If you need to establish a professional-looking website without shelling out cash for a Web design team, check out the free open-source blogging tool WordPress. Chances are good that many of your favorite websites use this popular platform, since WordPress makes creating and editing content on a blog incredibly easy.
While the basic management tasks are simple, customizing WordPress to meet your needs can be more complicated. Over the years WordPress has developed streamlined tools for setting up a blog and customizing its appearance, but those tools don’t always allow advanced users to access all of the features that WordPress offers. To that end, we’ve collected tips for setting up a fresh WordPress blog—tailored for both beginners and experts—to help you get the most out of your new website.
Set Up WordPress
Although WordPress is technically an open-source content management system for websites, the WordPress team also allows anyone to try out the tools by creating a free ad-supported blog at yourblogname.wordpress.com. The simplest way to start using WordPress is to sign up for this kind of blog on the WordPress website; if you want a different URL, however, you can pay for a subscription that gives you a blog at the domain name of your choice, hosted on WordPress servers.
If you’re an advanced user, and you already pay for hosting at another service (or if you run your own domain server), you can simply set up WordPress on your personal server by downloading the open-source WordPress software from the WordPress Organization website.
Whether you sign up for a free WordPress blog or install WordPress on your personal server, you need to learn how to navigate the WordPress content management system. At its core WordPress relies on a system of templates that allow you to make quick website design changes without losing any data, but advanced users who install WordPress on their own servers can access a few extra features that aren’t available to users who start a free blog on WordPress.com.
For example, it’s impossible to install WordPress plug-ins on a free WordPress.com blog. And although you can customize a free website’s layout, you can’t install your own custom template; instead, you’re limited to using one of the 200 or so templates that WordPress has chosen for you.
Overall, WordPress.com is great for people who are just getting started with blogging. WordPress.com’s free service lets you become acquainted with WordPress, and its paid-hosting service is a viable (though certainly not perfect) option for users who don’t already have a domain host.
If you do have a hosting service, you’ll probably want to install and use WordPress on that company’s servers. You may wish to poke around in your hosting service’s settings before starting a full WordPress install, however, because most contemporary hosting services can automate the process for you (I told you it was popular). Hosting services typically call such features “One-Click WordPress Installs” or something similar, and usually they automate the steps I’m about to discuss.
Advanced users: Installing the WordPress platform is not a particularly complicated process, but it does require you to make some changes to WordPress’s setup files in a text editor, as well as to use an FTP client. First, you should download the latest stable build of WordPress and unzip it onto your computer. Then, you need to create a MySQL database on your server so that WordPress’s PHP has a database to interact with. Remember that your Web host likely has tools to help automate this process, but such tools (and the best ways to use them) will vary from host to host.
Next, you have to rename the file wp-config-sample.php to wp-config.php and edit it. For starters, you need to enter the name, admin name, and password for the MySQL database you just created; WordPress.org has a handy guide to all the changes you should make to the file. Once you have properly edited your wp-config.php file, you have to use an FTP client to upload the entire WordPress folder to your server.
When all the files are in place, point your browser to http://yourdomainname/wp-admin/install.php to access WordPress’s automated installer. WordPress will finish the install process itself. It should then send you to a page that allows you to name your new WordPress blog and create an administrator username so that you can start customizing the blog.
Next Page: Customize Your WordPress Installation
Customize Your WordPress Installation
WordPress has an Appearance tab devoted to letting you alter the looks of your blog. Navigate to the first section under Appearance > Themes, and choose one of the many free layouts. Keep in mind that you aren’t locked into that exact appearance, since you can alter themes. Certain items are easier to adjust than others, though: In general, the color and style of the text and backgrounds are easier to change than images are (and in turn, all of those elements are much simpler to change than the layout of the template). You’re better off selecting a template whose elements are generally well positioned and then making changes to the overall look of the site, rather than picking a template that has an attractive color scheme but requires significant layout reorganization.
Once you’ve found a theme you enjoy, the easiest way to adjust it is to choose Customize. The tools that WordPress gives you will allow you to alter some aspects of the site, such as the color scheme and background image, without having to dig into the coding that makes your theme operate. Naturally, more-thorough alterations (trying to switch out a border element, for instance) may require you to roll up your sleeves and get coding. If you’re not ready to tackle that challenge yet, check out our guide to learning to code for free.
Advanced users: You don’t have to leave your control panel to make changes, since WordPress also has a built-in theme editor (located under ‘Editor’ in the Appearance tab) that lets you directly alter the coding of any part of your template. You have a great deal of control over every aspect of your blog’s appearance; if you aren’t careful, though, you can damage the functionality of your blog. WordPress is built with a combination of HTML, CSS, and PHP, so you should have at least a passing familiarity with all three coding languages before you start directly altering your site template.
Most users should stick to changing their site’s HTML and CSS, as that approach allows you to control the site’s appearance yet gives you the ability to change the code back easily if you make a mistake. The most dangerous parts of a WordPress site to alter are the PHP scripts, which control the positioning of your blog’s content, along with where in your database that information comes from. Mistakenly altering or deleting these scripts can prevent your blog from displaying your site’s content properly, and that can turn your audience away in droves. Even so, steering clear of these sections—denoted by tags—is fairly easy if you’re careful with your edits.
Although WordPress can seem intimidating at first, the key is to change only what you feel comfortable altering. Website designers at all experience levels can run into trouble with some of the subtleties of WordPress, but even users who have no familiarity with HTML or CSS can install and customize their own WordPress blog.
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