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Before you start designing or adding content to your new WordPress website, there are a few things you’ll want to do to set things up properly right from jump street. You should know that WordPress doesn’t come configured perfectly out-of-the-box and there are some features that don’t come included that you’ll want to add on as well.
Take a few moments to take care of these things before you get too far and I promise they’ll save you a ton of headaches later.
There are loads of customizations you can make to a WordPress website but I’m going to limit these what I consider to be the most critical when you’re just starting out.
Configure URLs properly in your settings
I don’t know why WordPress does this, by default its URL structure is janky as heck.
To make your URLs pretty and SEO-friendly too, the first thing you want to do on your new website is to go to your WordPress dashboard and change the permalink settings.
Log in to your WordPress dashboard and on the left-hand side, look for Settings > Permalink > Then choose the “Post Name” radio button and click the bright blue save changes button down at the bottom.
This is important for SEO! Rather than junking up your URL with a bunch of unnecessary characters, WordPress will now generate your URLs by using the title of your post or page and pull in all those yummy keywords you want to rank for in search.
I can’t stress how important it is to get into the habit of creating “pretty permalinks” (URLs that are as short and clear as possible) right from the start. If you treat your URLs like an afterthought (which I did at first, ugh), you’ll eventually want to clean them up to improve your SEO rankings and that requires doing “301 Redirects” (directing an old URL to the new one) otherwise Google will think your page went missing and drop it from its index.
It’s fixable, but it’s tedious and time-consuming. Trust me — it’s just much better to create a good habit as part of your workflow.
So, here’s what you need to know about that…
WordPress will now auto-generate URLs from your title, but you’ll usually need to adjust those on a per post/page basis
Since we’re talking about proper URL structure I want to make note of this here.
When you create new pages or posts, now WordPress will take your page title and use that to create your permalink. Often, that generates a URL that’s too long and messy. Make your URLs as short, focused, and clean as possible – using your focus keyword (the phrase you want Google to rank you for).
When you’re ready to start adding posts and pages to your website, you’ll want to make a manual adjustment to edit the permalink. If you’re using the new WordPress editor — called Gutenberg — it’s not intuitive how you do this when you first open your page and start adding content.
Now, you would never want to create a page title that’s this long, but I want to show you what happens with the URL. To create a new post, you’ll go to Post > Add New and then type in a title. In order to edit the URL, you must first save your page as a draft. You’ll do that in the top-right menu.
Once you save as draft, you’ll see a panel on the right-hand side is now available to change the URL slug. You can also highlight the title and an “edit permalink” panel will appear and you can do it there.
Protect Your Website
When you launch a website out into the world, it’s never a “set it and forget it” thing. It needs to be protected just like the data on your computer. You’ll want to monitor for malware, perform backups, and keep your software up-to-date.
WordPress makes it easy to make updates. When you log in to your dashboard, it will notify you if there’s a new version of WordPress or new versions of any plugins or themes you’re using. Updating them is as simple as clicking on an “update” button. If you keep things up-to-date, the chances that your site will be hacked or things will go wrong is drastically reduced.
But, before you make updates, I recommend you make a backup of your site. And, it’s a good idea to get a backup utility installed so you’re regularly backing things up. While your web host is likely performing backups for you, you don’t want to rely on them — redundant backups are always the way to go.
So let’s take care of that first and install a backup plugin.
A good, free option to backup your WordPress site is UpDraft Plus. The first thing you’ll do is go to your Plugins menu and click on “add new.”
Now, search for UpDraft Plus and click on INSTALL then click on ACTIVATE.
Now you’ll be taken to the Installed Plugin screen and you’ll see that UpDraft Plus is listed there. To find it and configure your backups, look on the settings menu and you’ll see UpDraft Plus Backups there – click on that.
You can create manual backups at any time — and it’s good practice to do that before you do updates to WordPress, themes or plugins — but what you want to do is schedule automatic backups and have them sent either to cloud storage or your email.
Go to the Settings tab to configure your backup schedule.
For Files backup, I like to do this weekly. For the database, because I blog and add content to the database daily, I like to set that to daily.
You can have backups sent to a cloud backup service of your choice, or you can have it sent to your email.
The rest you can leave at the default settings or change anything you like, at the bottom click “save changes.”
Malware & Spam Protection
Additional plugins you can install to protect you from malicious attacks and spam are:
Here’s what happens. I preach and plead with my clients to set up analytics right from day one — even if they don’t plan on using it right away — because this is how you’re going to learn how your site visitors are interacting with your website.
That information is going to help you make informed decisions about any changes that need to be made to your site, what content is working and what’s not, and even what marketing tactics are working out for you. It’s very common for people to “do things” on social media thinking it’s driving traffic back to their site, but Analytics sometimes tells a different story. Never just wing it and hope it works out.
If I could only give one piece of advice for any website owner, it would be: always look at the data.
But! That data really only gets interesting when you look at trends over time, and analytics only starts tracking things the day you install it. So please, install it now. I can’t tell you how many times my clients have said, “How do I look at analytics?” and I have to say, “Well, I warned you, but you haven’t set it up yet.”
It’s easy and only takes a few minutes.
Once you’ve done that, now you need to connect it to your website. Google Analytics will generate a unique tracking code for your website and you’ll need to place that code in the header of your website.
First, install a plugin called Install Headers and Footers…
Now, log in to your Analytics account and click on the gear icon at the bottom left-hand side, this will open up your admin panel. Look for the Property Settings menu and under that, the Tracking Info section… you want to click on Tracking Code.
Copy that code and mosey on back to your website. In the settings panel, open up Insert Headers and Footers which you’ll find under settings. Paste your Google Analytics tracking code in the header section, hit save, and voila, that’s all there is to it!
You’ll want to check back in with Google Analytics just to make sure things are working properly.
Once you see how easy it is to add plugins to your site, it’s tempting to start going “plugin crazy” and adding tons of bells and whistles. Don’t do that.
Many free — and even paid! — plugins are not coded very well and they’ll slow your site down. This is terrible for your user experience and Google too. In theory, if plugins are really well coded and high quality, you can get away with installing quite a few of them… but only install plugins you absolutely need and no more.
If you ever experience problems with your site — if it’s loading slow or if the layout goes wonky or something just doesn’t work right — a lot of the time it’s because of a bad plugin or a conflict of some kind. One of the first things we do when troubleshooting problems is deactivating plugins one by one to find the culprit.
So… have fun expanding the functionality of your site but just be cautious there. A simple, fast-loading, secure website with high-quality content is going to beat bells & whistles all the live-long day. 😉
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Let me know if you have any questions in comments!
Taughnee Stone is an award-winning designer, brand strategist, and location-independent business owner for over 15 years. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she now lives in Croatia with her husband, energetic Samoyed, and three bossy cats.