handy answers to frequent questions

What’s WordPress?

WordPress (aka WP) is a software platform where you can write posts, articles, pages, advice columns, diary entries, messages from your cat, words of wisdom – and publish them for the world to see. Some people use WP to post pictures in albums. Some use WP for eCommerce sites. There are gazillions of WP sites, installations, users and gurus. WordPress itself is free, which is amazing.

Installations? What’s that?

If you are hosting your own WordPress on a hosting account of your own (or someone else’s), that’s an installation of WordPress. If you’ve got a blog at wordpress.com, that’s a HUGE installation that you’re sharing with a few million other WordPress users.

What is Hosting?

Hosting is the place you put your site so you can work on it and people can find it to read and interact with it. The place is called a “server.” It’s run by a hosting company or service, like BlueHost, HostGator, mediatemple, GoDaddy (and a few hundred thousand others), that charge you a monthly or annual fee for the service.

What is RSS?

RSS stands for Rich Site Summary, sometimes called Real Simple Syndication. In non-techie terms, RSS lets people know when you write something. RSS does that by letting people “subscribe” to your “feed” – in other words, they get an email or other alert letting them know there’s something new to read – because they’ve given permission for you to let them know, via Opt-In or Double Opt-In.

  • Opt-In means that when someone subscribes, they’re sent a confirmation (usually by email), making sure that they’re SURE they want to subscribe.
  • Double Opt-In means that their subscription becomes active only after they click on a link or send back an email indicating that they’re SURE they’re sure.

That’s it in a nutshell, but if you want to know even more about RSS, give this RSS Explained page a quick read.

What’s a Plugin?

WordPress uses plugins to add functionality. Plugins are often written by coders toiling far into the night, consuming tons of cheese snacks and drinking gallons of diet soda and coffee (often because they need code for their own WordPress sites) and decide to share their efforts with the world – and sometimes just because they want to prove to themselves they can do it. Really handy plugins are added to the WordPress Repository (although that’s no guarantee that they are up to date).

Functionality…? What’s that about?

Well, let’s think of something you’d like your WordPress to do. How about give someone a way to hear about what you write – a subscription to your RSS feed (yes, I’ll talk about that in a moment). With a plugin, you can add a way for a person to subscribe to your posts (or to the comments people leave about your posts).

Another example: A doodad that watches all the links you put in your posts and pages to make sure they’re still valid. That functionality is provided here by Broken Link Checker – and it works great!

What’s a Widget?

Widgets are used mainly to add functionality to a specific area of WordPress called a “Sidebar.” Sidebars can be on one side (or the other, or both) of your WP site – or in the footer, or in the header, or between sections, or on top of the header – depending on the theme you’re using. Most themes use sidebars, but some don’t.

I keep hearing about SEO. What is it and do I need some?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. In a nutshell, it’s how to structure your site and what you write so search engines like Google and Bing will recognize it and “index” it (keep track of it and give it out to people looking for subjects you write about).

This is not the best place to get into an in-depth discussion on SEO – I’m no expert, and even some of the experts I know aren’t experts either. However, there are very good plugins that help you provide the information a search engine wants, which will increase your chances of getting your writing and your site recognized by search engines.

Personally, I love WordPress SEO by Yoast, and I use it on all of my WordPress sites and clients’ sites.The plugin is very interactive and  user-friendly. It avoids technical language and high-falutin’ terminology – and coaches me step-by-step through the right keyword use, the right headings, the right language complexity, the right post length – all sorts of things that get and hold the attention of search engines.

What’s the difference between a page and a post?

A page is considered static. It can be changed, of course, but think of it as a permanent thing. One example would be an About page that tells the world what a site is about. Another would be a Contact page that tells people how to get in touch or ask questions.

A post is usually more current material than a page might be – at least when the post is written. While a post can be changed, it’s is usually written, published and there to be read, receding into history as more posts are written and published.  One example might be a diary post – “10 April 2010 – Dear Diary: Today I woke up, had eggs for breakfast, drank my coffee, and fed the turtle. He’s made progress – almost a mile in the past year!”

What’s the difference between a category and a tag?

The best way to think of a category vs a tag is to put a label on your sand pail. Let’s call it Good Stuff. Now dump half the stuff in your purse (or pockets) into that pail – wallet, credit card case, sunglasses, cell phone, address book, old tissues, change, four rolls of breath mints, broken dog collar.

Grab another pail and label it Spare Stuff. Dump the rest of your stuff into the Spare Stuff pail: three rolls of breath mints, checkbook, cell phone charger, business cards, GI Joe, hand sanitizer, old report cards, lipstick, and to-do lists from 1997.

Your pails are categories – the labels in BOLD, above. Your tags are your stuff, in italics, above. You may have seven rolls of breath mints, some in Good Stuff, some in Spare Stuff, and tags will help find all of them.

To put tags and categories in only slightly more technical terms:

  • Categories work best when they’re one-to-many – one category, many posts, pages, tagged items in them.
  • Tags work best when they’re many-to-many – lots of things tagged 1997 to-do list, which can be filed within any category. So tag that Nokia with ‘cell phone’ and ‘smartphone’ and ‘Nokia’ – and tag your other cell phone with ‘cell phone’ and ‘smartphone’ and ‘Samsung’ if you like.
  • Categories get confusing when you assign more than one category to a page or a post. Use tags instead.
  • Tags get rather worthless when there’s just one thing tagged with its name – although it’s quite legit to do so, especially when you think you might be looking for that thing later.

Yes, you can add categories and tags to pages, and you’ll need a plugin to do it (unless you’re a WP coding guru). Go to Plugins > Add New, and search for “page category” to find a plugin to add that functionality.

What is “Uncategorized” in the Categories?

When you set up WordPress, it provides one starting category by default, called (oddly enough) Uncategorized. You can change that category name to something meaningful, by navigating to Posts > Categories. Find the “Uncategorized” category, edit it, and rename it to something more meaningful to your own site.

You can add more categories in that same Posts > Categories area, or add categories as you write posts.

How do I make my own Bisquick mix?

Measure 6 cups of white flour into a large bowl, add 1 tbsp salt, 3 tbsp baking powder, mix well. Cut in 1/2 cup shortening or unsalted butter, then — hey! Well played, sandbox fan! Well played.

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