How to Learn WordPress: 7-Day Challenge
So you want to learn about WordPress, huh? Congratulations. You’ve just made an excellent decision – and one I want to help you achieve in seven days.
The first time I came across WordPress I admit that I was daunted – and it took me a long time to embrace it. This was quite a few years ago – WordPress wasn’t as mature as it is today. I had been a web developer for a few years already and was a bit of a Joomla guy. WordPress and Joomla are very different so digging into WordPress left me a bit stumped. I strongly resisted the team I worked with that wanted to use WordPress and made every effort to not get involved.
That remains one of my biggest web design regrets. I should’ve just jumped on the WordPress bandwagon back then.
So don’t do what I did. Don’t miss this opportunity.
Now, I know that self-learning the hard way is quite a challenge but wouldn’t you love it if you could just get somebody to nudge you in the right direction?
That’s what we’re here for today – I want to take you through the fastest way to learn WordPress in seven days. In this post, we’ll start out easy and progress over the seven days to more advanced concepts, so stick with me.
Let’s get this party started!
Day 1: Start Reading About WordPress
You’re in the right place – at WPMU DEV we’ve got your back.
We’re all about bringing out the superhero in you (and your WordPress website). We’re a bunch of people passionate about WordPress and what it brings to the table. Most of all, we love sharing what we know.
Let’s start with a quick introduction to WordPress for the uninitiated.
So what is WordPress?
“WordPress is web software you can use to create a beautiful website, blog, or app. We like to say that WordPress is both free and priceless at the same time.” – WordPress.org
WordPress has been the most popular way to build a website (whether it’s a blog or otherwise) over the past few years. Statistics show it powers about 26% of the web, a figure that rises by thousand of websites every day.
WordPress is designed to be easy to use out-of-the-box. This is, in fact, one of the founding philosophies:
“WordPress is designed to get you up and running and fully functional in no longer than five minutes. You shouldn’t have to battle to use the standard functionality of WordPress.”
In essence, this founding philosophy of WordPress takes into account the following fact.
“Many end users of WordPress are non-technically minded. … The average WordPress user simply wants to be able to write without problems or interruption. These are the users that we design the software for as they are ultimately the ones who are going to spend the most time using it for what it was built for.”
WordPress is an open-source project, completely and fully built and supported by the amazing community around it. Everything from every single line of code, to each word in the documentation is developed by a community of thousands of people from around the world who are passionate about WordPress.
Although there are infinite ways to extend the core functionality of WordPress, you can get a website with all the necessary functionality and features straight from the core installation.
Besides its simplicity and ease-of-use, features such as comments, search engine optimization, media management, publishing tools and user management (besides other things) are fully developed and ready to go right out-of-the-box.
The WordPress API and application framework makes working with WordPress a breeze for developers.
Did I tell you some people are really passionate about WordPress?
You may want to read a little bit about WordPress, how it came about, and what it can be used for.
You’ll also find that the WordPress Codex is a huge repository of information and documentation. Besides that, you’ll find thousands of hugely informative articles about any aspect of WordPress just by running a quick web search.
With that bit of background in mind, let’s see whether WordPress can actually stand up to its claim of getting you up and running in no longer than 5 minutes…
Day 2: Let’s Get Your First WordPress Installation Up and Running
Getting your first WordPress website up and running might seem like a bit of a challenge if you’ve never done it before. That’s why we’re once again here to help.
There are various ways in which you can start a WordPress-powered website, but I’m going to focus on the two most popular ones.
- WordPress.com – This is a commercial project which allows anybody to create a WordPress site without actually having to think about where you want to host the site. You can get started for free, so if you just want to get a feel of WordPress this is probably the best way to go. As your website grows, you’ll need to subscribe to one of the payment plans.
- Hosting your own installation of WordPress, aka self-hosting – The second popular way of getting WordPress up and running, is to download and install the software from WordPress.org on your own server.
We’ve already covered these two options in detail in our guide: WordPress.org vs WordPress.com: A Definitive Guide.
Since Jenni has covered this topic very nicely (spoiler: WordPress.org gives you more flexibility, so I’ll assume you’ll be self-hosting from this point onwards), we’ll skip right next to the next part: actually, getting your first WordPress site installed and up and running.
There are, once again, two main options:
- Setting your own local installation of WordPress, or
- Hosting on a commercial hosting company.
If you choose the former, I have some guides for you below. If you choose the latter, you’ll need to take another decision: choosing which hosting company to go for.
Everybody (and their dog) has a strong opinion on this, so if I have to make a recommendation it would be this: don’t choose the cheapest hosting because you’ll regret it later. Choose a popular company that has constantly demonstrated expertise in hosting WordPress websites.
But don’t worry too much – switching hosts is something that can be done fairly easily if you change your mind a few months down the line.
Once you’ve chosen your preferred hosting, you’re now actually very close to getting WordPress installed.
To quickly understand exactly what will happen during the installation, I suggest you watch this video about installing WordPress. The exact steps may vary slightly between various platforms, but fundamentally the installation remains the same.
Since you’ve decided to self-host your site, there’s still a few options you can take.
- Install on your local machine – If you just want to experiment and not go live with your site (just yet), you might want to tinker a bit on your machine. You can install WordPress and all its supporting components using XAMPP as Raelene shows us in How to Install XAMPP and WordPress Locally on PC/Windows. You can also visit the WordPress Codex to see how you can install WordPress locally on Mac using MAMP.
- Install the manual way using the famous 5-minute install – This method assumes you’re familiar with creating databases on your hosting server, uploading files and editing them and knowing such stuff as your installation’s temporary URL. If you are not too familiar with any of this stuff, there are very detailed instructions too. It’s a very good idea to read through the detailed instructions if you plan to do this often. If you’ll be doing this quite rarely, you might skip this and go directly to…
- Installing the easy way using automated installations – Many web hosting companies offer the possibility of installing WordPress through an automated installation wizard. There are plenty of these available: Softaculous, Installatron, and Fantastico, to name a few. Their availability varies by hosting company, so your best bet would be to ask your web hosting.
This part, actually installing the WordPress software, might be a challenge for some, especially if you’ve never done any of the above. But once you’ve passed this stage, everything will be plain sailing.
It’s not as difficult as it may look and sound. The great thing is that most shared web hosting servers will actually guide you or do this for you, should you get stuck.
Learn some of the basics of WordPress authoring.
Once your installation is up and running, one of the first things you’ll need to do is get to grips with a few of the basics of WordPress authoring.
WordPress authoring is in essence, what you will be doing most of the time with your WordPress site, especially if your primary aim is blogging.
Although it may seem somewhat daunting initially, it really isn’t any more difficult than working with your run-of-the-mill document editing software such as Microsoft Word.
You’ll need to get a little bit used to the terminology and how all of the bits and pieces fit together, but that’s mostly it.
We also can give you a bit of a helping hand here. We’ve got quite a nice collection of WordPress Tutorial Videos which can quickly get you up-to-scratch. Although we’d recommend going through most of the these if you are mostly new, I’ve picked up what I feel are the most important ones for the uninitiated.
These would be the first few videos which you really need to see.
Of course, it is recommended to go through most of the videos on the WordPress Tutorial Videos library.
Infact, I dare say, you should probably spend most of today going through these videos, whilst you get your hosting company to install your WordPress (let the techies do the technical stuff!).
Once the installation has been completed nicely by your hosting company, you’ll be able to actually hit the ground running with your newly acquired knowledge of WordPress authoring.
Day 3: How to Choose the Perfect WordPress Theme
There are a number of aspects to setting up a WordPress website, but if you want your website to impress you need to make sure your site actually looks top-notch.
That’s where choosing a WordPress theme comes into play.
A theme is what defines how your website is going to look and feel. Color schemes, menus, styling, layouts of different pieces of content… These are all functions that are defined through your WordPress theme.
The good thing about WordPress themes is this: the actual articles you post and what your website looks like are independent of each other. In fact, you can change the whole look of your website simply by changing the theme, without ever having to touch any of your content.
Now, choosing a theme may still have a few implications. Initially, these may not make a real difference to you, but as your website grows your choice of theme may impact other aspects of your online presence.
- Responsive – The theme you choose should work well on all sorts of devices. Desktops, tablets, laptops and smartphones, the theme should adapt to show content well on any of these devices.
- Price – There are free themes or premium themes. Although there are some great free themes out there, we’re always of the opinion that you get what you pay for. Rather than just the actual theme, we’re particularly concerned with support. A premium theme is typically supported much much better than a freebie.
- Brand – Of course, the theme you choose should fit your brand, or be adaptable to suit the needs of your brand. Besides color schemes, the choice of fonts, how it can be used, whether it allows for great imagery are all things you’ll need to consider.
- Speed – As you learn more about websites, content marketing, conversion optimization and all of the things which have to do with having a successful website, you’ll find that how fast a theme loads makes a real difference to your visitor. We suggest that you take this into consideration from the very beginning.
- Plugin Support – If you have something in mind already for your WordPress site, such as setting up shop, you’ll want to know that the theme you choose is actually compatible with any plugins you will need to use.
Day 4: What Are WordPress Plugins and Why Do I Need Them?
You may have heard that besides using WordPress as a blog, WordPress has the capability to blend into all sorts of functions. This is through the use of plugins.
But what is a WordPress plugin and why do you need them?
In essence, a plugin implements specific features to complement the core WordPress functionality.
- Need to set up a shop on your website. Check.
- Need to create a photo(graphy) gallery. Check.
- Need to create a community with a forum or social network. Check.
- Need to create a membership-based website. Check.
- Need to create anything else you may think of for your website. (Probably) Check.
Besides the above mentioned relatively complex functions, WordPress has plugins to support common features required when running a website.
Things such as sending emails and newsletters via WordPress, plugins to make WordPress fast, plugins to enable users to get in touch with you via Contact Forms or comments, plugins to improve the visibility of your website on search engines, plugins to integrate with social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. You name it – it’s probably already a WordPress plugin.
Just like themes, plugins fall into two major types. Free plugins, typically available in the WordPress Plugins Directory, and premium WordPress plugins. These are typically hosted on the site of the company which develops them.
You are in fact right now reading this blog on the website of a company that develops some of the most popular WordPress plugins going around.
Now that you know what plugins are, I’ve found a few great collections of plugins you may want to know about. You shouldn’t get very excited and install all of them, mind you. But you’ll probably want to know about them. In all likelihood, you’ll need them one day.
5 Awesome Collections of WordPress Plugins for 5 Specific Purposes
Keep in mind that each plugin you install has a slight performance hit on your site, so choose the ones which you really need. Don’t go overboard!
If you’re doing it right, roughly 30% of your website’s traffic can (and should) be coming from social networks. So getting your social media plugins right is quite an important part of your website’s traffic strategy.
Check our out guide, The Ultimate Social Media Plugin Guide for WordPress, for a comprehensive rundown of what you can do to improve your social media strategy.
Images are worth a thousand words. Besides sites which are focused around imagery, your website, product, service or whatever else you are planning to host on your website, great imagery will make your website so much better.
Find out more about galleries and how to add them to your WordPress website with our guide, How to Create an Image Gallery in WordPress.
After you’ve setup your website, you’ll probably want your visitors to get in touch with you! That’s why a great contact form is an essential part of any website.
If you’re not quite sure how to add a form to your site, or want some tips, check out Getting Started With Contact Form Plugins for WordPress.
Spam is a bit of a scourge on websites, but there are many plugins out there that can help you stop the nasty spammers from getting their dirty links, comments and other nasty stuff on your site.
We reviewed the best WordPress plugins for combating spam in our article 25 Top-Rated Plugins for Winning the Fight Against WordPress Spam.
There are quite a few other plugins that can extend the functionality of your site, including the ones on this list – all available to download from the WordPress Plugin Directory – that are all free.
Don’t have time to sort through the official repository? We’ve done the hard work for you: Top 25 Free WordPress Plugins and Why They’re So Damn Popular:
Day 5: Settling in with Your WordPress Website
Once your website is mostly done and ready to launch, there are a few things you really need to give attention to.
Have a Bulletproof Backup in Place
We are only human. We’re bound to make mistakes. We might break something whilst tinkering. We might delete something that wasn’t meant to be deleted. We might forget to update our sites and later find they’ve been compromised. There are plenty of things that can go wrong.
How many times have you had that moment when you think…
“Oh ****, what have I just done?!”
That’s the precise moment where a backup can make a real difference between a few minutes of down-time or a few weeks of chaos.
The only way of putting your mind completely at rest is to have a bulletproof backup in place.
Just like I said in the beginning of this article, at WPMU DEV we’ve got your back. Even with backups, our Snapshot plugin is your first (and probably only) stop to implement a complete backup solution.
If you want to look at a few other ideas, you might want to look at our article: Backup Plugins Aren’t About Backing up, They’re About Restoring.
Choose a Hosting Solution That Is Right for Your Website
We’ve made a slight reference to web hosting in the beginning of this article. When you’re still figuring out WordPress, choosing a web hosting company may not be your biggest decision but selecting the right one for your website has a number of implications for your website:
- Price – I’m a firm believer in not being “penny-wise” when it comes to web hosting. The reason why some hosting places are cheap is simple: they cram A LOT of websites on their servers. This means your website will be competing for resources, which will have a huge impact on your website’s performance. Which brings us to …
- Speed – Time and time again we’ve heard that a fast website is crucial for giving your visitors a good – and lag-free! – experience. When your website feels slow and clunky, users will simply abandon your site. The choice of host and type of plan you go for has a huge impact on the performance of WordPress. Again, you get what you pay for. So don’t skimp.
- Support – When everything is up and running nicely, it’s easy to forget the importance of a good support team. However, when things go belly up with your website, that’s when a good support team will make a real difference. I’ve worked with hosting company where you get an initial reply within 8+ hours at best, whilst I’ve worked with others where you get a reply in seconds and a solution in minutes.
- Security – Simply put, there are some hosting companies that take security more seriously than others. If you aren’t familiar and technical enough to make your website hacker-proof, make sure your hosting company can step right up and do it for you.
We’ve went and looked at all of the types of hosting services available for our article Shared, VPS, Dedicated or Cloud Hosting? Which is Best for WordPress? You’ll probably want to understand the differences between them so you can make the right choice for your specific needs.
Day 6: Learn a Few Advanced Tricks with WordPress
It will probably take you more than a day to become an advanced WordPress user, but I still want to make sure you have all of the resources available for you to be able to perform a few WordPress trick shots without having to find code much (or at all). If you’ve got fancy ideas for developing great stuff with WordPress, you can always go to the best places to find WordPress developers for hire.
First of all, if you prefer watching videos, check out 22 Brilliant Videos For Mastering WordPress You Don’t Want to Miss, an excellent collection of videos you’ll want to refer to. Amongst my preferred ones in the collection are How to Build a Website with WordPress 2014, Create & Display Custom User Profile Fields in WordPress and WordPress Security Part 1: An Introduction to WordPress Security.
Speaking of security, with WordPress being ever so popular it allows for hackers to pick off the low-hanging fruit, i.e. sites that haven’t been sufficiently secured against hacking attacks. You really should learn the basics (and more advanced ways) of protecting WordPress with our Ultimate WordPress Security Checklist (don’t forget to download the checklist at the top of the stop).
Another aspect of security that is quite important these days is making sure your website is served over a secure connection. Whilst up to a few months ago secure certificates were pretty expensive, things have recently changed with the introduction of Let’s Encrypt, an initiative to drive down the price of securing a WordPress website with SSL certificates.
If you want to build a constant and steady stream of users on your website, you need to build a great community. I can’t really tell you how to build the content and get the traffic to your site, but you can learn more about how to do it with our article Building a Community-Powered Website with WordPress.
If you really want to get your hands dirty, then WordPress development is the ultimate frontier. You might want to start looking at two things.
If you’re already familiar with development in general, we’ve also got a fantastic WordPress Development cheat sheet that’s worth downloading.
Day 7: Get a Bachelors in WordPress
By now you should be pretty well-versed in all that is WordPress. At WPMU DEV, you’ll know that we will keep helping to bring out your SuperPowers thanks to WordPress.
After many years working in web design and with WordPress, and only recently joining the WPMU DEV blog team, I find myself intrigued by the sheer amount of content that gets pushed out by WPMU DEV.
To top it all off, the WordPress Academy is where you get the juiciest stuff. This is where expert developers, entrepreneurs (including CEO James Farmer who really knows a thing or two about WordPress!) and authors/developers share their knowledge to help anyone and everyone improve their skills.
Besides getting certification for courses you complete, you’ll get to join discussion groups where you can learn and share with like-minded individuals. From my experience, these types of mastermind groups are able to teach you so much “intangible” stuff through experience. Even just being a member of these groups alone, getting yourself on one of the courses will be really worth your investment.
I started this article with the intention of helping you learn WordPress in seven days. Of course, as the article progressed to the more advanced stuff, I do believe it will take more than a week to master some of the things I’ve mentioned here, especially if you haven’t got much prior experience in some of these topics.
But don’t get discouraged! There is always plenty of help available in the WPMU DEV community – ask around and you’ll surely get many helpful answers.
In the meantime, let me know what more you’d like to see included in this seven-day challenge.
Image Credit: WordPress Fan Art.