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Installing WordPress and finding a theme

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Yes, this lesson does make mention of a theme called "Podiant". If you're familiar with my work, you might know that I ran a hosting company by that name from late 2016 to spring 2021, and I borrowed the name from that theme. The version of me from April 2016 didn't know this was going to happen, though.

In the previous chapter, we setup a new hosting environment for our podcast, hooked WordPress up to our database and found a domain name to point our listeners to. Now we need to finish setting up the website for our podcast.

Now let’s talk about themes. In WordPress, a theme is how you change the look of your website. There are loads of free and paid themes to choose from, but you need to make sure to pick one that can support custom post types, which is what we’ll need for our podcast.

You can install themes directly from the Appearance menu in WordPress, or you can download free and paid themes from a variety of sites. I provide my own theme, called Podiant, which you can download for free in the Resources section of this chapter.

Plugins are ways we add functionality to WordPress. Our site already provides a very small amount of podcasting capability out-of-the-box, but by adding the Seriously Simple Podcasting plugin, which is built by one of the WordPress developers, we can get greater control and flexibility, and have a feed that’s ready to submit to iTunes and other podcast directories.

You can install plugins in much the same way as you install themes, but I’d recommend going through the WordPress Plugin Directory, as plugins there go through a little vetting before they’re allowed to be listed, and you can see how well people have rated them, before you install them. So now, let’s install the Podiant theme and the podcasting plugin.

Now we have the bare bones, let’s take a tour of the WordPress system.

If you want to attach a blog to your podcast, or give people updates about changes to the show, use the Posts menu to add new blog posts, and edit existing ones.

The Podcast menu is where you’ll upload new episodes of your show, add show notes and configure your feed before you submit it to iTunes and other directories.

Media shows you all of the audio files, images and other documents you’ve uploaded to your site.

If you want an About section, an FAQ, or other content that isn’t chronological in nature, use Pages.

Comments are where you’ll let people feed back to you on individual episodes or blog posts. If you prefer, you can turn these off, and we’ll cover that in a future chapter.

We’ve already briefly looked at Appearance, and that menu will expand depending on the theme you install.

Plugins is pretty self-explanatory, Users lets you manage the people who can login to this dashboard, Tools is where you’ll find useful things like import and export utilities - particularly handy if you’re moving from a WordPress.com site to a self-hosted one like the one we’ve just setup - and Settings gives us more control over the configuration of the site.

We’ll touch on these at differing points throughout the following chapters, but feel free to have a look around.

In a moment, we’ll dive into the Seriously Simple Podcasting plugin, but first, why do we need a plugin, if WordPress can handle podcasting out-of-the-box? To answer this, we’re going to get a little bit technical.

Blogs and podcasts are different from other kinds of websites, because they provide something called an RSS feed. An RSS feed is what lets visitors to your site subscribe - for free - to your content, by using an RSS reader. Google used to provide a service called Google Reader which made it easy to browse through the content you’d subscribed to. You can read articles people have written without actually having to visit each site individually. There are now a number of RSS readers available, one of the better options being Feedly, but to be honest, use of RSS readers never really took off in the mainstream. It’s now harder than it used to be to find the RSS feed for a website, which is one reason you might see authors pushing visitors to subscribe via email.

But while RSS is becoming less important to the blogging community, it’s actually the secret power behind podcasts. RSS feeds are what let listeners subscribe to shows in iTunes and other apps. When you subscribe to a show, what you’re doing is telling your podcast app to periodically check the RSS feed for the shows you like. A few times a day, your app checks each feed, and when it finds a new entry, it downloads the audio for you, so you can listen to it straight away. This idea of using a feed to tell other apps about your podcast is often called syndication.

Back in the early days of podcasting, people used to write these files by hand, but nowadays, software like WordPress does this for us. But how does your podcasting app know that there’s audio in your feed? Well, via something called the enclosure tag.

The enclosure tag is a bit of code within your RSS feed that points to a file. It can be audio, video, an image, a document… anything that can be downloaded from the web. Podcast apps look out for enclosure tags that point to audio or video files, and download those for you to play. If you link to an audio file within WordPress, your feed automatically gets this enclosure tag added, so you can drive a podcast just using WordPress alone. So why use a plugin? To a degree, the answer lies with Apple.

The iTunes store lists a variety of podcasts, in various categories. When you submit a podcast to Apple for them to list, all you need to provide is the address to the RSS feed. Apple looks at that feed, checks the enclosure tag, but then also looks at some other information within the feed. A podcast can work without this extra information, but it won’t work on the iTunes store because Apple won’t know where to list it. So plugins like Seriously Simple Podcasting add this extra info to your feed. You choose the categories, the artwork that you want to associate with your podcast, the keywords that will help people search for it, and other descriptive information that makes it work with iTunes. Apple don’t have the monopoly on podcasting, as any other podcast directories can read this data too (we call this “metadata” by the way). So really, plugins like Seriously Simple Podcasting just make podcasts more searchable within directories like iTunes.

Another good reason to use a plugin is to give you a little more control over the audio player. Depending on how you embed your audio into your post, WordPress will give you an OK-looking player, but if you want to spruce it up, or you want to find out how many people are listening to your audio, you’ll need a plugin.

Blubrry PowerPress is another plugin that does this, but it’s a lot more bulky and doesn’t have quite the simple usability that SSP provides. That’s why it’s my recommendation, and that’s why I built the Podiant theme to work with it.

So now you’re armed with a bit of basic knowledge of the tech behind your podcast, in the next chapter, we’ll cover some more useful plugins that will make managing your podcast easier.

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