biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies: advanced functionalities in WordPress

by Stephanie

Today’s Biz Ladies post comes to us from Amanda Aitken, the founder of Better Than Chocolate Web Design. Amanda specializes in women-centric WordPress web design and has previously contributed to the Biz Ladies series with her post get a website in a weekend – with WordPress. Today she expands on her previous post with some details on advanced functionalities to support your biz as it grows. Covering everything from FTP sites to your RSS feed, Amanda shares some valuable tips to utilizing all that WordPress has to offer. Thank you, Amanda, for continuing to educate us on such an important topic! — Stephanie

CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!

So you’ve managed to get your WordPress site up and running all on your own, and maybe you’ve spent the past few weeks or months enjoying the fun of having a home on the web. But now that you’ve gotten your feet wet in the world of WordPress, you may be wondering, “what’s next?”

Well, wonder no more, my fellow Biz Lady! This article will guide you through a list of next steps to consider if you’d like to pump up your website confidence and get a stronger, smarter site that will move you one step closer to world domination.

1.  Upgrade to a premium theme.

There are tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands!) of free WordPress themes out there, so it’s a cinch to find a theme that visually complements your brand or web project. But as you get more serious about your site, you’ll probably start to wonder if there is more to life than a pretty color scheme. In short, the answer is yes. You want a theme that will give you a leg up when it comes to SEO, that will let you change your site’s layout whenever the urge (or necessity) strikes and that won’t “break” when you upgrade to the latest version of WordPress. And if you want these things, you should consider swapping your free theme for a premium theme. Here’s why:

The first problem with free WordPress themes is security. Unfortunately, some free themes have nasty surprises tucked inside, such as hidden links to other sites, or worse, malicious code. You could end up with a site that gets hacked or infects your visitors’ computers, neither of which is a good thing when you’re trying to build your brand online!

So if you’re going to use a free theme, be sure it comes from a reliable source. Your best bet is to peruse this section on WordPress.org. Avoid searching for “free WordPress themes” on Google (or whatever search engine you use) because many creators of bad-news themes are also very skilled at SEO. This means that the themes that are the worst for security are also more likely to come up first on the results page of a search. With this in mind, it goes without saying that searching for phrases such as “free wordpress themes”, “free wp themes” and “free wordpress themes download” are likely to lead you to sketchy themes.

The second problem with free WordPress themes is that they are rarely maintained by the person who made them. Often, you’ll upgrade to the latest version of WordPress and find that the theme you fell in love with “breaks,” leaving you with a site that looks funny or doesn’t work. On top of this, there’s rarely any support for free themes. So if you have a question about using your theme, you might be on your own.

The third problem with free themes has to do with customization. Free themes generally come with a set “look and feel” that you can’t modify very easily. This may be okay in the beginning, but as your biz or web project grows, you need your site to be able to grow with it. For example, maybe you’re launching a new service and you want to add a second sidebar to your site so that you can use that space to promote it with an eye-catching graphic and a snappy bit of copy you’ve written. With a free theme, you’ll be limited in terms of how you can do this. Your site is probably locked in to having only one sidebar, so you might have to resort to writing a blog post about your service, which will only get buried under your other posts. Not exactly great exposure for the new venture you’ve poured your heart and soul into.

Which brings us to what’s so great about premium themes (also known as paid themes): premium themes are (generally) secure, regularly maintained by their developers and easily customizable — even if you don’t know a thing about code.

Three of the most popular premium WordPress themes that you might want to look into if you’re considering upgrading from a free theme are Headway, Catalyst and Thesis. Below is a quick breakdown of each to help you choose the one that’s best for you.


Headway is known for their incredibly intuitive WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) interface. This lets you literally “drag and drop” things around to reorganize the layout of your site, making it a good choice for visually-oriented Biz Ladies who like the idea of getting really hands on with their sites. Headway costs $87 for a personal license.


Catalyst is one of the newer kids on the block, but it gives you some pretty impressive options to help you customize the look of your WordPress site. You can stick to using the point-and-click design options, or you can get really fancy with their custom CSS building tool. Catalyst costs $97 for a personal edition.


Thesis is known for its great SEO benefits. For example, it lets you set up specific title tags for every page or post on your site. Thesis also lets you play around with changing a whole bunch of design settings, such as fonts and font colors, background colors and sidebar positioning and width. You can even set up a cool little box that rotates photos in the sidebar.

I’m a big fan of Thesis, and I personally use it for all the WordPress sites I build for my clients at Better Than Chocolate. It costs $87 for a personal license.

2. Learn to use FTP.

If you have a WordPress website, there will come a time when knowledge of FTP will save you a lot of frustration. FTP stands for “file transfer protocol,” and all it really does it give you access to the files on your web server (or in other words, your web hosting space), as if you were browsing the files on your computer at home.

So why do you need to know how to use FTP? As you spend more time working on your website, you may run into situations when you’ll need to “host” an image or another file. For example, let’s say you’ve got someone who wants to advertise on your site. He or she will likely email you an image to put in your WordPress sidebar. But how do you get it to show up there? The answer is that you need to host the image somewhere, and FTP lets you put the image on your web server so that you can link to it.

Another good reason to learn to use FTP: premium themes often have areas where you can input the URL of your header graphic or your favicon (the cute little square graphic that appears next to the URL at the top of the browser window). And until your header graphic or favicon has been uploaded to your web space, it doesn’t have a URL. Yep, this is a must-learn, folks. But I promise, it’s easy :)

The first thing you need to start using FTP is an “FTP client”. There are lots of free ones available, but the one I find to be the best is called FileZilla. You can download it for free right here.

Once you have Filezilla installed, you’ll need to set up an FTP account for yourself through your web host. To do this, log in to your web-hosting control panel and look for some mention of “FTP accounts”. If this isn’t easy to find, you may want to consider switching to a web host that offers cPanel, which is a very easy-to-use interface for this sort of thing. I always recommend Green Geeks when someone wants a web-host suggestion, because they’re environmentally friendly and give great support.

Once logged in to your control panel, click on the “FTP accounts” link and follow the prompts to create an FTP account for yourself (if you can’t figure this out, give your web host’s technical support department a call). You’ll be asked to enter a username and a password for your FTP account, you’ll save your data and then you’ll be done. (Be sure to make note of your username and password before you save.)

The next step is to configure your FTP client so that it can connect to your web hosting account. FTP clients all work similarly, but for the sake of simplicity (and because it’s free!), let’s look at how to set up FileZilla. Here’s what to do:

  1. Open FileZilla and click the icon at the top left of the screen.
  2. Click the “New Site” button.
  3. Enter the name you want to give the site (choose something logical and recognizable, such as “My photography site”).
  4. In the “Host” box, enter your URL without the http:// or www. (e.g., “designspongeonline.com”).
  5. Next to “Logon type”, choose “Normal”.
  6. In the “User” box, enter the username that you set up in your web host’s control panel.
  7. Do the same for your “Password”.
  8. Click the “OK” button to save everything.

You can now connect to your website (and see all the files that comprise it) by clicking the top left icon in FileZilla, clicking on your site name and clicking the “Connect” button. All the tiles and folders that make up your website will then appear in the bottom right pane of FileZilla.

Note: Don’t worry if things look a bit scary at this point. You can’t really mess up anything unless you start deleting files or moving things around!

Now what about uploading files to your web space so that you can link to them on your WordPress site or enter a header image in your premium theme? You’ll want to start by deciding where to put the file. If you log in to your website via FTP and see a folder named “public_html” (again, we’re still looking at the bottom right pane here), start by double-clicking that folder to go inside it. You’ll probably see a bunch of files or folders (likely including wp-admin, wp-content and wp-includes). Right-click anywhere on the white space around those folders and choose “Create directory”. You’ll be prompted to enter a name for your folder, which you might call “images” or “stuff”. Choose a name that’s all one word (no spaces allowed!).

Once you’ve created the folder, double-click it to go inside. Now look at the upper-left pane (not the very top pane, but the one below it, on the left). In here, you’ll see all the files on your computer. Navigate to the folder that has your file in it, and in the lower-left pane, you’ll see a list of files that are in that folder. Right-click on the name of the file that you want to upload to your web space, and choose “Upload” from the menu that pops up. In a moment or two, your file will appear in the bottom right pane, in the folder you created a minute ago. Success! You’ve just completed your first FTP upload!

The next question, of course, is how you find out what the URL is for the file you just uploaded. This is actually pretty easy. At the top of the top-right pane in FileZilla, next to where it says “Remote site”, you’ll see something like this: /usr/www/images

The first two chunks of text (“usr” and “www”) aren’t important. What this means is that your image is now “living” at this address: http://www.yoururl.com/images/thefilenameyoujustuploaded.jpg (the .jpg may be different depending on whether your image is a .gif, a .png or something else).

The main thing to remember here is that your URL will take this format: http://www.yourdomain.com/thefolderyoujustcreated/thefilenameyoujustuploaded.jpg

To test that you’ve got the URL right, you can paste it into your browser (whether that be Safari, Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox) and check that it pulls up your image. If it doesn’t, you probably created your folder inside another folder, and therefore, you need to include the folder in the URL. For example, if you created a folder inside an existing folder called “wordpress”, the URL would be http://www.yoururl.com/wordpress/images/thefilenameyoujustuploaded.jpg.

If you run in to problems with folders and filenames on your web server, you can always call your web host to ask for help.

3. Set up an email address that’s “@your domain”.

One of the most important factors in taking your website to the next level of professionalism has to do with your email. If you’ve been giving out your personal email address for business matters, the first thing you want to do is create a more legit appearance by setting up an email address that looks something like yourname@yourdomain.com. Then I’ll show you how to set up this new domain so that it forwards to the email address you actually check. That way, you don’t have to log in to various email interfaces (life is complicated enough!).

It’s easy to do this via your web host’s control panel (cPanel). Just log in and look for a link or icon that says something about “Forwarders”. Click it, and on the next page, click the “Add Forwarder” button and fill out the form. You’ll want to choose the “forward to email address” option. In the box next to that, be sure to enter the email address that you check most frequently (this will likely be your personal email address). When you’re done, click the “Add Forwarder” button.

It might take a few minutes for the new settings to take effect, but once a bit of time has passed, you can double-check that you set up your forwarder properly by sending an email to the new address you just created.

If you set up your email forwarder to forward email to a Gmail account, you can take things a step further by configuring Gmail to send mail from your new @yourdomain email address (bonus points for professionalism!). Here are some instructions on how to do that: http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=22370

Now, go out there and have fun printing your fancy new email address on your business cards!

4. Start building your “list.”

If you’re serious about building your business, you need to have a list. By this I mean a list of people who are intrigued by what you’re doing and who want to give you their email addresses in exchange for updates on what you’re up to. Without a system in place to allow people to subscribe to get your email updates, you risk never seeing that first-time visitor again. But if she’s given you her email address because she likes your vibe, you’ve got a direct route to her inbox, ensuring that you stay “top of mind” with her if she ever needs a life coach/trainer/seamstress/whatever it is that you make your living doing.

So, how to set up your WordPress site to collect email addresses from interested visitors? First, you’ll need an account with an email marketing/email newsletter company. There are lots of them out there, but MailChimp is a great one to start with because they’re free until your list reaches 2,000 subscribers. If you want more advanced functionalities, I suggest aWeber. I use them for all the juicy stuff I send out to my Better Than Chocolate Society subscribers.

Next, it’s time to create a subscription form to put on your website. Most email marketing companies will give you several forms to choose from, and some (such as aWeber) will give you tons of options for customizing the look of your form. Every company will be different in terms of their subscription-form setup, but most will walk you through a setup process that wraps up with customizing the look of your form. Once you’ve created your form and have fine-tuned it to look the way you want, you’ll be given a chunk of HTML code (don’t worry – you don’t have to touch the code!). Just copy it to your clipboard for now.

Now comes the fun part: adding the form to your WordPress site. The first step is to decide where you’re going to put it. I recommend placing it toward the top of one of your sidebars so that it’s visible on every page of your site (remember, not everyone will arrive through your homepage, and you want to collect as many email addresses as possible to give you the chance to develop a relationship with lots and lots of people who already think you’re cool).

If you’ve gone with a premium WordPress theme like the ones I listed earlier, you can even add a second sidebar to your site simply to house your email subscription form, if necessary.

Now for the nitty-gritty of adding the code to your site. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Log in to your WordPress dashboard.
  2. Under “Appearance” in the left-hand menu, click “Widgets”.
  3. Under “Available Widgets”, look for “Text”.
  4. Drag the “Text” box over to your “Sidebar 1” or “Sidebar 2” area on the right side of the screen (depending on which sidebar you want to put the form in).
  5. Give the form a title, such as “Get email updates” or “Subscribe via email”.
  6. In the box below that, paste the code you got from your email marketing service.
  7. Click the little blue “Save” button.
  8. Load your site in another browser tab or window and check your work. If you don’t like the way the form looks, you can always go back to your email marketing service and choose a subscription form that uses different colors or graphics.

5. Put your RSS feed front and center.

These days, savvy web browsers use RSS readers to keep up with their favorite sites instead of visiting them directly (maybe you’re even reading this in an RSS reader right now). So if you don’t make subscribing to your RSS feed easy and obvious, that enthusiastic reader might never be back.

When you set up a WordPress site, your RSS feed is automatically created for you at www.yourdomain.com/feed. You can’t assume that people will know where to look for it, however, so it’s important to add an obvious link to your RSS feed somewhere on your site. The best way to do this is to use a graphic that links to your feed — one that uses the standard RSS symbol is best (grab one for free here).

Earlier in this article, you learned how to host an image on your web server via FTP, and you can use that same technique to place your RSS icon on your site. Just host the image on your web server, make note of the URL and decide where you want to put your RSS icon on your site. I suggest putting it at the top of your sidebar — perhaps above your email subscription form, if you’ve already added that to your site.

Now, follow these steps:

  1. Log in to your WordPress dashboard.
  2. Under “Appearance” in the left-hand menu, click “Widgets”.
  3. Under “Available Widgets”, look for “Text”.
  4. Drag the “Text” box over to your “Sidebar 1” or “Sidebar 2” area on the right side of the screen (depending on which sidebar you want to put the form in).
  5. Give the form a title such as “Subscribe via RSS” or “Get RSS updates”.
  6. In the box below that, type this code, replacing the parts in bold with the appropriate URLs:  <a href=”http://yoursite.com/feed”><img src=”http://www.yoursite.com/images/rssicon.gif” border=”0”></a> (The first URL should be your feed URL, and the second URL should be the URL for your RSS icon that you just uploaded to your web space using FTP).
  7. Click the little blue “Save” button.
  8. Load your site in another browser tab or window and check out how it looks.

And if you’re really feeling fancy, you may want to consider getting the FD Feedburner plugin, which allows you to redirect your feed through Feedburner so that you can track how many subscribers you have (among other fun things).

6. Showcase your creative genius with a slick portfolio

Whether you’re an artist or a crafter or not even close, having a beautiful portfolio functionality on your site can really help you make an impact.

Let’s say you want to show off the latest line of purses you’ve designed, feature a collection of your best logo designs or show off photos taken at the workshop you gave last weekend. You could add your images to a page or post using WordPress’ built-in image upload capabilities, but doing it this way is time-consuming and can look a bit hodge-podge. Instead, why not kick things up a notch with the free NextGEN gallery plugin for WordPress, which puts the focus on your images as they float demurely on top of your page content.

Curious to see an example? The site I built for Gretchen Achilles, an NYC-based book designer, uses NextGEN gallery to showcase the many different beautiful book covers and layouts she has created. To get a feel for how the plugin works, click one of her thumbnail images and use the arrow navigation at the bottom of the screen to move through the other images. Pretty nice, huh? This little plugin is all you need to elevate your image presentation to a whole other level.

NextGEN gallery has a lot of features, but using it is pretty straightforward. You can create as many galleries as you wish, and NextGEN Gallery makes it easy to reorder images within a gallery, in case you add them in the wrong order.

Your newfound FTP knowledge will come in handy here, too, because it’s fastest to add images to a gallery by uploading your images to a specific folder on your web server via FTP.

Once you’ve installed NextGEN gallery, you can familiarize yourself with all its functionalities by reading through the official tutorial for the plugin.

7. Know where to go for help.

As a wise woman named Marie Forleo once told me, “everything is figure-outable.” While webby stuff might seem mysterious and intimidating sometimes, it’s really not that bad, and as you master new tasks related to your website, you’ll find yourself feeling more equipped to take on the next challenge.

That being said, there are times when you’re going to feel stumped, and when that happens, it’s important to know where to turn.

Most questions about your site will fall under one of two categories: WordPress-related or theme-related. Depending on the type of question that’s troubling you, you can go to one of two places: The WordPress.org support forums or the support forum for your chosen premium theme (you’ll be sent a link to the forum after you purchase a premium theme).

Both are totally free, and you’ll find that there’s an amazing community of people waiting to help you out with any issue or hurdles.

Looking for more of a personalized service? Ever Friday, I’ll also answer all your burning web and WordPress questions (for free) over at the Better Than Chocolate blog, so if you’ve got one, feel free to submit it for next week’s edition at http://betterthanchocolatewebdesign.com/ask-me-your-web-questions/. It’s anonymous, and I promise no question is too silly or embarrassing!

Subscribe to the Better Than Chocolate Society and get Amanda’s guide, “The 6 Biggest Mistakes Women Make When Hiring a Web Designer (and How To Sidestep Them Like a Pro!)” for free.

Amanda is also offering a special WordPress website creation deal to clients who come in via her Biz Ladies articles! Go to http://betterthanchocolatewebdesign.com/hello-designsponge-readers/ for all the details.

Note: A few of the links in this article (for the premium themes, Green Geeks and aWeber) are affiliate links. This means that if you click them and sign up with that service provider, Amanda will receive a commission for referring you.

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  • What a timely post! I am currently building up my fledgling literary magazine’s online presence. The free features on wordpress are a great jumping off point, but have been needing/craving more depth as we grow. Thank you for this!!!

    Co-Editor – Far Away Literary Magazine (http://farawayliterary.wordpress.com)

  • Holy crap!!! This is a useful post! I am in the process of revamping my website and the information here is invaluable. Thanks so much!

  • Some companies that build premium WordPress themes also offer “lighter” versions of their themes for free. This can help you ensure security and also that there is a real person willing to talk to you if you have problems after an upgrade, etc.

    Graph Paper Press has both paid and free themes and I’ve found them to be great. http://graphpaperpress.com/

    (I don’t work for them, promise.)

  • What a great post! I’ve been hoping my engineer hubby could find the time to set up a site for me… right after he fixes the mailbox, finishes installing the stove, etc, etc…who needs him?! I’ll do it myself! Thanks for laying it all out for us!

  • Glad you guys found the post useful and timely! Let me know if you have any questions – happy to answer them here in the comments. :)

  • This is an awesome post. I used WordPress but I use Dreamhost’s FTP. I find the Suffusion Theme is really good to use for customization for sites. I used it for my portfolio and my blog and I love it because it’s so customizable, with lots of great sidebar options and widgets.

  • Great post. I am a WP gal, my site is getting an update to the Genesis theme with a custom look. I love the freedom you get from this platform. Learn something new everyday with WP.

  • What perfect timing! I’ve been poking around for a new blog theme, but found the choices overwhelming.
    Thanks for narrowing it down, you just saved me hours of investigating :)

    And I would second Jaimee’s Dreamhost shout out. I’ve been consistently impressed with their support services and features, and their hosting is carbon neutral.

  • Thanks a lot for the great information. It comes just on time. I started my blog (kind of a travelblog: http://www.weltenbummlermag.de) two months ago.

    A tool which I appreciate very much, is the Firebug! You can try to change the css and html code of your theme, without messing up the real editor code. Check it out. It’s pretty helpful.

  • I use Thesis for our company blog and I have to say it has THE BEST customization options and flexibility that I’ve seen BY FAR with their hooks. It takes a bit of coding wizardry but if you can handle HTML-ing a website you can figure it out.

    Love love love Thesis.

  • This is super super awesome information. I have a question. I started a blog on WordPress.com about a month ago that I’m really enjoying, but I am concerned about the free theme and the free hosting not giving me much flexibility. When I was in highschool I actually taught myself basic HTML and FTP so I know with some refreshing I could really wield some awesome on my blog.

    But now that I already have a blog on WordPress.com… is it even possible to switch to WordPress.org? What would be the best option if I wanted to gain customizability and have control over every aspect of my blog?

  • Such perfect timing, thanks so much for your post! I actually printed out your previous guide to setting up a website with WP and followed it step by step while setting up my site.

    Question, how user friendly are these premium themes? I’ve been considering “upgrading” the look of my blog since I think it’s a little blah, but I’m very new at this and probably the least tech savvy person here – I don’t know how to do things like write code, so I’m afraid it will be overwhelming or end up being a waste.

  • Hi Tibi,

    The premium themes are designed to be very user-friendly, so they’re great for people who don’t know any code at all. The whole purpose behind them is to give you more control over how your site looks without needing to have any HTML/CSS/PHP knowledge.

    They each come with a control panel that lets you tick or untick certain options, drag things around, and that sort of thing. :)

  • It’s good to see Amanda back here. She did my website and I love it…she is so helpful! Send all your questions over to her, because she is the best! And I will be trying to add the RSS feed and email stuff because I have been thinking of it for awhile.

  • What a great post! I’ll definitely be referring back to this one often. I’m really encouraged by the FTP section. I host through DreamHost and I was trying to upload something the other day that was not working for me. Now I have another option that I can try! Thanks again!

  • This post is fabulous. Thank you Amanda. I have been slowly learning HTML while my husband usually manages WordPress and everything for me.

    It’s nice to be in the know thanks to you.

  • Thank you for this timely post. I just started a WP blog about a month ago and have been getting a hang of it little by little. Some of your post is a little overwhelming I have to admit, but you are talking about things that I really need to think about and look into. Thank you so much for putting so much effort into helping out the art and crafting community. You are an inspiration.

  • Thanks everyone! It makes me so happy to hear that you’re all taking charge of your own websites like this! Knowledge is power, right? :)

  • Wonderful post….soooo much great information.

    I’m a WP devotee and wonder Amanda: How far out can one build Buddy Press within WP? Are there BP plugins and/or do you know of BP Plugin developers?

    I appreciate any suggestions. Thanks.

  • Such awesome info. I got lucky and decided to go with a theme designed by Tofurious (for photographers) and he also walks you through the step-by-step for a self-hosted WordPress blog. But I really needed the info on subscription, so thank you! :)

  • Great tips! And just FYI, there’s an even easier way to get external images to your server without having to use FTP. On the WP dashboard, click on Media Library > Add New. Upload your image to your WP server via the builtin WP file uploader, and copy the URL that appears in the “File URL” field after you upload it. Then it’s available for you to paste in the Widgets section! :-)

  • this was extremely useful. As a self-taught wordpress designer (and a degreed graphic designer) this brought up some interesting points that I wasn’t aware of! I will definitely be implementing these ideas in my future projects! Such great advice about googling themes.

  • I want to thank you thank you thank you for this article.I had been pouring over premium WordPress themes and just didn’t know what to go with. I’m now using Catalyst and it’s AMAZING! Has so many features (Google fonts, easy borders and width adjustments). Really good info!

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