You made up your mind, you followed the instructions from my previous post about How to Start a Blog, and you have a domain name and a new WordPress site. Congratulations! You are officially a blogger now! 🙂
In fact, you need now to do many things to set your blog by the best recommendations for SEO, usability, design, and structure. I made a checklist for starting a blog which reflects the best practices for 2017.
As soon as you installed WordPress and set up hosting, follow this checklist to make sure your site has no issues in the future because you missed something important at the starting point.
If you missed the part of setting up your hosting and WordPress, get back to my post on how to start a blog before reading this checklist.
This is part 3 of 4 of the Starting a Blog series.
1. How to Start a Blog in 10 Minutes
2. How to Choose a Domain Name
3. Checklist for Starting a Blog on WordPress (10 essential details most newbies forget!)
4. How to Make Money Blogging
Starting a blog? Check the first things to do!
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
1. Set up the permalink structure
By permalink, we mean the URL structure for all your posts and pages. If you go to Settings > Permalinks, check what the default permalink setting is. If it’s set either to ‘date and name’, or ‘month and name’, I’d rather change it to another option. From SEO positions, this is not the best URL structure because you can’t use your keywords in the URL. I highly recommend you to choose the ‘post name’ or the Custom structure. The last one allows you to add also the category to the URL, this maintaining the structure of the site in the URLs, but you don’t have to do so. I chose to keep categories in my blog, many bloggers prefer to leave just the ‘post name’.
2. Delete the “Hello World” post and the sample page
Any WordPress blog by default has published “hello world” post and a sample page. These are just examples for you to see how your posts and pages will look like, but it’s better to delete them at the day one.
All you need to do is to click on Trash and then find these two items in the trash folder to remove them from your site forever.
If you are looking for an affordable hosting company to start a blog, I recommend you Bluehost which I use for this blog. When you use my link to Bluehost, I receive a commission, and you get hosting + free domain name + free SSL certificate (https) for just $3.95 per month. For more information, see my disclosures here.
You can use this handy Bluehost’s tool to check whether the domain you are thinking about is available:
3. Install the most important plugins
You probably know that WordPress is so cool partly because it has tons of free or premium plugins, constantly updating and making your like so much easier!
Plugins are additional functions of your blog, which you can add with a simple upload and install process without having to code anything on your own. On the one hand, plugins will set you free from difficult coding, on the other hand, plugins make your blog more “heavy” from the coding point of view, which means the site speed can be significantly reduced if you have too many plugins. You could also face a security risk due to plugins because when the bad guys want to find a breach, they target plugins first.
However, you can’t entirely avoid using plugins. It simply makes no sense. Just make sure that for each important feature you use the best plugin offered on the market. I’ll give you the names of the three plugins, which I consider absolute must-haves for any blogger.
1. Antispam Bee – blocks spam comments and trackbacks efficiently and without captchas. It is free of charge, ad-free and compliant with European data privacy standards (doesn’t store the IP addresses of your users). You can only use it with default WordPress comments, not with plugins like Disqus Comments or Jetpack. You can choose a setting there, once a commenter has been approved, his other comments will be automatically accepted without review.
2. Yoast SEO – this is a plugin that helps you take care of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) standards in every post and on your blog in general. SEO is essential for your blog in the long-run because it ensures that users searching on Google will be able to find your posts somewhere around top results for the relevant keywords.
3. UpdraftPlus – it’s currently the highest-ranking backup plugin on wordpress.org, has a free version. Backup into the cloud (Amazon S3 (or compatible), Dropbox, Google Drive, Rackspace Cloud, DreamObjects, FTP, OpenStack Swift, UpdraftPlus Vault and email) and restore with a single click.
4. Social Warfare free plugin, which I’m using on my blog to add social media buttons to every post. It’s highly customizable even in the free version and allows me to choose where exactly in the post I want to see the buttons – above or below the content, or even manual placement.
How many plugins can I install on a blog?
That’s a difficult question because there is no recommended limit, but one thing is positive – the more plugins you have, the slower your site works. Page loading time is a very important performance metric of the site. Not only the users can get frustrated and leave your blog before the page completely loads, but also search engines, Google, in particular, evaluate this characteristic and add it into the mix of factors which affect site’s rankings.
When you are choosing plugins to install, always make a research beforehand, because for any feature you need, there are at least 10 plugins available, and you need to choose the one that has frequent updates, that has excellent user evaluation and preferably, a community of people who use this plugin and can answer your questions if you need help.
4. Every blog needs a Title & Description
This is one of the main SEO recommendations which so many new bloggers forget about. It is quite easy to set it, but people sometimes run a blog for months, and only then they notice that in Google results they have some default text from WordPress next to their site’s link.
When you think about the title and description tags for your blog, don’t forget to add some keywords, which helps users and Google understand the main topic of your site.
To can set up your blog title, head to Settings – General, and on this page first thing you see is blog title. You can set this as well in the SEO plugin if you are using Yoast SEO, find the Titles & Metas section and head to Homepage tab.
5. Check the commenting settings
The nature of blogging implies that your readers will want to communicate with you via comments under posts and ask you questions. I wouldn’t recommend disabling comments in your blog, but some restrictions for commentators are necessary because you can’t afford to have tons of spam, which often comes in between genuine comments, and you can’t afford 24 hours monitoring your comments to delete spam.
In my blog, I always receive comments for moderation and manually approve each one to be published under my posts. Of course, it takes some time as well, but at least, I can dedicate some 20 min a day to comments and not worry that my blog is under spammers attack at any time of the day. Just scroll down the Discussion settings and choose the boxes according to your preferences.
6. Make your blog pretty with a WordPress theme
After you registered your blog on a hosting (I already mentioned perhaps, that I use Bluehost for my blog and have a step-by-step guide on installation process), and set up WordPress basics, it comes the time to choose a theme, which will make you blog pretty.
You probably noticed that your newborn blog looks like a template site; it’s not pretty and doesn’t reflect your personality or blog topic, right? Well, that’s because now it’s time for the next step – choosing a blog theme and design.
The default free WordPress theme on your site is not something you want your blog to live on for a long time. Search engines don’t rank high sites, which have nothing original and look like a mere copy of millions of other sites. Also, having a premium (paid) theme solves for you many money-making tasks because they usually have a structure and features that help you in generating revenue from your content.
So, what could you start with? There is a platform highly appreciated by most of the bloggers, from beginners to professionals – it’s Genesis Framework. To explain to you what is it, I’ll use the analogy of a Barbie doll. Genesis framework is the plastic body of the toy – the foundation, and then you can choose any kind of clothes to make your doll look pretty – these are the Child Themes.
Genesis Framework was developed by a company called StudioPress, they also offer their own child themes, and if you like them, I can share with you a nice hack: when you buy themes in a pack with Genesis Framework, you get a good discount. StudioPress Themes are categorized by topics so you can choose the perfect theme for your topic.
I wouldn’t recommend you the premium themes from StudioPress if I weren’t sure that they offer a reliable product with a professionally written code. If you later decide to make any changes to your blog, customization will not be too complicated.
Once you downloaded a theme, the installation is quite simple. Head to Appearance > Themes.
7. Add Google Analytics tracking code
It’s one of my favorite activities related to blogging – checking the charts and numbers, analyzing which posts work the best for my audience, which buttons on the site are more clickable.
You can track almost everything! How many visitors come to your site, where are they located, which traffic source they are coming from? And it’s so exciting to see the traffic growth over time! This is why you really should set up Google Analytics code on your blog as soon as possible.
Google Analytics is a free and the most powerful tool in the market, so set up an account here and get your tracking code. Google has clear instructions on where to paste their code, but to make it shorter, you just need to paste it before the closing <head> tag.
8. Add the most important pages
I would start with this specific order. About page, in my opinion, should be present on your blog from day one. Because it’s the primary place where your audience gets a proper acquaintance with you and makes a decision, to come back to this blog every again or not.
Don’t be shy and be yourself! Honest bloggers who don’t pretend to be something different from who they really are, always attract more attention. People feel the real story immediately, they tend to follow you and your updates. I encourage everyone to be genuine from day one and change your about page along the way.
Avoid the following mistakes:
- Writing it from the third person, this is not a Wikipedia article about you.
- Making the About page too generic and impersonal.
- Having just a long text with no images or photos.
If you are serious about blogging, you just can’t ignore or forget about these pages.
Affiliate networks, Google Adsense, and other advertising monetization partners all have requirements by the law and their rules that bloggers must disclose it clear that they are making money from links, banners, posts, etc.
I know that putting these pages together can be quite boring and confusing. Don’t spend too much time on them, they should be pretty generic. Of course, you should put them in your own words, but here is a disclosure policy generator you might find useful at disclosurepolicy.org.
9. Setup an opt-in form and build your email list!
As a beginner, probably you’d like to start with a free service. If you choose MailChimp, you will have free tools, including automated campaigns, up to 2000 subscribers! However, I have already migrated to Convertkit, it’s a highly recommended service with the best automation functionality, and it’s a more sophisticated tool than MailChimp. An important detail – in Convertkit you will find a setting which disables the double opt-in, in MailChimp you can’t avoid it. I noticed that the double opt-in (when the user needs to confirm his subscription upon receiving the first email from me), resulted in the loss of 60% of all my subscribers! Probably, the confirmation emails were falling into spam folders, or users just didn’t want to make one extra step. This problem is solved for me in Convertkit.
To create forms, I first used free forms from Sumo WordPress Plugin. They are great, the only problem with them was that you can’t make integration to send emails automatically to your lists on MailChimp or Convertkit. This was also solved after I migrated to Convertkit because now all my forms are created in Convertkit and they automatically send emails to the corresponding lists of subscribers in Convertkit.
10. Add a Sitemap to your blog
For the sake of SEO, all blogs are recommended to have a Sitemap file. This file helps Google search robots better understand your blog’s structure and crawl it more efficiently.
If you followed my previous steps in this post, you should already have Yoast SEO plugin installed on your WordPress blog, now you just need to find the Sitemap in plugin settings. You just need to click on Enabled, and the plugin automatically generates a Sitemap file according to the settings. You can head to Taxonomies Settings to choose whether you want to have categories, tags, etc. as well in your Sitemaps files.
You are not using the Yoast SEO plugin, another helpful plugin is Google XML Sitemaps.
As soon as your file is generated, just go to the Google Webmaster Tools (this is a free tool, if you are not signed-up for it, do it asap) and submit your sitemap URL to Google.
You will find it under Crawl – > Sitemaps. A sitemap created by Yoast SEO always has an URL ending on /sitemap_index.xml.
11. Don’t forget the Favicon!
Most of the sites have a little image which appears next to the site title in the browser tab. This little image is called favicon, it can be created from your blog’s logo, or if it doesn’t look nice when decreased to a small square, you can be creative and find something that reflects the topic of your site.
Many bloggers forget about the favicon, and then a default WordPress theme image appears next to their sites, making them all look the same. These sites look so unprofessional because of a little detail, and it’s so easy to completely forget about it!
Favicon is always displayed in the browser tabs and helps users identify and remember your site better.
The size of a favicon is 32 px by 32 px, you need to find a way to make your favicon stand out and look good in such a small size. After you created the image, change the file extension to a .ico file.
Then head to WordPress and find a way to upload your favicon under Appearance -> Customize. Depending on your WordPress theme, the tab where you can change favicon can have different names. In X-Theme which I currently use, it’s called Site Icons.
Your new blog is all set now!
That’s it, now you set up the ten vital details which will make your way to blogging success shorter!
I wish you to achieve the best results with your new blog and hope this list of things that many new bloggers completely forget about in their first months, will be helpful for you!