Selecting a theme is just the beginning of building a WordPress blog. Next, you’ll need to learn how to use the system and start creating content.
I know the system may seem intimidating at first. However, it’s not all that difficult once you learn the basics of what each function provides.
Below are the most common elements and the things you’ll need to start blogging like a pro.
The WordPress Dashboard
The Dashboard is the first screen you see when you first access WordPress. It is separated by two columns and a top tool bar.
On the left, you’ll see a navigation system of features and tools available. You’ll see this navigation menu in every area of WordPress except in the Customizer, which I’ll cover in a moment.
The screen on the right, which takes up the majority of the display, is where all the magic happens. The first screen you see is customizable with a drag-and-drop interface allowing you to move tools around to suit your needs.
Some plugins you’ll install will add a window to the main dashboard for easy use. For example, the Google Analytics plugin will add a window that will show visitor traffic on your blog. This makes for easy access to data and other tools within WordPress.
Perhaps one of the features of the dashboard I use the most is the “Quick Draft.” It is here where you can put in a quick title and a few notes for a future blog post. This is saved as a draft, which you can come back to later and finish writing. It’s a great way to quickly note something you want to write about at a later date.
How to Create Your Content
Content is how people find your blog on the Internet. This is the bread and butter of your site and the reason you wanted to build a blog in the first place. WordPress has two methods of developing this content: posts and pages.
Posts are the day-to-day articles you’ll use the most. Each time you sit down to blog about your day or write about something new, you’ll want to create a post.
Pages are considered static content. Things like the home page, about, contact and bio data are better suited to be a page. This is because the pages are a permanent placement and are often used in the menus of WordPress.
Let’s get started by setting up a few basic pieces.
Making Your First Blog Post
Ready to write your first blog post? Don’t worry if it’s not perfect. This is just to get you warmed up to the idea of creating your own content.
- Click the “Posts” tool in the left column of WordPress. It will be near the top.
- Click the “Add New” button at the top of the main screen.
- Give your new post a title. For this example, let’s just call it “My First Blog Post.”
- Click into the text editor space. This is the blank area under the text tool bar which looks a bit like a word processor, such as Microsoft Word.
- Create a few lines of text for your first blog. It can be about anything you wish. Just keep in mind that once you hit publish, everyone on the Internet is able to read it. Perhaps start with why you’re building the blog in the first place. There are a lot of features when creating a blog post, and I’ll go over all of those in the next issue, “Step 6: Write Amazing Blog Posts.”
- You can add images to your posts by placing the text cursor where you want the pictures and clicking the “Add Media” button. This will open up the Media folder in WordPress. You have access to all of your saved images as well as adding more by clicking the “Upload Files” tab.
- Once you’re ready, click the “Publish” button on the right. It will now be available on your site for all to see.
The text editor in WordPress works much like any other you may have used before. You can make words bold, italicized, use bullet points, add links and a variety of other functions. You can also add plugins to give even more options when creating content, and I’ll go into that in a moment.
Creating the About Page
After saving your first blog post, let’s create a couple of pages. This first one is going to be the “About Us” or “About Me” page. Essentially, this is a static page people can read to learn more about you or your business, if this is a blog for a company.
The way to create a page is similar to posts in almost every way. The biggest difference is that it doesn’t connect to categories and remains stationary on your website.
- Click on the “Pages” tool from the left column in WordPress. This will be under Posts and Media.
- Click the “Add New” button near the top of the page.
- Give the new page a title. Since we’re making an “About Me” page, let’s title it something similar. You can keep it simple like using “About” if you’d like.
- Click into the text area and begin writing out your story. This can be as short or as long as you’d like. You don’t have to give an incredible amount of detail. If this were for a business, you’d simply write what drives the company and the kind of products or services you provide.
- What about adding a picture to the About page? Place the cursor of the text editor anywhere you want the picture to show. Click the “Add Media” button from the editor and add the image from your computer.
- Once your About page is complete, click the “Publish” button on the right.
By default, WordPress takes any new page that is created and adds it to the navigation menu. This is one of the reasons why you don’t want to mistake posts for pages. It’s also incredibly useful as you don’t need to do anything more to add a page to the navigation bar of your website.
Setting Up a Contact Page
A contact page can have a lot of uses. It makes it easier for people to ask you questions about a variety of things. If you’re building a blog as a freelancer, the contact page could help acquiring a new client. Perhaps someone wants to contact you to advertise their products on your blog.
The possibilities are great.
Setting up a contact page is relatively easy, especially if you use the Jetpack plugin for WordPress. Let’s set up a quick and easy contact page for now.
- Click on the “Plugins” tool from the left column of WordPress.
- Click the “Add New” button near the top of the next screen.
- Now, Jetpack is usually one of the top most featured plugins to use. That’s because it is an incredibly useful plugin for a wide range of purposes. If you do not see it on the Add Plugins screen, you can search for it using the text bar on the right to “Search plugins.”
- Click the “Install Now” button for Jetpack.
- Once the installation is complete, the install button will change to “Activate.” Click this to begin using the plugin.
- You will need to set up an account at WordPress.com to use Jetpack. This is a free account and opens the doors to all kinds of tools such as visitor tracking, proofreading, image optimization and more. It doesn’t take very long to register and is worth the effort, in my opinion.
- After you authorize Jetpack to work on WordPress, go the “Pages” area of WordPress in the left column.
- Click the “Add New” button near the top.
- Give your new page a title, such as “Contact Me” or “Contact Us.” This depends on whether your blog is for you alone or for a business.
- Click into the text field of the WordPress editor. Just like images, anywhere you place the cursor is where you’ll input a contact form. Perhaps you can put it at the end of a short paragraph telling people how to contact you.
- Click the “Add Contact Form” button just above the text editor. This is part of Jetpack and is enabled by default.
- The contact form builder will open and you can modify which fields are required and adding new fields in case you need more info from the user. You will need to set “Email notifications” to an address you have access to so you can receive the message.
- Once your custom settings are done, click the “Add this form to my post” button at the bottom.
- Click the “Publish” button on the right to save your new page, which will be placed on your menu bar instantly.
It’s important to note that the Jetpack contact form comes with a variety of options you can customize. You can use drop down lists, radio buttons and more depending on what you need from the contact message.
When the form is placed into your page, it will be added using a shortcode. These shortcodes are snippets that WordPress uses to add more functionality. You can use them in both posts and pages any time you wish.
Where to Find Free Images for the Blog
One of the best ways to attract readers is to add images. What if you don’t have a picture you can upload of something you’re writing about? You don’t want to steal graphics from someone’s website.
While you could pay for stock images from some places on the Internet, it can get expensive after a while.
That’s when visiting free sites becomes more ideal.
Here is a collection of five free stock image sites that I use quite often. These often have superb images to use and require no payment or licensing agreement of any kind.
Pixabay is a great site for finding free blog images. There is no sign-up process necessary and you can download as many as you’d like for your site. Because this site is driven by a community, it’s constantly in growth as more pictures are uploaded regularly.
Pexels is similar to Pixabay and is also a community-driven website. In fact, you’ll often find some of the same images on both sites. However, it does have its own collection and is worth exploring when you’re in a pinch for a graphic.
- Freerange Stock
Freerange Stock is another excellent site to use for free images. You’ll need to register in order to download the graphics, though. Even the right-click ability to save image is disabled on the site. Luckily, it’s a free account so you don’t have to worry about spending money.
Freepik is a good site to try for free images. However, you’ll need to register for an account. Some graphics will also require an attribution to go along with using the image. This means you need to link back to the creator if you want to use the picture.
- Wikimedia Commons
Perhaps one of the largest collections of free media on the Internet, Wikimedia Commons may be an incredibly good source. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the best user interface when comparing it to sites like Pixabay. The trade-off is that you have access to approximately 40 million free files.
How to Use Plugins
Plugins are small tools anyone can install in WordPress to give it more features. They can do anything from helping you create contact forms to adding security to the blog. Currently, there are more than 45,000 of these available for install right now.
Depending on what you want to do with your blog, you can find a plugin to give it more “umph.” For example, you could add an image gallery to share pictures or install a way to show nutritional info next to recipes you create just like you see on a box at the store.
Because WordPress is so popular, there is a wide selection of plugins to choose from for various uses.
Installing a Plugin
Finding plugins and installing them is an easy process. If you followed the steps above, you’ve already installed Jetpack. This means you have a basic idea about how this process works.
- Go to the “Plugins” area of WordPress.
- Click the “Add New” button at the top of the screen.
- Search for a plugin you want.
- Install and activate it.
It’s literally that easy. But what other plugins can you find to work with WordPress? To answer that, you would simply need to run a search in the plugin area.
WordPress has a decent method of searching for specific keywords in the text field. However, you may need to alter your term a bit. While it’s possible to find what you’re looking for in WordPress, the search ability is not as fine-tuned as Google.
You can download and install plugins from third-party sites as well. Unfortunately, this also means you might install malware or other corrupt file from a source that is less than perfect. The plugins you find while using the admin screen in WordPress have been checked for problems like these.
Installing the Yoast SEO Plugin
Now that you know a bit more about plugins, let’s install Yoast SEO. This plugin has a lot of tools to help you score well in sites like Google. It has features that will help you write better content perfect for search engine optimization.
- Go to the “Plugins” area of WordPress and click the “Add New” button.
- Search for “Yoast SEO” in the search field on the right.
- Install and activate this plugin.
Yoast will add a new function to the left column of the admin panel in WordPress. This new feature is labeled, “SEO” and is accompanied by a graphic of a “Y” in front of a square. This is the control area for Yoast SEO.
From this tool, you can fine-tune how your website operates in terms of optimization. Once you get the hang of using Yoast SEO, you can then integrate Google Search Console to give you more control over how your site is seen in search results.
One of the most notable functions of Yoast is the addition to your posts and pages. A new window will be available on the editing screen. Yoast will scan your content in real-time and then give you a report about its readability. This is extremely useful if you want to create content that is easy to read by anyone.
Using Widgets in WordPress
Widgets are additions that are often used in the sidebars and other areas of your website. Exactly where you can place a widget depends on the type of theme you are using. For example, the ColorMag theme has many areas of the home page, right sidebar and footer sections to place widgets.
Some plugins and themes will also come with special widgets. Again, the ColorMag theme has several widgets available for showing blog posts as well as advertisements when you’re ready to monetize the site.
To access your widgets:
- Click on the “Appearance” section in the left column of WordPress.
- When Appearance expands, you’ll see a tool for “Widgets.” Click this to access your list.
- In this next screen, there is a collection of “Available Widgets” on the left and options where you can place them on the right. Click and hold a widget you want to use and drag it over to where you want to see it. For example, you can drag the “Categories” widget over and drop it in a sidebar.
Widgets will affect how the website looks. You don’t want to add too many as it may cause the site to appear cluttered. This can turn away potential fans of the blog.
You can change the order in how the widgets appear in a sidebar as well. By using drag-and-drop, you can move these items to a specific order you like.
Fine-tuning Appearance and Design
In the last chapter, you learned a bit about appearance and design through themes. However, there is a lot more you can do than just picking a theme and running with it. You can accomplish quite a bit when customizing in WordPress.
Here are a few things you’ll need to know.
Understanding the Appearance Section
The “Appearance” section of WordPress centers around visual changes you can make in your blog. It is here where you modify the overall look and fine-tune the blog a bit further.
The appearance section has a collection of tools. You already used a couple of these if you’ve followed me up to this point. But there is so much more you can do than just installing a theme or moving a widget.
Searching for Specific Themes
Installing a theme is pretty straightforward. You find one you like, you click install and activate it. Can you search for specific themes and features?
Absolutely. In fact, this is probably a better way to find the theme you’re looking for. Let’s say you want to install a theme that uses parallax scrolling. This is when the background changes at a different speed than the foreground.
In the search field when adding a new theme, you simply look for “parallax.”
Themes, like plugins, are added all the time to WordPress. If you can’t find something you like, there is no harm in checking later. You may find what you’re looking for a week or even a month from now.
The Customizer is perhaps one of the best ways to adjust the appearance of your site if you don’t know how to code. This is a tool built into WordPress that lets you customize the theme. You can do things like add a background image, upload a logo, change the color scheme and even alter the overall layout of the blog to show one column instead of two.
However, the Customizer is restricted by what the theme allows. This means not all themes are built the same. Some will have features to add social media while others may only support one font. You’ll see this often when using free versions of premium themes.
This doesn’t mean that the Customizer isn’t useful. You can still do a lot of things in this tool even if the theme is limited.
You access the Customizer by simply clicking the “Customize” tool under Appearance.
Using Menus in WordPress
The most prominent example of a menu in WordPress is the navigation bar across the top of most blog themes. This is usually the home to the Home, About and Contact pages you create.
WordPress gives you the ability to easily change how the menus appear. By clicking the “Menus” tool under Appearance, you’ll access the structure of how these are built. From here, you can add custom links or even content categories to show along the top of your blog.
Menus are best reserved for important pieces of information. These should be links to things that you want every guest to see. You don’t want to load too many items in a menu as it will look poor in the eyes of visitor. You want clean and informative menus on your site to boost success.
Like widgets, you can change menus with a drag-and-drop interface. For instance, what if you want the Contact Us page to appear last? Just drag the item in the Menu Structure to the bottom and save.
Changing the Header
The Header is one of the most important parts of your site’s design. It’s the first element that is displayed when a guest arrives. As a result, you want it to be attractive and engaging. If you click on the “Header” tool under Appearance, you’ll directly access this part of the Customizer.
From here, you can add images and make other changes depending on the functionality of the theme. For instance, some themes will allow you to place .mp4 video content to run in the background when people come to the site. Others may even allow YouTube videos to show.
For the most part, themes will have a place to add new images. Optimal size for these graphics will depend on the theme, but it’s here you want to add it.
Changing the Background
By clicking on the “Background” tool in Appearance, you’ll be taken directly to that part of the Customizer. From here, you’ll have a few options for altering the background of the website.
Remember, every theme is different. Things you might be able to do with the background in one may not be available in another. However, most at least have the option to upload a background image or change its color.
When choosing a background image or color, make sure you select something that is ideal for your blog. You want the appearance to match the content. This gives the blog a sense of symmetry and makes it look better to the audience. For instance, a nature blog might choose a grassy background or shades of green for color.
What is the WordPress Editor?
For those who know a bit about coding in CSS or PHP, WordPress also comes with an editor. This is found by clicking the “Editor” tool under Appearance. From here, you have access to many of the files that make up your site’s theme.
This is a good way to customize the appearance even further as you will have more control in code than you do in the Customizer. However, this is more for advanced users. Changing the wrong thing can lead to the theme breaking, which will affect the functions of your blog.
Also keep in mind that any changes to the theme from the Editor will be overwritten when the theme is updated. This is because the theme’s files are part of the update process, which essentially replaces everything inside those particular files. This is why many people will use child themes as these are not updated by the developer.
The Media Manager
Under the “Posts” section in the left column of the WordPress admin screen, you’ll find the “Media” area. This is where your images are stored for your blog. Anytime you upload an image, sound file or video to your blog posts or pages, it will be in this area.
By clicking the “Media” section, you have access to each individual file. You then have access to a file’s attributes such as title, caption, alt text and even what post it appears on. This information is useful when you’re looking up resource use or identifying the person who uploaded a particular image.
WordPress also comes built with an editor for images. However, this tool is very limited and is only useful for making something fit on the website. You don’t have access to filters or other advanced editing functions. But, you’re still able to scale the image up or down, rotate it and turn it into a thumbnail.
More Functions in the WordPress Dashboard
WordPress comes out of the box with a vast array of tools and functions. These are all easy to use and comprehend. While it may take a bit of time to go through all of them and learn what you can do, it’s worth the effort. There are a lot of fun and interesting things you can do with a blog when using WordPress.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the others you may be using in the future.
By default, WordPress comes with three starter tools: Press This, Import and Export. You may come across plugins that add more to this list, but I’m only going to go over the ones you’ll definitely have.
Press This is a bookmarklet that places a function in your browser. What this does is that it allows you to add a webpage you visit to WordPress so you can write about it later. This is extremely useful if you want to remember news so you can write a blog and reference the site.
The Import tool is ideal if you want to add content from other files to your site. For instance, if you exported your content from Blogger and wanted to add them to your WordPress blog, this is where you’d go. You can also import RSS feeds, Tumblr posts and other WordPress articles.
Using Export allows you to safeguard your posts, pages, media and other content like a backup. Usually, developers will export content when they’re moving the website or when making major changes to the blog. This is so they don’t lose all of their hard work.
In the Settings section of WordPress, you’ll find all of the specifics regarding your site. For instance, you can change the blog’s title, tagline, how people register, default writing settings, reading, comments and a lot more.
One of the more important things to remember about this section is that plugins will often add components to the Settings area. For instance, the plugin TinyMCE Advanced uses this section for changing the settings of what you can do when writing content.
If you haven’t already, I suggest going through each of these areas carefully. Make changes according to how you want WordPress to behave when someone visits.
Users, Roles and their Permissions
If there is more than one person working on your blog, you’ll need to set up users. You can do this by clicking the “Users” section from the left WordPress admin column.
Users can be assigned using one of five different roles by default. These are:
Each role has more permissions than the one before. Let’s say you want someone to help write content but not publish the post before you can edit it. You would then make him or her an “Author.”
Only give someone Administrator roles if you want the person to have complete access to everything. This means the new user can even delete your account.
But, don’t worry. You can find plugins that will let you add custom user roles as well as setting certain permissions. These are great if you want to give someone a few admin abilities, but not all of them.
Know the Comment Section
One of the things you’ll need to keep an eye on is the comment section. That is, unless you turn off the ability to let people comment. Here is where conversations are started and how fans of the site are made.
From this area, you can approve and delete any comments people make on your posts or pages. If you have spam checking enabled, you’ll also have access to those comments as well.
The Comment section will show the author’s name, his or her website if it’s available, the comment itself, what post or page it’s responding too and the date. These can all be edited by you in case you want to clean up language or remove unnecessary links within the message.
Don’t be alarmed if your comments fill up with spam. Every blog owner faces this problem. You can use the “Discussion” tools in Settings to make spam more difficult. You can also install comment plugins that streamline this process. It might make things a lot easier and automated should you use a plugin.
You can access this area by clicking the “Comments” section from the left column in the admin screen.
How Are Updates Handled?
By default, minor updates are automatically handled by WordPress. Depending on the installation and the web host, major updates may be automated as well. By default, however, you’ll need to update themes and plugins manually.
When an update is available, you’ll see a circle made of two arrows in the top menu bar of WordPress. There will be a number next to this small graphic. This means there are that many updates available.
When you click this arrow-circle icon, you’ll be taken to the update page. From here, you can choose which components are updated. You can also choose the more common method of updating everything all at once.
WordPress will do the rest.
Learn WordPress to Build an Amazing Blog
Take the time to learn the basics of WordPress. It has a lot of features available to help you build an amazing website. All it takes is a bit of time and planning. Before you know it, you’ll be blogging like an expert.
Once you understand more of the power behind WordPress, you can start writing your content. This is what people will come to your blog to read. It’s important that you learn how to write it well.