***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 WordPress.com (different from the .org – they actually will set up and host your blog for a cost as well) or 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(); } ?>

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. :)

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