DIY WordPress Web Design Basics

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There are many reasons that a person with no real WordPress web design experience may decide to become a DIY’er. Some people are on a shoestring budget and have no other choice. Others are lifelong learners and are in it for the adventure. And then there are those folks who are simply control freaks who are convinced the job will never be done to their satisfaction if they don’t do it themselves.

Whatever your reason for becoming a DIY website designer, laying out your own website is a doable process, but it will go much smoother if you are aware of the educational and functional resources that are available for your use. Those tools include free website builders, free WordPress themes, free WordPress plugins to expand functionality, and free instructional articles or videos to help you understand the basics of WordPress as an open-source software option.

For chronological purposes, this article will begin with website builders that can be used after you purchase a domain name. In case you don’t want to use a website builder, the article moves on to free WordPress themes, freelance WordPress experts who can help you tweak your theme, plugins that expand your theme’s functionality; and finally, free instructional websites that help you learn how to code and tweak your own theme.

WEBSITE BUILDERS

You just bought the perfect domain name and you’re ready to figure out how to get on the web. Now what?

Many domain sellers offer website builders as a quick and easy way to get your website up and running after you have purchased a domain. What is a website builder? Quite simply, it is a tool that helps you create your own website. Many times, a website builder is ideal for the novice who needs a site—quick—but does not have the expertise to build it or the funds to hire a website designer.

Quick or not, there are both advantages and disadvantages to using website builders. According to Howard Steele’s article called Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Website Builders, the advantages are that website builders are free to use, or are at least inexpensive when compared to using a professional website theme designer.

Your design would be your own creation, laid out to your specifications, and you would answer to no one about your colors, layout or features. However, the disadvantages are that if you run into problems while laying out your site, there will be no professional guidance or support available.

Also, Mr. Steele says that “in most cases, website builders run on the company’s servers only. Just a few website builders (mostly offline site construction kits) work as independent site building applications.” This, he says, means that moving a website from a site builder platform to your own server will probably end up being a pain in the rear.

Simbla.com says of website builders, “when working with many of the website building platforms, there will be minimum control over the layout of your site, because they utilize ready-made templates that will restrict you to an array of specific, previously crafted designs.”

This means that you may have to start over if you want to change the layout of your theme, even after you’ve already inserted your content. In short, although you used the website builder to make things easier, this inflexibility can end up turning your website into a hot mess.

It may sound as if this article is steering you away from using a website builder, but this is simply not true. You just need to understand that although there are many free and paid website builders available for your use, and although these builders will help you get your site up and running faster and cheaper than hiring a professional designer, they may not necessarily be the best method for “doing it yourself.”

In any event, to find the best website builders out there, type the phrase “Best website builders for 2016” into your favorite search engine and then compare and contrast to make your decision.

FREE WORDPRESS THEMES

Let’s say you have purchased your domain name and have tried your hand at using a website creator tool but you just weren’t able to make heads or tails out of the process of laying out a website. Where should you go from there? One answer may be to consider using a free WordPress theme.

If you didn’t know, now you do:  free WordPress themes are everywhere. That’s right, everywhere! Not only does WordPress.org (where you’ll download your free WordPress software) offer several free themes, but many professional theme design companies offer free themes, too.

One way that WordPress developers drum up business is to offer free versions of their premium themes as a way to coax prospective customers into purchasing  their custom plugins or the extended version of their theme(s). For example, Yithemes.com (Your Inspiration Themes) is a company that “develops innovative WordPress themes and plugins for e-commerce, portfolio, corporate sites, blogs and communities.”

They offer many free WordPress themes for download and encourage prospective buyers to experiment with them and then purchase access to the theme’s advanced features only after determining which theme is the one for them.

If you type the phrase “Free WordPress themes” into your favorite search engine, you will get over 16 million results in a little over ½ a second. So, the question isn’t whether free themes are out there; the question is whether it a good idea to use them? Do they pose a risk? Can you actually have the layout and functionality of your dreams without paying one red cent for them?

The answer is yes. Sort of.

According to Nathan B. Weller’s Elegant Blog article called Free Vs. Premium WordPress Themes, free themes are…well, free. They’re typically compatible with more plugins than premium themes, they’re leaner than many premium themes, and they’ve usually gone through some type of vetting process that helps prospective buyers narrow down their usefulness and ease of understanding.

Unfortunately, free themes don’t come with any type of support, which means that if you decide to go “free,” you’re basically on your own. Of course, you can always purchase support, but then the theme isn’t free anymore.

Free themes also aren’t updated as often as premium themes. Since they’re free, the theme author isn’t earning any income off of the theme, and continually updating and tweaking the theme would become a type of virtual money pit. Since the WordPress software platform is always being updated, and since WordPress plugins are never far behind, this would mean that your free theme may quickly become incompatible with these newer versions.

If and when they do, you would once again be on your own to figure out how to bring your theme up to date. You might tackle this by using freelance WordPress experts, as covered in the next section.

Another fact that you must consider if you’re going to work from a free theme is that some free themes have been discovered—much to the users’ dismay—to be full of vulnerabilities. In fact, some themes are offered free of charge so that when they’re downloaded, mal-ware, spyware and other malicious code is automatically downloaded onto your computer.

If you don’t have a good malware program running on your computer (we suggest Avast, which offers both a free and paid version of antivirus software that protects against malware), you will find out about this spiteful malware only after it is too late to prevent it from trying to hijack your computer.

After all is said and done, if you still have a hankering to give free themes a try, here are a few places you can browse to find the free theme of your dreams:

WordPress.com – offers 166 free WordPress themes.

FabThemes.com – offers close to 100 free snazzy WordPress themes that include everything from a job board theme to a tutorials theme. You can also purchase a Commercial License.

Yithemes.com – offers over a dozen free, quite flexible WordPress themes that you can download and experiment with.

Woocommerce.com – offers over two dozen free themes for download, including a range of themes and plugins to extend WordPress experiences, including WooCommerce.

WORDPRESS GURUS

Okay, now let’s assume that you’ve uploaded a free WordPress theme and have succeeded in laying it out. And let’s also assume that in the process, you have noticed some warnings or some functionality problems. What do you do?

Part of being a do-it-yourselfer is realizing when you are unable to do it yourself. Perhaps you have no clue how to increase your WordPress memory or the PHP Max Input Vars for the theme you’re using. In fact, perhaps up to this point, you had no clue that either of these two factors even existed.

This is the point when you will decide you need some “a la carte” help. In other words, you may not need the full-fledged assistance of a pricey WordPress coder or programmer; you simply need a WordPress expert who can fix one or two coding or programming problems and then leave the rest to you. Some example problems may be: changing the colors on your website; expanding memory; fixing errors; backing up your site; restoring your site.

There are many freelance and “guru” sites out there with programmers, coders and “fixers” who can help you with any problem, large or small. Here are two of the most popular sites, but please understand that this is not an exhaustive list. It’s simply enough to get you started.

Fiverr.com – according to Wikipedia.com, Fiverr is “a global online marketplace offering tasks and services, beginning at a cost of $5 per job performed, from which it gets its name. The site is primarily used by freelancers who use Fiverr to offer services to customers worldwide.”

Guru.com – Guru.com describes itself as “a freelance marketplace. It allows companies to find freelance workers for commissioned work.”

FREE WP PLUGINS

Now that your site is up and running and your freelance expert has helped rid it of all minor errors, it’s time to experiment with what your site can offer. It is fair to say that there’s a WordPress plugin for almost anything you want to do with your website.

In fact, WordPress.org’s website  hosts over 45,000 plugins that can be downloaded free-of-charge. There are virus protection plugins (SiteAssure WP Malware protector, All-in-One WP security), spam-guard plugins (Askimet, WebEmailProtector), and even plugins that protect your site from malicious plugins (Security and Vulnerability Shield). There are event plugins (Events Manager, Events Maker), booking plugins (Booking Calendar, WP Booking System),  gallery plugins (Gallery, Gallery Bank), and also membership plugins (Paid Membership Pro, Simple Membership) for monetizing your website.

Again, think of something special you’d like to do or some special feature you’d like to offer on your website and there’s probably a plugin for it.  Just be aware that many of these “free” plugins offer a limited number of features; to access their advanced features, you’ll need to purchase the “pro” version. Also—and this is very important, many of the plugins are not updated often because they are “free” and the developer is not earning income from them. You should always make a point of checking for the last update, and for whether the plugin is compatible with your current version of WordPress.

One other thing to be aware of: there are many WordPress plugin developers out there who may not advertise their plugins on WordPress.org.  For example, WPMU Dev (www.wpmudev.org) has over 100 premium WordPress plugins that include everything from SEO crawlers to course management and selling.

A few other fantastic WordPress plugins for the DIY’er who is not necessarily a WordPress expert include Wp Optimize, a fast and easy plugin that deletes unnecessary files or drafts and optimizes your database; Xcloner, a necessary plugin for those site owners whose ISP does not provide a snapshot of their site’s files—meaning that if their files are ever corrupted, they can use the Xcloner backup files;  Bulletproof , a security plugin that protects your wp-admin folder and also secures against Base64, XSS, RFI, SQL Injection and Code Injection hacks; and All-in-One WP Security and Firewall, which “reduces security risk by checking for vulnerabilities, and by implementing and enforcing the latest recommended WordPress security practices and techniques.”

FREE LESSONS

While you are taking advantage of website creator tools, freelance experts and free themes, you may also want to begin educating yourself on the basics of coding. There are many online academies that are more than happy to teach you what they know. Below is a list of a few of the more well-known online academies; however, it’s best if you type the phrase “Free coding classes” (or something similar to it) to begin your own search.

  1. Codeacademy is happy to teach you how to code interactively.
  2. Coursera offers free courses from many universities, including computer programming.
  3. MIT Open Courseware offers, among other things, a free “Introduction to Computer Science and Programming course.
  4. edX – offers many, many MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), including courses on programming.
  5. Khan Academy is said to be one of the original “free” coding sites. It offers “easy-to-follow course sections with step-by-step video tutorials.”
  6. Web3Schools offers a Html School that teaches you everything about Html.

CONCLUSION

There are many ways to get on the web without having to hire a professional WordPress designer. Whether you download a free WordPress theme, hire a WordPress guru to help you smooth out the road bumps, customize your site with free WordPress plugins, or take advantage of free programming classes all depends upon your courage and creativity and the amount of time you’re willing to put in to get the site you want.

Whatever direction you choose, remember to have fun along the way.

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