Stitches Posted 21 Jan 2013 , 12:01am
post #1 of

I'm in the process of setting up my website. I'm using wordpress.org. It's all set up, now I need to choose a wordpress friendly 'theme'. I've already shopped alot on line looking at possibilities and it's hard to choose which one to buy. I have very limited skills so that's a huge thing to consider.

 

 I'm so naive because when I look at many cake decorators websites for inspiration they all look sort of similar. So I thought I might be able to find an obvious 'theme' design that many are using. But I'm not running across anything that looks familiar.

 

Can anyone recommend a 'theme' they have used and liked for their website?  Or would anyone know what theme/design is commonly used for photo intense sites?

40 replies
Stitches Posted 21 Jan 2013 , 8:36pm
post #2 of

Wow..............no one made their own website? Or did you not need to use a 'theme'?

jason_kraft Posted 21 Jan 2013 , 9:18pm
post #3 of

AWhen I design web sites I typically sketch out the pages on paper based on use cases from the target market, with the "theme" derived from the branding identity in the company's business plan. Any professional web designer should be able to do the same. I usually create web sites from scratch, I've never used wordpress (it's the web design equivalent of baking with a cake mix).

ibeeflower Posted 21 Jan 2013 , 9:30pm
post #4 of
Quote:
Originally Posted by jason_kraft 

When I design web sites I typically sketch out the pages on paper based on use cases from the target market, with the "theme" derived from the branding identity in the company's business plan. Any professional web designer should be able to do the same. I usually create web sites from scratch, I've never used wordpress (it's the web design equivalent of baking with a cake mix).

Kudos to you Jason, for coding your own site. We had to use Wordpress for our site because our coded site was awful. I would love to code my own personal website though. How did you learn?

 

I had a former boss tell me that Wordpress and Joomla were the future, and that those that did their own coding would soon be obsolete. 

-K8memphis Posted 21 Jan 2013 , 9:37pm
post #5 of

 

 

while my website is no longer up

 

i took pictures of favorite patterns

 

and used that as my background

 

then i just added the other buttons & things & links to the pages

 

probably had a 'loving hands at home' look but i liked it

 

i wasn't truly 'in business'--just family & friends etc.

 

i used to have book pages as a background too

jason_kraft Posted 21 Jan 2013 , 9:55pm
post #6 of

AI started 20 years ago, in 1993 (about a year after the web went public) I created the web site for my high school using a text editor, since there were really no other web design tools available. I had been doing some graphics work and desktop publishing/page layout for class assignments as well as coding before then so those skills naturally transferred to the web. I would say one of the most important skills is being able to look at the code and see a picture in your mind of what the resulting page will look like.

I agree that CMS tools like Joomla are the way to go for sites that will be updated frequently, but web sites for business are relatively static, and it's easy enough to integrate dynamic components like photo slideshows and twitter feeds into a hand-coded site.

If you want to learn how to code web sites, learning HTML is the best starting point, followed by CSS, JavaScript, and eventually HTML5. W3Schools has an excellent series of tutorials that covers all of these.

http://www.w3schools.com/html/default.asp

Stitches Posted 21 Jan 2013 , 9:56pm
post #7 of

Well, I can't write code so wordpress.org it's going to be. I have tons of decorators in my "favorites" and it surprising, I think there are many nice sites people put together just through google. Not to mention a ton of bloggers with beautiful sites that use wordpress.

 

I've tried a couple times to contact professional designers, it's weird, no one has responded to my requests for info.. I don't know if web designers don't read their emails or what. It makes me loose faith in them and supports my reasons to design my own (so I know how to make updates myself).

-K8memphis Posted 21 Jan 2013 , 10:01pm
post #8 of

i've worked for people who were at the mercy of their web people/designers

 

sounded like a nightmare to me

 

i used yahoo sitebuilder

 

they offered phone assistance that i used a time or two

 

does webpress offer that?

jason_kraft Posted 21 Jan 2013 , 10:05pm
post #9 of

AWhere have you been looking for web designers? Most areas should have at least a few local designers who you can meet in person and come up with some on-the-spot mockups. If a designer is not willing to teach you how to update the site yourself then you need to find a different designer.

SugaredSaffron Posted 21 Jan 2013 , 10:44pm

AI got my theme from themeforest, very cheap. I paid a web designer for my 1st site and it was crapola. I've done this one by myself, very good theme with lots of different options to customize.[URL]http://www.sugaredsaffron.co.uk[/URL]

I can add photos myself, change text as and when I want, optimise it for SEO, add many pages as I want, I could go on and on. Clients comment on how professional it looks, I cringe looking at the old site.

The support forums are also excellent as are the wordpress plugins. It took some time to work out but its the best think I've done for the business.

ibeeflower Posted 21 Jan 2013 , 10:59pm

I will look into the site you provided Jason. I would like to build my own website. Getting our webmaster to swap out a picture for a page is such a hassle. He stopped replying to my emails, but web design is not his primary job. He has a full time job, is getting his MBA, and dealing with his family. I just wish he had taught me how to change out major pictures on the top of the site.

 

I agree with SugaredSaffron, the forums for Joomla and Wordpress are great. When I worked with Joomla, I received a lot of help from the forums...much like CakeCentral.

tracyaem Posted 21 Jan 2013 , 11:01pm

I hired a designer to do my site. My brother is a graphic designer (print) but he referred me to the web guy he works with that freelances on the side. It's worked out really well for both of us. I'd be hesitant to hire someone random off the web, but I knew I couldn't do it myself :) We have a maintenance agreement in place and he updates the site 1x/month for a flat fee (new pics, updated specials, etc - no major design changes). I gave him my logo, the content of the pages, and told him I liked pink. He did the rest and I'm pretty happy with it. www.sweetfancycakes.com

DeliciousDesserts Posted 21 Jan 2013 , 11:48pm

I have 0 coding skills.  I couldn't even really figure out the basics of wordpress.  It was all so confusing!

 

I did a little start-up site from wix.com.  I was able to modify it to be a bit different than the template.  Most importantly, it was VERY user friendly. The site is free & the templates are free.  I ended up paying $9 a month to "upgrade" so they host the site & there are no wix ads.  Really very happy with it for now.  Someday when we have enough $$$, I'll hire a professional.  For now, it's great.

 

http://www.verydeliciousdesserts.com/

Stitches Posted 22 Jan 2013 , 2:05pm
Quote:
Originally Posted by jason_kraft 

Where have you been looking for web designers? Most areas should have at least a few local designers who you can meet in person and come up with some on-the-spot mockups. If a designer is not willing to teach you how to update the site yourself then you need to find a different designer.

I've been looking at websites I like and looking for the credits. Many have links to the designers/programers site. Last one I tried to get a qoute from was from Cakegirls new website. I had a local person reccomended and they got busy and didn't bother to tell me until they were available again...............no thanks, if you can't email me a note now, your probably not going to help me two years from now when I need updates.

 

 

 

DeliciousDesserts, thank-you! That's definately an option if I can't get the wordpress done. I think you did a splendid job!!!

 

SugaredSaffron you have a beautiful site too!!!!!!!

 

 

 

Perhaps, it's knowing which plugins will simplify things for non-coders? Is that more helpful then using 'themes'?

-K8memphis Posted 22 Jan 2013 , 2:23pm
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stitches 

 

...Perhaps, it's knowing which plugins will simplify things for non-coders? Is that more helpful then using 'themes'?

 

yes i think you got it

 

yes just learn what your web provider offers

 

have you put together anything yet?

 

what i did was go to the free website places--the really dumbed down ones and played around there

 

then i went to mine and started plugging things in

 

you can make your pages first and later decide how to link them all together

 

the theme is just a framework but it doesn't always have to be in place first

 

sometimes when you make changes you have to re-tweak everything but that's part of setting it up and getting to know what's there and what you want to do

 

for example get your portfolios all assembled by plugging in your photos, write your 'about us' piece decide what you want on the 'contact' page do you want a 'prices & flavors' page a 'faq' page

 

you can try different themes

 

i guess the most important question is

 

what does your web provider offer you??

Stitches Posted 22 Jan 2013 , 4:40pm
Quote:
Originally Posted by -K8memphis 

i guess the most important question is

 

what does your web provider offer you??

I've already purchased wordpress. It comes with a basic dashboard 'twentyten' (hope I wrote that correctly). I've just purchased a non-coder type plug in called Ultimate Tiny MCE which I haven't played with yet. But it looks promising.

 

I have done what you suggested K8, I've written up the pages I want to include. BUT as I understand uploading them/pasteing pages isn't like we all are used to doing. I think I have to first post in notebook with no formatting.

 

The link Jason provided I had found before,.............before I could "start", now that I've started and get a little bit, that website is AUESOME!! I love the playground area where you can test your code!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Still many things I don't understand, but I'm further ahead today then I was yesterday. Don't laugh too hard, but http://realcakecompany.com/ here's what I've got so far. One of the hardest things for me is learning the names/labels of all this new language. I get names wrong all the time, sort of a dyslexia

-K8memphis Posted 22 Jan 2013 , 5:30pm

it was a pia learning process for me but it really felt good when i published

 

i tweaked it forever--i think it's normal to get really obsessed with it

 

i built my pages in thesitebuilder then linked to them with whatever backgrounds i wanted

 

so many options---to use their themes or kinda be more diy about it and make more individual choices

 

just a matter of learning the program

 

sounds like you are on the way!!!

 

can't wait to see it!!!

 

no pressure

Azunga Posted 23 Jan 2013 , 8:28am

Hey Guys,

 

I noticed this post and thought I would help out with any questions.  I'm a web design and search engine optimization professional with many years (10+) of experience. 

 

Some general responses to other posts on here:

 

In my opinion Wordpress (self hosted) is the best solution for a content management system (a site that the owner can update themselves).  Self hosted means hosted with a third party instead of Wordpress.com.  Wordpress.org is the self hosted section of Wordpress.  Yes there is a difference in the two sites.  Wordpress.com is hosted by Automatic the parent company of Wordpress.  They offer a great service but it's limited and they only allow certain plugins, limited editability, and ends up costing more in the long run to get what you exactly want.  That's important for search engine optimization and getting a site that looks professional so that you gain new clients, orders, and expose your brand.  Also Wordpress is supported by thousands and thousands of designers and developers.  If something happens to the original designer then it's not hard at all to meet a new Wordpress guy.   

 

"...Perhaps, it's knowing which plugins will simplify things for non-coders? Is that more helpful then using 'themes'?" = Plugins and themes are different.  Plugins are like apps on a smart phone.  They add functionality and features.  The theme is the look, fonts, colors, and over all layout.

 

@Stitches - I see you went with a Woothemes theme.  Good choice!

 

"See what your web provider offers"  =  If you can host Wordpress with them then you should be able to use any plugin that you want.  As long as it is compatible with the version of Wordpress that your using.  The current version is 3.5.

 

I personally would stay away from Wixx, Yahoo Sitebuilder, and many of those "free" sites: 

  • They can take a very, very long time to create a decent looking site if you don't know what your doing and even if you know web design (html, css or more) then it can still take a long time because of their proprietary system. Focus on what you do professionally and let a professional web designer that knows their way around create something for you.  It's time and money better spent on a web site that will actually give you a return on investment.
  • Changing the format, look, and functionality in the future when you grow is limited by what they offer and that's how many make the most of their money... upgrades.  Change one thing and it's $5 / month, change another and it's another $10 / month.  Before you know it you're paying 50-75 / month on a generic web site that still doesn't perform well.
  • Upgrading is terrible and can really restrict your business when you need to take it to the next level.
  • Many of those sites are hosted on shared hosting which means there's hundreds of other web sites hosted on the same computer.  If one of those sites gets a ton of random traffic, they get hacked, or the hosting company just puts to many on one computer then you site slows down.  Studies show that most people leave web sites if they have to wait longer than 7 seconds.  
  • The terms of service or privacy policy can change anytime or include things you didn't think of.  Many times you try to move your site or have performance issues and try to get away from the "free" service.  Many charge a fee or really it just can't be moved to a new server because it's a proprietary system which won't work with other hosts.

 

There's really plenty more reasons that I could go on and on about... 

 

I say find a local or online designer (all of us are online as we are web based people) that has a good portfolio of established clients.  Send those clients an email, if you can, to see what they say about them.  You might not get responses from them all but a few usually will say a good word for a designer / developer that they like and have worked with for a long time.  I know my clients would refer me :)

 

When you get your web site made make sure you have a backup and all the login information to access where all the files and database are stored.  That way if you decide to change developers, hosting, or anything else then you can bring your web site elsewhere.  Any decent web host will know how to host Wordpress. 

 

I could go on and on about things to consider, my thoughts and so much more but that is enough for now. 

Azunga Posted 23 Jan 2013 , 8:30am

Hey Guys,

 

I noticed this post and thought I would help out with any questions.  I'm a web design and search engine optimization professional with many years (10+) of experience. 

 

Some general responses to other posts on here:

 

In my opinion Wordpress (self hosted) is the best solution for a content management system (a site that the owner can update themselves).  Self hosted means hosted with a third party instead of Wordpress.com.  Wordpress.org is the self hosted section of Wordpress.  Yes there is a difference in the two sites.  Wordpress.com is hosted by Automatic the parent company of Wordpress.  They offer a great service but it's limited and they only allow certain plugins, limited editability, and ends up costing more in the long run to get what you exactly want.  That's important for search engine optimization and getting a site that looks professional so that you gain new clients, orders, and expose your brand.  Also Wordpress is supported by thousands and thousands of designers and developers.  If something happens to the original designer then it's not hard at all to meet a new Wordpress guy.   

 

"...Perhaps, it's knowing which plugins will simplify things for non-coders? Is that more helpful then using 'themes'?" = Plugins and themes are different.  Plugins are like apps on a smart phone.  They add functionality and features.  The theme is the look, fonts, colors, and over all layout.

 

@Stitches - I see you went with a Woothemes theme.  Good choice!

 

"See what your web provider offers"  =  If you can host Wordpress with them then you should be able to use any plugin that you want.  As long as it is compatible with the version of Wordpress that your using.  The current version is 3.5.

 

I personally would stay away from Wixx, Yahoo Sitebuilder, and many of those "free" sites: 

  • They can take a very, very long time to create a decent looking site if you don't know what your doing and even if you know web design (html, css or more) then it can still take a long time because of their proprietary system. Focus on what you do professionally and let a professional web designer that knows their way around create something for you.  It's time and money better spent on a web site that will actually give you a return on investment.
  • Changing the format, look, and functionality in the future when you grow is limited by what they offer and that's how many make the most of their money... upgrades.  Change one thing and it's $5 / month, change another and it's another $10 / month.  Before you know it you're paying 50-75 / month on a generic web site that still doesn't perform well.
  • Upgrading is terrible and can really restrict your business when you need to take it to the next level.
  • Many of those sites are hosted on shared hosting which means there's hundreds of other web sites hosted on the same computer.  If one of those sites gets a ton of random traffic, they get hacked, or the hosting company just puts to many on one computer then you site slows down.  Studies show that most people leave web sites if they have to wait longer than 7 seconds.  
  • The terms of service or privacy policy can change anytime or include things you didn't think of.  Many times you try to move your site or have performance issues and try to get away from the "free" service.  Many charge a fee or really it just can't be moved to a new server because it's a proprietary system which won't work with other hosts.

 

There's really plenty more reasons that I could go on and on about... 

 

I say find a local or online designer (all of us are online as we are web based people) that has a good portfolio of established clients.  Send those clients an email, if you can, to see what they say about them.  You might not get responses from them all but a few usually will say a good word for a designer / developer that they like and have worked with for a long time.  I know my clients would refer me :)

 

When you get your web site made make sure you have a backup and all the login information to access where all the files and database are stored.  That way if you decide to change developers, hosting, or anything else then you can bring your web site elsewhere.  Any decent web host will know how to host Wordpress. 

 

I could go on and on about things to consider, my thoughts and so much more but that is enough for now. 

 

- Adam

fcakes Posted 23 Jan 2013 , 2:51pm

AI've had a tough time figuring out Wordpress....my site is on hold until I can figure out how to use the plugins and themes :(

-K8memphis Posted 23 Jan 2013 , 4:20pm

stitches,

 

i love it--you're off to a good start--i realize it is in process

 

but it is so clean and pretty

 

the black & white picture rocks on the white background

 

what's not to love

 

take your time

 

you have an online presence and it's elegant

 

sweet

-K8memphis Posted 23 Jan 2013 , 4:26pm

fcakes,

 

you'll get there!!

 

i had to get muy obsessed with mine

 

i spent days and well--yes obsessed is a good word

 

big learning curve--small, diminishing ram* head space available

 

icon_biggrin.gif

 

*random access memory

debm1 Posted 23 Jan 2013 , 4:50pm

ElegantThemes.com has some great themes. You pay a flat yearly rate, and that gives you rights to use all of their themes, and updates. They also have an elegant builder plugin, that when activated on your wordpress site, gives you the ability to personalize pages with a simple drag-and-drop page builder. I've built a few sites with their themes, and now I have to finish my own sites. They have quite a few themes that are responsive, too... meaning they work seamlessly with hand-held devices or with computers with monitors. I have bought the developer's package, as I can use the themes on multiple sites, and re-sell them. Then, I bought my hosting through webhostinghub.com, because not only is it a great price, but I can have unlimited sites... since I need 3 of my own. :) If you only have one site, you can just buy the regular 39.00 package, which gives you access to all 80 themes (and the add new ones regularly). You can build your site, and try out all different themes, and change back and forth without paying more per theme.

 

Keep in mind, I am just learning wordpress. So far, I am loving it, even though it is like wrapping my head around a whole new ball of wax. My cake site has a long way to go. I have to finish the work for paying customers first, then I'll work on mine. :)

 

Here are a few sites I've built with the themes from Elegant Themes:

http://sitesations.com/

http://welshculturenepa.org/

http://millerscakes.com/

 

To LEARN this crazy wordpress stuff, you can buy some great training (video training) on http://wpapprentice.com/

They have Website Blueprint (building a site...not just a blog), and Wordpress Essentials (basic wordpress how-to training).

 

Hope the info helps someone out there.

Deb

DeliciousDesserts Posted 23 Jan 2013 , 8:35pm

Azunga,

 

I get what you are saying.  For me & for now, wix was perfect. It was user friendly (I seriously couldn't even figure out where to start with wordpress).  I can change anything at anytime including adding more photos for a flat rate of $9 a month.  I don't have to pay for more changes or anything.  I really like that.  I stayed away from other "free sites" for exactly what you said.  Don't bait & switch me or bury me in additional fees.  

 

I also recognized this was temporary.  I had $0 to pay someone.  The plan is to use the wix site until we can save the $ for a professional.  My dream is to have the professional site!  The minimum is $600 & the really great sites are about $5000 in my area.  Just don't have it now.  I know we will have to start all over when we can finally go pro.  I'm looking forward to it.  

 

For budget, for size of my business, for ease of use, & for now wix was the way to go for me.

DeliciousDesserts Posted 23 Jan 2013 , 8:36pm

Azunga,

 

I would love to hear any ideas you have of optimizing my ranking on search engines.  I know how you feel about Wix, but it's all I can afford at the moment.

 

**edited to add**  I certainly don't expect you to give us some trade secrets for free.  Any tips are appreciated.

Azunga Posted 23 Jan 2013 , 11:14pm

@deliciousdesserts -  Wix can really be good for people that just need a simple site that works.  People move from these sites because it is limited after a while.  I get that you understand that.  5k for a new professional web site isn't unheard of but a bit on the expensive side depending on what you're looking for.  E-commerce can be expensive because there's a lot involved such as setup, gateways, enhanced security, proper functionality that's user friendly, and much more.   

 

Some quick tips that I suggest for search engine optimization (SEO)... Think like a search engine and why should they give you the top spot.  There's two parts to SEO.  On page and off page: 

 

For on page SEO you want to make sure you have quality, unique content that people want to read and link to.  I suggest every business, no matter what industry, to have a blog.  It's the best way to consistently update content on the web site.  It's even possible to set it up to automatically post to Facebook and Twitter to keep those sources of clients up to date and current.  Also make sure that for the words you want to rank for (keywords) that you have those words within your content on your web site.  It isn't the more the better as search engines will see you stuffing keywords if it's too much and not natural sounding.  But say you want to rank for "Charleston Wedding Cakes" then make sure you have the words "Charleston Wedding Cakes" in your content on your site in the content, tags, titles, and pretty much everywhere possible.  

 

Off page SEO is getting other web sites to link back to your web site.  Search engines see this a strong signal as to if you web site is popular.  If it's popular and has a lot of links then it boosts your rankings in search engines.  Not all links work though.  Getting comment sections on most web sites are NoFollow which means that search engines don't give rankings for those links.  It's not easy getting backlinks but keep writing quality content that people want to link to and you'll naturally get them.

 

Hope that helps....
 

FromScratchSF Posted 23 Jan 2013 , 11:35pm

Thanks!  I've been trying to SEO my website like a crazy person over the past few weeks and it is not easy!  I think the biggest challenge is getting links back to your site.  Sigh.

Stitches Posted 24 Jan 2013 , 12:02am

Wow, I'm so happy to read your posts Azunga! Learning Wordpress is a huge learning curve. I've already invested a month teaching myself. What stinks is I've had to do everything multiple times just to understand. I bought two books for Dummies on Wordpress websites and they really have left me more confused then helped. They got into details that weren't what I was looking for. I wanted to know "How to" and they taught me "Why". So I've spent weeks wasting time on them. But the way they are written, I couldn't even understand they weren't taking me to the knowledge I wanted.

 

I've found a couple websites that have helped me greatly!! The first one was where Jason recommended was something like: w3schools .com, then I discovered Wordpress tutorials at Wordpress and that was such a break through! I could actually do something with that info. and change my pages. Today I found http://wpapprentice.com/videos/blogging/how-to-write-a-wordpress-page/ and that really helped me!! I think between those last two sites I can do this. The first site Jason recommended is what I NOW need, because it has the info./codes I can copy and paste into site.

 

I'm still stuck on some things and I really hope I haven't board Azunga away...........cause I'm really hoping for your help (or anyone else who knows). I changed my theme from Woo-Theme to Twenty-ten.

 

  1. I don't get the real differences between widgets and plug ins. Widgets seem free and plug ins you pay for. They are both "add-ons" to my theme.
  2. I want a good photo gallery in my twenty-ten theme and I don't know if I need to change themes and just get one that already has a gallery or if I find a plug in and buy that feature to put into my twenty-ten theme?
  3. Is adding on a blog, a plug in or a widget, or is it already offered in my theme?
  4. I bought Ultimate TinyMCE because it looked like an editing devise I could navigate quickly (like Publisher and Corel that I know how to use). I've applied it and set up the dashboard too, but it seems that I have to understand more about editing in Wordpress before I can use it. NO? Would use jump into it right away?

 

Thank-you for your help.  Like say I get my site looking great visually but I need help checking my security, database storage, etc.... can you buy limited services from designers?

DeliciousDesserts Posted 24 Jan 2013 , 12:59am

Thank you so much Azunga!

Azunga Posted 24 Jan 2013 , 9:30pm
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stitches 

 

I've found a couple websites that have helped me greatly!! The first one was where Jason recommended was something like: w3schools .com, then I discovered Wordpress tutorials at Wordpress and that was such a break through! I could actually do something with that info. and change my pages. Today I found http://wpapprentice.com/videos/blogging/how-to-write-a-wordpress-page/ and that really helped me!! I think between those last two sites I can do this. The first site Jason recommended is what I NOW need, because it has the info./codes I can copy and paste into site.

 

I'm still stuck on some things and I really hope I haven't board Azunga away...........cause I'm really hoping for your help (or anyone else who knows). I changed my theme from Woo-Theme to Twenty-ten.

 

  1. I don't get the real differences between widgets and plug ins. Widgets seem free and plug ins you pay for. They are both "add-ons" to my theme.
  2. I want a good photo gallery in my twenty-ten theme and I don't know if I need to change themes and just get one that already has a gallery or if I find a plug in and buy that feature to put into my twenty-ten theme?
  3. Is adding on a blog, a plug in or a widget, or is it already offered in my theme?
  4. I bought Ultimate TinyMCE because it looked like an editing devise I could navigate quickly (like Publisher and Corel that I know how to use). I've applied it and set up the dashboard too, but it seems that I have to understand more about editing in Wordpress before I can use it. NO? Would use jump into it right away?

 

Thank-you for your help. Can I contact your business to purchase the things I can't figure out? Like say I get my site looking great visually but I need help checking my security, database storage, etc.... can you buy limited services from designers?

 

Check out WpBeginner as well as that's a good resource for just starting off with Wordpress (WP).

 

Answers to you questions:

 

1) A widget is just an extra part of code to display certain data.  Usually they are used to add new parts and functionalities to the sidebar or footer (there's other places too) but most commonly there.  You can see where to use widgets in the backend under Appearance > Widgets.  You drag those widgets to the location (on the right hand side of the screen) to the area you want the widget displayed.  A plugin is an addon that allows you to add new functionality to the site.  Say you want to add a contact form.  You can do so with the default WP but it's not very easy and takes a bunch of time if you want to do special things.  A plugin can make it so you can easily create a new form and setup it up so it functions the way you want.  There's a ton of plugins to add new functions and options to WP.   <<<  that all isn't the best description but best I can think of right now.

 

2) Twenty ten or any other theme should be fine to use any plugin you want.  The theme is basically the layout and the look.  Some themes add functionality and such but mostly themes are just looks.  I wouldn't buy a gallery plugin....  I use Nextgen and it does everything I could think of.  Many other plugins use features from Nextgen as well and there's even addon's for that plugin as well to increase the functionality.

 

3) The blog is always a core function of WP.  That's how WP got started.  The themes, widgets, and plugin just add in new options, abilities, and functions.  You should be able to tell WP where you want the blog in the backend under Settings > Discussion.  They don't call it blog, it's called posts.  There you can set if it's on the home page (the first page a visitor visits when typing in your www url) or can set it to be on a different page.  Add new blog posts in the posts section on the top left of the backend menu.

 

4)  No need for Ultimate TinyMCE in my opinion.  It can confuse you by adding in too much stuff (esp if you're a beginner).  The TinyMCE (it's where you type in content for posts and pages) that comes with WP is fine.  Some plugins will add options (like Nextgen) and buttons near the editor to increase ease of use.

 

No problem helping out.   

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