How to Build a Great WordPress Site Using the Twenty Fourteen Theme

With its latest 3.8 “Parker” update a couple of months ago WordPress released a new default theme, Twenty Fourteen. The developers called it a “beautiful magazine theme,” emphasizing its strong visual elements, which make Twenty Fourteen stand out in comparison with the platform’s prior native themes. The bold new approach to the default design meant that the theme won’t work for every site or satisfy every user’s taste, but that didn’t seem to be the idea behind it. It looks like with every new theme, WordPress developers attempt to showcase a different aspect of the content management system, and Twenty Fourteen did just that in showcasing what WordPress can do for magazine-style sites and blogs.

Despite a lot of criticism by the proponents of a more simplistic, basic design that webmasters can build on, the theme has also seen plenty of support from users – it’s been applied by more than 200,000 sites since its release. Many of these applications have been customized to create individual styles, from slight changes like color schemes to more intricate ones such as developing various child themes.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how you can make the most out of the theme’s basic features and built-in customization options, creating an impressive-looking site with the help of Twenty Fourteen.

1. Install the Theme

If you are using it with a brand new WordPress.org installation, the Twenty Fourteen theme should already be automatically activated for you. If your WordPress version is anything below 3.8, you’ll have to upgrade it by clicking the link on top of your dashboard. You can then go to Themes and click Activate under Twenty Fourteen. Remember that it’s always a good idea to create a backup of your website before upgrading from the older WordPress version. I personally just wing it and I have gotten “lucky” every single time but hey, the disclaimer is there 🙂

2. Create Your First Post

Create your first post as you normally would, by editing your title and text, and updating the permalink if needed. After this, proceed to the Format menu on the left-hand panel. Twenty Fourteen has several post formats you can choose from, including Image, Video, Quote, Audio, Gallery or Link, all of which are self-explanatory. You can also just leave the setting on Standard for a regular blog post, or change it to Aside if you are posting a brief snippet of text, like a quick thought or an anecdote.

After Formats, you’ll want to scroll down to the next right-hand menu item – Categories. The new posts will be automatically marked as Uncategorized, but you can change this by adding new categories, such as Movies, Photos, Tutorials or whatever else is relevant to your particular site. You can then select a category for each new post that you publish. This will be important as you add menus to your site, since you can choose to create a menu based on these subject categories. For instance, a site that publishes recipes can have categories like Vegetarian, Breakfast, Dessert, etc. If you decide create a category-based menu, each new post that you publish will automatically get listed under the corresponding menu heading.

Oh, and delete the “hello world” post 🙂

3. Create at Least Three Featured Posts

Once you’ve selected your post format and category, scroll down to add some tags, as you’d normally do in your blog posts. Only in addition to any regular tags you might be adding, you should also include the tag “featured” if you want the given post to display in the featured content area of the front page.

Besides the “featured” tag, Twenty Fourteen theme also needs a featured image before it can place your post in the featured content area. To add one, scroll to the very bottom of the Add New Post screen, and click the last link in the right-hand menu, “Set featured image.” Here you’ll be able to add an image from your gallery or upload one from your device. Make sure you enter the image’s title and alt text using descriptive, SEO-friendly keywords. The featured image should be at least 672 px wide by 372 px high to display properly on individual post pages. If you are using a full-page template without the sidebars, you’ll need a bigger image for that – at least 1,038 px wide by 576 px high.

Once you publish at least three posts following the instructions above, you are now ready to customize your design and set up your featured content area.

4. Customize the Design

You can easily add a few basic customization details to Twenty Fourteen that will make your blog a little more unique. To do this, click Customize under Appearance. Here you can enter the site’s title and tagline, decide whether you want to make your front page static, and choose if you want your featured content to show up as a grid or a slider. I like the grid myself, I think sliders are overkill and overdone.

You can also change the tag that will be used to indicate which posts should be displayed in the featured area of the home page. By default, it is set to “featured.” You can leave it at that or change it to something that works for you. Just remember to update the posts you want to feature, adding the right tag to them. If you opt for a grid layout, you can either feature three or six posts at a time – anything in between will leave unattractive empty spaces in between the featured images. If you go with the slider, even one featured post can work to start with. The Customize tab has a couple of other options as well – you can further explore these as you go.

5. Add a Unique Header

Another thing you might want to change under Appearance menu early on is your website’s header. This is a good place to show your logo or another image that will define your site. By default, the theme’s header shows up as a narrow black strip with green menu buttons on it. The site’s name and tagline are written in white over the black sidebar to the left. If you add a header image, it will show up above all this, with your menu, site’s title and tagline all appearing underneath. The suggested dimensions for the header image are 1,260 px wide by 240 px high.

6. Link Jetpack to WordPress.com

To take full advantage of everything Twenty Fourteen has to offer, such as the gallery feature and the great-looking lightboxes for displaying your photos, you’ll need to link the Jetpack plugin to a WordPress.com account. The plugin comes installed and activated with a brand new WordPress 3.8 installation, but if you are upgrading from an older version, you might need to install it manually. To do this, follow the installation procedure like you would with any other plugin, and then activate Jetpack in the Plugins menu. You’ll know that the plugin is active by the vertical blue line to the left of its name, which is a convenient new feature added in the “Parker” release. Whether you had the plugin pre-installed and pre-activated, or you had to do these things manually, from here on the process is the same. Go to Settings under the plugin’s name and click “Connect to WordPress.” Follow the prompts to either link your existing WordPress.com account to Jetpack or to create a new account if you don’t have one yet. Once the process is complete, you’ll be able to activate various features under Jetpack’s settings. You can activate Carousel to create galleries, for example, which will display very nicely in Twenty Fourteen.

7. Add Pages and Users

To create static pages, such as About, Contact Us, and any others you want to display in your website’s menu, go to the Pages tab on your dashboard and click Add New. You can create a Page following a similar procedure to what you would do when creating a new post. The main difference is that you won’t see the Format or Tags menus in the Add New Page screen. Instead, there is a Page Attributes menu on the right-hand side, where you can choose whether you want the given page to use a Default Template, or if you’d rather go with a Full-Width Page that will display a larger featured image and no sidebars.

You can also select a Contributor Page template, which will pull the info on all contributors from their Gravatar profiles. As long as the writer has published at least one article on the blog and has created a Gravatar profile, his or her information will automatically show up on the Contributors page. The page will showcase profile images, bios and the amount of articles each contributor has written for the blog. You can add new contributors and assign various rights to them by clicking Add New under the Users menu item of your dashboard.

8. Set up Menus

To configure the menus in your site’s header, left-hand sidebar or both, click the Menus link under Appearance. Here you can create up to two menus, manage their locations, and add items to them by choosing from existing pages, links or categories. To create a Home menu item, simply add a link with your blog’s home page address. You can drag and drop menu items to easily change the order in which they will display.

9. Customize Widgets

The Twenty Fourteen default layout will automatically come with some widgets in the left-hand content bar, such as Recent Posts, Recent Comments and Archives, among others. You can remove or customize these, or replace them with other items by clicking Widgets under Appearance. The theme comes with three widget areas – Footer Widget Area on the bottom, Primary Sidebar, which is the main sidebar to the left of your posts, and Content Sidebar, located on the right. The latter does not automatically display unless you add at least one widget to it. If you leave the Content Sidebar empty, your posts will show up in a full-page mode, with a larger featured image and more white space around the text.

To add widgets, you can either drag and drop them in one of the three areas, or click on individual widgets’ names, select the area where you want them from the drop-down menu, and click Add Widget. The Twenty Fourteen Ephemera is a popular widget for this particular theme, so you might want to give it a try. It lets you display posts by format types. For example, if you are running a podcast, you could display an Audio Ephemera with your latest recording showing up in your Content Sidebar, and the link to “More Audios” underneath it. You could do the same with videos, quotes, images, links, aside notes and galleries.

10. Further customization

You can further personalize the Twenty Fourteen theme with the help of plugins or by writing some basic code to make your site stand out from the crowd. If you intend to add more elements that match the default style, the colors you will want to go with are the basic black and white, plus #24890d dark green, #41a62a light green and #767676 gray.

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