A WordPress Setup Checklist for the first timer

by Paul on July 18, 2011

Check ListIf you’re setting up WordPress for the first time the whole range of options and configuration settings can be a little daunting. It’s easy for even the seasoned WordPress developer to miss an important configuration along the way. That’s where a WordPress setup check-list comes in handy.

In this post I’m going to show you most setup options I chose for any new website or blog based on WordPress.

WordPress Setup Checklist

I’m going to assume you’ve just installed your blog/website and you’ve made no changes. Feel free to skip past what you don’t need. All options can be reached using the menu on the left-hand side. For example, when I direct you to Settings > General, I’m referring you to the sub-menu item ‘General’ on the main menu item ‘Settings’.

WordPress General Settings Checklist

Go to menu: Settings > General

  • Give your website a name (this can be changed at any time), but give it something decent for now
  • Give your website a tagline (again, this can be changed at any time) but anything is better than having ‘Just another WordPress site’ as your tagline.
  • Remember to set your Timezone and how you want dates displayed on the site to be formatted
  • Check the box on whether you want people to subscribe or not

Go to menu: Settings > Discussion

I’ve provided a screenshot for my settings on nearly all my websites and provides for the following:

  • By default, people may comment on all new posts (this can be altered on a per-post level if desired)
  • User’s don’t have to be registered to comment
  • All comments go to the moderation queue before going public, unless a person with this email address has posted before
  • In general comments shouldn’t have links unless contextually relevant – I moderate all comments with 2+ links
  • At the risk of trackback spam, I normally allow other sites to link back to me

Here it is:

Host Like Toast WordPress Checklist: Discussion Settings

Go to menu: Settings > Permalinks

Possibly one of the most important settings you can make on your WordPress site.

If you look at the URL address bar for every post on this site, you’ll find it is something like this:

http://www.hostliketoast.com/year/month/name-of-the-post/

There are several reasons why we put our pages in this way:

  1. it’s human readable and makes it easy for the reader to spot the page they’re on and use it as a link to copy if they want to link to your site
  2. it has certain Search Engine Optimization properties since if you have keywords in your URL that your post is about, it adds to the SEO weight of the page
  3. it’s nicer 🙂

There are a few important things to consider about Permalinks before you choose your structure.

  • it only applies to posts, not pages (though pages will display the ‘postname’)
  • for performance reasons, you should start the permalink with a number, such as year, month, day. It’s important that you do not start it with something like category name, or postname etc.
  • if you chose custom structure, you should chose values that will make each post unique, such as %postname%, or %post_id%

Below is a screen shot for this site. You will see when you try it yourself, that whenever select one of the suggestions, it will populate the custom structure field for you.

Host Like Toast WordPress Settings: Permalinks

Go to menu: Settings > Privacy

If you want your website to be crawled by search engines, make sure you set it to be publicly visible. I like to set it to be blocked for search engines when I’m setting up a new site. This means that new pages posted don’t alert the search engines and I don’t get crawled/indexed while the site is under construction.

If you do this, remember to change the setting back to public.

WordPress Plugins Checklist – install only what you need

The WordPress plugin system is wonderful in that you can get your blog doing almost anything you want it to. The downside is that not all plugins are created equal, and the temptation is to start adding a million and one plugins to add all the functionality you need.

Think of plugins like perfume: a little is enough, a bit extra is lovely, and too much your website stinks.  Where possible, don’t use them.  I have listed below what I believe to be the best plugins out there for the critical roles that need to be covered on a website. I will provide further in-depth articles for plugins at a later date.

Go to menu Plugins > Installed Plugins

Deactivate / Delete the following plugins:

  • Akismet: This plugin is nothing but trouble for me both on my sites, and when posting to other sites. It’s just not reliable any longer – I can’t even comment on my own blogs without getting marked as SPAM.
  • Hello Dolly: Just remove it (if you don’t want it).

Go to menu Plugins > Add New

For each of the plugins below, do a search for each of the names in bold below – the first result in the page should be the one you’re looking for. If in doubt, follow the accompanying link to confirm:

Install a quality WordPress Theme

I feel people underestimate the importance of their WordPress theme. Sure you can buy premium themes that are “SEO blah blah”, and all the rest, but nearly all premium themes I’ve ever worked with are not worth the time spent to get them working.

There are some decent free themes and I welcome people to suggest them below.

For nearly all of my sites, and where possible for clients, I use a Theme Framework. It’s like a theme, only much more customizable.  I use the Thesis Theme Framework and while it takes a bit of learning, it’s seriously the best choice for customizing your site.

There are Thesis “skins” available out there which are basically customizations of your Thesis, but because you know your WordPress site is running atop Thesis, it’s got to be good!

Check out Thesis here.

If WordPress setup is all a bit much…

Give our Managed WordPress Hosting a look. Host Like Toast will install your WordPress site, setup core plugins you need and be on hand to consult about your WordPress site. It’s WordPress as a Service.

Use the form below to join our Developer Channel

Do you need an automated CPanel web hosting backup script? There is that and more in the Developer Channel

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