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My Year with WordPress. Part 3: Getting Help (And Working Out What Help You Need)

When you first get going with WordPress, you’ll probably need help. This is true even if you have some background in web technologies (like your humble correspondent here). One of the frustrations I aired in my last WordPress-related blog post was the difficulty in finding ‘how to’ information for themes and plugins. Once you’ve been working with WordPress for a while, you’ll start to notice certain basic commonalities, but these aren’t obvious at first.

Here’s my whistle-stop tour of the kind of help I needed when I first started getting to grips with WordPress, and where I found it. And—perhaps more usefully—I include a discussion of the help I really needed up front, but didn’t get because at the time I didn’t know I needed it. Confused yet? Don’t worry. All will become clear in time.

Step 1: Choosing the Right WordPress Hosting Company

I’ve written about this before, and I’ve chosen to do so again because the limits of what you can do with WordPress depend only on your imagination and what your hosting company will allow. I started out with 1&1 because I’d used them in the past to buy domain names and already had an account. This was a mistake: not only is their interface counterintuitive and incredibly difficult to navigate, they don’t seem to allow free access to the ‘guts’ of WordPress.

You’ll need to get into these directories and files if you’re going to do exciting things like set up an online shop or turn your WordPress site into an app. I’ve had much better experiences with InMotion Hosting, whose interface is more user-friendly and who seem to place no restrictions on what I can access. But new companies are popping up every day, so I’d recommend the time-honoured research technique of doing an internet search.

Step 2: Finding Your Ideal WordPress Theme

The WordPress theme you choose will dictate the way your site looks overall, and what it can do. It’s therefore important to choose carefully. Don’t do what I did: dive right in and install WordPress, then spend the next seven hours installing and rejecting every half-decent theme you come across. You’ll get RSI and come close to a nervous breakdown, because after the first four hours the themes all start to look the same.

Instead, try and decide in advance on a shortlist of themes which seem to fulfil your requirements. I’d start by perusing free themes, because there are a lot of them, and many of them are great (this site is based on one of them – specifically Pho by Themato Soup). Get yourself over to the WordPress theme directory and have a browse through the database to see what’s available. Usefully, you can filter the results by attributes such as colour or functional features.

Step 3: Installing WordPress and Getting To Grips with It

For those of you who’ve chosen your hosting company wisely and are fairly confident about learning as you go, installing WordPress won’t be a big deal. However, getting it to look and work the way you want probably will be. I struggled with this for months. Then I found an amazing online resource called Treehouse, whose video courses completely changed my WordPress experience.

In the interests of openness and honesty, I’d like to make it clear that if you sign up to Treehouse using the link above, I benefit by getting a discount on my subscription. But nonetheless, their Learn WordPress courses are the most comprehensive and lucid introduction to the subject I could find anywhere. You’ll go from being a clueless n00b to a power user in a very short space of time, and they offer a free trial period so you can see if their teaching style suits you.

NB Many of the Treehouse courses are taught by Zac Gordon, who also presents some useful learning resources on his own site.

Step 4: Customising the Appearance Of Your Site

Here’s where the fun really starts. Depending on the theme you’ve chosen, you’ll be able to carry out an enormous number of tweaks to customise the way your site looks. But to do this, you’ll need two things: a reasonable knowledge of CSS and the ability to create a child theme. By now you won’t be terribly surprised when I say that you can learn both at Treehouse.

Step 5: Extending Your Site’s Functioning With Plugins

By the time you get to this point you’ll be at least competent with WordPress, and you’ll be gaining a much better idea of what this powerful software can do. You’ll also be getting a feel for the direction you want your site to take. This means you’ll be looking for suitable plugins.

Once again, don’t do what I did (you really don’t want to know what I did this time – it was really daft and time consuming). Be smart and visit the WordPress plugin directory to get an overview of what plugins can do, and of which ones will work with your theme.

Next time I’ll tell you all about the plugins which have made my WordPress site the masterwork you see before you today.



Lynn is the founder and quality-maven-in-chief of Lexis Writing, a collective of expert writers creating high quality content and copy for businesses in the UK and beyond.

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