***Please note that there is an updated ver­sion of this arti­cle  as of 3/25/10 posted here: http://www.lunarlog.com/setting-wordpress-blog-part-ii/ — you may want to read this arti­cle still but keep in mind that many plu­g­ins and tech­niques have changed.***

I spent the last few days work­ing on this blog — basi­cally rebuild­ing it from scratch sans pre­vi­ous arti­cles. I also wanted to doc­u­ment some basic steps and the plu­g­ins I used for this instal­la­tion as it may come in handy for other peo­ple think­ing about revis­ing or cre­at­ing a blog on their own. I’ve also learned some very use­ful tips and tech­niques over the years, and it might even help the most sea­soned of web­site own­ers and bloggers.

Now if you want, there’s plenty of other free resources out there which will allow you to host your own blog. You can go with some­thing like Pos­ter­ous, WordPress.com (dif­fer­ent from the .org — they actu­ally will set up and host your blog for a cost as well), and Google Blog­ger. I per­son­ally choose my own web­site because I like hav­ing my own domain name, and sec­ondly it gives me full con­trol over tem­plates, what is posted, and which plu­g­ins I choose to install and use.

While I used to like play­ing around and exper­i­ment­ing, I find that I don’t have as much time as I used to. Run­ning eight web­sites and actu­ally doing ‘real’ work can do that to some­body. So lately I’ve been of the opin­ion that I like to keep a blog as sim­ple as pos­si­ble. Not only does it make life eas­ier to main­tain things, but when there’s a major engine update, things are less likely to break. That and a sim­ple and clean look­ing blog is less likely to turn read­ers away and may even keep peo­ple com­ing back. Plus, keep­ing it “sim­ple” can also lead to higher search engine returns.

I would also like to men­tion that it is a good idea to employ these prac­tices at a start of cre­at­ing a new blog. Chang­ing a blog that has already been around and spi­dered for a long time may have unin­tended con­se­quences such as a tem­po­rary drop in rank­ings for var­i­ous key­words and phrases. But in the long run, you will most likely see much great returns in read­er­ship by employ­ing these tech­niques (one of my blogs saw a traf­fic increase by over 1000% when I fol­lowed these steps.)

I’ve tried to out­line my ‘sim­ple’ steps below and cover as much ground as pos­si­ble with what I use and what I don’t use:

Web­site Hosting:

  1. I use Total Choice Host­ing for all of my web­sites as well as my friends. The uptime on most of their servers is pretty good. Their tech­ni­cal sup­port is excel­lent. They also use Cpanel which makes check­ing your web logs and set­ting up web­sites a breeze through Fan­tas­tico. And for roughly $4/month, you get very good host­ing pack­age. Keep in mind that I’m not receiv­ing any adver­tis­ing roy­al­ties for men­tion­ing their ser­vice here — it’s sim­ply what I choose to use.
  2. I also buy my domains through Total Choice Host­ing. It prob­a­bly costs a dol­lar or two more than most other providers, but the extra dol­lar you spend per year makes life that much eas­ier as the sites sync nicely. I never sign up for their addi­tional pack­ages and pro­mo­tions. All I get is a “basic” domain name.

Basic Word­Press Blog Instal­la­tion and Steps:

  1. Once you have the host and domain name, nav­i­gate to Cpanel.
  2. Set up an email address there.
  3. Click Fan­tas­tico after­wards and click WordPress.
  4. Set up a user­name, enter my email address, and password.
  5. Your default Word­Press blog has been created.

Addi­tional Word­Press Configuration:

  1. Enter the admin­is­tra­tion panel through: http://yourdomain.com/wp-admin
  2. You’re going to want to add your email address in your Gen­eral Word­Press Settings.
  3. You also want to change your default Word­Press install under ‘Gen­eral Word­Press Set­tings’ for ‘Word­Press address (URL)’ and ‘Blog address’ to read: http://www.yourdomain.com — adding the ‘www.’  por­tion is very impor­tant for search engine rank­ing. If you use both ‘http://www.yourdomain.com’ and ‘http://yourdomain.com’, search engines such as Google actu­ally read your web­site as two dif­fer­ent web­sites and dupli­cate con­tent, and penal­ize your rank­ing by split­ting your rank in half. This is one of the most com­mon opti­miza­tion mis­takes for webmasters.
  4. Set up your ‘Users’ account by ‘Adding New’ and adding addi­tional details under ‘Your Profile.’
  5. Go through the ‘Set­tings’, and add addi­tional infor­ma­tion as nec­es­sary. Most of the set­tings are pretty stan­dard and you really won’t have to change much of anything.
  6. You may see that an update to Word­Press is avail­able at the top of your screen. Some­times this con­tains improved func­tion­al­ity, or improved secu­rity. I like to keep my engine as up-to-date as pos­si­ble. Click and fol­low the link in order to update your blog instal­la­tion to the lat­est ver­sion. Just a warn­ing — some­times this can get a lit­tle messy, and you will need to update this man­u­ally through a free FTP pro­gram such as Filezilla.
  7. On the right-hand side of this web­site, you will see sev­eral tabs. These cur­rently include ‘Top­ics, Recent Posts, Links, Tag Cloud, and Meta.’ You can add addi­tional ones or delete these ones at will. They’re called ‘Wid­gets’ and fall under the ‘Appear­ance’ cat­e­gory. To acti­vate them, sim­ply drag them from left-side of your Wid­gets admin­is­tra­tion scree, and vice-versa. You can find addi­tional Wid­gets by click­ing ‘Plu­g­ins’, ‘Add New’, and search­ing for ‘wid­gets’ in the search field. Keep in mind that not all themes you install play nicely with widgets.
  8. Please note: I rec­om­mend this ‘last’ step as an optional one. If your new to Word­Press, skip this for now and just play­ing with your blog’s default tem­plate until you get the hang of things. You can change your blogs appear­ance eas­ily by click­ing ‘Appear­ance’ and ‘Add New Themes.’ Gen­er­ally, I don’t click any­thing other than the ‘Find Themes’ but­ton at the bot­tom of the screen. Then I browse until I find a theme that I like and click ‘Install’ fol­lowed by ‘Acti­vate.’ Often, I’ll install a theme that matches the approx­i­mate look and feel of what I’m going for. Then through advance cod­ing, hack­ing, and redesign — I mod­ify it to meet my design needs. How­ever, recently I haven’t had much time to play around with doing that. Just keep in mind that when adding themes, you should test out each them as some of them are older and por­tions may be incom­pat­i­ble with your Word­Press engine. To be on the safe side if your cod­ing skills are non-existent, you may want to check ‘Fea­tured’, ‘Newest’, or ‘Recently Updated’ when brows­ing themes. Most of these should be fully com­pat­i­ble with your Word­Press installation.

Basic Word­Press Post­ing and Editing:

  1. ‘Pages’ on the left-hand side will appear as nav­i­ga­tion tabs (or but­tons) along the top of your blog. You might choose to have a nav­i­ga­tion bar which reads, ‘Home, About Us, Con­tact, Direc­tions.’ That’s your choice. I try to keep things as sim­ple as pos­si­ble in order to avoid con­fu­sion and improve a user’s expe­ri­ence. For this blog, I cur­rently have ‘Home’ and ‘About’ but­tons. I don’t need any­thing more than that… In order to add a new page, sim­ply click ‘Add Page’ and fill out the information.
  2. ‘Posts’ on the left-hand side is basi­cally where you will want to post your main blog arti­cles. It’s pretty straight­for­ward on how to use that.
  3. ‘Links’ on the left-hand side is addi­tional links that appears on the main page of your blog if you have the ‘Links’ Wid­get enabled. By default, this is called a ‘Blogroll’ which can be a lit­tle con­fus­ing, how­ever you can change it to read ‘links’ on the Wid­gets setup page. On this blog, I list a few favorite web­sites as well as my own on the right-hand side of this page under ‘Links.’
  4. ‘Com­ments’ is pretty straight-forward. You can see other people’s com­ments here and mod­er­ate these by edit­ing, delet­ing, mark­ing as spam, etc…

Adding Func­tion­al­ity to Word­Press through Plugins:

Once you have a decent work­ing knowl­edge of your blog, you can start to add to its func­tion­al­ity. Word­Press by default is like buy­ing a stan­dard card with man­ual every­thing, except the ‘car’ was free. There’s so many things you can do (and will want to do) in order to make life eas­ier through less steps, as well improv­ing your web­sites vis­i­bil­ity in search engines. Besides writ­ing plenty of good con­tent, the last part is impor­tant in order to be a suc­cess­ful blog­ger. Most peo­ple are never found on the web, sim­ply because they skip out a few addi­tional steps.

Here’s a list of the plu­g­ins I installed and use for all of my Word­Press (ver­sion 2.8.4 as of 8/27/09) blogs and instal­la­tions. Please keep in that mind most of these plu­g­ins are directly avail­able and free from with the Word­Press ‘Plu­g­ins’ ‘Add New’ tab. Some of them might say that they’ve been untested and may not work for your cur­rent ver­sion, but I’ve installed these and as far as I can tell most of these are work­ing just fine. I’ve also installed these based on user-experience as well as over­all rat­ings and down­loads as you can’t com­pletely trust the Word­Press rat­ing sys­tem (some­thing may have 5 stars and only 1 rat­ing, while another plu­gin might be 4 stars and have 1,000+ ratings):

  1. Akismet: Built-in plu­gin turned off by default. Check this and sign up for free if you don’t want to get spammed…
  2. Anti-Captcha: I hate read­ing Captcha and wouldn’t sub­ject some­one to it if pos­si­ble. This plu­gin employ­ees a tech­nique in order to deter­mine if a ‘com­menter’ is spam­ming you and avoids need­ing to install a Captcha plugin.
  3. Cleaner Gallery: Word­Press by default writes invalid XHTML. This plu­gin auto­mat­i­cally cor­rects the XHTML mak­ing it eas­ier on search engines. Why it’s not included with a default Word­Press (or why they don’t fix it in the first place) will always be beyond me. Oh well, more power to those who use it…
  4. Feed­Burner Feed­Smith: I per­son­ally don’t use RSS feeds unless you count MSN’s per­son­al­ized home­page, or Google’s per­sonal home­page, or even the per­son­al­ized Yahoo! But a lot of peo­ple actu­ally do. RSS (Really Sim­ple Syn­di­cate) basi­cally acts like a stock ticker. Instead of fill­ing up or hav­ing to browse web­pages, it sim­ply streams a short descrip­tion and head­line of a topic. Feed­burner was recently acquired by Google itself, and indi­ca­tor that Google really sees promise in their ser­vices. It’s also a free ser­vice and will help sub­scribers as well as poten­tially improv­ing your search engine posi­tion­ing. A great and use­ful arti­cle on set­ting up your Feed­burner account can be found here.
  5. Google Ana­lyt­ics for Word­Press: If you don’t have a Google account, you should get one imme­di­ately if you have or run web­sites. Google Ana­lyt­ics is a tool for help­ing you mon­i­tor your website’s traffic.
  6. Google XML Sitemaps: A web­site with­out sitemaps, is well, a web­site with­out sitemaps… Every major search engine reads sitemaps. Basi­cally, they’re a stan­dard­ized form telling a search engine how your web­site is set up as well as what inter­nal links you have and pro­duce. This makes find­ing things using search engines eas­ier. Google, Bing, and Yahoo! all like it to be easy… Once installed, this is an auto­mated process for your blog. Again, get a Google account if you don’t have one and also sign up under their Webmaster’s tools. This is very important.
  7. Gurken Sub­scribe to Com­ments: I pro­vide this to the end-user as a fea­ture to make life eas­ier. In case we are dis­cussing some­thing and he/she com­ments on this blog and wants to read follow-ups, this will auto­mat­i­cally notify them if some­one responds. Why it’s not built into Word­Press by default, remains a gigan­tic mystery…
  8. HeadSpace2: Your blog by default gives every­thing stan­dard titles at the very top of your browser, as well as generic descrip­tions. This is not good for search engines because engines such as Google detect these ‘dupli­cate’ titles and descrip­tions as dupli­cate pages, and likes to hand out pun­ish­ment for that. I rec­om­mend installing this, and cus­tomiz­ing all of these fields so that they’re unique. It’s worth the time and effort.
  9. High­light Author Com­ments: I like my own com­ments to stand out from oth­ers. It also makes read­ing eas­ier for read­ers who are look­ing for a response. Some tem­plates have this built in, but plenty of oth­ers do not. Why again some­thing like this not embed­ded in Word­Press will remain a mystery…
  10. Lightview Plus: This just makes images pretty by pop­ping up when you click them. It’s a mod­er­ately com­pli­cated install as you have to down­load the scripts from two sep­a­rate sources and man­u­ally install. Not nec­es­sary but I like the design. I also employ a com­mer­cial ver­sion of Lightview on my main website’s gal­leries at www.lunarstudio.com.
  11. NoFol­low For Posts: Unavail­able through Word­Press cur­rently. This requires a man­ual FTP install through the plu­g­ins direc­tory. But it’s VERY use­ful. Basi­cally, when­ever you have a link in your post’s bod­ies, you are able to sim­ply check ‘NoFol­low.’ NoFol­low’ on links is very impor­tant for achiev­ing a higher web­site rank­ing. Users can still click your links, but the links will no longer bleed ‘page juice’ or ‘pager­ank’ from your web­site to oth­ers. Instead, you build up PageR­ank this way. The only time I don’t use ‘NoFol­low’ is when I’m link­ing to my other web­sites as I want to help them out. This is another one that should be built into WP.
  12. Nofol­low Links: One thing you may or may not notice is that your links on your ‘BlogRoll’ or ‘Links’ Wid­get are all set to ‘fol­low’ by default. So your web­site is auto­mat­i­cally bleed­ing and you want to stop it with this.
  13. Post Teaser: On this site, all of my posts have a short descrip­tion which links to the full post. It tells the amount of words as well as the approx­i­mate read­ing time. It’s not nec­es­sary, but I like to keep my posts short for those that aren’t inter­ested in a par­tic­u­lar topic.
  14. PRO Player: A nice, easy way to embed videos from other sites (YouTube, Google Video, Vimeo, etc.) on your web­site with­out going nuts.
  15. Raven’s Anti­spam: Another Anti-Captcha plu­gin. I’m not sure if it con­flicts with Anti-Captcha above, but I have it acti­vated for now.
  16. SEO Friendly Images: Adds an Alt and Attribute tag to your images. This is very impor­tant for SEO.
  17. Socia­ble: These are the lit­tle but­tons below each of my posts. It allows users to sub­mit one of my posts to Face­book, Myspace, Tech­no­rati, Digg, Stum­ble­upon, etc. Assum­ing that peo­ple click these lit­tle but­tons, this will improve your search engine rank­ing and also get your mes­sage out to a wide vari­ety of audiences.
  18. Ulti­mate Noin­dex Nofol­low Tool: There’s cer­tain pages that Google has no busi­ness pro­mot­ing. Pages such as your Word­Press login screen… You’re bleed­ing there with­out this.
  19. Word­Press Video Plu­gin: Another video plu­gin I installed in addi­tion to PRO Player above. I just have this installed in case I want to post a video that’s unsup­ported by PRO Player. But quite hon­estly, I might not use it as it is a lit­tle more com­pli­cated and requires some man­ual intervention.
  20. WP-Cumulus: The Cloud Tag I’m cur­rently using. I just like the way it looks lol…
  21. wp-Typography: On a Windows-based machine, spe­cial char­ac­ters are a pain that require typ­ing in ASCII code. Cer­tain char­ac­ters like an Em Dash are a pain in the butt to type every time — and this (<- see the dash) makes life easier…
  22. WPtouch iPhone Theme: I couldn’t imag­ine view­ing this site on an iPhone. This free plu­gin auto­mat­i­cally turns your blog into an easy-to-read iPhone format.

Here’s a few addi­tional plu­g­ins that I have installed, but have left ‘deac­ti­vated’ for now:

  1. Com­ment Rat­ing: A rat­ing sys­tem for your com­ments. Allows your read­ers to select what com­ments they like and what they don’t like. I turned it off for now because it was insert­ing ‘0’s between the thumbs up and down icons and didn’t feel like trou­bleshoot­ing why…
  2. RPX: A very use­ful sys­tem which allows read­ers to quickly log into your web­site to post com­ments using some of their most com­mon pass­word and user­name infor­ma­tion from sites such as Myspace, Face­book, Twit­ter, Blog­ger, OpenID, etc. I turned it off for now because it didn’t allow me to cus­tomize the look and feel of how it sat on my page with­out hack­ing the code. When or if the sys­tem improves, I will reac­ti­vate it.

Some Addi­tional, Use­ful Blog­ging Information:

First and fore­most, Google is your friend. Before you write ask­ing ques­tions, I rec­om­mend Googling any poten­tial prob­lems you have encoun­tered. Also use the WordPress.org forums as they can occa­sion­ally pro­vide help. It can be dif­fi­cult to trou­bleshoot some­thing locally, let alone hav­ing to do it on some­one else’s com­puter remotely. When­ever I encounter a prob­lem, I gen­er­ally turn to Google for answers.

Sec­ondly, if you don’t have a Google account, I would really rec­om­mend get­ting one and sign­ing up for their Webmaster’s Tools, Ana­lyt­ics, and Feed­burner programs.

Finally, this is just a nice lit­tle added touch — sign up for a Gra­vatar at gravatar.com. Gra­vatar is known as a ‘Glob­ally Rec­og­nized Avatar.’ A Gra­vatar is a small photo that appears to a lot of your blog com­ments through­out the web. It syncs up with your email address, so when­ever you fill out a com­ment form, the blog you are writ­ing on hits the gra­vatar web­site and auto­mat­i­cally serves up the photo of your choosing.

Cur­rent Word­Press Wishes:

At the moment, my biggest wish is the abil­ity to auto­mat­i­cally turn all of my inter­nal post links into a target=“_blank” tag auto­mat­i­cally. target=“_blank” tells each link to open in a new win­dow instead of tak­ing a user away from your page or post. I’ve hunted around for a plu­gin that would do this and haven’t found one yet that alters the Word­Press Edi­tor default behav­ior. If some­one comes across any­thing, please let me know.

I would also like to find an alter­na­tive to Socia­ble — the book­mark­ing plu­gin that puts these “Share The Posts” tagline under­neath every one of my arti­cles. I’m all about stream­lin­ing and sim­pli­fy­ing the way a web­site appears. As much as I like the plu­gin, I feel that it adds “clut­ter” to a design. I came across the “addthis” plu­gin to Word­press — it’s more in the direc­tion I’d like Socia­ble to be but yet I’m not too crazy about the look and feel of it. I’m sure it pro­vides some con­fig­u­ra­tion options and I could spend some time hack­ing it — but I really want the least amount of has­sle possible.

And Last but Not Least:

Please let me know if this post helps you. Write a short com­ment if you want. Toss me an email. Or even bet­ter, link back to this post or Lunarstu­dio from your web­site. Thanks!

Changelog:

Here, I will try to keep read­ers up to date as to what addi­tional plu­g­ins I start to use, which ones get replaced, and which ones become outdated.

  1. WP Page Num­bers (Addi­tion — 09/05/09): This is another one of those fea­tures that makes me won­der why it isn’t included with WP by default. I dis­like the default pag­i­na­tion style of most WP Blogs. Usu­ally, they read “Pre­vi­ous” and “Next” at the very bot­tom of a site. How­ever, if a blog is fairly deep (many entries) — try­ing to get back to a page you were look­ing at, or sim­ply try­ing to track what page you were on is a nui­sance. So WP Page Num­bers attempts to solve that nav­i­ga­tion prob­lem by insert­ing page num­bers at the bot­tom of your blog instead. It’s a nice plu­gin, but it involves some minor hack­ing of your Appearance\Edit code. You have to search for “Pre­vi­ous” and “Next” through­out your theme’s inter­nal pages, then replace that small sec­tion with:
    <?php if(function_exists('wp_page_numbers')) { wp_page_numbers(); } ?>
cleo

4 Responses to Setting up a WordPress Blog

  1. I would appre­ci­ate more visual mate­ri­als, to make your blog more attrac­tive, but your writ­ing style really com­pen­sates it. But there is always place for improvement

  2. cleo says:

    Thank you for your cri­tique. When you say “more visual mate­ri­als,” can you give me some exam­ples? Do you mean my actual artwork?

    It can always be improved, but when run­ning 5 web­sites, run­ning two busi­nesses, cre­at­ing art­work, study­ing, and try­ing to jug­gle a nor­mal life — there’s only so much time I can put into any one thing lol. :)

  3. Thanks for your mar­velous post­ing! I really enjoyed
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