New to WordPress?
If I were giving advice to my younger self, the younger me who didn’t know much about WordPress, I would say –
I see you are the kind of person who likes to see an overview of how everything hangs together before you commit.
So start your blog/website/whatever you want to call it/ and don’t tell anyone about it.
Don’t put your heart and soul into posts and don’t seek out people to comment on your posts.
In fact, you can set your blog/website whatever to ‘private’ if you want – at least to begin with. (The setting for that is under Settings/Site Visibility)
Themes are like fashion garments. You activate them with one click and you drape them on the basic WordPress structure.
But some themes have pants and some have padded shoulders – you have to try them out to see the differences.
There is even a way to preview them so you don’t have to commit to one. But it’s no big deal if you activate one and it turns out you don’t like it. Just choose the one you had before or choose another.
Here’s a tip – You won’t find a list somewhere of themes you have used previously, so write down the name of themes you use in case you forget them later.
Don’t buy a theme. Later on you might want to because of some feature it has. But to begin with, use a free theme.
There are hundreds of them in the WordPress theme library and you can choose and swap all day long if you want.
Start with the TwentySixteen theme. Last year I would have advised you to use the TwentyFifteen theme. See the 2022 update at the end of this post
These particular themes are made by the people who make WordPress and they are flexible.
Not all themes are flexible. With some themes, for example, you can’t have sidebars.
And then write anything you want. Don’t think too much about it.
You can even import some dummy text if you want ( http://www.lipsum.com ).
Make an About page and a Contact page. Add a few widgets in the sidebar – a ‘search’ widget and a ‘recent posts’ widget will be a good start.
Make a menu and a navigation bar. Some themes put the navigation bar in weird places that are not so obvious to visitors, so experiment with that.
That’s enough for you to be getting on with.
Actually, younger-David, because it is free for you to make a website with WordPress.com, I suggest you make one to use specifically for testing features, and you can try out different themes there. I used to have a site I named I Use This For Testing (cute name, eh.)
I had some text in it, with headings, bold text, italics, quotations, image placement, captions, etc. because theses things look different in different themes.
Was there a customiser for the back end in 2016 when I wrote this post? I don’t remember. And now things have moved on even from the customiser and it’s a bit more complicated now in 2022.
WordPress has moved to full site editing, which means that it is less important which theme you choose because you can now change the header and the footer. Well, that’s the theory, but believe me it is not as easy as it was in the days when you just picked a theme and lived with whatever it dictated. You can still do that, but when you start looking for the customiser to change typography or colours, you find yourself in strange territory. Now there are templates and partials, and changing things around is a bit of a rabbit hole. I am sure we will all get used to it.
Actually, I love your testing site 🙂 My test site looks rather horrible, I’ve been testing too much. It’s private. Your advice makes all the sense, especially about not buying themes. Sometimes I’m tempted to buy one I love, but I know I’d want to change it sooner or later when I’m bored with it.
I feel the same about buying themes. If all the good ones were premium themes and if the free ones were rubbish, then I would think differently. But there are so many good free themes that I have yet to be convinced to buy one.
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Good advice David, even for those of us who have been using WordPress for a while because I still do not have a test site. I like to play around with my site to see how different things look so I can see the benefits of having a test site. Thanks for the nudge!
I made a test site after I changed theme once and when I changed back all the widgets were messed up.
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Thank you David: )
Wish this post had been around when I started out. I went whole hog, and did all the things you advised against. But … it was good in many ways too, as many of the people in my blog circle are from that time. Their patience must be endless, you included.
I’m a little proud of myself right now, because I’ve held myself back from buying the theme Passenger. I want it badly, but I know myself well enough now … there will be other themes I’ll fall in love with, and then I’ve wasted 107 bucks.
I have looked at the themes from ElmaStudio a few times and almost stumbled 🙂
I bought one once, called Purpose, but luckily they have the 30 days refund. During that time I realised I wouldn’t be able to live with the same theme for the rest of my blogging days. It won’t happen. The ones from Elma Studios are beautiful. I think there are at least two of them in the repository, as premium.
It’s funny that I feel completely differently about buying a theme for a self-hosted site when really it is the same principle – to spend or not to spend? Crazy, eh?
I know! It’s so weird … One thing though, that really throws me off, is when you have to pay per year … meaning, you can’t really _buy_ the thing! I came across one yesterday like that.
I wish I had more stuff to write about, so I could utilize another one 🙂
I feel the same way. WooCommerce paid-for themes and plugins are like that, but then they are a business expense and acceptable. But for themes for personal use I don’t like any subscription model.
Yesterday I found this: http://wp.me/p7aGWD-3j
Did you see the post by Succuri about how someone had taken over management or ownership of a plugin that was in the WordPress.org repository – and it contained malicious code? Here’s the link if not:
When A WordPress plugin goes bad.
I mean, I would never buy or use a theme or a plugin except from a trusted source. And I would never get a ‘free’ version of one that I knew was really a paid-for product. But for there to be malicious code in a plugin that was in the repository is just scary.
I remember reading about that, vaguely, and that’s what made me jump when I saw that free version. Why, oh why, is there so much meanness out there …
The Wordfence plugin will scan for malicious code. It can scan remotely or you can upload the plugin and it will do a deeper scan.
That’s good to know, but too much hassle.
The only thing I could add to the good advice above: Once you do start getting out, seeking readers … choose wisely who you follow! Read many of their posts to make sure you have stuff in common. A person who writes solely about quilting, might not be for you, unless you’re an avid quilter yourself.
Yes, finding the right people to follow is a skill in itself. Sometimes it’s serendipity – like when you come across a comment on someone’s blog and go and find out who did the commenting – and then start following them.
I used to have an RSS reader that would list when a blog was last updated. When a blog wasn’t updated for two months or more, it showed with a yellow blob or something. Over time, more and more blogs turned got their little blobs and I realised that you really have to like to write if you want to blog. Obvious, but a lot of people don’t stay the course.
I learned that the hard way … that it’s a skill in itself. As usual, I was overly enthusiastic in the beginning.
Used Google Reader for some time, while it was around, but nowadays; only WordPress. It works best for me.