Wordpreneur Notebook • June 7, 2020
Probably the easiest way to “learn” WordPress!
Want to really “learn” WordPress, easily and without a lot of effort? Well, it’s going to seem like it’s that easy anyway. Because here’s a WordPress “project” idea for you, one that’ll turn WordPress from just something you need to know, to something you’ll really want to know and use.
And believe me, that makes all the difference in the world. Have fun!
Here’s something I know after decades of using and even teaching computers: One of the best and quickest ways to really learn how to use any software is to actually use the darned thing, and repeatedly. Not just play around with it, but actually use it. For an actual task, project, etc., of yours. And use it over and over again.
Structured courses, guides, manuals, tutorials, videos, etc., they help, of course, but until you get your hands on the actual software, literally doing stuff with it, the “theory” all that educational material tries to impart pretty much stays in theory land. Temporarily too, since you’re likely to lose that theory without actual “practice” to nail it to your psyche. It’s like driving a car. You can learn all the theory you want, but until you get behind the wheel and start driving, none of that theory really sticks. The actual driving and real world experience, in fact, that’s where the real learning and retention happens. Likely a whole bunch of imagination and creative problem solving thrown into the mix as well. So, if you think about it, the “practice” is actually what’s really teaching you.
Learning WordPress is no different. If you need it, get a quick overview of the very basics using whatever educational method you’re comfortable with… then dive right in and start doing! That’s how you really “learn” WordPress.
There are a couple of problems that come to mind, though. First, what if you screw things up majorly? Then the site and/or blog you’ve got running on WordPress — the one your visitors, prospects, readers, etc., use and interact with — is going to be compromised at best, or broken and useless until you manage to get it back up and working properly again. (Just go with the pretense here that there’s already a WordPress site up and running that can be damaged.)
Very true. But then again, I didn’t say use your main WordPress site for this idea you’ll be reading about here, did I?
And the second problem: What will you be doing? It has to be something that you actually need and/or want to do. Something beneficial and actually related to, well, your actual work. Something that won’t be in the realm of the mere training simulation. Something real, meaningful, useful, and likely repetitive.
Hmm, now what could that be? Look below.
Well, considering what this site is, it’s safe to assume that I think you’re an author or writer. Which makes you a researcher, planner, idea generator… and all those other good roles that come with wearing the kind of hat that brings you to this site. And what do folks like you do? You take and keep notes. Lots of them.
Use WordPress as an online notebook. A private one for your own use. Because why the heck not?
Just in case you’re so new to WordPress and you didn’t know: You can turn a WordPress site into something totally private. As in nobody but you can see any of the posts, pages, and other content you add to it. All yours, and just yours.
And what better way to learn WordPress than by actually using it without worrying at all about the public… they can’t see it!
Here’s the basic plan for setting up WordPress as your own private online notebook:
- Create and install a new WordPress site, separate from your main one.
- Make it private.
- Use it.
That’s really all there is to the concept.
Some of you (you know who you are) will be able to take just the above simple outline and run with it. You’re probably itching to go right now. In which case, get to it. Have fun! I don’t think there’ll be much else here in this little section of the site that will be of further help, since you likely can figure things out on your own. Besides, you can always come back if you need to. So, enjoy!
The rest of you who are less assured of your tech skills and knowledge, let’s see if I can give you enough of the info you may be looking for to go ahead and try it.
It has a very high chance of working for this reason: You not only need to do it, but you want to do it. There’s a very real benefit for you that you want. So you’ll do whatever it takes to do it. On your own.
So you’ll do things like read through what I’ve written here to get some how-to tips. Or Google specific WordPress tasks you may be stuck on. Maybe tap online help and resources available to you. Etc., etc. etc.
And since you want it, you’re very likely going to go ahead and actually try it out. All on your own.
That you’ll be “learning WordPress” while you’re at it, well, that’s a bonus isn’t it? Even though on paper, that’s really the objective of the whole exercise.
Compare that to the ho-hum thing we usually hear when someone mentions they “need” to have a WordPress site. Something like: “I need to build and run a site on WordPress to help with book marketing. They say I need to blog, so I’ll need to learn how to do that. Some say I even need Web hosting. I don’t really fully understand what all that means, but I guess I can learn. I don’t even know much about WordPress and what WordPress can do, but I guess I’ll have to start learning all that if I want to get anywhere. I’d like to hire someone to do all that, but I don’t want to spend the money. So I guess I’ll have to do it myself. When I get a chance or when I’m ready, for sure. That’s on my TO DO list.”
Can you feel all that enthusiasm? It sounds like a gosh-darned chore! And for many of you, that’s exactly what it is. No wonder a significant number of you keep putting this off.
Now, with this private online notebook project idea, WordPress turns into something personally useful and beneficial. It’s no longer just some abstract outreach-marketing-blah blah blah thing… there’s an appealing use for you, and no one else but you.
What do you think the chances are it’s actually going to happen now?
As far as Critical Success Factors (CSF) go, that’s probably the biggest, a personal benefit. Just throwing out some old school business and marketing jargon at you; may as well pick up and learn those as we go along.
There are other supporting factors with this idea too, of course, that help increase the likelihood of project “success.” We won’t slog through all of them, but I’ll just bring this one up: the privacy thing. It makes it a “safe” exercise. No one can see it, no one else really knows you’re doing it, except for you. You muck things up, no one else really cares; hard to care about something you don’t even know exists. This all makes a heck of a difference on one’s willingness to try things out and experiment.
You can personally use it, you want it, and it’s safe. That’s one compelling, irresistible mix right there, isn’t it?
To add, edit and manage your own notes, you’ll inevitably be teaching yourself how to:
- Add/edit WordPress posts. Pages too.
- Work with categories and tags to keep your notes organized.
These are so basic, WordPress veterans consider this duh-level stuff. But if you think about it, assuming you’re a newbie, to you figuring out how to do these will in turn lead to actually doing them regularly, which is pretty much what writing notes is all about. All this also means you are in effect…
- Getting familiar and comfortable with the WordPress working environment (menus, screens, where things are, etc.).
- Learning the WordPress editor and its various editing features, which really isn’t all that different from many other editors you already have used.
These are actually fairly big steps, and you’ll be doing them all on your own! No pressure, either. Just you using software to write your own notes.
As you manage to reach a good WordPress “comfort zone,” so to speak, and that’ll likely happen much sooner than later, you’ll probably start looking into tweaking things, customizing your online notebook, like:
- Formatting your “notes” a certain way.
- Changing the default home page and make it display content (again, your “notes”) for browsing in ways you prefer.
- Playing around with the menus.
- Playing around with the widgets.
- Changing the Permalink structure.
That sort of thing. You’ll most likely even start perusing and trying out different themes, changing the way your site looks, feels and operates. And you’ll have your own ideas on added features and functionality you may want to have for your online notebook, which will lead you to trying out and playing around with plugins to help with your work.
And so on and so forth. See how that works for your WordPress learning? And that’s just off the top of my head. Knowledge and know-how just keep building on top of each other as you actually purposely experience WordPress regularly. And all on your own volition. Cool, huh?
Just a few additional benefits you may not be aware of that I’d like to point out:
- Your online WordPress notebook will be accessible anywhere you’ve got an Internet connection. It’s now “on the cloud.” Depending on where you are and Internet services available to you, maybe you won’t need to carry that physical notebook around with you all the time anymore. Personally, I still carry a paper notebook around with me in my bag (I love them; pens too!), but in many environments I usually find myself in, armed with my convenient and always present mobile devices, I really don’t have to if I don’t want to!
- You may actually find yourself enjoying the experience of writing on WordPress. So much so that you could turn WordPress into a tool for serious writing and writing project management. Not unheard of, frankly. I know a few authors and writers who do their serious writing with WordPress, with their work always accessible to them wherever there’s an Internet connection.
- Your online notebook WordPress site can double as a prototype/testing site as well, to privately try out themes and plugins in particular before you risk implementing any of them on your main WordPress site.
How-To Overview + Tips
For this “project,” you’ll want to start with a new WordPress site, a separate one from any existing one you may have already running and used by the public.
Although you can indeed do this as an “extra feature” on a WordPress site the public can access — you could, for instance, set up WordPress to be your actual author website, then you can simply make all your notes private and assign it to something like a Notebook category — but not only can that approach get tricky if you don’t really know what you’re doing yet, your existing public site is at risk of getting all screwed up.
You’ll want to learn and get super comfy with WordPress, playing with as much of it with no worries about possibly breaking anything important or vital to your public online presece. So no, I really strongly suggest you play around and do your learning on a separate, independent WordPress installation.
The facts are WordPress software is free, storage is dirt cheap, any other resources you need either you already have or can get for free. For goodness’ sake, just create a brand new site and be done with it.
Being able to set up a new, separate WordPress site along with your existing one will, of course, depend mainly on the kind of Web hosting package you have. These “packages” differ from company to company, so there’s no way for me to tell you exactly what you can and can’t do. But I can observe and have experience, so I can give you some general guidance on what to look for and what to expect, especially if you’ve gone with one of the larger, more mainstream, national Web hosting providers (as opposed to a smaller local or regional operation).
If you have any issues that prevent you from creating new, separate WordPress installations, that will likely be with the cheapest “introductory”-type packages. Providers understandably impose a lot of limits and restrictions with those cheap accounts, delivering just the bare minimum required by customers of those budget hosting packages. For example, a common restriction would be not being allowed to create and use subdomains.
Subdomains, FYI, although technically still running under that same main domain, are really independent sites in practice, with URLs that look something like:
Subdomains are a good place to have a separate WordPress site installed and running, totally independent from your main default site on your root domain (which is what appears when a visitor just enters your domain name in their browser).
But even if you can’t do subdomains with your hosting, you likely still have another option: install a new, independent site as a subdirectory.
Unlike subdomains, a subdirectory is simply a directory underneath your root domain name. Which looks something like this:
Note that a lot of folks, including hosting services, don’t even bother using the sub prefix, and just call them “directories,” plain and simple, or even “folders.” Old schoolers like me are just used to using “directory” for the topmost level in the hierarchy, but it doesn’t really matter. Regardless of how they’re labeled, just recognize what they are.
Point is, you can indeed install an independent WordPress site within a subdirectory, and a subdirectory under that, and so on. Here’s an actual live example:
You’ll recognize the domain as this very site you’re on right now. A subdirectory named wordpressdir was simply created underneath it in the hierarchy, and a copy of the WordPress software was installed there. In effect, that created a WordPress “site,” totally independent of this site you’re on. Go ahead and click on the link above if you want to take a look.
What this all means is that as a visitor to this main Wordpreneur site, you’ll have no idea what’s happening over there. In fact, you wouldn’t even know it exists if I didn’t tell you.
This reminds me of something else: Installing that separate copy of WordPress to create that independent example was very easy for me to do. Thanks to a common and popular feature provided by many Web hosting providers: built-in installer software. Typically an included feature in something they call a “control panel.”
The Web hosting packages from mainstream providers (and smaller services as well, for that matter) try to make it as easy for us users to administer, manage, maintain and fiddle with all the various files, software, data, tools and other technical thingamajigs that are “behind the scenes” of our websites. A built-in tool they provide us with to do this is commonly called a control panel. One of the most popular of these is cPanel. I’ll start using that label here now, but know that when you see cPanel here, there’s a good chance the feature I’m discussing will also be available from any Web host that has a control panel, whatever that control panel software may actually be.
One of cPanel’s really handy “tools” is a “script library” of various useful apps and software it can easily install for you on your Web hosting server. Software like WordPress! (Note: These script libraries are often called different things, depending on the Web hosting service, like “Script Installer,” “Software Installer,” “Software Library,” etc. Or even Softaculous, which is the name of a popular commercial script library I’ve often seen bundled into cPanel.)
You have to check your Web hosting package to see how they set up a cPanel for you. This is why I can’t really give you step-by-step instructions for this part of the project. But I can give you a fairly decent generic overview of how these cPanels are typically set up.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. To install WordPress, you’ll just use the script library feature to easily and quickly install it on your site. It will ask for a few details about this new WordPress installation, one of which will likely be where on your server you would like to install this copy of WordPress to.
Normally you will want to install WordPress on your main directory (also called the root), so when visitors go to your domain, that’s what they’ll see. But if you’ve got the storage space on your server (chances are you do) and it’s a feature you have with your particular Web hosting package, these installers also let you install as many different copies of WordPress you want, in this case to subdirectories under your root directory. Installers are often even set up to create the subdirectory automatically and conveniently for you. If it all goes without a hitch, you’ll then have a totally independent, separate WordPress installation, a separate site in other words, that you can access by simply going directly to that subdirectory’s URL, which as a reminder looks like this:
Again, your ability to do this or not will depend entirely on your Web hosting provider and the particular hosting package you got from them. The good news is, unless you got your hosting from some really obscure local service, there’s a very good chance you have all that I’ve described above. Go check!
Unlike a WordPress.com site, there isn’t an easy built-in way to simply “switch” a self-hosted WordPress site to make it private at will. There are a number of ways to go about this, however. Some ways are exceedingly easy… if you know how to download and install plugins to your WordPress environment (which itself is also easy to learn and do from within WordPress itself).
So that’s the really easy way: Find, get and install a WordPress plugin that turns your site into a private one, activate it, and voila! Instant private site. There are a number of free plugins out there that do the trick, some are really easy to set up and use, while others get a bit more involved (usually the ones with a lot more features). Assuming it does what you want it to do (keep your site private!), which one you decide to use just comes down to preference. I suggest you start off with the simplest one you can find that does the job and not get too impressed by a lengthy features list; you can always change security plugins later on.
I myself have always liked simple, and the free plugin I use for this purpose is called Force Login. It’s very small and very easy. In fact, there are no “Settings” for you to fiddle with, no screens or notice boxes to design and screw around with. Straight out of the box upon activation, as its name implies, the plugin’s job is to “force” any site visitors to first login to your WordPress system before they can see anything.
You see, in case you don’t know, WordPress already has a built-in user management and authorization system. You know, the part where you enter your administrator password to get into WordPress to do posts, install plugins, etc. Yeah, that part. The thing about that, though, is that it’s naturally out of the way, so that regular visitors to your site don’t get bothered by it; they just come and check out your content. What this plugin does, then, is simply force all visitors to that out of the way login screen. They need to login first, or they see nothing but that screen. Since they don’t have accounts to your WordPress dashboard (creating accounts for them is under your control), they then can’t login and ergo can’t see anything. Private! Simple, clever and cool, huh?
Instead of a self-hosted WordPress installation, you most certainly can use the free WordPress.com service to create a private notebook to use and play with. If you already have an account, you can create the site using that; last I checked, they let you create as many free WordPress sites you want under a single free account. Or if you don’t want to do that for whatever reason, you can even create a totally new, separate account for it.
Do remember that they run a modified version of WordPress, with a different interface, slightly different menus, functions that may operate differently, etc. Customizations that are specific to the WordPress.com way of doing things. But for the most part, look-and-feel it’s still very much like you’re working with — and learning — WordPress!
You also won’t be able to add any themes that aren’t already in its library of available themes for you to use. But you probably won’t need to add more; it already has a darned good theme collection!
The tricky part here is making that site private and inaccessible to everyone but you. Not difficult, but this only applies to the WordPress.com service, not WordPress sites elsewhere. I’ve seen their interface change over time, so I can’t be sure these will be the exact steps you’ll be doing when you get around to it, but the process should be similar.
- From your Dashboard’s menu, click on Settings.
- On the Settings screen, click on the General tab.
- Scroll down to Privacy, and select Hidden.
- Click on the Save Settings button.
That’s all there is to it! You now have a private site on WordPress.com for your notebook. As you can see from the Self-hosted section above, though, this isn’t how you make a regular self-hosted WordPress installation private. That’s what I mean by differences; some things you learn here you can’t take elsewhere. Whether that will be an issue for you and your objectives, I obviously can’t tell you, but best be aware of these subtleties.
One you’ve got your new WordPress Notebook site up and running, what’s next? Log in and start playing with it, of course!
Scratch that. The first thing I would do, actually, if you haven’t done it yet, is see what a regular visitor will see if they visit the site. This checks if your site is really private. If you’re currently logged in, you can’t just open another tab and enter the URL — what you’ll need to do is open an “incognito window” (in Chrome), or something like “private browsing” on other browsers. You’ll be logged out in that incognito window, which is what you want to be, just like a regular visitor to your site.
Enter your WordPress Notebook’s URL. What you’ll see will depend on how you set up privacy, but you’ll maybe see a login screen, or some notice saying it’s private, or a “coming soon”-type message. Assuming your new Notebook site is nice and private, you’re good to go!
So, what now? Well, login to your new WordPress site, and explore and experiment! Just like a kid would who just got their hands on a brand new toy. Check out the menus. See what’s on them. Look all over the screen; read whatever you see. Click on options; see what they do. I think you should be able to figure out how to create a new post just by playing around like this, without really needing to dive into instructions.
If you’re feeling nervous or scared to try things… why? You can’t hurt anything. And that’s one of the beautiful things about this approach: You got absolutely nothing to worry about. Not even time. You’re under no time pressure here; it’s your own virtual notebook you’re exploring.
If on the off-chance you manage to screw something up really badly, which is very highly unlikely — in fact, I’d like to hear about it if you manage that and learn what the heck you did, it’s that unusual — just log out of WordPress, go to your cPanel scripts library and uninstall the mucked up site (only a few clicks should do it). Then install a new WordPress site like you did before! Even if you’re on WordPress.com, same thing: delete the broken site, create a new one. Then it’s back to business!
Don’t forget: You can’t hurt anything. Now go explore, play and learn. Have fun!