WordPress All-In-One for Dummies – Review
Author: Lisa Sabin-Wilson, Reviewer: Stephen David Walker
A very thorough, informative tutorial in the use of WordPress.
The publication is divided into 8 books any or all of which can be studied as a single book, depending upon your own WordPress experience.
- WordPress Basics
- Setting Up The WordPress Software
- Exploring the WordPress Dashboard
- Publishing Your Site with WordPress
- Examining SEO and Social Media
- Customizing the Look of Your Site
- Using and Developing Plugins
- Running Multiple Sites with WordPress
As I begin reading this book, I have very limited WordPress experience. I have never installed the software, plugins, themes or widgets.
I was, briefly, responsible for moderating (monitoring) the comments) left on the site of our local Community Club. Issuing new posts for upcoming events and publishing occasional news article. But, this was the extent of my exposure to WordPress.
Not, I’m sure you will agree. a stellar background for creating a whole new Blog.
Hence the urgent need for some rapid and insightful learning.
I have relied on the “for Dummies” titles on a number of occasions and on a number of topics in the past; so, it seemed the obvious starting place.
WordPress All-in-One for Dummies is an essential reference for anyone new to the world of blogging and WordPress specifically.
Book 1. (WordPress Basics)
Begins by considering the different types of blog publication. From personal blogging through to professional journalism and all points in between.
It then discusses, very briefly, PHP and MySQL. Both topics I am familiar with and neither do you really need to know to use WordPress. A basic understanding of MySQL may be needed to perform regular backups of your data.
RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds are explained, which I read carefully, not knowing anything about the mechanics of them, and was disappointed. The RSS Feeds are integral to WordPress, so you have no control of them, as far as I can ascertain.
Content Management is touched upon but only a little. This is a very different application of WordPress that most bloggers will not use.
After a short foray into open-source licensing, we move into the world of WordPress development and release cycles. This is important to understand as you need to ensure your WordPress installation is kept up-to-date. At first, this sound rather onerous, but after installing a recent version of WordPress you will find that it updates itself, albeit under your control, when a new release becomes available.
Lastly we touch on the two version of WordPress; the hosted version and the self-hosted version.
Book 2. (Setting Up the WordPress Software)
If you, and I’m sure most bloggers do, intend to host your own website; you will need to register a domain name and pay for a web hosting account. In most cases this will be the same vendor. I use names.co.uk. They are not unreasonably priced and support PHP, MySQL and Spectaculous (WordPress installer). They also provide, which I use, multi-domain hosting that allows you to run several sites/blogs from the same account.
You may also need FTP software to upload files to your new Web Site, but WordPress shouldn’t need this. The install is done from your hosting provider and any images you wish to use are uploaded from your computer by WordPress.
PHP and MySQL
As stated earlier, you really don’t need to know about this. All of the files that WordPress uses to display your content are PHP files. The content, itself, is stored in a MySQL database. The means by which PHP and MySQL communicate should not need to concern you.
The book goes into some detail about both manual and automated installs. All I will say is that with names.co.uk the process was fairly easy and seamless.I had a few problems but, they were of my own making and turned out to be a useful learning experience.
This section discusses the potential security threats that your WordPress installation, and indeed any Web Site, may have to confront. Defacements, SEO spam, Malicious redirects, iFrame injections, Phishing scams and Backdoor shells.
WordPress is quite resilient, but there are some basic steps you are advised to perform to minimize the danger from possible attack.
One of the main precautions you should take is to ensure you are running the latest version of the software, with the latest patches. Quite a demanding task if you need to do it manually. But with version 3.8, that I have just installed, the process is handled for you by WordPress. You need to back-up the database and update your installation, but this should be only a few mouse-clicks.
Book 3 (Exploring the WordPress Dashboard)
Sounds simple, but, there is a lot more functionality to the WordPress Dashboard that you might realise at first glance.
The Admin Bar was new to me, obviously the version of WordPress I had been using when moderating my local Community Club blog was an older one. It was, immediately, revelatory. It allows you to switch from Dashboard to live site and back instantly. You can jump to moderate comments,add new post or page and edit your profile. And, this is displayed on the dashboard and the live site for as long as you are logged in.
Your profile settings are publicly available, so think carefully about the details you provide.
I looked into setting my profile picture and discovered that the image used in not set in the dashboard but, is an avatar or gravatar you set up by creating a FREE account with gravatar at en.gravatar.com. You sign in with yout WordPress.com password. GRAvatar stands for ‘Globally Recognized Avatar’. You may also use your WordPress account to obtain an Akismet key if and when you decide you need one.
Each module can be collapsed or expanded and dragged to a new position.
It appears that some of the available modules has changed since the publication of the book!
‘Right Now’ is now ‘At a Glance’, ‘Recent Comments’ is now ‘Activity’, ‘Quickpress’ is now ‘Quick Draft’, ‘WordPress Blog’ is now ‘WordPress News’ and ‘Incoming Links’ and ‘Plugins’ have disappeared.
Also the ability to set the number of display columns appears to have been dropped.
It also discusses tools and settings. Exploring the settings is best done with your Dashboard open, in front of you. So I won’t cover it here.
Although, I will mention Setting -> Reading very briefly. There are two setting likely to be of significant interest, Blogs Show at Most which limits the number of posts shown on your blog page. And For Each Article in a Feed,Show which allows you to select the full article or an excerpt only.
Perhaps, the section to devote most of your time to is ‘Discussions’. This is where you will set how people submit comments your blog.
Permalinks should be investigated very soon after installing WordPress as this is how your blog appears in URL’s to the outside world AND to search engines. I opted for the ‘post name’ link which I believe will help your post topics rank better in the search engines.
One interesting snippet appertaining to a WordPress plugin called ‘Clean Archives Reloaded’ shows you how to, simply, create an Archive listing or sitemap by including the code segment [cleanarchivesreloaded] in a blank page to create a chronological archive of all your posts.
To draw the book to an end there is a good explanation of categories and tags. A topic I thought I understood – I do now!
Finally, as a footnote to this book. The available Dashboard options will expand as you add the various plugins.
Book 4. (Publishing Your Site with WordPress)
Writing Your First Post
Lisa goes through the everyday features of the visual editor. And directs you to additional fields for adding an excerpt allowing comments etc. My Dashboard didn’t have these options until I read a few more pages where I was reminded about ‘Screen Options’! Duh!
We consider the differences between a ‘Post’ and a ‘Page’. The benefits and consequences of having a static frontpage are detailed in some depth, to the point where I have discounted the idea, for the moment.
Uploading and Displaying Photos and Galleries
Most of this is fairly self-explanatory in the Dashboard.
Although it does touch on image alignment which does not appear to be supported in the default theme: Twenty Thirteen.
Exploring Podcasting and Video Blogging
I did attempt to embed a video using Auto-Embed from Youtube but failed miserably. It did recognise the raw link as video, but played it full-screen. Needs some more investigation.
I skipped over the section on Podcasting but, I may return when and if I can see any relevance.
Working with Custom Fields
I read this section in great detail. Coming from a programming background, it conjured up wonderful images of customizing my blog. However, the examples were good but uninspiring and I need to give this topic a lot more thought for possible future application.
Using WordPress as a Content Management System
This chapter looks quite closely at using WordPress to run a website rather than, although as well as, a blog.
It begins by exploring custom templates for page, post and sidebar. It then looks ar different post types and templates by category. In short, it highlights the flexibility that WordPress can bring to your creativity and your website design.
She touches on optimizing your posts by designing good content and planning suitable categories. Choosing tags and <alt> tags for images places important keywords into your posts.
Book 5 (Examining SEO and Social Media)
Content, Communication and Consistency; The three C’s of the Social Web
This chapter begins to explore your blog design and its integration into the social web with Facebook and Twitter. Often, in her opinion, communication is just as important as content. To engage with your audience, to involve your readers and most importantly, to react to your readers.
This section really brought home the importance of interaction as a collaborative tool to engage with your readership and where possible encourage the participation of your readers in the creative process of your blog’s evolution.
Creating a Social Media Listening Hub
If your blog is being read, it will produce reaction, one hopes. If your blog is being talked about, commented on or being shared you need to know. To capitalize on positive feedback, refute negative feedback and generally get a feel for how your content is being received.
Lisa covers such tools as Google Alerts, Google Blog search and Twingly as possible source of data to permit you to achieve such aims.
This is a topic I was especially interested in. Lisa goes a long way to explaining what analytics are, what they are for, and how to understand them. Tools such as Jetpack, Google Analytics and StatCounter are explained. I have used StatCounter for years and she still taught me something.
The most revelatory part, for me, was installing Google Analytics; It was concise, precise and beautifully presented in an easily readable format.
Search Engine Optimization
Lisa discusses the WordPress plugins that help your blog interface with Search Engines.
Although optimizing your content is only scratched, I found her narrative on links illuminating. The discussion on researching your, and your competitors, links was particularly edifying. Her suggestions for link-building strategies was thought-provoking and informative.
Exploring Popular SEO Plugins
All in One SEO Pack, Google XML Sitemaps, Yoast Breadcrumbs and WP_Navi are all covered to varying degrees. Although, I wouldn’t consider the latter two as SEO tools specifically.
Book 6 (Customizing the Look of Your Site)
Examining the Default Theme: Twenty Twelve
Lisa discusses one and two column layouts, but doesn’t detail how to achieve the one-column layout except by a cursory reference to the page template.
She does, however, run through the mechanics of changing the header image and customizing the background colour.
Enhancing Your Website with Widgets
Finding and Installing WordPress Themes
Lisa discusses the merits and pitfalls of FREE themes. In my experience, provided you obtain them from the WordPress site, FREE themes are just fine. Download them, preview them, understand their features and limitations, and, if necessary, delete them.
There are many to choose from and your requirements are likely to be unique to you.
Lisa shows you how to do all this. I found that the biggest hurdle was finding them in the first place as the choice is mind-boggling.
Exploring the Anatomy of a Theme
This section breaks down a theme into its constituent parts, allowing you to better understand how, why and when to customize a theme.
Creating New Widget Areas
Lisa’s explanation, while correct, is not sufficiently thorough to allow a beginner to wade in and start coding their own widget areas. I had to reverse-engineer my theme’s files to garner a full understanding of the concept.
There is a useful table listing common Template Tags with a brief synopsis of their functions.
A very valid section discusses creating and using child themes. Essentially making a copy of your theme prior to editing it and breaking it.
You really need a good understanding of HTML, PHP and stylesheets to get the most from this book.
Book 7 (Using and Developing Plugins)
A pertinent section on searching for plugins and understanding the ratings system.
Configuring and managing plugins is a crucial function to master and, often, knowing where to find the settings can be easily overlooked.
It includes a sample plugin with examples of raw PHP code. The first time this book has done so.
This section goes on to explain, in some detail, developing plugins, shortcodes and widgets and the different structures involved in each.
Clearly, all this is fodder for the more experienced WordPress developer and way beyond the realms of this review.
Book 8 (Setting Up and Configuring Network Features)
This book is solely for the serious network administrator who is managing multiple sites in the network.
I suspect few readers of this WordPress All-In-One for Dummies publication will need to concern themselves unduly with these details. I am not even going to read them. I am already suffering from brain-overload from the previous content.
This is a GOOD book. It provides broad coverage of of a complicated subject in terms that most people will be able to understand. It is not, in my opinion, a stand-alone user guide. It should be used in conjunction with the WordPress product itself to walk through the learning stages, step-by-step.
Get yourself a hosting account that includes 1-step install for WordPress many hosting providers do this. Install WordPress and start to work through WordPress All-In-One for Dummies. It will make a LOT more sense with the platform in front of you.