Recently, my sister resolved to start her personal blog. Her intent was simple, to get started with a website she could use to pen her thoughts, without a care in the world about the technology involved. To give you a little background about my sister – she has recently completed her postgraduate studies in social communications media, she’s taught Abacus to kids and her only association with technology is the time she studied Biotechnology during graduation and the omnipresent smartphones (if that counts).
So this one fine day she goes, “Hey, I’ve been told WordPress is probably the best way to start a blog. Can you maybe fill me in on the basics of setting up a website there?”
Now frankly, I write about WordPress all the time (my sister knows this) and I keep exploring the types of websites that can be created with WordPress. That’s what I do, it’s my job to be well informed about WordPress.
That being said, her question triggered a ‘brain freeze’ moment for me. I was caught completely caught offguard. Not as a consequence of my lack of WordPress knowledge but a result of a considerable amount of unstructured data floating around within the gray matter up there. When I got back from my maze of thoughts I realized there’s so much important information to be relayed that it would be best to jot it down.
However, before I got down to actually typing away vigorously I decided to “Google” about it quickly. Predictably, there wasn’t a lack of resources that people starting out with WordPress could refer to. Right from installing WordPress to mistakes that can be avoided – the whole nine yard has been covered.
What I didn’t find was an honest recount of what’s it actually like to start off with WordPress. User guides, tips & tricks, how-to’s.. but hey will anyone please tell me how exactly will a person with no idea of php or html or even a CMS, fit in?
I took the task upon myself, and here we are, reading my version of the story summed up in 9 points.
#1 WordPress Is NOT Going To Be Easy After All
‘Easy’ is a word that is constantly associated with WordPress. If you run a quick Google search, I can guarantee that every link on the first page of the search result will boast about WordPress is extremely an easy to use CMS.
Don’t believe me? Go ahead and try this search query – “reasons to choose WordPress”.
Now, while most WordPress professionals (including me) have deemed WordPress as simple (and it is indeed true), it is imperative to understand what this means for a non-native user like you.
It does not mean that understanding WordPress will be a snappy affair. It does not mean that there never will be a need for custom development. And it DEFINITELY does not mean that you will be able to set up a self-hosted website by yourself in a short span of time.
It simply means that WordPress is relatively easy which makes it an attractive choice of CMS. ‘Relatively’ being the key word here.
#2 But It Can Definitely be Mastered Quickly
NO it won’t! I did say WordPress is not as easy as everybody claims it to be, but it is definitely not impossible to learn WordPress. Given adequate time WordPress can be understood not only as an end users perspective but also as a developer.
A general trend I noticed is that end users often have incomplete information. Half baked knowledge can often be more dangerous than no knowledge at all. The key here is the resources you will be referring to when you get started with the learning process. Here are a few pointers of trusted resources, which can help you get started with WordPress on the right foot.
Codex – Official WordPress Documentation
The best place to start understanding WordPress would be the Codex – official WordPress documentation. Features, installation, usage, development – the whole deal has been systematically covered on the website leaving little room for users to miss out on crucial details.
The documentation might get a little drab and texty, especially if you’re used to graphics but believe me, it’s GOOD.
If reading through piles of documentation is not your thing, then demonstration videos could be another option for you. While there aren’t many comprehensive resources, here are two websites that I have used personally and would definitely recommend.
- WPBeginner – Available for free these demo videos cover most aspects an end user will need to know of and are available for free. All you have to do is sign-up and get started.
- WordPress 101 by iThemes – The WordPress 101 tutorials by iThemes is another useful resources for all those getting started with WordPress.
The Extra Mile..
If WordPress really tickles your curiosity then this aggregated list of WordPress tutorials by Creative Bloq is a good place to start with any custom development you might be looking to fulfill.
#3 There Is The Main Course And There Are Desserts
Often I have encountered clients who are so caught up with their central business idea that accessory website features are rarely given importance. What you see as “additional functionalities” are actually very critical to the website and will affect the way you execute your online business. It is important to understand that these accompaniments are your business horizontals and support the smooth processing of the primary idea.
Since we as WordPress professionals are the ones implementing client websites we educate them about and incorporate these crucial components into their websites. However though if you’ve decided to get started with your WordPress website yourself you might not necessarily know of these plugins. Lets take a look at a list of these must install plugins and how they will change the way you interact with your WordPress website.
If website discoverability and search engine optimization gives you many a sleepless night then the Yoast SEO plugin is a good place to start with. It’s available for free and it’s something that you can start using by yourself.
WordPress uses wp_mail() function to send/recieve mails. While being quick, this service is fairly outdated and primitive in terms of functionality. What WP Mail SMTP does is reconfigure wp_mail() function to use SMTP instead of mail() and adds a variety of mailing options for the user.
Available for free in the wordpress.org repository, this plugin allows you to schedule automatic backups of your WordPress website to a backup service of your choice.
Instead of being on the edge about website security, install the Sucuri Security plugin which is available for free on the wordpress.org. You can also step up the security with the premium version of the plugin. Must I tell you though that the free plugin is sufficient for a basic WordPress website!?
This plugin, it comes preloaded when you install WordPress and helps monitor ‘Sinister Spam’ on your website. All you gotta do is check if it’s activated. And please! If you’ve been told to keep the number of plugins minimal on your website then Akismet is not the plugin that should get the axe.
Caching can speed up your website multifolds, given that you’re using the right tools to cache your data. W3 Total Cache is all in one solution for all your caching needs. Benefits include optimized server performance, lightning fast downloads and an efficient CDN integration.
The fact that this plugin is lower on the list does not make it any less important. Maintaining an open channel of communication with your target audience is of prime importance for any website, and so are form builder plugins for you to collect data and guage how your audience is responding to your content. Contact Form 7 is simple, easy to understand & configure, and is available for free download on WordPress.org
Don’t wait for your website to slow down before you start using this plugin. I have been there, done that. Believe me when I say it, taking corrective measures for a slow website later is more tedious than you can imagine. What does the plugin do? Well, it compresses images which are uploaded to the website. This might seem like a small addition which can be forgone only until it snowballs into a monstrous dragon.
#4 More Often Than Not There Is A Plugin
Apart from being open source, the availability of a vast repository of off-the-shelf themes and plugins is what makes WordPress an appealing CMS.
Notwithstanding, we often receive emails from clients who are at their wits end when looking for a suitable plugin for their website. There are usually two reasons for such emails. The first is that the client has neither the time nor the patience to go through research process. In such a case it would be best to get reach out to professional in the niche.
The second is that users usually do not look at the right place while looking for plugins. If yours is the second reason then here are some convenient resources to search for the plugin you are looking for.
The best and the most obvious place to look for WordPress plugins would be wordpress.org. Here you will have access to an infinite repository of plugins, all of which are available for free download.
Should you not find what you were looking for on wordpress.org, you are likely to find it on the CodeCanyon marketplace. This website provides access to stats like number of downloads, user reviews, support forum etc which gives you the advantage of making an informed purchase. A little heads up, plugins featured on CodeCanyon are NOT available for free download, you better be ready to shell out some dough.
If you are the DIY types, then one of the above two resources should help you in 90% of the cases.
However though, there are always exceptions! If you do find yourself in this exceptional situation then ‘Googling’ your requirement would well be worth a try. I’m serious.
I can sense that you are have a “I’m so gonna beat you up” expression for that very obvious suggestion that I just gave you. But wait, don’t get all judgemental on me and write me off just yet. Hear me out. Here are a few techniques to make the best attempt at Google.
- When you are searching for something on Google try more than one search query.
- Always have the words “WordPress plugin” in your search query.
- Also if you are searching for a plugin related to a particular system then add that keyword too in your search query.
- Use the “Discussions Button for Google Search” extension to browse specifically through discussions and blogs.
- Lastly, make use of the ‘Related Searches’ option at the end of a Google search page.
#5 Get Your Permalinks Right
You’ll find many people advising against the use of WordPress default permalink structure. The two main reasons for this are search engine optimization and user friendly URLs.
Now while most will tell you to change the permalink structure by navigating to Settings> Permalinks, what you won’t know is that changing the permalink structure can sometimes lead to a ‘404 – Page Not Found Error’.
If you land yourself in this situation, I’ve got you covered. The solution is simple. Keep calm and do the following:
- Scroll to the end of the permalink page in the admin panel.
- Lookout for the following notification.
- Now copy and paste the rules provided in the text area to the .htaccess file using the FTP software of your choice.
- If .htaccess does not exist, create a new file and paste the copied data as below.
/*Content Copied from Text Area on Permalink Page*/
Also, don’t forget to pass on this information the next time you tell someone to avoid using the default permalink structure.
#6 Upgrades Are More Than Just A Button Click
As a WordPress professional I have seen the words “seamless upgrades” used ever so often that I’m not sure anymore if my understanding of the term is correct. A lot of people will tell you that WordPress is a super awesome CMS because it allows for seamless upgrades. It’s basically a continuation of the WordPress is easy argument.
As for me I won’t deny the “seamless upgrades” argument. It’s indeed simple…….
…..only till it goes right!!
What nobody tells you is what to do when things don’t go as “seamlessly”. Fatals errors, white screens of death or maybe a simple jQuery/Javscript conflict, they all the potential to bring your site on it’s knees. There could be so many possible issues that one might face while updating your plugins, themes or even WordPress that I can;t possibly list them all down here.
However, if I were to present you with one generic advice about updating your WordPress. it would be..
One Golden Rule – Before upgrading a theme or plugin make sure you have a copy of the currently installed version. You can get the current version either from your the wp-content folder in your website or from the plugin.
#7 /wp-admin Is Too Predictable
Every website is bound to have its fair share of hacking attacks. Infact if you install a security plugin like Sucuri you will be notified about these failed login attempts (which are are mostly bot login requests) every now and again.
While website security is taken care of with security plugins, it can be taken a notch higher by renaming the ‘yourwebsitename/wp-admin’ link to something of your choice.
This can be done using the Rename wp-login.php plugin which is available for free on wordpress.org. By the way, don’t be alarmed by the ‘unmaintained’ note on the plugin page. I have been using the plugin and it works perfectly!
#8 Using Google Search Console is NOT an Option
..it is, in fact, a necessity.
If you are serious about getting your business off the ground then setting up Google Search Console, also often known as Webmaster Tools is unavoidable.
Those of you who are already familiar with what I’m saying can think of this as redundant banter. Surprisingly enough though, most posts that talk about setting up a WordPress website often miss out on this crucial point. Crucial because the Google Search Console helps you understand how Google interacts with your website along with all activities occurring on your website.
Wondering how you’re gonna set it all up? Here’s how!
- You will first have to sign up to the Google Search Console preferably with your Google analytics email id. (I’m assuming you have set up Google Analytics for your website. If you haven’t then here’s a good post that will get you started.)
- You will now have to add the URL of the website that you want to monitor and verify that the site is yours. Once you have done this you will be able to view your website in the list of websites on the homepage of your search console.
The next two steps are extremely important so please pay close attention to what you need to do. These steps can make all the difference to your site being discoverable or not.
- Click your website link that is displayed on the homepage of your search console. This click will lead you to the dashboard of your website data in webmaster tools. Once here navigate to Crawl > Sitemaps and add your website sitemap URL which is ‘yourwebsite.com/sitemap_index.xml’ to webmaster tools. In layman terms this means that you are informing Google of the pages that can be crawled on your website.
- Now that you have provided a list of pages that can be crawled by google it is also imperative that you do not block the Google bots from crawling them. This can be set from Crawl > robots.txt. If you want to allow all bots to access all folders and files on your website then here’s how your robots.txt section should look.
- Lastly, the Google Search Console will play an important role in detecting crawl errors on your website. This will be especially helpful in notifying you about 404 errors on your website. To view this errors you will have to go to Crawl ? Crawl Errors. Of course the Google Search Console is not the only way you will be able to view broken links. The Broken Link Checker plugin is another great way to check for your website’s broken links right from the WordPress dashboard.
#9 Dealing with the ‘White Screen of Death’
The primary difference between a book and informative post on the internet is that the book will cover the whole deal to the last detail, the post will not. So while I’m am mighty thankful for the flexibility and liberty that comes with the internet age, I’m also worried. I strongly feel that incomplete information can sometime be more lethal than no information at all.
For instance you’ll find numerous DIY WordPress Website guides. Now what nobody will tell you in these guides is what to do when something goes grossly wrong (read: white screen of death) with your website.
Of course just like you got the guide on setting up WordPress by yourself you will also find a lot of resources to deal with the “white screen of death” but until you reach upon the right resource you may have erroneously done more damage to your website.
So before you actually find yourself in this situation and hit the panic button here a low down on the probable causes for the white screen and how you can solve it.
Any software will have it’s share of bugs and issues at one point or another. WordPress is no different. But should you keep these points in mind, at no point in time will you feel like smashing your keyboard into your screen while settin up your website, at the very least.
WordPress is a community that thrives on user experience. Help your fellow community members out, if you have something I missed while lisiting these points, contribute to this post by letting us know in the comment section.
One for all and all for one!