WordPress is the largest online Content Management System for a reason. Extremely customisable and powerful, it’s no wonder it’s a lot of people’s first choices when starting a blog. Due to this customisability, there’s a ton of information online as to starting a WordPress blog.
However I’ve found that these guides and tutorials often show you how to set up the most basic WordPress installation possible, instead of building a blog with a strong foundation that will remain strong for years to come when you have grown your traffic and business.
This article is filling in that gap. Something to show you the ideal way to start a WordPress blog, so you can get it right from the get go.
To be clear, this article is not a description of the cheapest way for starting a WordPress blog. It is about the best way.
Some of the tools I’m recommending will cost a small amount, however I would recommend you view any purchases you make as an investment! Hopefully you’re looking to turn this blog into a lucrative business, so a little bit of upfront cost should be expected. Any purchases I’m recommending are great investments, so don’t be switched off by the small upfront cost.
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This article is pretty comprehensive, so I’ve split it up into a number of different sections. Clicking on any of these links will bring you to the relevant sections!
- #1 Domain & Hosting
- #2 Theme & Setup
- #3 Genesis Housekeeping
- #4 WordPress Check List
- #5 Plugins for Success
- #6 Initial Content
Stage 1: Domain & Hosting
Before we get started with anything on the website, we need to get ourselves sorted out with a domain (your web address) and the hosting for that address (making it accessible on the web)!
There are a number of websites that I would recommend for registering your domain. Most of them are cheap and will allow you to get started with a domain for around the $10 mark. Choose a domain that is concise, yet catchy. This is your call, and it matters – changing domains is a bit of a nightmare, so I’d recommend you pick one that you like and want to stick with!
Unless you have seriously good reason, go with a .com.
In terms of hosting, there’s a bunch of good options. The biggest consideration for WordPress hosting is that you want to choose a provider that will serve your website super fast – that also has good customer service and uptime.
Here are a few of my favourite web hosts:
- WPEngine – Specialist WordPress web hosts that deliver excellent speed. For bespoke WordPress projects WPEngine is my go to.
- MediaTemple – A solid and affordable web host that will deliver good site speed.
- Webfaction – The host I use here at Pixel Whizz. Fantastic host but I’d only recommend for the more technical!
Once you’re decided on your web hosting, sign up for your chosen plan.
Your hosting plan is something that can always be upgraded, so I recommend using the most basic plan (the cheapest the host offers) to start with.
Once your domain and hosting is sorted, you’ll want to search your hosting provider for their ‘WordPress installer’. All of the above services have one click WordPress installers that you’ll be able to instantly install WordPress and get up and running.
You’ll then be taken through the famous WordPress set up process.
Important: keep track of your username and password that you set during this process.
I’m not going to go over the ins and outs of the WordPress initial set up process. If you need a bit of help, this official guide is extremely comprehensive.
Stage 2: Theme & Setup
Now we’re getting to the interesting stuff.
Your theme is one of the best ways to take control of your WordPress website. When starting a WordPress blog – you’ll want to put a good amount of thought into what style and design you’d like your website to take on.
Something that needs almost no discussion, is that you should be using a WordPress framework for your blog. A framework acts as a layer in between your theme and your WordPress installation. This allows your website to remain quick, your code to remain clean and standardised, and your site to keep performing at a high level.
The best WordPress framework is, in my opinion, Genesis by StudioPress.
This is the framework I use for the Pixel Whizz blog, and install it on any WordPress site I manage. Including a site that gets 400K monthly visitors!
Genesis is one of the larger expenses ($59.95) when you’re starting a WordPress blog, but it’s also one of the most valuable. It will keep your site quick, clean and provide a fantastic technical base to make sure you can successfully rank in Google search.
Let’s get our theme on.
Genesis is only one side of the coin, because you also need a theme to interact with. This is how StudioPress describe it:
Luckily, StudioPress has a great selection of world class WordPress themes that will perform fantastically with Genesis. Depending on your blog focus, you’ll want to choose a theme that compliments it. Here are a few of my favourites.
(The prices listed on StudioPress include the $59.95 purchase of Genesis).
Infinity Pro is a good compromise between a typical ‘magazine’ blog theme, and a high quality traditional website design.
If you want a straight to business news-focused theme, that will perform extremely well for a content driven blog website – Magazine Pro is a great bet. This no-frills theme that will easily be adapted to any niche.
Build it yourself
Woah there, don’t panic just yet. I’m not talking about writing your own WordPress theme just yet. Perhaps that’s a topic for another blog post 😉
I’m purely talking about customising a theme to the best of your ability. This is one of the best ways to ensure a personalised style on your website and blog, because it will be completely unique!
When you download Genesis, you’ll also be able to download the ‘Genesis Sample Theme‘. This is a really basic, barebones theme that will remind you of one of the themes that comes pre-installed with WordPress. However the good thing about Genesis Sample is that it has all of the fundamentals necessary for a great site, so you can tweak the design completely to your liking.
Granted, if you’ve never played around with any CSS before, you may just want a plug and play theme like the above, but there’s never a better time to learn than the present!
This is the route I took with Pixel Whizz. Look mum, no theme!
Install Genesis & Your Child Theme
You’ll hear the word ‘Child Theme’ bandied about a lot. It’s really pretty simple. Genesis is the master theme framework that controls the way your site looks and behaves, whilst child themes are the pretty paint on top. You install a child theme after first installing Genesis.
Navigate to Appearance > Themes. Click ‘Add New‘.
Find the Genesis download on your computer and upload it here.
Once activated, you’ll receive an error like this:
This is easily rectified by installing and activating the child theme, whichever you decided to install.
The order is important. Make sure to install Genesis first, otherwise the sample theme won’t have anything to hook onto.
You’re done! Your theme is installed and ready to customise, ready to transform into a profitable and compelling website!
Stage 3: Genesis Housekeeping
Genesis is fantastic – mainly because it’s so flexible and customisable. In order to achieve this customisability, there’s a couple of plugins that will make the process much easier.
These plugins are fantastic bases for starting to customise your WordPress theme to your own liking. Simple edits is just that, for simple edits, whereas simple hooks gives you much more creative control. I’m not going to delve too much into Genesis Hooks, since it’s an extremely big topic. However the basic principle is as follows:
Genesis hooks make up the ‘map’ of your site and how it interacts with WordPress. Using hooks allows you to insert content into certain areas of your site very easy, or perform tasks like moving website elements below or above others.
For more info on Genesis hooks I’d recommend reading this guide. Let’s move onto making a few common changes that I always perform on my WordPress sites running Genesis. We’ll be performing these with Simple Edits.
Changing your default footer text
As much as I’m a fan of the WordPress framework, it doesn’t mean I want ‘powered by Genesis’ to stay in the footer of any website that I install it on. Thankfully, with Genesis Simple Hooks, it’s a quick fix.
Once you have Simple Edits installed, navigate to Genesis > Simple Edits. What we’re looking for here is ‘Footer Credits Text‘.
It really is as simple as replacing the text within that field to something you like. Perhaps for Pixel Whizz, for instance, something like “COPYRIGHT © 2016 PIXEL WHIZZ | TOM RICHARDSON. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.” might work well.
If that’s not enough control, Simple Edits also lets you put custom HTML into the footer. This gives you many more options than just having text. Social icons? No problem. Links to affiliate pages, disclaimers, T&Cs? No worries. Unless you know what you’re doing with a bit of HTML here, I would leave this one alone.
Add related posts after your blog posts
Decreasing your bounce rate is essential if you want to create a successful website. For this reason, adding simple thumbnails to related posts is an extremely efficient way to get people to read other things after finishing one of your blog posts.
Genesis luckily has a preconfigured Related Posts widget, along with creating a widget area that outputs below every post. Win.
To quickly set this up, navigate to Appearance > Widgets and look for the ‘Genesis – Featured Posts‘ widget. Drag this into the ‘After Entry‘ widget area box.
In terms of the settings for this widget, I’ve found not changing them too much produces good results. However if you’d like things like gravatar author images, this is the place to configure it.
Stage 4: WordPress Check List
Great! Now you’ve installed and set a basic configuration for Genesis, it’s time to do a number of general WordPress housekeeping bits that will set your website on the path to success.
I perform all of these tweaks on every new WordPress site I work on. It’s by no means a complete list, and some of them are personal preference, but completing them all is a great place to start your new blog venture!
Upload your logo
Every WordPress theme, regardless of if it is built on Genesis or not, probably has space to upload your own custom logo.
This is normally within the ‘Appearance > Customise‘ section of WordPress. Find this area, upload your logo.
WordPress by default will configure your permalinks to their post ID. This is not good for SEO, so let’s change that as one of the first things we do. Navigate to settings > permalinks and change the setting to ‘post name’. For bonus WordPress SEO points, configure short custom permalinks for every post. However, the above will do as a default setting!
Enable/disable site crawling
WordPress dev is often very gradual. I get it. For larger changes on my sites before they officially ‘launch’ I like to disable search engines from crawling it’s pages until I’m happy. Once I’m happy with the design and perhaps one or two initial posts, I uncheck the box inside Settings > Reading and sit back to let Google crawl away.
Delete your default or redundant theme(s)
WordPress installs it’s default WordPress theme on every single new WordPress installation. This means that you’ll have these themes simply sitting within your WordPress installation not doing anything. Not good.
These themes can be a security issue, as they contain such accessible code any vulnerabilities can easily be exposed. It’s also not great for site speed, so let’s get rid of them!
Navigate to Appearance > Themes. Make sure the theme you want to delete isn’t active – which it shouldn’t be if you have installed Genesis – and simply click the delete button in the bottom right of the inactive theme listing.
Change default user name
If you used the default ‘admin’ username when initially going through the WordPress set up, it’s a pretty large security risk. Potential hackers will already be halfway to gaining access to your site, so I always change the username to something a little harder to guess. It’s a quick win.
The easiest way to achieve what we want here is to create a new user, give it access rights, and delete the old user. This can be done inside Users > All Users.
Your favicon (the little icon that appears in a Chrome tab) is something that can easily slip through the cracks. Do not overlook it! Your favicon can easily be set inside Appearance > Customize > Site Identity > Site Icon.
Okay, so this probably should go in the plugins for success section. However I’m noting it here, because there’s not been a single WordPress project I’ve worked on where I haven’t installed Yoast. It’s the best plugin for WordPress to manage your search engine optimisation, displaying visual representations for how well optimised your pages and posts are, but also containing a ton of great SEO features like XML Sitemaps.
Set up Google Webmasters
Google is ruler of the land online. If you don’t have an SEO strategy, or at least a view on what is likely to perform well in search, you’re stabbing in the dark. Before Google can start to serve your website to people in search though, they need to know it’s there. After installing Yoast by SEO, you’ll be generated an XML Sitemap and a Robots.txt file. These are both used in a platform called ‘Google Webmaster Tools‘. Sign up and verify your ownership for your website, then follow this guide to submit your XML sitemap to Webmasters. Google will thank you later.
Set up Google Analytics
I’ve talked previously about Google Analytics. It’s hands down one of the best analytics tools on the web – and it’s completely free.
You can install GA super quick on a Genesis website. Simply sign up for Google Analytics, grab the tracking code that they supply. Copy this code into the ‘header and footer scripts’ section of the Genesis settings page found in Genesis > Theme Settings and scrolling down to the bottom.
Decide what commenting platform you want to use
This is a tough one, because there isn’t necessarily a right answer here. I use the Disqus commenting platform for the comments on the Pixel Whizz blog. I’m a big fan of the design, how simple they are to set up and manage, and it’s super for limiting any spam comments on my site. There are a number of different systems available, and there’s not a lot wrong with using the default WordPress comments – just be prepared to moderate your comments which is a little slower than on systems like Disqus.
Create an about and contact page
About and contact pages are some of the most human pages on your site. The about page will introduce you to your potential customers or readers, whilst your contact page means that users can contact you if required.
These pages are almost non-negotiable. If you’re looking to build a brand and business online, they’re a quick win.
Using affiliate links? Create an affiliate disclaimer page
You know what’s annoying? Having to write out a super long disclaimer every single time you use an affiliate link within a blog post. True, it’s a legal requirement, and some people abuse affiliate marketing promoting products they don’t believe in. However I believe that the best way to manage this is to have a site-wide affiliate disclosure being completely transparent.
This way, when you have an affiliate-link heavy post you can mention and link to this disclosure. It takes the pressure off having to write regular full-length disclosures every time you affiliate away.
W3 Total Cache
Okay, so another one that should may well have found it’s way into the plugins for success section. However like SEO by Yoast, W3 Total Cache is one plugin I immediately install on any new WordPress site from the get go. Caching plugins are one of the best ways to speed up your site, and W3 has the tools necessary to make a massive difference purely by installing the plugin. For the more technical, you can delve into Total Cache’s many settings to find a set up that you like.
#Stage 5: Plugins for success
One of the best things about WordPress is just how customisable it is. The sheer amount of WordPress plugins that are available for download from the web is astounding. With WordPress, you really are free to accomplish almost anything on your website.
I have a number of plugins that I install on nearly every project. Some instantly, as highlighted above with SEO by Yoast and W3 Total Cache. However some are a little more obscure and exist to do things you might not have noticed.
Everybody needs a WordPress backup solution. This one is the best I’ve used, it’s super simple and super powerful – not to mention good value.
Stop worrying about your site getting corrupted or hacked, because VaultPress has your back.
Ever noticed that whenever you share one of my articles on Social Media a set of standardised images perfect for that network appear in tandem with the link?
That’s Social Warfare.
Ever noticed when you scroll on my articles there’s an attractive set of social icons that stay with you the whole time as you scroll? Right here:
That’s Social Warfare. In my opinion, the best social sharing plugin available for WordPress. With a ton of social sharing features – like built in Click to Tweet functionality and pinnable image hovers, my favourite thing about SW is probably the simplest.
At the bottom of every post or page, you can configure bespoke social meta descriptions and titles, along with images. This means that all of your metadata across social remains consistent and looks great. Yay!
Selling anything? Don’t use anything other than WooCommerce
WooCommerce is the most popular eCommerce plugin for WordPress for a reason, but I wasn’t aware quite how powerful it is until I started using it for myself. It’s completely flexible and insanely powerful.
However I think one of the best things about WooCommerce is that is IS used so much. Any issues or changes I wanted to make to the WooCommerce themes or checkout, I was able to find answers for super quickly. That’s not to be underestimated.
I talked about Lazy loading your images in a recent post discussing WordPress speed. You NEED to consider site speed when starting a WordPress blog. My opinions haven’t changed.
Lazy loading is the process of setting up your website so that only images in the viewable area of your screen are loaded. Other images are loaded as you scroll and this results in a faster page load.
In other words, a massive quick win.
Whilst we’re talking site speed…
WP Smush is an absolute lifesaver. You can quickly optimise all images inside your WordPress image library, and automatically optimise any future uploads. This is a real life saver for not only server space, but WordPress site speed too.
I was particularly proud of myself for finding this one, because it’s a real gem. Insert HTML Snippets is a really simple plugin that does what it says on the tin. You can set up reusable pieces of HTML code that can quickly be inserted into WordPress posts using a shortcode.
This saves me SO much time. Meaning I’m able to do this:
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As you’ve probably guessed by now – I’m not one for incredibly flashy plugins. I like to keep things simple, preferring to customise to fit my site by myself.
For this reason, contact forms are actually a bit tricky. Most contact form plugins include all bells and whistles, form builders, colour changers and a ton of other bits I just don’t need. One of the best plugins I’ve found is called Clean and Simple Contact Form. It includes everything you might want, including Google reCAPCHA (win!)
#6 Your Initial Content
If you’ve worked on a WordPress website before this one, changes are you’ve been in this position before:
My site doesn’t look anywhere near as good as the theme demo!
This is an all too common issue. You purchase a theme mainly driven by the super attractive WordPress demo that it comes with, and once you’ve successfully set up WordPress your site just doesn’t look anything like the demo. There is of course a little bit of a skill gap; after all the theme developer is probably the best person at working with their theme!
The biggest reason your site just isn’t working is due to your initial content. Your site just isn’t at the same level as those theme demos, because you don’t have an endless amount of posts with gorgeous images. We can fix this though…
FakerPress is a WordPress plugin that will generate you an endless amount of fake posts, comments or users. This is the most simple way I’ve found for generating a generous amount of demo content for your site without having to get into super complicated XML imports. It’ll create a new settings panel for you called ‘FakerPress‘, so navigate to the posts in FakerPress > Posts. Set an amount of posts you want to create:
Once set, you can mess with the tons of options that FakerPress lets you configure, but I’ve found clicking ‘Generate‘ at the bottom after specifying the amount of posts performs well.
Completing this process will import a ton of blog posts with custom featured images – perfect for testing when you are still messing around with your theme and website.
Once you’re happy with your site, and ready to start writing your own posts, navigate to ‘FakerPress > Settings‘ and write ‘Let it Go!‘ in the top box to delete the demo content you generated. Hey presto!
Thinking of Starting a WordPress Blog? Go go go.
The time is now! Follow the main steps in this guide and your blog can’t help but succeed.
If you have any questions regarding your new blog, please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment or send me a message on Twitter. I’ll do my best to help you out.