Building a WordPress Site [Part 4]: Initial Settings and Getting a Theme

At this point, we’ve already gone through explaining the various possible ways of installing WordPress, so now it would be a good time to say a word or two about handling the initial settings, and then selecting the perfect theme for your new site.

But wait, isn’t WordPress supposed to be ready to use right from the get-go (at the point when you get presented with the final success message after installation)?

Well, actually it is ready to use. The only issue is whether you want it to be optimized and feature-rich or not… But I think we both know the answer to this question, right?

Honestly speaking, the whole issue is not that difficult to handle, nor can it seriously hurt your blog if you don’t do anything at all. But on the other hand, spending those 15 additional minutes taking care of some basic configuration is surely worth it.

Even though there aren’t any actual (real) problems with the default setting of WordPress, not everything is fully optimized and you can get much better results, both in terms of on-page SEO and user experience, if you tweak some of the settings by hand.

It just so happens that I already wrote a whole post about how to get through the initial settings, so if you want to get the full story, I invite you to read it: Initial Settings to Take Care of After Installing WordPress.

That’s why here, I’m only going to give you a quick summary in a more of a checklist-like style.

Privacy

This is the most important setting in WordPress. You can find it in the Settings > Privacy section of the admin panel. Basically, if you don’t check the “Allow search engines to index this site” then you’re banning yourself from Google and all the other search engines.

Setting user accounts

If you have a one-author blog, create one additional account (on top of the default administrator’s account) and assign it to the role of Editor. This way, you’ll have full control over every post on the blog, but no administrative access to the site itself (this is a safety precaution).

If there are more authors, each should get either an Author account or an Editor account.

Setting the time zone

It’s good to remember about this if your server is located somewhere else than your target audience. You simply don’t want to publish posts with the publication time of, say, 3AM.

Setting pingbacks and trackbacks

These can be found in the Settings > Discussion section of your WordPress admin panel. Pay attention to these two checkboxes:

  • Attempt to notify any blogs linked to from the article – Enable if you want to notify other blogs that you’re linking to them (recommended).
  • Allow link notifications from other blogs (pingbacks and trackbacks) – Enable if you want to receive notifications from other sites linking to you. You can set this, and then pay attention to the levels of spam you’re receiving.

Permalinks

This is about what the URLs of your individual posts and pages look like.

The setting I’m recommending is “/%postname%/

This way, every URL has a place for some keywords.

(Feel free to check this for more info: Getting the Permalink Settings for WordPress Just Right.)

Tweaking wp-config.php

I like to do only two things here:

(1) Disable post revisions (to keep the database clean and nice).

Just include this line: define(‘WordPress_POST_REVISIONS’, false);

(2) Use new authentication keys (for improved security).

You can generate a new set of keys at: https://api.wordpress.org/secret-key/1.1/. Just copy and paste your new keys to wp-config.php.

Constructing a proper robots.txt file

This is usually the last stage for me when it comes to the initial setup. Not to get into all the technical details let me just say that robots.txt is a file used by Google and other search engines. They go through this file to check which areas of your site are available and which are restricted.

To learn what a good robots.txt file looks like feel free to visit this post: Understanding robots.txt and What it Can Do for a WordPress Blog.

That’s it for my approach at initial settings. I’m pretty positive that it shouldn’t take you more than 15 minutes to go through the above list.

Now it’s time to do something that everyone loves to do – selecting a theme.

How to choose a theme

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but simply selecting a theme that you like visually might not be the best approach here.

First of all, you have no idea what sits inside the theme. You don’t know of what quality the source code is. For example, most free themes feature some kind of encrypted code in their footers that you can’t even remove or the theme stops working (that’s the main reason why I always advise against free themes).

Secondly, every type of website needs a slightly different theme. And it’s more about the nature of the theme rather than some design traits.

For instance, a corporate site needs to use a different theme than a traditional blog. A photo blog is a completely different kind of website than an online magazine, and so on.

It’s not without a reason that every theme here at ThemeFuse is different and provides a number of unique features. I don’t want to sound too promotional, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that we’re very niche-focused and dedicated not to make our themes general.

While choosing a theme for yourself you should be very specific and niche-focused as well. Here are some tips on how to select a theme.

Start with your niche and the nature of your site.

Every site has some specific needs in order to create a quality result. Start by defining what kind of site you want exactly. And then when searching for the actual theme, you will be able to reject most of the possibilities for not being in tune with your guidelines.

Sometimes just a simple two-word description of your site is enough. Like: “news site.” This by itself creates a fairly accurate image of the design you’re after.

Examine your audience.

No matter what your goals are, the theme needs to speak to your audience. They shouldn’t be confused when they visit the site. Everything should be clear right from the get-go.

A good way of achieving this is to create something like a profile of your average visitor. Then put every possible theme against this profile and decide whether it’s a good fit or not.

List the features you need.

Getting some individual features implemented is an expensive approach (even if you’re the one implementing). It’s actually a lot cheaper to get them either built-in with the theme or install them as plugins.

List everything that should be a part of the theme by default. Then simply reject every theme that doesn’t fit the profile.

Check what your competition is up to.

Spying on your competition is always a good idea no matter what market you’re in.

By looking at what everybody else is doing you can get a pretty basic idea of what’s probably working well in the niche and what isn’t. This should be a nice additional insight during your selection process.

Finally select whatever looks good.

If a given theme has gone through all of the previous steps, and you also like it visually then you should probably just go ahead and take it.

In the end, among other things, an important characteristic of a good theme is that you simply like looking at it.

(Furthermore, there’s a set of characteristics of quality WordPress themes, like for example: the license, SEO features, customizable design and layout, and more. Feel free to go over to my post at Problogger to get the full story: How to Select the Perfect WordPress Theme for Your Blog.)

If you’re in need of a quality theme then you probably already know what I’m going to say… Check out our gallery, I’m sure you’ll find something interesting there.

Installing the theme

This is fairly easy, so I won’t get into much detail here. You basically only need to upload your new theme via FTP (FileZilla – a free FTP client) to the themes directory, and then activate it through the admin panel.

(In case you need more help, here’s a tutorial: Install Your First WordPress Theme.)

However, one thing I want to point out is that if you’re using one of our themes and you want to tweak it a little, it’s best if you do it through a child theme. That way, you can still install all updates and your changes will remain intact.

Find out more about child themes (and how to create them) here: Child Themes – What They Are, How to Use Them, and Why.

The next step

Next time I’m going to talk about some of the essential plugins for every WordPress site. I promise I won’t make it obvious, even though I’m sure you’re already pretty familiar with some of the plugins I’m going to list (however, Akismet won’t be on the list…).

I’m also going to cover the best startup settings for those plugins (in my opinion). A lot of stuff coming soon, so I invite you to come back in a week or so to get the whole package.

In the meantime, what’s your opinion about my approach at taking care of the initial settings in WordPress? Do you have any insights of your own you’d like to share?

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