How to Establish Yourself Online – Part 4: Customizing WordPress

Posted: August 21, 2009 at 12:00 am by
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avatar medium How to Establish Yourself Online   Part 4: Customizing Wordpress

After creating the wordpress blog in Step 3, you need to customize wordpress. The theme it comes with is in my opinion ugly and basic, which will detract visitors from coming back to your site. You need a new theme, as well as plugins to enhance your blog’s functionality. We will begin by selecting a theme.

WordPress Themes

A theme is a wrapper that presents your blog to the world. The good thing about a theme is it does not affect your blog’s functionality, meaning you can switch themes, and your blog’s functions will not change. This allows you to test out many different themes and not have to worry about sacrificing functionality. A theme consists of php files and is enhanced by css files. A php file is a file that is dynamic and often talks to databases. CSS files alter the viability of your site, and can change font sizes, colors, and images (CSS stands for cascading style sheets). Your theme’s css file is the most important file, as it will control much of how your theme will look.

Customizing your own Theme

Customizing your own theme is the most labor intensive activity you can do while creating your blog. It is not an easy task, and requires experience editing css and php files. If you have never edited css or php, you will be out of your league. It took me three weeks to learn how to customize Psychcomp’s theme, which in my opinion was to much time. Once you learn how to manipulate a wordpress theme, it is not difficult, but learning takes time. If you want to make your own theme, then prepare to spend weeks or months getting it right. Many bloggers pay professionals to create custom themes, as your average person does not possess the skill. At this point, it is best to choose if you will create your own theme, or use a preconstructed theme. If your a new blogger who has no experience in wordpress, and has little or no experience with css or web development, it would be wise to find a preconstructed theme, use it, and in your spare time craft a theme for use later. You can always roll out a new theme later, just make sure to warn your visitors of the new, “site upgrade”.

If you want to start working on your own theme, the best advise is to modify the theme you have. On your computer, go to the wp-content/themes folder. Copy the default theme, paste it in the same directory, then rename it to whatever you wish to name your new theme. Upload this new theme to your themes’s folder on your web server, then log into your administration area in your blog. In the menu to the left, choose Appearance. Next choose themes, and then click the activate button on the theme you just uploaded. Note: It will say the same thing as the default theme, look at the location of the theme to see the one in the new directory you created. Now, reload your blog, and you will see the same as before, except this is now your new theme. Any edits to the theme’s css and html files will be viable if you reload the blog.

To get a better idea of how your theme works, open up your theme’s folder. You will see an images directory and a listing of php files. The most important files are: archive.php, footer.php, header.php, index.php, page.php, search.php, sidebar.php, single.php and style.css. The style.css file is your css file, and will house most of your visiability options for your site. This is the main file to edit. Open up your style.css file, and look it over. You will see something like this:

body {
	font-size: 62.5%; /* Resets 1em to 10px */
	font-family: 'Lucida Grande', Verdana, Arial, Sans-Serif;
	background: #d5d6d7 url('images/kubrickbgcolor.jpg');
	color: #333;
	text-align: center;
	}
#page {
	background-color: white;
	border: 1px solid #959596;
	text-align: left;
	}

Body refers to all code in your blog’s body tag. Changes here affect your entire site. As you can see, font options and the site’s background colors are modified here. Go ahead and change things and then reload the page and see if your changes worked. It would take an entire series of articles on how to create your custom theme, as it is a complex subject. Go here to learn more on how to create a custom theme. It starts from creating your own from scratch template files, and covers 16 different lessons. As I said, it is intensive.

Picking a New Theme

If you do not want to spend months working on a new theme, you can go ahead and pick a theme to use on your site. The easiest method is to go here and browse the available themes. Make sure you pick a theme that will match your interests. For example, if you want your site to look professional, do not choose an anime theme. There are almost 1000 themes to choose from, so you should be able to find one you want. Once you have found a theme, download and unzip it into your theme’s directory. Then upload this theme to your web server, then activate it in your admin area under appearance, themes. Reload your blog and you will see your new theme.

Widgets

Your theme’s sidebar is one of the most important elements within your blog. Your sidebar will house widgets, which are tiny code snippets which serve a particular function. For example, you can house a calendar on your sidebar, or list your archives, or list all your categories. To set your widgets, in your admin area, go to appearance, then choose widgets. You will see a list of availiable widgets on the left, and your sidebar on your right. Click the down arrow on your sidebar to see all widgets you are currently using. To add a new widget, hold your mouse down on a widget you want, then drag it to your sidebar. It should then stick there, placing it on your sidebar. This occurs in real time, so now go to your blog and you will see the change. Experiment on what widgets and in what order you want to place them.

Plugins

Plugins mainly deal with the functionality of your blog. Your plugins are very important, as they offer functionality not present within wordpress out of the box. There are thousands and thousands of plugins, so selecting plugins you may want can be a daunting task. I will give a list of plugins I am currently using, and explain what they do so you get a better idea.

AJAX Login Widget++ – This plugin adds the login box you see on the right most sidebar. This is good for easy access to your administration area for your members.
Link: Click Here

All in One SEO Pack – This plugin adds search engine optimization to your blog. I recommend this one no matter who you are.
Link: Click Here

All in One Video Pack – Helps to embed videos in your site.
Link: Click Here

All in One Video Pack Sidebar Widget – Same as above, it helps add a video widget to your sidebar.
Link: Click Here

Avatars – Manages public and private avatars
Link: Click Here

Captcha From ProtectWebForm – Adds anti-spam protection in your comments section. I recommend this one for everyone.
Link: Click Here

Code Markup – Displays code blocks nicely while allowing formatting.
Link: Click Here

Comments Vote – Allows users to vote on comments
Link: Click Here

Deko Boko – Contact form that uses re-captcha. I recommend this plugin as well to everyone.
Link: Click Here

Feedburner FeedSmith – Hooks into Google’s Feedburner that manages your RSS feeds. I recommend this as well, after you sign up for feedburner. (I will cover this in a future article in this series).
Link: Click Here

Get Recent Comments – Displays the most recent comments in your blog in your sidebar.
Link: Click Here

Google Translator – Translate your site into multiple languages.
Link: Click Here

Google XML Sitemaps – Creates a sitemap that is sent to Google. Great for SEO. I recommend this plugin to everyone.
Link: Click Here

SEO Slugs – Removes common words from slugs, which improves SEO. I recommend this plugin.
Link: Click Here

Sociable – Adds links to numerious social media sites for users to submit your posts to. I recommend this plugin.
Link: Click Here

Socialite – Publishes your posts to myspace, facebook and twitter. This is very important, and will be covered in a future article in this series. I recommend this plugin.
Link: Click Here

Subscribe to Comments – Allows your users to receive e-mail notifications of new comments posted to an entry. Recommended.
Link: Click Here

TinyMCE Advanced – Adds more functions to writing posts, giving more user control. Recommended.
Link: Click Here

Twitter for WordPress – Displays your most recent twitter comments in your site.
Link: Click Here

WordPress.com Stats – Shows stats on who visits your wordpress site. Recommended.
Link: Click Here

WordPress Backup (by BTE) – Backups your wordpress themes, plugins, and uploads. Recommended.
Link: Click Here

WordPress Gravatars – Allows the use of Gravatars in your site. Recommended.
Link: Click Here

WordPress Popular Posts – Ranks your posts by popularity and displays the most popular posts. Highly Recommended.
Link: Click Here

WP-chgFontSize – Gives your users the ability to change the font size. Recommended.
Link: Click Here

WP-DBManager – Manage and backup your wordpress database automatically. Highly Recommended.
Link: Click Here

Wp-Polls – Allows for polls in your site. Recommended.
Link: Click Here

WP-reCaptcha – Anti-Spam solution. Highly Recommended.
Link: Click Here

Yet Another Related Posts Plugin – Shows related posts in each post. Highly Recommended.
Link: Click Here

As you can tell, that is alot of plugins. I suggest all plugins I recommend to be used, as these are very important to the success of a blog. There are many more plugins out there, do not feel shy and explore to see what other plugins interest you. Go here to see a list of all the plugins for wordpress. To install a plugin, read it’s installiation instructions.

In Conclusion

Now you should have a theme for your site, as well as plugins that enhance it’s functionality. We are not yet done, as there is more to do. In the next article we will cover search engine optimization, a requirement for any wordpress blog. SEO is important, so important I will write an entire article covering it alone. We are nearing the end of customizing wordpress, soon we will move on to creating a forum, and on how to publicize your blog.

Table of Contents: How to Establish Yourself Online
Part 1: Plan
Part 2: Domain Name and Web Host
Part 3: Setting up WordPress
Part 4: Customizing WordPress
Part 5: WordPress SEO

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avatar How to Establish Yourself Online   Part 4: Customizing Wordpress About the author:  Psychcomp is owned and maintained by Nathan Driskell, a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in Internet Addiction and Asperger's Disorder. Nathan is also a Web Designer and Network Administrator. Contact Nathan at the following locations: dami...@psychcomp.com">E-Mail Twitter


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