WordPress newbie -- where do I start?
November 29, 2011 10:13 AM   Subscribe

I'm having difficulty using WordPress to set up a professional website (not a blog). I'm completely new to the platform and have found WordPress.org to be unhelpful. Are there resources for absolute beginners to WordPress?

I am launching a freelance writing business and need to set up a professional website that will consist of a home page, an about page, a contact page, a services page, writing samples, and possibly a blog page. Many fellow freelance writers gush about how fabulous and easy WordPress is, saying that all the cool kids use it for blogs and professional websites. I am intelligent and reasonably proficient with technology (not programming, though), so it didn't occur to me that I might have trouble figuring out how to use WordPress.

I obtained a domain name and hosting thru hostgator, then installed WordPress. Even this simple install step was more difficult that I thought it would be. Now I have a website with the ugly default theme and no content, because I literally can't figure out how to start building it. I find WordPress to be incredibly non-intuitive, and the WordPress.org help section is not terribly helpful. I just need something to lead me step by step in building 5 or so simple pages on this site, literally something that says "do this to install a theme, do this to upload a photo, do this to insert text, etc."

I'm sure I'm the problem here since the rest of the world thinks WordPress is easy and awesome, but I'm really frustrated. I just want to get this site up as soon as possible without taking a class or paying someone to do it for me.

I know one freelancer who used iPage rather than WordPress for her webpage; she said it was ridiculously easy to set up, it's cheaper than what I'm paying hostgator, and (to me, at least) it looks fine.

Can anyone tell me what I'm missing with WordPress? If not, I'm tempted to eat the money I payed to hostgator and just go with iPage. Any suggestions or guidance would be much appreciated. I use a MacBook Pro, if that helps.
posted by kim in chicago to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I'd recommend training from www.lynda.com. I found their Wordpress training to be really helpful for a beginner, and they offer more advance training too. It's a subscription service, but I believe there's a free trial period which would be more than enough to get started at the very least. I used GoDaddy (good god, so awful) and Wordpress to set up my site, and had a lot of luck creating something that looked professional. Good luck!
posted by torietorie at 10:17 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you tried the Wordpress Codex? I use WP for my company's website (in my profile), but a third party constructed it for us. When I don't know what to do—which is often—I usually find the answer somewhere on there.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 10:31 AM on November 29, 2011

There is a WordPress for Dummies book that might be useful. I've never looked at it, but they tend to handle the basics pretty well.

My go to guy for the basics of web development is Chris Coyier. Here are some of his screencasts, that might be useful:

Wordpress as a CMS

Designing for WordPress - Part 1

Designing for WordPress - Part 2

Designing for WordPress - Part 3

He also has a WordPress focused site (with accompanying book) at Digging Into WordPress, with posts such as:

Where to get help with WordPress

Also, you might be best served by finding a theme and using (and slightly modifying) that. Here are some Theme sellers:




Press 75

and I've heard some good things about this theme lately:


If you're abandoning WordPress altogether, you might want to look at SquareSpace.

I'd start with the screencasts I mention above - I haven't watched them in a while, but I imagine they'd help. Then when you get stuck, just Google "wordpress whatever you're having issues with" and chances are you'll get a result.

I'm helping a friend who has had similar problems grokking WordPress, so you're not alone. I personally find it super intuitive (especially compared to a lot of the stuff I've looked at in the past). The community for it is huge, so help is out there.
posted by backwards guitar at 10:43 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I find the Wordpress.com support section is a little better-geared towards Wordpress newbies. Wordpress.org's help section tends to cater more to people who are installing, configuring, and customizing the software itself.

In fact, you might be better off going with Wordpress.com instead of HostGator. They host your site for you, handle all of the setup, and will let you use your own domain name, etc. You don't have to worry about installing themes, plugins, keeping up with upgrades, etc. as they are all there for you already.

The list of free features is here:

And the list of "premium" features is here:
posted by sanitycheck at 10:47 AM on November 29, 2011

Wordpress is astonishingly, amazingly, superbly simple. Really and truly.

To install a theme:
1. Find and then download the theme. It will likely be a .zip file, so you wll then need to
2. Extract the downloaded theme folder
3. Upload the extracted theme folder to your wordpress themes folder (wordpress/wp-content/themes) via FTP
4. Log into the wordpress admin area, click on Appearance, then click on Themes.
5. Click on the screenshot of the theme you just downloaded
6. Click on activate [theme name]

Do you know what it means to extract an archive/zip file? If not, let us know.

Do you know what FTP is? Do you have an FTP program? If not, let us know.

Do you know how to log into the wordpress admin area? If not, watch this.

You will want to create the four or five pages you want your site to have. Do this by logging into the wordpress admin area, click on pages, then click on create new. Give the pages whatever titles and content you want. You can do this at any time, before or after you install a different theme.

(See how simple that part is, btw? You want to create pages, so you click on pages, and then create one. That is what people mean when they say wordpress is easy.)

You will then want to create a static front page. That means you select a single page to be your home page. Since wordpress began as a blog engine, the other option would be to show your most recent ten or so posts as the home page to your site.

Do you understand why you might want to set a static front page? If not, let us know which parts are confusing.
posted by jsturgill at 11:03 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd bet there's a Wordpress meetup in your area (hell, even a Drupal or similar meetup would have a ton of people who know the ins and outs of Wordpress). Go there an offer $25 or so for someone to walk you through basic site setup and customization -- you could do it right there after the meetup!
posted by coolguymichael at 11:05 AM on November 29, 2011

I just want to get this site up as soon as possible without taking a class or paying someone to do it for me.

This is your problem. Frankly. I think your attitude and your own stress level here are hampering you. Any new tool will require some learning. You will need to educate in some manner - you may not want to spend money or take the time for a "classroom" experience but you MUST spend time to learn to use the tool. Driving a car, a similarly complex endeavor to running a website, requires classes and licensure.

Okay, that said, WordPress is great! There are many free resources! Yes, you may have to read some articles, you may have to watch some videos, you may have to take some time. If you wanted this to be instant, you should not have chosen the DIY option.

If I were you I would start watching videos from http://wordpress.tv/category/how-to/ and just get a feel for doing things in WordPress. Learn where things are oriented, learn what a "page" is and how they're different from "posts" -- learn about what it means to save as a draft vs. publishing a page. Read this: New To WordPress - Where to Start, read it all, even if you've done the steps. You're at sea here, and it sounds like you not only don't know where you're going, it sounds like it's not sure where you've been.

I wish you the best of luck.
posted by artlung at 12:38 PM on November 29, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for the excellent advice, and especially Artlung for calling me out on my poor attitude!

I love to learn and educate myself, so that's not really the issue. I think the problem is that no one told me "WordPress is really super easy after you have taken classes and read lots of books and watched a bunch of videos."

They just said it was amazingly simple and easy to set up, which led me to believe that it would be...amazingly simple and easy to set up. I thought I'd be done with at least the basics by now.

I'm still not sure why I'm not catching on to the platform the way everyone has -- just a mental block, I guess.

In any event, I know the information you've all given me will be very helpful, and I appreciate your help.
posted by kim in chicago at 1:46 PM on November 29, 2011

kim in chicago, I was serious about you posting any part that has you stuck and asking questions about stuff you don't understand.

Partly I like being helpful, but mostly I'm really curious as to where the sticking points are. It should take approximately half an hour and maybe $40 to go from having nothing at all to possessing a registered domain, a year of hosting, and a fully functional wordpress install running the theme of your choice. That this wasn't the case is very interesting to me.
posted by jsturgill at 1:12 PM on November 30, 2011

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