In this complete WordPress tutorial, we’ll walk through installing WordPress, choosing and customizing a theme, installing plugins, creating pages and posts, everything you need to get your blog up and running. I’ll also share a few other important tidbits of WordPress goodness along the way.
The tutorial will be broken into a multi-part series. This is the first part. So, be sure to subscribe to be notified of when the remaining series are published.
In this first series, we tackle three things: install WordPress, install your theme, and review the main dashboard.
In part two, we explore the WordPress customizer and make your theme look snazzy!
Of course, I’m assuming at this point that you’ve started a self-hosted blog using the WordPress.org platform.
If not, I recommend you read these posts first:
- What is a Blog? Is Blogging Right for You?
- 3 Things You Must Overcome to Start a Blog
- Building a Brand that Wins
- Beginners Guide to Hosting: Why You MUST be Self-Hosted
- How to Create a Blog Name that WINS
Enough intro—let’s get started!
This step-by-step tutorial is geared toward those who’ve purchased hosting and are considered “self-hosted”.
If you’re unsure what that means or would like to learn more about being self-hosted, read Beginners Guide to Hosting: Why You MUST be Self-Hosted.
If you purchased hosting with Siteground, (hopefully using the post I just mentioned😉), this tutorial should look exactly like your cPanel since I also use Siteground as my hosting provider.
If not, your cPanel may look slightly different, but the steps should relatively be the same.
In your cPanel home screen, look for either an “Autoinstallers” or “WordPress Tools” section. With Siteground, I see both.
Click on one of the WordPress icons. It doesn’t matter which one, they both do the same thing.
This will take you to the Softaculous landing page, which is the software that installs WordPress for you.
Click on the “Install Now” link after the initial paragraph.
Now, it will guide you through the install.
You’ll see a “Quick Install” button, but don’t be tempted to click that. You’ll want to use the “Custom Install” setup so you can make changes to important site settings.
Next, select your protocol from the drop-down.
At this point, you probably won’t have an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) connection setup.
Simply put, SSL means that you have an encrypted (safe) connection between your web server and the browser. It’s the standard across hosting providers and search engines.
Encryption means that data can pass between the two points (the web server and browser) safely and securely. This simply means the information you provide stays safe from other people on the internet.
If you select one of the “https” options, Softaculous will automatically install and activate your free SSL through Let’s Encrypt.
So, select either “https://” or “https://www.” It’s up to you as to whether you want the “www” or not. It seems like more and more sites are removing the “www” from their URL. Read more about it here and decide what’s best for your site. All else fails, choose the standard “https://www.”
You can leave “In Directory” blank.
WordPress site settings
Next, is Site Settings. If you had clicked the “Quick Install” button earlier, these would be defaulted to what you see.
Although you can always change these later, it’s better to update it out now.
I recommend you name your site the name of your blog. For the site description, write a quick one-liner that describes your blog.
For example, my site name is “Learn to Earn Blogging” and my site description is “A Resource for Bloggers”.
You can check the “Enable Multisite (WPMU) if it makes sense for your situation.
According to Namecheap, “WordPress Multisite (or WordPress MultiUser/WPMU) is a WordPress feature that allows you to run multiple WordPress sites from within one WordPress installation.” You can read more about it here.
Just in case you were wondering, here’s where you can change these settings once you’ve installed WordPress.
Click on “General” under the “Settings” section in the main Dashboard side navigation. From here, you can update your site name and site description.
WordPress admin account settings
Next, is the Admin account settings. Replace whatever Admin Username they have as the default with your first name or first and last name, your blog name, or whatever you’d like. Just know, you can’t change your username later. Once the install is complete, your username is set.
Then, create a password (or use the one they provide, they usually provide fairly strong passwords) and update your admin email address.
I recommend your [email protected] (i.e. [email protected]). I’ve seen other bloggers use “[email protected]” or “[email protected]” if you’d rather not use your first name. Your name adds a nice personal touch, but do what makes sense for your blog and business.
Next, select your language and whether you’d like to limit login attempts by using the Loginizer plugin. I personally did not include this with my install for Learn to Earn Blogging. It’s not a plugin I feel is needed. But, you can if you’d like that extra peace of mind.
However, I do recommend you select the “WordPress Starter” option for easy setup. This will provide you the option to set up your blog in a matter of a few steps. I’ll walk you through it in a bit for those who want an easy setup.
Don’t worry about the “Advanced Options”. You won’t likely ever use any of that unless you’re a web developer.
Next, you’ll see a progress bar similar to this.
Once the install is complete. You’ll see a success message congratulating you. It will confirm your URL and Admin URL
Congratulations! Take a moment to pat yourself on the back. You’ve officially started your blogging journey!
Let’s pause the WordPress tutorial for just a moment and take a minute to click on both of the URLs. Let’s look at your main URL first (not the Admin URL).
When you click on this, you’ll see the “shell” of your site. WordPress currently defaults to the twenty seventeen theme. Yours may vary from this, but here’s what mine looks like at the time I created this tutorial…(yes, I named my test blog “test blog”. Creative, right?)
Don’t worry, you can change your theme which I’ll show you in a bit. But, this gives you an idea of what your homepage can potentially look like. It’s kind of fun to actually see something online, right?
I remember how I felt, and I get excited thinking about the opportunity to help you feel the same way.
WordPress web navigation menu
Alright, back to the tutorial. Since you’re already signed in to your WordPress dashboard, you’ll see a small navigation menu at the top of your browser. Let’s explore this for a moment.
If you hover over the “W” enclosed in a circle, which is the WordPress logo, you’ll see the following drop-down.
To be honest, I’ve never used this. But, you can easily access the WordPress.org website, read documentation, browse the support forums, and provide feedback for bugs or enhancement ideas.
The next item in the navigation is your blog name. If you hover over it, you’ll have a few drop-down items that I like to call “quick links” to perform certain actions within your blog. This is just a quick overview, I’ll discuss each one of these in more detail later.
- Dashboard – This will take you to your blog’s admin dashboard
- Themes – This will take you to the theme area where you can view your theme or select a new theme
- Widgets – Will take you to the widget area where you can view and add widget items to your site
- Menus – Will take you to the menus area where you can add and edit your menu options
The next item in the navigation is “Customize”. If you click on this, it will take you to your customization area where you can pretty much change anything you want. You can also access the customization area from your dashboard.
I know you’re probably chomping at the bit to start customizing, but I want you to get to know WordPress a little better. So, stick with me for a little longer. We’ll get to customizing soon.
Next, you’ll see a message icon with a zero next to it. This shows you when a new comment has been submitted to one of your blog posts.
You’ll have the option to approve comments (which I recommend you do). So, this will alert you when a new comment is pending your approval. I’ll show you where to update this setting later in the series.
Next, you’ll see a plus sign next to “New”. This is a quick link to add a new Post, Media, Page, or User. Again, I’ll go into more detail on these later in the tutorial.
Last but not least, we have “Purge SG Cache”. This is specific to Siteground since it comes with its own caching solution. So, if you purchased hosting through Siteground, you don’t need a 3rd party plugin for a caching solution.
Siteground caches your static content to allow your website to load faster. You may need to clear your site’s cache from time-to-time, in the event you make a change and don’t immediately see the change once you refresh your browser.
If you’d like to learn more about clearing cache or available caching plugins, read this post.
Now, let’s go to your dashboard and choose a theme! From your main navigation, click on your blog name or hover and click dashboard.
If you want to get your site up and running fast, use the “WordPress Starter” tutorial I mentioned earlier. This is a nice way to get your site up quickly.
This tutorial will install your theme and add a few recommended plugins. It’s not an all-inclusive blog starting tutorial. But it covers the basics.
If you’d rather have more control over your theme and plugins, you can click here to skip this section.
Click “Start Now” to choose your theme. This is the “structure” or “framework” for your blog. The theme determines your layout and overall look and feel of your blog.
So, I would recommend that you take some time to choose the right them for your brand and niche.
Use the categories to view different layouts. You can also click on a theme to see a live preview. This will give you an idea of the features and experience it from a reader’s point-of-view.
Once you select your theme, you may see the following prompt…several of the themes include sample data that is enabled by plugins. Particularly, ether Elementor or WooCommerce. If you choose a theme that includes these, I would recommend that you keep them.
Elementor is something that I currently use to help build pages (it’s free, but they also have a premium version). WooCommerce is another powerful plugin that’s useful if you plan to sell products.
Click “Confirm” on this page and then “Continue” on the next page.
Don’t like any of these options? Don’t worry, there are other themes available and you’ll be able to select a different theme once you get through this starter guide.
Next, you’ll have the option to add some recommended plugins. The “WordPress Starter” tutorial makes it convenient and auto-selects a couple for you.
Both a contact form and jetpack are must-haves for new bloggers. You’ll need a way for your readers to contact you and jetpack is loaded with features. As you can see, both are free!
I wouldn’t personally recommend adding any others at this point. You can always add more later.
The last step will recommend a few more plugins for some important aspects of your blog. Google Analytics, SEO, and subscriber opt-in.
Google Analytics is something all bloggers need to set up. Especially if you plan to monetize. You’ll need to have insights into your audience behavior, which posts are performing better than others, your traffic sources, and more.
So, I’d recommend you select Google Analytics. It’s a free plugin by Monster Insights (again, you can always add it later, but you might as well add it now).
Please note though, this is just a plugin that allows you to see your Google Analytics data within your WordPress dashboard. You will still need to create a Google Analytics account and link your site with the API key. I’ll show you how to do this later in the series.
Yoast SEO is a must-have for all bloggers as well. This will help ensure you have some important on-page SEO elements set up. It’s not the end-all-be-all for SEO. But, it’s a step in the right direction for your on-page SEO.
If you know nothing about SEO, this plugin will help ensure your post has essential elements to help it rank. **That doesn’t mean that it will rank on page 1 though. There are additional steps you’ll need to take to get ranked higher.
Best of all, Yoast SEO is free. You can purchase their premium plugin that adds some additional features and tools. But, I don’t recommend you spend money on that when you’re just starting out. The free version is sufficient for now.
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OptinMonster is a great plugin to help build your email subscribers. Just know, this is a paid plugin. You’ll receive 30-days free and will then be required to pay $9 a month (billed annually at $108 total) if you choose to continue using the tool.
There are other free “opt-in” plugins that I’ll discuss later in this series. So, OptinMonster isn’t your only option.
Once you’ve selected your choices, click “Complete” and voila, your blog is ready for your content. The “WordPress Starter” tutorial helped you select a theme and install important plugins.
Be sure to keep reading, though, and complete all of the series in this WordPress tutorial. I provide an in-depth overview of the dashboard, important plugins you need, how to create pages (and which ones you need when you start a blog), how to publish posts, and more.
If you decided not to use the “WordPress Starter” tutorial, here’s how to select a theme through your WordPress dashboard.
From the dashboard, hover over “Appearance”, click on “Themes” and click on “Add New”.
You’ll find thousands of free and premium themes by clicking on the different menu navigation items (i.e. Featured, Popular, Latest). The favorites is something you’ll need to set from the WordPress.org site.
All of the choices can be a bit overwhelming which is why I recommend you use the “Feature Filter”.
Click on the settings icon labeled “Feature Filter” to narrow down the types of features you’re looking for.
Here’s an example:
This way, your choices will be narrowed somewhat so you don’t have as many themes to look through.
You can hover over themes to either install or see more details and a preview.
If you find a theme you like, click “Install” and then “Activate” and just like that, your theme is installed on WordPress.
You can install multiple themes, but you’ll only have one active at a time.
Still overwhelmed? I get it, here are two themes I highly recommend, and one has a free version. Who doesn’t like free?
Most of the free themes will work just fine for your blog. However, there are two other themes that I highly recommend.
The first is GeneratePress, which is the theme that I personally use. They have both a free and paid version. The premium version is a one-time payment of $49.95.
GeneratePress is a fast, lightweight (less than 1MB zipped), mobile responsive WordPress theme built with speed, SEO and usability in mind.
I purchased their premium version and couldn’t be happier. Read more about the premium features here or watch the video below.
You know who else uses the GeneratePress theme? Nick Loper over at Side Hustle Nation.
Click here to learn more about or purchase the GeneratePress theme.
This is one of the most highly used and recommended family of themes among bloggers today.
They have a large inventory of themes available for all different niches which are visually appealing, easily customizable, and provide a great customer experience.
I recommend you spend some time to find the right theme for your blog and niche. You can always change your theme later. But it may take some time and effort to initially set up a new theme once you have one in place already.
That’s why I recommend you purchase the GeneratePress premium theme or a StudioPress Genesis Framework because they will provide you the speed, reliability, support, and customer experience for years to come.
Not every theme is available to install directly from the WordPress dashboard. When this occurs, you’ll be given a .zip file to upload into WordPress.
The .zip file will include all the elements of your theme (i.e. the code that stores the functionality, layouts, etc).
Here’s what you need to do to install a downloaded theme to WordPress.
Save the .zip file to your computer where you can easily find it.
Navigate to your blog’s dashboard and click on Appearance → Themes → Add New → Upload Theme
Then, click on “Choose File” and find the .zip file you just saved and click “Install Now”. That’s it, your theme has been installed.
You can always click on Appearance → Theme to see which themes you have installed, and which is your current theme.
Now that you’ve selected your theme, let’s walk through your WordPress dashboard. This is intended to give you a high-level overview. We’ll take a deep-dive into each one of these later in this tutorial.
Your main navigation is located on the left side of the page and should look similar to this.
Yours may look slightly different if you’re theme included any plugins or additional settings. But these are the main Dashboard navigation items.
“Dashboard”and “Home” will both take you to the main dashboard landing page. “Updates” will alert you of any updates needed. Your plugins and/or theme will require updates from time to time. You’ll be notified of that in this section.
“Posts” is where you view, edit, and add blog posts. In addition, you create categories and tags here as well.
A “Category” is a group of posts that share a similar topic or theme. Some examples include, “Food”, “Health & Fitness”, “Finance”, “Parenting”, etc. Categories are typically broader in nature.
A “Tag” is similar in that it’s another way to group similar posts. However, tags are designed to be more specific than categories. These are words or phrases used to describe your post.
A key difference is that categories are hierarchical, and tags are not. Meaning, blog posts ladder up to a category.
More on categories and tags later in the tutorial.
“Media” is where you can add and view your digital assets. This will mainly include images, pins, & infographics that you’ll use within your blog posts.
You can also store videos. But, I recommend you host them elsewhere, like YouTube or Vimeo because they’ll eat up a lot of your storage.
“Pages” is where you view, edit, and add pages to your site. What’s the difference between a page and a post?
As a blogger, posts will contain most of your content. You’ll create new posts often to provide fresh and relevant content for your readers.
A page is more of a static, one-time type of content. Take my homepage for example. It’s a static page. That doesn’t mean that I don’t update it from time-to-time, but it basically stays the same.
Additional examples of static pages are your contact, about, disclosure, and/or terms and condition pages.
More on posts and pages later in the tutorial.
“Comments” is a self-explanatory section. When a reader leaves a comment on one of your blog posts, you’ll be notified of it in this section of your dashboard.
Depending on your settings, you’ll receive an email and will need to review and approve each comment before it goes live on your site.
As mentioned earlier, we’ll cover comments and their settings later in this tutorial.
You should be somewhat familiar with “Appearance” at this point since you’ve navigated to it multiple times in this post.
You’ll become even more familiar with it during the launch phase of your blog.
As mentioned previously, this is where your themes are housed and where you’ll be able to customize your theme. Everything from colors, layout, functionality, and more.
I’m sure you’re antsy to get started customizing, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. And don’t worry, I’ll cover that in more depth later in this tutorial. For now, we’re just getting our feet wet.
“Widgets” are content blocks within WordPress that add additional content. There are around 17 standard widgets types with WordPress. But, you can also add widgets using a plugin or custom HTML.
When you read someone’s blog and see items on the right or left side of the main content, these are typically widgets. Also, most footers include widgets.
We’ll cover widgets, in more depth, later as well.
“Menus” allows you to customize your menus. Depending on your theme, there are multiple menu options.
There’s typically a main menu, but you can also add a secondary menu. You’ll be able to choose where your menu displays, the structure, etc.
“Astra Options” is specific to the example theme I chose. Unless you also chose this theme, you won’t see this option. But, you could have something similar for the theme you chose.
If you have one, poke around in there a little bit to see what additional options your theme provides.
“Editor” allows you to edit your theme’s HTML/CSS. For those who may not know what this is, it’s the code that a web designer created to build your specific theme. It’s what makes your theme function properly.
The first time you click on “Editor”, you’ll see this prompt:
It’s important that you understand that you’re editing your theme’s base code, which is the framework for your blog.
Unless you’re technically savvy, I’d recommend that you not go into this setting. Plus once you click “I understand”, it won’t prompt you again.
There are plugins that allow you to add CSS, to make simple changes, if you’d like to add some functionality that isn’t included with your theme. I’ll discuss these and other plugins, in more depth, later in this tutorial.
“Plugins” are WordPress extensions that provide additional functionality. It’s basically additional code that allows you to perform more actions within WordPress. Some plugins work in the background and others include their own menus on the Dashboard.
Every blog has plugins. There are a handful that every new blogger must have which I’ll cover in a later part of this tutorial.
The “Users” section is self-explanatory. When first starting out, you’ll likely only have one user, you (the admin). If your blog grows to a point where you hire a virtual assistant, this is where you would add an additional member.
Or if you pay a web designer to build your blog, you would create a user role for them here. You can set permission, access, etc all in this section.
Nothing very exciting here. There’s only one available tool when you initially install WordPress. It’s a Categories and Tags converter. I’ve never used it and don’t know if I ever will.
Something that could come in handy for some of you is the Import function. This allows you to import content from other platforms like Blogger, Tumblr, and WordPress.com.
Export allows you to export content.
“Export and Erase Personal Data” allows you to export or erase data for members, subscribers, or anyone who’s commented on your blog. But, an email confirmation will be sent to the individual that you’re requesting this for.
Why would you need to do this? If a reader wanted to see all the comments he/she submitted to your site, they could request it and you would be required to send it to them. You could do so by using the “Export Personal Data” setting.
Or someone could request that all their information (i.e. comments, guest posts, subscriber data, etc) be removed from your site. You would be required to do so if they requested it and you could erase it by using the “Erase Personal Data” setting.
“Settings” allows you to view and update personal and site settings.
“General” allows you to change basic information like site title, email address, site language, time zone, date format, etc.
“Writing” allows you to change blog post settings like default category, post format, and more.
“Reading” allows you to set your homepage as your latest post or a static page (I recommend a static page which I’ll explain further later in this tutorial), as well as, other settings for how many blog posts show on a page, etc.
“Discussion” includes all the settings for comments. I recommend you spend a few minutes in this section to ensure you update your settings based on your preference, like if you want to approve a comment before it’s shown, etc.
“Media” allows you to set default and maximum image sizes for when you’re uploading an image into your Media Library.
“Permalinks” allows you to set a custom URL structure for your blog posts. This is important and is something that we’ll cover later in this tutorial.
Congratulations! You’ve installed WordPress and your theme. You now have the framework and structure for your blog. We’ll get into customizing and installing plugins in the next few posts as part of this complete WordPress tutorial.
For now, pat yourself on the back and pour a cold one!
Let’s recap what we’ve done:
- Installed WordPress
- Reviewed the header menu items
- Installed a theme
- Reviewed the main WordPress dashboard
In conjunction with the WordPress tutorials…read these eight extremely important new blogger action-items you must do, right after you start your blog, to keep from looking like a complete newbie.
In part two of this series, we’ll customize your theme with the WordPress customizer.
P.S. If you found this post helpful, please share. The blogging gods will reward you. 🙂