Learn how to build and optimise your website using a WordPress platform, themes, and functionality.
Get To Know WordPress
Approach WordPress as you would a word processor like Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, or Apache Open Office. With a bit of usage and knowledge, just about anyone can begin to create a document on Word. With more knowledge, a user can go beyond simple tasks to creating tables and charts. Advanced users can use Word to build dynamic forms, establish shared data points, and configure accounting formulas. To learn these functions, users go through each stage of a learning curve, gaining comfort and familiarity with different sets of functions along the way. Eventually, an advanced user may use Word to tabulate and calculate data without requiring Microsoft Excel because the user has advanced knowledge of the program and can extract its complete functionality.
Much like any effective software, WordPress has a dynamic learning curve that adjusts according to the user. WordPress is a content management system (CMS). This is a fancy way of saying that WordPress is a computer program that allows a user to create, edit, and modify content from one central point of interaction, called an interface. Essentially, WordPress is a program that can be downloaded from the Internet for free. It’s primary aim when it was created by Matt Mullenweg (founder of Automattic Inc.), as a program, was to help users setup a blog. WordPress is incredibly effective as a blogging system, and over time more functions were added to make WordPress a complete, standalone program to build the world’s most advanced websites.
Greater improvements in functionality came from other members within the WordPress community, and beyond, to make WordPress into a powerful program that effortlessly handles e-commerce, retail store fronts, slideshows, movies and rich media, social networks, online communities and portals, web interactivity — essentially just about anything that you see on the Internet. Yet for all its functionality and power, WordPress remains delightfully simple to learn, and incredibly rewarding to master.
How To Use WordPress To Create a Website
WordPress is free software, which means users can download, install, and deploy the program for free. Many web hosts (companies from whom you buy space to setup and show your website to the world) include WordPress as a direct one-click installation. So if you are the owner of the website with the URL www.example.com, you can install WordPress as the platform on which your website www.example.com will be built. When users access your website they will see all the content that you have created using WordPress, neatly presented in a design template that you have setup also using WordPress. If your website has a blog that allows readers to comment, they will be able to do so using WordPress’s built-in comments tool. WordPress itself comes with a powerful starter pack to get a basic website up and running. If you already have your content typed out on a Word document, you can copy and paste this content into WordPress as a web page or a blog post and publish it to the web by clicking ‘publish’. It really is that simple and quick to get your website online.
Now lets say your content is written in English, and you want your content to be available in other languages. Your WordPress starter pack probably does not have this functionality. But WordPress does have a massive community of programmers who write bits of code that add this functionality to WordPress. These bits of codes are called plugins. Over the years, the WordPress community has built a massive library of plugins (free and paid) that users can download and install into their WordPress website. By adding Google’s translator plugin, you can provide a simple button that translates your entire webpage into any of Google’s supported languages. This WordPress plugin is free to download and use.
Feel like adding a contact form to your website that visitors can use to email you? Try the plugin called Contact Form 7. It’s also free and is currently one of the most popular plugins in the WordPress universe. There are also plugins that you need to pay for. Depending on what you are looking for, there are plugins that fulfil just about every function you want for your WordPress website. Paid plugins are usually of good quality, depending on where you buy them from, but there’s no hard or fast rule that says paid plugins are better than free plugins, or vice versa. Generally, all reputable plugin creators allow users to rate the quality of their plugins. Read through the reviews and pick the best option. Or simply become a member of the WordPress community — it’s free to join — and post your query.
Every installation of WordPress comes with free themes, created by WordPress. A theme is the design of the website’s template, including its colours, typography, layout, content display, and built-in functionality for widgets (explained later). The themes that come with a typical WordPress installation are basic and are for users who are looking for minimal functionality and layout. WordPress themes are great for blogging and are titled after the year of their release — e.g. twenty-twelve, and twenty-thirteen. There are plenty of free and paid WordPress themes online. A WordPress theme is where you will typically spend the most amount of money. Sites such as YooTheme, Themeforest, and Woo Themes sell themes individually or by subscription models.
WordPress web developers usually acquire subscriptions for themes that they can use for multiple client websites. Themeforest sells WordPress themes individually. Prices for these range from US$10 to US$60, sometimes more depending on what the theme offers. Paid themes generally also have more functionality than free themes. A big draw of paid themes are the added spaces or sections you get. Many paid themes come with additional sidebars (the area on the left or right in which one typically finds additional information or an advertisement. These themes come with easy-to-use interfaces and simple buttons. The assumption is that users will not have to learn to code because they can simply click and drag or select from radio buttons to configure the look of their WordPress website.
However, while WordPress and its top themes make it incredibly easy for users to work with, coding is an essential part of any web development projects. The good news is that WordPress’s learning curve is not only gentle, it is intuitive. First-time users will find the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface warm and inviting. But as a user progresses through WordPress, the coding part becomes more apparent and users are able to pick up a substantial amount of knowledge through repeated use and engagement with the WordPress community. WordPress themes are what gives your site its look and feel. When picking a theme it’s good to bear in mind that added functionality can add significantly to the time it takes to load your website. Ask yourself which functions are required for users and activate just those. The last thing you want is a fully-functional, high-performance website that takes so long to load that visitors simply click away to another site.
Widgets are a fancy name for the tools that show up on a sidebar. WordPress allows users to not only blog but to show a list of the blog posts, including the most popular ones. This list is displayed in the sidebar, in a little box called a widget. WordPress widgets can show a wide variety of content, from calendars and blog entries to clocks, RSS feeds, comments, content categories, and tag clouds. WordPress widgets work hand-in-hand with plugins that are used to customise widgets.
For example, a clock plugin can be setup and displayed through a widget on your website’s sidebar. The clock plugin may allow the time to be displayed in either analog or digital format. The widget displays the settings you have enabled for the clock plugin. Widgets can also show parts of your website’s main menu, depending on whether the overall theme allows for such functionality.
In the Contact page of your website, you may want to list a few emails of key people in the organization, together with their contact numbers and positions. You may also want to make these emails dynamic so when a user clicks on the address, their email client automatically opens up with the email address already displayed. Widgets allow websites to have a lot of core functionality that visitors take for granted but appreciate when available. Such functionality increases the appeal of a website.
Self-Hosted or .WordPress.com
One of your first considerations when setting up a WordPress website is whether to host it through your web host on your own URL (www.example.com) or to host it on WordPress’s servers (www.example.wordpress.com). There are obvious and many benefits to both so we’ll go through the most important ones. Self-hosted websites afford you the privilege of having your own domain name. Websites like CNN, eBay, Mashable, Reuters, UPS, Sony, and Quantico have their own websites that host WordPress. The exclusivity alone is a great benefit. But self-hosting is not free and in most cases you will be on web host plan for which there will be monthly charges. Web hosting plans vary from as little as a few dollars a month to several hundred or even thousands of dollars. It’s important to realise that when self-hosting, the more you pay the faster will be your website’s speed and loading time. In most cases cheaper hosting plans are for websites that share the server with other sites. If all the sites on your allocated server are busy, expect your site to slow down considerably. If you buy a dedicated server or better, your site is not affected by the performance of others and your site will load faster.
Of course you should expect to pay more for dedicated or exclusive services. WordPress itself offers a hosting solution called VIP.WordPress. Users can opt either for cloud-based hosting (US$3750 per month) or self-hosting (US$15,000 per year). If your wallet allows it, VIP.WordPress is probably the ultimate choice for a website built on WordPress. That is probably why CNN, NBC, TED, UPS, Dow Jones, and Time are on VIP.WordPress. But if the price of this option is not to your liking at the moment, there are literally thousands of other web hosting solutions that allow you to self-host or cloud host your WordPress website. Note that if you are considering self-hosting then you will need to head over to WordPress.ORG to download the program and upload it to your web host’s server. WordPress.ORG offers much more customisation than WordPress.COM, which is the free option to host on WordPress itself.
If you’re not bothered by the exclusivity of a self-hosted website with your own domain name, and are fine not paying a cent for an awesome web experience, then creating a site on .WordPress.com will sound like a suitable solution to you. There is hardly any setup at all. You simply register your extension name that appears before the .WordPress.com and you’re set. This is a great option if your primary site activity is blogging. However, if you are looking to create a fully functional website, especially one that requires a degree of professionalism (you do want your business’s clients to take you a tad more seriously), then the self-hosted option is probably the better, though more pricer, choice. As with all decisions, consider the benefits of all options and be prepared to invest in your online presence.
Quantico Workshop: Build a Website on WordPress
There are several benefits to knowing how to build, manage, and expand your own website. WordPress is a content management system (CMS) that allows anyone to create a completely functional website, complete with pages, blogs, animation, e-commerce portals, and web interactivity. Many of the world’s most famous websites are built on WordPress, including CNN, Samsung Newsroom, Spotify, Forbes, Mashable, Reuters, UPS, Sony, and eBay. Learning WordPress is a simple and highly rewarding process. At the end of this workshop, you will be able to build a fully working website on WordPress for yourself or for an organisation.