Techie Coder Dad Fullstack .NET Software Developer & Family Man

Using WordPress

WordPress is a very popular CMS (Content Management System). It was originally created for blogging but today is also very widely used for many kinds of websites. Check out the article on Wikipedia for more info.

Basics

One of the first things to understand is which website to use. WordPress.org is the website for the people who make WordPress. To put it another way, WordPress.org writes the code (software). The WordPress.org website also provides an awesome collection of themes and plugins. WordPress.com is a different company and provides a hosting service for WordPress websites. To put it another way, WordPress.com provides computers (servers) where the code can run. They provide a free service that’s a decent way to try out blogging before you invest in a paid hosting plan. For more serious websites, I’ve seen recommendations to buy your own domain name and host your website with another host. I noticed that WordPress.org also did not provide access to as many free themes and plugins as a custom installation on another host. To summarize: 

  • WordPress.org = software
  • WordPress.com = servers

Posts and Pages are the content for your website. 

  • Pages are static web pages (like About Me). 
  • Posts are blog posts (like Top 10 Tools for 2021). Posts are organized by date and category. 

Media Library is where you upload your images. Unless you use a CDN. (Note: this page needs more info about CDNs.)

Themes define how your website will look. You can change the appearance of your entire website by simply choosing another theme. 

Plugins add extra functionality to your website. 

There is a lot more to learn and my goal is not to teach all about WordPress on this page. Links to courses are included below. 

Hosting recommendation

Since we’re talking about hosting, I need to suggest my favorite host: GreenGeeks (affiliate link). Climate change is humanity’s biggest challenge and we can do our part by choosing a host that emphasizes taking care of our planet. Right now, I am using their Pro Shared Web Hosting. Full disclosure: yes that is an affiliate link. I do appreciate everyone who uses my affiliate links! They help me keep writing! However, I recommend you choose GreenGeeks whether you use my link or just go straight to their website with this direct link: www.GreenGeeks.com (NOT an affiliate link). 

Learning WordPress 

WordPress tips

  • Copying from Google Docs to WordPress used to end up with bad HTML code, but I haven’t had that problem with the new Gutenberg Block Editor – copying from Google Docs has worked fine for me 
  • WordPress.org article about including software code in your posts
  • Search themes and plugins on WordPress.org & favorite them (need to be logged in with your WordPress.org account). This makes it easier to find them in your WP admin.
  • Posts: Use categories. Use featured images. 
  • Pages: Use page attributes to organize them.
  • Images: Include alt text.
  • Links: for links to other websites, always use “Open in new tab.” It’s kind of annoying to have to check each external link to make sure it opens in a new tab (which is not the default). Looks like you need a plugin to change the default behavior to make links open in a new tab. GretaThemes describes this in more detail.
  • Plugins can slow down your site, so try to use as few plugins as possible. 
  • Sometimes you have to change a setting both in the WordPress admin and also in your theme’s Customize pages. For example, to allow comments on this page, I needed to change the setting for this page (in Settings Sidebar → Page → Discussion) – and also in Appearance → Customize → Main Content → Comments.
  • Featured image sizes: typically are 1200 x 628 but your theme might need a different size. I had to open the page with dev tools to inspect the final size of featured images in my theme. For Customizr, they work best at 1200 x 742.

Themes 

For most themes, you need to just “take it as it is” with only a small amount of customizing. If you’re happy enough with a theme, then this is the fastest way to get your WordPress site up & running. If you have specific design ideas then you might need to use a customizable theme. 

There are tons of premium, or paid themes, or themes that you have to buy if you want to use them. Envato Market (also called ThemeForest) only lists paid themes. Many cost $50-$100. If you are building a specific type of website (like for a bakery), then investing in a premium theme is probably a lot cheaper and faster than hiring someone to build it for you. However, WordPress is easy to use and there are thousands of free themes. If you don’t have the extra money or want to learn WordPress, you’ll do great with the free options. 

Customizr theme gives lots of options to customize without using a plugin. They also recommend installing the Nimble Builder plugin, but I did fine without it. Though it doesn’t let you customize everything, I was able to quickly get the look I wanted with this theme. Check out this FREE 5-hour Udemy course to learn more. I wanted a simple theme with interactive cards for blog list pages, and no hero images. I am using Customizr because it had these features with less effort than using a “page builder” plugin.

Hello Elementor is one of the most customizable themes. It is intended to be used with the Elementor “page builder” plugin. The “Hello Elementor” theme is the best theme to use with this plugin. Other compatible themes include: Astra, OceanWP, Phlox, Hestia. Elementor is extremely customizable but there is a much steeper learning curve to using it. One great thing is that it has good support for design systems. Be careful with this theme – it’s so customizable that you need to bring your own design skills – it’s easy to end up with a bad looking website. Some resources for learning Elementor: 

Astra is another customizable and widely used theme. 

Kadence is supposed to be really fast (users don’t like slow loading websites). Check out this YouTube tutorial to learn more. 

Plugins

Page builders give you greater control of your content than the default Gutenberg Block Editor. Elementor, described above, is one of the most popular page builders. Be careful when choosing a page builder because your content will get locked in to using this plugin and you won’t be able to easily switch themes or plugins later. 

Analytics

  • Monster Insights is the popular, polished plugin
  • Google Site Kit plugin might work well
  • Directly using Google Analytics without plugin will be best performance

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