WordPress Training – Dashboard Settings and Themes

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Welcome to part two of this WordPress training series. Today we are going to be introducing you to the WordPress dashboard and going through the preliminary stages of getting your website up and running.

WordPress Dashboard

When you log in to WordPress for the first time the first screen you see will be the WordPress Dashboard. This screen displays at a glance all of the activity happening on your blog (posts, comments, themes, incoming links, etc.).

In the top right hand corner you will notice two tabs marked Screen Options and Help. These tabs are context sensitive so the options they provide will change depending on the screen you are currently viewing.

Click on Screen Options. Notice that a series of check boxes appear that allow you to customize your dashboard as you like. In the future you may wish to uncheck some of these as they tend to clutter up the dashboard with unnecessary information.

Now click the Help tab. You will notice that a helpful bit of information will display detailing the particulars of the dashboard areas as well as links to further information. Again, this information will be specific to the page you are viewing so whenever you are confused about something you are looking at this is a good place to start.

Whenever you would like to visit your live site to view changes you have made etc. just click on your site name in the upper left hand corner of the screen.

You will notice that the left hand side of the screen displays a list of categories in a drop down box format. This is the navigation bar for WordPress.

Dashboard – This is your main dashboard screen and the drop down box also contains the updates section. Updates are pretty straightforward, just point and click. Here you will find updates for both WordPress itself and any plugins you may have installed. Theme updates however will depend on the functionality of the theme (more on themes later).

When updating WordPress to a newer version it is advisable to wait a bit for all the kinks to be worked out, if it a major update (ex: 3.1 – 3.2).

Posts – Here is where you can make a new post, view all existing posts, as well as add or change categories and tags. Categories are a way to organize your site. Each post you make will be placed in one or more categories. Tags work much the same way. You probably will not need to spend much time in these sections as tags and categories can be assigned and configured while writing new posts.

Media – The media section is where you can upload and manage all the pictures, videos, pdf’s etc. that you will to place on your site. When you insert a picture into a post it is actually loaded into this section and hosted on your server. Always try to name new media correctly before uploading them to your site. Changing the name later can cause complications.

Links – This section simply lists the links associated with your site. You can browse through it if you like.

Pages – Here is where you can create new pages and edit existing ones. A page differs from a post in that it is static like a traditional website. By allowing for posts and pages WordPress provides you with the tools to create anything from a traditional one page blog to a more professional website with home pages, contact pages, etc.

Comments – Come here to view and manage comments.

Appearance – The appearance section is where you will come to change themes, create menus, and assign widgets. The options available in this section will be dependent upon the active theme.

The menu system WordPress uses is extremely powerful and user-friendly. Your menu will be the list of categories at the top of your website (home, contact, blog, etc.) You can create as many menus as you like however the number you can display on your site will depend on how many your theme supports. For example the default WordPress theme “2011” only supports one menu, the main menu on the site. However other themes may support sub-menus like a menu in the footer, above the header image, etc. Just remember that a newly created page will not be visible on your site, even if published, until you add it to a menu. It will be live, but visitors will have no way to find it.

Widgets are various elements that can be placed into sidebars. But first, a bit about sidebars will be helpful. There will be a list of available sidebars on the right hand side of your screen on the widgets page. A sidebar is basically any area of your site that is widgetized (will accept widgets). The most obvious example of a sidebar would be the right side of a blog page that contains various links, categories, ads, etc. But a sidebar does not necessarily have to be on the side of a page. If the footer is widgetized for example, it will be considered a sidebar and will show as an available sidebar for you to manipulate.

The number of available sidebars again will depend on your theme. Many of the premium themes even provide you with the option to create your own sidebars (unlimited sidebars). These themes will provide you with a set of sidebars, usually main, footer, and various others. They will then have a sidebar creator located in the appearance section titled sidebars. This is very useful as it will allow you to create a different sidebar with specific widgets for every page of your site if you like, rather than being forced to use the same one on every page.

Back to widgets…Go ahead and experiment with the widgets by adding them to the sidebar and seeing how they look and what they do. To do this simply drag a widget from the Available Widgets area to the selected sidebar. To remove it simply drag it back. To deactivate a widget but keep its settings, drag the widget from the sidebar to the Inactive Widget section. The most used widget will probably be the text widget as it allows you to enter html or java script code from other applications to display on your site. Many plugins will also add new widgets to the widget area.

Plugins – This is where you will go to download, activate and deactivate new plugins. Plugins are programs that attach to WordPress to increase functionality. There are thousands of them and it is a large topic to discuss. We will go into the best plugins to use, how to use them, etc. in later tutorials.

Users – Here you can view and edit your profile and create new ones. You may wish to browse through this section to finish filling out your profile. If you ever need to change your WordPress password you will also do that from here.

Tools – This section provide import and export tools.

Settings – Here you will find various settings for WordPress. Most of these settings can be left alone but we will go over the ones that need changing next.

Adjusting WordPress Settings

Click on the settings tab and view the drop down set of options.

1) General – Most everything in this section can be left alone however there is one caution to note and it is important:

Do not ever change the url listed in the WordPress Address box or the Site Address Box. If you do you will be locked out of your site and it will be very difficult to recover.

2) Writing – The only thing that you really need to worry about in this section is adding to the update services section. What this does is it tells WordPress to ping a selection of services every time you add something to your blog. By default WordPress only includes one service.

Ping services are always changing so no list can ever be all-inclusive. Additionally, every so often you should search the net for a more recent list, as many of the services on your list will likely be broken after a year or so. A decent 2011 ping list was compiled by Jeff Sebring. If you would like to use this list simply copy and paste it.

3) Reading – In this section you will want to consider your front page displays settings. This sets whether the home page of your site will be simply your blog page, displaying your latest posts or a static home page. If you want your site to look more like a traditional website then you will probably want to use a static home page with a theme that provides a template for a nice professional home page.

If you decide to change this setting make sure you create pages titled Home and Blog first; then you can come back and change the front page and posts page settings accordingly.

4) Discussion – There is no need to change any settings here.

5) Media – Again, there is really no need to alter anything here either.

6) Privacy – Leave this one alone as well.

7) Permalinks – Permalinks are the url that shows up in the browser when someone clicks on one of your posts or pages (ex: yourdomainname.com/permalink). By default WordPress simply attaches a string of unattractive code after the slash. To change this select custom and in the empty box type    /%postname%/   Now the end of the urls will be populated by the title of your post.

8.) That’s it for the settings section of your WordPress dashboard, however there is still one aspect of your profile that you may want to update. It is a good idea to have a picture associated with your WordPress profile. There is a service that allows you to upload a picture that then gets displayed whenever you make a comment on your own blog or anyone else’s around the web. The name of that service is Gravatar.

If you wish to use this service simply visit their website and sign up for a free account. Make sure you use the same email address you are using with WordPress so that everything will be synced correctly. You can check this by viewing your profile in the users section of the dashboard. Once your picture is uploaded to Gravatar it will work automatically.

Choosing a WordPress Theme

A WordPress theme is what makes one WordPress blog look different from another. By changing your theme you can completely change the look and feel of your site. But a good theme is more than just aesthetics. They can provide improved functionality and additional customization options. There are literally thousands of themes to choose from and if you have the time to browse it can be a fun process finding one that fits just right.

For a bran-new WordPress site you have three options to consider when selecting your theme. The first is to simply keep the default theme WordPress installs with; the second is to find a free theme using the WordPress directory and the third is to buy a premium theme.

1) Using the default WordPress theme.

WordPress actually comes with a fairly nice theme already installed. At the time of this writing that theme is called Twenty Eleven. This theme actually seems quite functional and has a nice clean styling. It certainly lacks some of the useful features you will receive with most premium themes, such as unlimited sidebars, custom short codes, home page sliders, etc. But you can definitely put together a nice looking site using this theme.

2) Free themes.

The WordPress directory provides a listing of many, many free themes of varying quality. Typically you are not going to get the same level of quality and support that you will with a good premium theme but you can still find some very nice offerings here. You will find this section in the dashboard under AppearanceThemesInstall Themes.

3) Premium themes.

We recommend buying a premium theme if your budget allows for it. Premium themes can cost anywhere from $30 to several hundred. But don’t be fooled, just because a theme is more expensive doesn’t mean it’s better. It pays to do some research and see what other people are using and saying about their themes.

Some things to look for in a theme’s feature set are:

  • unlimited sidebars
  • video tutorials showing you how to use the theme
  • a well reviewed developer
  • a nice set of short codes
  • slick home page features
  • overall aesthetics
  • a form creator with CAPTCHA integration

Also be aware that having the most features and customization options isn’t always a good thing. Some themes may sound really great at first because they promise that with their comprehensive set of tools you can create something truly unique and just about anything you want to change you can, without any coding needed. But as a beginner, chances are you won’t know how to use those tools and will end up causing yourself more frustration than you ever wanted just trying to create something that looks half decent.

It is also left unsaid that in order to create a website with the level of quality that a professionally designed theme possesses, extensive coding knowledge will be required.

Given the choice between using a beautifully styled and highly polished theme that 500-1000 other people are also using, or creating something from scratch that looks amateurish and unfinished, which would you choose?

Some recommended premium themes are:

Themeforest – Themeforest provides some really great themes for a good price (most are around $35). Themeforest does not actually create the themes themselves. The site is more of a directory of developers and their work. Because of this quality and support can vary by theme as you will be dealing with different developers. However, Themeforest has a good reputation and they seem to only allow good quality developers on their site.

This site is running a Themeforest theme named Karma by the developer True Themes. We highly recommend this theme. The support is top-notch, they have a complete set of training videos, theme update support is excellent, etc.

Woo Themes –  Woo Themes is a very reputable theme developer. They have many different themes to choose from and several pricing packages. They are a bit more expensive than Themeforest but they offer incentives like bundles with multiple themes.

Elegant Themes – Elegant themes makes some really beautiful themes that are worth taking a look at. They have a decent number to choose from and they are all of top quality.

Studio Press – Studio Press is another great developer that emphasizes functionality in their themes. Their themes come with the acclaimed Genesis framework.

Thesis – Thesis is an extremely popular theme and comes with an impressive set of customization options. This theme is not recommended for beginners however, but it is definitely worth your time to check out.

This list is simply a small sampling of the theme choices that are out there, but these are some of the more popular and reputable options. Take your time and think about your needs and you’ll find a theme that’s right for you.

4) Installing your theme.

The free themes are easy enough to install (simply click the install button) but premium themes are a little more difficult since you cannot access and install them directly from the WordPress interface. To install a premium theme you have just purchased you will need to download the zip file that was given to you. Once that file is saved to your computer return to the theme install page of your WordPress dashboard. Click on the upload link.

Browse for your saved zip file and install your theme.

If you have purchased a theme from Themeforest, the file you are given is not the file to upload to your site. Do not upload this file. The zip file containing your theme will be inside the one you receive from Themeforest.

We hope you have found this tutorial helpful and we’ll see you in the next one!

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