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Finding Your Way in WordPress

WordPress is a fantastic blogging platform, but taking the first steps in setting up a site is not a walk in the park for many. Having blogged in the past and then needed to relearn/remember WordPress when setting up this site, I’ve decided to record some of the lessons learned along the way for my future reference. There will be no mention of behind the scenes coding or customisation of sites, just how to use basic tools and add-ins to get up and running and have some control over the site design.

In this first post, I describe basic navigation around the WordPress dashboard – where to find stuff.

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 12.49.32

I start from the point at which you’ve fired up a site (plenty of help on www and in WordPress on this) and are faced with your view as administrator of your own site. Here’s where you find the most important stuff in the dashboard:

– The circled W provides access to online WordPress documentation and help forums. WordPress is open-source and there is an active community of helpful users as well as the well-written WordPress documentation. A great starting point for answers to ‘how-to’ questions.

Home is the ‘home’ screen for your dashboard, it summarises how many posts you have and the activity on your site. If you’ve added WordPress’ free Jetpack, you can also view site stats on number of visitors etc from here.

Updates provide you with warnings of themes or plug-ins that need updating. Always keep these up-to-date to avoid compatibility or security issues, remembering to backup before updating.

– Jetpack is a free optional plugin that provides various useful widgets and tools. If you’ve not installed it, you won’t see this. I’ll describe this in a future post.  In the meantime, you can add it to your site using the plugins section.

– Posts provide access to all posts on your blog, including the ability to add, edit and delete. It is important to understand the concept of posts as distinct from pages. Posts are not the same as webpages in that they do not become fixed places on your blog, but flow into a page and shift down the page as further posts are added. By default your new WordPress site is a single page that contains your posts. However, it is relatively simple to change to multiple pages and select a specific page to accommodate the flow of your posts, much like I’ve done on this website.

– Media provides access to all media on your blog including the ability to add, edit and delete. You can either add media direct from a new post (and it is then stored in media) or bulk-up load in the media section and add to a post as you write. I find the latter a more efficient workflow.

– Pages provides access to all pages on your blog including the ability to add, edit and deleteLooking at other people’s blogs, I notice that many do not use separate pages as it is perhaps not clear how to set up a site to work with pages. In brief, if you want a static front page (like the image on this blog), first create a new page and then go to appearance/customise/static front page and select the page to be used as the static page and the page to be used to showcase your blog posts. The same menu is also accessible through settings/reading.

Appearance deserves a separate post of its own, but in brief it is where you choose your site theme (or upload and experiment with alternatives), add in widgets, alter customisation options for your particular theme, create and maintain menus, change your site’s header information and image, and add a background image (if you want one). Incidentally, I chose to remove the header image to stop it appearing on every page and shouting, ‘I’m a WordPress template’ – instead I’ve chosen a fixed first page, where I will periodically change the image.

– Plugins is where you can add-in various tools to help better manage your site (eg backups or pdf creation) or present information differently (eg tag clouds or social sharing buttons).  Many of these are free and depend on voluntary contributions, if you value a particular plug-in.  The positioning of the plug-ins is then managed through the Widgets menu, where you can decide where to place them (headers, footers, sidebars). Worth checking out some of the more popular plugins on WordPress.com. I’ll post separately on some useful ones I’ve found, but see this post for pdf creation (eg to send to your tutor for assignments).

–  Tools is where you will find some of the settings / controls for some plugins, once installed.  Also import and export options.

Settings contain various useful configuration options for how your site is viewed, displays (including media standard sizes), and many others, depending on which plug-ins you’ve added (eg could include backup settings).  One useful setting is the reading setting which allows you to specify how many blog posts appear on a single page, therefore preventing the mile-long page scenario. I’ve set mine to 3 posts for a sensible page length and then WordPress then automatically creates separate pages for historical posts.

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