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10 WordPress Tips for Absolute Noobs

by June 23, 2012
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10 WordPress Tips for Absolute Noobs

In honour of the relaunch of flurtsite.com (now powered by WordPress!), I thought I’d  offer Flurt! readers some insight into what I do for a living over at CodeWord Media Design … which is a lot of custom WordPress installations.

If you have just ditched a free service like Blogger, Tumblr, or WordPress.com in favour of a self-hosted WordPress installation, congrats! You’ve made a good decision. While these free services are great to get started with web publishing quickly, they also have their limitations, and nothing compares to what you can do with your website once you are in complete control of its look, feel, and capabilities.

WordPress is the most popular content management platform on the planet, and with good reason. Not only is it highly customizable, with a library of thousands upon thousands of free theme templates and plugins to extend your site’s functionality, but with a little effort on your part it is also quick to learn and easy to use, even for beginners with no website development experience. Since version 3.0 was released,WordPress has been downloaded over 65 million times. WordPress powers almost 15% of the world’s top one million websites, and statistics released in August of 2011 suggest that 22% of new websites debut running WordPress. 150,000 of the world’s top webmasters can’t be wrong!

All that being said, if you’re new to WordPress, you may still find yourself somewhat overwhelmed by where to start. As a professional self-taught website developer who works almost exclusively in custom WordPress installations, I’ve been using the platform for going on 7 years now. I’m here to offer all you noob geek girls out there the benefit of my years of trial and error and fucking up then figuring out how to do things properly with some simple but valuable tips for making the most of your first forray into this powerful web publishing tool.

Tip #1 – Save yourself time and pain with “Import”

Ever replicated an existing website in WordPress the old fashioned way, by copying/pasting every content entry and manually resetting the publish dates? No? Take it from me, it’s fucking painful, not to mention time consuming. But did you know that if you already have a website running on Blogger, LiveJournal, Movable Type, TypePad or Tumblr, you can import all of your existing content into WordPress quickly and easily? There are also other additional plugins that facilitate import from other formats too. Get started with Import from the Tools menu in WordPress admin.

Tip #2 – Post or Page: which one do I use?

Although the creation and editing process for Posts and Pages in WordPress is identical, they serve different purposes in your overall website architecture. Pages are typically used for core site content, such as your “About” and “Contact” information. This content is mostly static and will rarely change, although it is fast and simple to modify when required. Posts are designed more for content that will be added, archived, and updated frequently on the fly, such as news articles, announcements, and blog posts. Posts often appear in a feed stream format in various locations throughout your website. They can be categorized and/or tagged by topic. Everything to do with creating and editing Posts and Pages in WordPress is available from the Posts and Pages menus in WordPress admin.

Tip #3 – Permalinks

Ever wondered why some websites display their URLs like this

http://www.website.com/?p=123

while others have search engine friendly, meaningful URLs like this?

http://www.website.com/title-of-the-page-or-post/

You can control the way WordPress displays your URLs through the Permalinks setting, available from the Settings menu in WordPress admin. There are many options available, including custom formats, depending on the scope of your website and the type of content you’re publishing.

Tip #4 – Static home page vs. posts feed

A new installation of WordPress will usually default to a feed of the most recent 10 Posts on the home page of the site. But suppose you want the home page of your site to display specific intro content, and your posts feed to be on a different page, such as “News” or “Blog”? This is easy to change. Simply create a Page with content that will function as your home page (e.g. “Home”), and another Page that you’ll use to display your Posts feed (e.g. “Blog”).  You should leave the content area in the Page for your Posts feed blank. Next, select “Reading” from the Settings menu in WordPress admin. Change the “Front page displays” setting from “Your latest posts” to “A static page”, and then select “Home” as your Front Page and “Blog” as your Posts Page. Save, and voila! You can also change the number of posts that WordPress displays in a posts feed by default here. I should note as well that if you only have Pages and no Posts on your website, it is fine to leave the Posts Page unselected.

Tip #5 – Custom Menus

A new WordPress installation will usually, by default, display links to all your site’s existing Pages  in the main navigation menu if you haven’t yet created a custom menu. However, by creating a custom menu, you can easily add Post categories and even custom links to other websites, as well as Pages, to the main navigation menu of your site. Here’s how:

  1. Select “Menus” from the Appearance menu in WordPress Admin.
  2. Enter a name for your menu and click “Create Menu”
  3. Under Theme Locations, select the menu you just created as the Primary Navigation menu and click “Save”.
  4. Create custom links, and/or select the Pages and/or Post Categories you want to appear in your menu, and add them to the menu.
  5. Drag and drop the menu options into the order you want them to appear in your navigation menu. You can also organize them into hierarchies such that the top level item will appear in the main menu navigation bar and the sublevel items will appear as dropdown options underneath when mousing over the top level link. If you play around a bit, you’ll quickly get a feel for how this works.
  6. Make sure to save your menu after you’re done!

Tip #6 – “Uncategorized” posts are for the birds

A personal pet peeve of mine is when I visit a website running WordPress and I see something like the following in the post info underneath the title:

Posted by Jane Doe in Uncategorized

Your WordPress site needs to have a default category to put posts in just in case an author doesn’t select a specific category for their post during publishing — which, being an absolute noob, can happen. I’m far from one, but I still sometimes forget upon occasion. The default category for this is Uncategorized, which is created for you when WordPress is installed. But it doesn’t have to be so, and I personally would prefer it if everyone who used WordPress to run their website realized this. You can change your default post category from “Uncategorized” to something else in one of two ways.

  1. If your website is simple and you only plan on having one post category, you can go to “Categories” from the Posts menu in WordPress admin, mouse over “Uncategorized” and click “Quick Edit”. Change the Name and the Slug to something else (e.g. “News” and “news” respectively). Click “Update Category” and you’re done.
  2. If your website is more complicated and you have already created multiple post categories, you can change the default post category by selecting “Writing” from the Settings menu in WordPress admin. After changing it to your new default category, go to “Categories” from the Posts menu, mouse over “Uncategorized” and click “Delete”.

Presto! No more Uncategorized posts.

Tip #7 – HTML Mode is your friend

Frakking frak!So you’ve created a page or a post, published it, and are now freaking out because it doesn’t look like it’s supposed to and you don’t know how to fix it. What if someone sees it and realizes you’re an absolute noob?

These problems often occur when you copy and paste content from another web page or a word processing program into the WordPress Visual Editor. WordPress VE pastes styles and HTML tags as well as the actual written content. This is an awesome feature in some cases, but a real pain in the ass in others. So if the content you’ve just pasted has formatting attached, your pasted content will inherit that formatting, and will convert some of it to absolutely bizarre shit. Almost every wonky formatting issue in a WordPress post or page can be solved by switching from Visual to HTML editing mode and removing unnecessary HTML markup. If you don’t know what that looks like, check this out:

Say What???

I should also note that whenever I am copying and pasting content into a WordPress post or page from a source other than a website I already know is also running WordPress, I always start in HTML editing mode, paste the content, and then switch back to Visual editing mode to tweak and format it. For those of you who already have a bit of HTML savvy, you should also be aware that WordPress HTML mode does not require either <p> tags or <br> tags unless you are using an alignment other than default left. Two line breaks in HTML mode will create a paragraph when you switch back to Visual mode, and one line break will create a new line in the same paragraph.

I would add that the “Preview” button is also your friend. This will allow you to preview how your content will display on the site before it’s published, so you can fix any problems before anyone else sees it.

Tip #8 – Speaking of line breaks …

This may seem obvious to those of you who are used to composing e-mail in HTML mode or who have used other WYSIWYG website editing platforms, but this *is* an article for absolute noobs, so I thought it was worth mentioning. When you’re composing in the WordPress Visual Editor, hitting the “Enter/Return” key will automatically create a new paragraph. If you want to create a single line break in the same paragraph, hold down the “Shift” key before you hit “Enter”.

Tip #9 – Use Heading 3 instead of bold or underlined text for heading titles in Posts and Pages

This is also another personal pet peeve of mine, especially when my clients do it after I’ve handed over a WordPress site to them to maintain themselves.

The WordPress Visual Editor allows for heading titles all the way down to six levels, and any theme worth its salt will have styling for them already included in its CSS files. Most WordPress themes will be using the Heading 1 and Heading 2 levels to style page/post titles that are already hard coded into the theme, so if you’re an absolute noob, your best bet is to start with Heading 3 and work down from there. The designer of your theme has already created styles to indicate that text is a heading title, so why not use them as the designer intended?

To create a Heading 3 title, go to the format selection menu in the Visual Editor and select “Heading 3” from the drop down list. You can also turn any existing block of text into a heading title by clicking anywhere in the text of it and selecting “Heading 3” from the format menu. The best part is that when you hit Enter, format will change back to Paragraph so you don’t accidentally end up with an entire post of heading title.

Tip #10 – Don’t forget the Featured Image

This is a big one that people who aren’t too familiar with WordPress ask me about all the time.

How can I get an image thumbnail for this post to display on the homepage/archive/blog page?

If your theme is set up to display post excerpts and thumbnail images in your post feeds instead of the full content of a post (like the ones here on Flurt! do), chances are it is making use of Featured Image. A clean, brand-new WordPress installation comes with Featured Image enabled and ready to go, and I definitely recommend a theme using the Featured Image method over any theme that uses TimThumb and custom fields.

Usually when I am composing content in WordPress, I insert the first image in a post, and set it as the Featured Image while I’m at it by clicking the “Use as featured image” link before clicking “Insert into Post”.

If you need to fix a missing featured image in an existing post, the Featured Image setting box can be found in the bottom right corner of your WordPress Add/Edit Post screen. If you don’t see it, click on “Screen Options” at the top left of the screen, make sure Featured Image is checked. From there, upload/insert an image as you normally would, click “Use as featured  image” and then X out of the media tool without inserting the image into the post. As a bonus tip, if you want to use an image that’s already in the post as a featured image, it should be available from the post gallery or media library, so you don’t have to upload it again.

Well, there you have it. 10 WordPress Tips for Absolute Noobs. I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface with this article when it comes to stuff I wish I’d known when I was first starting out in WordPress. I haven’t even gotten to widgets, slugs, or embedded YouTube videos! If you have a WordPress question not covered here, feel free to leave me a comment or e-mail me at kasia@codewordmediadesign.com and I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction.

Some other good resources for WordPress noobs here:


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