How-To Geek

How to Own Your Own Website (Even If You Can’t Build One) Pt 3


If you’ve followed along, you’ve bought hosting and installed WordPress software for a swanky new webpage. Today we’ll explain the less obvious perks of WordPress and how you can get a bit more mileage out of your new web software.

This is the third and final entry in our series on owning your own website and creating content with a basic WordPress installation. In language any beginner could understand, we’ll talk about the plugins and tweaks that you can use to get features you might have not realized were even possible.

Basic Website Customizations


Chances are you don’t want your website to look like the stock “Just another WordPress Blog” look it has out of the box. Most themes (like the Picolight theme we downloaded in part 1) have basic menu-based options for switching out background images (or flat colors) as well as header images, link colors, and other various minor edits.

sshot-659 sshot-660

Most of these you can find under “Settings” or “Appearance” in the left hand menu of your WordPress administration page. These are usually pretty user-friendly, very simple ways to customize the look of your website, so we won’t go too deeply into explaining how to change an background image or upload a new header.


Deeper customization of any downloaded theme is also pretty easy if you know a bit of HTML and CSS and have patience enough to learn about your theme and are brave enough to risk breaking something. By navigating to Appearance > Editor you can edit the stylesheets and source of most of the pages that make up your theme.


This is the best way to customize the parts of the layout, fonts, and other parts of the theme that the theme creator didn’t include. This might be the only way to get your website to look the way you want, or it might be a nightmare, if you’re scared of code and scripting.


Here’s a word to the wise when editing your CSS and source in WordPress: always keep a local version you can revert to. It never hurts to at least paste the original into a new notepad window and keep it handy to revert any weird changes you might have made.

Extending Your Site’s Functions with Plugins


Plugins are one of the best features of your new WordPress software. They are crowd-sourced, easy to install extensions that add easy functionality that WordPress doesn’t have straight out of the box. Find the plugins page by navigating to Plugins > Add New.


Search for functionality you’d like to add to your site (like automatic integration with Facebook).


It’s stupidly easy to find a great plugin and install it.


You do have to activate a plugin after installing it. Also, because of the quirks of every different installation of WordPress and differences between hosts, not every plugin will work out for you. Be prepared to install and delete a lot of plugins before you find the ones that suit you the best.

image has a list of their most popular plugins (most of which are excellent) to give you great features without a lot of knowledge of coding for web applications. You can download them there, or return to the “add new plugins” menu and add them there (recommended).

Personal recommendations include: Contact Form 7, All in One SEO Pack, Pages Posts, Customize RSS, Enable Media Replace, and Simple Google Analytics.

What the Heck is a Widget?


Widgets are special plugins that could be defined as little gadgets that populate part of the layout of your webpage. These can show the date, allow readers to subscribe, let them search, or provide additional menus to help them navigate to different content. They can also display your twitter feed, or content from any number of pages you might have put out on other websites.


It makes a lot more sense with a quick demo. You can navigate to Appearance > Widgets to find the page shown above. The Picolight theme we’re using only supports one widget area, which is the right hand sidebar.


The default widgets appear here and can be edited to be whatever you want.


Drag the default widgets to “inactive”…


And when we add a “Custom Menu” to the widget area…


Our page now has a second menu in the sidebar. We can create a new custom menu with outbound links, add a Facebook like button, or whatever floats your boat.

sshot-710 also has a page where you can view some of the more popular plugins that are tagged as “widget.” Again, download them here or use your Plugin Installer to get them.

Make Yourself a Great Webpage… the Easy Way!

On a personal note, your author has a tough time believing that software as great as WordPress (or Joomla, or Drupal) is free. It offers amazingly feature rich tools for building a great site to the point that practically anyone without much skill with HTML, CSS, or PHP can have their own domain with a functional RSS feed that can pull content from Flickr, Twitter, post automatically to Facebook, and a host of other surprisingly great features. If you’ve missed them, check out the first and second parts to this simple three part series, and start building your own awesome site.

How to Own Your Own Website (Even If You Can’t Build One)

Part 1: Hosting and Installing  | Part 2: Themes and Menus

Part 3: Customization, Widgets and Plugins

So, how did we do? Do you feel more confused, or less? Or are you a fabled “web master,” with lots of tips for newbies for their first “real” web page? Tell us what you think in the comments, or send your questions on to Your questions about WordPress and making basic web pages may be included as a part more articles about building a great personal website.

Image Credit: Cats Yawning by Dave Schumaker, Creative Commons.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Stetson-wearing wild man. During the day, he manages IT and product development for screenprinted apparel manufacturing; by night he creates geek art posters, writes JavaScript, and records weekly podcasts about comics.

  • Published 04/5/12

Comments (17)

  1. dima

    Real geek would build his own website from scratch, not using WordPress or anything like that.

  2. Eric Z Goodnight

    If only you knew the irony of what you just said.

  3. abhijitrucks

    please suggest some cool one-page-website ideas.

  4. Eric Z Goodnight

    @abhijitrucks: You mean inspiration on what to use your WP site for? Probably the best usage of a single page site is to use it as an online business card. Let people download a VCF file they can add to their address book and put your resume up. A lot of people put up a simple storefront and sell handmade crafts or applications. WP has great e-commerce plugins as well, although they may not be free (or super easy to put up).

  5. bruceter

    What should I do about securing my webpage from malware. I have 2 different antivirus products on my pc, and a page on my website was recently infected. I couldn’t figure out how this intrusion happened or find the offending code that Google advised me that was on my site, so I deleted all my files for my infant site and started over. How can I make it more secure going forward?

  6. Eric Z Goodnight

    I can look into this more for you, but a kneejerk reaction is “secure passwords.” But there are a zillion ways that websites are breeched and I can write about them, too. Been a while since I did an “Online Safety” article.

  7. bruceter

    The first thing I did was change my password to a pass phrase with caps and numbers. My problem may have been just that simple, … using a too simple password. Thanks

  8. Eric Z Goodnight

    It’s a big problem and a fairly simple solution. I always use this tool for generating secure passwords, although this kind of password is looking less and less secure:

  9. Huchet

    I am in line with the “calling card” suggestion. I have a brief narrative description of myself, together with a picture. Then, because I want people to see the pictures I paint and read my poetry I link to further pages, using an index with links on the first page. (All very simple coding.) I put my site address on my emails. Then, if I am writing to someone to whom I wish to introduce myself, I just refer him or her to the first page. Its title is simply Simple, not pretentious — and does the job.

  10. jasray

    The only pleasure I had building a “real” web site (yes, I’ve taken HTML classes) was using a free Office Live account. Now Microsoft is scrapping that plan and making all users migrate to Office365 which is a real nightmare. But the built in page maker was all that most people really need. Such is life.

    I think Addictive Tips or MakeUseOf had a simple site builder article yesterday. Weebly, Wix–surely there is something for everyone. Don’t forget to pick up the full version of Microsoft Expressions via DreakSpark if you are a student. Sharepoint is nearly impossible for me.

    The above is a link to the article for simple site building.

  11. Jon

    @bruceter, hearing about those 30000 infected wp websites overnight at MaxPc’s website made me switch to drupal. it isn’t that hard as it looks like as long as you are good problem solver (in most cases it ends up with trial and error way). you can experiment. create a free account at 000webhost and if you are unsure and you can practice. after a while you will look at wp as a child toy. :0)

  12. Bart

    @dima, since you’re a real geek why don’t you create a how-to on creating a website from scratch…and post the link here otherwise you just look like an idiot…

    “Eric Z Goodnight

    If only you knew the irony of what you just said.”

    @Eric – thank you!

  13. Pepper Networks

    @Jon, I think you’re spot on with the trial and error. Everybody needs to just relax about making mistakes—they happen and you get over them. If you don’t know you’ve made a mistake, however, that’s a serious issue. My goal is to spot mistakes as rapidly as possible. I dove into Dreamweaver for my own site thinking I could leverage my expertise with Photoshop[SFX:BUZZER]. That was a heck of a learning curve!

    “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”
    Niels Bohr, Danish physicist (1885 – 1962)

  14. Bart

    @Eric – I went with godaddy hosting because i already have an account with them but i haven’t had a chance to follow your guide yet because i made some changes and it takes 3 days to replicate over the net…but as soon as it happens and i am able to follow your guide i will definately leave feedback about this article.

    Thanks again!!!

  15. Bob

    As far as passwords go, I’ve been using KeePass (free) available at:

    A portable version (USB Flash Drives, etc.) is here:

    I have KeePass on all of my computers and it works fine. If I update a password on one machine, I just email myself with the update, then, copy and paste the change in KeePass on the other machines. Not high-tech, but, it works and it’s an easy way to transfer data between computers!

  16. Eric Z Goodnight

    @Bart: Looking forward to hearing about your success. Installing on Godaddy is a little bit harder than using the automatic installer scripts, but it’s still fairly easy. WordPress has how tos on setting up the SQL usernames and servers. It looks daunting, but it’s not that tough. Navigating through GoDaddy’s web page is the hardest part. Link:

    @Pepper: Niels Bohr quotes always welcome. SCIENCE, I SAY! SCIENCE!

  17. CaliforniaGirlnontechie

    all this WP and secure password talk has gotten me all hot and bothered this am….

    You guys need to watch what you say when dumb girls are around who have to friggen pay a designer to design a WP site.. talk about embarrassing…

    Now, excuse me whilest I ponder these last comments, alone…

    (just kidding)

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