In part two of her guide to using the popular blogging platform WordPress to build a low-cost, professional Web presence, creative business consultant, Sinead Mac Manus offers practical advice on elements of WordPress design and functionality to help you create a unique website for your company or institution.

Note: Part 1 of this two-part series covered how to set up your website on your own domain name using WordPress and also reviewed some useful settings and functions of the software. Read part one »

Step Four: Choose a Design for your Site

WordPress makes it easy to change the design and feel of your site with what’s known as ‘Themes’ or design templates. The default WordPress installation comes ready with two basic Themes pre-loaded, but changing the theme of your site will start to make the site feel more your own. Themes range from simple variations on a colour scheme or layout to complex magazine-style themes. Whatever your vision for the design of your site, there will be something that suits.

There are at least three different ways that you can change the theme of your site:

1. Download a Free Theme: browse the internet for free themes designed by the great community of designers and coders. A great place to start is the official WordPress site. It is updated daily and currently houses over 1000 unique free designs. Another good source for free themes is Smashing Magazine and their review of 100 high quality free themes. Alternatively you can simply do a google search with the terms ‘WordPress” and “Themes” and refine the search to results from the past year.

2. Purchase a Premium Theme: while many of the free themes are perfectly adequate for some websites, many designers have gone one step further with the design and functionality of their templates. These so-called ‘premium themes’ are usually low cost and gave give a site an added design ‘edge’ over some of the free templates. Three great sites to hunt for premium themes are Elegant Themes, ThemeForest and WooThemes.

I personally use the premium theme Thesis for all my websites. It’s an [slider title=”SEO”]

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It is the method of optimizing the code and content of a website to rank high-up in search results. A good starting point to learn basic SEO strategy is the Wikipedia entry, particularly the ‘notes’ section.

[/slider] optimized theme that allows for complete customisation using the ‘Thesis Open Hook plug-in’ so it is perfect for those of us with little to no coding experience. You can read about my experiences of the Thesis theme here.

3. Get a Custom Theme Designed: you can also ask a designer to design a custom theme for your site to fit your personal or company brand image, either from scratch or using another theme as a template. The freelancing website can be a great place to find WordPress specialists or ask around. Another example, much closer to hand, is the bespoke design used on London Theatre Blog, built by the talented Chugs Designs. Any design company worth its salt should provide you with a free and open quote on your design needs – it certainly pays to shop around!

When you have found a suitable theme, download the zip file to your computer. To install the theme, log in to the Admin area of your site and go to Appearance>Install Theme. Click Browse to find the theme that you downloaded to your computer earlier. Once you have successfully uploaded the file, click on Appearance>Themes. To apply the new theme to you site, simply click on the picture of your theme to preview the design. If you are happy with how this looks, click Activate. The theme should now be applied to your site. Check by clicking on ‘Visit Site’ at the top of the Admin area.

WordPress makes it easy to play around with the look and feel of your site without going near the code. I would recommend uploading a number of themes to the Admin area and try each of them out for size.

Step Five: Widgetize your Site

WordPress Widgets were designed to provide a simple, drag-and-drop way of customising the sidebar content of your site without having to hack into the code. By removing pre-installed widgets or by adding new ones to your theme, you can start to make your site function according to your specific needs. Common widgets to use in a sidebar might include:

Pages – this widget lists your static pages.
Recent Posts – this widget displays the latest posts you have written
Tag Cloud – the Tag Cloud widget is a popular one that enables visitors to click on different Tags and be taken to relevant Posts.
Search – the Search widget displays a helpful search box on the Home page.

The Widgets SubPanel explains how to use the various Widgets that come delivered with WordPress, and the Widgets page at Automattic (the company that runs WordPress) explains how to ‘widgetize’ themes and plugins.

This image shows you an overview of the WordPress widget admin panel. To see a practical example of widgets in action on a website, take a look at the left and right-hand sidebar elements of my personal blog.

Step Six: Add Plugins to Extend the Functionality of the Site

One of the most amazing things about WordPress (and there are many so this is a tall order!), is the concept of Plugins. A plugin is a little piece of code that integrates with the WordPress architecture to add a unique element of functionality. If you can think of something that you would like your site to do, there is a fair chance that you’ll find a plugin for it; and just like free WordPress Theme designs, there’s a community devoted to creating free WordPress plugins too. Want to embed Google Maps into your site? Insert your Twitter feed? Or just change the order of your theme’s page navigation? No problem!

Previous versions of WordPress required some knowledge of [slider title=”File Transfer Protocol”]

File Transfer Protocol is a netword protocol for the exchange of files from a computer to a Web server. In other words it’s a piece of software that allows you to communicate between your PC/MAC and your hosting files. For more information on FTP and recommended open source programs see the Wikipedia entry.

[/slider] to upload plugins but with the latest version you can search for and add new plugins right in your Admin area. Just visit Plugins>Add New and do a keyword search for what you are looking for. After you have installed your plugins, don’t forget to Activate them. If you upload and activate a plugin and find it doesn’t do what you want it to do, you can simply Deactivate or Delete it, with no interference to the rest of your site. WordPress comes pre-loaded with the helpful spam killer plugin, Akismet. Don’t forget to activate this plugin as it will help you fight comment spam on your site.

Some great plugins that I add to all my sites include:

Page Link Manager: “adds an administration panel that allows you to pick which page links are included in your site’s navigation.”
WordPress Automatic Upgrade: “allows a user to automatically upgrade the wordpress installation to the latest one provided by using the 5 steps provided in the wordpress upgrade instructions.”
Twitter Tools: “creates an integration between your WordPress blog and your Twitter account. It allows you to pull your tweets into your blog (as posts and digests) and create new tweets on blog posts and from within WordPress.”
Custom Post Order: “enables users to modify the order in which posts are displayed on all pages(or in selected categories) of the blog.”
Google Analytics for WordPress: “automatically tracks and segments all outbound links from within posts, comment author links, links within comments, blogroll links and downloads.”

Note: In future articles in this series, I will highlight available plugins for any social media applications that we look at such as Facebook, YouTube and Flickr.

Coming Up

In six easy steps I have shown that it is possible to get a self-hosted website up and running with a minimum of design skills and no knowledge of HTML.

In the next articles in this series, we now turn to look at the heavily hyped area of social media (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook et al) and examine them to extract areas of benefit for your theatre company or practice.

7 Responses to “A Practical Guide to Theatre and the Web: WordPress (Part 2 of 2)”

  1. Arts blogs: Sinead Mac Manus | Arts Audiences


    […] How to start a wordpress site – part 2 […]

  2. Lester


    Good article! big thanks to author!

  3. Sinead Mac Manus


    Thanks Lester – great to get feedback!

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    google analytics for wordpress is kool, and some special plugins as well.

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