Please Note. Since this post you are now able to add 3rd-party themes and plugins to WordPress.com
If you have been thinking about using WordPress or have just started using it, this in-depth guide is for you.
What Is the Difference Between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?
WordPress.com vs. a Self-Hosted Site
If you choose to set up your website and/or blog on WordPress.com, instead of purchasing hosting and building a self-hosted site, consider these points.
You are limited to the number of themes that you can use. You are limited in being able to use other widgets beyond what they include. You cannot add plugins for areas of additional functionality, and limited access to functionality such as eCommerce.
Note: As of August 7, 2017 >> WordPress.com Business Now Supports Plugins and Third-Party Themes
And, most important:
If you are on WordPress.com, you are on their platform and you will need to follow their user guidelines. Although you can export your content at any time, you do not have total control over your site. In other words, you cannot move your entire site somewhere else, such as a host, if you decide.
Remember, think long-term—not just what your needs are now, but what they will be 3 months, 6 months, or even a year or more down the road.
WordPress.com and any site you self-host is using the same software, WordPress, which is free.
WordPress.com – when you open an account the software is already installed.
Self-Hosted – if you open a shared hosting account, likely they will have a one-click install for WordPress which makes it very easy. If you are using a managed WordPress hosting site, they will have WordPress already installed in your account.
Neither one is easier here. It all depends on your site, your theme, and what your goals are.
WordPress.com – you can use your own domain if you rather not use the default domain, eg. bobwp.wordpress.com. It can either be registered using WordPress.com for $18 per year, or if you have your domain registered somewhere else, you can use it and pay for what’s called domain mapping and that is $13 per year.
Self-Hosted – you can use your own domain whether it’s registered on the site you are hosting with or if it’s registered anywhere else, typically at no extra charge.
UPDATES, BACKUPS AND SECURITY
WordPress.com – updates are automatic. Security is built into the WordPress.com platform. You can backup the content such as pages, posts, etc by exporting your files. the theme, widget settings and other stuff is backed up by WordPress.com and you have no control over that. If your site goes down it’s typically due to something with the platform and you will have to contact them.
Self-Hosted – all of this is dependent on you and your host. Some updates are now done automatically by some hosts. If not, you will need to do them. When it comes to backups and security, you will need to see what your hosts offer and it might involved you installing additional plugins or purchasing 3rd-party service to get what you need.
WordPress.com – you have selection of over 400 free and premium themes to choose from. That does sound like a lot, but you may want more. Also note that if you purchase a premium theme on WordPress.com and later decide to move to a self-hosted site, you cannot take the theme with you. You will need to purchase it again.
Self-Hosted – you have access to over 3,600 free themes that are on the repository on WordPress.org and thousands more from premium theme vendors. My personal recommendations for premium themes that I have the most experience is Genesis child themes from StudioPress and for eCommerce themes, WooThemes. There are also themes here on my site that I have reviewed as well. But that is only my initial choices. If you choose to use a free theme, I highly recommend only using them from WordPress.org. These code in these themes have been scrutinized to make sure you are not getting a theme with malware or other bad stuff. If you do use a free theme from a site you don’t know, you are taking a huge risk.
PLUGINS & WIDGETS
WordPress.com – you have a limited number of widgets that you can use on your blog, but it is a good variety. You cannot install plugins on your site on WordPress.com.
Self-Hosted – you have access to over 43,000 free plugins on WordPress.org and thousands of free and premium plugins from vendors. Which means you can add more functionality to your site including eCommerce.
WordPress.com – most affiliate links from reputable merchants are allowed on WordPress.com and you can read more about that here. Sponsored posts are also allowed but may not include these. Also, images ads or third-party advertising networks like Google AdSense, OpenX, Lijit, BuySellAds and Vibrant Media are not allowed. Lastly you cannot add an e-commerce plugin on your site to set up a online shop.
Self-Hosted – in a nutshell, you can make money any way you want.
PAID PLANS ON WORDPRESS.COM
If you do choose to be on WordPress.com, here are the plans that are available.
So Is WordPress.com a Good Option?
There are many very successful blogs on WordPress.com. Here are a few reasons you may choose it over self-hosing.
You might open an account there just to get a feel for how WordPress works. Although it doesn’t have all the options you get if you self-host, you can play around with a lot of the basics and get a better feel if the WordPress platform is for you.
You have a very simple site and don’t need much as far as bells and whistles.
You don’t have the time or budget to invest in a site right now.
And there are some options to upgrade your account.
REAL CASE SCENARIO
Here is an example of when I moved a client from self-hosted to WordPress.com. She was a long-time client and a business writer/editor. Her site was more of a static brochure and she didn’t blog very much. At one point she decided to take full-time employment. But she still wanted to have her site up, she would be working with a few of her existing clients on the side, and or course, didn’t know if the job may end someday. But she didn’t want to mess around with the expense of hosting or have to worry about updates, etc. And most importantly, she understood that if she need to bump up her site in the future, that it may involve moving back to a self-hosted site. So it was a perfect fit for her.
What you need to do is weigh all the pros and cons and make that decision based on your needs now, and in the future.
Tips For Finding the Right Host
There are dozens of hosting companies out there. And the more you listen, the more you will hear about both good and bad experiences—in all of them. When researching your new host, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Cost – Of course this is what typically drives your final decision. But remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As with anything, when it comes to hosting you get what you pay for. Hosting can cost from as little at $3 a month up to several hundreds of dollars, depending on your needs.
Space – Make sure that your hosts provide enough space if you are planning on really growing your site out.
Bandwidth – This is based on number of visitors and the content you have on your site. Many cheaper hosts say they offer unlimited bandwidth, but the moment you start getting tons of traffic, they will come to you for more money.
Accessible – If you are already hosting a site somewhere, WordPress or not, you may be familiar with the cPanel and can easily find your way around it. But if you aren’t, they can be overwhelming and confusing. Be prepared to either find a leaner panel or expect to take some time understanding your way around your hosting services and features.
Uptime – How often does the hosting service go down? To be fair, no one is perfect and stuff can happen. But a lot of hosts proudly share high uptime. Tip: do a search for the host on Twitter and see if people are complaining about a lot of downtime or other problems.
Support – Next to cost, this should be one of the most important things to consider. Make sure they offer the support channel you are most comfortable with. If you want to call them, see if they have phone support. If you are big fan of chat, make sure they have that option. And be wary of anyone who doesn’t mention WordPress much. That typically means that if you have a WordPress issue, they will simply pass it off with the “Sorry, WordPress is ‘a third-party’ software and we cannot help you” line. The good thing is that with the growing popularity of WordPress, more and more hosts are stepping up to the plate when it comes to technical support.
WordPress Friendly – Almost every host is accommodating with WordPress, and as I mentioned in support, will give some support for the software. But you should also be able to easily install and uninstall WordPress on your hosting as well. Make sure and ask unless they mention WordPress in their sales.
What Kind of Hosting Should I Use?
There are a few kinds of hosting: shared, managed WordPress hosting, VPS, and dedicated servers. We are going to talk here primarily about shared and managed hosting.
WordPress Shared Hosting
Shared hosting is usually less expensive as you are sharing the host’s server with hundreds, if not thousands, of other websites. Most of these accounts provide you with an unlimited number of websites that you can create, as well as email services. But shared hosting is not recommended for websites with high traffic. Depending on how fast your site grows, you may be required to upgrade to a dedicated server or find another hosting option.
For shared hosting options, we recommend Bluehost
Managed WordPress Hosting
This hosting typically costs more, but there are some very affordable options. And since they only work with WordPress sites, their support will be more robust. In addition, there are often more layers of security with managed hosting, faster loading speed, and extras like easy backup and restore, as well as staging space. Also, managed hosting is more scalable. As your site grows, it is easier to upgrade based on traffic and speed.
Staging For Your Site
I talked about how convenient it is to be able to move your site to a staging area where you can edit, update or test out new plugins without it affecting your site. If you use Shared Hosting, often you don’t get this feature. But there is an option for that, WPStagecoach. It’s well worth checking into if you are the type to do a lot of testing and site changes.
Do You Need a Blog?
For a lot of people diving into WordPress, making the decision to blog is huge. There are so many things to consider. In fact, if you are doing your site for your business, you will hear those consultants out there yelling, Every business should have a blog.
That only stresses you out more.
You Could Have a Blog
If you are getting primarily into WordPress to have start a blog, well, then it’s the obvious choice. Now in a perfect world every business would have a blog. In a perfect world, we would have all the resources to run our businesses optimally.
But we don’t live in a perfect world. And no, not every business needs a blog.
The advantage of using WordPress is that the option for a blog is always there. But you don’t have to use it. In fact, you can use the way a blog works to develop other valuable content on your site. I will talk about this more a little later in this lesson.
Another point to remember is this: a blog is just another tool. Like everything else you use in marketing your business, you choose a blog if, and only if, it works for you.
But a blog can be a very powerful tool.
If it fits your goals, having a blog on your business site can put you at an advantage in your field or industry. It can:
A blog allows you to keep your site updated with fresh content. Google likes that and so do your fans and customers. It’s what keeps bringing them back to your site. When you bundle your blog with your website, that’s even better. because Every time someone visits your blog, they end up on your site. And chances are, if you have useful content, those new readers just might dig deeper into what you have to offer as a business, hobbyist or simply a blogger.
Builds Your Brand
Between delivering fresh, regular content and getting your readers to share that content, what better way to get your message out there? You can focus on who you are and what you offer.
For businesses that brand building can even go further when you start mixing other media into your blog. Don’t think just text. You can share images, videos and audio as well. And all of it is focused on you and your brand’s voice.
Makes You the Expert or Influencer
Blogging is a natural way to share what you know. Educating. Engaging. Entertaining. Once you start, you will be surprised at how much you know that is new information for your readers.
If you are just a hobbyist or starting your cooking blog, yes, you can grow into an expert or influencer. As a blogger for your business, obviously, the more you share of your expertise, the wider the audience of potential clients and customers who will look to you as the expert. Over time, your blog becomes the go-to place for information. And who doesn’t want to hire someone who really knows their stuff?
Engages Visitors and Customers
Yes, it is getting to be more of a challenge to get people to comment on your blog these days, but it does still happen. Also, as a result of your blog, people will start engaging more with you on social media channels like Twitter and Facebook. Those interactions become the perfect opportunity for you to learn what you are doing right and even what you can improve on. Reader comments can even inspire other posts or even services and products that will better serve your clients.
Every blogger needs to figure out that gray area of how open they want to be with their clients and readers, the degree of their authenticity. But typically, as you write your post, you should inject some of your personality your voice—into it. People like feeling that they know the person behind the business.
But be careful. You don’t want to hear that comment, “Whoa, that was more than I needed to know.”
You Can Have a Blog, But Not Blog
As I mentioned earlier, you can take advantage of the blogging functionality in WordPress without having a blog.
Let me explain this from a different perspective. Developers who create themes and plugins use something called Custom Post Types. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you are using the plugin The Events Calendar Pro. This plugin gives you a calendar but also outputs a nicely formatted page for each event. When you are creating a new event, you will add the description of the event just like you would do for a blog post.
And below this is additional information about the event. What this does is collect all the information and formats it into a custom post in an attractive way.
That is how they use the functionality of posts in WordPress.
Now it’s your turn.
You can use the post format to find another way to make your site useful while adding fresh content on a schedule that is comfortable to you. Instead of a blog, it can be a collection or series or articles, white papers, recipes or reviews. Maybe you use them for testimonials or product specs. Or like the above plugin, for events. My point here is get creative and find a way that you can use the power of posts and the ability to organize them in a way that works for you.
Obviously you will need to make the final decision, to blog or not to blog. You will need to decide “does a blog really work with my business?”. Although you may run a business where you find yourself wondering exactly what you would blog about, check out other blogs in your industry and see what they are doing. But don’t copy. Find your own unique way to reach the audience you are looking for.
A Peek Inside of the WordPress Dashboard
The WordPress dashboard is where you will spend most of your time when working on your site: creating pages and posts, adding plugins, moving widgets and dozens of other tasks. The dashboard is also referred to as the admin or the backend, depending on who’s talking.
In this lesson, you’ll get an overview of where and what shows up in your dashboard, as well as posts and pages, categories and tags, navigation menus and the media library.
This not so obvious feature can help you not only keep your work area cleaner in the dashboard, but also prevent frustration down the road. As you see in the screenshot below, there is a tab in the upper right corner of your screen. You will find this option on almost every window you open in the dashboard.
And if we enlarge it, we have the options to show or hide specific elements or features on that page.
We will be revisiting the screen options again shortly.
Submenus in the Sidebar
When looking at the menu options in the sidebar of the dashboard, you must also be aware that within those features, you will find more options.
An important thing to be aware of is that as you add certain themes and plugins, your menus will grow because you are also adding more options and features to your site and your dashboard. If you look at this next screenshot, you will notice the one on the left is shown after a fresh install of WordPress, and the one on the right, after adding a new theme and several more plugins, is much more extensive.
The key is to remember that anytime you add a new plugin, the menu item for that plugin can show up in the sidebar somewhere, as well as in sub-menus. For example, a lot of them end up in the Settings menu. Again, in this screenshot the left image shows the basic default settings for WordPress that come when you first install it. But as you can see from the right image, as we begin to add more plugins, some of those start appearing here rather than in the main menu of your dashboard.
Managing the Menus
If you are finding that your dashboard menus are getting to cluttered or unorganized, you can use a plugin like the Admin Menu Manager that allows you to reorder and hide specific menu items. Word of caution: if you are the only person who accesses the backend of your site this is great. But it others do, or you are handing this site off to someone, they may have already become use to the default order. So if you are doing this, make others aware of the changes you have made.
Post and Page Editor Window
As you are setting up your WordPress site, you will be creating pages and posts. Of course you may choose not to use posts at all. Remember, you use pages more for you static content: for example, your services page, about page or contact page. On the other hand, posts are used for new and changing content, which is what your blog is set up for.
As you can see in the screenshot below, the editor window has several options. The two rows of tools is very similar to working with a text editor or software like Word. Of course, you will want to dive deeper into the editor window and learn all of its options. In this course, I’d just like to give you a brief overview of what it looks like.
Categories and Tags
WordPress uses categories and tags to help you organize your content. Categories and tags are only used with posts, although there are plugins that will let you use categories with pages if you need it.
So what are categories and tags? Think of categories as the chapters in a book, and tags as the index. In other words, your categories are more general, where your tags get more specific.
Here’s an example. A photographer may have the categories: Landscape, Urban, Travel, etc. whereas the tags for travel may be city or country specific. Urban might have tags for buildings, people, transportation, etc. See where I’m going with this?
So in your dashboard you can choose to add a category or tag here:
Or you can add them on your page editor window here:
So categories and tags help you organize your content. Categories will play into the SEO (search engine optimization) of your site, but tags will not, as they are ignored by search engines. As you get more into WordPress, you will learn just how powerful categories are. And how they can help you organize your content in a way that will make the experience for your visitors that much better.
Also, you will find that a lot of themes depend on using categories when you are laying out pages, specifically the homepage, as you saw in the lesson on themes. Plugins also depend heavily on categories for organizing the content.
NOTE: You will the option to have a tag cloud added to your sidebar, similar to what you are seeing above to the right. In the past, you probably have seen a lot of these on blogs, but they are being used less and less often for a couple of reasons. Not as many readers use them to find content, and they take a lot of valuable real estate up in your sidebar. So think before adding one.
You will notice that when you are setting up your pages, they do not automatically appear in your navigation bars. Depending on your theme, they can appear above and/or below, or in the left side of the header. So you will need to create your pages before creating your navigation menus.
First, you will find your menus by going to Appearances > Menus.
In this screenshot you will see that I have already created my menu. Here are a few things to know:
- You will add pages, links and categories by selecting them in the boxes on the left and adding to menu.
- You can order your menu by simply using drag and drop.
- You can easily create sub-menus by dragging them to the right and locking them in under the main menu button. In the sample below, Site Maintenance, WordPress Support and Web Design are sub-menus of Services.
- The Links option to the right allows you to create a custom link in your navigation (for example, if you wanted to link to another site.)
As you add more plugins, the choices for what you are able to add to your navigation will increase. As you can see, the added options on the left in this example are also showing links I can add, having installed an events plugin, a local SEO plugin and the WooCommerce plugin.
You can create as many menus as you want. If you would like to add a menu to a footer or sidebar widget area, you can easily use the Custom Menu widget to do that. This adds extra usability for your readers and visitors by helping them find what they are looking for and navigate around your site more easily.
Your media library will hold all the images, videos and audio files that you upload to your WordPress site. You can either upload them directly to the media library, or insert them into a specific page or post, where they will then be automatically added to your library.
Note: Be careful of uploading large videos or audio files to your library. They can take up a lot of bandwidth to play, which results in a couple of things. 1) Slowing down your site, and 2) using too much bandwidth with your host, where subsequently they may come at you and require you to pay a lot more money. It’s best to stream in content from other services, such as YouTube or Vimeo.
Once an image is in the library, you can click on it to further edit the info or retrieve the direct link to the image.
You will also have an option to further edit the image as well. This is good for some small tweaks, such as cropping.
As you can see from this lesson, there is a lot of learn when it comes to the WordPress dashboard. I have given you a basic overview here that touches just the tip of the iceberg.
What Are Themes and What Does It Take To Set Them Up?
What Is a Theme?
A theme is a collection of templates that allows your WordPress site to have a specific design and look. The theme includes all the different layouts of the pages and your homepage, which may be your blog or a unique layout. It also controls all the color and fonts that everyone sees when visiting your site.
In this post I will talk about some key points to keep in mind when choosing a theme. But this is just an overview with a few tips. Choosing your theme is a very important part of starting your WordPress site or blog. I’m just going to give you some pointers here.
Free Vs. Premium Themes
There are thousands of free themes out there, as well as thousands of premium themes, which range in cost. Some have a one-time cost, others you renew yearly. Although there are a lot of very good free themes out there, including some that have been around for a long time, I always recommend purchasing a premium theme, especially if this is for your business. There are three main reasons for this:
Every theme will need to be updated along the way. WordPress itself updates a lot. This means that the theme needs to keep up with that while continuing to work on your site. When it really comes down to it, how motivated is someone who does a free theme to keep it updated? They may at some point just get tired of working on something that isn’t bringing any money in. But a premium theme shop has made an investment in their product—and a commitment to their customers. Sure, that doesn’t stop them from closing down shop at some point, but they have more of a reason to keep things going.
When you purchase a theme, a large portion of that is for the support. Sure, developers with free themes may answer questions via a forum, but again, where is the motivation? A premium theme shop will make you a priority and often it’s more than in forum. Most of them have direct email or e-ticket support.
You are likely to get a better coded theme from a reputable shop than by just grabbing any old free theme. Also, a badly coded theme can be a security risk. And back to the updates. If themes are not updated at all, this can also be risky.
One note to make here. If you are going to go with a free theme, make sure you get it on WordPress.org theme repository. The reason for this is that they look through the code of every theme to make sure it’s not loaded with malware. If you just grab a free theme off of any site on the web, you risk getting a virus or hidden malware that is advertising some product you don’t want your site to connected with.
Your best bet when choosing a theme is to either go with a developer or theme shop you know and trust, or ask for recommendations from people you trust who are knowledgeable in WordPress.
Installing a Theme
You will install your theme one of two ways.
- You can go into your dashboard and search for themes on WordPress.org, then install
- Purchase you theme on a third-party site and upload it via your dashboard.
Themes, Themes and More Themes
There are thousands of free and premium themes out there. When you are looking at themes, often come with names and the demo will be populated with content. Though you tend to make our decisions based on those two things, in reality you will be using it for your own purpose and with your unique content. So think beyond the demo. If you see a theme named “The Worship Theme,” that doesn’t mean you have to be a church to use it. But remember, some themes that are specific to an industry or business will likely have built-in features specific to that need. For example, a real estate theme will have the capability of hooking up to your IDX listings and search.
Themes For Your Blog
A lot of the themes out there show the front page with blog posts. There are all sorts of layouts, but the typical one will usually have the most recent posts and one or two sidebars. But you also need to understand that those same themes can have a basic homepage with text and some photos. Here is a video tutorial to show you how that works.
In this example of the Eleven40 Pro Theme, you can see a standard blog homepage, but with a a full post followed by excerpts of the other posts in two columns.
Magazine Style Blog Theme
Another popular option is more of a magazine or newspaper style blog. Now this doesn’t mean you are tied to calling your blog or a magazine or newspaper site, but more or less is just a way to control the content that is displayed on the homepage. This is perfect if you want to separate your blog topics into categories and have specific blocks of space on your homepage dedicated to that category or topic. For example, if you were a photography and blogged about landscape, urban, flowers, and animal photography, you could easily organize those on your homepage making it more user-friendly so someone with a specific interest could find those blog posts without searching through them all.
The News Pro child theme is a perfect example of this and is what we are using here on BobWP.
Blogs on Your Business Site
Now maybe you want to incorporate a blog into your business site. You want people to see what you are blogging about via the homepage, but still want your services and/or products to be the focus. There are tons of themes out there that do this in different ways. The benefits of including your recent posts on the homepage is:
1. You are giving the search engines fresh content on an otherwise static homepage so they will visit your site more often.
2. It also keeps your homepage fresh with new content for your site visitors and potential clients or customers.
Here are a few examples of this:
The Agency Pro theme shows the recent posts as Recent Articles.
Setting Up a Theme
Setting up a theme is easy or as complicated as the theme itself. If you choose to set up a simple blog and the theme is nothing more than a list of blog posts on the front page and a few added pages, this will not take as much time. But if you are looking at a more robust theme for your business, remember this. The more features it has, the more time it will take to set up. It’s really that simple.
In the following samples, I am not showing you how to set up any specific theme, but instead showing you an example of a few and the options some of these themes have. And remember this. I am not talking about your pages, your posts and all the WordPress functions. I am focusing more on the features of the themes and how they can make your site look so nice.
Appearance > Customize
All themes will allow for you to do some changes in the customizer, located under appearances. The number of customizations you find there will be based on the theme you use. But remember, not all of your theme settings will be found there.
In this screenshot, we are looking at the customizer using the Genesis child theme Beautiful Pro Theme. All the settings on the left can be expanded.
In fact, as time passes, you are finding more and more of the theme settings going into the customizer. If you look at some of the theme reviews I have done here on my site, you will see how many use the customizer.
Setup Sample 1 – Eleven4o Pro Genesis Child Theme
With the Eleven40 Pro Genesis child theme, of course it’s a simpler layout, more blogging focused.
But since you are running this with the Genesis parent theme, this is what some of the setup will involve.
Setup Sample 2 – News Pro Genesis Child Theme
Now if you were to use another Genesis child theme such as News Pro, the homepage would need to be set up using widgets. So first, here is what the demo looks like.
One thing to keep in mind with some of the Genesis child themes is that the homepage has a bit more flexibility. What I mean by this is:
- If you look at this first screenshot, you will see the different widget areas you would find on your widget page. Each one of these areas relate to a different part of the homepage
- Genesis provides widgets to help you set it up like the demo and you will need to set them all up.
- If you don’t want to use an area, just don’t drag a widget into it and it won’t appear. For example, if you did not need the Home – Bottom widget area.
- You can stack more widgets in an area, but you cannot change the number horizontally. For example, in the Home Middle Left and the Home Middle Right, you could two, four or more widgets showing up in that area below each other. But if you put something in the Home Middle Left and not the Home Middle Right, the right area will just be a big, blank spot.
- Lastly, you don’t have to use the widgets in the widget areas that they recommend when setting up the demo. Instead of that tabbed slider in the Home Top, you could just as easily add a video there, a single image, or even just text. And in reality, you can add any widget there, whatever works for you. Think of this homepage as one big puzzle where you are filling in the spaces with the widgets that work for your site.
Setup Sample 3 – WooThemes Canvas Theme
The Canvas theme is their most popular theme because of these two reasons:
- It has tons of options where you can customize the look without knowing code.
- It has a nice variety of child themes available.
As I mentioned before, any theme with more features means more to set up. But if you are someone who really wants control over a lot of the colors, fonts, and other design elements of your site, it would be worth it for you to use a theme like this.
As you can see from the menu options, there are a lot of them.
Now if we were to click on Navigation, in this option alone, you will see all the customization you can do.
And another example, all the customizing you can do around individual posts.
As you can see there is a lot you can do when it comes to this theme if you choose to. And you can take this even further. For example, a company by the name of PootlePress offers extensions and plugins specifically for the Canvas Theme. With one of my earlier designs, I took advantage of their plugins and was able to customize the Canvas theme exactly how I wanted it. And I did this all without knowing or touching the code. The plugins were the Page Builder and the Page Customizer.
Below the sample on the left is the Canvas demo, and the shot on the right is my site in a previous version after using the Pootlepress plugins. You can see the amazing stuff that plugins can do for you. Just remember that each plugin, depending on what it does, has its very own learning curve.
Page Builder Themes
The other option is page builder themes. You can see a couple reviews I did on those, 18 Tags Pro and Baton Pro theme. They have the page builders included and let you create a custom site without know code. There are a ton of them on the market and if you want to dive into one, they all have a bit of a learning curve depending on the plugin or theme. There are also plugins that do the same thing. A very popular page builder that works with most themes is Beaver Builder. It has a lot of options and a rock solid reputation.
What Happens When I Change My Theme?
I get this question a lot. And the answer is, well, it depends on the themes. Here are a few tips:
- When you change themes, you will not lose your pages or posts, your media or menus that you have created in WordPress.
- If you do create any posts using a special feature in the theme, for example, listings in a real estate theme, you might lose that content.You can learn more about what happens to your content when switching your theme here.
- The more features a theme has, moving from one to another, you are more likely to need a site redesign.
- WordPress allows you to preview and simply activate a new theme. But be careful.
- To give you an idea of what happens, I have taken this site and switched themes by pushing the activate button. In each sample you will see my site as it looks now (left), the theme demo I am switching to (middle), and lastly the results (right).
Theme Switch to Executive Pro
As you can see here when I switch to the Genesis Executive Pro child theme, since so many of the Genesis child themes homepages are comprised of a bunch of widgets, by switching to this theme, my current widgets I had set up just randomly spread themselves around.
Theme Switch to TwentyFifteen
Lastly, I thought I would attempt to activate the WordPress default theme since it’s a much simpler theme. But as you can see, things didn’t go too well, resulting in a fatal error.
If you want to dive into this part even more, here is a video where I talk about changing your theme. I also have several Genesis child theme tutorials on the site here beyond what I mentioned before.
What Are Widgets and Plugins?
What is a Widget?
A widget is a small block of code that works by itself and provides a specific function. Widgets can be aded to your sidebars, footers or other widget-ready areas of your themes. They were created to give users more control over the design and structure of their site.
What is a Plugin?
A plugin is really a piece of software. It consists of a function that can be added and will work directly with the WordPress code. Plugins extend the functionality of or add additional features to your WordPress site or blog. They make it easy for the user to add features to their website without knowing code.
Then There Are Add-Ons and Extensions
A lot of plugins have add-ons and extensions, which are in an odd way, plugins for plugins. They add additional features to an existing plugin. For example, you may use an eCommerce plugin but, in order to have it work with the credit card processor Authorize.net, you will need an extension for it. So you don’t have to initially install a plugin with tons of features. Instead you choose the features you only need, or in other words, like an a la carte menu. A lot of free plugins offer add-ons and extensions to meet specific needs and they typically come at an additional price.
What Do Plugins Do and Where Are They?
Plugins can do tons of stuff. Ask anyone who works in WordPress about a feature you need and you will probably hear them say, “Likely there is a plugin for that.” A plugin can enhance search engine optimization, create event calendars, generate forms, or display galleries and slideshows. You can use them to collect donations or to build an online store. You might even use them to place advertisements. The list goes on and on.
You will find thousands of free plugins on the repository at WordPress.org. Then, of course, there are tons of premium plugins out there that are sold by third-party vendors.
You can also easily search the plugins on WordPress.org in your dashboard.
You can easily upload any plugin you have bought and downloaded from another site to your dashboard.
Plugins On Your Site
Your plugin page will show all the plugins you have installed. There you can activate or deactivate them or access the link to the plugin setting.
Choosing Your Plugins
When you start looking for plugins, likely you will find several that will do what you need done. So how do you choose the right one?
Your first strategy should be to ask someone who is knowledgable in WordPress and who you know and trust. Don’t go into a group on Facebook or LinkedIn. The reason? You will probably get at least a dozen different answers, which will leave you more confused than you were when you started.
Also, when viewing a plugin on WordPress.org before install, you will find some specific information that you may want to consider:
1. What version of WordPress it is compatible with. This again plays into how often the plugin is updated. In a perfect world, it will be compatible with the latest version. The catch: I have also found several plugins that still work even if the latest version is two or three versions old.
2. When it was last updated. This can be important because you want to make sure it runs smoothly with your particular version of WordPress. Also, security updates may have happened as well. The catch: If the plugin has not been updated for 2 years, you will see a message saying that. Be careful. On the other hand, there are some plugins that still work great that haven’t been updated for that long.
3. Active installs. This is a sure sign of a useful plugin. The more installs it has, the better. The catch: What we don’t know is how long the plugin has existed. You can check the changelog to see the versions, but they are not dated. The plugin could be fairly new or so specialized that it isn’t used as widely as others.
4. & 5. Rating and reviews. This is also a good way to judge a plugin. A quick glance at the ratings can tell you if the majority of them are at one end of the spectrum or the other. It is a good idea to read the reviews are good to read, especially recent ones. The catch: Reviews can be subjective. And some people just like to bitch. Also, there are many variables to consider. For example, if a certain plugin doesn’t work right because of a crappy theme or other plugin, the negative review may reflect the true quality of the plugin.
So there are several things to think about when choosing a plugin. If you want to make it easy and be on the safe side, check out the above criteria and base your decision on that.
Default WordPress Widgets
When you install WordPress, you will automatically have all of these widgets available for your site. Depending on your theme, on the right will be the widget areas available to your specific theme.
Widgets from Plugins
When you add a new widget to your site, it will appear on your widget page. In fact, often when you add a plugin, you are likely to get one or more widgets from it. Compare this screenshot to the previous one. Below is a site with several plugins installed that have added additional widgets. Also, you will note that there are even more widget areas that come with this theme.
For example, these widgets were a result of a either a theme or a plugin.
- Genesis theme installed
- The Events Calendar plugin installed
- WooCommerce plugin installed
- Sensei for WooCommerce extension installed
Custom Widget Areas
Some plugins allow you to create custom widget areas. Two that I use a lot are WooSidebars (will work on almost any theme) and Genesis Simple Sidebars (works only on Genesis and its child themes). There are several others on WordPress.org, and a popular one is Widget Logic. The reasoning behind custom sidebars is this. Typically you create one sidebar that shows up on every page. But when you have the chance to customize the content in the sidebars on specific pages or even posts, you can more strategically marketing your products or services, while, at the same time, causing less distraction for your readers. To learn more about custom widget areas, read the post Get Creative With Your WordPress Sidebars.
Plugins: Quality Trumps Quantity
You have probably heard that you should be careful about how many plugins you install. The reason is that too many can cause your site to run slow. But I truly believe that the quality of the plugins outweigh the number used. For example, my site, at any one time, has between 40 and 50 plugins—and it has never adversely affected my site’s speed. Why? Because I choose them with care, I test, and I listen to others. Never want to add a plugin just for the sake of adding one. Only do it if your site needs the added functionality and it fills a need based on your site’s goals and your visitors’ expectations.
A Look at a Few Free and Premium Plugins
As I have mentioned, there are literally thousands of plugins out there. And you will find lists of ‘recommended’ or ‘best’ plugins everywhere. But it is impossible to share with you all the plugins you might need. The problem is that there are no must-have plugins because every site is unique and every site has different needs. Instead, I am going to give you a few examples: five popular and most commonly used plugins and what they are used for. This lesson is intended more to give you an idea of the variety of functions that plugins can perform.
Examples of Some Plugins
If you have a blog on your site and have comments open, Akismet is one of the best ways to catch SPAM. You will need to open an account on their site. They do request that you make a monthly donation, but I will leave that up to you. The thing to remember with this plugin is that it will block tons of SPAM from getting through, sending a lot of the culprits to your SPAM folder.
WP Super Cache
This plugin will improve your site’s processing time and in this way, makes your site faster. With more than one million installs, it’s extremely popular. If your site is loading slow, you might give it a try. But do keep an eye on it as I have seen it cause issues with other plugins. Also, if you are on managed WordPress hosting, chances are they have their own caching and will not allow you to install this plugin.
This plugin allows you to regenerate your thumbnails after changing the thumbnail sizes. If you have changed your theme, I highly recommend running this plugin and or course, if your theme allows you to change your thumbnail size, and you did this, I recommend running it as well. It’s very simple to install and run. The time it takes to complete its work will of course depend on the number of images you have in your media library.
Related Post for WordPress
If you have a blog on your site, this is a great plugin to help interest your readers in some of your other posts. There are several of these out there, but some of them can seriously slow down your site. I recommend Related Posts for WP and you may want to check out the premium version as well. Here is a blog post where I reviewed this plugin.
Jetpack is a powerful plugin gives you more than 40 plugins that you would normally get on WordPress.com, such as customizations, traffic, mobile, content and performance tools. For you are just starting a blog, you might consider checking this one out because it may cover all your needs. I don’t recommend installing it, however, if you only use one or two of its modules.
Social plugins come in a variety of features, from auto-posting and connecting to sharing.
If you are looking for a plugin that lets people connect with you on social media platforms, there are several on WordPress.org. One of them I frequently recommend is Simple Social Icons. What I like is that you can customize the size of the icon, making it a circle or square, as well as customizing the colors. This helps you brand it with the colors of your own site. Remember though, when adding these, make sure you only send people to social media profiles or pages you are active on. Don’t add them just because everyone else does. If you want a lot of choices in icon styles, check out Social Media Widget by Acurax.
If you have a blog, this is a must-have plugin. Yes, you heard me right. There are arguments from both sides on sharing plugins. Some criticize them, saying they are ugly or that you are forcing people to share, or even that you need that social proof. But in reality, it’s all about your readers and making it as easy as possible for them to share your content if they wish to do so. These plugins are also some of the better ones when it comes to the speed of your site.
Simple Share Buttons Adder
Another simple plugin to add share buttons to your posts.
This is the one I use on my site and I really like it. It’s very powerful and has some amazing features. Here is a post that will tell you more about it.
Jetpack – Icons + Text
If you are already using Jetpack, I would recommend using this sharing module of it. But don’t install Jetpack if this is the only one you will be using.
A Couple of Useful Widget
The Text Widget
This is useful widget comes as a default widget when you install WordPress. It’s great for creating your own little widget. And if you ever get a chunk of HTML or other code, it’s what you would use. An example: when you go into your MailChimp account and create a sign-up widget, they will give you a block of code. Simply paste that into the text widget and presto, you have your signup. To learn more about all it can do, visit this tutorial.
The Image Widget
This easy-to-use widget allows you to put any image into a widget area. It’s great for logos, sponsor logos or even an affiliate ad. This tutorial shows you how to use it.
SEO and Contact Forms
If you want to boost search engine optimization on your site, I highly recommend this plugin. The free version alone is amazing, but the premium version does have some great options that you may not want to miss. In both cases, I would recommend visiting their site and learning more how to to best setup the plugin.
This is one my favorite form plugin. It’s incredible flexible and has options available for polls and surveys as well. It’s a premium plugin but well worth the money if you need something more than just a simple contact form.
Drag and Drop
The forms you create have a ton of different options for fields that is a simple drag and drop.
Once you have dragged a field into your form, you can open it up and set up additional information and features for each specific field.
For each form you will also be able to set up confirmation of what shows on your site once the form has been submitted. You can:
1. Text: text that shows on the same page as your form
2. Have it go to a custom page you have created on your site
3. Go to a custom URL such as an external site
You can also set up as many custom email notifications that you want. For example, you will want one sent to yourself and you can BCC anyone else. Also, if you choose, you can have an email sent to the person who has filled out the form. Just remember, if you do this they will also get your email. If you get a lot of spam kind of contacts through your site, they may be submitting a form only to get your email address.
Gravity Forms Widget
And lastly, Gravity forms has its own widget. You can drop this into your sidebar, footer or any other widget area to display a form there as well.
Of course there is a ton you can do with this plugin that I haven’t even touched in this post. On my blog I have a post a very cool feature called Conditional Logic, and a video with a walk-through of the settings.
Customizing Your Site with Plugins
There are more and more plugins coming out that let you do customizations to your theme without knowing code. This is especially useful for people who want more control over the look of their site.
Genesis Design Palette Pro
The design elements of your site are controlled by CSS – cascade styling sheet. Most users don’t want to have to learn this.
If you use a Genesis child theme, you may want to check out the Genesis Design Palette Pro. It allows you to do very cool customizations to specific Genesis child themes without knowing code. For example, in this screenshot, on the right is the CSS that you would need to edit to change fonts and their size and colors. This plugin makes it much easier to change them.
And for another CSS plugin, you might also check out CSS Hero, which works on other specific themes.
The layout of your WordPress site is dictated by php files. In order to create custom layouts within your theme, you would need to know this code.
There are some drag and drop themes that allow you to create a custom layout for your site, but they can be overwhelming and complicated to learn. And what if you just wanted to customize the layout on one page— or just a few? Or perhaps the way your theme displays your products using WooCommerce doesn’t quite work for you. That’s where the Conductor plugin comes in. It allows you to create custom layouts where you can control the elements seen, such as image size and content. Here is a screenshot of some of the settings:
Or as I mentioned before, create a custom layout for your products using this plugin and WooCommerce.
Page Builder Plugins
Before I mentioned Page Builder plugins that let you do a lot of customization without knowing code. There are pros and cons to using them, but a lot of users like the ability to create custom page layouts using a drag and drop format. These plugins aren’t for everyone, but it you are willing to take the time to learn them, it may be a good choice for you. One very popular page builder is Beaver Builder. You can also check out the Forge front-end page builder in the review here on my site.
Plugins To Grow Your Site
The beauty of WordPress is that your site can grow as your business grows. Often this can be accomplished by using plugins to add even more functionality to your site. There are numerous ways you can do this, but I would like to touch on three of them:
Membership sites are very popular and growing all the time. And there are several different plugins that will do this and each has it’s pros and cons. The one thing to remember, membership sites are not easy and don’t be wooed in by the “get rich while you are sleeping” mentality. Setting up a membership plugin and your site is only a small piece of it. From start to finish you will need to:
- discover your niche
- research your competition
- build your community
- pick your membership platform
- choose the theme
- build the site
- create content
- produce pre-publicity
- launch your site
- find your customers
- keep your site fresh
Check out this post of mine called 7 Things People Don’t Tell You About Membership Sites. Also, you can learn more about the membership extension for WooCommerce here.
On our WP eCommerce Show we talked with three membership/subscription experts on the subject.
Lastly, Chris Lema is a great resource for detailed information of building and running membership sites.
Membership sites can include subscription, but not all subscription sites have memberships. For example, subscription sites are becoming more and more niche. There is a toothbrush site that will send you a new toothbrush every 3 months for $30 a year. You never need to remember to replace old one anymore. And I’m sure we will be seeing more and more of these as time goes on.
Forums are still very popular and often you will find them on membership sites. But again, consider the time and energy it takes into running one. Two important factors to consider are:
1. Keeping your forum active. Nothing is worse than having a forum and no one uses it.
2. Understand the time it will take to moderate and reply. Some people choose to let the forum community take care of itself with questions and answers between the members, but to be honest, people do like to hear from you, the expert on occasion.
For an easy to use forum plug, I suggest you try bbPress.
If you are looking for a more social network type of forum, I highly recommend BuddyPress.
eCommerce sites are growing by leaps and bounds on the web. And WordPress has several different options here as well. There are services where your store can be on their platform, integrated into your site or you can use one of the many plugins that works seamlessly with WordPress.
Again, since there are so many options, I am going to briefly share with WooCommerce which I work with and blog a lot about here on BobWP.
WooCommerce is the most popular eCommerce plugin for WordPress. It has a lot of features and can be used for large online stores.
The free plugin gives you the option of several kinds of products.
It also has a lot of extensions that offer additional functionality and services. As I mentioned above, there is a Membership extension. I also use their Booking extension which I use on BobWP Review.
Lastly, if you dive into WooCommerce, visit our podcast, Do the Woo, which is a podcast for WooCommerce shop owners.
WordPress and Security
WordPress is Secure
Some people will say thatWordPress isn’t secure. But in reality, it is very secure. It’s just everything else that isn’t. The biggest reason for WordPress sites getting hacked are weak passwords and inferior or outdated themes and plugins. Also, don’t lay the entire blame on your hosting either. The job of your host is to keep their own servers protected. That is their goal. And since they have thousands of websites on their services, they cannot be a babysitter and make sure you are doing everything right on your own site. Security varies from host to host. Typically, when you purchase managed WordPress hosting (which costs more than shared hosting), you are likely paying for extra security as well.
A Few Simple Tips To Keep Your Site More Secure
Don’t Use the Default Admin User Name
If you are still using Admin to sign into your dashboard, it’s time to change that. Although usernames are not encrypted and can be fairly easy to discover, if you leave it as Admin, you are giving those hackers 50% of your login without them having to do one thing extra. In fact, when they send out their little malicious bots to attack sites, they will have it set to get in using Admin as the username. Don’t make it any easier for them. If you need to change it, watch this tutorial because there is one important step you don’t want to forget.
Use a Strong and Unique Password
A weak password is by far the biggest reason sites get hacked. Make sure your password is strong and don’t use the same password for more than one login. An example of a password I would use:
If you have a lot of passwords, I would highly recommend getting a software like 1Password to help you organize, create and easily remember your passwords.
Keep WordPress Up-To-Date
This is a critical piece to keeping your site secure. WordPress does update a lot. They issue major updates 3-4 times a year, for example, updating from version 4.3 to 4.4. But in addition, between those updates are minor updates, for example, from 4.4.1 to 4.4.2. Often these smaller ones are security updates. Remember when I said WordPress is secure? That’s because when they find a security hole, they push out an update almost immediately and yes, with this, you do need to update your site. Fortunately some hosting companies now will automatically do those small updates for you. In any case, make sure they are done.
Keep Themes and Plugins Updated
Just as you should keep your WordPress version updated, you will also need to keep your theme and all plugins updated. New versions come out with new features, but at the same time they will also push them out if a security fix is needed.
Delete Unused Themes or Plugins
With themes, I recommend keeping only one other theme installed. That way if your theme breaks, it will revert to that default theme. I recommend the latest WordPress default theme as your backup. Otherwise, delete any other themes or plugins that are not activated. We tend to install them thinking we will eventually use them, but as time passes, we don’t always think of keeping them updated. An outdated plugin that is not active is as much of a security risk as one that is activated. Don’t worry. If need be, you can always install them again.
Be Careful When Giving Out Your Login Info
I cannot tell you how many times I have to ask a client for their dashboard login, or even other logins like MailChimp, Facebook, or Google. And how, without hesitation, they email it all to me. I love that that they trust me this much. But yet, be careful. I would recommend three things.
Know the person you are sending it to and be sure that you can trust them.
If they need access to your dashboard, create a username just for them, give them administrative rights, and be sure to delete it when they are finished.
For the safety’s sake, with all of your other logins, after this person is done doing what they needed to do, change the password.
Delete Other WordPress Installs
If, for some reason, you have ever started a second WordPress site on your hosting, but then abandoned it or never used it, go in and delete it. If you don’t, the WordPress version, themes and plugins will all become outdated. And the bad guys will then be able to hack into your main site using these as a backdoor, even if your main site is kept updated. For this reason, most hosting companies will want to delete any old installs that you might have.
I cannot stress this enough. You need to have a good backup system in place. And it needs to be a full backup, which means both your database and all your files. Here are three solutions.
- Shared Hosting: If you are on a less expensive shared hosting, likely the backup system your host has in place isn’t good enough. They may not archive backups, which means you can easily lose data. I suggest that you ask them what all is being backed up and if they do archive and for how long.
- Managed WordPress Hosting: Most managed hosting services have great backups in place. They will do daily backups and also archive several of them. For example, GoDaddy Pro has a great backup system in place where you can restore any backup easily with a single click. And WPEngine not only does that, but enable you to easily back up your site anytime you want. This is very good to do regularly when you update WordPress, your themes and your plugins.
- Backup Plugins: There are several plugins that will back up for you. All you have to do is schedule them and they will take care of it. For some, it’s a bit more complicated to restore backups, but others are fairly easy. For a free backup plugin check out BackupWordPress. But as important as it is to keep you site backed up, I highly recommend BackupBuddy or VaultPress. It’s a premium robust plugin that is very dependable and, compared to the free plugins, makes it easy to restore your backups.
- Maintenance Services: Sometimes you just don’t have the time to do all of this. In that case, I would recommend using a service like WP Site Care to take care of your monthly updates, backups, etc.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure to do one of these.
A Story of Shared Hosting Backups
When I mentioned the fact that not all shared hosting will archive their backups, here is a true story to make my point. A client had their site totally crash because of an outdated theme. It was so bad we couldn’t fix it. When they called me I asked if they had been backing up as I had recommended. After some hesitation, they said no. So I contacted their host and they said they did have a backup and would restore it for $75. I told the client they needed to pay it. But here’s where it got scary. I was also told that if we had called them 30 minutes later they would have done their daily backup. And since they didn’t archive their backups, that would mean should would have had access to the backup of her site after it crashed. And the files would have been totally useless and she would have lost her entire site.
Security Plugins And Services
There are several different security plugins out there. Some work really well, others are just okay. One that I recommend is iThemes Security. If you go with iThemes security, you might want to purchase their pro version for the support and other goodies. The only thing. There is a lot of setup with these plugins. If you are not very technically savvy and want to use one of them, you should probably find someone to set them up for you.
If you get hacked, and you Google it, likely you will find some step-by-step tutorials that supposedly will take care of things. But a word of caution. Dealing with a hacked site takes special skill and knowledge. Even if the tutorial says it will do the job, you never know if you have cleaned up everything as thoroughly as it should be. So my recommendation is to let the professionals take care of it. For this, I recommend either SiteLock.com or Sucuri.net, depending on your needs or budget.
Now It’s Up To You
Well, at this point you have probably made a decision one way or another. Having used WordPress since 2008, I can seriously say that you will not be disappointed. No software is easy to learn, but once you do with WordPress, it will become easier. And if you are looking for some great tutorials to help you get a better grasp of how to set up your WordPress site, I highly recommend that you check out WP101.