The next step after you have installed WordPress is to configure the site to your requirements. This is achieved by adding themes and plug ins from the WordPress.org website.
After installing WordPress you will be presented with the admin dashboard, this the main control interface for WordPress and today we are going to be concentrating on the items: Appearance, Plugins and Settings.
It is worth getting to know your way around the dashboard as you can access all of functions, settings and controls via the main menu on the left and its various sub menus.
The theme controls the basic look and functionality of your WordPress site. When choosing themes always go for the one that does the things your require, even if it doesn’t quite look how you want it to. It is far easier to change the appearance and colour scheme than to adjust the method that the theme uses to handle and display the data. So to that end, pay attention to columns, width, post format and other custom features you may require.
To choose or change your theme hit the appearance option in the menu on the left. You are now presented with the sub-menu and the ‘Manage Themes’ page, you can select from the standard themes installed with WordPress, or hit the ‘Install Themes’ tab at the top to switch to the theme search page where you can find a new theme to install using various filters. If you would like to browse through themes hit the links at the top ‘Featured, Newest, Recently Updated’, or to upload a theme in .zip file format that you have on your hard drive and click the ‘Upload’ link.
Lets install a theme, I’ve chosen a 3 column theme called ‘Ari’ I found by going to ‘Install Themes’ typed ‘Ari’ in the search box and clicked Search. ‘Ari’ was the first option and I installed the theme by clicking the ‘Install Now’ link after clicking the preview link to have a look first.
Once you have found a theme you like and installed it you will find yourself back on the ‘Manage Themes’ page Where you can customize the look and to a certain extent the layout. Also the theme will have its own options along with the generic set I’m going to discuss here which are available as standard.
The next thing to do is customize your theme so click on the ‘customize’ link under the current theme, where you can change the front page display, background colours and site title. The next option in the sideways aligned menu ‘Widgets’ allows you to place widgets in the various sidebars the theme has. Simply drag and drop the item from the main area to the sidebar unit of your choice, but we’ll get onto these more in bit.
‘Menu’s is the following option and this is the place to go next so we can setup the menu in the theme. Some theme have provision for several menu locations and all themes allow at least one. The tick box at the top: ‘automatically add new top-level pages’ is worth unchecking otherwise every time you publish a new page item it will appear as a link in the menu bar. You can add custom urls, WordPress pages and WordPress categories to your menu’s.
The next option on the appearance page is ‘Theme Options’ which contain options dependent on your theme, some have lots of pages of options for fonts, social networking, SEO custom css etc and other theme’s have just options to add css or change the colours it is worth clicking through your options to ensure they are all in order.
On clicking the ‘Header’ link in the same menu, you are taken to the page to edit the item in the header of the blog and you can add your logo. The background option has similar controls allowing you to choose a colour or upload an image for the background.
Next up, before you go plugin crazy, is to scoot down the menu on the left hand side to the ‘Settings’ option and just work through the options.
On the General page you can specify your blog name, title, email, timezone. The ‘Writing’ page contains default post and link categories, I always set these to something other than ‘Uncategorized’ to prevent having link and category menu’s containing the ‘Uncategorized’ option. The ‘Reading’ page allows you some control over what the front page does, and the ‘Discussion’ page contains all the settings relating to comments. ‘Media’ has all the option for uploads and attachments and the permalinks page allows you to set the type of links your site uses (/?p=1 ass opposed to /example1/), permalinks with the post names are generally more search engine friendly.
All of the above options are worth checking and altering to your precise requirements when you are installing new themes and because every theme is different, the settings and controls are not always in the same places however Appearance >> Theme Options is always a good place to start looking if you are stuck.
WordPress plugins are designed to add extra functionality to your blog, and virtually every type of functionality is catered for. Click the ‘Plugins’ option from the main dashboard menu on the left and you are shown a list of the plugins you have installed and their status. If a plugin has a darker background is in Inactive (you can check this by clicking the links along the top ‘Active’ and ‘Inactive’) and is not currently being used on the site, the files still exist and clicking the ‘Activate’ link under the inactive plugins will activate them.
It is highly possibly you don’t want askimet and hello dolly, which I tend to deactivate and delete as a matter of course.
For any task you want your WordPress blog to perform there will various plugins available, all made by different developers ranging from Russian college students to Canadian software companies and all offering a slightly different solution. You can browse the plugin by hitting the ‘Add New’ button and in a similar method to finding a theme, find a plugin.
When you are presented with a list of widgets, click on the details button to see it’s specifications and a screenshot. If it is not tested against your WordPress version a yellow warning box will appear near the top of the description, highlighting this fact. Using ‘untested’ plugins won’t necessarily break the website, the functions might not be working as they were originally intended to without throwing up errors however it is always advisable to have all your themes, plugins, and WordPress site on the latest versions available in order to minimize security exploits so try and go for plugins without the warning message unless you simply have to have an ‘untested one’, then be overcautious – a database backup before the plugin is installed is essential.
I won’t go into the actual plugin controls, because every single plugin has a different set of options and menu’s. Mostly these menus can be found under the ‘Settings’ option in the main menu on the left, however sometimes there is a ‘Settings’ link underneath plugin info on the ‘Plugins’ page.
There is no limit to the amount of plugins you can install, however each extra one will add more processing to the servers your site is on and potentially increase the loading time of your website so it important to only activate plugins you actually use.
Most plugins have some kind of support from their authors so if you are having real problems, find the plugin on the WordPress.org website and follow the links to the support forums.
Ok, hopefully you are now confident enough to install and customize your theme and manage some plugins for your site, if you’ve got any questions leave me a comment!