Let’s talk about how to customize WordPress for blogs and websites. You have a lot of options for customizing WordPress. So what are some essentials you need to pay attention to and what can you safely ignore? That’s what where going to cover.
In this guide, I’m going to give you a complete overview of how I customize any WordPress website or blog. This content is a great addition to my long form tutorials on:
Ready? Let’s get to it! This is what we are going to cover:
- Setting up SEO friendly Permalinks
- Publish content as an editor for security
- Setup automatic backups
- Install Google Analytics
- Install a cache plugin
- Install security plugins
- Register with Search Console
- WordPress Newbie Questions Answered
Setup SEO friendly permalinks
What is a permalink?
It’s the url structure of the web pages within a website. Most websites do DomainName.com/page-title or DomainName.com/Date/page-title.
WordPress by default makes your url’s really weird and useless by being as SEO and user UN-friendly as possible: http://www.YourDomain.com/?p=123.
What the heck is /?p=123 supposed to indicated? I have no idea! So let’s change this – it not only helps your content rank for relevant terms it also helps the end user find the content they are looking for (does p=123 give you any idea what the page is about? No.
The best structures are:
Which one is best? It depends but for most websites it’s website.com/blog/post-title. This give a nice structure to your website and allows you to keep your pages, posts and affiliate links all separate.
Here’s how to change it:
Settings >>> permalinks
If you want to nerd out on this I have a guide on the parts of a URL where you can learn more about URL structures.
Publish Content as an Editor
This is a security tip most overlook, implement this and it hardens up your website considerably.
One of the most common ways to break into a WordPress website is to use a brute force attack. What that means is using automated software to submit hundreds of passwords on your login page to eventually “guess” the right combination.
To log into WordPress you need an account name and a password.
If someone is able to break into your website under an administrator account they have full access to your website. If they break in as an editor, they are very limited as to what they can change.
First off, if you used something like “admin” or “useradmin” or “siteadmin” when creating your website, you need to change that. Simply create a new admin account under the users – all users – ADD NEW:
Create a new administrator account using a more complex user name than “admin” or the name of your website. It should be something simply but cryptic. Then simply delete the old admin account.
If you already used a cryptic user name then no worries, you’re all set.
Post content as an “editor”
You should not be blogging as an administrator. Why? Because as I said it’s easy for others to figure out what your user name is for your wp-admin page. You’re basically giving away 50% of what is needed to get into your website.
Instead, publish content only as an editor. You simply create another user account (don’t make it the same username as your administrator account obviously) but instead of assigning the role as “administrator” you assign the role as “editor.”
Use that account for publishing content. This does not change your wp-admin user name and password obviously. But when you publish blog posts, just make sure the “author” is your editor account.
I’m always surprised by how people don’t know how to make strong, secure passwords. The best passwords are long passwords. You should take your favorite song lyric or some long sentence you can remember and make that your password.
Backup Your Website
Your web host will do daily or weekly backups on your content so it’s pretty rare you would ever lose your entire site. I’ve never heard of it happening. But for peace of mind, why not have your own backups just in case anything happens? It’s always better to be prepared, then it’s not such a big of a deal.
My plug-in of choice for this is Up Draft. You can set it to work on autopilot without you needing to worry about it.
A paid plugin if you want something more feature rich is VaultPress.
Install Google Analytics
How many people visited your website? What pages on your site are your most popular? How long did people actually spend on your website? How many page views did you get last month? All these things you’re going to want to know.
You find this information out by using an analytics program. There are many but the most popular one is owned and run by Google, Google Analytics.
You first create a Google account then you simply sign up for Google Analytics. You can use their getting started guide to get going. You simply add your site, get tracking code and copy and paste it into your website.
Where do you copy and paste it? Most WordPress themes come with a section under “theme options” (which is found by appearance >> themes) where you can copy and paste the code it.
If your theme does NOT have any such option, you can use the header and footers script plugin which gives you the section to copy and paste your analytics code in.
Huh? What? It’s basically a way of storing your content and files so they can be served more quickly and with fewer requests. The end goal being to make your website load faster.
How do you do that exactly? Simple, you install a caching plugin like W3 Total Cache and it works out of the box without you needing to get too much into the settings. Now, you should take the time to educate yourself how to best optimize your site, but W3 was made to work easily.
W3 Total Cache – Free plugin ideal for most websites.
WP Rocket – Paid plugin for large websites with a lot of traffic.
Use a CDN Eventually
A CDN is a content delivery network. It’s a way to store your websites files on various computers across a wide network. The goal being to again allow someone to load your site quickly. Not everyone who visits your site is going to be from America or the UK so a CDN allows visitors who are accessing your site from a far away location to load your site quickly. This in combination with caching is how you can provide a good user experience for your visitors.
For a CDN you have a free option which is quite popular called Cloud Flare which is fine for new to medium sized websites (under 100,000 monthly visitors).
KeyCDN is the premium option for improved site performance.
Get a Security Plug-in
For WordPress you’ll want to secure your website by having strong passwords and keeping your installation up to date. On the backend there is one plugin I love for a simple security measure and that is login lock down. If a bot or person tries to break into your website, log in lock down will block them after three failed attempts.
Register with Google Search Console
Search console IS NOT the same as analytics. It’s Google telling you how your content is performing, what pages are getting found and how and any indexing issues they have with your site. Search console is helpful because it allows you to fix problems quickly and easily on your website and over time if gives you actionable data about what content you should be creating.
You want to get search console setup as soon as you create your website because search console will start compiling data from the day you set it up. So when you check back a month or two later, you have a data to work with.
To get started:
Go here to search console and sign in with your Gmail account. Then follow the on screen prompts to verify that you’re the owner of your website.
WordPress Newbie Questions
This section answers the most commonly asked WordPress questions. Take 10 minutes and read up on the basics of managing a WordPress powered website.
How Do I Log Into WordPress?
Easy, you go to /wp-admin
Here you input your user name and password.
How Do I make a homepage with WordPress?
A homepage is an easy thing to create with WordPress. You simply need to create a page then assign it to be the homepage.
Regardless, here is how you do it:
- Create a new page in WordPress
- Go to your settings then >>> reading.
- Select “static page” and assign a page to be your homepage.
You can also assign a page to be your blog posts page.
Same process, create a new page. Call it “blog” then assign it as the posts page.
How To Insert Pictures and Videos
Adding media is easy in WordPress. WordPress now works in a block editor. For any block, click the button to open up your block options. Here you can add video, custom HTML, images. All with ease into WordPress:
Image options have a few options:
1) Create gallery: You can create a gallery of photographs. These photos will appear side by side.
2) Feature image means that this image will become a post thumbnail for the blog post.
3) Insert from URL means you will be “hot linking” an image from another site to yours. This means the image will be using another servers resources and not yours. Don’t hotlink unless you have permission from the site owner to do so.
Title – Title is the name of the image as it is stored on your server.
Caption – Caption means that if you would like to add a sentence or two of text beneath an image, you can do so here.
Alt Text – Alternative text is used to describe with words what an image is. Don’t put your keywords here (unless it makes sense), describe the image instead.
Adding Video Is Easy Too
Want to add a YouTube video to a post or page?
Simply copy the URL of whatever video you’re watching and past it into your post or page within the WordPress. It will automatically populate the post or page with the video.
You can also “embed” videos too. This is the old way but it’s helpful to know if for some reason the copy and paste method does not work.
To embed WordPress website all you need to do is go to where the video is hosted (YouTube for example) and look for the embed code:
Copy this code. You can adjust the video size as it will appear on your website. You want a medium sized video. 560×315 is usually appropriate in most instances).
Next in your WordPress page or blog click THE TEXT TAB (you have two tabs visual and text when writing) and find the place in your post or page where you want the video to appear. Yes it will look a bit confusing with all the code showing, but it’s how you embed anything into your posts or pages.
The text tab shows you all the HTML code for that page. The visual just shows you the text and images. When in the text editor simply find the spot where you want to put the video and paste it in like this:
How do I edit the navigation bar on my website?
The navigation is called “menu” in WordPress
Appearance >> Click Menus >> Enter a menu name, (call it whatever you want) >> Click “Create Menu”
Great, now you have a menu. Next check “manage locations” to see where your theme can allow for a menu. Most themes have 1-2 menus in the header and 1 menu can be set for the footer.
To add pages to your menu, simply jump back over to edit menu and choose what pages you want. You can also drag and drop menu items. Easy!
How do I add stuff to my sidebar?
Your sidebar is “widgetized” – that means you can drag and drop widgets (or delete widgets) from the sidebar.
Simply go to appearance >>> widgets
Things you should have in your sidebar could be an about me bio blurb, an email optin form, most popular content, recent posts, categories, products and so forth. Check out DIY WordPress website design for WordPress design tips!
How do I edit my websites title, tagline and meta description?
Let take a look at some SERPs (search engine results page):
The title is The Art of Manliness | Men’s Interests and Lifestyle
The text underneath is called the meta description.
Everything else under that is auto generated by Google.
You have direct control over the title and the meta description for your homepage as well as any posts or pages. For your homepage can edit the title description by using the essential Yoast SEO plugin:
Simply input your SEO friendly title as well as an appropriate meta description.
I want to disable comments!
Comments in WordPress apply to both your blog posts and your pages. Most people want to do the following:
Turn comments off on pages.
Turn comments off on select blog posts.
Turn comments off on blog posts older than a certain date.
Just turn off the comment function entirely !
You can disable comments per post and page individual or globally. Meaning, turn off comments on a specific post or just turn off comments for the whole website.
When in your WordPress admin >> look for “screen options” in the UPPER right hand corner >> check the box to enable discussion.
When you check the discussion box, it enables the discussion box section under the blog post content. Uncheck the box here to turn off comments.
For The Whole Website:
Settings >> Discussion >> Check off the box that allows people to comment.
With this box unchecked comments are turned off. You can still turn comments on individually however by following the directions above.
You can set your posts to close comments automatically 1-2 weeks after posting. This is a nice balance between keeping comments on without getting overwhelmed.
It’s a favorite tactic of spammers to post on very old content and once your website has been around for a while with lot’s of content. It also can become confusing managing different comments on different posts.
How do I install a different WordPress theme?
Easy, you can use the theme search function to install a free theme. If you bought a premium theme however, you’ll need to upload it to your website.
The theme search uses the WordPress theme directory as the source for themes. Simply go to: APPEARANCE >>> THEMES
On this page you have a couple of different search options. Popular, latest, favorites and features.
Uploading A Theme:
To upload a theme instead click the “add new” button at the top of the page when you’re on the “themes” page.
How Do I UPDATE A WordPress Theme?
For plugins I just click a button to update, what about WordPress themes?
SOME themes come built in with an update button, particularly free ones you downloaded via the theme search functions. Most premium themes do not have a one click button update feature.
Here’s How To Update A WordPress Themes:
- Have two themes installed on your website. One theme is your current theme. The other is some random free theme.
- Then go to appearance > themes in WordPress and activate the random free theme (like one of the free themes made by WordPress).
- Next delete the old version of the theme you want to update (yes you really delete the theme you want to update). To do this, click on “theme details” for your premium theme. You will notice a little red link in the bottom right corner that says delete. Click on this.
- Now download the updated version of your premium theme if you’ve not already done so.
- Upload and install your premium theme and activate it. Make sure everything is working as normal.
Stay on top of updating your website. With themes that are in the WordPress depository (ie free themes) they will tell you when the theme is available for an update. But premium themes that you buy from a theme shop will not so you need to periodically check every few months.
If you’re lazy about updating and go from a theme version 1.4 to 3.5 for example you might have some issues.
Also yes, deleting as a way to update is counter intuitive, but it’s how it’s done.
Wait, won’t I delete my website?
You’re just deleting the theme, not the database. Once you delete your theme, then upload, install and activate your theme, everything will be in working order. It won’t ruin anything.
How To Customize WordPress Conclusion
So that is it for my tips on how to customize WordPress. It’s a bit of a process setting up a website on the backend. But once these things are in place you don’t have to revisit them again. It also allows you to start your website off the right way to help you create a website that is fast, secure and SEO ready.