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A Beginner’s Guide to WordPress Basics

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If you’re a new blogger, you might want to check out the entire Beginner’s Guide series we’ve been doing here at the BlogWorld blog, which, to date, includes guides to Twitter Basics, SEO Basics, Podcasting Basics, and Blog Monetization Basics. Today, I wanted to cover another common challenge for new bloggers: using WordPress.

WordPress is the blogging platform used by most major bloggers who have their own domain names. Of course, it isn’t the only choice for bloggers, but I personally find it to be the best option based on the community of people developing for it, the ease of installation and use, and the various options to customize your blog and the way you use it.

Before you continue reading this post about using WordPress, head to their site to read installation instructions so you can get WordPress set up on whatever domain name you own.

Adding a Theme

The first thing I do whenever I install WordPress on a new blog is look for a theme I like so that I’m not using the generic out-of-box theme that comes with WordPress. The theme is basically the look of your blog – colors, fonts, sidebars, etc. If you know CSS, you can pretty easily make changes to any theme you see, but even if you don’t, there are thousands of choices, so you should be able to find something you like. If you’re willing to pay for your theme, check out Thesis and Genesis, two of the most well-known and easy-to-customize options out there. Want a free theme? There are tons of those available too – just do a quick search and you’ll find lots of options.

When you download a theme and unzip the file, you’ll want to add it to your site by uploading it to the themes folder. When you log into your WordPress dashboard, you’ll be able to access all of the themes under “Appearance” on the sidebar. From there, you can preview how the themes would look on your site and choose which one to make live.

Adding Plugins

Plugins are awesome. Basically, they add additional functions to your blog based on what you personally need for your community. Personally, my favorite plugins are:

  • All-In-One SEO – perfect to for simple SEO on all of your posts
  • Zemanta – helps you interlink posts on your own site, find related posts to recommend, and add tags to your post
  • Livefyre – my personal comment plugin of choice is Livefyre, though you can also make a case for Disqus (what we use currently here at BlogWorld) and CommentLuv with the generic WordPress comment system, which simple adds a person’s more recent post to the end of their comment

In addition, though there are several individual plugins that perform each of these functions, I recommend using plugins for:

  • Creating a mobile version of your site
  • Adding buttons for social sharing (on individual posts, in a top/bottom bar, along the side of the post, etc.)
  • Adding contact forms to your pages or posts (if you don’t want to list your email address)
  • Building galleries of your pictures
  • Creating tables
  • Backing up your site (SUPER important – check out BlogWorld speaker Peter Pollock’s post on protecting your blog)
  • Adding your author profile to the top or bottom of a post

This is not the end-all list of plugins you can add to make your blog more functional for you and for readers. Spend some time browsing through the available plugins to find those that make sense for your blog.

Setting Up Your Sidebar

After you’ve installed WordPress, added a theme, and set up plugins, your next step is to set up your sidebar. I recommed you include the following things on your sidebar:

  • Links to your most recent posts
  • A sign-up box for your mailing list (I use Aweber)
  • A link for people to subscribe to your blog via RSS
  • Links/buttons to your social network profiles
  • A list of your categories or other navigational tools
  • Polls
  • A calendar of events or posts

You can also consider adding a list of your most popular posts, advertising, a blogroll, a search bar, your Amazon wishlist, Youtube videos, links to products you’re selling or affiliate products, a list of the most recent comments on your blog, a tag cloud or list of popular tags…and much, much more. If you want to add it to your sidebar, there’s a way to do it – and most of what you’ll add to your sidebar, you’ll do so with widgets.

You install a widget much like you’d install a plugin. Under the “appearance” tab on your dashboard sidebar, you’ll see a link to show your widgets, so you can simply drag and drop them onto your sidebar. Easy peasy. There’s also a text box if you want to get all HTML-y and add your own code instead of using a widget for something you want to display.

Configuration

Next, head into your profile (under “Users”) on the sidebar and update it as necessary for your blog. You should pay special attention to your display name (go with a name or nickname rather than “admin”) and your biographical information if you include a theme or plugin that adds your bio to each post.

Remember to go to Gravatar to upload an avatar associated with your email address if you don’t have one already.

Under the “Settings” tab on your dashboard sidebar, you’ll also want to do some more configuration work on your blog. Here’s what you should do, at minimum:

  • Under General: Add your blog title and a tagline (or at least delete the default) and change the blog to your timezone
  • Under Permalinks: Change the permalinks structure to something better than the default numbering system

I recommend going through each page under Settings and considering your various options. While the defaults work for many bloggers, you might want something different.

Adding Content

Congrats – you’re finally ready to add content! There are two different types of content you can add via WordPress (and most blogging platforms):

  • Posts: the general articles you want to add to your blog day by day
  • Pages: content that is more informative to help the user understand more about your blog or you

Posts are linked to both categories and tags. Categories give a broad, general topic while tags are more specific topics. Most bloggers have categories are a main navigational function and choose to include 5 to 15. You can also include a few main categories and then several subcategories under each main “parent” category. Tags tell your reader what an individual post is about. There’s no limit to the number of tags you use on your blog, though most recommend that you don’t use more than 10 or so on any one post.

Pages include things such as About Me, Contact, Archives, About the Blog, Best Of, and more. They’re typically included on the navigation bar of a blog so people can find them quickly.

WordPress Pointers for Beginners

Here are some more tips and tricks for using WordPress if you don’t have experience with this platform.

  • You can change the permalink for a post of page under the main title box by clicking on the “edit” button. This is helpful for SEO in many cases and can also help you create a permalink that is easy to remember.
  • You can work in a WYSIWYG editor or HTML editor – whichever is more comfortable for you.
  • Most of the editing buttons are self-explanatory, since they’re similar to what you already use in word processing programs. Some that you may not know: to the right of the link buttons you’ll see one called “insert more tag” when you hover. This adds “read more” to the post on your homepage which is beneficial if you write extremely long posts and don’t want the whole thing displayed. Beside the spell check, you’ll see a blue box called “toggle full screen” which can be beneficial when you’re writing posts. Beside that, you’ll see a button called “show/hide kitchen sink” which, when clicked, gives you even more editing options.
  • You don’t have to publish a post immediately. You can also schedule it to go up at a specific time in the future by choosing the “edit” option in the publish box.
  • You can move boxes around on your dashboard to make it more functional for you. Simply drag and drop!
  • At the bottom of your edit post page, you can see previous revisions and auto-saves of a post.

If you’re a WordPress user, I want to encourage you to leave your own tips in a comment below!

Allison Boyer freelance writer and content marketing consultant. She also runs the food blog The PinterTest Kitchen with her mom and sister. You can follow her shenanigans on Twitter (@allison_boyer) or contact her at allisonmboyer@gmail.com.


Feedback

9
  • Paul

    Good article might want to add security, such as changing the default admin user to something else.

  • Anand Radhakrishnan

    Hi,

    Very interesting article,  i’ve been wanting to know more on wordpress as i have been using blogger for some time now.

    Anand
    http://amruthatechnologies.blogspot.com

  • Anonymous

    Good article and starting point.

  • PeterPollock

    I know I’m slow but I just saw that you linked to my article on protecting your blog.

    THANK YOU!!!

    🙂

  • Borgy

    Very useful and simple guide.
    Can I suggest to visit http://www.borgyborgy.net It offers some free 1000×288 pixel size headers, to customize default TwentyEleven theme. Useful for blog beginners. It allows you to easily customize a standard installation, allowing a newbie to have a customized and ready blog in a few minutes. All images are taken by me and provided under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.

  • Brad Dalton

    I’d make sure you configure the discussion settings so all comments require approval.

    Or you could be pounded with automated spammers.

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