WordPress is designed to be simple to use, however it is also “feature-full”, so utilizing or even understanding all that WordPress is capable of can be a large and daunting task. In other words, the rich features of WordPress can sometimes mask its underlying simplicity. This guide is meant to reinforce the basics of using WordPress, push the complexities into the background, and enable beginners to focus solely on the simple task at hand – creating content. Much of this post will be a visual guide using screenshots of a brand new, self-hosted WordPress installation. Scroll down to print a handy WordPress blogging cheatsheet. Ready? Let’s go.
When you first log into your blog’s admin (//yoursite.com/wp-admin/), you are presented with your Dashboard. Unfortunately, there is so much on the Dashboard that a first-timer becomes immediately overwhelmed. So feel free to explore it later but for now, just concentrate on the key areas, and ignore the rest, as the screenshot shows below. Note that the upper section is intended as a newbie Help section. Once you’re comfortable, you can hide that section by clicking the “Dismiss this message” link.
Because a brand new install of WordPress comes with an example post and an example page already installed, you’ll notice that you have 1 post (with 1 sample comment) and 1 page listed in the Right Now section. You’ll also see that you have a menu in the left sidebar of things you can do here in your admin area. In that menu, you’ll see the word Posts. That’s the area you’ll use the most from now on, so let’s start there.
Hover your mouse over the Posts section of the menu. Notice that a flyout menu appears showing additional choices.
Here’s a quick look at what all the menus look like when expanded.
You’ll notice that the first two items listed under Posts are “Posts” and “Add New”. We’ll look at each one in turn. First, click on the Posts submenu item to open up the screen that lists all the posts that exist on your blog. Since this is a new installation, you’ll see only one listed: the Hello World! post. This screen shows a summary of the posts, listing the titles, authors, categories, tags, number of comments, and the date published or scheduled to be published.
If you hover your mouse over any post listing, a new set of links appear just under the post listing. These links let you either Edit a post, Quick Edit a post (which just lets you edit the data that shows here on this screen, such as author, category and tags, but not the post content itself), Trash (delete) the post, or View the post as a normal user sees it once published.
If you click the Edit link, you’ll see the entire Edit Post screen, which allows you to make whatever changes you want. Here’s a screenshot of the Edit Post screen. We’ll just glance at it and then move on to adding a new post, instead of studying the Edit Post screen in detail. (The Add New Post screen and Edit Post screens are basically identical).
Adding A New Post
Now, looking back at your menu to the left, instead of choosing Posts under the Posts menu, choose Add New instead. This will open up the Add New Post screen, which as you’ll see, looks just like the Edit Post screen, except that everything is blank, waiting for you to fill in the blanks.
WordPress Blogging Cheatsheet
In the screenshot below, I’ve numbered the main steps, from 1-7, to show you the areas you’ll be primarily concerned with when you create a new blog post. Each step is numbered approximately in the order that most people would normally fill out the areas of the screen, and is summarized at the bottom of the screenshot. I recommend printing this screenshot out and keeping it handy when you write your first few blog posts.
Now, let’s look at each step in more detail.
Step 1: Enter the title of your new blog post here. Your title should be interesting enough to make readers want to know more. Your title should also contain the most relevant phrase that you’d like this post to rank well for in the search engines, when that phrase is searched by users. Once you enter a title, your post gets assigned its permalink (the permanent URL link for this particular post and also known as the post “slug”), and is shown to you just under the title you typed. If you’ve chosen to use pretty permalinks, rather than the default ones, you’ll have the option to edit the permalink now or later if you wish.
I know I’ve just lost many of you, so bear with me for a second. You see, the default URL (also called a permalink) that WordPress assigns to a post is something like, “//yoursite.com/?p=2938″. That’s not “pretty”, nor is it very helpful to a reader or a search engine to know what this URL is about. So WordPress allows you to use “pretty permalinks” if your host supports them (and most do). This would enable you to have a permalink such as “//yoursite.com/hello-world/” instead of “//yoursite.com/?p=2938″ for your Hello World! post. To tell WordPress to use pretty permalinks, and what kind to use, you’ll need to take a one-time-only extra step.
Open a new browser window, go into your admin in that new window, go to Settings in your menu, choose Permalinks, and select Post Name. This automatically fills in /%postname%/ in the blank space, causing WordPress to automatically use your post’s title as the permalink. You could choose other possible ways of making pretty permalinks, but that’s my favorite, so that’s what I recommend. Once you save that, you can close the window, and return to your post in the browser window you were working in before.
Now…back to our Add New Post screen…
Step 2: Notice that there are two tabs to the right of this area: Visual and HTML. Unless you are proficient in using HTML (the basic language of web pages), you’ll probably want to keep the Visual tab highlighted. The Visual editor lets you write in the way you’re used to writing in programs like Microsoft Word – using toolbar buttons to bold and italicize, for instance, and moving images and text around by dragging and dropping. If, however, you’d prefer to have stricter control by using HTML and you’re comfortable doing so, then choose the HTML tab instead.
Step 3: Regardless of which editor you choose, Visual or HTML, you’ll simply start typing the content of your post in the large blank area underneath. Use the toolbar buttons to bold, italicize, etc. as you go along.
Of course, most people like to include images within their posts, and you can do that in this same area. Notice just above the toolbar is an area that says Upload/Insert and is followed by a small icon.
Clicking that icon opens a popup window (which darkens the screen you’re using now underneath the popup window), allowing you to choose the image(s) you want to use in this post. The following screenshots will lead you through the process of choosing a file from your hard drive to upload and insert into your post, showing you the main sections you would see and manipulate when doing so.
Before you click the Insert Into Post button, you can decide if you want to change the title of the image, include a caption for the image, align the image to the left, right, or center of the paragraph, and whether you want to insert the full size image, or a smaller version (which WordPress creates automatically for you). Once you’ve decided on all that, just click the Insert Into Post button to insert the image where your cursor was in the post you were writing. (Alternately, you could just save the image by clicking Save All Changes so you could insert it later, or use it in a gallery later, but for now, let’s just assume you want to insert it right now into your post, so choose the Insert Into Post button to do so).
Once you’ve inserted an image, if you are using the Visual Editor, it will look something like this:
If you’re using the HTML editor, you’ll see the image code inserted like this:
Great! Now you can continue writing more of your post, or if you’re done, you can move on to the next step.
Step 4: Assign your post to a category. In a new WordPress install, only one category exists which is called “Uncategorized”. You’ll likely want to create your own categories and assign this post to something better than “Uncategorized”, so just click on the Add New Category link to create a new category. Once you’ve created it, this post will automatically be assigned to it. As time goes on, categories that you create will automatically appear in the list of Categories here, so in many cases, you won’t have to take the extra step of adding a new category. Instead, you’ll be able to simply check a box next to whichever category already exists that you want to assign a post to.
Step 5: Assign tags to your post. This step is definitely optional, but many people like to tag posts, so I show it here. Whereas posts belong to broad categories, there are many specific ways you might want to describe posts as well, and tags are a good way to do that. Think of it this way. If your post is about making chocolate chip cookies, the post might be in a broad category called Cookies, or Baking, but you might want to assign narrower tags to this particular post such as “chocolate chip”, “easy”, “yummy”, etc. You can either choose from tags you’ve created previously, which will be listed if there are any, or just type a list of tags, separated by commas, into the blank space, and click the Add button.
Step 6: At this point, it’s a good idea to click the Save Draft button, which will save your post, but not publish it yet. Once the save process is complete, click on the Preview button to see what it would look like if you published it.
If it doesn’t look quite right, or you decide to make any changes, you can continue making changes, clicking the Save Draft button, and clicking the Preview button until you’re happy with the result.
Step 7: Now that you’re happy with your post, it’s time to either Publish it right now, or Schedule it to be published at a later date and time.
If you want to publish it right now, just hit the Publish button and you’re done! If you want to schedule it to automatically publish itself at a later date/time, however, you’ll need to take an extra step.
Click the “Edit” link next to “Publish immediately”, to open a schedule form to input a date and time. Choose whatever date/time you wish to schedule the post to publish, and once you’ve done so, you’ll notice that the Publish button now says Schedule instead.
Just click the Schedule button, and your post will be scheduled to automatically publish at the date and time you specified. You’ll know it scheduled it because you’ll see something like this:
At this point, you’ve learned probably 90% of what you’ll be doing from now on. Here are a few other things you probably should know about, however.
On all of the admin screens, you’ll notice a little light gray tab in the upper right that says Screen Options. If you click that tab, it expands to show you other options you can utilize on that particular screen. Usually this consists of areas you can hide or show.
For example, on the Add New Post screen, if you open the Screen Options tab and uncheck Format, you’ll see that the Format section of the Add New Post screen disappears. Checking it again makes it reappear. These Screen Options give you more control over what you see in your admin area, so you might want to play with them a bit.
Finally, I thought it would be a good idea to just quickly go over some of the terminology used so you can quickly understand what people are talking about.
The Lingo of Blogging with WordPress
- What is a blog? WordPress defines a blog as “an abbreviated version of ‘weblog,’ which is a term used to describe web sites that maintain an ongoing chronicle of information. A blog features diary-type commentary and links to articles on other Web sites, usually presented as a list of entries in reverse chronological order. Blogs range from the personal to the political, and can focus on one narrow subject or a whole range of subjects.” Articles are usually listed chronologically, with the newest on top, and are usually organized into categories.
- Am I writing a blog or am I writing a post? Though you’ll see people say it both ways, I think it’s most appropriate to say, “I’m writing a post”, when you are referring to adding a new post, rather than saying, “I’m writing a blog”. Technically, you’re writing a “blog post” (same as just “post”), which will be published to your blog. So the blog is the whole collection of individual posts, therefore, it’s more appropriate to say, “I’m writing a post” when you are creating an individual blog post.
- What’s the difference between a page and a post? Pages are for more static, “timeless” content such as your About Page, your Contact Me page, and other information that is unlikely to change very often. Adding pages is very similar to adding posts because you’ll give them titles, and content, insert images if appropriate, etc. But pages do not get included in the chronological listing of posts, nor are they associated with categories or tags. See WordPress’s explanation for more info.
- What is a widget? A widget allows you to add content to sidebars easily, and move them around by dragging and dropping them in your sidebar’s widget admin area.
- What is a plugin? Plugins are bits of code that allow us to do more with WordPress than allowed by an “out of the box” installation. There are thousands of plugins that let us do all sorts of great things with WordPress. For more information, see WordPress’s guide.
- What is a sidebar? A sidebar is typically a narrow vertical column to the left or right of your blog’s main content area which lists things such as your menu, blog categories, etc. Widgets are often used to easily add and manage content within your sidebar(s).
Of course, there is a lot more you can and should learn about WordPress and blogging, but sometimes it’s best to have a place to start, without trying to fill your head with a thousand and one different things. Once you’re comfortable with this “starting place”, you can move on to explore all the great things WordPress is capable of. When you’re ready for that next step, you may want to read the sections of Getting Started With WordPress on the WordPress.org site. Some of the information will be things you’ve already learned here. Much of it will be new and interesting, so have fun learning it.
I hope you’ve found this first-step guide helpful. If so, please share it with others who are just learning how to blog with WordPress.
Updated July 30, 2013