Throughout history, people have searched for new places to vent their opinions, sell their products, and just chat it up. The World Wide Web is the culmination of this trend—the best and biggest soapbox, marketplace, and meeting spot ever created.
But there’s a problem. If you want people to take your website seriously, you need first-rate content, a dash of good style, and the behind-the-scenes technology that ties everything together. The first two items require some hard work. But the third element—the industrial-strength web plumbing that powers a good site—is a lot trickier to build on your own. Overlook that, and you’ve got a broken mess of pages that even your mom can’t love.
This is where the ridiculously popular web publishing tool called WordPress comes in. WordPress makes you a basic deal: You write the content, and WordPress takes care of the rest.
The services that WordPress provides are no small potatoes. First, WordPress puts every page of your content into a nicely formatted, consistent layout. It provides the links and menus that help your visitors get around, and a search box that lets people dig through your archives. WordPress also lets your readers add comments using their Facebook or Twitter identities, so they don’t need to create a new account on your site. And if you add a few community-created plug-ins (from the vast library of more than 30,000), there’s no limit to the challenges you can tackle. Selling products? Check. Setting up a membership site? No problem. Building forums and collaborative workspaces? There’s a plug-in for that, too. And while it’s true that WordPress isn’t the best tool for every type of website, it’s also true that wherever you find a gap in the WordPress framework, you’ll find some sort of plug-in that attempts to fill it. WordPress is stunningly popular, too—it’s responsible for more than one-fifth of the world’s websites, according to the web statistics company W3Techs (see http://tinyurl.com/3438rb6). It’s 10 times more popular than its closest competitors, site-building tools like Joomla and Drupal. And month after month, WordPress’s share of the Web continues to inch upward. In short, when you create your own WordPress site, you’ll be in good company.
This book provides a thorough, soup-to-nuts look at WordPress. You’ll learn everything you need to know, including how to create, manage, maintain, and extend a WordPress site.
Notice that we haven’t yet used the word blog. Although WordPress is the world’s premiere blogging tool, it’s also a great way to create other types of websites, like those that promote products, people, or things (say, your hipster harmonica band), sites that share stuff (for example, a family travelogue), and even sites that let people get together and collaborate (say, a short-story writing club for vampire fans). And if you’re not quite sure whether the site you have in mind is a good fit for WordPress, the discussion on What You Can Build with WordPress will help you decide.
If you’re planning to make the world’s most awesome blog, you don’t need a stitch of experience. Chapters Chapter 1 through Chapter 12 will tell you everything you need to know. However, you will come across some examples of posts and pages that feature HTML (the language of the Web), and any HTML knowledge you already have will pay off handsomely.
If you’re planning to create a website that isn’t a blog (like a catalog of products for your handmade jewelry business), you need to step up your game. You’ll still start with the WordPress basics in Chapters Chapter 1 through Chapter 12, but you’ll also need to learn the advanced customization skills you’ll find in Chapters Chapter 13 and Chapter 14. How much customization you do depends on the type of site you plan to build and whether you can find a theme that already does most of the work for you. But sooner or later, you’ll probably decide to crack open one of the WordPress template files that controls your site and edit it.
When you do that, you’ll encounter two more web standards: CSS, the style sheet language that helps lay out and format your site; and PHP, the web programming language upon which WordPress is built. But don’t panic—we’ll go gently and introduce the essentials from the ground up. You won’t learn enough to write your own custom web apps, but you will pick up the skills you need to customize a WordPress theme so you can build the kind of site you want.
WordPress has no special hardware requirements. As long as you have an Internet connection and a web browser, you’re good to go. Because WordPress (and its design tools) live on the Web, you can use a computer running Windows, Mac OS, Linux, or something more exotic; it really doesn’t matter. In fact, WordPress even gives you tools for quick-and-convenient blog posting through a smartphone or tablet computer (see Performing Bulk Actions for the scoop).
To let other people visit your WordPress site on the Internet, you need the help of a web hosting company. Web hosts offer the powerful, web-connected computers that run your site (and the websites of many other people). Without a host to store your site, no one will be able to see your handiwork.
WordPress site-builders have two choices of web host:
WordPress.com. The WordPress.com hosting service is free, and it’s run by some of the same people who developed the WordPress software, so you’re in good hands.
A third-party web host. You can install WordPress on almost any web host. While this approach isn’t free, it gives you more features and control. It’s called self-hosting.
WordPress Hosting has much more about the differences between these two approaches. But that’s for the future. For now, all you need to know is that you can use the information in this book no matter which approach you use. Chapter 2 explains how to sign up with WordPress.com, Chapter 3 details self-hosting, and the chapters that follow try to pay as little attention to your hosting decision as possible.
That said, it’s worth noting that you’ll come across some features, particularly later in the book, that work only with self-hosted installations. Examples include sites that use plug-ins and those that need heavy customization. But, happily, the features that do work on both WordPress.com-hosted sites and self-hosted sites work in almost exactly the same way.
Throughout this book, and throughout the Missing Manual series, you’ll find sentences like this one: “Choose Appearance→Themes in the dashboard menu.” That’s shorthand for a longer series of instructions that go something like this: “Go to the dashboard in WordPress, click the Appearance menu item, and then click the Themes entry underneath.” Our shorthand system keeps things snappier than these long, drawn-out instructions.
This book is divided into five parts, each with several chapters:
Part 1. In this part of the book, you’ll start planning your path to WordPress web domination. In Chapter 1, you’ll plan the type of website you want, decide how to host it, and think hard about its domain name, the unique address that visitors type in to find your site on the Web. Then you’ll see how to get a basic blog up and running, either on WordPress.com (Chapter 2) or on your self-hosted site (Chapter 3).
Part 2. This part explains everything you need to know to create a respectable blog. You’ll learn how to add posts (Chapter 4), pick a stylish theme (Chapter 5), make your posts look fancy (Chapter 6), add pages and menus (Chapter 7), and manage comments (Chapter 8).
Part 3. If all you want is a simple, classy blog, you can stop now—your job is done. But if you hope to add more glam to your site, this part will help you out. First, you’ll learn that plug-ins can add thousands of new features to self-hosted sites (Chapter 9). Next, you’ll see how to put video, music, and photo galleries on any WordPress site (Chapter 10). You’ll also learn how to collaborate with a whole group of authors (Chapter 11), and how to attract boatloads of visitors (Chapter 12).
Part 4. In this part, you’ll take your WordPress skills beyond the blog and learn to craft a custom website. First, you’ll crack open a WordPress theme and learn to change the way your site works by adding, inserting, or modifying the CSS styles and PHP commands embedded inside the theme (Chapter 13). Next, in Chapter 14, you’ll apply this knowledge to create a WordPress product-catalog site that doesn’t look anything like a typical blog.
Part 5. At the end of this book, you’ll find three appendixes. The first (Appendix A) explains how to take a website you created on the free WordPress.com hosting service and move it to another web host to get more features. The second (Appendix B) explains the security basics you need to harden your site against attackers. The third (Appendix C) lists some useful web links culled from the chapters in this book. Don’t worry—you don’t need to type these into your browser by hand. It’s all waiting for you on the Missing CD page for this book at http://www.oreilly.com/pub/missingmanuals/wpmm2e.
As the owner of a Missing Manual, you’ve got more than just a book to read. Online, you’ll find example files as well as tips, articles, and maybe even a video or two. You can also communicate with the Missing Manual team and tell us what you love (or hate) about the book. Head over to www.missingmanuals.com, or go directly to one of the following sections.
Often, this book will point you to a place on the Web. It might be to learn more about a specialized WordPress feature, or to get background information on another topic, or to download a super-cool plug-in. To save your fingers from the wear and tear of typing in all these long web addresses, you can visit the clickable list of links on the Missing CD page at http://www.oreilly.com/pub/missingmanuals/wpmm2e.
This book is packed full of examples. But unlike many other types of computer books, we don’t encourage you to try to download them to your own computer. That’s because once you place WordPress files on a local computer, they lose their magic. In fact, without the WordPress software running on a web server, your website loses all its abilities. You won’t be able to try out even a single page.
To get around this limitation, many of the finished examples from this book are available for you to play around with at http://prosetech.com/wordpress. Although you won’t be able to actually take charge of the example site (modify it, manage comments, or do any other sort of administrative task), you can take a peek and see what it looks like. This is a handy way to witness some features that are hard to experience in print—say, playing an embedded video or reviewing pictures in an image gallery.
If you register this book at oreilly.com, you’ll be eligible for special offers—like discounts on future editions of WordPress: The Missing Manual. If you buy the ebook from www.oreilly.com and register your purchase, you get free lifetime updates for this edition of the ebook; we’ll notify you by email when updates become available. Registering takes only a few clicks. Type www.oreilly.com/register into your browser to hop directly to the Registration page.
Got questions? Need more information? Fancy yourself a book reviewer? On our Feedback page, you can get expert answers to questions that come to you while reading, share your thoughts on this Missing Manual, and find groups for folks who share your interest in creating their own sites. To have your say, go to www.missingmanuals.com/feedback.
To keep this book as up to date and accurate as possible, each time we print more copies, we’ll make any confirmed corrections you suggest. We also note such changes on the book’s website, so you can mark important corrections in your own copy of the book, if you like. Go to http://tinyurl.com/7mujhnx to report an error and view existing corrections.
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