Customizing WordPress

So, you’ve finished creating your website, and now you’re sitting on the WordPress dashboard.

Now what? 

Start your blog today with a special OnBlastBlog discount from Bluehost. Only $2.95/mo with a free domain name and email address. You can't beat this offer!

You have this blank slate of a website, so what are you supposed to do with it? Today, we’re going to look at a comprehensive approach to customizing WordPress.

Here’s what we’re covering today:

  • 7 Things to do After Setting up WordPress
  • How to Choose and Install Your WordPress Theme
  • Setting up Menus & Widgets
  • The Pages You Need
  • Getting Started With SEO

7 Things to do After Setting up WordPress

Congratulations on your new website! People can visit, you can browse, but there’s just one problem…

It’s kinda bland. 

Not to worry, that’s why we’re here today. With all the defaults in place, there’s probably plenty of things you want to change. Let’s start with these 7 crucial steps to take when you’ve finished setting up WordPress:

1. Set Your Permalink Structure

The default permalink structure makes me nauseous, and it probably has a similar effect on you. Head on over to to settings -> permalinks in your WP dashboard and you’ll see this:

[Place permalinks screenshot here] 

The standard structure isn’t easy to remember, and it doesn’t include the keywords you’re trying to rank for. Let’s tart by changing that, shall we? Having the “post name” as your setting is a much better option.

2. Let Google See Your New Site

Websites all want to rank on Google. It’s how you get visitors, sales, or whatever else you want from your slice of the World Wide Web. To make sure this happens, head to settings -> Reading. 

Make sure the box labeled “discourage search engines from indexing this site” is unchecked and that it stays that way.

3. Backup Your Site

The idea of losing everything you’ve worked so hard on is probably not appealing to you, so make sure you have a backup solution in place before you get into everything.

There are numerous plugins that accomplish this task, but my personal recommendation is Backup Buddy. Getting this taken care of makes sure that you’re prepared if anything happens.

4. Setup Your Analytics Solution

Analytics are like a report card for your website. How can you know how well it’s doing if you don’t have the data you need? Analytics will track everything from your traffic, to the pages people visit and much more.

Start by heading to the Google Analytics website and follow their guide on how to start. You can also make things run smoother by using a plugin that will integrate the tracking code you’re provided. For this purpose, I recommend the MonsterInsights plugin.

5. Choose a Security Plugin

Website security is a hot topic, especially with WordPress. While it’s the greatest CMS platform, it’s not the most secure on its own. A security plugin will make quick work of this issue by keeping your site secure.

To get started, you can get the iThemes Security plugin, which is totally free. From there, I recommend following these steps:

  • Change your login username to anything but the default “admin.”
  • Choose a strong password with numbers and special characters
  • Keep your WordPress installation up-to-date

6. Download a Caching Plugin and Choose a CDN

Website speed is incredibly important for any WordPress website. Two great ways to get your site moving faster are a caching plugin, and a CDN. By enabling these things, you can get data to your visitors faster, and lower the time it takes to load pages.

Caching will do this by storing certain data so its easily accessible. Think of it like a website speed-dial. The other factor is a Content Delivery Network, or CDN. This is a connected network of servers that store your site’s data and deliver it to user based on where they are physically located in the real world.

Caching can be done using a free plugin called W3 Total Cache. For your CDN, I’ve got a free solution for you there too called CloudFlare.

7. Add New Accounts

When your site is all set up, you’ll end up with a single account. This default option has a very bland username like “admin.” Anyone with even a basic idea of how the internet works, knows that this isn’t a secure username.

To change things up, you need to create a new account by going to users -> AddNew and create a new account with a better username. Use something that only you would know, and not something obvious like the name of your website or your last name.

Once you’ve made the new account, delete the old one. It’s also smart at this point to create an Editor account that you’ll be using for content creation and of course, editing. Having a separate account here makes things even more secure, and also makes it harder to accidentally break the site.

To this, follow the same procedure above to create a new user and this type select the role as editor. 

How to Choose and Install Your WordPress Theme

When it comes to WordPress themes, you have a lot of options. Thousands of them, in fact, are available. A theme defines the look, layout, and functionality of your site.

There’s a lot of thought that goes into choosing a WordPress theme. For example, some of them have tons of customization choices, while other looks great out of the box, but slow your site down as a result.

There’s also different types of themes based on the website you’re looking to make. Is it a blog? Then you’ll need something that focuses on readability. Setting up an online store? You’ll want something that displays your products.

As you can imagine, it’s no small decision, but how do you know where to start? Let’s take a look at 8 considerations that will help you decide:

1. Shoot For Simplicity 

Leonardo da Vinci (famous guy, you may have heard of him), once said that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

When you’re looking at themes, you’re going to see a lot of options that have flashy animations and crazy colors. That’s very rarely something you need. Remember, you want a theme that supports the purpose of your site.

It needs to look good, but it should also focus on stability and usability.

2. It Must be Responsive

The idea behind the term “responsive” in terms of web design, is that themes have the ability to display your layout differently based on the size of the screen and the device that is accessing your site.

This way, your site is readable and usable with both desktops and mobile devices. It was a neat option in the past, but today it’s required. A huge amount of traffic on the internet is dedicated to mobile devices, and Google ranks them higher as well.

Thankfully, most WordPress themes are already mobile responsive, so you’ve got nothing to worry about there. That being said, make sure you look for this as a feature when choosing your theme.

3. Compatibility With Multiple Browsers

Different people use different web browsers like Internet Explorer, FireFox, Chrome, and others. Your theme should be compatible with all of these options. Many theme developers will make it known on their page that they’ve done this testing, but it doesn’t hurt to double check.

Try testing out the theme demo or trial on various browsers, including the mobile versions.

4. Support For Popular Plugins

Plugins are among the top reasons to use WordPress, and they will do wonders for your website. That being said, you should make sure your theme isn’t going to get in the way of installing the ones you need.

Plugins like Yoast SEO and other major tools should be compatible with your theme of choice.

How to Install Your New WordPress Theme

  • You can install your theme manually if you received a .ZIP file when you downloaded it. To do this, simply go to Appearance -> Themes -> Add New 
  • Click the “upload theme” button and use the file you were given to implement the theme.
  • You can also browse the theme marketplace right inside WordPress. To install one of these themes, simply follow the steps on the page and click “activate” to put it in place.


5. An Option For Page Builders

Depending on your experience with customizing WordPress themes, you may want to opt for a page builder. These are plugins that allow you to create page layouts with a simple drag-and-drop user interface.

The one thing to be careful with page builders, are the unneeded code they may add to your pages. The best way to eliminate this issue, is to look at themes that ship with some of the more popular page builder plugins.

6. Support When You Need It

This is one of the major differences between free and premium WordPress themes. With free themes, you often don’t get support included with it. This isn’t always the case, as some free theme developers will offer support, but it’s mostly the scenario you’ll face.

If anything happens on a free theme, you won’t be able to get help. Premium WordPress themes typically have a thorough user manual included, and included at least a year of email support with them.

7. SEO Friendly

Just about every aspect of your site contributes (or hinders) your SEO. Your theme is no exception, which is why you should look for options that have a clean source code. Themes will often advertise this as a feature, so keep an eye out for it.

The last thing you want, is for your theme to drag down your SEO without you even knowing.

8. Look at Reviews and Ratings

Like any good product, you should research the reviews and ratings from others that have used the theme you’re considering. Many marketplaces will show ratings and allow people to leave short reviews of the themes they are showcasing.

Look for something with a lot of reviews and mostly positive feedback. That way you know you’re getting a high-quality theme.

Setting Up Menus and Widgets

Your site is going to need some navigation if you want people to get around and visit more than just one page. This is where we’ll discuss how to set up your menus and widgets. Start by heading to the Menus section on your WordPress dashboard.

You’ll see this screen:

[Place WordPress menus screenshot here] 

Start by checking your individual pages. Select them with the check boxes and then click “add to menu.” Now you’ll see all of your pages on the right side of the screen. You can rearrange them and move them around with a simple drag-and-drop interface.

The goal here is to assign your menu to one of the locations and then save your progress. This will help you make a single main menu area. You can create new menus for things like Social Media, but that can come later.

To display these menus, you’re going to need Widgets to do so. Every WordPress theme has at least one widget area, but many have more. These are spaces where you can place custom content.

To check this out, head over to Appearance -> Widgets. You’ll see a screen like this:

[Place screenshot/recordit of widgets being made here] 

Once you’re here, the process is relatively simple. You just need to grab your custom menu, and drag it over to the right. You can do this to create a custom sidebar that displays your menu and sub-menus.

Depending on your theme, there will be additional options that you can add to your website’s design, so I would recommend looking at everything your theme has to offer.

The Pages Your Website Needs

  • About Us/Me – Make sure you have a place where people can get to know you. It’s important to include contact information here as well if people want to get a hold of you.
  • Contact – You can also have a separate contact page with things like your name, email, and phone number. It’s especially important important for businesses to have these for local SEO.
  • Portfolio – If you’re an artist, designer, writer, or anything of the sort where you have samples to show, make sure you have a page for them as a your virtual portfolio.
  • Products or Services – Online businesses will need to have a dedicated page for selling. This could be a quick list of your items, or it could be a dedicated landing page that pitches what you’re selling to the visitor.
  • Team Members – If you have members on your team, it’s important that you give them a place to shine. Here you can list their names, provide pictures, and describe what they do on the team.
  • Testimonials – A page where you can proudly display the testimonials of satisfied customers is a great way to lend social proof to your product’s worth. It goes a long way towards helping close the sale.
  • Blog – There are tons of reasons why your website should have a blog attached, but suffice to say, this is where you can add limitless content that adds even more value to your site as a whole.


Getting Started With SEO

Search engine optimization, more commonly known as SEO, is a crucial part of any successful website. Businesses spend thousands of dollar each month on people who can improve their rankings on Google, but I’m going to show how to get started with it for free.

Start by downloading the aforementioned Yoast SEO plugin if you haven’t done so already. The next thing you should understand, are the two types of SEO:

  • On-Page SEO – Everything you do on your individual pages and posts to make them more Google-friendly.
  • Off-Page SEO – Everything you do outside the site, like social media, backlink building, and so on.

Once you have the plugin installed, you can get started with some basic features it offers. On your WordPress dashboard, go to SEO. 

Switch to the “general” tab and view the “introduction tour.” This will help you with a well-made guide on the main section of the plugin. After that, go through every other tab and provide the information it asks for.

The “Webmaster Tools” tab is especially important as it allows you to connect your site with Google’s Search Console and the Bing Webmaster Tools. Both of these toolsets will help you keep an eye on your site’s SEO very easily.

Once you’re finished there, go to SEO -> Titles and Metas. Here you’ll fill out our page titles and meta descriptions. Now, these don’t directly affect your SEO, but they do have far-reaching effects. These are the items that show up in search results.

If they are well-written, you can earn a click over the site above you in the rankings, and send signals to Google that you may be a better option for the top spot. From here, head on over to the Social section.

This is where you’ll setup your social media profiles with your site and make sure your site displays properly on these platforms.

Finally, head on over to XML Sitemaps where you’ll just need to make sure they are enabled. These maps are used by Google to navigate your site, so you want to make sure they’re enabled.

Final Thoughts

Now that your website is customized, you can move on to new things like tweaking your theme, writing blog posts, and all manner of other tasks. A Webmaster’s work is never done, so let me know what you thought of these tips in the comments and move on to the next step!