WordPress Road Map
Introduction to the Guide
Congrats for taking the first step to learning WordPress!
You’re to be commended for taking action! Take the time to realize that many people want to do what you are doing right now…but sadly they never take that important first step like you have! That really IS a big deal, and I hope you take a few moments to realize you’re already that much ahead of “most” people!
Anything new can feel intimidating or just confusing! And this is especially true of any type of new “tech” like creating websites (!) or learning new software (WordPress IS software, btw…)
But it’s also an exciting time to take ownership of your OWN corner of the internet with your very own slice of web real estate!
This Road Map & Guide will help you do just that!
Always remember, your success with WordPress & this Road Map depends on you following the Road Map & actually implementing the steps! It calls for continued action on your part! Just take it at your own pace, and keep your goals in sight!
Let’s get started!
Purpose of this Road Map
The #1 confusion for beginners is where to start in learning how to use WP… This is key to understanding both what this Guide is designed to provide, and who it’s designed to help!
- What this Guide is for… (goals):
- Learn how the various “parts” of WordPress fit together — I call them ‘Building Blocks!’
- Learn what specific WordPress terminology means; new terms can often cause ‘invisible’ roadblocks to learning!
- Learn how to implement the various components or building blocks
- Who this Guide is written for:
- Total WordPress beginners! You need ZERO WordPress knowledge to use this Guide!
- Total ‘website owner’ newbies! I don’t expect you to have any knowledge of owning or building your own website!
- Solopreneurs who intend on DIYing their own WordPress website… If you are a solo, but plan on hiring someone — such as VA — to handle some routine tasks, this guide & Road Map will be beneficial for them as well.
How to Get the Most from this Guide:
- Follow the steps in the exact order presented! Some steps are dependent upon completing earlier ones, and skipping ahead can just add an unnecessary further layer of delay & confusion. Through many years of teaching WordPress — to hundreds of students — I have vetted the steps in the Road Map: they are presented in the most efficient way possible to ease you into your WP journey!
2 Suggested Ways to Use This Guide:
- Read the Guide all the way through
first, so you have the ‘big picture’ or… (but see my caution below) Recommended!
- Start implementing at Step 1 and work through implementing each step as you reach it…
It is VERY common to intend to ‘read all the way through’ then get so excited & enthusiastic about “implementing” you stop your initial plans and start implementing “mid-stream!”
Remember my caveat about doing things in a specific order! This especially applies to the ‘implementation part’ as presented in this Guide! Some planning is essential and by reading through the complete Guide first, you’ll be better able to plan your complete strategy before implementing anything! This will be much more efficient in the long term.
If you think you might fall into the ‘trap’ of starting the “full read through” then wanting to take action NOW, you may want to start implementing from the beginning!
I want you to succeed with the least amount of frustration possible!
The WordPress Road Map
Throughout the remainder of this Guide, the blue numbered squares preceding each step correspond to those same steps in the Road Map Graphic.
Prep Work (it’s minimal, but essential)
- I recommend NameCheap: it’s still the best value around
- Be patient when searching for an available domain; and don’t “settle” for something other than a .com…Just keep looking and brainstorming names
- Don’t sign up for any of their other services! They are experts in Domain registration; let them do what they are great at doing!
NOTE: It can take anywhere from 24-72 hours for your domain name to be registered ‘all across the internet,’ so you should probably wait a few days before the next step…
It’s often completed within a day, but can take longer. You can search to see if your domain name shows up; if it does, you will see a listing. If not, keep checking back.
- I recommend & only use SiteGround. They have exceptional WP technical knowledge, inside & out! You are largely paying for support if (when ) something technical goes wrong.
- Make sure you specify WordPress Hosting! For most solopreneur websites, you only need shared hosting. Don’t sign up for any premium add-ons… Hosting Plan names change, so just look for the lowest-cost plan at the time you sign up.
- Don’t install WordPress as this is part of SiteGround’s service! They will also send you login credentials in an email, so make sure you doublecheck your email address is correctly typed!
- See the login
credentials email you received from your hosting company. Save this information in a safe and easily-accessible location. Scan it into digital format if you can, to make sure you have multiple copies of it!
- Post on your calendar exactly when your domain expires! Follow up to renew at least 30 days ahead of time!
- Keep your domain contact information updated! I recommend listing yourself as all of the contact people for your domain, but if you do have a “tech person” that is part of your business — ie, your partner, spouse, sibling, etc. — and they are invested in your business as much as you are, it’s okay to list them (but I don’t recommend it).
What happens next?
Once your domain is registered and you have your hosting plan, SiteGround will install WordPress for you and email you when your site is ready.
This is a very exciting time, and you actually get to access your website for the very first time! I’ll explain the next steps in the following section, but there are some key points to remember (as you will no doubt be surprised at what you first see!)
- You will log in to the “back-end” of your website. That’s where all of the content you create & work you do will be performed. This is not what your visitor sees: that’s called the “front-end!” The back-end can be very confusing for the first-time WordPress user…because there is a LOT of information here! That’s where this Guide will help you! Don’t be intimidated; just follow along in the order on the Road Map.
- There will be minimal “design” on the actual “front-end” of your website! That’s normal and this Guide will help you address this…in due time!
- There will be little — if any — content on your website! This is often shocking to the WP beginner… You may see a “Hello, world!” post as this is how WP ‘ships’ so you have an example of a “post” (this is the equivalent of an ‘article’). Once you get familiar with things, later in your WP training, you can safely delete this placeholder content.
Getting Started with WordPress
Logging in for the first time
- Refer to the email from SiteGround, notifying you that your website is ready…
- Click the link in the email to access your website login page. If the link doesn’t work in your particular browser, copy & paste the link. Browser recommendation: I recommend Chrome as it is very secure. An alternative is Firefox, or Safari if you are on a Mac. I strongly recommend you access on something other than a mobile device while going through this Guide & learning your way around. This is to make sure you are seeing the full website; most modern mobile browsers look for a “mobile-only” version of your website. NOTE: Similarly, avoid using the touch interface! While touch screens are now very common on laptops, WordPress is NOT truly accessible with the touch! I recommend you use your mouse when working in WordPress, even if your computer has touch capabilities… (I feel you!
All of my devices are touchscreens, but it can be extremely difficult to use touch when working in WordPress! And…even more frustrating if you are just learning!)
- The email should have your login information (username & password); copy & paste the password, as it is very easy to mis-type! It’s fine to let Chrome save your login information, as long as you are not on a shared computer.
The WordPress Dashboard
- This is where you will be sent when you log in… every time. You can think of this as your “command center.” As you can see, there is a lot of information here, and just the volume of information can be overwhelming at first. Take your time to familiarize yourself with the various menu items on the left side of the screen… This is your WP Main Menu. Many of the menu items are self-explanatory; however, some are not…
- Many of the menu items will have sub-menus. You can view any sub-menus by hovering with your mouse over the top-level menu items… You can select them by clicking on them. Some of the sub-menu items will also have sub-menus!
- Don’t try to memorize the menu commands or where everything is located! You will find — in practice — that some menu commands are rarely used; some are only used in setting up your website; a few others you will use a lot. You will learn which command does what as you become familiar with WordPress!
Posts & Pages
- “Posts” are a carry-over from the original “blog” days of WordPress. Whenever you see the term, think “article” as the term normally used… An article usually has a date & author, and a headline. If you are viewing an online magazine site — or any site with LOTS of content — you may also see articles grouped into categories for easy reader access. These are all traits of a WP post.
- “Pages” are often confusing to WP beginners, because it seems like “every piece of content on a website is a page…” This is a very common ‘assumption’ and seems logical. However, in WordPress a page is different in subtle but important ways… Pages cannot be assigned an author or a category. They fill a different specific use: they are reserved for content that is not “time-specific” and doesn’t change much over the life of a website. Some examples would be a HOME page, About page, Contact page, Disclaimer & TOC’s page, etc. In general, they are strictly informational in nature and not ‘time-sensitive.’
- Both posts and pages have a crucial role in your website, both for readers and for search engines. They make up your website content, and as such are the “smallest unit” of content possible to create in WordPress. They are both accessed from your WP Main Menu in the WP Dashboard, and each has their own separate menu item. If you hover over each one, you’ll notice that the “Posts” menu has 4 sub-menu items, while the “Page” has only 2, reflecting their internal difference, as I explained in #2 above.
- Your website menu is how readers access specific website content — those posts & pages we discussed above.. It usually comes as a shock to new WordPress users that the content they have just created doesn’t automatically show up on the website! That’s reasonable, but not the way it works. You create menu(s) in the Appearance option in the WP Dashboard. You have to manually create the menu(s) as needed. You may be able to create more than one menu — as I have on my website — but this depends on other WordPress modules we have yet to discuss. (We’ll get there in this Guide, so just be patient!)
- Once created and saved, you then add existing content to the menu. You can add both pages and posts to your main menu, and you can reorder them by dragging one page under the other (that’s outside the scope of this Guide).
- You should think carefully about the organization of your website! Menus are designed to not only help your readers find your content, but also to organize that content in a meaningful way for your readers. When I was introducing pages & posts and their intrinsic differences within WordPress, I briefly mentioned “categories.” These are best considered “sub-topics” of your overall website’s main niche. How your website is organized will go a long way toward creating a pleasing experience for your readers…or not! Make sure you do some planning on paper or in a mind map. There is no “right” answer here, as organization is largely subjective, but make sure you approach it from a ‘beginner’s perspective!’ Ask yourself: “What questions would a beginner in my niche want to know first?” Once you have a beginning set of sub-topics, you can add them as categories to your website & menu. Your readers will thank you by returning to visit! This is also crucial for search engines to understand exactly what your website is all about (human language is ambiguous, so you have to help out the bots).
Images & the Media Library
- You will undoubtedly want to add visual interest to your posts and pages with the use of relevant images. You do this by uploading images & graphics to your WP Media Library. The first step is to download an image to your computer, and save it with a meaningful name so you can tell what it is at a later date.
- Sourcing images: this is critically important to understand! You simply CANNOT use any image you find online! This can literally be stealing someone else’s copyrighted work! And you can get shut down for doing this. Your best source is to display your own photos, as you already own them (but watermark them so others don’t try to steal them from your website!). This isn’t practical for ALL the images you will likely need, so stock photo sites are great resources. There are lots of these sites: Unsplash is a great place to start!
- Optimizing images for the web: site speed is critical to pleasing both your visitors and Google. Faster is better. So you want the smallest version of an image (or graphic) possible. Visual elements are measured in DPI (dots per inch); this is the resolution of the image. Most of the ones you download are quite large. Some stock photo sites offer alternative sizes, so select the smallest one available and test it on your site. Most of the smallest will render just fine. If size options are not available, you should run your images through a compression service. Kraken.io is a free service, and you want to do this after renaming your image but before uploading to the WP Media Library.
These are add-ins that extend the functions of your website. They are plentiful and many of them are free.
Examples include SEO-related plugins like Yoast & SEOPress, a simple PayPal button for taking payments or donations, shopping carts, Comments (outside of the native WP comments), Akismet (prevents comment spam and you really need this if you plan to have ANY comments on your website), and backup & security plugins.
- Only source plugins from the official WordPress plugin repository! Because most are free, if you only search “WordPress plugins” in Google, you will have no idea if what you are seeing has been vetted for quality code by the programmers of WordPress. Everything on the above repository IS already vetted.
- It’s very common to “go crazy” with installing all sorts of plugins, especially for beginners. Everything you add to your website takes up precious “overhead” in terms of site speed, so the less overhead you have installed the better. Plan essential website functionality ahead of time when you are planning your website niche and sub-topics. What do you absolutely need? If you are selling on your website, you obviously need a way to take payments. If you are not, you don’t need a shopping cart! And if you are only selling digital products and/or services, you probably don’t need a “shopping cart” plugin either. Sometimes a simple PayPal button will be just fine… Give it plenty of thought!
- It’s typical practice to evaluate plugins when you are just setting things up… to see which ones suit your needs. Make sure — once your testing is completed — you uninstall all unused plugins! Even unused plugins take overhead, and could cause conflicts with existing plugins on your site. Even existing plugins can bump up against each other (and no… there’s no way to determine this in advance), so this is another reason to keep your plugin inventory to the minimum necessary. Troubleshooting a plugin conflict is a painstaking process!
WordPress themes are what you’ve likely been waiting for! Themes control virtually everything about the appearance of your content, from the actual layout of your posts and pages, whether you have a sidebar or not, fonts & overall typography, website colors, etc. If it has to do with “design” it’s the theme’s job to take care of that.
- IMPORTANT! From a “conversion” perspective — whether someone becomes a subscriber, signs up for a discovery call, requests a quote or buys from you — has almost nothing to do with website design! It is very common for beginners to endlessly tweak their theme — appearance — when that is NOT going to make one bit of difference about getting your readers to take action. Don’t fall into this beginner “rabbit hole!” Now, having said that, bad design can turn readers away before they ever get to read your content. Clear & concise rules the day! A “busy” website with all sorts of “cool” techie gimmicks is not the way to attract readers and return visitors! Conversion rate is directly related to clarity! Make sure your topics are clear and to the point. Make sure it’s obvious what you do and whom you serve — and don’t serve — right away!
- WordPress ‘ships’ (ie, is installed by SiteGround) with several free themes, all designed and coded by the same programmers that make WordPress. These are fine for learning WordPress & experimenting! I encourage you to experiment with different looks, typography, colors. However, free themes are NOT suited for use on your business website! Free themes don’t have the technical support you will need for a “business tool!” Themes are very inexpensive as business purchases go — running anywhere from $50 for a single website use license to ~$100 for a yearly subscription — so this is NOT the place to cut corners over a few dollars!
- Themes number in the 10’s of thousands! This is not an exaggeration or hyperbole… As of this writing (mid-2021) these are the search results for “WordPress Themes” numbering in the trillions of search results:
For this reason, I encourage you to search for a suitable paid theme. They’re easy to find: they are in the same place where I referred you for WP plugins: WordPress themes repository. Again, these themes have all been vetted for clean and light code.
Consider your audience and make sure your theme fits well with your niche and your industry. Readers in a conservative professional industry — attorney, accountant or medical professional — are likely to look askance at a website using some “artsy” or “edgy” theme. You want to draw your readers in, not turn them off! Always consider your audience!
- The Customizer is a relatively recent addition to WordPress. It is part of the default WordPress install, and is independent of any theme you are using, but sends the information entered there to the theme. What appears in any specific version of the Customizer in your installation of WordPress may be slightly different for different installs. You access the Customizer under the Appearance Menu in the WordPress Dashboard.
- This is a “quick” editing area for you to set some basic information for your new website, including:
- Setting “Site Identity”
- Defining Menus
- Configuring Homepage Settings
- Viewing & configuring Widgets
- and possibly more
- Explore current options the Customizer makes available in your specific WordPress install. Experiment with it. If you add anything, make sure to SAVE before exiting the Customizer. A cool feature is that you can change the displayed page and see the changes in real time. To do this, first go to one of the pages or posts on your website, and then select Customizer.
Check out the Customizer & see how you like it. I find it very useful to do a quick edit on existing settings, however it’s definitely easier to do initial setup — IMO, & with 10+ years of WP experience — by using the default menu options in the WP Dashboard (especially for more involved setup, like creating Menus). Once your site is configured, the Customizer might be a convenient “quick edit” resource for you.
Settings & More
(NOTE: these final 2 (numbered) steps on the Map are combined for convenience, since they are closely related…)
Settings have a dedicated menu in the WP Dashboard. One look and you can see there are a LOT of settings! Fortunately, you only need to change 2 of them right away:
- Permalinks serve to provide access to your content. In its default WP format, it’s cryptic and not human or SEO friendly, so you’ll want to change that before you create any content! Go to Settings ==> Permalinks & select Post Name, then scroll down and click the blue Save Changes button. That’s it for this setting.
- The other critical setting is under “Reading.” The very first setting “Your Homepage Displays” should always be set to a “static home page” NOT a blog page. There are a couple of reasons for this:
- Your HOME page is extremely important web ‘real estate’ and you want to customize
exactly what you show here. This is especially important to show your first-time visitors, as this is likely the first page on your website they will see! They have no idea who you are and this is the first chance you get to let them know what you do and who you serve.
- “Why not just show the ‘Blog?’ ” By default, your blog lists all of your articles (posts) in date order. (This dates back to the rather ‘antiquated’ concept of WordPress’s legacy origins.) This is NOT what you want to show your visitors, as you have no idea what any one visitor is truly interested in at the moment. PLUS… every time you add a new article, this blog list is updated, showing the NEW most recent content… You have little control over what your newest visitors see; it’s a crapshoot whether one of your most recent articles will be of any interest to any one reader! By showing your HOME page to all first-time visitors, you can take total control over what they read about you and your services and / or products!
- Your HOME page is extremely important web ‘real estate’ and you want to customize
- Comments: These are typically set ”on” by default on your articles (posts) & “off” on pages. Go to Settings>>Discussion to see the setting options. I recommend having Comments on for your posts: it’s a great way to encourage a dialogue with your readers. (But, if you choose to do this, make sure you also are running Akismet to prevent comment spam!) Always require “manually approving comments” near the bottom of the settings page, to prevent “human” spammers who have nothing better to do than mess with you! You can also create your own Comment Policy to let readers clearly understand your “house rules.” (TIP: if you need some help with this, just take a look at the various websites you frequent to see how they have handled this.)
User Accounts: This is only applicable if you have others writing or editing content on your website. Every “author” or “editor” should have their own account. Set these up in Setting>>Users. Make sure you understand “User Roles” (as shown below):
Website Maintenance: A website is certainly not “set it and forget it” but a constant work in progress.
- One reason is that Google demands fresh & original content!
- Another often-ignored reason is that a website is a technical tool. Improvements happen constantly! Just like your phone OS and your computer operating system, updates are constantly being introduced.
- One critical reason for this is security vulnerabilities!
- Websites — just like computers — can be hacked & the programmers are always trying to stay one step ahead of hackers.
- WordPress itself is updated frequently — with major updates released several times a year. Urgent security-related updates will be released at any time an issue is discovered.
Updates: These will apply to both plugins you are currently running & your current theme (or any others you have installed but not activated)You will see in the WP Dashboard — right at the very top — a small circular icon with a number. If there any updates, the number will indicate how many. Clicking on this icon takes you directly to the Updates page, where you can apply the updates…
- For plugins: It’s simple: just check the plugins you want to update and click “update” — Usually this will be ‘ALL’ but if you have an older plugin that hasn’t yet been updated by its author, wait! Most of these will update just fine, but occasionally there is a conflict… If you get an error message, or other feedback from WP, be sure to follow the instructions there (and take a screenshot if there is any type of error message…)
- For themes: same process as above…as well as the caveats about making sure that it works with your version of… “everything!”
- If you run into any updating issues…
- Contact your plugin or theme developer (author)
- Contact your hosting company (you never know where the problem is… )
- Google the problem
- Refer to the WP Codex on updating
Backups: get a plugin (This linked article from WordPress is very technical; that’s why using a plugin for backup is highly recommended, but read on as it may be available or included in your hosting plan)
- Suggested places to start
Security: Protecting your website from “hackers” is apparently unavoidable in our current world! There are a number of steps you can proactively take to make it as difficult as possible to discourage hacking attempts. A lot of this is dependent on your niche & industry, and what you are providing. It may also depend on your “social reputation” (which only you know), so don’t let this information make you needlessly ‘paranoid’ about having your website being vulnerable… It may happen, so you want to take “reasonable security measures” whatever that means to you.
- SiteGround (at the hosting-level)
- Limit Login Attempts — This page on the WP Repository also includes a very educational video explaining “brute force attacks” and how they work. The page of course is written to persuade readers to get their product, but the information here is useful, IMO…
NOTE: There are a LOT of these and everyone’s needs differ, so do your research and see what level of security you actually need and who offers the best performance for your needs.
Yay, YOU! You’ve taken action and completed working through this Guide & Road Map! Just think about how much you’ve learned about WordPress!
You are definitely ready to go explore & experiment with a learning site of your own!
This Guide will certainly help you along the way, and now I recommend going through this Guide, step-by-step, implementing & learning while you are experimenting.
Of course, this Guide IS a Road Map, written to help you get started on the right track to learning how to use WordPress.
There is certainly a LOT more to learn, and I’ve linked to many articles and resources throughout this Guide to help you along the way.
Best of luck on your WordPress journey! I’m here to help! Drop me a line here or leave a comment on any of my tutorials!
And if you’d like regular updates in your inbox, feel free to subscribe to my weekly newsletter, where you can read it when it’s convenient for you…