WordPress and Web FAQ

We get asked many questions, not just relating to WordPress, but also to web features and problems in general. This FAQ collects the questions that come up most often. Do you have a question that’s not listed here? Head over to the Ask a Question page to ask it!

What’s the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?

WordPress.com is a service you can sign up for to start a basic blogging site. WordPress.org, on the other hand, is software you can install at your own domain name that will run your entire site.

For the user, the main difference between these is that the .org version is infinitely more customisable than the .com version. Also, you will need to pay some money upfront (for a domain name and web hosting) to run the .org version, whereas the .com version runs for free on WordPress’s servers.

What is FTP?

FTP stands for “File Transfer Protocol.” This is a way of accessing all the files that make up a website. Normally would be achieved using an FTP client, a dedicated application/program, however can also be done in a browser.

What is HTML?

HTML stands for “HyperText Markup Language.” It’s a coding language used to call, or display, the elements of a website. Most HTML tags wrap around the piece of text that is seen by visitors to your website, and can determine things like what style a piece of text is displayed in. An example of a snippet of HTML code is:

What is CSS?

CSS stands for “Cascading Style Sheets.” It’s a coding language used to style a website, determining its colours, fonts, layout, and many other elements. CSS is probably the easiest coding language for novices to read. Every WordPress site has an individual file, called style.css, in which all the styles for the website are written. An example of a snippet of CSS code is:

What is PHP?

PHP stands for “Hypertext Preprocessor.” It’s a coding language used by WordPress to communicate with the database – where all your posts and pages are stored. For example, PHP would be used to tell WordPress to display a list of posts from a certain year. An example of a snippet of PHP code is:

What is RSS?

RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication.” It’s a way to automatically spread your blog articles out to a wider audience. Your blog becomes a “feed” which can then be read by RSS or “feed” readers. WordPress does this by default, so if you access http://yourdomain.com/?feed=rss you should see your feed. RSS is a great way to keep up with your favourite blogs. Using a service like Feedly, you can aggregate many RSS feeds and read them all in one place. You can also embed RSS feeds in your website or email marketing campaigns.

How do I resize images?

To use images on your website, it’s best to start with them already the correct size. Although WordPress can show them at smaller sizes, the full-sized image is still being loaded, and can slow down your website.

Remember, when resizing, make sure to keep the image proportion (sometimes called aspect ratio) intact! Otherwise your images will look all stretched… not great!

The below steps are for software that most people will already have on their computer. Of course, you can use something more sophisticated like Photoshop, but it’s not necessary!

  • Mac: Open your image in Preview. Go to the Tools menu and choose Adjust Size
  • Windows: Open your image in Paint. Go to the Home tab and click the Resize button.
How do I change my header image?

The first step in changing your header will be to find out the dimensions required by the theme (my favourite method is to use the MeasureIt browser extension), and create a header that fits those dimensions. If your theme is mobile responsive, you’ll also need to take into consideration how the header adjusts to smaller screens. Some themes have the header shrink down, so your will need to work at the smaller size. Other themes cut the header off, so only the left-hand side is visible.

Each theme has different ways to upload a header image. Some themes (in particular, but not only, the free ones), won’t have anywhere in the admin dashboard to upload a header. For these themes, you will need to access your site via FTP to replace the existing image with your own custom one. This is a more technical process and if you’re not comfortable with FTP, you might want to get a developer to help.

The best themes have a way to upload your header image (and sometimes even crop and resize it) within the admin dashboard. The upload area will usually tell you what dimensions you need.

If you’re using a Studiopress theme (and that would be a great idea!), you should also try out the plugin Genesis Responsive Header. It allows you to upload various headers of different sizes, giving you finer control over how your header appears when your site is being viewed on smaller screens.

How do I make a favicon?

A favicon is a “favourites icon”: the tiny icon representing a website that sits in the upper left-hand corner of the browser window, and/or in the browser’s list of favourites/bookmarks.

Favicons are 16×16 pixels, and saved as a file with the extension .ico. You can make them in Photoshop (with the plugin), or use a web-based service such as favicon.cc.

How do I set up my email address?

Most web hosting accounts will include the ability to set up a few email addresses. So you can have you@yourdomain.com. Very professional! To set this up, you’ll need to access the control panel in your hosting account. Hopefully, your host uses cPanel, which is standard server software. If so, there is a button called something like “Email Accounts” where you can set them up.

In the next screen, you will be able to choose the first part of each email address (before the @ sign) and the corresponding password. Once you’ve created the account, it will appear in the list of accounts. From here, you can then access the email client settings to plug into your email client (eg, Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail, or Entourage).

How can I find out statistics about my website visitors?

Probably the most widely-used analytics tool is Google Analytics. It’s free, powerful, and can give you a lot of data about your website. If you need help setting it up, check out Click-Winning Content.

How can I set up eCommerce?

There are many eCommerce plugins for WordPress, and I have tried a few! The top recommendation at this point is WooCommerce. It integrates nicely with most themes I’ve tried, is easy to use and looks great. The base plugin is free, but you’ll need to pay extra for extensions with specific functionality.

If you’re just selling a few digital items, consider a service like e-Junkie as a payment gateway and delivery method.

However, if you’re setting up a really big store, I would recommend using a dedicated eCommerce solution, like Shopify, rather than hosting it through your WordPress site. Then the store won’t bog down the rest of the website, and it will be free to do other things!

How can I sell an eBook?

If you want to sell an eBook from your website, and have people pay for it and download it without you lifting a finger, check out e-Junkie. It will give you a “buy now” button you can place on your website, and will automate the payment and delivery process.

How can I add a contact form?

There are a few ways to add a contact form to your website. The simplest I’ve found is a plugin called Contact Form 7. This plugin will allow you to set up a very basic form, that suits most purposes. To get more fancy, check out the forms service Wufoo, or create a form in your email marketing service (I like MailChimp) to embed on your site.

How can I add a survey?

I like SurveyMonkey. It’s easy to set up a survey then share the link via Facebook, email or on your website.

How can I make my site accessible to mobile visitors?

There are a few ways you can mobilise your WordPress website:

  1. Create a brand-new mobile version: This the most expensive option, but it might be worth considering if you really need a specific experience for mobile visitors. Check out the services Mobify and Appifier if you want to go this route.
  2. Use a plugin: Using a plugin will activate a special theme for mobile visitors. It’s an easy option, but your site will probably look totally different on the mobile version. Two such plugins are OnSwipe (for tablets only) and WordPress Mobile Pack.
  3. Use a responsive theme: A responsive theme means that everyone will see the same theme, but it will be rearranged to best fit the size of the visitor’s screen. For most sites, this is the best option. However, if you don’t choose a ready-made responsive design, you will need a developer to “retrofit” your site to be responsive. I recommend Studiopress’s responsive themes.
Why is my formatting lost/strange when copying from MS Word?

Sometimes, when you copy and paste your post from a word processor straight into WordPress, it keeps the formatting and makes things look pretty strange. There are two things you can try: Use the “Paste from Word” button in the toolbar above the edit window, or switch the editor from Visual mode to Text mode to paste it in (then switch back to Visual).

Why are my text colours different for each article?

WordPress uses Heading styles to keep your styling consistent across all pages. When you want heading text to be a different colour, the best idea is to apply one of these heading styles, rather than using the colour palette in the editor. This ensures that your styling will remain consistent. And, in the future, if you want to change the design of your site, using header styles means that you can update them all at once!

How can I stop spam comments?

Unfortunately, spam comments are par for the course with any website. However, there are ways to minimise them. One of the best way is the plugin Akismet. Akismet costs $5 for small sites, but has a free option if your site is personal and doesn’t make money. A free options is the Growmap Anti Spambot plugin, which works well but not quite as well as Akismet.

How can I make my website secure?

There are a few things you can do to stop the majority of hacking attempts on your WordPress website. Currently, I would recommend at least these things:

  1. Keep WordPress and all plugins updated,
  2. Make regular backups of your database and website files,
  3. Change the “admin” username to something less generic, and use a secure password,
  4. Check out the plugin Better WP Security.
How do I get my selected featured image to show when I share a link on Facebook?

Recently, a few people have been reporting problems with their featured image not showing up as the thumbnail next to a link shared on Facebook. Firstly, make sure that the image isn’t there when you share the link, by flicking through any available thumbnails. Facebook will often pull a few images from your website and allow you to shoose which one to show. If it’s not an option, try a plugin like Easy Facebook Share Thumbnail.

How do I fix a problem with my admin dashboard (can’t click on things, can’t drag things, error message, etc)?

The most common cause of these problems is a plugin running amok on your website. Try deactivating plugins, one at a time, to see if that fixes the problem. If you aren’t able to deactivate plugins (for instance, if you’re only getting an error message on the screen), you will need to access your site via FTP and remove plugins from there. Not for the faint-hearted!