Complete Study Guide for WordPress Website Building

The complete guide to learning WordPress

Learning WordPress can be a very long road for an inexperienced programmer. This guide can help you go from programming illiterate to freelancing programming quadrillion. It overviews the steps needed to become a competent WordPress developer. This guide can help the experienced and inexperienced wrap their heads around WordPress.

Don’t believe the myths.

Many myths come attached when learning any programming field (yes, you must know). A lot of it is hype from clickbait articles preying on the ignorant. So, I’m just going to lay out the three most persistent myths I see today:

No, you CANNOT learn programming in 24 hours, a week, or a month. To learn the entirety of the programming world, you will need to become an immortal being with a clear schedule. You can learn some basics in 24 hours, but you will never be done learning new programming skills (unless you are lazy).


On the opposite end of the scale is a myth saying you’ll need to be a genius bestowed with the incredible powers of math. There is nothing further from the truth. You would be surprised by the number of potato heads one must deal with in the field and how little math you will use. Maybe my favorite: There’s no point in learning programming when there are tools to make websites. This is the most aggravating because it’s the hardest to explain. But shortly, the question “Why do I need to learn to code if I have a WordPress theme?” can be answered: “Where would the themes come from if there were no programmers.” Same with web development tools. No tools on planet Earth can write more tools except programmers. Also, any device that has or will exist comes with severe limitations. But that’s a longer topic.

Yes, you have to learn the basics of programming.

Once again, you cry, “Why do I need to learn to program? It’s WordPress!” I think the more you learn about WordPress, the more you will realize how limited it is.

Here is the secret. WordPress is a platform, not a web development tool. This means that much of the heavy work still requires you to flex your brain and program. You might encounter issues if you don’t learn how to program beforehand. My theme is awesome! But I wouldn’t say I like the styling of the widgets in the footer. I want to build a membership site and need x functionality, but no plugin exists. I want to make a membership site, but my plugins conflict. The theme I bought has a big fat whopping problem, and I honestly think the theme developer is dead. What would you do if you didn’t know how to program in these situations?

Now, please learn the basics of programming.

Before you start on your path to learning HTML and CSS, you should take a moment and relax so that I can throw a study syllabus at your head. Before coming back, you will need to learn the following: HTML: The building blocks of the front end of your website (the display). Personal recommendation: Common mistakes can be cured with a firm grasp on inline, inline-block, and block-level elements, as well as a firm grip on relative vs. absolute positioning. CSS: This is the secret sauce to your website. Imagine that your HTML is a paint-by-numbers grid, and CSS is the paint. Every website uses CSS. PHP: This is the black box of the website. Nobody sees it but you. It is what creates all of the functionality, does all the thinking, and delivers the content of your website. This is what real “programming” is. Learn it. MySQL: Databases are where everything on your website is stored. You will need to learn how to interact safely with the database with PHP. Look up parameterized queries once you get back from all of that. We can begin diving into the basics of WordPress. Something optional to learn is JavaScript. It is great for animations or even delivering content to a user without refreshing a page. Also, there might be a time when you need to fix or update some javascript created by another developer.

Setting up WordPress

There are several ways to install WordPress on your website. The absolute easiest is through your cPanel account. A program on your cPanel will usually install WordPress for you. For example, QuickInstall has a one-click installation for WordPress. Another way is to download the WordPress source files and upload them to your server via FTP.

After installing WordPress, you will want to sign in to your WordPress site to set things up. There are many guides on setting up your WordPress site through the backend, but the basics you will need to learn are the following:

Installing your site theme: Even if you plan on making your theme, it is advisable to set up someone else’s theme to base your work on. This will serve as a great jumping-off point for your website. Please get familiar with plugins: they are easy to install and will provide most of the functionality of your website. Menus: learn where these are and how to set them up. You can create menus that are useable on any part of your website. Widgets: Widgets are not to be confused with plugins. Widgets are user interface elements (like a Twitter feed), while plugins are groups of files that can potentially make sweeping changes to the functionality of your site. Learn the difference between pages and posts. These things have very distinct and separate purposes. This will give you enough ammunition to set up a basic website. However, if you want something a bit less basic, you will have to continue.

How does content get delivered to the user?

Knowing how WordPress takes your content and presents it to the end-user is helpful. If you learned PHP, you would probably know how a website is given to the user. If not, and you have gotten this far, you are a shameful human being and deserve a death of a thousand cuts. It’s beneficial to know how the browser interprets data, what PHP’s purpose is in filling in content, how the website is compiled, etc.

Themes define the way that WordPress presents content to a user. They do this with PHP files that serve as templates to display certain parts of your website, like a blog post page or the header. They also include CSS and PHP files and can even provide functionality to a website.

I highly suggest learning what you’ll have to provide in your themes. There are also certain rules you need to follow if WordPress will recognize your music. However, the main parts will be the header, the index page, the sidebar, the footer, functions.php, and the stylesheet.

You might also encounter page templates, which are simply different ways to display a single site page. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look up “page template”; do that anyway.

Also, learn about post types. Everything on your website is a post type, whether pages, posts, or attachments. A page template is a template for a certain post type. Learning about post types might clear a lot of confusion down the road.

Global variables are essential in WordPress development. There are lists of all the global variables WordPress provides, ranging from the content you provide to users to information on the visitors themselves. Don’t bother memorizing these; reference them and be familiar with what type of global variables WordPress gives you. If you don’t find them, you might have to add the functionality as a plugin or simply in the function.php file.


Plugins allow you to add functionality to your website or others. There is a huge plugin market for WordPress. It’s a great way to earn some fat stacks of cocaine and gain a rep in the programming community. Essentially, plugins are groups of files that alter or add functionality to websites. However, there are certain rules for setting up your files so WordPress reads them. Learning when to add things to functions.php vs. creating a plugin is also important.

Hooks: Actions and Filters

Hooks allow you to “hook” one of your functions into WordPress so that it runs at a specific time. Without hooks, many types of functionality would not be possible. Trust me when I say learning what these are and how to use them will save your life and free up a world of possibilities.

Make sure to learn the difference between the two and how to use them. This knowledge will allow you to alter the functionality of WordPress heavily and will greatly open doors for your site functionality. Actions are hooks that allow you to run a function when a certain WordPress event occurs. For example, when you create a post, you might want to update a value in your database.


Alcohol scholar. Bacon fan. Internetaholic. Beer geek. Thinker. Coffee advocate. Reader. Have a strong interest in consulting about teddy bears in Nigeria. Spent 2001-2004 promoting glue in Pensacola, FL. My current pet project is testing the market for salsa in Las Vegas, NV. In 2008 I was getting to know birdhouses worldwide. Spent 2002-2008 buying and selling easy-bake-ovens in Bethesda, MD. Spent 2002-2009 marketing country music in the financial sector.