You’ve decided to start your own blog. You may have already purchased a domain name and installed WordPress. Hopefully my step-by-step guide helped.
Your blog is now online available for anyone with the URL to visit. You create an article about your goals for the site or something you think your potential audience is interested in.
Then you hit the publish button and wait for the traffic to flood in.
But nobody shows up.
Successful blogging is not only about publishing a post. Installing WordPress is just a first, small step on the road. There’s a lot more groundwork to be done.
Let’s look at this to-do list I go through as soon as I install a new WordPress blog. Implement the following must-have elements in order to launch your new blog with a bang and make it awesome for your visitors.
Replace the default “Admin” user account
(In Users > Your Profile)
WordPress comes with a default username. You should not use it as it is not personal. You don’t want “Admin” to be the name of the author in the byline of the posts you publish.
It can also be a vulnerability as spammers know that default username and can use that to try and break into your site.
Here’s what you should do instead.
- Create a new username which displays your full name in post bylines.
- Delete the default admin username.
Take a look at my complete guide to making your WordPress blog safe and secure.
Remove the generic content that comes with WordPress
WordPress comes with several default items such as an introductory post, a welcome page and some preinstalled plugins. You can safely get rid of all of them.
- Delete the generic “Hello World!” post (In Posts).
- Delete the generic “Sample Page” page (In Pages).
- Delete Hello Dolly plugin (In Plugins).
Activate comment spam blocker
Many spammers use WordPress comment areas in order to promote pages where they sell dubious products. You don’t want these people to hang out in your own comments area.
Luckily, the solution is simple with one of the spam blockers.
- Akismet is the best comment spam filter and it comes within your WordPress installation.
- Activate the plugin and then you just need to “Create a new Akismet key“.
Do check my detailed guide to eliminating WordPress comment spam for more advice.
Fill in “Site Title” and “Tagline”
(In Settings > General)
You don’t want your site to be “just another WordPress site”, which is the default tagline in WordPress. That doesn’t tell your visitor much about what you do. You should make one up for yourself.
- Write your title in “Site Title”. Explain what your site is about in “Tagline”.
Need help figuring out a name and tagline for your site? Here’s my guide to choosing a name for your blog.
Don’t allow user registrations
(In Settings > General > Membership)
WordPress allows your visitors to register for accounts on your site. This is not necessary if you’re not running a membership site and it leaves your blog open to hackers and spam.
- This if off by default but just make sure “Anyone can register” is ticked off.
Update ping services
(In Settings > Writing > Update Services)
Pings help you automatically notify different online services when you publish a new post. I don’t think I’ve ever received any visitors thanks to this but it’s a 2-min, one-time job so I recommend you do it in any case.
- Update this field with ping services that WordPress recommends
Make your site visible to search engines
(In Settings > Reading > Search Engine Visibility)
Make sure your site is visible to everyone, including search engines. Your site is visible to search engines by default but it has happened that bloggers ticked this box and were later wondering why search engines didn’t index their sites.
- Make sure the “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” is ticked off.
Say no to the email updates
(In Settings > Discussion > E-mail me whenever)
WordPress notifies you via email when there is a new comment on your site. That might be a bit distracting for your productivity when you start getting many comments so I change the default option to no emails.
Make permalinks short and pretty
(In Settings > Permalinks)
Your permalinks are the URL’s of your articles. You don’t want them to be called something as generic as domainname.com/123456. Change it to actually spell out the name of your post.
- I use the custom option field called “Post name” – it is a well-structured, short and search engine friendly permalink. My permalinks look like this: domainname.com/post-name.
- The default permalink structure: /%year%/%monthnum%/%day%/%postname%/. It includes the date your post was published.
- It’s not be the best if you publish timeless content as having a date in the URL might make people think the article is outdated.
- Note that WordPress allows you to edit individual post permalinks before you publish. There is a permalink “edit” button just under your post headline. Use it on all your posts to make their permalinks shorter, more focused and nicer to look at.
7 must-haves to make your new blog awesome
Let’s take a look at the 7 must-have elements you should incorporate into your site:
Install Google Analytics to start tracking visitors
Google Analytics is a useful tool to track and analyse your visitors. It provides you a lot of data to see where they find your articles, a lot of geographical data, how visitors like your site and much more.
This data will help you make better future decisions such as what type of topics to cover, where to go in order to attract more readers and more.
- Setup Google Analytics tracking profile for your new site. Use a plugin like this to help you insert the code into your site.
Here’s my guide on how you should use Google Analytics.
Create a sitemap to help Google learn about your content
Your sitemap lists all the posts and pages that are accessible for search engines to crawl and index. Basically having a sitemap helps Google and other search engines learn more about your content and hopefully also send you more traffic.
A sitemap is a file that lists URL’s for a site along with additional metadata about each URL. Information like when the post was last updated, how often it usually changes, and how important it is, relative to other URL’s on the site.
Google usually discover your pages from links within the site and from other online sites. Sitemaps supplement this data with more information.
- The easiest way of implementing an XML Sitemap on your blog is to use one of the free plugins such as WordPress SEO and Google XML Sitemaps.
- The plugin updates the sitemap automatically when you publish new content so there is no need to do anything after you activate the plugin.
Add your site to Search Console
Search Console (the tool formerly knows as Google Webmaster Tools) is a useful tool to track the progress of your site in search engines and also for Google to provide you with feedback on what you can improve.
I keep an eye on this as Google sends messages according to what kind of things they discover. These messages help you stay on top and quickly react to warnings such as potential spam attack or other problems Google encounters with your site.
- In Search Console Google gives you information they have about your site, your inbound links and search engine rankings.
- Create your Search Console account and verify your blog.
- Submit your XML Sitemap directly to Google.
- Choose your site Preferred domain – either with or without www. Make sure this is consistent with the URL you use in your WordPress settings (In Settings > General > WordPress Address URL).
Setup social media accounts
Social media can be a useful place for you to make people aware of your site and attract them to come visit your articles.
In order to do that you should create profiles on Twitter, Facebook and/or any other social media platform where your target audience is. Make sure to link back to your URL from the profiles and vice versa.
Don’t just create profiles at every social media site, be focused on platforms that are most popular with your target audience.
- Create a Twitter profile, a Facebook page, Pinterest, Instagram and whatever else social media profile that is relevant to your audience.
- Include follow buttons to your social media profiles in your sidebar to start building your loyal following.
- Now start looking for people interested in your topic, be friendly, be useful and add value to their lives.
Introduce subscription options
It is important for you to retain some of your first time visitors in order to make them come back and become loyal readers. You can do this by getting them to signup to your mailing list in order for you to be able to contact them again.
- Check out my full guide on starting your own newsletter.
- Alternatively WordPress has an RSS feed by default (yourdomain.com/feed/) and your visitors can subscribe to your feed through feed readers such as Feedly. See more details on option you have to customize your RSS feed.
Get a great looking design
(In Appearance > Themes)
You are now ready to start looking at the different design options to make your site look pretty. WordPress has thousands of them.
- Find the design theme you like and activate it. For a complete step-by-step process on choosing the design that fits take a look here.
- Setup your navigation menu in Appearance > Menus.
- Setup your sidebar in Appearance > Widgets.
Setup the infrastructure of your WordPress site
You should also try and understand some of the main infrastructural elements of WordPress:
- Posts are the main content of your site. Posts are the articles you are regularly writing for your visitors. They appear in your RSS feed, can be tagged and categorized. Posts traditionally feature a published on date in the byline and are placed in a reverse chronological order on your home page.
- Categories allow you to group your posts into topics and allow users to find your content easier. You can remove categories and add new categories by going to “Posts” and then “Categories”. If you go into “Settings” and then “Writing” in your admin interface you can select a new “Default Post Category” as otherwise all posts will by default go into “Uncategorized”. With categories you separate different topics that you write about in your posts. Now, your site of course has one main subject that it covers, but it still has sub-topics. A category page lists all the posts from that category. These pages are very useful in order to give your visitors a nice access point to dig deeper into your content.
- Tags are similar to categories but they are just used more specifically. They keywords that are much more specific than categories and while I might have a category called ”Celebrity style” I might put a celebrity’s name as a tag to a post. Tags are usually links which lead to a page showcasing all the posts that have been tagged with that specific keyword.
Create all the essential pages
Pages are more strategic and not updated daily. They are traditionally placed in navigational menu, contain more static information such as about page or contact page. These are the most important pages you should create for your website:
- About Page
Make an introductory page where you explain about your project, about yourself and what your site helps people with. Tell people what your purpose and your mission is. Don’t be shy, include a picture of yourself. If possible get a professional to take a high-quality picture.
If I go to your about page, how long will take me to find the purpose of your site? Is it clear within the first seconds, or do I have to read through endless paragraphs to find out?
The more concise and kick-ass your story, the easier it will be for your readers to get to like you, subscribe to you and even share you with their friends.
- Contact Page
Make a page where people can get in touch with you. This will be very useful in order to get reader feedback, to get connected to other bloggers and maybe even to attract sponsors.
Contact Form 7 is the plugin I usually use to add a contact form to a page like this. It can even be inserted into your about page. It is very simple and effective.
- Do you need other pages?
Depending on the style and the topic of your blog you might want to add more pages. Many blogs have a “New? Start Here” type of a page where they introduce a first-time visitor to the topic with a simple and beginner friendly overview.
Some have pages that focus on attracting customers such as “Consulting page” or “Services page” that list details on your products and allow people to book an appointment.
Think about if any other page is necessary for your blog at this stage.
Add extra features with WordPress plugins
After the initial design aspect has been taken care of, you can start tinkering with the theme of your choice. The easiest way to do that, to make changes and to add new features and functionality is to use one of the many WordPress plugins.
There are thousands of free plugins available and they can be used to add many features to your website. For a list of tested and recommended plugins that you can start with go here.
And that’s it! Your site is now ready. You have adjusted all the settings and optimized your WordPress. Next step is creation and promotion of your content. Focus your content on a topic you’re passionate about.
Now it’s the time to write your first post
Then write the second one. Then the third one.
The content is everything so you must start building lots of it to attract visitors. It needs to be useful, valuable, entertaining, educating.
Beware that your first post might suck, but keep doing it. You will learn from your initial mistakes. You will become better at knowing what people want and you will become better at creating content that satisfies the needs of your audience. Follow this checklist of things to do before publishing a new post.
Never forget that the web is a very visual place. Especially in social media, using great imagery helps you cut through the noise and attract more attention to your own content. Make sure each and every post you publish features at least one social media friendly image. For details check out this guide.
Here’s a quick look into how I work within the WordPress post writing interface:
Consistency and hard work are keys to successful blogging
There are very few core, fundamental keys to blogging, and consistency is definitely one of them. Remain consistent with your site for at least 6-12 months. The reason most sites “fail” is simply because the author stops updating them. The hardest part is the initial hurdle, so decide now that you’re going to keep at it.
It is useful if you create a content calendar and choose a schedule you want to post on. I have been posting 3 times a week for more than a year after starting this blog. It creates a momentum and helps you attract and build a loyal audience.
Make it easier on yourself by preparing a number of articles for the launch. If you want to keep to a consistent schedule, they’ll save you when life’s typical interruptions come into play. I always have a number of ideas in a draft document that I could work on and publish. Start your site with a bang by having some great content ready in the works.
That’s it. You are on the roll and ready to conquer a piece of the online world. I hope that these tips give you a good head start.
After you write the first few articles is where all the fun (read: hard work) starts. You need to promote your content. Go through this marketing routine after publishing each new post.
It is a fun ride though. So do enjoy it. Good luck!