Setting up a WordPress blog can be quite overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re doing. Just take a look at the sidebar, and you’ll see countless options that can either make or break your blog.
To be 100% honest, I wish I would have known these things when I first started blogging. The further along you get in your blogging journey, the harder these things are to change.
Take it from me, you’ll want to get them right from the get-go.
Since these settings will set the stage for success and really help your blog grow, make sure to pay close attention and follow along.
👉🏼TIP: If you haven’t set up your WordPress blog yet, why not? It’s incredibly easy to do when you follow my step-by-step guide on how to start a WordPress blog for dirt cheap!
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*This post contains affiliate links meaning that if you make a purchase after using them, I earn a small commission, which helps support this blog at no additional cost to you. Keep in mind that I only link to quality products that I use myself and feel would be beneficial for my readers. Read my full affiliate disclosure for more information.
1. Kick Jetpack to the Curb
This isn’t a super common practice, and it’s hard for most people to do, but you gotta ditch Jetpack.
Jetpack is the plugin that comes stock with all WordPress installations, and it has a million things it can do for you. It was built to bridge the gap between WordPress.org and WordPress.com. It provides you with traffic stats, brute force protection, image hosting, and downtime monitoring, among other things.
The problem is that it’s just full of bloat and will quickly drag down your website. Although you can deactivate modules you don’t use, it’s still a colossal plugin, and you can easily replace the few modules you do use with better options.
In modern-day SEO practices, site speed is a HUGE factor and should not be taken lightly. Google is favoring faster sites in search results, and you’ll quickly lose visitors on a slow site.
If you want to get serious about speed, you gotta lose Jetpack.
2. Set up Google Analytics
Now that you deleted Jetpack, you’ll need a way to keep track of your daily visitors and stats. The good thing is that Google Analytics is a much more useful tool than Jetpack anyways, so make sure to get it set up.
The easiest way to do this is to download the free plugin, “Insert Headers and Footers.” This allows you to easily insert code into the header or footer of your blog. I’ll let WPBeginner take it from here with their Google Analytics installation guide.
Some quick tips to remember:
- Install Google Analytics in the footer instead of the header. It will run exactly the same but make your site faster.
- Make sure not to add the code to multiple plugins. You should only add it once to your site. Otherwise, your stats will be incorrect.
- Download the Google Analytics app on your phone, so you can keep track of your blog on the go.
3. Change Your Permalink Structure
If you take a look at my other blog, HolleewoodHair.com, you’ll notice that the link structure includes the date of the post. While it isn’t detrimental, this is not optimal for a few different reasons.
First off, the closer your keyword is to the base URL, the heavier weight Google puts on it. For instance,
is easier for Google to understand than
In the second example, the words at the end of the URL probably won’t get recognized by Google.
The next reason why using dates is bad is because people don’t like to read old content. You should aim to write evergreen content, which is content that will always be
Even if you update old posts with the date in the URL, the reader could think it’s outdated, and you could lose them forever.
What’s worse than dates in your permalink? Not using keywords
WordPress’ default permalink structure is to add a “?p=123” to the end of the base URL. This is a really bad thing.
is a million times better than
You need to change this setting right away.
Making The Change
To change your permalinks, just go to the Settings option on the WordPress sidebar. Next, navigate to the Permalinks settings. Change it to the “Post Name” setting and then voila! You’re set!
If you already have a lot of content with a different permalink style, don’t change it. The damage from the broken links will significantly outweigh the benefits of a good permalink structure.
This setting should only be
4. Install a Killer Theme
The theme of your blog is basically the aesthetic part that the user sees. It’s imperative to have a theme that is clear, organized and draws the reader in.
Think about it like this: would you want to take advice from a website that looks like it’s straight out of 1997? Probably not.
The good thing about themes is that there are tons of options available. You can probably find something for to fit any style you want.
However, all themes are not created equally. You need to make sure you go with an option that won’t weigh down your website.
Here are some things to look at:
- SEO: Your theme should be optimized for search engines. This is so important as Google’s algorithm is getting harder and harder to crack. You need every step up you can get.
- Lightweight: While it may be tempting to go with a theme that has a million awesome features (like a live Instagram feed, large image carousels, tons of fancy sidebar widgets), remember that they will all slow down your site. Like with SEO, you need to make speed a priority if you want to win at Google.
- Responsive: The vast majority of your website traffic will come from mobile devices, and Google prioritizes mobile-friendly sites. A responsive theme means that it will resize and look good on mobile devices.
- Brand: Does your theme resonate with your brand? For instance, lifestyle blogs do better with feminine themes.
The Absolute Best Theme in The Blogosphere
A few months ago, I paid someone to do a speed audit on my website. One of the first things he suggested was changing out my theme for GeneratePress. As soon as I did so, my PageSpeed score jumped up several points.
The cool thing about GeneratePress is that it’s super lightweight but can be customized to be exactly what you need. It’s incredibly fast, responsive, optimized for SEO, and really easy to use.
You can start with a premade module and then customize it to fit your needs. The best part of all is that you can get it for free!
However, if you did want to go with the pro version, which basically allows more customization options and support, it’s incredibly cheap compared to other themes on the market.
5. Set Your Sidebar
The first thing you should add to the top of your sidebar, is a picture of yourself, a small blurb about who you are, and links to your social media pages. Your readers want to know who you are and why they should trust you.
You can add a few other widgets to your sidebar, but keep it simple. Trust me, I know how easy it is to fill it up with every cool widget available, but it can quickly overwhelm the reader.
While things like, “popular post” widgets and live feeds to all your social media pages might look cool, the reality is they kill site speed. Additionally, most of your users will never even interact with them and it just adds clutter.
Of course, you should always test what works best for your site. If you have an Instagram feed that brings tons of engagement to your Instagram profile, you can probably just keep it there.
I suggest using something like Hotjar, which is a free heat map tool you can use to see what users do with your website. If certain widgets aren’t getting engagement, get rid of them.
The other thing you should think about is ad revenue. If you plan to monetize your blog with ads, a basic sidebar is necessary.
When you get enough monthly sessions to start using Mediavine, they will request that you clean up your sidebar. This is because one of the best performing ads goes on the sidebar, and the longer it’s in the reader’s view, the better it performs. This translates to more money for you and them.
6. Pick Your Plugins
Plugins are smaller software modules you can add to your blog to increase functionality.
There are some plugins that you’ll need to be successful, but like everything else, be careful not to overdo it. Excessive or bloated plugins are just another way to quickly drag down your site.
While many plugins are beneficial for your site, I’ll save that list for another day and another blog post.
For the sake of time, I’m just gonna tell you about a few essential plugins you should look at. Check out my ultimate list of blogging resources to see all the plugins I use.
The 5 essential plugins to use are:
✓ Yoast SEO – This plugin is a MUST! It allows you to put your targeted keyword in (for example: “setting up a WordPress blog”), and helps you optimize your post for Google searches. There’s a paid version, and it has awesome features, but you can definitely start with the free one.
✓ Social Warfare – This adds social media buttons to all your posts, pin-it buttons to your images, and allows you to customize what images/text will be shown when someone shares it. It’s one of the fastest social plugins and has a decent free version.
✓ ConvertKit – You’ll always hear that the money is in your e-mail list. Think about it… you’ll always own your list, it allows you to build relationships with your readers (which helps drive traffic and affiliate sales), and it will never break your heart like a Google algorithm change. ConvertKit makes it crazy easy to build your list, which you should start doing from the get-go. I’m also able to provide you with an opportunity to try it for free (this offer could go away at any time, so jump on it).
✓ WP Rocket – Like we’ve already talked about, Google is coming down hard on page speed. In fact, several bloggers were penalized last year for having slower websites. WP Rocket helps you optimize your site and make it much faster. It’s the choice of most big bloggers.
✓ ShortPixel Image Optimizer – Since we live in such a visual world, it’s really important to use a lot of images in your posts. They help break up your content and make it easier to read. However, they can be a big speed-killer as well. ShortPixel compresses and optimizes your images to help keep your page fast.
7. Format Your Menu
Your goal as a blogger is to keep people on your site as long as possible, therefore, you should make your content easy to navigate. One of the easiest ways to do this is to optimize your menu bar.
First off, you should have a link to your blog in your menu. This can simply say “blog” or even “home“.
Next, you should have a solid “about me” page. Trust me when I say that your readers want to know more about you. What is your experience with
I like to link to tags or categories in the menu to give the reader the option to only read about a certain topic. This is an excellent way to deliver helpful content to your readers.
Last, but not least, you should have a contact page that lists your e-mail address, PO box (if applicable) and maybe some information about your media kit or guest blogging opportunities. This should generally be short and sweet, but make sure to have it.
You can add some additional menu items if you wish, but make sure to keep it clean and simple. Remember that too much chaos will make your readers leave.
8. Make Sure Google Can Find You
This is a stupid easy step to take when setting up a WordPress blog, but equally important.
Click the Settings option on the Sidebar, and navigate down to Reading options. At the bottom of that page, make sure the Search Engine Visibility box is unchecked.
You DON’T want to discourage search engines from indexing your site unless you have a specific reason to do so (maybe you don’t want Google to see it until it’s ready to launch).
If that box is checked, it means you won’t show up in any Google searches, which you need to happen for long-term traffic.
9. Legal Stuffs
There are a few steps you need to take to protect yourself from legal issues, and you should get them done right away.
First off, if you use affiliate links on your blog, you need to set up a disclosure page that you link to in the footer. You’ll also have to add a disclosure to every post that contains affiliate links.
This is super important because if you don’t, the FTC could sue you. Yikes.
I really don’t know much about law, so you should consult with a lawyer about these pages. At the very least, you can find some free or paid templates on the internet.
10. Tags and Categories
The last thing I want to throw out there is to have your taxonomy structures set up before you start.
On HolleewoodHair, I royally messed this up when I first started. I had a million
Site structure is
Here’s how you do it…
Categories should be broad and will group your content into smaller sections. For example, this blog has things like Blogging Tips, Marketing, and Life Hacks as categories. They should be the main pillars of your blog.
Next, you’ll add more specific tags to each post. For instance, this post has tags like WordPress, and Blog Foundations, which are more specific.
Getting them right in the beginning will prevent you from all the extra work I had to go through to clean them up.
Setting up your WordPress blog is an exciting time but it takes certain steps to get it right. Follow these crucial steps, in the beginning, to make sure your blog is optimized for success.
YOUR TURN: Did you learn something interesting about setting up a WordPress blog? Is there anything else that should have been on this list? Drop your comments and questions below! I read every single one…