WordCamp Miami 2013: WordPress Beginners Workshop

Nothing will prepare you for success better then a solid foundation of the fundamentals of a given skill. Whether you want to play football, start your own business, or code WordPress websites, the fundamentals are the building blocks of success. This workshop offered many great building blocks to get beginners off on the right foot and even offered experienced developers a few reminders why it’s good to go back to the beginning every now and again.

When I was in my mid-teens I got interested in martial arts. Like many teens I really had no steady source of income so I could not afford classes on a regular basis. I found myself having to start over at the lowest level each time I returned to training and that, as it turned out, would prove to be an invaluable life lesson. While I may have never reached the rank I had hoped to achieve I did become quite proficient in the fundamental techniques necessary for self-defense.

Today I found myself once again reminded of the benefits of going back to the beginning. I have been building websites for a while now but only began using WordPress regularly as a platform for projects in the last year. I thought it might be a good idea to see if there were some fundamentals I needed to brush up on in order to make the most of the platform. I’m glad I did. While I did find that much of what I was doing was just fine, I did discover a few new basics that I think will be quite helpful as I continue on. Here are some of those things that I hope will help out others as they get started.

What All Beginners Should Know About Working With WordPress

Create a Local WordPress Install for Development

Setting up a local version of WordPress can be a little tricky if you try to do it manually since it requires setting up a local server. These days there are several tools that can greatly simplify the process so I won’t bother going into how to do this manually.

  • DesktopServer, dead simple WordPress setup for Mac and Windows, my personal choice
  • MAMP and MAMP Pro for Mac
  • WAMP for Windows, there are several options (link is to WAMPSERVER)
  • XAMPP for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Solaris

A word of caution, you should never directly edit your live site when modifying or developing a theme. I don’t want to scare you but it’s easier then you might think to break your site, especially when you’re just getting started.

Have a Backup Plan

No one can predict the future and you never know when something will go wrong with your site, and it will eventually. It may not even be your fault. Hosting companies have been known to go down from time to time. An update to the core app, a theme or a plugin could break your site. You just never know. Make sure you have a strategy to back up your site on a regular basis.

Keeping Things Organized

One of the more esoteric aspects of WordPress are Categories and Tags. On the surface they appear to offer much the same function, a method to identify and group content of a similar subject matter. At times it came difficult to know when to choose one method over the other. So here’s the skinny.

  • Use Categories for high level general grouping like “Development.”
  • Use Tags for more specific grouping like “HTML”, “CSS”, and “JavaScript.”

Custom Post Types and Taxonomies add another layer of organization to a site but are bit more advanced the I plan to get in to in this post.

Plugins: Sinners and Saints

Plugins are a great option for extending the functionality of your WordPress site. They can provide easy ways to incorporate social media, optimize your SEO, improve site performance, help manage content and eliminate spam, and countless other enhancements that might otherwise require a programmer to achieve.

But it’s not all rainbows and puppies. Like people, not all plugins play well with others and some can flat out kill your site. Look for plugins that show a history of continuous development, high ratings and recent updates. Pay close attention to the “Compatible with version.” It’s also not a good idea to go overboard and use too many plugins as they can adversely affect you sites performance. Only add the ones that will enhance user experience and help you manage your site. Here are some of the ones mentioned.

I figured you really don’t want any plugins that are sinners so I only included the ones that seem like saints. If you run across any sinners be sure to share so we can all avoid them.

Not All Themes are Created Equal

There is definitely a wide range of quality and functionality when it comes to themes. If you’re considering going the theme route it’s in your best interest to get them from reputable developers and lucky for you there are several places to find quality themes.

Many of the themes from these sites feature sophisticated admin panels that can help you manage and customize the theme to your liking. Many include custom post types, like portfolio posts, event posts and others. They may also include custom plugins for additional site functionality like slideshows and responsive design.

Themes are also great tools to learn from. Dig into the code to see how the developers crafted their theme and pretty soon you’ll be developing your own theme from scratch.

Nest Stop, WordCamp Miami April 6-7, 2013

This will be my second time attending a WordCamp event. My first time 2 years ago I was introduced to responsive web design, less then a year after Ethan wrote his article on A List Apart. Don’t let the low price fool you into thinking you’ll be hearing low quality speakers or sub-par information. This year’s speakers will include the authors of 2 separate books on WordPress as well international speakers from overseas.

WordCamps are non-profit events run by people passionate and knowledgeable about WordPress and the web in general. More importantly, they love to share what they know with others. If you’ve never been to one I’d highly recommend looking for one in your town. If there isn’t one then contact the folks that run the Miami event and start one in your area.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to David Bisset, organizer of South Florida WordPress Meetup Group, and the other speakers and volunteers that put together todays workshop. Nice job, see you in Miami.

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Mike Donahue

Just a guy that's passionate about creating useful, usable and desirable experiences for all humans. I love nature and wildlife photography, it's my source of artistic expression and inner peace. I live and play in South Florida with my wife Nikki and our girls (dogs) Layla and Cassidy.

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