I’m guilty of saying it…
“WordPress is so EASY to use… you don’t need any technical knowledge!”
The thing is, when you’re just getting started, all the different terms can be a little confusing. A lot of experts talk about themes, widgets and plugins without actually explaining what they are or do.
So in this article I thought I’d take you through all the different WordPress features and explain what they are and how they work. Let’s start with the big, dramatic one: themes.
A theme is the look or the ‘skin’ your website or blog uses. I’m sure you’ve seen some websites that look like this one (Insider’s Edge uses WordPress) and others that look like this:
Both are WordPress sites. The only difference is they use different themes. Some WordPress sites are single page portfolios, some are news sites, photography sites, membership sites… you name it.
Installing themes is now extremely straightforward and can be done in just a few clicks. I’ll show you how in just a second. Before that, the first thing you have to do is find a theme you like – either from a website that provides free themes or from a company which designs ‘Premium’ themes (which you have to pay for). The best way to find themes is quite simply to do a bit of Googling on “WordPress themes” but to get you started here’s where you can find a number of free themes. 1,526 to be precise!
So what’s the difference between a free and premium theme?
Premium themes or paid themes usually cost somewhere between £20 and £50 (but can be more) and often have a more bespoke feel, look more professional and come with more bells and whistles.
To start with I would recommend using a free theme while you get to grips with WordPress and uploading content. The great thing about changing WordPress themes is that it doesn’t affect anything you’ve already done to your site in terms of adding pages and writing articles. All that is separate. When you change a theme you’re effectively just changing the skin. If you want to change back to your old one you can do so in a minute.
How to install a new theme…
Download the theme as a zip file then log in to your WordPress site. Now go to:
Appearance —> Themes
You’ll see two tabs running horizontally across the top of your screen ‘Manage Themes’ and ‘Install Themes’. Go to:
Just below this tab click the link which says:
Choose the theme file (which should end in .zip) from wherever you saved it on your computer. Once you’ve done that follow the instructions and select ‘Activate theme’ to make it go live. And that’s it!
You can activate any of your old or existing themes simply by selecting the ‘Manage Themes’ tab.
Plugins are like little worker bees that run automated tasks for you and provide extra functionality on your site.
For example you can get a plugin to help filter and block spam comments on your articles. That’s one type. You can get another plugin which will add an email signup box on your site… or a social sharing button at the bottom of your articles. Often these types of plugins will create what are known as ‘widgets’ for you – more on this in just a second…
There are literally tens of thousands of different plugins you can install and use. Most are free but as with themes there are the odd premium ones.
Installing a plugin is easy. The first step is to find one you want – again by Googling or via a review from a website such as this. You then need to either download the plugin as a zip file and upload and install it from WordPress in the ‘Plugin’ section…
Or… (and this is much easier)
1. Note down or copy the name of the plugin you want to install.
2. Login in to your WordPress go into the ‘plugins’ section. Choose ‘Add new’.
3. In the ‘Search Plugins’ box paste or type in the name of the plugin you wish to use. Locate the one you want and click the ‘Install Now’ link underneath it. It should then install automatically.
4. Once it’s done just click ‘activate’.
Every plugin is different. Some will have their own settings section on the WordPress sidebar, others will appear in a submenu and some not at all (they’ll just run automatically). Have a look on the plugin creator’s homepage for more details but most are pretty straightforward to set up and use.
Widgets are little add-ons that you can add to your website’s sidebars or posts. It could be a simple advert in your sidebar, or maybe a box that displays a list of recent articles. There are lots of different types of widgets and depending on the layout of your chosen theme they can be positioned in all sorts of different places.
Most themes will come with some widgets already attached which you can move around and place as you want. For example you might want a search bar above your navigation menu or in your sidebar. You can also install plugins which add new widgets so there’s often an overlap between plugins and widgets.
Where to find your widgets:
1. When logged into WordPress hover your mouse over ‘Appearance’ in the sidebar.
2. Click on ‘Widgets’
3. You’ll now see what looks like a sort of mind map. The big bit in the middle contains all the different widgets available to you. The single vertical column on your right represents the different areas of your website. Depending on your theme the various sections will have different names, for example ‘Sidebar’ or ‘Top Navigation’. (Don’t expect to see the ones I’ve just mentioned, yours might have different names).
4. To use a widget you need to first click the small down arrow on the relevant tab on the right hand vertical section. For arguments sake let’s say you have a section called ‘Sidebar’. Now literally drag one of the widgets in the big box of ‘Available Widgets’ in the middle of your screen over to the relevant section (in this case ‘Sidebar’).
That’s it! You can move them around, edit them, delete them from here. It’s worth experimenting until you get the feel for how they work.
One thing I never felt was made clear to me when I first started out was what the difference between ‘Posts’ and ‘Pages’ is. My gut instinct was that I should just populate my site with pages – because I didn’t really know what posts meant. Actually the opposite is true.
Here’s the distinction:
‘Pages’ are where you create and store static pages on your site. By static I mean evergreen pages that aren’t time sensitive and that will always need their own fixed place. So for example your ‘About Me’ page would be a static page and your ‘Terms & Conditions’ would also be a static page.
Posts are the meat of your website. I think WordPress could almost do with renaming this section ‘Articles’ because to me that makes more sense, but then I’m sure others would disagree. A post is, for most people, where you add new content. It might be an Article (like the one you’re reading right now), it could be a diary entry if your website is an online journal, it could be anything. Posts can be dated and they’re the types of page where you’d most expect people to leave comments – rather than say a terms and conditions page which is often just legal blurb.
How do you add a new post or page to your WordPress site?
This is the simplest of the lot:
1. Login to WordPress and hover your mouse over Posts/Pages (according to which one you want to add).
2. Click on ‘Add New’
3. Now you should see a screen where you can add and edit text. Simply write as you would into any word processer in the big box provided and make any formatting tweaks as normal. The ‘B’ is for bold, the ‘I’ for italics and so on.
4. The thin text box near the top of the screen is where you title your article or page. So for the article you’re reading right now I typed: WordPress jargon buster: What’s the difference between plugins, widgets, themes, posts and pages? into this space. It’s effectively the headline.
5. When you’re happy with everything you can ‘publish’ the article or page and make it appear on your website by clicking the ‘Publish’ button on the right hand side. If you feel like you might want to come back to it later you can click ‘Save Draft’ instead. There are a few more options here which are pretty self explanatory.
But wait! What’s that ‘Categories’ section all about?
You can Add and/or assign a category to any of your posts. It’s a great way of ordering all your content (and is how most WordPress users get their articles to appear in sections in navigation menus and drop downs). So for example I have a category on this website called ‘Reviews’. Whenever I add a review I tick the box in the Categories section called ‘Review’. Because I review several different types of tools and products I also have sub categories (for example ‘Betting & Gambling Opportunities). These also appear in the Categories section but are what is known as ‘Child Categories’.
Categories are the hardest thing to explain but in practice the easiest thing to get the hang of. The best thing to do is to play around with them and get a feel for how they work. The key thing to bear in mind is this:
A ‘Parent Category’ is a broad category and a ‘Child Category’ is a more niche sub category that lives underneath it.
If you’re just starting out don’t worry about getting it right straight away because you can always go back and re-assign categories. To start out with you want to get as much content on your website as possible. When you’ve got a fair amount on there you can then take a look at what you’ve done and say: “right, these articles should belong in this category, these need their own category” and so on.
I hope that was useful. As always please leave a comment below if you have a moment and of course let me know if there’s anything else on this subject you’d like me to cover in Insider’s Edge.