WordPress Tutorial: The 2021 Beginners Guide
Building a website from the ground up is more accessible than ever before. You don’t need a formal degree or a background as a website designer to create an online presence you can be proud of.
What you do need is a willingness to learn and the right WordPress tutorial to guide you along the way. You handle the former, and we’ll handle the latter.
In this free WordPress tutorial for beginners, we’ll outline everything you need to know to successfully navigate the WordPress admin dashboard (WP Admin).
From baseline knowledge on content management systems (CMSes) to the more technical nuances of uploading and activating a theme, this WordPress guide will be an indispensable and easy reference material to help you build your website.
Table of Contents:
- Understanding WordPress
- Installing WordPress
- Navigating the WordPress Dashboard
- Installing WordPress Themes
- Installing WordPress Plugins
- Creating a New Page or Post
- Optimizing WordPress Performance
- WordPress Pro Tips and Tricks
WordPress for Beginners: What is WordPress?
The History of WordPress
WordPress was created by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little in response to the discontinuation of b2/cafelog — blogging software Mullenweg had used for photo sharing. The programmer and developer drew inspiration from b2, while also making changes that would shape the more powerful and easy-to-use WordPress software we know today.
WordPress is built on the programming languages PHP and MySQL and is licensed under the GPLv2. This general public license makes the WordPress platform free to use and modify.
What is a CMS?
To fully understand WordPress as a tool, you should be familiar with content management systems as a whole. WordPress itself is a popular example of a CMS.
These applications are used to manage, organize, edit, create, and publish content on the internet. CMS is primarily concerned with how web content functions as opposed to how it’s designed.
A good CMS makes it possible for non-coders to create and manage a website. Despite the learning curve, WordPress is great for beginners. Those looking to launch a business or personal brand online can easily do so with a wide range of customization capabilities at their disposal.
WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org
Most users refer to the free, open-source CMS that is WordPress as just that — WordPress. However, beginner WordPress users should pay careful attention to the domain extension.
WordPress.org is the free, open-source CMS tool we’re discussing in this WordPress tutorial. WordPress.com is a free blogging platform.
Both WordPress.com and WordPress.org operate on the same infrastructure, using the core code of WordPress.org. However, that’s where their similarity ends.
WordPress.com is owned and operated by Automattic — a for-profit organization. Alternatively, WordPress.org is run by the WordPress Foundation, which is a nonprofit supported by individual contributors and companies (including Automattic).
Technically-speaking, there’s a free WordPress.com plan, which is ideal for new bloggers. But, many users opt for paid plans. The perks of going “paid” include an included blog domain name (for the first year), in addition to having some of the more technical aspects of your site taken care of (e.g. the installation of plugins and themes).
WordPress.org on the other hand is self-hosted. This means users own their websites and have more freedom over what they can do with them. As a user, all you have to do is download the software and choose your preferred hosting server.
Most web hosts, including iPage, offer a simple WordPress setup process that will have you up and running in a matter of clicks.
With WordPress.org, you have more control over your website. WordPress.org might be the way to go if you have specific preferences regarding your web hosting or design. You may want to choose a host (such as iPage) that can offer hosting that is faster, cheaper, or offers more storage. As for design, WordPress.org allows you to choose from a wide variety of customizable themes.
Note: When using WordPress.org, you’re able to download the WordPress software free of charge and host it yourself on a local machine — or with a hosting provider like iPage where the installation is done automatically for you.
WordPress for Beginners: Installing WordPress
Before you begin installing WordPress and configuring your website, there are several questions to consider:
- What is the purpose of your site?
- Will it serve as an e-commerce platform, blog, business, portfolio — or something else?
- What will you name your site? The domain should coincide with the name of your business, blog, or portfolio as closely as possible — pending availability.
With the above out of the way, you can start the WordPress installation process.
This can be done in one of two ways:
- Download free WordPress software from WordPress.org. As of publication, 5.4.2 is the latest version of WordPress, which includes Gutenberg — the software’s new default content editor. WordPress also provides step-by-step instructions for those who need a more in-depth, installation-specific WordPress tutorial.
- Pay for hosting. Most hosting providers, including iPage, take the hassle out of getting started with automatic installation of WordPress. As an added bonus, both our WP Starter and Essential Plans include pre-installed plugins and themes to help you hit the ground running.
WordPress for Beginners: Navigating the WordPress Dashboard
How to Log Into WordPress
With WordPress installed and ready to roll, it’s time to familiarize yourself with the administrator dashboard. If you’re like most WordPress beginners, you might struggle to find your login page URL.
The login page is the gateway between your website and dashboard — aka the “admin area.” This is where you can work on website content and make changes to your site’s layout.
Accessing the WordPress dashboard is also known as working on the “backend” of your site.
Logging in Using Your Website’s URL
To access the login page of your website, all you have to do is add the /login or /wp-admin suffix to your website’s URL.
For example, if your website’s URL is website.com, you’ll type website.com/login or website.com/wp-admin into your browser.
If you’ve installed a subdirectory with your website (e.g. website.com/wordpress), you can access the login page for it by adding the suffix after the address.
For example, using the same website.com name, a sub-directory login page URL would look like this: website.com/wordpress/login or website.com/wordpress/wp-login.php.
If you have a subdomain (e.g. subdomain.website.com), you can access the login page for it by adding the suffix after the address.
For example, with the same website.com name, a subdomain login page URL would look like this: subdomain.website.com/login or subdomain.website.com/wp-login.php.
Once you’re logged in, you’ll be redirected to the admin area of your site located in the wp-admin folder. Both of the aforementioned /admin and /wp-admin suffixes will give you direct access to the wp-admin folder. It will also check to see if you were previously logged in and whether your session is still active.
If you’re still logged in and your session is active, you’ll be directed to the WordPress dashboard. If not, you’ll be redirected to the login page.
Logging in Through iPage
At iPage, we make it very simple for customers to access their WordPress dashboard. To get started, you first need to login to your iPage account, click on “Manage Site” under the “WordPress” menu. This will automatically log you in to your WordPress admin page.
Remembering Your WordPress Login Page
If you have a difficult time remembering your login page, here are a couple of quick tips:
- Bookmark your login page
- Add a WordPress link to your website’s footer
- Select “Remember Me” on the login page
You can add a link to your website’s footer in one of two ways:
- Add the WordPress login link to your menu. Go to Appearance > Menus in your WordPress admin area and select the Link tab. Once you’re there, add your WordPress login link and text, and click Add to Menu.
- Use the default widget, called Meta, which adds a link to the login page using your site’s RSS feeds and the WordPress.org website. Go to Appearance > Widgets in your WordPress admin area and drag the Meta widget to the sidebar before adding the login link.
If you select “Remember Me” on the login page you can directly access the WordPress admin area without logging in for up to 14 days or more, depending on your browser’s cookie settings. Just make sure to log out if you’re using a shared computer.
Introducing the WordPress Dashboard
When logged into your WordPress dashboard, you’ll spend most of your time with the left-hand navigation menu. This is where you can access most of the features necessary for maintaining your website’s backend.
- Top Navigation or Tool Bar
This section contains links to the most commonly used administrative functions and resources. It also gives you access to your user name and password information.
- The Main Navigation or Left Nav
This is on your left-hand side. It provides you with the links you need to make all sorts of changes to your website. If you hover over a menu item, the sub-menu displays with additional items
- Main Working Area
This is where the fun happens. You will be spending a lot of time here.
“Welcome to WordPress” Section
At the top of the admin page, on the Dashboard tab, you’ll notice the “Welcome to WordPress” section. It’s here that you can quickly access everything you need to get started as a WordPress beginner, including writing your first blog post, adding an About page, and viewing your live site.
If the Welcome to WordPress section isn’t visible, it may have been removed unintentionally. Simply click Screen Options in the upper righthand corner of your dashboard and check Welcome.
“At a Glance” Panel
Beneath the “Welcome to WordPress” section is the “At a Glance” panel. This displays the number of posts, pages, and comments you have on your site. It also shows you the theme you’re using, as well as the current version of WordPress you’re operating on.
Moving down the dashboard, under “At a Glance”, is the “Activity” panel. Here you’ll be able to track the recent activity on your website, such as published posts and recently added comments.
“Quick Draft” Panel
Near the “At a Glance” and “Activity” panels is the “Quick Draft” panel, which can be used when you need to write a quick post. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to access formatting features in full when in Quick Draft mode.
“WordPress Events and News” Section
Lastly, below the Quick Draft panel, is the “WordPress Events and News” section. This is where you’ll be able to track the latest on WordPress events and meetups in your area.
The nice thing about the WordPress admin dashboard is that it’s fully customizable. You can easily hide panels you don’t use by collapsing them or visiting “Screen Options.” Panels can also be dragged and arranged across your dashboard in a way that makes sense to you.
WordPress for Beginners: Installing WordPress Themes
What are WordPress Themes?
There are literally thousands of themes — both free and paid — to choose from. Each one offers a different set of features and functions to suit your needs.
Like your WordPress dashboard, themes can also be customized through the use of plugins. You can also make modifications by adding code to the functions.php file or through the use of a child theme.
Themes are classified as parent or child themes. Parent themes contain all of the original theme files, whereas child themes function as sub-themes. They simply inherit the functionality, features, and style of a WordPress parent theme. Child themes exist so that you can make changes that won’t get wiped away if you install an update to the parent theme.
Free vs. Paid WordPress themes
WordPress users can all agree on the need for a multitude of theme options. However, they differ in their opinions about whether free or paid themes are better. Let’s consider the pros and cons of each.
When working with free themes, the biggest pro — naturally — is cost. If you don’t like the theme upon download, you haven’t lost any money because of your decision.
In terms of quality, free WordPress themes, especially those available through the WordPress repository, undergo stringent review before receiving approval. They’re often compatible with free repository plugins as well.
The main con of free themes is they are limited in terms of features. They also come with little to no support in the event that issues arise — which can be especially frustrating considering they can also be poorly coded.
You get what you (don’t) pay for.
With paid themes, the pros include a more robust feature set, frequent updates, and accessible support. These themes are often referred to as “premium themes” for a reason. Unfortunately, premium comes at a price, often resulting in monthly or non-refundable one-time payments.
Uploading and Activating a WordPress Theme
Take your time to sift through themes before pulling the trigger. As a WordPress beginner, it’s a good idea to test drive a couple of free themes before moving on to a paid theme.
Once you have a theme in hand, there are two popular ways to go about uploading it to your website.
1. Installing a Free WordPress Theme
To choose a theme from the WordPress repository, you can filter based on four categories: Featured, Popular, Latest, and Favorites. You can also search for a particular theme by name (if you know it), or filter by features to find themes that work for more specific needs.
Once you’ve landed on a free theme, go to Appearance > Themes in your WordPress dashboard. Once there, click on Add New.
2. Installing a Premium WordPress Theme
If you’re purchasing a premium WordPress theme, download and save it to your computer. You’ll then need to upload it through your dashboard.
Go to Appearance > Themes and click on Add New > Upload a new theme. Select Choose File to upload the paid theme from your computer and click Install Now. Once installed, choose Activate to push the theme live on your site.
WordPress for Beginners: Installing WordPress Plugins
What Are WordPress Plugins?
One of the things that distinguishes WordPress from other blogging sites is the ability to extend core functionality through the use of plugins. You don’t have to be a coder to make a website feel like your own.
Plugins are software programs that allow you to add new features to your website without having to touch the code. They exist for just about any piece of functionality you can think of — from social media sharing to improving website security and search engine optimization (SEO).
Several thousand plugins — both free and paid — can be downloaded through the WordPress plugin directory. Many users get by with free options but, as is true with themes, it’s important to make sure that whatever you’re downloading comes from a reputable developer.
Installing WordPress Plugins
There are two main ways to install WordPress plugins.
1. Installing a WordPress Plugin Using the Directory
If you’re downloading a plugin through the WordPress plugin directory, you can easily install it from there. Simply go to Plugins > Add New to search for the plugin you’d like to use. Select the plugin you want and upload it.
2. Installing a WordPress Plugin Using WordPress
If you’re buying a paid plugin, you can easily upload it into WordPress manually. Download your plugin from the chosen third-party provider and unzip the file.
Go to Plugins > Add New and click on the Upload Plugin option. Choose the corresponding file from your computer and click Install Now.
After the plugin is successfully installed, you’ll see a confirmation pop-up appear. On the message, click Activate Plugin to start using your new plugin.
Essential WordPress Plugins for Beginners
Every website is different. What one website might need to succeed could vary widely from what is essential to another website.
For example, a blog will likely require different plugins than an e-commerce site. A blogger might prioritize SEO-based plugins before they opt for something that protects user data and site security.
Here are a handful of popular plugins to consider for your own website:
Yoast is the most popular SEO plugin for WordPress. It’s great for those looking to improve their search rankings and improve content readability.
W3 Total Cache
W3 Total Cache helps increase page speed by reducing page download times, improving overall site performance and search rankings.
Another must-have plugin, JetPack is mostly free to use and offers various functions, including site security, improved site performance, and social sharing.
Google XML Sitemaps
With the Google XML Sitemaps plugin, you can improve SEO and help search engines easily index your content.
One way to improve site speed is to compress images used across your site. Smush is a popular image compressor plugin that will help you resize and optimize images for prime functionality.
Contact Form 7
Your website visitors need a way to get in touch with you. Make it easy for them by adding Contact Form 7. Contact Form 7 lets you easily add simple contact forms to your website.
WordPress for Beginners: Creating a New Page or Post
When your WordPress website has been updated with your chosen theme and plugins in place, adding content is the next big thing to do. Content, in this case, takes the shape of pages and posts.
A page is a predefined post type. It refers to static content that does not live on your blog. Some examples of pages include the Homepage, an About page, and a Contact page.
A post, on the other hand, is content you write to be published on your WordPress blog. These could also be referred to as blogs or articles.
The Difference Between Pages and Posts
Here are some points to keep in mind when distinguishing between pages and posts.
Posts are considered timely content, which is why they will appear chronologically in your WP admin area. They can also be categorized using tags for easy searching and can be included in RSS feeds.
Since pages are more static in nature, they’re organized hierarchically with subpages.
For example, an About page may have multiple subpages, including an About the Company or About the Team page. You cannot apply tags (or categories) to pages.
Creating Posts and Pages
The process for creating posts is actually quite similar to the process used to create pages. The main difference is the link path you’ll follow.
To add pages in WordPress, you’ll need to go to Pages > Add New. To add posts, go to Posts > Add New.
Whether it’s a page or a post, you’ll need to fill in the title and relevant content fields. If you have Gutenberg installed, your page editor will look slightly different than previous WordPress versions. You can use blocks to insert text, photos, videos, and more.
With the classic page editor, you’ll directly type into the text boxes or select Add Media to insert images, videos, or other media files. If you’re more comfortable with HTML, you can also switch to the “Text” tab editor and format your text there.
Once you’ve added all of the necessary content, check the “Status” and “Visibility” toolbars on the right side of your dashboard.
This toolbar will offer a number of functions:
- Save Draft saves your page or post without publishing it.
- Preview allows you to see what your page or post will look like when it’s live on your website.
- Status helps you determine whether your page or post is a draft or published.
- Visibility allows you to control who can see your page or post (e.g., Public, Private, or Password-protected).
- Publish will make a page or post visible on your website. You can also set a page or post to be published at a scheduled time in the future.
WordPress for Beginners: Optimizing WordPress Performance
Speed can play a major role in your website’s overall customer and user experience. The longer visitors have to wait to access your content, the less inclined they’ll be to stick around and engage with it — especially when viewing on mobile.
To avoid slow response times across your WordPress website, consider investing time in optimizing your website’s speed and other performance factors.
Keeping page load times low is important because page speed is a key SEO ranking factor. To give your website a boost, consider using a site speed plugin like W3 Total Cache.
You should also make sure your images are optimized for quick loading. High-resolution image files are usually the main culprit behind slow loading times. A plugin like the aforementioned Smush can help with image compression.
Another way to improve your site speed is to regularly clear your website’s memory. Delete unused themes and plugins to help clear your media library.
As the world’s largest CMS, WordPress can’t afford to exist without a reasonable level of built-in security. However, that doesn’t make it any less prone to hacking and issues of cybersecurity.
To help improve site security, one of the easiest things you can do is change your default username. “Admin” is the default username set across all WordPress installations. To add a layer of security to your login credentials, make sure to set a new, unique username.
You should also change your login page URL. A plugin like WPS Hide Login can help you do just that.
If you’ll be handling payments on your site for e-commerce or content-based products, you should also take precautions that protect customer data. Get an SSL certificate for your customers’ sakes.
Regular maintenance and website management will also help with security. Make sure you’re keeping your WordPress core, themes, and plugins updated with the latest versions. Perform regular backups as well.
In the event that someone does hack and crash your website, you’ll be thankful to have a backup on hand for quick restoration. UpdraftPlus and Backupbuddy are popular plugins for backups. You should also check with your hosting service for automatic backup add-on options.
WordPress for Beginners: WordPress Pro Tips and Tricks
While you don’t have to be a professional web developer or content creator to make the most of WordPress, you can always benefit from expert advice.
These are the best tips and tricks for WordPress from top WordPress experts around the world:
- Take advantage of theme documentation and demo imports
- Use a staging website to test changes
- Backup and secure your WordPress website
- Enhance the Gutenberg block editor (or revert to the classic editor)
- Audit your plugins
- Keep your software up to date.
- Optimize your social media share image
- Set your timezone
- Decide whether or not to allow comments
- Make sure search engines can find your website
- Use widgets to enhance your WordPress website
1. Theme Documentation Is Your Friend
Many WordPress beginners find the perfect theme, and then, after installing it, find that it looks nothing like the theme demo. Refer to a theme’s documentation for instructions on how to make it look like the demo that you fell in love with.
2. If All Else Fails, Do a Demo Import
If a theme’s documentation is too complicated to follow or not detailed enough, and you can’t get support from the developer, do a demo import. You can do this manually by following instructions from your theme developer or using a plugin like Theme Demo Importer or One Click Demo Import.
3. Create a Staging Website to Test Out Changes
When your WordPress website becomes popular and receives lots of traffic, you’ll want to avoid making live edits to your website in case you make mistakes that causes a crash or makes your website look bad.
Build a WordPress staging website to test out changes before you make them live on your official website.
4. Backup Your WordPress Website
Just like you’d backup data on your phone or computer, you should back up your WordPress website to avoid losing precious images, content, analytics, and search engine optimization (SEO) juice. You can manually back up your website using WordPress.org’s instructions or by using our own Site Backup & Restore solution here
5. Increase Your Website’s Security
All websites are susceptible to hackers. Protect your WordPress website from attacks and malware by using a security plugin. Akismet is a popular option for increasing WordPress website security . At iPage, we provide SiteLock which scans your website from malware, hackers, and viruses by performing daily security scans.
6. Learn How to Install the Classic Editor
If you’re a total WordPress beginner, you may have never used the classic editor. Since the Gutenberg block editor launched in 2017, it’s become the default editor for WordPress. However, you might want to try out the minimalist classic editor to test its functionalities.
You can switch to the classic editor at any time by adding the Classic Editor plugin to your website.
7. Enhance the Gutenberg Block Editor
If you’re a fan of the Gutenberg block editor, you can make it even more powerful with plugins and block-supported themes. Atomic Blocks, for example, is a plugin that lets you create custom buttons, layouts, and more. The GeneratePress theme is built around blocks that let you easily customize your website.
8. Conduct Plugin Audits
Audit your plugins from time to time to make sure they’re up-to-date. Plugins that are out of date or no longer being updated by the developer are susceptible to cyber-attacks. Conduct a plugin audit semiannually and consider using a WordPress maintenance company to help with updates.
9. Keep Your WordPress Software Current
On the same note, make sure you’re using the latest version of WordPress to avoid malicious attacks and to ensure your website can run the newest versions of themes, plugins, and widgets.
Just like iPhone users need to update their iOS software to download the latest apps, WordPress users have to update their WordPress software to run the latest plugins and add-ons on their websites.
10. Optimize Your Featured Image for Social Media
Did you know the featured image you designate for a WordPress page or post is the same image that auto-generates when you share a link to that page on social media?
That’s why it’s essential to choose a featured image that will represent your page well on your website and social media.
11. Decide Whether or Not to Allow Comments
Did you know that you can disable or enable visitor comments on your pages and posts? Rather than sticking to the default settings, strategically decide whether or not to allow comments.
In general, people don’t put comments on pages, as these contain evergreen content. However, people usually allow comments on blog posts so that visitors can add to the discussion.
Keep in mind that allowing comments on your website pages will attract spam. Therefore, if you decide to enable them, moderate comments before they’re published and use a tool like Akismet to block spam preemptively.
12. Make Your WordPress Website Visible to Search Engines
The most common SEO mistake you can make on WordPress (and the easiest error to fix) is making your website invisible to search engines.
If your website isn’t appearing in Google search, go to WordPress Settings > Reading. Ensure the box that says “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is unchecked.
Final Thoughts: 2020 WordPress Tutorial for Beginners
WordPress comes with a bit of a learning curve. However, the time it’ll take to navigate the terminology and dashboard is nothing compared to the long-term benefit of having a stellar, optimized website that works for you and your goals. With the above WordPress tutorial in hand, you’ll be well on your way to building an online presence you can be proud of.
To help you in the creation process, consider partnering with a hosting solution optimized specifically for WordPress. Get started with iPage today.