The web has globalized us all by giving us the tools to communicate with our target audience.  Blogging in particular offers untapped potential for reaching and communicating with new prospects.  WordPress provides a platform to leverage the full potential of blogging.  As of recent statistics over 10% of websites on the internet are being operated via WordPress.  Some of these include Mashable, TechCrunch, & Gizmodo just to name a few.  This blogging application comes equipped with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) capabilities, easy administration at your fingertips, and point-and-click theming.  In most cases that’s all you really need to build a simple yet efficient blog website.

I wouldn’t go as far by saying that it’s the ultimate website building application but will concur with it offering the most functionality out-of-the-box for blog related websites.  On the surface WordPress seems simple, slick, smooth, or perhaps even too plain.  For someone just starting out with blogging it may be a bit challenging to get around, I’ll give you that.  If that’s you then head on over to the WordPress Docs and Tutorials to get your feet wet.  After a few (or perhaps many) endless nights, countless cups of coffee, and lack of sleep it will all come together.  It takes time, be patient grasshopper and you shall conquer the powers of WordPress.  Those of you more “advanced” users are probably wondering what’s under the hood that you can manipulate.  Before we get ahead of ourselves here let’s go back to basics for a minute.  It’s good for all to recap for a minute.

Basic Anatomy Of WordPress Blogging Application

Your version of WordPress anatomy may vary from mine.  All dependent upon the angle you’ll choose to look at it.  There are a few things that you should be aware of before getting too technical.  The open source blogging application consists of several elements that make it function.

  1. Theme – it’s a combination of files, folders, and images that come together in compiling the entire view of your website.  By default WordPress comes with a default theme that’s very minimal and easy on the eyes.  You can modify a theme any way you’d like based on your personal preference and taste but in most occasions requires basic knowledge of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), PHP, and/or HTML languages.
  2. Plugin – one of the two add-on functionality that WordPress offers are plugins.  A direct bolt-on for your blog that enhances or provides new capabilities.  Such may include social media enhancements like the addition of a Tweet button to your posts, a Facebook share options, Google +1 content sharing, or anything of that sort.  Each plugin typically comes with a configuration area where you can customize it to match the look and feel of your blog.
  3. Widgets – two of two core functionality that’s available for your blogging website.  Widgets are similar to plugins with the exception of a couple of things.  It will also provide additional enhancements for your site that will be visible on the frontend by your visitors.  They’re unique in the sense that each offers drag-and-drop options onto the sidebar area of your site.  Unlike plugins widgets can be placed on certain sections of your site to offer additional functionality without altering the existing core code of your template.
  4. Pages – inside your WordPress blog application you have the ability to create static content.  These are called ‘Pages’ which you can customize in any way you’d like.  Pages are typically accessed from the top navigation level of your blog.  For example if you take a look at the navigational structure of my blog in the header area you’ll notice that they all consist of static pages.
  5. Posts – these are content entries typically shown in chronological order of display.  Each blog post offers commentary in an effort to create user-generated content for your blog.  Most proactive bloggers engage in regular posting activity in an effort to display thought leadership and build a solid audience around their voice.

As discussed above WordPress comes with a default theme when installed on your server.  There are thousands of themes available on the web for specific industries.  Each theme consists various elements that make it come together including static files for your pages.  On some instances you may want to customize the look of individual pages on your WordPress blog.  For instance let’s say that on the default page of your blog there’s a primary content area and sidebar displayed.  Now for your ‘About’ page you want to exclude the sidebar from displaying on the frontend and replacing it with a static image.  There’s a way you can accomplish this with some minimal coding knowledge.

Creating Custom Page Templates In WordPress

To accomplish this in the most efficient way you’ll need some basic tools such as Notepad for Windows, TextEditor for your MAC, or perhaps something as fancy as DreamWeaver.  In addition to these you may want download a free ftp client such as FileZilla.  If you’re unfamiliar with how to use such client then you’ll need to drill into the files of your blog by going thru your hosting panel.  Refer to the available documentation for that or simply contact me for help if you get stuck.

Great!  You’re psyched and ready to create some custom page templates for your blog.  Just as a safety precaution I’m going to forewarn you and tell you to sit back in your chair and take a deep breath.  While most will zip thru this part in creating a custom page template for their blog others will find it mind boggling or even depressing.  Consider yourself warned!

  1. Fire up your FileZill FTP Client or drill down to the root directory section of your blog.
  2. Once you dig in there should be three main folders in that directory consisting of wp-admin, wp-content, wp-includes.  You will also find a variety of files in this directory.  Nothing to worry about on those, stay focused on the folders.
  3. Drill into your wp-content folder and then select themes.
  4. Inside the themes folder you’ll find all the current ones installed on your blog.  Select the one your blog is currently using.  If you get stuck on this one log in to the backend of your blog and choose themes under the appearance tab on the left-side panel.  Here you will find the name of the current template that’s being used.
  5. Now pay close attention!  The static page files you’ll find here are part of your theme and each have their own purpose.  Some of the most common file names you’ll find here are sidebar.php (for your sidebar area), single.php (single full-width pages), & search.php(drives the search functionality that comes default on your blog).  Consult with the documentation of your theme to identify the file names of your page templates.
  6. Once you’ve identified the page templates for your theme simply download one of them to your desktop.  Open the file with the text editor of your choice.  I would advise that you also browse thru the Pages In A Nutshell for WordPress section just to familiarize yourself with the code structure.
  7. Using the text editor of your choice you can manipulate an existing page by modifying its code.  The Creating Your Own Page Templates section on the WordPress site offers live examples of code structure.  It’s an excellent guide for beginners and advanced users seeking to create new page templates.
  8. IMPORTANT!  After manipulating the code of an existing page template file ensure that you’ve saved it as a new file name.  Refrain from using any special characters such as “, -, _, or anything of such in the file name itself.  It may just complicate things.  Upload the new file name to the same directory folder where you downloaded the original from.  Don’t worry it will not break your live site.
  9. Assigning Your New Template – as mentioned above page templates apply only to your page of your blog. Log in to the backend area of your blog and click on All Pages under the Pages navigation.  Click on Edit to administer one of your pages.  On the right hand side column of your view you will notice a drop-down box right below Templates.  Choose the template name here in order to associate your content accordingly.

Creating custom page templates for your WordPress blog can be a bit overwhelming.  For someone with no technical knowledge or coding skills whatsoever it will present a serious challenge.  Although in my experience I have to say that gaining some in-depth knowledge of this powerful blogging application will serve your good in the long run.  Sit back, follow the instruction above, have some coffee if that’s what floats your boat, and get some results.  Worse case scenario if you get stuck and simply don’t know what to do feel free to e-mail me.  My secretary tends to take long lunch breaks although if you leave a message I’ll get back to you promptly.