OK, so you’re about to create your first Joomla website. But where do you start, and what do you do after that? Who can help you? Where do you find good resources? Do you need to install a template? Will you need extensions to add functionality? Getting to know Joomla and all its possibilities can be a bit overwhelming. But we’ve all been there, and we got your back! For this article, Joomlers from all over the world share their golden tips with us to get you going. Dive in, explore, be patient and have fun!
Take time to learn
Take your time to learn the basics from scratch. This will save you tons of time later. Read and/or watch videos to understand the basic terminology and functionality. Install and get your hands dirty: create articles, menu items, and modules and place them in various locations until you’re thoroughly familiar with how to get your data where you want it to appear. Once you totally understand that aspect, then start working toward customization. Take one step at a time and discover each next step to be much easier.
You’ll find free and paid training videos online. This article shows you where to find them: https://magazine.joomla.org/all-issues/october-2020/where-to-find-the-best-joomla-tutorial-videos. You can take a free course or a paid one, in general, your money is well spent.
Practice makes perfect
The golden rule while taking a Joomla course: build something as you are taking the class, don’t just watch, do! That goes for written step-by-step instructions and documentation as well. When I first started with Joomla, ages ago, I bought a book and read that first. That turned out to be the wrong approach. It was reading combined with doing that did the trick.
Learn from other people
If there’s a Joomla user group in your neighbourhood, join! User groups often have presentations on various subjects, and usually room for all kinds of Joomla questions. You could even ask for a one on one training from someone in your Joomla user group to speed up your learning.
Pro tip: If you have a little more time, you might consider learning about web development. DNS, HTML, CSS, domains, navigation, URL structure, hosting… Joomla is just a tool that plays a very small part. The rest is basically web development.
Prepare first, build second
Determine your content structure first. Who are you making the site for? What is the purpose of the site? Define what is most important for the ‘who’.
Draft and collect material
Create a full site outline. Make a list of the pages you want on the website, and what you want on them. Is it just one piece of content, or several blocks? Draw your pages (or design them). If you have a good outline of what you want, the actual website is much easier to make. Find or make photos you want to use, and write everything you need in advance. Save your sketch of the home page and what you want on that for last.
Many first-timers start by looking for a template first. That is tempting, but not always advisable. It’s much more efficient to start with your content structure. A template is just styling. You wouldn’t paint your house before it’s built, would you?
When you have your outline, start with installing Joomla. Beginner’s tutorial in your own language: https://docs.joomla.org/Tutorials:Beginners
Pro tip: Do not install any extensions yet (and that goes for templates as well). Your very first extension should be Akeeba Backup (free or pro version). Install it and backup your site each time you want to install an extension. In that case, if something should go wrong, you can always go back to the way it was.
Create your content
After the installation, you can start creating categories, articles, and menu items in Joomla. Watch the content structure come to life.
If your website plan contains blocks of a certain type (such as latest blogs, login module, random image, search, bread crumbs, article listings), you will need modules. Modules are built-in blocks that enable you to show (types of) content in a specific place. You assign them to your menu items and choose a position for them. Module positions are defined in the template, and each template has its own positions and position names, so this is where your template comes in.
You can use Joomla’s built-in template or find another free one to start with (Joomlashack, OS Community). Looking for a paid template? There is this great resource that Ciarán Walsh build for the community called Theme Globe: https://themeglobe.com. Consult this before investing. Keep in mind that template builders often use outstanding images to sell their templates, and try to imagine what it would look like when you use your own material.
If you decide to install a third party template, take your time to explore it. Find out what module positions are available and assign your modules to those positions and to the right menu-items to make your pages complete.
If you’ve never made a website before: play around first
Do you want to get familiar with Joomla’s content structure fast? Try it out (or, as one of our respondents put it: “Play around before you putting a wedding ring on your finger”). Start by building a fully functioning website for free at https://launch.joomla.org/. This is a great place to start and play and see if the Joomla way suits your mindset and logic-flow.
Install sample data to see how it works
If you want to see it in action right away, install the sample data while installing Joomla (it’s an option you can choose during the installation process). This creates categories, articles and menu items that you can rename and use. This is a really good way to figure out the structure and relationship between categories, articles and menu-items. You can change the titles and content, or create new items. This enables you to learn the core basics before trying to get into all the smart template frameworks, page builders and custom stuff. Take one step at the time.
If you have a ‘playground’ website, you don’t have to be afraid to click on things. There’s not much you can break beyond repair anyway (and you can always start over).
Pro tip: never copy formatted text into an article (yes, that means text from Word or any other editing program). It makes your website look bad and you’ll think you’ve broken it. Always paste as plain text and format it within Joomla (with the built-in editor, or install JCE editor).
If you’ve worked with other CMS and/or know some HTML/CSS
The most important tip for you: Try not to compare Joomla to the other CMS you know. Remember you came to Joomla for its strengths, not the strengths of the CMS you left. Like all things in life, Joomla has its strong and its lesser points. Get to know Joomla, and try to keep an open mind.
Where are the pages?
If you’ve worked with WP or static HTML pages, you may wonder where the pages are. Joomla works a little different: your menu items are the base for all your pages. Create a menu-item type for the type of page you want and if necessary, attach extra modules to it.
Where can I find a plugin for…?
Explore the power of the core. If you come from another CMS, you may be inclined to search plugins or extensions for virtually everything. Joomla has a lot of functionality built-in, or a relatively easy way to create it. So you don’t always need to install an extension to add functionality. Before you start installing templates, frameworks, page builders and other stuff: make sure you understand the core basics and Joomla’s methodology and workflow.
Pro tip: See how far you can get without installing extensions: use template overrides and Joomla’s built-in custom fields.
If you do need an extension, it’s good to know that Joomla has three types of extensions: components (complete application programs for your website), modules (blocks that show something) and plugins (small applications that add a little extra functionality).
Your go-to place for extensions should always be Joomla Extensions Directory: https://extensions.joomla.org. Read the description on the Joomla Extensions Directory to see if this fits your needs. Check the reviews, check if it’s up to date, and if possible support the developer by purchasing the pro version.
Try to avoid installing lots of free plugins, modules or components (but if you do install them, remember to remove extensions you don’t use; every forgotten unused extension becomes a security risk eventually, even if it’s a paid extension).
Join a JUG!
You are not alone. If you like to meet other Joomlers, consider joining the community. Look for a Joomla User Group in your neighborhood. Be part of it, ask questions, get involved and answer questions as you learn more.
Page builder: yes or no?
If you’re a one-website-only one-time-designer, and you think you’re never going to learn the basics or never going to need all this knowledge, you could use a page builder to create pages. With a page builder, you can create your page layout within the component area of your page. Usually, your header, menu and footer come from your template, you design the rest of your page yourself.
Within the Joomla community, we have people who are absolute fans of page builders, and people who are very much against it. The advantage of using a page builder is that you don’t need much technical knowledge to do it. The downside is that they can slow down your website and you don’t really use the power of Joomla. You don’t need a page builder to create beautiful layouts, you can do the same using Joomla core menu-items and modules, great images, and a good template with a nice color scheme.
If you decide to use a page builder, be aware of the fact that the developers often use stunning images and graphics. It might look quite different once you use your own material.
Backup, backup, backup
Backup often and store the backups in an offline safe place. You can use Akeeba Backup for this (there’s a free and a pro version). If you have a backup, there’s always something to revert to when things go pearshaped. Be sure to use the free version and test your backups every now and then (for instance by restoring them on a test server, using Akeeba’s Kickstart Program). Restoring backups with Akeeba works fine most of the time, but do it anyway, just to be sure.
Know what you need
Understand and set your expectations correctly. Are you looking to go pro, just a side personal project, helping a community or charity group out, converting from another framework/cms, a graphic designer/digital marketer wanting to subsidise/grow your income/customer base? These all ask for a different approach.
Learn about all of your support options: Facebook group, Forum, Joomla Docs, Joomla Stack Exchange (not sure if I’m missing any) and choose the appropriate support option. E.g. objective answers use JSE subjective use the Forum or Facebook group.
Use a good quality managed host, that takes speed & security seriously and ideally one that actively optimised for Joomla.
Stay curious and keep learning
Go to Joomla User Group meetings, JoomlaDays or international conferences like J and Beyond (this has had a very successful online edition in 2020). You’ll be amazed by how fast and how much you can learn, and they’re a great place to meet some pretty awesome people.
This article wouldn’t exist without the very valuable input from Andy Connell, Crystal Dionysopoulou, Dimitris Grammatik, Elisa Foltyn, Eoin Oliver, Gio Bulo, Hue Collins, Jaz Parkyn, Johan van der Velde, Julie Steffers, Laura Rosenbaum Gordon, Martijn Maandag, Michael Pizzabix Dk, Mike Dvt, Niels Braczek, Norm Douglas, Patrick Smits, Peter Amsterdam, Peter Martin, Rachel Walraven, Reino Koho, Russell Winter, Sam Harney, Stanko Milosev, Tom van der Laan, Victor Drover
Thanks all, you are awesome <3!