WordPress Road Map & Companion Guide
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!
Part 1: Prep Work (Steps 1 - 3)
It's minimal, but essential!
Step 1: Domain Registration
You need to register your website "domain."
I recommend NameCheap: it's still the best value around. With the billions of websites today, this is a very competitive business, and they are still the best value.
It obviously has to be unique to you & your website! Be patient when searching for an available domain; and don't "settle" for something other than a .com...Just keep looking and brainstorming names!
Pro Tip: Don't sign up for any of their other services (such as email, website services, marketing or "security!" You simply don't need them at this stage...and I have my recommendations for not using one provider for multiple services. They are experts in Domain registration; let them do what they are great at doing!
What Happens Next...
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'll be notified by email from NameCheap when your domain is "ready" so you don't need to "do" anything. Just make sure you have typed your email address in correctly...and it's one you check regularly!
You can search to see if your domain name shows up; if it does, you will see a listing. If not, keep checking back.
Step 2: WordPress Hosting
I recommend & only use SiteGround. They have exceptional WP technical knowledge, inside & out! You are largely paying for support if (when ) a technical issue comes up.
Make sure you specify WordPress Hosting! For most solopreneur websites, you only need shared hosting.
Hosting Plan names change, so just look for the lowest-cost plan at the time you sign up.
Don't sign up for any premium add-ons... As with other recommended service providers, I'll have specific tips for these in later steps.
Don't install WordPress as this is part of SiteGround's service! They will also send you login credentials via email, so make sure you doublecheck your email address is correctly typed!
Step 3: Safeguard Your New Information!
Don't skip this step!
- Save and "archive" the login information you received from both your domain registration — the email from NameCheap — and the login information & link to your new website from SiteGround.
- I recommend you archive it in both digital form — such as Evernote or Google Docs or Drive...and print it off and file it with your other important business papers!
- 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.
A few more points:
- 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.
Part 2: Getting Started with WordPress (Steps 4 - 6)
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.
Step 4: The WordPress Dashboard
You can think of this as your "command center."
This is where you will be sent when you log in... every time.
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!
Step 5: Posts & Pages
First, lets define these two terms in the context of WordPress...
- "Posts" are a carry-over from the legacy "blog platform" days of WordPress. Whenever you see the term, think "article" as the term is 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.
The concept of "Pages" — as used in WordPress — is 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 are 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.
Together, they make up your website content, and as such are the "smallest unit" of content possible to create in WordPress.
They are both created & accessed from your WP Main Menu in the WP Dashboard, and each has their own separate menu item.
If you hover over each one in the Menu, 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 above.
Step 6: Menus & Website Navigation
Your website menu(s) or navigation structure 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).
Website Organization & Structure
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 website's overall 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 logical, initial 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 ).
Part 3: Customizing (Steps 7 - 9)
In these next steps, you'll be customizing both the appearance and functionality of your website.
Step 7: Images & The Media Library
You will undoubtedly want to add visual interest to your posts and pages with the use of relevant images or graphics.
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.
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 — by your ISP (internet service provider) or your hosting company — for doing this (stealing and other "illegal activity" are grounds for this, regardless of your physical location).
Your best resource 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! When using "stock photos it's wise to edit them somewhat so they don't scream "I'm a stock photo!"
I suggest you use a graphics program like Canva. They offer a quite generous free version (as of this writing) but if you use a LOT of images, their Pro plan is probably a great investment.
You can upload a stock image, add a gradient overlay and some text of your own, then save (see the next section about "optimizing images"), and download the saved version.
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. Often the smallest image size 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.
Naming images: Whether you use your own images or stock photos, all need to be renamed. It does no good to see "DCIM4268" or "stock photo 125799324.png" in your WordPress Media Library...or under a tool tip on your website!
3 top reasons to rename your images before uploading them into your Media Library:
- Search engines also "crawl" your images, but can't read them so they rely on the "file name" in human words...
- Screen readers — for the visually disabled — also rely on the "alt text" image attribute and speak the "alt text" contents.
- You will not have any idea what a particular image is when they all start with cryptic letters and numbers, and if you are taking your own images, the numbers will eventually repeat.
Step 8: Plugins
These are 'add-ins' that extend the functions of your website. They are plentiful and many of them are free.
- 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
- Backup & security plugins
Plugins are essential and some of them are invaluable (like the backup & security ones).
But...they come at a cost in "overhead" on your website. Everything added to your website takes up "storage/server" space, and with this comes an incremental slowing of your website.
Now, before you stress out, understand that these are measured in milliseconds!
However, because they are so extremely useful, a lot of beginners get over-enthusiastic and start adding plugins willy-nilly...then wonder why their site is slowing down!
Plugin Best Practices
- 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.
- 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!
Step 9: WordPress Themes
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.
In WordPress, the theme is another "add-on" but unlike plugins — where you can have "many" — you can only have one theme installed and "active" at any given time.
For beginners — and a lot of seasoned "veterans" — your website's visual appearance (& themes) are largely misunderstood... or at least misguided!
Pro Marketing Tips:
- 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!
Pro Tech Tip:
I recommend and use Thrive Suite for my websites. It's a very established set of website building tools and plugins. They are all from the same company, so they are designed to work together.
The alternative is to hand-select a variety of WordPress plugins and cross your finger that they all play well together.
Remember my caveat in the above discussion on plugins: there are currently 59,620 plugins just in the WordPress Plugins directory! There are thousands more outside of that directory! Talk about decision fatigue, especially for a WordPress beginner!
Add to that the 10's of thousands of WordPress themes, and you'll be on overload quickly...going down the rabbit hole of indecision...
- Does this one work?
- Is it easy to customize?
- How many menus will it support (Yes! Themes limit your menus, often to just one!)
You will avoid all of this by opting instead for Thrive Suite. I have been using them exclusively since 2017 and require all of my clients to do the same. This tool suite is that good!
You'd probably expect something this exceptional to be quite costly...but it's very affordable (quarterly & annual payment plans) and it's way cheaper than my web hosting!
I am a raving fan, and have been for years.
I encourage you to take a look at Conversion Focused WordPress Themes.
Part 4: Configuring & Website Security (Steps 10 - 12)
These last 3 steps are often ignored or put off "until later" by WordPress beginners... These are not exciting or "fun" but they are extremely important. Here you'll learn how to configure both your initial WP setting for your entire website, and you'll also learn how to make sure your new website is kept safe.
Step 10: WordPress Customizer
The Customizer is a relatively new 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
Should you use this feature?
This comes down to personal preference...
I played around with this feature when it was first released, but I find it cumbersome and not helpful, especially because I now exclusively use Thrive Suite. It's such a game-changer in terms of reliability and efficiency! (Customizer seems antiquated in comparison...)
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. But then, Thrive Suite's Architect plugin (their page builder) has been doing this since the beginning!)
Step 11: Configuring Settings
WordPress Settings instruct the software to do what you want it to! They're important!
But they can also become another rabbit hole ...and can be understandably confusing for beginners (some veterans don't get them right either! )
Fortunately, the following are all you need to know when first getting started with a new website.
Read on to see exactly which settings you need to change for a new website:
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 [link goes to WordPress official reference] 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. This aids both your human readers and the search engines! That's it for this setting.
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. [Make sure to read the full explanation in the alert box below ]
Other Common Settings
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. Or take a look at my article Series here.)
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):
Step 12: Security & Maintenance
A website is certainly not "set it and forget it" but a constant work in progress.
There are lots of reasons for this:
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 (in the actual coding)!
- 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.
These will apply to both plugins & 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 . The number in this alert shows you how many updates there are and clicking on it will take you directly to the Updates page, where you can review the required Updates.
FYI: they are grouped by Plugins and Themes, so you'll need to apply the updates separately. If there is a current WordPress update, that information will be shown above all of the other updates, and it's recommended you apply that update first, then take care of the plugins and themes...
I strongly recommend you get a reliable plugin (The above linked article on Backups 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
Protecting your website from “hackers” is unfortunately (but realistically) 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.
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.