Blogs, Coding

Customizing in WordPress

I know that over the past couple of weeks the frequency of my posts has decreased; however, my time spent working on these posts has actually increased drastically. Since I haven’t had to teach, I decided to pet some work into learning more about customizing and improving the functionality of the website. I hope that this will lead to a better overall experience for you, but I do appreciate the patience in the mean time. As I continue to work on this, I wanted to some of available options that I’ve found.

WordPress

The reason I chose to create this website using WordPress is because it made it extremely easy to get the site up and running. There was nearly no coding or designing required. In fact, I signed up for the free website, imported a few photos, and I had a functional website within a couple hours.

The reason why the process was so easy was that WordPress.com offers free hosting and templates for premade websites. They only thing you really have to do is sign up, come up with a name and start writing. Since I was creating my first website, it was exactly what I was looking for.

However, with the ease of set up and creation, there are also disadvantages. Making, seemingly, simple changes can actually become quite difficult because much of the background work has been done for you.

Free website customization

If you create your website with WordPress.com, you have extremely limited options with regard to customizing your website. WordPress maintains your website, security and more, so they provide you with a well made template that will function properly on all browsers.

As soon as you attempt to change something, this makes it much more likely that something won’t work. The provided templates are well made and offer many options.  There may be no reason to change anything. However, if you decide you want to, you can either choose a different website host, or you can upgrade your account with WordPress.com. Either choice requires some payment, but there are varying prices and options depending on what you are looking for.

Objects

The options you do have for customization on the free hosting service involve typesetting, inserting images, objects and links. Furthermore, these things are very easy to do using the built in options.

In particular, if you would like to use heading, bold, italic or underlined text, these options are made readily available to you using the toolbar above your text box. Here, you simply push the button and it will change the text format. You can change the format then type, or highlight your selection and push the buttons to change the format. If you would like to create a list, you simply push another you can input your list items.  You can also change the alignment or insert a link to another web-page with a click of a button.

Another option for you is inputting images or documents.  In your WordPress tool column there is a media tab.  Clicking on this allows you to upload images from your desktop.  Once the images are in the depository, there again is just a button to press in order to insert you picture.  You can then drag the corners to resize.  If you click the photo, you can then use the same buttons as you would for text in order to center the picture or to link the picture to another web-page.

While these may seem like trivial options that are always available, this isn’t actually the case.  If you were to work directly with html, you would have to code in these different options.  Since you don’t have to learn any coding language or do more than push a button, this is very nice to have.

Upgraded account

Between choosing a new host or upgrading my account, I decided to upgrade my account. I made this decision because of my experience with the WordPress.com customer support. They are always quick getting back to me, provide complete answers and help me to get things to work correctly.  I have really appreciated it.

In fact, I have made mistakes that have lead to pages not loading, and even once, broken the entire website. This happened because some plugins didn’t want to play well together. I had no idea what I should do, but the support quickly determined and fixed the problem. Having this piece of mind as I attempt to learn new things has been wonderful.

Layout

Layout changes are very limited with a free or basic account on WordPress.com.  The theme you choose will have certain built in options, but these are the only ways to change the layout of the page.  If you’d like to do anything else, such as adding columns, changing the margins or placement of objects, text or the background, you will need to upgrade to at least a premium account.

Once you do upgrade to the premium account, the best and easiest way to make these changes is by using CSS.  Accessing CSS is also relatively easy.  Go to the appearance/edit CSS in your WordPress admin dashboard or customize/additional CSS on your tool bar.  You will be taken to a page where you input the code.

Using CSS you can control nearly all of the visual layout of your website.  You can change colors, sizes, layout, define objects, and format how you see fit.  It has been an extremely helpful tool for making things appear on screen the way they appear in my head.  I will refrain from going into detail about CSS.  If you would like to learn more, I would suggest you head over to w3schools.  This site has been extremely helpful for me as I have been working on my own website.

Interactive objects

I have already mentioned that inserting images and objects is relatively easy.  If you want to be more precise on what these objects look like or where they are displayed, CSS provides those tools.  Furthermore, if you want these objects to provide links to other web-pages, the link button also allows you to do this.  However, getting these objects and images to interact with each other is very difficult in WordPress.

Things like forms, polls, surveys, games, or changing material requires you to get into other types of coding.  The easiest way to do most of these things is to find a plugin that someone else has already written to do what you want.  Installing plugins, however, requires that you are on the business plan if you are using WordPress.com hosting.  Other hosting sites will allow you to do this right away, so it may be worth looking at these options if you want to be able to use plugins freely.

On the other hand, since plugins are written by different people using different options, it very possible to have a conflict between these plugins.  When this happens, it can cause major problems on your site, or even make it impossible to access.  As I had noted earlier, this has indeed happened to me.  I was able to quickly get help from customer support.  They were then able to determine which plugin was the problem and fix the problem.  The extra cost is worth it to me.

If you would like to do something that someone hasn’t written a plugin for, then the problem becomes even more challenging.  You can use JavaScript and html coding to accomplish a lot of these things.  However, in WordPress.com a lot of the interactive coding options are disabled.  Things like “do this when this is clicked”, or “if someone fills this out, do this on the page” requires code references to JavaScript that get stripped by WordPress.

I have been able to accomplish some of these things through a combination of using plugins and coding.  In particular, if you look at my Educational Games, I used a plugin which allowed me to then access JavaScript I wrote in order to accomplish what I wanted.

If you would like to do even more, you can access the php files in WordPress in order to insert the options and coding you would like, or you can write and upload your own plugin.  I don’t particularly want to edit any of the base files for the website.  I’m fairly certain I’d break things again.  While I have attempted to write php coding to use on the site, I haven’t seen a way to upload single files, only entire plugins.  I haven’t had the time to create an entire plugin yet.  That is an option I will have to explore and write about in the future.

Conclusion

Getting a website up and running can be very quick.  WordPress is one way to create a well-made website quickly.  Many customization options are built in, but there are still more ways to customize your website.  Learning to implement these changes can quickly require a significant amount of time.  Hopefully this post has given you an overview of some of the easier options available to you on WordPress.

Let me know if this post was helpful by liking it.  Otherwise, share it with others so that they can read it too.  Leave a comment below if you have questions or suggestions for customization.  If there is enough interest in the discussion, feel free to start a full conversation on the forums.  I also plan on going over some of the plugins I have found very useful in a future post, so follow the blog here or on Social Media if you’d like to read more.

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