Building a domain of your own: Selecting a WordPress theme
Over a series of posts I will describe the steps I believe are necessary to host and build a domain of your own online. This started with a look at the digital identity you would like to create online. I then discussed the steps you should take to develop your own personal cyberinfrastructure. I have detailed some of the of domain names and hosting a website. The last post identified the steps involved in installing a brand new WordPress website. This post will describe how to customize your new WordPress website.
WordPress is a free and open-source content management system (CMS). A CMS allows you to create, modify, and publish digital content on the web. There are two main versions of WordPress. WordPress.com is the free service that allows you to run the software and publish your own website. The second version of WordPress is the open-source software available at WordPress.org. The open-source version allows you to download the CMS and host your own website.
This post will primarily focus on customizing the open-source version of WordPress as I believe that you should control your data as long as build your digital identity. The guidance in this post may be followed if you choose to use the free version of the software available at WordPress.com. If you do not want to read through this post, you review the video overview of this post below…or click here to go directly to the video.
Before we begin
At this point, you should have a brand new version of WordPress installed and running online. As we get started, I want to take a little time to discuss what and where things are happening so you can understand what you’re building. This process can sometimes be confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. The purpose of these blog posts is to provide a resource that you can refer back to if needed. This post will describe how to start customizing a brand new WordPress installation. If you have a WordPress site running, this post might document design choices that you’ve already made in the past.
In my last post, I finished with the overview of your new WordPress website from within the control panel of your hosting company. You can see the link to your website online as well as the link to edit your website. You can also see the link to download your website. This is important to remember if you want to make a complete backup of your website. You can also find the link to delete this WordPress installation. Remember, this is a look at what is happening within the control panel within your hosting company. If you want to delete your website for any reason…this is where you go to remove everything.
If you click on the link to your website, it will take you to the current version of your website online. This should be your domain name. You will also see the link to what looks like your domain name, but with an extra part after your domain name that looks like “/wp-admin/.” This is the link to edit your WordPress website. If you click on either of those two links, you will be brought to the address of your WordPress installation online. It might seem like a simple distinction, but I’ve had a lot of people confused as to where to edit and modify different aspects of their website. Up until this point, we’ve been logged in and looking into the control panel of my hosting company. From there, we can install applications, download/delete the installation, and modify our domains and/or hosting. From this point on, we’ll be working from within the WordPress website. It’s a whole new land…and we’re headed there now. :)
Preparing WordPress for the first time
One of the reasons that I love WordPress is that it provides a ton of options to build up exactly what you’d like to have in your website. Because of this, there are a lot of settings, options, buttons that you’ll see as you get started. This can quickly get overwhelming. I’ll lead you through the process I use as I guide people into WordPress for the first time. I’ll only introduce buttons as need to use them. This is in no means a way to stifle your learning. You should explore and feel free to play with WordPress. Just pay attention to what you’re doing so you can back yourself out of changes. You can also search online to find a wealth of resources (far better than mine) to guide you in this process.
Logging in & updating WordPress
Click on the link to edit your website. This is typically your domain name with /wp-admin/ added to the end. You will most likely be asked to log in to your WordPress site. Once again, by adding the /wp-admin/ to the end of the domain, you’re going to the front door of your website. When you enter your password, you’re unlocking the door and going in to edit things behind the scenes. When you make changes and update your website, it will change what is viewable on the public side of the website. Log in to your WordPress site if asked.
You should start at the “Dashboard” of your website when you log in. To the left of your Dashboard, it will indicate if you have any necessary updates to your website. It may be an update to WordPress, or a plug-in. Update and activate whatever is indicated in this section. Once you have addressed any updates, click on the Dashboard to return to the main screen.
Add dummy posts & pages
One of the first things to do when you start with WordPress is to identify a theme you would like to use. I think selecting a theme is terribly important as it is helps set the style of the website. The theme will change the look and feel of most elements of your website. This includes the home page, posts, and pages. If you do not have any content on your website, it’s impossible to see how the theme will change your website. For this purpose, I suggest that we start by adding dummy posts and pages. After you add a couple of posts and pages, you can quickly see what themes might work for you. Once you select that perfect theme…you can delete the dummy posts and pages and start building your website.
To start adding dummy posts, click on the button on the left of your screen that says “Posts.” This will bring you to a list of the posts you currently have in WordPress. You most likely only have a post that is titled “Hello world!” If you click on the button that says “+ New” on the top of your window, you can quickly add a new post or page.
Add a new post and give it the title “Post One.” Add some basic text in the body of the post. You should also add an image to the body of the post. Click on the button labeled “Add Media.” Download any image and upload it to your post to see what it will look like when published.
Finally, add a “Featured Image” to your post. The featured image is a graphic that is used as the thumbnail for posts when you share them online. Featured images are often found at the top of your post. The use and placement of these images differs based on the themes that you chose. Adding a featured image now will help you decide on a theme, and the ways in which your images and featured images are displayed. Go ahead and add a featured image for your post.
After you’ve added some text, images, and a featured image, click on the button that is labeled “Publish.” After you have published this first post, create two more dummy posts and repeat this same process. Give the posts simple titles (Post One, Post Two, Post Three) and add a featured image and an image in the body of the post for each of these dummy posts. Click the “Publish” button on each of these dummy posts.
After you have created these three dummy posts, go ahead and repeat this process with a series of dummy pages. You can create new pages by hovering on the “+ New” button and select the link for “Page.” Create two to three dummy pages and follow the same process you used to create the dummy posts.
Selecting a theme
As I stated earlier, selecting a theme is a very important first step in developing your WordPress site. The theme will set the mood and tone of your website. You can change the theme at any point, but I recommend trying to identify one that you like as you begin the process.
As you start researching possible themes, you’ll quickly realize there is a lot that you don’t know when it comes to WordPress themes. There is a wealth of information online about themes, child themes, and individuals selling their themes. Please understand that as you search online for WordPress themes, you’ll come across a lot of questionable websites promoting questionable products. You’ll find out that there are free and paid themes. I typically recommend free themes as you get started. One of the benefits of a paid theme is that you often receive service for a set period of time with your payment. In my experience, the service is rarely supportive. I get much more help and support from other people online that are also trying to use the theme that you’re trying to use. My advice as you get started is to keep the process simple.
As you shop for free or paid themes, you’ll come across the demo for the theme. The demo is valuable as it will show you what the theme will look like when you install and activate it. The problem is that the theme demo usually looks incredible. When you actually install it and activate it…the outcome is usually very different. You’ll need to spend a lot of time tweaking your website to make it look the way you want it to.
As you shop for themes, you’ll want to strive for simplicity. I’ve tried a lot of themes that look flashy and have images sliding across the screen. As I use these themes, I realize the amount of work involved in keeping the theme working. These themes also do not go with the general style or purpose of my website. I think that most people some to my website or blog looking to learn and try out things that I’m trying to teach. For that reason, I selected a WordPress theme that is a bit more conducive to reading. You can learn more about the evolution of my main website at this post.
Installing a theme. The easiest way to install a new theme is to hover over “Appearance” on the left side of the Dashboard and click on “Themes” when it pops up.
This will bring you to the themes section for your WordPress website. You’ll see all of the themes you have installed. If this is your first time in this section, you will most likely only have the pre-installed themes from WordPress. These themes are named after the year they were launched (Twenty Seventeen, Twenty Sixteen, etc.). It is perfectly acceptable to use the pre-installed themes if you like them. If you want to add a new theme, click on the button labeled “Add New” at the top of the themes page.
In the Add Themes section, you can search through and look at the Featured, Popular, and Latest themes. I also find that it is helpful to use the “Search themes…” box to search for keywords I would use to describe the look I’m going for. In my latest search for themes, I used terms like minimalistic, basic, reading, and portfolio. Skim through the selection to find something that works for you.
When you find a theme that you like, click on the “Install” button to add it to your website.
After you have installed a couple of themes that you believe might be good options, you’ll want to activate them and see what they look like with your dummy posts and pages. You can then head back to the Themes page under Appearance and find the themes that you installed. Hover over the theme that you want to test and click on the button marked “Activate.”
This will “turn on” the theme for your website. I keep a new tab open to the URL for my website and refresh the page to see what the new theme looks like when activated on my site. Click through the home page as well as your posts and pages. Take a look at how the featured images and other images look on your website. Look at the colors used on the website and the placement of these colors. Go to one of the posts and look at the font used, and the colors of the fonts. Open up your website on a mobile device or tablet and repeat the process.
As you click through your website, you’ll quickly get and understanding about whether or not this theme works for you. If/when you immediately realize a theme does not work for you, click back to the Themes page to activate a new theme. Repeat the process involved and evaluate how the theme looks in your browser and on your mobile device or tablet.
Deleting a theme. Once you have selected a theme that works for you, you can delete the themes that you tested out along the way. If you hover over a theme and click on the button labeled “Theme Details” it will bring you to a page that lists all of the information about the selected theme. On the bottom of the screen you’ll see the options to “Activate” or view a “Live Preview” of the theme. To the right you’ll see an option to delete the theme. I believe that it’s good WordPress hygiene to delete the old theme if you know you’re not going to use it.
Delete the dummy posts & pages
Once you have selected a theme that you’re happy with, you can go back and delete the dummy posts and pages that we created earlier. Once again, we created these pages to give us something to review as we selected a new WordPress theme.
Select the button for “Posts” on the left side of the Dashboard. This will list all of the pages on your WordPress site. Click the checkbox for all of the pages you want to delete. After you selected these pages, click the drop-down bar button that say “Bulk Actions.” Select the option for “Move to Trash” and click “Apply.” Repeat this process for the pages that you created as well by clicking on the link labeled “Pages” on the left of the dashboard.
At this point you should have your WordPress website up and running with a theme that you like. Our next series of posts will drill down into posts, pages, and tags/categories. The nice thing about having a theme ready to go is that it allows you to edit and revise your content over time without worrying about the look of the website. If you change the theme in the future, your posts, pages, and your content should adapt to the new look of your website.