This post was originally written as a review of a very helpful blogging book. However, chronic illness has forced me to reevaluate the purpose of this WordPress blog post.
WordPress for Dummies is, indeed, a very informative and technically in-depth book designed to get the beginner blogger publishing works of great merit.
However, for me, it serves a much greater purpose. It is helping me to overcome the daily fight that comes with Multiple Sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic illness where the immune system attacks the host body.
Chronic Illness Purpose
Blogging with WordPress is not exclusively the domain of those of us with a chronic illness. But, it can be a very therapeutic outlet.
Blogging can be an emotional vent. Many people with chronic illness feel frustrated at their inability to lead a normal, fruitful life. Writing about your frustrations not only eases your exasperation, it can be a very useful form of inspiration for others.
I have found that blogging improved my well-being because I was learning. My chronic illness is multiple sclerosis which is a disease of the brain.
I find that I need the mental stimulation of learning a new skill to keep my brain connections refreshed.
Why WordPress is a boon for Chronic Illness
Chronic illness is no fun. But discovering the world of WordPress is great fun.
Time to ramble on. To paraphrase a Led Zeppelin song title.
But, before we wander too far off-topic, if you wish to give your Chronic Illness purpose, perhaps you should assess your Prognosis for the Chronically Ill.
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.
WordPress All-in-One for Dummies
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. Ultimately, I was obliged to step down from this due to my chronic illness.
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
Book 1 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 but, 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 the 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, by applying 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. You need to back-up the database before you 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, enlightening. 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, you need an avatar or gravatar that you can set up by creating a FREE account with gravatar at en.gravatar.com. You sign in with your 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!
The permanency of written Instructions
I do not often blog about content such as this. It has no permanency, escpecially with a products with the fluidity of WordPress.
WordPress updates every few weeks. So any book or blog post quickly becomes out of date.
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 only very 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 have opted for the post name link which I believe will help your post topics rank better in the search engines.
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
There is a little more to publishing your first post, than just hitting the “Publish” button.
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 optimising 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
WordPress blogging and Social Media go hand-in-hand, so you need to understand how to best put it to use.
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.
Since I succumbed multiple sclerosis, social media has been a boon.
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 optimising 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.
This has become my go-to reference for all things WordPress. Albeit, my copy is a little bit out-of-date.