One of the great things about WordPress is that it is very easy to install and get started with creating your website. Also, there are many online resources that can be of help should you run into any issues. However, it’s often difficult to find the right tutorial you need to answer your particular questions. Many times, you might wind up simply experimenting and trying out all sorts of different things to come up with a solution. To get the maximum benefits out of WordPress so you can create the best websites possible, it would be great to have some quality learning material that newbies can use as their step by step guide, and more experienced website owners can use as solid reference material.
Jeff Starr is a developer, designer, publisher, and author of several books on WordPress. We don’t often recommend books here on our site, but we’re definitely impressed with Jeff’s work and believe that all WordPress users can benefit from his books. He recently answered some questions we posed to him about his writing and how his books can help people that want to get the most out of WordPress.
Web Hosting Cat: You’ve written a number of books on WordPress: Digging into WordPress, WordPress Themes In-Depth, and The Tao of WordPress. Can you briefly tell us about each one?
Jeff Starr: Yes, I wrote Digging Into WordPress with co-author Chris Coyier. It is one of the most widely used books on WordPress, aimed at beginner to intermediate-level users who want to take their WordPress skills to the next level. The book is packed with tons of practical, real-world advice and hundreds of ready-to-go, copy-n-paste code snippets. Digging Into WordPress is used by many colleges and schools around the world, and is updated several times each year to stay current with WordPress.
My next book is The Tao of WordPress, which is written for beginners, admins, students, designers, and anyone who wants to learn how to get the most out of WordPress with the least amount of effort. The book begins with the very basics of getting things set up and choosing a web host, and then proceeds with a complete tour of WordPress. From there, it gets into themes, plugins, security, customization, SEO, and much more. The Tao of WordPress teaches you how to use existing WordPress features to do the work for you, so you can get more done in less time.
My third WordPress book is WordPress Themes In Depth, which focuses exclusively on building awesome WordPress themes. The book is aimed at users who are familiar with working on the Web and using WordPress. It begins with the basics of WordPress themes and then goes through the entire process of theme development. The book covers theme anatomy, templates, customizing, security, optimization, testing, front-end techniques, sharing and selling themes, advanced functionality, and everything in between. WordPress Themes In Depth is a packed book with over 450 pages of practical theme-building techniques, tricks, and tips.
In addition to my WordPress books, I wrote .htaccess made easy, which is a book that explains how to use the Apache .htaccess file to improve the performance, security, SEO, and usability of your site. It’s a complete guide that really takes the mystery out of .htaccess and brings together a wealth of useful information. The book includes an entire chapter on using .htaccess with WordPress, plus chapters on improving security, optimizing performance, enhancing usability, and maximizing SEO. When it comes to configuring and optimizing your server with .htaccess, .htaccess made easy explains everything you need to know with lots of practical, plug-&-play techniques.
WHC: Digging into WordPress is an excellent guide for beginners. I wish I would have had a copy when I was first getting started with WordPress. What would you say are the most important considerations when someone is creating their first WordPress site?
JS: Understand the basics of WordPress before diving in. It will make your experience with WordPress about a million times better. You want to have a solid idea about how things work, best practices, recommended steps, where to go for help, and other essential information.
For example, many people make the mistake of mass-activating a whole bunch of plugins all at the same time. Sure, that may seem like the easiest way to go about it, but it is a sloppy, unorganized approach. Instead, research plugins carefully and activate them one a time, configuring and testing each one before moving on to the next. This strategy makes it easy to recognize, troubleshoot, and resolve issues much more efficiently.
WordPress is very powerful and can do tons of stuff right out of the box. In order to harness that power, beginners should read up and get familiar with the software. This is one of the reasons why I wrote The Tao of WordPress — to give beginners a complete understanding of how WordPress works, and how to get the most out of it. But don’t take my word for it, listen to my readers.
WHC: In your book The Tao of WordPress, you write about learning the way of WordPress. For many people, they’ve had to learn WordPress by trial and error, possibly experimenting or trying to find a good tutorial online. What was your approach to writing this book and can you tell us how it can be effectively used to master WordPress?
JS: My approach to writing The Tao of WordPress was to bring together my 10+ years of WordPress experience, and then streamline and present the material in the most user-friendly, easy-to-understand way possible. The whole premise of the book is that WordPress is advanced software that is very powerful; it can do many things right out of the box, usually automatically or with very little configuration required.
For example, instead of installing a bunch of plugins or hacks to achieve your goals, the book teaches you how to let WordPress do the work for you — using existing features and functionality — so you get way more done with much less effort. Hence the title, “The Tao of WordPress”: it is the “way of WordPress” to make things easy for users. The book teaches about WordPress from that perspective.
WHC: Once someone has used WordPress to create some websites, the next logical step for many is to move into the area of WordPress development for themes, plugins, etc. Your book WordPress Themes In Depth really gets into the specific techniques for creating effective themes. How difficult is it to create your own WordPress themes? And how much of a programming background do you need?
JS: Building WordPress themes brings together a lot of diverse skills: everything from web design and development to SEO and security. WordPress Themes In Depth brings all of this information together to give the reader a complete perspective with plenty of practical, hands-on code examples. The book is designed to help the reader learn quickly about the essentials and details of building, optimizing, marketing, and selling WordPress themes.
As far as difficulty goes, I wouldn’t say that you need a lot of programming experience, but any sort of exposure that you’ve had with HTML, CSS, and PHP is definitely going to make things easier. Even so, the book is written such that even experienced beginners can get into it and learn how to rock their own awesome themes. Again, I invite you to check out what readers are saying.
WHC: Some website owners may be a bit intimidated working with the .htaccess file, but I really like how in .htaccess Made Easy you’ve presented each chapter in the book so that each aspect of htaccess is easily understandable. Specifically for WordPress, how can htaccess be utilized to optimize a website?
JS: It depends on the goals; each site is different. But in general, the .htaccess file can help to improve your site’s performance, security, SEO, usability, and much more. The file is integral to WordPress’ permalink feature, and can be used to protect your site with firewalls and context-specific security rules. It also can be used to optimize performance with things like caching content, compressing pages, and managing resources in granular fashion.
Basically with .htaccess we’re talking about handling traffic at the server-level, which enables you to redirect requests, customize 404 errors, block bad queries, and basically fine-tune many aspects of how the server delivers your content. .htaccess made easy focuses heavily on site performance and security, giving you hundreds of easy-to-implement techniques for optimizing your site with the powers of .htaccess. Anyone can do it, and this book shows you how.
WHC: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions Jeff, and continued success with your books.
JS: Thank you for the interview!