Every year thousands of people make a New Year’s resolution to take up blogging, and they turn to WordPress as the content management system on which to build their site. It’s a great decision on both counts. Blogging can be a very rewarding pastime. And for those new to building a website, there’s no better foundation than WordPress.
A long time ago I was one of the people that resolved to blog as a New Year’s resolution. I muddled through, but there were numerous stumbling points, and I wish someone had taken the time to give me a bit of advice before I started. I’m now experienced with WordPress, and I’d like to use this post to tell newbie bloggers some of the things I wish I had known when I started. This isn’t a comprehensive guide to using WordPress, there are many of those available already on the web, but it does contain some pearls of wisdom that I learned the hard way.
Be Careful With Free Themes
Most people who blog for personal reasons will choose to use a free theme. There’s nothing wrong with that: there are many excellent free themes available, including the default theme 2015, which is the first default theme I would consider using on a site of my own; it’s very well designed. But you need to make sure that you get your free theme from a recognized theme repository like the one at WordPress.org. Googling for free themes is a bad idea because hackers like to put malware and other nasty surprises in them.
The same thing is true of plugins, make sure you get them from a reputable source. And I know you never would, but steer clear of pirate premium plugins at all costs: they’re a favored malware vector for hackers.
The Default Permalink Structure Is Bad
There are many good things about WordPress, and it’s almost ready to go out of the box, but there are a few tweaks every WordPress user should make. By default WordPress uses a link structure that looks like this: http://example.com/?p=3343. It provides no useful information to users or to search engines. If you keep reading, I’ll show you a quick way to change it to something more helpful.
You Should Change The Default Admin Username
All WordPress installations include a user with administration privileges with the username “admin”. Every hacker knows this, so when they try brute force attacks against a site, they always try this name first. If you have a weak password, the “admin” username makes it trivially easy for hackers to gain access to your site: they only have to guess the password. Of course, you should have a strong password, but changing the default username is an essential security precaution.
You can’t actually change a username in WordPress, you have to create another user with administration privileges and delete the default one, but this plugin will do it for you.
You Need An SEO Plugin
WordPress is well designed from an SEO standpoint, but it can use a bit of help if you’re to stand the best chance of ranking well in search engine results. Even if you don’t care much about that, an SEO plugin will help you improve your site for users by creating an interface for you to write meta descriptions and title tags.
I suggest Yoast’s SEO plugin, which has the sanest defaults. It’ll also tell you how you can change your permalink structure, as I mentioned earlier.
Analytics Aren’t An Optional Extra
If you just want to write a bit for your family and friends, then I suppose that analytics are an optional extra. If you want to appeal to a broader audience, they you’ll need some idea of who is coming to your site, how they got there, and what they did while they were there. Analytics will help you see which content your audience liked, and which content went down like a lead balloon.
I always suggest Google Analytics: it’s free and there is a nice WordPress plugin that helps integrate some of its features into WordPress.
WordPress Search Isn’t The Greatest
As you write more content over the year and your audience grows, you’ll find that people will start to use the search box on your WordPress site. WordPress comes with built-in search functionality, but it’s basic. There are lots of plugins available to enhance WordPress search, but I suggest you take a look at Relevanssi.
If you follow these six tips, your site will be in good shape, but there are a couple more things that I do on new WordPress sites.
Install A Caching Plugin
WordPress is fast, but it isn’t super fast. It generates its pages on-the-fly as visitors request them. For the most part, that’s not necessary. A caching plugin will help speed up the process by serving the same pages to different people. My favorite caching plugin is W3 Total Cache, but it can be a bit hard to get to grips with, so if you want something simpler, checkout WP Super Cache.
Jetpack is a collection of plugins developed by the creators of WordPress.com. It has a host of great features, including infinite scroll, improved comments, tiled galleries, Markdown support (you should learn Markdown), extra widgets, and a bunch of other helpful additions.