Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links for the products and services I recommend. If you click on one of these links and make a purchase, I will receive a commission at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I’ve personally tried myself, and affiliates help me provide free content, such as this mega guide. If you decide to use one of my links, thank you! You play a huge role in keeping the majority of the content here at Learn with Lyn free. With that said, please don’t feel obligated to purchase a product using one of my affiliate links unless you really need it.

WordPress for Beginners, the title of this article, is a long-form post teaching you the basics of WordPress. Learning WordPress can be intimidating, even for tech-savvy folks. It’s a powerful content management system used by over 28% of all websites on the web. It offers a great way to build a website and a wonderful way to run a professional blog. This post is designed for beginner bloggers and entrepreneurs who are interested in using this platform to power their websites. It features everything you need to know before you install WordPress as well as what you need to know after you install it.

WordPress.org Homepage

Let me start by introducing myself and going over my experience with WordPress since most of you are probably new here. My name is Lyn Wildwood. I’m a freelance blogger coming out of the higher-class slums of America’s Dairyland. My niche is WordPress. You’ll find my work on some of the most popular WordPress blogs on the net, including Design Bombs, Elegant Themes, WPKube, WPLift, WP Mayor and MH Themes.

Freelancing blogging in the WordPress niche has been a blessing. It’s allowed me to escape the negative effects being poor in America can bring while also keeping me away from the stressful environments 9-5 jobs tend to create. It’s also allowed me to make a living writing about something I care about. All of this allows me to relate to every single one of you in one way or another.

You want to learn how to use WordPress because you want to earn a living online to get away from a job you hate or are no longer interested in doing. You were probably told to use WordPress by some of your favorite bloggers and entrepreneurs but have no idea what this platform is and why you should use it over something like Squarespace or Wix.

I’m going to cover all of this on this page to help you understand what this platform is all about so you can make an educated decision on whether or not it’s right for you. I’ll also touch base on how to use it for those who are interested in using it.

And forewarned, this page covers a lot, so you may want to bookmark it.

Without further ado, here is the ultimate guide on how to use WordPress for beginners.

Table of Contents

Section 1: What is WordPress?

Before we begin, I want to make it clear that when I refer to “WordPress,” I’m referring to WordPress.org, not WordPress.com. We’ll discuss the differences between the two in a bit.

WordPress is a content management system, which I’ll be referring to as “CMS” from now on. I mentioned the term “CMS” earlier, but I didn’t explain what it is. Here’s the technical definition:

A web-based software/application that allows multiple users with different permission levels to create and manage content, data and other types of information for websites and web-based applications.

This basically means a CMS can be used to create websites with typical forms of content, such as blog posts and pages, but can also be used to create web-based applications, such as an online course platform (like Udemy). It essentially provides the tools you need to build either of these things. You’d need to code and program these building blocks yourself without it.

Think of it in terms of a piece of furniture you need to assemble yourself. Someone’s already done the hard part for you. They’ve done the measurements, cut the pieces to size, filed and sanded everything, and stained/painted it all down. All you need to do is put it all together. You can even get a little crafty and add your own styles to it. This is similar to how a CMS works.

Are there other CMSs out there? Of course! Squarespace is a CMS. It looks and behaves nothing like WordPress does, but they’re both CMSs. We’ll talk about the differences between these two platforms as well. Other CMSs include Magento, Drupal, Joomla and Wix.

The History of WordPress for Beginners

WordPress was founded by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little back in 2003. It was “born out of a desire for an elegant, well-architectured personal publishing system built on PHP and MySQL and licensed under the GPL.” That’s nerdspeak for it was designed as a way for everyday people to build their own blogs without needing to know how to code while also giving those who do know how to code the ability to contribute to the project.

What has this led to? A library filled with over 53,000 plugins and thousands of themes and even more if you look at marketplaces like ThemeForest, CodeCanyon, Creative Market, Codester, TemplateMonster and independent developer websites. There are even hosts who design and optimize their businesses for WordPress.

All of this has helped WordPress transform from its origins as a humble blogging platform into a much larger beast capable of building fully-fledged websites, ecommerce sites, membership sites, support portals, social networks, online schools and more. This leads me to my next point.

Who Uses WordPress?

WordPress users can be broken down into two main groups:

Everyday People

You and I fall into this category. We might know a bit of HTML and CSS, but we don’t actually code. We don’t know how to make a website from scratch or produce our own WordPress themes and plugins. We’re average, everyday people who want to start our own online businesses and use WordPress to build them.

Developers

The people in this category do know how to code. They build multi-million dollar businesses selling WordPress themes, plugins and development services. They build and maintain client websites on a regular basis, and they may even offer their services to you one day.

WordPress vs Squarespace

Squarespace Logo

You may be wondering why you should bother learning how to use WordPress when platforms like Squarespace exist. You may also be wondering how WordPress differs from Squarespace, especially since I just told you that WordPress and Squarespace are both different versions of the same thing (i.e. they’re both content management systems). Basically, WordPress is an open-source platform and Squarespace is an all-in-one solution.

Squarespace handles everything for you. You create an account, select a template (site design) and add content. You’ll use the service’s intuitive drag-and-drop page builder to do this. It’s easy to use and doesn’t require you to write a single line of code. Squarespace also handles hosting, security and all of the internal updates your site needs. This is what makes it “all in one.”

WordPress, on the other hand, requires a lot more effort. Automattic, the company that runs WordPress, doesn’t offer hosting, so you’ll need to “rent” space on a server from a web hosting company first and install WordPress onto it. Next, you’ll need to pick a theme and install it yourself, which can mean sifting through hundreds of options. Squarespace, in contrast, only has a few dozen templates to pick from, which isn’t as overwhelming.

As a side note, if you’re having trouble selecting a WordPress theme, I recommend Hestia if you’re on a tight budget (this is a free theme) and Divi or Hestia Pro if you can afford to go premium from the get-go. These themes look great, and they’re very easy to use.

You’ll also be in charge of setting up security for your site, creating backups for it, and keeping WordPress, your themes and plugins up to date. You can get help with all of this depending on the hosting and services you use, but we’ll talk about this a little more later.

The point is WordPress has a lot more options to choose from when it comes to how your site looks, how it functions and what it does, but this comes at a price. There’s no way for WordPress to handle more things for you with so many third-party options available for the platform, so that price comes in the form of you being in charge of maintaining all of it.

I’d love to get into why I recommend WordPress over Squarespace, but I’m afraid I’ll have to reserve that topic for another time. I’ll sum it up for now. Basically, it has to do with control and the dangers of “putting all your eggs in one basket.” Squarespace is a great option for basic websites, but it’s very difficult to move away from. It’ll take a lot of time and effort and may even require the help of a developer. This means you’ll face nothing but a huge headache if you ever decide to move away from Squarespace since they control your hosting, site design and nearly every function on your website.

WordPress, on the other hand, is supported by dozens of hosting companies. If you ever decide to move away from your current host, all you’ll need to do is download your site’s file system and database, and upload it to your new server. Some hosts even offer to do this for you free of charge. All of this can even be done without facing any downtime.

In a similar sense, if you ever decide to change your WordPress theme, you won’t need to go through the trouble of uploading dozens of posts and hundreds of images to a new server. I could go on, but I’ll leave the topic here for now.

Let’s talk about the differences between WordPress.org and WordPress.com.

WordPress.org vs WordPress.com

WordPress.com

Let’s make this simple. I’m going to start by stating that WordPress.org and WordPress.com are two different platforms that serve two different purposes. They’re ran by the same company and share many similarities when it comes to blogging features. However, the similarities end there.

WordPress.org is the website associated with the CMS you’ll be using to build your website if you choose to build it using WordPress. WordPress.com is a blogging platform. WordPress.org is designed to build fully-fledged websites and applications that incorporate blogs. WordPress.com is designed specifically for blogs but is also capable of creating simple pages.

WordPress.com’s main drawbacks are its limitations. Simple bloggers won’t mind these limitations, but they’ll only hinder business owners. These limitations include not being able to use plugins, not being able to choose your own hosting company, having a limited amount of themes to choose from and more.

It’s simple. Use WordPress.com if you’re blogging as a hobby. Use WordPress.org if you’re serious about building an online business.

Section 2: The Fundamental Parts of a WordPress Site

Now that you know a little bit more about what this CMS is and what it isn’t, let’s get into how to use WordPress, how to create a WordPress website and what you’ll personally need to get started.

These are the parts of a WordPress site:

  • Server
  • Database
  • Domain
  • Foundation
  • Design
  • Additional Functionalities

Let’s elaborate on each of these topics.

Server and Database – Let’s start here. I told you earlier you’ll need to purchase space on a server from a hosting company before creating a WordPress website and learning how to use WordPress. This is because every website needs a physical server to power it, and every website needs a database to manage crucial data. You more or less “rent” them from a hosting company so you don’t need to worry about setting up and maintaining the hardware and software yourself.

Domain – This is what’s used to identify a website. Technically, IP addresses are used to identify websites. A domain name provides a friendlier way of doing things. They allow us to type “Google.com” and “Facebook.com” into our address bars instead of having to use the long and complicated IP addresses that truly identify these websites.

Foundation – This isn’t the technical term for this, but it’s the one I’m going to use for the purpose of this post. Once you have a server set up, you need a programming language to start building everything. This is what WordPress provides, and it’s why you won’t need to learn how to code when you learn how to build a website with WordPress. WordPress uses the PHP programming language, for reference.

Design – This has to do with the way your site looks, as in the overall style it uses, the fonts you use, the colors—everything. Typically, you’d need to learn HTML and CSS to do this. Fortunately, WordPress themes provide this code for you.

Additional Functionalities – Everything above this part is more or less all you need to learn how to create a website that looks decent enough. However, you’re going to need a few more components if you want your site to run well and succeed. These functionalities include implementing SEO tactics, adding email forms, adding caching to improve site speed, implementing security features and more. Typically, you’d need to know how to code to implement all of these features, but WordPress plugins makes things easy by providing the code for you.

Visual Parts of a WordPress Site

Backlinko Blog Page

Most WordPress sites can be broken down into two main parts:

  • Pages
  • Blog

Pages themselves are typically broken down into three to four sections:

  • Header
  • Sidebar(s)
  • Content Area
  • Footer

I say “three to four” instead of “four sections” because not all pages have sidebars. Here’s an example of these sections using Brian Dean’s Backlinko.com.

Backlinko - Blog Page Parts

Header

The header can be made of up to three components:

  • Logo
  • Menu
  • Top Bar

Most sites only use logos and menus in their headers. Here’s an example of a site that uses all three:

Parts of a Header - Team WP Sekure

Some headers include a big hero section. Here’s an example using my own site:

Learn with Lyn - Homepage

Learn with Lyn - Hero Section

Content Area

The content area is the largest section. It’s composed of the most important elements of a page—your content.

Sidebar

The sidebar is self-explanatory. It exists beside the content area and contains information and elements you feel the visitor should know or see. This can include advertisements, your latest blog posts, a log-in widget and more. Most sidebars exist on the right-hand side of a web page, but they can be on either side. Some WordPress themes even allow you to use two at once.

Footer

The footer exists at the very bottom of a web page. This is typically where you’ll include links that couldn’t fit in your main menu or weren’t important enough. It may also contain your contact information, links to your social media profiles, links to your latest blog posts and copyright information.

You’ll use what are known as “widgets” to build your sidebar and footer in WordPress. They’re similar to plugins in that they allow you to add a particular functionality to a web page without having to code it yourself. We’ll talk more about these later.

Visual Parts of a Blog Post

Blog post layouts look different depending on the theme you use. They typically have the following components:

  • Title
  • Content
  • Meta Data (Author, Date, Category)
  • Tags
  • Comments

Here’s an example of how this all looks. This is a post from my own blog with most of the content cut out:

Parts of a Blog Post

That’s pretty much it for what components make up the frontend of a WordPress site. For reference:

“Frontend” refers to the actual website itself. “Backend” refers to the WordPress admin area.

Let’s move on.

Section 3: What You Need to Build a WordPress Site

Let’s go over the products and services you’ll need to purchase in order to build a WordPress site. They are:

  • Domain
  • WordPress
  • Hosting Plan
  • WordPress Theme
  • WordPress Plugins

Domain

Domain

You can acquire your domain when you purchase a hosting plan as many hosts offer a free domain as an incentive for purchasing your first plan with them. However, I recommend registering yours with what’s known as a “domain registrar” rather than your host.

A domain registrar is a service that specializes in the registration and management of domain names.

If you register your domain name with your host, you’ll need to transfer it if you ever decide to switch to a new host. Transferring a domain name can take as long as 15 days, which can potentially mean 15 days of downtime for your site. If you register your domain with someone other than your host, you’ll experience little to no downtime when you transfer your site to a new server.

You’ll also need to purchase what’s known as “WhoIs protection.” An ICANN bylaw requires you to provide your personal information (name, address, email address, phone number, etc.) when you register a domain. The law is intended to cut back on spam by requiring the individual registering the domain to tie their personal information to it. Because this information is publicly available, WhoIs protection is designed to protect your identity by showcasing WhoIs’ information instead of your own.

Here’s an example using my own site:

Learn with Lyn - WhoIs Protection

Is it worth paying for WhoIs protection? Absolutely! Those who don’t purchase it tend to get bombarded with telemarketing calls and spam. Plus, it’s cheaper than what some of you pay for your morning fix of caffeine.

Domains, on the other hand, can cost anywhere between a few dollars per year to as much as $15.00/year if you’re purchasing a new .com domain. It depends on who you register it with.

I register all of my domains with Namecheap, which charges ~$10/year for domains. Your first year with Namecheap is typically cheaper than the regular rate of $10.69/year, and they usually offer your first year of WhoIs protection free of charge.

Hosting Plan

Flywheel Managed WordPress Hosting

You’ll need to purchase a hosting plan if you want to use WordPress. This host must support WordPress, and you need to pick a plan/server suitable for the type of website you want to build. We’ll talk more about this in the next section so I’ll keep this bit short, but pricing for the hosting companies I recommend start at around $50 for your first year or $15 for your first month.

WordPress

WordPress.org

Of course, if you want to start a WordPress site, you’re going to need WordPress. Fortunately, WordPress itself is entirely free, as mentioned before. You can go to WordPress.org/download right now if you want a copy of it. However, most quality WordPress hosts make it easy to install with the click of a button. Some even install it for you.

WordPress Theme

Divi WordPress Theme

We’ll talk more about these later as well, but basically, you’ll need to purchase a WordPress theme to add a more advanced style to your site. There are a lot of quality free themes to pick from. I even mentioned a couple earlier. However, support for free WordPress products is severely limited, and because you’re building a business website, you’re better off paying for a theme to gain access to premium support. Prices for premium themes range from $29-$149 with an average price of around $59.

Essential WordPress Plugins

Ninja Forms

WordPress sites require a few essential plugins to run well for business purposes. We’ll go over these plugins a little later, but you can get away with not paying for plugins for quite a while, so don’t worry about cost here. The only reason you’ll need to pay for a plugin is if you want that sweet premium support or if its premium version has a few essential features not available in the free version.

Wrap Up

To wrap up, here’s what you’ll need to build your first WordPress site:

  • Domain with WhoIs Protection – from a few dollars
  • Hosting Plan – from $15/month
  • WordPress – free
  • WordPress Theme – from free
  • WordPress Plugins – mostly free

All in all, you can get away with setting up a WordPress site today for around $20 depending on the services you choose and products you use. Add around $60 to that price if you plan on purchasing a premium theme from the get-go, which I highly recommend doing. Again, if you want to start free and upgrade later, try out Hestia.

Section 4: WordPress Hosting

Most bloggers publish a “How to Start a Blog” post on their blogs, but the only information inside the post are instructions on how to set up a hosting account with Bluehost and install WordPress, and you know what?

They make me cringe.

The posts are designed to generate affiliate income for these bloggers, which isn’t a bad thing, but they hardly ever get into how to actually start a blog capable of generating traffic and income. They provide instructions on how to purchase a hosting plan with a specific hosting company, insert their affiliate links for said hosting company and show you how to install WordPress.

They don’t tell you about the different types of hosting available for WordPress, the fact that you’ll need to spend a little more on a quality theme or that Bluehost has one of the worst customer service reputations in the industry. Again, there’s no evidence of wrongdoing, and this has nothing to do with ethics. I just think if I’m going to ask you to use my affiliate link to purchase something, I have a responsibility to let you know exactly what you’re paying for. I also don’t believe in half-ass tutorials.

That’s why we’re going to go over the different types of hosting options available, who they’re for and what type of hosting your new WordPress site needs. A lot of people have been burned after following their favorite bloggers’ advice to purchase a cheap hosting plan from Bluehost, so I don’t recommend rushing through this decision.

I’ll try to be as brief as possible, but if you can’t wait, my recommendations are SiteGround and Flywheel. Scroll down to learn a little more about both.

Types of WordPress Hosting

Here are the types of hosting we’ll be going over:

  • Shared Hosting
  • VPS Hosting
  • Cloud Hosting
  • Dedicated Hosting
  • Enterprise Hosting

Let’s begin with shared hosting since it’s what many of you will be starting with.

Shared Hosting

Aside from a free blog at WordPress.com or Medium, shared hosting is the cheapest way to host your blog. It gets its name from the type of servers used in this form of hosting. A shared hosting server uses a single physical system. This system hosts several different websites that all share the same resources, hence the term “shared hosting.” This is why this type of hosting is so cheap.

It’s also why I recommend not using it if you have the funds to purchase a more expensive form of hosting. Resources are shared, which means your website will go down if someone else’s website brings the server down. Your site’s performance may also decrease if someone else’s website uses too many resources.

Because of these limitations, this type of hosting is only recommended for new blogs that aren’t expected to grow quickly. It is not recommended for ecommerce sites, so pass on shared plans if you plan on opening a new store or online school.

VPS Hosting

VPS, or virtual private server, hosting is an advanced form of shared hosting. A single physical system is used for the RAM, CPU and all that jazz, but a special piece of software creates several “virtual servers.” This allows several websites to share the same physical resources without affecting one another, hence the “private” part.

If you plan on growing your site quickly, you should definitely start out with this type of hosting. It’s also suitable for small ecommerce sites.

Cloud Hosting

Cloud hosting is a new and growing type of hosting. It uses virtual servers, but it gathers its resources from a network of physical systems rather than one. This allows it to scale, meaning if your site uses all of its allotted resources, it’ll rely on the network to draw on more. This makes it ideal for sites that experience random surges in traffic.

Dedicated Hosting

Dedicated hosting is designed for big business. A dedicated hosting server is your very own server. No other site is or will ever be installed on it. Most hosting companies have a few different dedicated hosting plans to choose from, and each one has a different set of hardware specifications. However, they typically cost several hundred dollars per month, making them ill suited for bloggers and startups.

Enterprise Hosting

Enterprise hosting is for, well, enterprise-sized businesses. This is typically offered as a custom hosting plan, which means you’ll work with your host to determine what resources you’ll need. A private server with custom specifications will be built for you, but the cost is typically several hundred to several thousand dollars per month.

What Type of Hosting Does Your New Business Need?

Bloggers, small startups and new entrepreneurs should look at these three hosting options, which are in order from least expensive to most expensive:

  • Shared Hosting
  • VPS Hosting
  • Cloud Hosting

Choose shared hosting if…

  • You don’t have much money to work with.
  • You only need a website and a blog.
  • You don’t plan on growing quickly.

Choose VPS hosting if…

  • You can afford at least $15 every month for hosting.
  • You need a small shop or membership site.
  • You plan on growing quickly.

Choose cloud hosting if…

  • You need a medium to large-sized ecommerce site.
  • You plan on growing quickly with advertising and paid promotions.

An Overview of WordPress Hosts

There are more or less two types of hosts you can use for WordPress. The first are regular hosts who offer hosting for a variety of different platforms, including WordPress. The second are known as “managed WordPress hosts.” These hosts only support WordPress, and they manage several aspects of your site for you, including the installation of WordPress, backups, security and more.

My recommendations for hosts are SiteGround and Flywheel, as mentioned before. SiteGround is a regular host that supports WordPress while Flywheel is a managed WordPress host.

SiteGround

SiteGround Homepage

SiteGround offers shared hosting and cloud hosting plans. Unfortunately, they’ve done away with their VPS hosting plans, so I recommend sticking with their shared hosting plans for a while if you have a new site. Fortunately, they have three, so you have two chances to upgrade before you’ll need to move to a cloud hosting plan or a new host.

Since you’re building your website with WordPress, go ahead and hover over the WordPress Services menu item, and select WordPress Hosting. While we’re here, please ignore the WordPress Themes section. SiteGround offers a few dozen themes for free, but they all use outdated designs, so while I appreciate the offer, I can’t recommend them.

SiteGround WordPress Hosting

SiteGround uses a web hosting control panel known as cPanel, which is the same control panel many web hosts use. It makes it easy for you to manage several aspects of your website. This post is supposed to be all about WordPress, so I won’t dwell on the plans and features SiteGround offers here.

I will however advise you on which plan to choose based on the type of website you want to build. First of all, if you’re building a small ecommerce store, go with the GoGeek plan. If you’re building a new website and blog, choose between the StartUp or GrowBig plans. It’s really simple:

  • If you don’t plan on adding much content to your website or putting much time into it right away, go with the StartUp plan.
  • If you plan on chugging away at your blog and growing quickly, go with the GrowBig plan.
  • If you plan on using advertising, paid promotions, guest blogging and white-hat SEO techniques to grow your blog, go with the GoGeek plan.

SiteGround - WordPress Hosting Plans

Upgrading is easy, however, so if you aren’t sure, start with the StartUp plan.

Before I move onto Flywheel, be mindful of the “60% off the regular price” phrases and the “/month” labels SiteGround uses on their sales pages. SiteGround, like many regular hosts, require you to pay for at least one year of hosting upfront. This means if you choose the StartUp plan, you’re not going to pay $3.95 every month. You’re going to pay $47.40 ($3.95 x 12 months) upfront.

Also, the 60% discount is only available for your first year. You’ll be required to pay the regular rate of $9.95/month after that, which translates to an annual rate of $119.40. That’s if you haven’t outgrown this plan after a year.

I apologize for leaving you here, but a post on how to get started with SiteGround is in the pipeline for Learn with Lyn.

Flywheel

Flywheel Homepage

Flywheel is a managed WordPress host that uses VPS hosting. They’re a great option for people who don’t know WordPress and feel too intimidated or don’t have the time to learn it on a technical level. This is because Flywheel manages everything for you.

They install WordPress for you. They’ll handle security (you need to install/manage specific plugins to do this with a regular host), backups, WordPress updates, caching (speeds up your site, which is something you typically need to rely on a plugin to do) and much more.

You can even get started and build your site for free. You won’t be able to use your own domain while the site is free, but you’ll at least be able to try the service out to see if it’s for you. Best of all, this service hosts this very website.

Here are Flywheel’s plans.

Flywheel Hosting Plans

Technically, Flywheel is more expensive than SiteGround. However, they actually allow you to pay on a month-to-month basis, so if you aren’t able to pay for a year upfront with SiteGround or you’d prefer not to use shared hosting, you can sign up for a monthly plan with Flywheel. Flywheel’s annual plans include one free month.

Here are my recommendations for deciding between these plans:

  • Choose the Tiny plan if you don’t plan on growing your blog quickly.
  • Choose the Personal plan if you plan on growing quickly organically (with your blog) or have a small ecommerce site.
  • Choose the Professional plan if plan on growing quickly with advertisements, paid promotions and guest blogging.

Upgrading is easy, so if you aren’t sure, start with the Tiny plan.

A tutorial on how to get started with Flywheel is in the pipeline as well.

Other WordPress Hosts

Bluehost, SiteGround and Flywheel are the only hosts I have extensive experience with. I’ve written reviews for other hosts as a freelance WordPress blogger, but it isn’t the same as actually using the service to build and host a website for months.

With that said, here are a few regular hosts I’ve heard great things about. Some of these hosts offer managed WordPress plans:

Here are a few managed WordPress hosts I’ve heard great things about in the WordPress community:

Section 5: Learning the WordPress Admin Area

WordPress Admin Area

After you install WordPress, your next step should be to configure your settings, install a theme and install the plugins you need. However, I want to get you familiar with the backend of the application before we move onto anything else. “Backend”, as previously stated, refers to the administrative section of a website. Other names include “the dashboard” and “control panel.”

The backend of a WordPress site is called the “admin area” or “admin” for short. It’s made up of several different components, including the dashboard, Settings page, Posts section and more. That’s what we’re going to go over in this section.

Before we get started, I want you to keep in mind that WordPress is an open-source platform. There are thousands of themes and even more plugins made by third-party developers available for the platform. This means you can treat it like a potato salad recipe (or a popular dish in your own country). Everyone has their own way of doing it, and you should do the same.

You can start with a classic version of the recipe while you get the hang of things and change it to your liking as you master the dish. Don’t like pickles? Leave ‘em out. Prefer white potatoes over red? Use ‘em. You shouldn’t conform yourself to the same recipe everyone else uses. The same goes for WordPress.

Like I said, we’re going to go over the basics here, but you should come up with your own workflow and find new ways of doing things once you become more familiar with the platform. After all, that’s what open-source is ultimately for.

Learning How to Use the WordPress Dashboard

WordPress Dashboard

The WordPress dashboard is divided into sections, as you can see in the image above. They are the Home screen, which is often referred to as “the dashboard,” and the Updates page.

Home Screen

The Home screen is divided into several different panels you can drag, drop and rearrange. It’s designed to help you manage your site with shortcuts and quick actions.

You’ll see a “Welcome to WordPress” panel when you install WordPress for the first time, but feel free to dismiss it. You’re left with four panels after that:

  • At a Glance
  • Activity
  • Quick Draft
  • WordPress Events and News

The At a Glance panel is self-explanatory.

WordPress Dashboard - At a Glance Panel

It contains a simple round-up of the number of blog posts, pages and comments you have. It also tells you which version of WordPress and theme your site is running.

The Activity panel is an overview of your blog.

WordPress Dashboard - Activity Panel

It displays a small list of the posts you’ve recently published as well as the most recent comments you’ve received. It even displays a round-up of the number of comments you’ve received based on their statuses (spam and trashed comments).

Next up is the Quick Draft panel.

WordPress Dashboard - Quick Draft Panel

This is a simple shortcut that allows you to create a draft for a new blog post. It strips away the rest of the WordPress editor and only allows you to create a title and write a draft. Personally, I’ve never used this panel. I plan and write all of my content outside of WordPress and don’t upload it until I’m ready to publish.

Lastly, you have the WordPress Events and News panel.

WordPress Dashboard - WordPress Events and News Panel

This panel lists the closest WordPress events happening near you or whatever city you add. It also contains a list of the latest WordPress-related blog posts and news articles the team at WordPress has curated. This panel is designed for WordPress enthusiasts. You can ignore it if you don’t care to get involved with WordPress beyond using it to build your website and publish blog posts.

There’s also the Screen Options menu.

WordPress Dashboard - Screen Options Menu

This allows you to close or add panels to your dashboard. Certain themes and plugins will add additional panels to the dashboard. Here’s an example using my own site:

Learn with Lyn - WordPress Dashboard

Let’s talk about the Updates page.

Updates Page

WordPress Updates Page

This is where you’ll handle WordPress updates. The screenshot above represents what this page looks like when you have nothing to update. Here’s my own Updates page before I perform routine updates.

Learn with Lyn Updates Page

The way WordPress updates work is simple. You select a theme or plugin (or several, if you dare), and click Update Themes or Update Plugins. It’s best to update themes and plugins one at a time. It’s also best to test updates offline to ensure they don’t cause something to malfunction. That’s a tutorial for another post.

WordPress Settings

There are two parts to the admin area in WordPress, the admin panel, located on the left-hand side of the screen…

WordPress Admin Panel

…and the admin bar, located at the top.

WordPress Admin Bar

Click the Settings menu item in the admin panel to navigate to the General Settings page.

WordPress - General Settings

The first two settings to look at here are the Site Title and Tagline settings. Your title should simply be the name of your business, and your tagline should be your slogan. Both of these will be located in the browser tab when people visit your website. Here’s an example using Amazon.com. The title is “Amazon.com:,” and the slogan at the time was “Online Shopping for Electronics, Apparel, Computers, Books, DVDs & More.”

Amazon Tagline

Taglines aren’t necessary, so feel free to leave yours blank if you can’t come up with one. Leave the Membership and New User Default Role settings blank for now. You can worry about them if you ever decide to turn your site into a membership site of some sort.

Use the Site Language setting if you prefer another language over U.S. English. This will change the language used on the backend of WordPress. The last setting I recommend checking out is the Timezone setting. Select your timezone so the date/time your pages, posts and comments are published on are accurate.

I recommend leaving the Date Format set to the default F j, Y format. This means your publication dates will be written as “January 01, 2018.” We here in the United States use the MM/DD/YYYY format while folks around the rest of the world use the DD/MM/YYYY format. Things can get confusing when you only use one format or the other. Having your posts publish with the written month first followed by digits for the day and year makes thing much more clear. True story, I missed out on a concert once because the band (Epica), who are from The Netherlands, posted their tour dates in European format, so I thought they were coming to town on May 2nd versus February 5th. Not cool.

Make sure you save your changes once you’re done.

Reading Settings

Skip the Writing settings for now, and go to the Reading settings instead. The Your Homepage Displays setting is an important one, but it’s not one you can change until you actually start building your site. Once you have Home and Blog pages created, come back to this page, and change the following settings:

  • Select A Static Page.
  • Change Homepage Setting to Home (or whatever you name your homepage).
  • Change Posts Page Setting to Blog (or whatever you name your blog page).

The rest of the settings on this page have to do with your RSS feed. RSS feeds are a type of web feed. WordPress automatically generates an RSS feed for your blog, and some users may prefer to read your blog through an RSS feed using what’s known as an aggregator, such as Feedly. RSS feeds aren’t as popular as they used to be, but you should still configure these settings.

It’s up to you to decide how you want your RSS feed displayed. You can either have it so the feed only displays a summary of your posts or have it display the entirety of your posts. If you display a summary, users will need to visit your site to read the whole post. However, most RSS users prefer to read full posts using their aggregators of choice, so they may simply ignore your posts in RSS feeds if they can’t read them in full.

On the flip side, there are shady websites out there that “aggregate” other blogs’ RSS feeds on their sites to fill them with content, which means your content will appear on their site without your permission. If you set your feed to only display summaries, you won’t need to worry about full blog posts appearing on such sites.

Personally, I have my blog set to display full posts in RSS feeds so readers can view them in applications like Feedly.

Discussion Settings

WordPress Discussion Settings

The Discussion settings have to do with the way comments are handled on your website. I recommend unchecking the first two options that say Attempt to Notify Any Blogs Linked to from the Article and Allow Link Notifications from Other Blogs (Pingbacks and Trackbacks) on New Articles.

Pingbacks and trackbacks are used to notify a blog when another blog links to them. They used to have an affect on SEO, but they’re more likely to be used by spammers these days, so it’s best not to use them.

I personally use Disqus to manage comments on my blog, so I don’t worry about the rest of the settings. If you’d prefer to keep WordPress’ default comments for now, I recommend keeping the Comment Author Must Fill Out Name and Email option checked. It’ll keep your comment section clear of spam, for the most part.

The rest of the Discussion settings are self-explanatory and a matter of personal choice. Take a moment to go over them and configure them to your liking.

Permalink Settings

WordPress Permalink Settings

There’s only one setting I recommend changing on this page, and that’s changing the Plain setting to Post Name. Make sure you save your changes afterwards. This setting makes your blog use what are known as “pretty permalinks.” On my site, this means if I publish a post called “ConvertKit Review,” its URL will be “learnwithlyn.com/convertkit-review” instead of “learnwithlyn.com/?p=75.” This makes the URL “prettier” while optimizing it for SEO.

Let’s move on.

Section 6: How Content is Handled in WordPress

Content is divided into three parts in WordPress:

  • Pages
  • Posts
  • Media

Pages are what you’ll use to create your Home page, About page, Contact page and all of the other pages you’ll use on your site. Posts are what you’ll use to add blog content. Media is what you’ll use to add things like images, videos and audio content, though I don’t recommend uploading anything other than images to WordPress. But again, that’s for another post.

Posts are divided into categories and tags, and categories are divided into parent categories and child categories. Categories and tags are known as “taxonomies.” You’ll use them to organize your content in WordPress, and they’ll help your audience find the content they need on your site.

Take my site for example. You can find relevant content in a few different ways. One of them is by hovering over the Blog menu item, and selecting one of the categories I’ve added to the drop-down menu.

Learn with Lyn - Categories

You can also scroll down to the bottom of any blog post on my site and see which tags I’ve assigned to it.

Learn with Lyn - Tags

Finally, all media you add to WordPress is managed in the Media Library.

WordPress Media Library

Let’s talk more about categories and tags before we continue.

Tags & Parent/Child Relationships

I only recommend creating new categories and tags when you need them. If you have a fishing blog, don’t just create a tag for largemouth bass because you may mention them at some point down the line. Taxonomies are designed to organize your content. They can’t do that if you add too much clutter to them.

You need to be smart about the way you build your taxonomies. Here’s a quick explanation on how to use each one:

  • Parent Category – Use this for main topics.
  • Child Category – Use this for main sub-topics.
  • Tag – Use this for specific topics.

Here’s an example of this using a sports news blog. The parent category each child category is attached to is in parentheses:

  • Parent Categories – American Football, Baseball, Basketball
  • Child Categories – NFL (American Football), NCAA Football (American Football), MLB (Baseball), NBA (Basketball), WNBA (Basketball), NCAA Basketball (Basketball)
  • Tags – Aaron Rodgers, New York Giants, Notre Dame, Dodgers, Mike Trout, Chicago Bulls, Kobe Bryant

Here’s another example using an entertainment blog:

  • Parent Categories – TV, Film, Music, Video Games
  • Child Categories – Science Fiction (TV), Drama (TV), Action (TV), Science Fiction (Film), Drama (Film), Action (Film), Pop (Music), Rock (Music), Rap/Hip-Hop (Music), FPS (Video Games), RPG (Video Games), RTS (Video Games)
  • Tags – The X-Files, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Justice League, Thor: Ragnarok, The Dark Tower, Beyonce, Adele, Local Natives, Logic, Overwatch, The Witcher 3, The Last of Us Part II

As explained, these blogs are using parent categories for their main topics, which are types of sports or types of entertainment. They’re using child categories for sports leagues and genres related to the types of sports and entertainment they write about. They use tags for specific teams, players, works and entertainers.

It may seem a little complicated, but all you need to do is make sure you’re organizing your content as broadly as possible. And again, don’t create a category or tag until you actually need to assign a post to it.

How to Create Categories & Tags

Let’s briefly go over how to create categories and tags in WordPress. Hover over Posts in the admin panel, and click Categories.

WordPress Categories

WordPress has a default category that can’t be deleted. It’s called “Uncategorized,” and any post you don’t manually assign to a category will be assigned to this one automatically. While you can’t delete this category, you can rename it.

Take a moment to think about the first post you plan on publishing and what main, broad topic it falls under. Once you have a name in mind, hover over the Uncategorized category, and click Quick Edit.

WordPress - Quick Edit - Uncategorized

Erase the “uncategorized” text, and enter your main topic in the name and slug fields. Use title case in the name field and lowercase letters in the slug field. If your main topic has more than one word, place hyphens between each in the slug field.

WordPress - Rename Uncategorized Category

Click Update Category when you’re done. Refer to the fields on the left-hand side of the screen if you want to create a new category. It works in the same way. When you need to add a new parent category, enter its name and slug, and click Add New Category.

WordPress - Add New Category

Select a parent category from the Parent Category drop-down menu when you need to add a new child category.

WordPress - Add New Child Category

Creating tags works exactly the same.

WordPress - Create New Tag

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s go over how to create blog posts in WordPress.

Section 7: How to Blog with WordPress

Start by clicking Posts in the admin panel.

WordPress Posts

Every new WordPress installation comes with a single, already-published blog post called “Hello world!” It’s completely useless. So, we’ll start by learning how to delete blog posts.

Hover over the post, and click Trash.

Trash - Default Post

This creates a new list called “Trash.” Click it, hover over the post again, and click Delete Permanently.

Delete Default Post

Now, click Add New to create a new blog post.

WordPress - Add New Post

For future reference, you can also hover over the Posts menu item in the admin panel and select Add New.

WordPress - Add New Post 2

This is the WordPress post editor.

WordPress Post Editor

Let’s learn how to use it.

How to Use the WordPress Post Editor

Start by adding a title to your post and saving it as a draft. It doesn’t need to be the official title you plan on using for the post. It just needs to be descriptive enough to be used as a working title.

WordPress Post Title

You can see this adds the permalink (URL) for the post underneath the post title. You should always make your permalink is as “pretty” as possible, so click Edit, and change it if yours seems too long. It should be short and descriptive, and it should contain your main keyword if you have one. You should also leave out stop words (the, a, to, of, etc.) that are not part of a keyword.

WordPress Post Permalink

You can also select a category and add your tags at this stage. You can even add a new category from this page if you need to. It’s recommended you only add three to four tags to a post, so make sure you’re only adding the post’s most important topics as tags.

WordPress Post - Categories & Tags

Don’t worry about the Featured Image panel just yet. A post’s featured image is the image that displays on your posts page and anywhere else your blog posts are are displayed. For example, these are the featured images on my Blog page:

Learn with Lyn - Blog Posts

Your featured image needs to be set at a certain dimension (width and height) in order for it look clear, but this dimension is determined by your theme, so it’s best to just leave it for now. Instead, scroll back up, and open the Screen Options menu to open the Discussion panel.

WordPress Post Editor - Discussion Panel

There was a message back on the Discussion settings page in the section where you choose whether or not you want to allow comments, pingbacks and trackbacks. The message reads, “These settings may be overridden for individual articles.” The Discussion panel is what you’ll use to override these settings. De-select the Allow Trackbacks and Pingbacks on This Page setting if it’s selected. If you ever want to disallow comments on a specific article, do so with this panel.

The Screen Options menu here works in the same way the one on the dashboard works. It allows you to add or remove panels as you please. You can even rearrange panels.

WordPress Post Editor - Move Panels

Personally, I remove the Format and Revisions panels on my blog. You can also change it so the panels use a single column instead of two.

WordPress Post Editor - One Column

Lastly, you can de-select the Enable Full-Height Editor and Distraction-Free Functionality option. Your post will stretch the page if this option is enabled.

WordPress - Stretched Post Editor

It’ll give the editor itself a scroll bar if it isn’t selected. This ensures it doesn’t stretch the page.

WordPress - Scroll Bar Editor

Let’s get into how to use the TinyMCE editor, the actual editor you’ll use to add your content.

How to Use the TinyMCE Editor

WordPress has used the TinyMCE Editor since its launch. It’s very similar to Microsoft Word, Google Docs, OpenOffice Writer and any other word processor you’ve ever used. We’ll stick to the basics here, but you’ll develop your own way of producing blog posts eventually.

Start by clicking the Toolbar Toggle to reveal the rest of the tools in the editor.

WordPress - TinyMCE Editor - Toolbar Toggle

Let’s go over this mini tutorial as if we were creating a real blog post. There are different HTML tags you can use, from Paragraph to Headings 1 through 6.

WordPress - TinyMCE Editor - Tags

The default tag is the Paragraph tag. It’s what you’ll use to write paragraphs in this editor. Try writing a simple paragraph in the editor. The Paragraph tag is selected by default, so just place your cursor in the editor, and start typing.

WordPress - TinyMCE Editor - First Paragraph

If you aren’t experienced with blogging, you’re probably at least familiar with the way blog posts (or even newspaper/magazine articles) are structured. They have paragraphs and different-sized headings, which again, we call “tags” in the world of web design. These different tags help create an aesthetically-pleasing structure within an article, but they serve a greater purpose on the web in that they impact the code behind the article. Let’s add a few more elements to the editor before we go over what this means.

Hit enter to create a new paragraph in the editor just as you would in any other editor. Click the Paragraph drop-down menu, and select Heading 2. Add text to your new header.

WordPress - TinyMCE Editor - Heading 2

Add another paragraph followed by another header that uses a Heading 3 tag.

WordPress - TinyMCE Editor - Heading 3

Now, if you click over to the Text editor, you’ll see your post in HTML format, which includes the Paragraph (p), Heading 2 (h2) and Heading 3 (h3) tags.

WordPress - TinyMCE Text Editor

I’m sure you can figure out the rest on your own, but let’s touch base on a few additional settings, anyway. First up are the Bold and Italic settings. They’re the same way as they are anywhere. Just click the B or I button (or Ctrl+B and Ctrl+I) to enable the style and start typing, or highlight a bit of text and click the buttons to apply the styles.

WordPress - TinyMCE Editor - Bold & Italic Styles

You can use the next two settings to create bulleted and numbered lists.

WordPress - TinyMCE Editor - Bulleted & Numbered Lists

The next setting can be used for quotes and other pieces of text/information you want to highlight.

WordPress - TinyMCE Editor - Quote

Let’s talk about inserting links in a post. There are two types of links:

  • Internal Links – A link that leads to another post or page on your website.
  • External Links – A link that leads to another website.

If you want to insert an internal link, highlight the bit of text you want people to use to click on the link, enter the URL, and click the arrow button.

WordPress - TinyMCE Editor - Internal Link

If you want to insert an external link, enter the URL, but click the gear icon this time.

WordPress - TinyMCE Editor - External Link

Select the Open Link in a New Tab option, and click Update.

WordPress - TinyMCE Editor - External Link 2

Let’s talk about three more options. You have the Strikethrough option, which works in the same way as the bold and italic options but applies a line through your text.

WordPress - TinyMCE Editor - Strikethrough

You also have the Horizontal Line option, which allows you to insert a divider.

WordPress - TinyMCE Editor - Horizontal Line Option

Lastly, you have the Text Color option. It works in the same way as the bold, italic and strikethrough options, except you need to select a color.

WordPress - TinyMCE Editor - Text Color Option

Click Custom and use the color wheel if you don’t like any of the preset options. Let’s move on.

How to Add Images to Blog Posts in WordPress

I highly recommend choosing an image size that’s the same width or close to the same width as your content area, but you’ll need to wait until you’re done installing your theme and building your website to figure out what that width is. I also recommend configuring your images as you intend to display them on your blog before you upload them. You should also be sure to name the image as accurately as possible and try not to include any stop words.

However, this is a basic WordPress tutorial, so all of that will need to wait for another post. Right now, let’s just focus on learning how to add an image to WordPress. Just choose a random image on your computer. Don’t worry about size right now.

Create a new paragraph where you want to insert your image. Center the paragraph so your image will be centered (optional).

WordPress - TinyMCE Editor - Center Paragraph

Click Add Media.

WordPress - TinyMCE Editor - Click Add Media

Drag your image over, or select it from your computer’s file system to upload it. There are a few rules to follow next:

  • Give your image a title. It should be short yet descriptive.
  • Give your image an alt text. You can use the same text you use in the Title field.
  • Choose Full Size as your image size.

WordPress - TinyMCE Editor - Image Data

You can add a caption if you want to, and you can also turn the image into a link. The link will lead to a page that only contains the image if you choose Media File as a link option.

WordPress Image - Link to Media File

The link will lead to a page that looks like any other page on your website if you choose the Attachment Page option, except it’ll contain your image.

WordPress Image - Link to an Attachment Page

Click Insert Into Post once you’re done.

WordPress - Insert Into Post

Let’s talk about embedding elements.

How to Embed Videos & Tweets in WordPress

Embedding videos, tweets and audio files is easier than ever in WordPress. We’re going to refer to them as “elements” in this section. All you need to do is create a new paragraph in the spot where you want to insert an element, and paste the URL to the video, tweet or audio file.

Here’s a YouTube embed from this URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yj0l7iGKh8g:

WordPress Embed from YouTube

Here’s a Twitter embed from this URL https://twitter.com/theellenshow/status/440322224407314432?lang=en:

WordPress Embed from Twitter

Here’s a Vimeo embed from this URL https://vimeo.com/243867727:

WordPress Embed from Vimeo

Here’s a SoundCloud embed from this URL https://soundcloud.com/fizzleco/096-23-tips-to-uncover-what-to-do-with-your-life-when-you-have-no-clue:

WordPress Embed from SoundCloud

You can view a complete list of websites/elements you can embed at WordPress.org.

Publishing a Post

Once you’re finished with your post, you need to publish it. You can either publish it immediately by clicking the Publish button or publish it later by clicking the Edit button next to the “Publish Immediately” text. Choose the date you want to publish the post on as well as a time. You’ll need to use what we ‘muricans refer to as “military time.”

WordPress - Publish

Click Publish once you’re done scheduling a date and time.

That’s more or less the technical side of publishing blog posts in WordPress. I’ll have to save workflow techniques and content marketing strategies you can use for another post.

Section 8: How to Create a WordPress Menu

Let’s learn how to create a menu in WordPress. I can’t do full tutorials in this section since the way your pages and menu look are dependent on your theme. However, I’ll go over the basics of creating pages and menus in WordPress.

How to Create a Page in WordPress

Let’s create “placeholder” pages for your Home, About and Contact pages seeing as how you’ll need these pages on your site, anyway. Hover over Pages in the admin panel, and click Add New.

WordPress - Add New Page

Enter “Home” in the title field, and click Publish.

WordPress - Publish Home Page

Click Add New at the top of the page, and repeat the same with your “About” and “Contact” pages.

WordPress - Add New Page 2

Now, if you go to All Pages, you should have three pages and one default page that comes with every new WordPress site. Feel free to delete that page.

WordPress Pages

Let’s learn how to create a menu.

How to Create a WordPress Menu

Go to Appearance → Menus.

WordPress - Appearance - Menus

Start by giving your menu a name and clicking Create Menu. I like to give my menus descriptive names, such as “Main Menu.”

WordPress - Create Menu

Let’s start by adding our pages to our menu. I recommend switching over to the View All tab for this.

WordPress - View All Pages

Select your three new pages, and click Add to Menu.

WordPress - Add Pages to Menu

Take a moment to rearrange the pages on your menu. The order they’re in on this page is the order they’ll appear in on your site. I prefer to place my Home page at the top of all of my menus, my Contact page at the end and my About page somewhere in the middle.

WordPress - Rearrange Menu

Let’s continue by learning how to create a drop-down menu.

How to Create a Drop-Down Menu in WordPress

I like to create a drop-down menu for my blog on my site, as you’ve probably noticed.

Learn with Lyn - Categories

If you want to create a similar menu for your own blog, you’ll need to start by creating a new page for your blog. Make sure you save your menu before going to the Add New Page screen.

WordPress - Add Blog Page

Go back to the Menus section, and add your new Blog page to your menu. Be sure to place it where you want it as well.

WordPress - Add Blog Page to Menu

A drop-down menu works as a hierarchy. The pages we already have in our menu make up “Level 1” in the hierarchy. I like to add my parent categories to Level 2 in my blog’s drop-down menu. All you need to do is open the Categories menu to the left, select your parent categories, and drag them underneath the Blog menu item but slightly to the right.

WordPress - Add Parent Categories to Menu

I add my child categories to Level 3.

WordPress - Add Child Categories to Menu

Lastly, you need to choose a Display Location for your menu. If your Display Location settings are identical to mine, choose Top Menu. If you’ve installed and activated a theme, you’ll need to figure out which setting is associated with your site’s header on your own.

WordPress Menu Display Location

Click Save Menu, then hover over your site name, and click Visit Site.

WordPress - Visit Site

This will lead you to the frontend of your site. Yours may look different from mine if you’ve already installed and activated a theme or if you’re following this tutorial after December 2017. Either way, you’ll be able to view your menu.

WordPress - View Menu

Let’s go over adding custom links to a WordPress menu in case you ever need to add an external link to your menu. For example, if YouTube plays a huge role in your content marketing strategy, you can add a link to your YouTube channel to your menu. Just add the URL in the URL field and the text you’d like to display in your menu in the Link Text field.

WordPress Menu - Custom Link

If you ever need to edit or delete a menu item, click on it to reveal its settings.

WordPress - Edit Menu Item

Those are the basics of creating a menu in WordPress. Let’s move on.

Section 9: All About WordPress Themes

WordPress Themes

A WordPress theme is a “skin” for your website that affects the way it looks and functions. Your website would be blank without one. The WordPress team releases a free theme every year, which they name after the current year. There’s a Twenty Fifteen theme, a Twenty Sixteen theme, a Twenty Seventeen theme, the Twenty Eighteen theme is about to drop at the time I’m writing this and there may already be a Twenty Nineteen theme by the time you do read this.

These are the default themes in WordPress, and at least three of them of them are installed with every new WordPress installation. The most recent is activated upon installation, which is why your new WordPress site already has a style.

Unfortunately, these themes are severely limited and not suitable for business. That’s why we’re going to go over the types of themes available in the WordPress industry, where to find them and which ones I recommend. Let’s get into it.

Types of WordPress Themes

There are five main types of WordPress themes:

  • Blogging Themes
  • Business Themes
  • Ecommerce Themes
  • Portfolio Themes
  • Newspaper/Magazine Themes

Let’s talk about each of these in depth.

Blogging Themes

Typology WordPress Theme

Blogging themes are as simple as it gets when it comes to WordPress themes. They’re typically stripped-down and feature minimalist styles, simple homepages and fewer functionalities. Let’s use one of my favorite WordPress themes as an example.

Typology - Full Demo

Typology is a blogging theme. The image you see above is its full homepage. It features a header that uses a logo, a menu and a Featured Posts slider. Your latest posts appear as a classic blogroll (list of blog posts) beneath it.

This is what a typical blogging theme looks like. It’s meant exclusively for content, so its homepage leaves out things like a header with a call to action, your business or product’s features, testimonials, a contact form, and other business-related elements.

Some blogging themes cater to specific niches, such as Sprout & Spoon, one of my favorite food blog themes.

Sprout & Spoon WordPress Theme

Let’s move on.

Business Themes

Hestia Pro WordPress Theme

Business themes allow you to take a WordPress blog and turn it into a fully-fledged website. It starts with the homepage. You can still display a blogroll featuring your latest and greatest posts, but business themes allow you to do a lot more than that.

You can use a header with a hero image and call to action to promote your latest product/project. You can insert a contact form to encourage potential customers to request a quote. You can even insert things like pricing tables, testimonials, your portfolio, a list of your team members and more.

Here’s an example using Hestia Pro, the theme powering this very website. The homepage the demo uses is broken down into 11 different parts. It starts with a call to action, which you can see in the image above. This is followed by a row of features/services and a section where you can explain your company’s mission to new visitors.

Hestia Pro - Features & About Sections

This is followed by a section where you can list a few of your products:

Hestia Pro - Products

Next up is a portfolio:

Hestia Pro - Portfolio

Your team:

Hestia Pro - Team

Pricing and testimonials:

Hestia Pro - Pricing & Testimonials

Email form and blogroll:

Hestia Pro - Email Form & Blogroll

And finally, a contact form:

Hestia Pro - Contact Form

This is more or less what a typical business WordPress theme layout looks like. Each theme has its own unique style, and each adds its own set of features, but they all more or less use the same set of elements on their homepages.

Let’s continue.

Ecommerce Themes

Atelier WordPress Theme

WordPress uses what are known as “shopping cart plugins” to add ecommerce functions to the CMS. The two most popular options are WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads. WooCommerce allows you to turn your site into an online store that sells physical products while Easy Digital Downloads does the same with digital products.

You’ll only use ecommerce themes when you want to build an online store, not when you want to simply sell a few products alongside your blog. When you do need to search for an ecommerce theme, you’ll need to search for one that’s made for the shopping cart plugin you want to use. Here’s an example using the Atelier theme, compatible with WooCommerce:

Atelier Homepage

Let’s move on.

Portfolio Themes

Notio WordPress Theme

Portfolio themes are developed for graphic designers, photographers, web designers and anyone else who creates visual works. Their homepages are typically simple, only featuring an aesthetically-pleasing version of the artist’s portfolio and nothing else. This is what’s shown in the Notio theme pictured above. Sometimes, though, they act like full-on business themes and add many more elements to their homepages.

Newspaper/Magazine Themes

Grand Magazine WordPress Theme

Newspaper and magazine themes use blogging themes as bases and cranks them up a few notches. A blogging theme’s homepage only showcases a blogroll of your latest posts. A newspaper or magazine theme features different blogrolls displayed in different ways across the homepage. Each blogroll displays a different category.

Here’s an example using the ever popular Grand Magazine theme:

Grand Magazine Homepage

Let’s talk about niche WordPress themes before we move on.

Niche WordPress Themes

WPLMS WordPress Theme

WordPress is capable of building a wide variety of websites, including the following:

  • Social Network
  • Forum
  • Directory
  • Education/Online School
  • Sports
  • Entertainment
  • Nonprofit
  • Real Estate
  • Technology
  • Wedding

You’ll use what are sometimes known as “niche themes” to build these types of sites. Here’s an example using WPLMS, a learning management system for WordPress. This theme can be used to create and distribute online courses:

WPLMS Homepage

Let’s move on to other topics.

Free vs. Premium WordPress Themes

There are thousands upon thousands of free themes available in the WordPress theme repository, so why would you ever pay for a theme? Well, as I explained earlier, support for premium themes is typically much higher in quality than the support available for free themes.

Developers spend their time developing new products, refining existing ones and providing support. Unfortunately, that means prioritizing support for paying customers is a much better use of a developer’s time. That means, as a business owner, you’re much better off paying for a premium theme so you can get ahold of support and fix whatever issues you might have with your theme in a timely manner. Plus, charging for products gives developers the ability to create a company where they can eventually generate enough revenue to hire a dedicated support team. In any case, premium themes typically have more style and functionality, anyway.

If you do choose a free theme, make sure the theme has a premium version you can upgrade to later on. I also recommend only downloading free themes from the official WordPress theme repository. The WordPress team places heavy restrictions on developers, and every theme goes through rigorous testing before it’s allowed into the repository. This means themes in the WordPress repo are as safe and secure as they can possibly be.

When you purchase premium themes, make sure they’re made by trustworthy developers. Marketplaces like ThemeForest and Creative Market are great places to look. They allow customers to submit user reviews, which can help you determine if a theme is high in quality. If a theme you’re interested in is available from a developer’s own website, research the developer as well as the theme itself to ensure they’re both free of red flags.

You should also see when the theme was last updated. Themes, similar to the apps on your phone, need updates to fix bugs and security flaws. Themes that haven’t been updated within the last 12 months are at risk for becoming unsupported. Here’s WordPress.org’s last update indicator:

WordPress - Last Update

Here’s ThemeForest’s:

ThemeForest - Last Update

Here’s Creative Market’s:

Creative Market - Last Update

One last thing before we move on. Pricing for premium themes can be a little tricky. Every developer handles things differently. Some charge a fee for their theme, say $49, and expect you to pay that fee every year if you want to continue receiving support and updates. Others charge that $49 fee on a one-time basis and charge a smaller, separate fee for ongoing support and updates.

Some developers, on the other hand, offer what’s known as a “lifetime license” for themes. This means you’ll pay one large sum (usually a few hundred dollars) on a one-time basis and will receive support and updates for that theme for as long as the developer’s business is running. These pricing structures should be much more clear when we get to my own theme recommendations. Speaking of, let’s move on.

Things to Look for in a WordPress Theme

Let’s talk about the features you should look for when shopping for a new theme. I have a couple theme recommendations beneath this section if you’d rather not go through the trouble of selecting your own theme, so feel free to skip ahead if you’d prefer to use one of those.

Before we start, here’s the deal. This is an “ultimate guide to WordPress for beginners,” but my entire website caters to wannabe entrepreneurs, which means this guide might as well be titled “A Beginner’s Guide to WordPress for Entrepreneurs.” Basically, I’m only going to focus on the features entrepreneurs need to build business websites complete with professional blogs. Fair warning.

Essential Features

I’ve already established two things you should look for when shopping for a WordPress theme. They are good reviews and whether or not it’s been updated in the last 12 months.

Let’s go over a few additional features to look for:

Responsive

It’s 2018. Most Google searches are made from mobile devices. Most people also use platforms like Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis. This means the likelihood of a new visitor finding and viewing your site on a mobile device is very high. It also means your site needs to be mobile friendly, which, in turn, means your theme needs to be mobile friendly.

Compatible with All Browsers

You may use Safari exclusively, but I use Chrome exclusively. What does this mean for your theme? You don’t have any control over the browsers your visitors use to view your site. Your best bet is to ensure your theme supports all major browsers. These include Chrome, Firefox and Safari at the very least as well as Opera, Internet Explorer, Edge and Chromium at the most.

Support for Major Plugins

We haven’t gotten to WordPress plugins, yet, but you should make sure the theme you’re interested in has support for a few major plugins if you plan on using them. These include WooCommerce and Yoast SEO.

Premium Support

If you’re purchasing a theme, be sure to research the developer’s support options to see if they meet your standards. If you prefer to speak to support over the phone, you may not vibe well with a developer if they only offer ticket support, for example.

SEO Friendly

Search engines, mainly Google, want your site to be safe and fast for visitors to use. This means your theme’s code needs to be clean, and the entire product needs to run fast. Look through poor reviews of a theme you’re interested in, and make sure none of them call out bad code. You can also run the demo through tools like Pingdom to see if it loads in under 2 seconds.

Features Entrepreneurs Need

You may not consider yourself an entrepreneur, but if you’re looking to start your own business and make money online with a blog, courses or ebooks, you’re at least an aspiring entrepreneur. This means your WordPress theme will need a few additional features to ensure it’s optimized for the way online business works in 2018 and beyond. Let’s go over what those features are.

We actually already mentioned two of them—reviews and support. Let’s go over the rest.

Homepage Built for Online Business

If you want to make money blogging, your first instinct might be to fill your homepage with a collection of your latest and greatest blog posts. However, as an online business, your homepage should welcome your visitors with a header that has a call to action. It should also feature a section or two for you to advertise any products or services you sell. If you do have products or services to sell, you should also make sure it has sections for customer testimonials and a contact form. You can worry about showcasing your posts after all of that.

Fullwidth Blog Posts

This isn’t necessarily a requirement, but it’s still a great feature to have, at least as an option. Fullwidth blog posts omit sidebars on pages that contain your blog posts, leaving you with nothing but your header, content, comments and footer. The reason why I recommend using fullwidth blog posts is simple. We call blogging “content marketing” for a reason. It’s meant to attract more visitors to your site and increase your conversions. This means each blog post you publish should have a clear call to action for the reader to fulfill. All a sidebar does is provide distractions. Plus, blog posts without sidebars look a heck of a lot cleaner (not to mention prettier!).

Style

Style is a hard subject to cover when it comes to choosing a WordPress theme. This is because there are a variety of different styles available in web design, and they’re all perfectly valid for your blog. I would say to simply choose a theme that uses a style you feel would represent your brand best. All you need to look out for is whether or not it’s customizable. You should be able to change the colors, fonts and layouts with ease from WordPress’ built-in live theme customizer. We’ll talk about this more in a bit.

Easy to Use

Think back to what I said at the beginning of this page. WordPress users can be categorized into two main groups—developers and everyday people. WordPress themes can be categorized in a similar way. Some themes are highly technical and incredibly difficult for everyday people to understand. These types of themes are best suited for developers. Other themes, on the other hand, are incredibly easy to use, allowing you to choose between importing a demo with the click of a button or tweaking a few minor changes in the theme panel. These types of themes are best suited for everyday people, like you.

Performance

Organic traffic, the traffic you receive from search engines, is the most valuable form of traffic your site can receive. This is due to most sites receiving an overwhelming majority of their traffic from search engines as well as the fact that you don’t need to pay for this kind of traffic nor do you need to rely on referrals from third-party websites. As such, SEO plays a huge role in your blog’s success, and unfortunately, Google will not rank poor performing websites (unless you’re Forbes.com). It’s important for you to ensure the theme you’re interested in performs well because of this. Pay attention to how it performs as you browse its demo, and run the demo through a speed test from Pingdom. Most themes should load in under 2 seconds for American servers.

Cost

There’s not much to cover here. Most WordPress themes cost anywhere between $40 and $60. Some are less, and others are much higher. Some are even free. What you decide to pay for your theme is up to you as it’s entirely dependent on your budget. The only thing I’d pay attention to is the developer’s payment terms. Most developers have you pay that flat fee to begin with and expect you to pay that fee every year to receive ongoing support and theme updates. Some developers charge a flat fee for the theme and a much smaller but monthly fee for ongoing support and updates. Other developers offer lifetime licenses, which cost a lot more but all but guarantee unlimited support and theme updates for as long as the company is operating. Take all of this into consideration when deciding between multiple themes.

Let’s talk about these features in depth using actual themes.

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