I’m not going to lie to you — when I first started using WordPress it frightened the life out of me. Although I now know the user interface back to front, the learning curve can be relatively steep. That is, if you let it.
In reality, anyone can start blogging with WordPress in a very short space of time — the key is to focus on the absolute basics and work your way up to learning more advanced things when the time is right. Too many people jump in at the deep end and try to create custom designed, plugin and widget-heavy blogs with all the bells and whistles and quickly become overwhelmed.
In this beginners guide to WordPress blogging I want to introduce you to the absolute basics of WordPress — what you need to know (and nothing more) in order to start your own self-hosted WordPress blog. You’ll be amazed at how simple it is.
Step 1: Install WordPress
In order to have your own self-hosted WordPress blog you’ll need to purchase a domain name (around $10) and some hosting (around $5-$10 per month). I personally use Westhost (I reviewed it here), but there are loads of alternative options out there such as BlueHost and HostGator. Any of these hosts provide you with a simple one-click install of WordPress through their control panel — you just have to enter a few key details and you’re on your way.
To be honest, this is probably the most difficult part of the entire process. If you have any problems with installing WordPress then contact your hosting provider — they will guide you through the process (it’s something they do every day). Once you’ve installed WordPress, you should see the default WordPress theme with some placeholder content when you visit your domain.
As you will see, your site is ready to go — all you need to do now is create some content!
Step 2: Resist Temptation
This step is more my advice on what you shouldn’t do next, rather than what you should. That may not immediately make sense, so let me explain. WordPress is incredibly powerful. It is a blogging platform, a Content Management System (CMS) for just about any type of website you could imagine, and can even be used for app development. But with great power comes great depth and complexity — two things you want to avoid as a new WordPress user.
You may have heard of WordPress’ extensibility through themes and plugins — many of which are available free of charge. While it is true that you can extend and improve WordPress’ design and functionality with themes and plugins, you do not need them. Nor should you (in my opinion) start by fiddling with them. In reality, WordPress works perfectly well out of the box. In short, it is good to go — you can start blogging right now.
Don’t me wrong — WordPress’ extensibility is awesome and I will discuss it near the end of this post, but for now I want to get you started with what is by far the most important thing: content creation.
Step 3: Write Your First Blog Post
Like I said before, as soon as you have installed WordPress, you can start blogging. It comes packaged with default themes that serve perfectly well for beginner blogs. In fact, I own blogs that still use a default theme.
Why? Because they work. They’re clean and uncluttered and the average visitor is going to like that. Although getting down and dirty with free and premium themes can be a lot of fun and you can use them to make your site look a lot prettier, any beginner WordPress user would do well to stick with a default theme and concentrate on writing. So let’s talk content creation. The content on your site will be split up into two different types:
Posts are content you produce periodically in the same way that a magazine publishes articles. Pages are typically anchor points on your site that you would expect to see on most websites: an About page, Contact page, and so on. Pages also serve many other purposes, but those are the basics.
To write your first blog post, log into your WordPress dashboard (this should be available at http://www.yoursite.com/wp-admin/) and click on Posts > Add New in the sidebar. This will bring you to the screen in which you will create your first WordPress blog post.
You only need to worry about three things:
- Adding a title
- Adding some content
- Hitting the Publish button
There is plenty more you can do to make a post better optimized and more dynamic and interesting, but they’re all optional extras. If you’re keen to start publishing content (and you should be, given that you’ve launched a blog!) all you need to do is add content and hit Publish.
And I encourage every new WordPress user to do just that. You can always go back and tweak things, but nothing is more important than getting your writing published and seeing it live on your site.
If you have ever used a Word Processing application then you will be comfortable enough with doing some basic formatting on your post — it’s all pretty self-explanatory. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to create your first post — get writing and hit Publish!
Step 4: Create Your About and Contact Pages
Writing blog posts is all very well and good, but you’re also going to need a few pages to let visitors know what your site is about, etc. I recommend the following two pages to start with:
Your About page shouldn’t just be about you — it should explain what the site is about and give the visitor a reason to hang around (i.e. what is the benefit of them exploring your site further?). If you’re interested in learning more about how to create a great About page then click here. But don’t get carried away with the finer points — a simple About page will do the job nicely for now.
The Contact page should of course give people a means of contacting you. You can simply include your email address on this page, but I would advise against it (a scraper may pick it up and you will then be inundated with spam). Instead I recommend that you create a contact form. To do that, we need a plugin.
Step 5: Install Your First Plugin
But not just any plugin — my recommendation is the awesome Jetpack.
My reasoning behind suggesting Jetpack as the first plugin you should install is threefold:
- It includes great contact form functionality
- It includes a bunch of other exciting features
- It is developed by Automattic (the guys who created WordPress) and as such is solidly coded and well supported
I know I said earlier that you shouldn’t get carried away with extensibility, but Jetpack is a great introduction to WordPress plugins. In fact, it’ll probably spoil you a little. If you want to learn more about Jetpack before taking the plunge then check out my recent guide.
To install a plugin, just navigate to Plugins > Add New in the sidebar from your WordPress dashboard. On the following screen, type in “Jetpack” in the search box and click Search Plugins. Jetpack will be the first result — click the Install Now link, Activate the plugin once the installation is complete, and that’s it! You’ve just installed your first WordPress plugin.
You will need to sign up for a WordPress.com account if you haven’t already, but once you’ve done that we can create a form for your Contact page. Just navigate back to the page and you will notice a little icon next to the Add Media button:
Click on that button and you will be presented with a screen where you can create and customize your form.
Add and remove fields as you see fit then click the “Add this form to my post” button. A little shortcode will be added to your page and when you click Publish you will be able to see the form live on your site! It’s that simple.
Step 6: Experiment!
By now you should have a couple of pages on your site and at least one post. You have installed your first plugin and created a contact form. While content creation is incredibly important (and you should remain focused on it above all other matters), you may wish to start exploring at this stage.
I would recommend that you start with the Jetpack plugin you have already installed by clicking on the Jetpack button in the sidebar on your WordPress dashboard. You’ll be presented with a huge list of features offered by the plugin, including (but not limited to):
- Social media publishing options
- Site stats
- A custom comments system
- Sharing buttons
- Extra sidebar widgets
There’s so much I haven’t covered in this post — basic things that are not necessary for you to create your site, but that can help you create something bigger and better in time. I have kept things deliberately basic here, but don’t be afraid to get stuck in! If you ever feel overwhelmed then bear in mind that you already know what you need to know — the rest is optional.
What Would You Do Next?
Now I’d like to turn it over to you — whether you’re brand new to WordPress or an experienced user. If you had followed the steps above, what would you do next? Install a new theme? Customize one of the default themes? Add widgets to the sidebar or create a custom menu
The sky really is the limit and I’d love to know what you think is important to do when first launching a WordPress blog. Let us know in the comments section below!