Intro to WordPress for Webmasters

WordPress.orgThis post is for webmasters who are looking for a good website system (CMS) for a small organization.

WordPress is a great, free system that started out as blogging software but has been extended to fit many different types of websites. I recommend WordPress and Joomla. Both are open-source. Both are programmed in PHP (not that you need to know what that means). Both have vibrant communities of users. To choose, look at your departments or the sections of your website. In a church, this might be music, mission activities, youth group, etc. For each of these, will you need a page or two or will you need a mini-site? For a page or two, choose WordPress. For a series of mini-sites, choose Joomla. Joomla is more difficult to get started but makes it easier to manage a larger site.

WordPress.com and WordPress.org

These are two different sites. WordPress.com allows you to host a blog for free at their address or pay to use your own domain. If you have $15 per year to spend on the site, I recommend getting your own domain from GoDaddy with free hosting and skipping WordPress.com. Plus, WordPress.com is making it easier for the rest of us to use some of their services by building them into the system and offering plugins.

WordPress.org is the site where you can download WordPress, research themes and plugins, and read documentation. A word of caution about the documentation: at least half the time I find better information by Googling "wordpress" and my question than by searching WordPress.org.

Themes

Themes are the templates for WordPress sites, controlling the look and feel of the site, menus, sidebars, etc. Here are your options:

  • Use the theme that comes with WordPress and just customize the header image and background color. This is the easiest option, but your site will look similar to tons of others.
  • Install a free or premium theme. This is easy, but may make it a bit more difficult to figure out when you want to do something odd. Customizations work differently in different themes.
  • Customize a child theme based on one of the basic WordPress themes. Child themes use the framework of the parent theme and allow you to change anything you want but use the latest update to the parent. My site is based on Brunelleschi. This requires the most skill, but gives you the most flexibility. You can also hire me to do it for you!

Plugins

WordPress has a lot of native, out-of-the-box functions, but inevitably you'll want to do something different. For that, other WordPress users have created many plugins. These are additions to the WordPress program and most are free. They are like apps on a smartphone. There are many that do the same thing, just with different details. Don't hesitate to contact the programmer of the plugin. I've found them to be very responsive and helpful.

When choosing a plugin, look for one that has gone through a few versions, been downloaded a lot, and updated recently. Also, look at the number of ratings rather than the average rating. 

Here are my favorites:

  • CKEditor – The default text editor that comes with WordPress does not handle paragraphs the way I think is intuitive for most people. The first thing I do to WordPress is to install this replacement.
  • WordPress Backup to Dropbox – Backup is important! This plugin automatically backs up both your files and your database to a free Dropbox account. Perfect!
  • Theme My Login – Without this plugin, you get WordPress branding on your login and logout screens. With the plugin, you get a pretty login within your page.
  • Admin Bar Removal – Takes off the gray bar that the latest versions of WordPress add to the top of the screen when someone is logged in.
  • Janrain Engage – Allows users to log in with their accounts from Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc. Nobody likes to make yet another account.
  • Jetpack – WordPress comes with this plugin suite that includes stats, share buttons, and more. Don't include the "print" share button. It doesn't work well.
  • Open external links in a new window – On my site, when you click on links within the site, they open in the same window. Links to WordPress.org and GoDaddy open in another window so you don't forget to keep reading my article. This plugin does it for me.

There are lots more: calendars, plugins to make your site run faster, let you expire posts on a certain day, etc.

One of the quirks of WordPress is that every plugin puts its settings in a different place. Some just have settings in the list of plugins. Some make their own menus on the left side of the dashboard. Some put their settings under one of the existing menus. Just to keep you on your toes.

Updates

Make sure to log in to your dashboard once in a while to check for updates. They will be clearly marked and most are easy to do. There are updates for WordPress itself, for plugins, and for themes. You are using WordPress Backup to Dropbox, so you don't have to worry about backing up first. After each update, check through your site. You may need to reconfirm settings in a plugin or fix some customization you've done.

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