If you’re new to WordPress, this post will be right up your alley.
Whether you’ve installed the world’s leading CMS through your hosting company’s auto-installer or are using the famous WordPress 5 Minute Install, you’re probably excited to get started.
If you’ve picked out a theme here on Elegant Themes its probably time to start adding content to your website. But like most things in life, a little planning and preparation can go a long way. Spending some time working on the items in this list will help to make sure your site is set-up and working properly now and for the long run.
We’re going to run through a laundry-list of items in this post. These are all tasks you should consider doing right out of the gate. For the most part, once they’re done you won’t have to worry about them ever again.
I’ve tried to organize this list in order of importance. Some items are mission critical while others are more cosmetic. If you’ll be setting up more WordPress websites in the future, create yourself a checklist in Google Docs to avoid missing out anything important.
Automate Your Backups
Backups are as much about the restore process as they are about backing up. If anything ever goes wrong, you’ll want to be able to restore your website as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Backups are not something you want to leave to chance. While some hosting companies (especially managed hosting) will take care of your backups for you, many shared hosting companies won’t. Figure out on day one how you will manage your backups – consider a plugin like BackupBuddy to get the job done.
Alternatively, if you are looking for a more hands off solution, then the VaultPress hosted WordPress backup service could be just what you are looking for. After recently switching to VaultPress on one of my websites, I’ve been really impressed with the service – especially when it comes to restoring backups after something has gone wrong with my site.
Both BackupBuddy and VaultPress are premium options, but sometimes in life you get what you pay for – and when it comes to backups, it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry.
Check Your Admin Username
If you’re using an auto-installer supplied by your hosting company, make sure you don’t have a username of “admin”. It’s becoming more common for hosting companies to automatically set you up with something more cryptic, but double check just to be sure.
Another good idea is to make sure you’re not using your administrator account for non-administrative tasks. If you’re publishing post or pages, create a separate account with author privileges.
Delete Unused Plugins and Themes
Once you’ve installed your chosen theme and all of your required plugins, it’s a good idea to go back into your admin dashboard and remove any plugins or themes that you are not using (good-bye, Hello Dolly).
Having been down this road before, I know that many people who are new to WordPress end up experimenting with one or more free themes. Then, they realize it might be easier to spend a few dollars on a premium theme – saving themselves hours of time in the process.
Old themes and plugins that are not updated can contain potential security vulnerabilities and it only takes a few seconds to delete from your WordPress installation.
Install Essential Plugins
With every WordPress installation, there is a handful of plugins that you can safely go ahead and install without even thinking about it. The specific plugins I’ve linked to are just a personal preference so you may have a competing plugin that you would prefer to use.
There are many individual steps you can take to tighten up your WordPress security. But if time is a consideration, then you can achieve a lot by using a simple security plugin.
You’ll find an in-depth review of iThemes Security plugin here on Elegant Themes. The review not only gives you a rundown on the plugin but also helps you to understand some of the issues surrounding WordPress security.
For those people who like to consider multiple options, you can also check out WordFence.
Post Revisions Plugin
Saving post revisions can be a great thing when you make an accidental edit. If you’re someone who creates your pages or posts from within the WordPress editor, it won’t take long before the number of revision stored in the database start to add up. For example, before publishing this post I checked on a website that has averaged 1 post/day. After just a few months, a total of 350 post revisions have accumulated in the database. That’s a decent amount of database overhead.
Dealing with this problem can be as simple as installing a plugin like Revision Control. If you’re getting to this step a little later in the process and already have a slew of post revisions, you can also install a plugin like WP Sweep or WP Clean Up. These will both help to help clean up your database after the fact. *Always* perform a backup before touching your database.
Yoast SEO Plugin
The name of this plugin makes it clear that its primary focus is on search engine optimization. The benefit of SEO is all about getting more visitors to your website, via the search engines. As well as optimizing your content for the search engines, good SEO also has a strong focus on creating a better user experience. Truthfully, this should always be your top priority anyway – a great user experience means visitors are more likely to come back.
When you’re installing your essential WordPress plugins, making time to include Yoast SEO on the list is a great idea. Laying a solid SEO foundation for your site is very important and there’s nothing worse than having to trawl back through your previously published posts to update their SEO fields at a later date.
At first, spam won’t be a problem for your new WordPress website. But fear not, spammers will find your site soon enough. Before you know it, you’ll be flooded with unwanted comments from around the globe.
Akismet is free for non-commercial websites and paid accounts start at $5/month. It’s available individually or as part of the Jetpack suite of tools. You’ll find Akismet quick and easy to install and I can pretty much guaranteed it will save you hours of time fighting spam.
Disqus is another spam fighting option that replaces the native WordPress commenting system with what is arguably, a better option.
If you’re using shared hosting, a caching plugin will provide your website with a valuable speed boost. A faster website means happier visitors and that’s a good thing in Google’s eyes too.
If you’re using managed hosting, chances are a caching plugin will be out of the question. But don’t worry, the well-optimized servers will provide an equivalent or better performance boost. Two free popular caching plugins include WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache, with WP Rocket providing a premium option for those seeking a more plug and play solution.
If you installed Yoast SEO, you can skip this step. If you went with another SEO plugin that does not automatically create a sitemap, make sure you install a separate plugin like Google XML Sitemaps.
When Googlebot comes crawling through your website content, the XML sitemap will help to make the process easier and ensure that all of your content is indexed in the search engine. An XML sitemap is a simple document that provides search engines with vital information about the pages and posts contained on your site.
If you are publishing news or video, make sure you also use a sitemap that contains the appropriate metadata for those mediums.
Install Your Premium Theme
WordPress comes ready to roll with a few stock themes, all of which are pretty good. However, compared to premium themes, they leave plenty to be desired. Since you’re here on Elegant Themes, I’m going to assume you’ve picked up one of the many available options from the Gallery.
There are several reasons why using a premium theme is a good idea, with added functionality being one of them. Things like setting up your homepage, using a custom logo and favicon, and custom shortcodes will make the process of getting up and running much simpler.
Customer Support is another great reason to consider a premium theme. If you’re already a member of Elegant Themes, just stop by the support forums to see the benefits of premium support in action.
And last but not least, consider the benefits of using a theme that has undergone a proper security audit and is also subject to regular updates. Individual themes are hacked more often than the WordPress core. Using a well maintained premium theme usually means you’re lowering your risk of succumbing to a security threat.
Update Your Site Title
As one of the most important elements of your website, you’ll want to make sure your site title is properly completed. Although every page on your site should have an appropriate title, the one we’re referring to here is your site title. It can be found under Settings >> General. When someone visits your homepage or finds your site via the SERPs, the site title is usually what they’ll see. It can also help to tell Google what you website is all about.
Following best practices, you should keep your site title close to 55 characters in length. It should be descriptive, specific and not spammy. An appropriate site title would be “Dave’s Barber Shop | Portland, OR”. An example of an inappropriate site title would be “Men’s Haircuts, Women’s Haircuts, Cheap Haircuts, Affordable Haircuts | Portland, OR”. Spend a few minutes searching the web and you’ll discover the spammy site titles get even worst than that.
Update the Timezone
Much like setting the time and date on your phone, you’ll want to do the same within WordPress. Plugins, scheduled posts, and integrated apps will all rely on the fact that your time zone is properly set up.
Add a Favicon
It’s a small thing (quite literally in fact), but almost all well-established websites have a favicon. It’s the small little logo or graphic that shows up in your browser tab and it adds the last bit of professional polish to your website. It is also the icon used in your list of favorites on your browser, hence, “favorites icon”.
Typically 16px by 16px, you can create a favicon in any popular drawing program. Some theme’s like Divi will allow you to upload a .png file for use as a favicon while other themes might require that you use a .ico file type.
Install Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools
With a new website and zero traffic you might be able to present a good argument for skipping this step, but don’t. Installing Google Analytics and setting up GWT (Google Webmaster Tools) only takes a few minutes.
GWT, in particular, will allow you to see how Google is treating the significance of your content keywords. Plus, it will provide you with data on impressions, clicks, and average keyword position.
Change Your Permalink Structure
By default, WordPress has a pretty ugly permalink structure. Out of the box, any page or post that you publish will have a URL that works well for computers but poorly for humans and search engines (http://yourwebsite.com/?p=123). Compare that to a URL which contains a proper title and appropriate keywords and it’s easy to see why you need to change your permalink structure.
In most cases, the “Post name” structure (http://yourwebsite.com/sample-post/) is the best choice unless of course you’ll be posting similar titles that are date or time sensitive. Using this structure will make it easier for the reader to see what a post or page is about before they arrive at your site. It also makes it easier for search engines to analyze and rank your content.
Delete the Default Content
There are a few pieces of dummy content installed with WordPress that you’ll want to delete.
Some hosting companies that use auto-installers also provide additional content above and beyond what comes with WordPress. For example, SiteGround and other providers often have pages and text widgets pre-installed that promote their services.
Make sure you check pages, posts, comments, and widgets for anything not related to your business.
Fill Out Your User Profile
Take two minutes to fill out your profile page. It contains several fields that should be filled out including your name, social profile and contact information.
There is also a drop-down field that allows you to change your publicly displayed name. Set it to either your first name, last name, nickname or any combination of the two. The only thing you want to avoid using is your username which represents 50% of you required login details.
Set-up Your Gravatar
Gravatar stands for globally recognized avatar and is a convenient way to make your profile portable across the web. Any time you comment on another website using your Gravatar email address, you’ll automatically leave your standardized profile behind that includes a photo, links to your website and links to your social profile.
Signing up with Gravatar is also an easy way to ensure that your profile photo is displayed alongside all of the posts you publish on your blog.
There you have it. A beginner’s guide almost everything you should do immediately after installing WordPress.
I’ve put the more mission critical tasks near the top of the list and it makes sense to tackle those first. In particular the backup and security related tasks.
Of course, this doesn’t cover absolutely everything. But, if you manage to get through this list over the course of an afternoon, you’ll be miles ahead of most other websites.
If you think I’ve missed anything important, please add it to the comments below.
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