
Editor – Is able to edit all pages, posts, comments, links categories and tags.
Author – Can publish and edit posts and upload media.
Contributor – Is allowed to write and edit posts, but cannot publish without your final approval.
Subscriber – Is limited to reading and commenting on posts and pages.
Available Tools: The “Press This” option allows you to clip text, videos and images from around the web and place them on your blog. Also, take note of the categories to tags converter.
Import Tool: Import data from other blogging platforms into WordPress.
Export Tool: Export blog content so that you are able to import it later on into a new WordPress project. This is a great way to back up your content and avoid losing any posts.
View and access all of the setting options for your WordPress site.
General: Configure and set a variety of basic options that dictate the site name, description, URL, main email address, time zone and date format.
Writing: Set your own defaults for your posts. For example, you can designate a specific category for all posts that haven’t been assigned a category during the writing process.
Reading: Decide exactly how you want your content to be displayed. You can set the home page, choose how many posts appear on the home page and when they are archived, designate a certain number of posts for your RSS feed and much more.
Discussion: Moderate comments to avoid spam. I recommend that you set up an alert that has you manually approve all new authors and automatically comments from those who have previously left comments. You can also filter comments by whether they contain multiple links. More than one link per comment is a good sign of a spammer.
Media: Adjust the default size for all images that are added to your blog.
Permalinks: You can control how new links are created. Typically, authors use the post name structure that inserts keywords and page titles directly into the URL for common sense navigation.
Now that you have had a brief introduction to the different areas of your dashboard, it is time to start exploring and get more comfortable with the different available options. Once you have a hang for where to go to make certain adjustments, you can create a truly unique blog that stands out from the competition, attracts readers and reflects your personality.