From now until the end of September, Coursera is offering a free, 2-hour “project” on building websites with WordPress. “WordPress,” as it turns out, is actually WordPress.com.
The course takes place in Coursera’s Rhyme app iframe, with your WordPress.com website appearing next to the instructor’s videos. That alone caused a major issue. After about 15 minutes in the Rhyme app, I was kicked out of my WordPress.com website after receiving a red error banner saying “Updating failed: User cannot access this private blog” when I tried to save my changes. Perhaps that’s the reason for the odd warning about this course working best in North America. Instead, I signed in to my test site in another browser tab and switched between the video and website tabs and it worked just fine.
If you leave the video to update your test site, the video automatically pauses at the point where you leave and continues when you return. No need to manually pause the video.
While the instructor generally got it right, I had a few serious “what the heck” moments.
Please note that there are some “live links” below that will open your own site’s dashboard in a new tab if you click it while logged in to WordPress.com.
⭐ Changing Homepage Layout without changing Theme:
One of the first things we did in the course was change the default homepage layout from Hever to Balasana by changing the Page Layout rather than changing themes. The instructor didn’t explain why changing your homepage layout was preferable to activating a new theme or even if this was intended. As far as I could tell it was the result of following the “Update your Home page” link in the site setup checklist. Regardless, since we didn’t change theme, Hever’s default styling and menu positions were retained. (First new discovery made.)
Pro Tip: If you’re going to change the full homepage layout, do it at the very start when creating a new site or create a new Page with the new layout and then set that as your homepage later. Changing the full page layout of the homepage overwrites any content you have added to it and WordPress.com will give you a warning when you click the Change Layout button.
Adding a Featured Image to your Homepage:
After changing the homepage layout, we added a Featured Image in the homepage Editor sidebar, but the instructor gave no reason for doing so. Sites with static front pages don’t really use Featured Images, so the only reason I can think of for adding one is that the homepage Featured Image might appear in search engines and if you share your entire site on social media. (And if that was the intent, then why not mention adding an Excerpt to the homepage to boost SEO?)
Homepage Site Title and Tagline:
Site Title and tagline are set up and managed at (live link>) MySite> Manage> Settings> General> Site Title or in the Customizer at Site Identity. You do not need to add them again as your site’s Homepage Title and subtitle. This also gives you the option of adding a separate Page title to your homepage if you wish.
Pro Tip: The Site Title and tagline will appear at the top of every page on your site, including blog posts. The Site Title is a fixed link to your homepage and cannot be changed to link to something else.
Page and Post Visibility:
When you create a new WordPress.com website, your whole site is hidden from public view until you launch it and until then only you can see it. That’s what “Coming Soon” in the Dashboard sidebar under your site Title means.
Because you haven’t yet launched your site, there’s no need to change the Visibility of every page and post to Private like the instructor did, because doing so will make those pages and posts invisible to the public after you launch your site. If you want those posts and pages to be seen, you’d need to go back before launching your site and edit each and every post and page just to change its Visibility back from Private to Public. Otherwise, your site visitors will encounter the dreaded
If, however, you have accidentally launched your site before intending to do so, go straight away in your WordPress.com site dashboard to (live link>) MySite> Manage> Settings> General> Privacy and change your Site Visibility to Private or Coming Soon (the default for new sites). Click the Save Settings button if you don’t see the onscreen confirmation message the first time you make a change.
Editing Posts and Pages:
You can edit any post or page by clicking on the title of the post or page in the dashboard. Although you can do what the instructor did and navigate to the ellipsis (three dots) at the right of the page or post title to click Edit, it’s quicker to click the title.
This one seriously had me scratching my head. After publishing your test blog post, you can add Widgets directly in (live link>) MySite> Design> Customize in the Main dashboard of your site. There’s no need to go walkabout to WP Admin> Appearance> Widgets> and then click the “Manage with Live Preview” button there to get to Customize> Widgets.
The Preview pane on the right side of the Customizer window updates with each change you make, allowing you to see how your changes will look before saving them. Saving makes those changes go live on your site. (Remember, you haven’t launched your site yet, so only you will see these changes.)
Pro Tip: Once you launch your site, you’ll have the option to save draft changes in the Customizer without making them go live immediately.
Adding Site Page Links as Text:
When you get to the point in the tutorial where you are adding internal links on the About page, the instructor opened a browser tab to the Pages dashboard and then copied the link from the three dots (ellipsis) to the right of the Page title and then returned to the browser tab where the About page was open and pasted the link. Again, this is a very roundabout way of doing things and works best for external links where you’ve already copied the link from your browser’s address bar.
For internal site links, you can add them directly in the Editor interface. Simply highlight the text you want to add a link to and click on the Link button in the toolbar. That will open a menu below your highlighted text where you can search and select the relevant on-site page or post. Click Enter and the link will be created.
⭐ Editing Other Site Pages-Duplicating Blocks:
Part of editing the About page involved adding separate sections for each type of cycling club. Duplicating entire blocks/groups was new to me. Another new discovery.
I gave the instructor 3 of 5 stars for her course and privately pointed out that WordPress and WordPress.com are not the same thing. Granted that 2 hours is not a lot of time to cover more than just the basics (nor did I expect her to), but besides the above oddities, it was unfortunate that we spent half that time watching the instructor change existing settings, text or images on a ready-made site template to something else, waiting while she did it, and then copying her example. This was especially painful when she went back to change the Visibility setting on all the site pages and the test blog post from Public to Private and needed to click around to find the setting to do so. That part should have been edited out of the video. And although Plug-ins were mentioned in the course description before signing up, nothing was said about them afterwards.
If you sign up for this Coursera project after September 30th, you’ll pay approximately US$10. So far over 20,000 people have done so.
All in all, really 3 stars.
If you know of any other free courses on setting up a site on WordPress.com (that aren’t run by WordPress.com) that you’d like me to review, let me know in the comments.
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