How to Blog Goodly...with WordPress (Setting Up Your WordPress Blog)
Google Platinum Partner owner of Cedar Rapids Web Design, James Welbes, is giving us a bit of his blogging expertise in this very informative guest post! Grab your computer and get ready to launch your blog!
Blogging lesson number 1: Learn how to write.
The purpose of this blog post is to instruct you on how to start a blog using WordPress, but before I get to that I want to take just a quick minute to talk about the importance of quality writing.
You don’t need a PhD in Journalism to be a blogger, but you should at least make an effort to use proper spelling and grammar. Using bad grammar, spelling, or just plain bad writing reflects poorly on you and subsequently, your business. Every blog post you publish is potentially somebody’s first impression with you and/or your business and it’s no secret how important a first impression can be.
Here’s a fantastic article that provides 10 useful tips that will greatly improve your writing pretty much overnight.
You should also consider finding someone who has a talent for writing and have them proof read your posts. Spell check and Grammarly are great tools, but a piece of writing can be technically “correct” but still be terrible. For example:
“Here’s a great article that provides 10 great tips that will greatly improve your writing”.
Overusing the same word in a sentence is just bad writing. There’s nothing technically wrong with the grammar or spelling in that sentence, but it’s still terrible.
Ok, enough of that. On to WordPress.
Let’s talk about what WordPress is and why you should use it.
What Is WordPress?
WordPress is a Content Management System (CMS) developed by a company called Automattic. A content management system does exactly what it says, it manages your content.
Blogging without a CMS would involve a lot of manual work, particularly with regards to organizing your blog posts, and links to your blog posts, categories, tags etc.
A CMS takes care of all of that for you. When you publish a new blog post, it automatically shows up on your blog page at the top, it is automatically added to any relevant category pages etc.
There are many CMS’ out there. WordPress is one of the oldest, and by far the most popular CMS available. At the time of this writing, WordPress accounts for over 30% of all the websites in the world, and that’s not just blogs. While WordPress was primarily built for blogging, today it’s used for all sorts of websites, large and small.
So why use WordPress? WordPress isn’t the largest website building platform in the world by chance. WordPress is so popular because it’s relatively easy to use for beginners, yet at the same time very powerful, allowing advanced developers to do a lot of fancy schmancy things with it. It also has a TON of support in the ways of third party themes, and plugins that can add all sorts of features to your website.
WordPress.com or WordPress.org?
WordPress comes in two flavors: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. What’s the difference?
WordPress.com is a very simple way to get a blog up and running with minimal effort/money. You can host a blog on WordPress.com for free and be sharing your first blog post within minutes. The free version will include all the basic WordPress features, like the ability to create pages, and posts. The biggest draw-back to the free version is having wordpress in the domain name. For example, your blog’s domain might be jennysbakingblog.wordpress.com or jimspoliticalpodcast.wordpress.com. In order to remove the wordpress bit from the domain you’ll need to upgrade your plan, and purchase a custom domain name.
There are other restrictions, such as having a very small list of plugins (an extension that adds functionality to your website) from which to choose, and not being able to edit your website’s CSS (the code that determines the style of your blog) without another upgrade. At the end of the day, the WordPress.com plan with the least restrictions will end up costing you $25/month and is still more limiting than a WordPress.org website.
WordPress.org is a self hosted version of WordPress. That means that instead of hosting on WordPress.com, you install WordPress on your own server. This can be done the “old school” way, by actually downloading the files from WordPress.org and uploading them to your own server, then creating a database etc. But your hosting provider will usually have a much easier way of installing WordPress. Typically you can install WordPress on a hosting plan with the click of a button. It’s not really any more difficult than setting up a WordPress.com account.
Here are some of the important differences:
With a WordPress.org site you will need a web hosting provider (like GoDaddy, FlyWheel, SiteGround, HostGator etc) and you will need a custom domain name. Domains are usually around $12/year and web hosting can range anywhere from $15/month to hundreds of dollars per month depending on what you want. If you’re just starting out, buy the cheapest plan available and upgrade as necessary. Most hosting companies will have some kind of “Managed WordPress” deal, which is probably what you should go with.
While WordPress.org might cost a few extra bucks (Depending on the plan you choose. If you unlock all the WordPress.com features, it might actually end up being more expensive than a WordPress.org blog) there are some significant benefits to going the .org route.
First, you won’t have wordpress.com in your domain, which will add a lot of legitimacy to your blog. Instead of jennysbakingblog.wordpress.com you could have jennysbakingblog.com (assuming that domain is available).
With WordPress.org you’re welcome to install any theme, or any plugin that you find, whereas WordPress.com limits you to a very short list of available themes and an even shorter list of plugins.
Basically, with WordPress.org you have full control over every aspect, every file of your website. In my humble opinion, given how easy it is these days to install a WordPress.org website there’s really no reason to use WordPress.com.
Buy a Domain Name
Before you get too excited about WordPress, you’ll need to find a domain name. Whichever hosting company you choose will likely have the option to purchase domain names (technically you’re not purchasing the domain, it’s more like renting, but whatever).
Basically, search for the domain that you want, and if nobody else has it already, you’ll be able to buy it for usually around $12/year. Some domains are more expensive, like a .us or a .co. And some domains are already owned by someone but they’re trying to sell it. It’s not uncommon to see a domain listed for hundreds, or even thousands of dollars. This fee is as ONE TIME fee. After that, you’ll pay the regular $12/year or whatever the cost may be for that domain.
How to Install WordPress
Since every hosting company is going to do things a little differently, I can’t really give a step by step guide to installing WordPress. But I can tell you that it will be pretty much the same across the board.
First, you’ll need to choose a hosting company. Say, SiteGround or BlueHost.
Then you’ll need to purchase a hosting plan. If they have a Managed WordPress option, go with that. Otherwise grab their cheapest shared hosting plan. If there’s a cPanel option, do that. cPanel is a very popular web server GUI (graphical user interface) that makes managing your web host easy.
If you’ve chosen a Managed WordPress plan, simply follow the prompts. It will ask you to choose a username, and a password for logging into your website. It will also ask you for a Website name, tagline, and an email.
At some point during this process it should ask you what the domain name for the website is. You’ll likely be able to select the domain you already purchased from a drop down, and since the same company is handling the domain, and the website, you shouldn’t have to mess with any domain settings (known as DNS settings).
NOTE: If you choose to buy a domain from one company, and host the website with another, this is possible, and even common. But you’ll need to edit your DNS settings to connect the two. Contact either your domain provider, or your hosting provider for help. Either one should be able to take care of you in that regard.
Either way, you should know that once you connect the domain and the hosting, whether it’s with the same company or two different companies, it can take some time - sometimes even hours - for the two to connect. Which means you may not be able to login to your website right away after installing WordPress. This is normal. If this happens just keep trying every 15 minutes or so and eventually you’ll be able to get in.
If you chose a shared hosting account then somewhere you should see an option to install various apps, and WordPress will undoubtedly be one of the many options. Here’s an example of something you might see:
You can see the very first option on this list is WordPress, followed by the 2nd and 3rd most popular CMS’, Drupal and Joomla.
If your host uses cPanel, you’ll want to look for something called Installatron, or Softaculous. These are apps that hosting providers usually pre-install onto your cPanel that allow you to install apps like WordPress. So after you login to your cpanel, you’ll scroll down (or do a search for “install”) and look for the Software section within cPanel, and there you should see Installatron or Softaculous. Click on this and find WordPress.
Ok, so I have a hosting account, a domain name, and I've installed WordPress. Now what?
How to Login to Your Website
Logging into your website is pretty darn easy. Simply add /wp-admin to the end of your domain and hit enter. For example, if your website is jennysbakingblog.com then in your web browser’s address bar, type jennysbakingblog.com/wp-admin and press enter.
This will bring up a login screen. When you installed WordPress, they asked you to choose a username and a password. Enter those in now.
Now that you’re logged in, we’re going to take a brief tour through the WordPress dashboard.
For the most part, every WordPress dashboard will look just about the same. In fact at first, they all look exactly the same. It starts to change a little as you add a theme and some plugins.
Here’s an example of a fresh new WordPress dashboard that hasn’t been touched yet:
You’ll find all your options on the left-hand side, like posts, pages media etc.
The most important things to get familiar with in the beginning are Posts, Pages, Themes Settings and Menus.
Themes determine the overall look of the website. You can browse lots of “official” themes right through the WordPress dashboard, and you can also do a Google search for WordPress themes and install any theme you find. There are many free themes, as well as premium themes.
NOTE: Be careful when doing this. Make sure to do your due diligence and consider the following:
When was the last time the theme was updated?
Has it been tested with the current version of WordPress?
How good are the reviews?
How many reviews are there?
Do your best to find a reputable theme with good reviews and good support.
In the beginning, I recommend sticking to one of the official themes that can be found within the WordPress dashboard, which we’ll go over next.
Finding a Theme
To find a theme, go to Appearance > Themes:
Then click the blue Add New button at the top.
From here you’ll have a pretty wide range of themes to choose from. You can use filters to refine your search, or just simply browse until you see one you like.
When you find one you like, hover over it and click on the blue Install button:
After a few seconds, click the blue Activate button.
Your theme is now active. Some themes may change your dashboard options a little. Others will not.
One thing to keep in mind, is that once you install your theme, you shouldn’t expect your website to look exactly like the preview/demo. At this point, you haven’t uploaded any images, you haven’t added any content, blog posts etc. Some themes will include an import option, that will actually import all the necessary images, and some dummy content in order to make your blog look just like the demo. From there you can begin editing it to make it your own. But typically you will not have the import option and there will be some necessary work required to get the exact look you want.
One decision you’ll want to make is whether or not you want your blog to be the first thing people see. Some people have the blog on the landing page, while others prefer to have a link in the menu called Blog that viewers can click on to view the blog.
If you want the blog on the landing page, you likely won’t have to do anything. WordPress is setup that way by default. If you prefer to have a home page without the blog, and you’d rather link to the blog, there’s a couple steps you’ll need to take, which we’ll cover a little bit later when we talk about creating pages and posts.
Here’s a couple examples to show you what I mean:
Here’s a website where the blog is the whole point, and therefore it’s right on the landing page: https://chromeunboxed.com
Here’s a website that has a blog, but it’s not the focus of the website, so it’s linked to in the menu but not right on the landing page: https://www.rossstreetroasting.com
Not only is the blog not the main focus of this site, but you won’t even find the link unless you scroll down to the menu in the footer. But it’s still there.
Now that you’ve chosen your theme, and decided if you want your blog to be on the landing page, or linked to from the menu, let’s talk about creating some content!
To create a page, click on Pages on the left-hand side of your WordPress dashboard, and click the Add New button.
NOTE: Before you click Add New, you may notice that they gave you one default page already, called About. You are welcome to simply edit that page to your liking, or delete it and create one from scratch. For the purpose of this lesson, I’ll assume you deleted it and started from scratch.
You should now be looking at a screen that looks like this:
There may be a popup with some helpful tips for getting started. I recommend taking a minute to read through those tips. This should help you familiarize yourself with this screen.
Much of this page will be pretty straight forward. You’ll want to give your page a title, perhaps About Us. Then below that will be the page content.
Go ahead and hover your mouse over “Start writing or type / to choose a block” and click on the plus sign.
There are many blocks that you can explore on your own, but for now go ahead and search for “Classic” and choose that one.
Now you can add your content. This text editor will be pretty standard. You’ll have options like making the text bold, italic, adding numbered and bulleted lists, etc.
NOTE: To add media, such as a picture or video, click the second to last icon, that has a camera and a music note behind it.
Once you’ve added your page content, click on Document in the upper right corner to bring up your page settings.
Here you can do things like change the permalink (how the URL is displayed for this page) add a featured image (this image will show up on social media if you share this page) and choose whether to allow people to leave comments on this page.
When you’re all done creating your page, make sure you remember to click Publish.
Now your page is technically live, but it’s not going to show up anywhere unless you provide some sort of link to it somewhere. The most obvious place would be in your menu, but you can add links basically anywhere on your website that link to specific pages.
Before we talk about creating Posts, let’s take a look at how to add this new page we just created to our menu.
Adding Items to your Menu
So now that we created an About page, lets go add it to our menu!
To navigate to the Menus page, You’ll want to go to Appearance > Menus:
Once here, you’ll notice that WordPress already added two items to your menu. Home and About. Since they already added About to the menu, this gives us a good opportunity to practice deleting a menu item before we add one.
To delete the About page from your menu, click on the down arrow next to About, and scroll down and choose Remove.
Now, to add About back to your menu, click the check-box next to About in the Pages section on the left-hand side and click Add to Menu. You will see the About page show up underneath the Home page.
NOTE: You can re-order menu items simply by clicking and dragging them around. You can even set menu items as sub-items underneath existing menu items.
When you have your menu looking the way you want, don’t forget to click Save Menu before you leave, otherwise your changes will not be saved.
Quick note before we move on to creating your first post. If you decided earlier that you don’t want your blog to be on the landing page, but rather you want to add a link to the blog in your menu, you need to do a couple things.
First, create a new page called Blog. You don’t have to add any content or a featured image or anything. Just create a new page, give it the title Blog, and then click Publish.
Then create another new page, call it Home and publish it.
Then, navigate to Settings > Reading.
The very first option on this screen should be Your homepage displays: and Your latest posts should be selected by default. This will put your blog right on the landing page. To change this, select A static page and for Home page select your page Home, and for Posts page select your page Blog. Then click Save Changes at the bottom.
Now, the last step is to add your Blog page to your menu, just like we did with the About page earlier.
Ok, now let’s create your first blog post!
Creating a Blog Post
Creating a new post is almost exactly like creating a new page, with a few minor differences that we’ll talk about.
First, click on Posts in the left-hand menu and click the Add New button.
You’ll notice a screen that looks just like the screen we used to create a page.
Give the post a title, add some content to it just like you did with the page.
One significant difference between a page, and a post is that you can give a post a category. This will be done on the right-hand side under the Document tab. Every time you create a new post, you’ll want to give it a relevant category. Feel free to give a post multiple categories. If you’re a photography blogger and you took some pictures of flowers, you might give a blog post a category of Nature, and Flowers. You might even make Flowers a subcategory of Nature. It’s all up to you. Organizing your posts into categories allows your users to find exactly the content they’re looking for without having to browse through every one of your blog posts.
For a blog post, the featured image is a little more important. Not only will it be displayed on social media if you share this post, but it also shows up on your Blog page.
Once you’ve given your blog post a title, content, category[ies] and featured image, go ahead and click Publish.
Now unlike pages, when you publish a post, it automatically shows up on your website on the Blog page (or on your landing page, depending on what you decided on earlier). You don’t have to do anything to make that happen. It also shows up on any relevant category pages, so if a user clicks on the category “Nature” they will see your new blog post on the list automatically. That’s one of the beauties of blogging with a CMS like WordPress.
That’s about it for the basics. There is of course a LOT more that you can do with WordPress, like contact forms and other fun things but this post is already over 3000 words long and very few of you probably made it this far so I’ll cut it off here. By now you should have everything you need to get started with a blog. From here, I would suggest researching SEO Best Practices and, if your intent is to make money blogging, try a search for How to Monetize my Blog. There is tons of information out there so don’t just read one article and run with it. Read as much as you have time for, and then a little bit more.
Thank you for checking out this fantastic guest post! To have James walk you through blog setup on WordPress, come to our local workshop (hosted by Who’s Lance ? Digital Media and Yoimono) on February 15, 2019!