WordPress is a magic web publishing tool perfect for writers and publishers who want to build attractive websites without spending a fortune and build reader communities around their work. This is the first in a series of articles that explain in non-technical terms how to get your site started and how to publish content without becoming a programmer. Search engines and marketing strategies will be discussed and I’ll steer you around common stumbling blocks.
Over 70 million WordPress sites (including the one you’re currently reading) produce over a half-billion new posts every day. Other good options are available, but WordPress offers a huge support community, thousands of add-ons (plug-ins) that extend its functionality and thousands of themes that instantly customize its appearance. WordPress is fantastically search engine friendly.
WordPress was originally developed as a blogging platform that enables writers to post articles and receive comments from readers. Eventually, WordPress expanded into a full-blown content management system. In English, this means you can post articles, create pages, embed images and publish many kinds of content with a simple Microsoft Word-style editor. Push the “Publish” button and your content magically appears on your website along with whatever links or navigation buttons are needed.
Straight Talk: Though WordPress makes web publishing easy, marketing books is hard work. Putting up a website is only the first step in a marketing expedition that requires time, effort and dedication. These articles will guide you on that journey—and it’s a great journey—but there are no magic formulas. A website is only as good as the writing and design it contains. WordPress can take care of how to publish, but what to publish is your responsibility. As with book production, there is much you can do yourself but there are places where professional input will prove immensely valuable. Too many websites and too many books bear the scars of do-it-yourself production. Building your own WordPress site will save you thousands of dollars in website expenses, but if you pocket those savings at the expense of having a professional designer create (at least) your site’s header graphic, you will likely get what you pay for. Self-published books are universally derided as poorly edited and poorly produced; as you aspire to write the world’s greatest book, strive also to create the world’s greatest website. Elevate your standards and those of the self-publishing profession.
This introductory article covers how to install WordPress and adjust its settings to suit your purposes. Though the settings section is long, understanding the purpose of each option will broaden your knowledge of what WordPress can do. Everything is explained in plain, non-technical English.
Section 1 — Getting Started with WordPress
There are two flavors of WordPress: WordPress.COM and WordPress.ORG; both are free. WordPress.com is easier to get started with, but WordPress.org offers greater flexibility, a broader range of add-ons and themes, and more marketing power when it comes to pushing your content out to search engines and discussion forums. If your budget is zero, start with WordPress.com. Sign up and start writing. WordPress.com will host your blog at no cost and give you a very capable platform for sharing and promoting your work.
WordPress.ORG provides a downloadable version of the WordPress software which you must install on a web server with a domain name (your own dot-com or dot-net, etc.). Invest in a domain name (about $10/year) and a web hosting account ($5-$15/month) to run and customize your own copy of WordPress; there are many advantages. Most web hosting companies offer a package deal that contains both hosting and domain name registration. Many provide a one-click installation tool for WordPress that spares technophobes the terror of setting up databases and copying files to a server. Though these skills are not difficult to learn, what’s “difficult” is subjective. If your goal is to get up and running with minimal digital anxiety, choose a hosting company that offers great support, a domain/hosting package and a WordPress installer. I use Liquid Web for my hosting and have been more than satisfied with their support and reliability. Their cheapest “shared hosting” package will be more than sufficient for the average writer or publisher. There are many options out there; some are better than others. In general, you get what you pay for. (A favor please: don’t turn discussions of this article into a list of hosting company endorsements; there are hundreds of web hosts out there and dozens of sites offering reviews and recommendations).
WARNING: Beware of notices you may receive about renewing your domain name from scam companies like Domain Registry of America. These companies trick you into transferring your domain name to them so they can sell it back to you at a profit. Keep track of where your domain name is registered. Call your hosting company if you are unsure whether to respond to a renewal notice.
Your web hosting company will send you a username and password and a link to your website’s control panel. The technical details of installing WordPress are covered in the video below. For those who understand the basics of technology, WordPress boasts a “famous 5-Minute Installation.” If technology scares you, be sure your web host offers a good support team to pick up the slack. You only have to install WordPress once; then you can start publishing.
The following video shows you how to install WordPress manually. Though it shows a previous version of WordPress, the process is the same. If your web host offers a WordPress installer, skip the video, run the installer and move on to adjusting the settings. If after running the installer, you are prompted to upgrade your WordPress installation, just click the “upgrade” link; it’s that easy.
Once WordPress is installed on your server, your site will look something like this:
Click the link at the bottom right that says “site admin.” Log in to get started using the username and password you selected during the setup process to access the WordPress Dashboard. Here, you’ll create pages, write blog posts, change the appearance of your site, upgrade WordPress when new versions are available, add plug-ins to enhance your site’s functionality, monitor traffic statistics and control the site settings.
Feel free to explore the tabs on the left side of the dashboard; you won’t break anything. Click the screen images in this article to enlarge them.
Section 2 — WordPress Settings
This section will make more sense after you have WordPress installed and running. Take a short break. Set up a domain name and a hosting account and get started on your new website. You can be ready to proceed in less than half an hour.
Before you start writing content, there are are a number of Settings to adjust in the tab at the bottom left. Why so many? WordPress accomplishes many different things for many types of publisher; the Settings tailor it to your needs and preferences. (The bottom “SEO” tab in my examples won’t be visible on your site until later when we add a certain very powerful search engine plug-in.) Click on Settings and a selection of setting types will open up. We’ll walk through them screen-by-screen. Most options can be set once and then left alone.
Be sure to click the “Save Changes” button after making adjustments in each settings screen.
WordPress Settings: The General Settings Tab
- Set the Title and Tagline of your site. Search engines will look at these options for the name and description of your website.
- The WordPress Address and Site Address will probably contain your domain name, but if you haven’t made your site live yet, you may wish to plug in the “secret address” to your site provided by your server. It probably looks something like http://host.myHostingCompany.com/~myUserName Change these settings to your domain name now, or later when you’re ready to connect the domain name to the live site. These were probably already set when you installed WordPress so chances are good you can leave them as-is.
- Enter the email address WordPress should use to notify you of comments, new subscribers, etc.
- The New User Default Role should be left as “Subscriber.” In larger sites, administrators, editors and subscribers have permission to view and edit different kinds of content. For sites managed by one person, new users will be “Subscribers” and you will be the “Administrator.”
- Choose your time zone, and set a date format and time format that match your personal tastes.
- If you add a calendar to your website to display things like author events and speaking engagements, the calendar will display weeks that start on whatever day you set in the Week Starts On: menu. In other words, you can have a calendar with weeks running from Sunday to Saturday or start your week on Monday and have Saturday and Sunday clustered together at the end of the week. Weekly web traffic reports also rely on this setting to define where a week starts and ends.
WordPress Settings: The Writing Tab
- The Size of the Post Box setting controls the height of the content writing window. You may prefer to keep it small if you work on a laptop, but if you have room on your screen, consider setting this to 30 or more lines so you can see more of your text without scrolling.
- The Formatting checkboxes control Emoticons—e.g. if you want : ) to be converted to a smiley-face graphic, and whether or not you want WordPress to try to fix any invalid code. If you won’t be writing HTML code and you don’t put emoticons in your text (perhaps because you’re a professional writer), you can turn both of these off.
- The Default Post Category will be set to “Uncategorized” because you haven’t created any content categories yet. You’ll do that later and come back here to set the default. Leave the setting as-is for now.
- The Default Link Category works the same way. You can create link categories later and set the default here. “Blogroll” is just blogspeak for the list of links you can optionally post on your site.
- Skip Press This for now and leave Post Via Email, Remote Publishing and Update Services as they are. These are optional tools for more advanced users; you won’t need them to get started.
WordPress Settings: Reading
- The Front Page Displays setting determines what shows up when visitors first enter your site and where they’ll go when they hit the “Home” button. If you intend to use your site as a blog where you post regular articles and updates, you may wish to have the “latest posts” show up first. If you want to build a more traditional website with static pages and no blog posts, or if you prefer a custom home page with your blog accessible through a link, here’s where you’ll set those preferences. This is another chicken-and-egg situation at the moment. Until you create pages or posts (which we’ll cover later), you won’t be able to select them in the menus here.
- The Blog Pages Show at Most setting controls how many posts appear on your blog page. Though you may be tempted to set this at a high number to keep all your posts visible, remember that more posts take more time to load. Ten is a good setting to start with.
- Leave Syndication Feeds and the other settings as-is. WordPress allows you to generate a “feed” that readers can subscribe to with services like Google Reader. Instead of visiting your blog directly, your content will be “syndicated” or pushed directly to subscribers.
WordPress Settings: Discussion Settings
- The Default Article Settings control how your WordPress site communicates with other sites. Turn these options on.
- Attempt to notify any blogs linked to from the article means if you write a post and link to another blog, the owner of that blog will receive a “pingback” alerting them of your link.
- Allow link notifications from other blogs means you’ll be notified when someone links to your site.
- The allow people to post comments on new articles checkbox allows you to determine whether you want visitors to be able to comment on your posts by default. You can turn this option on or off elsewhere for each post or page you create.
- Other Comment Settings have to do mostly with controlling spam. If anyone is allowed to comment anonymously, you may end up deleting comment spam all day. If commenting requires registration and validation, many visitors will decide it isn’t worth the hassle. I prefer tighter security and I’m just as happy to have the discussion happen on forums like LinkedIn where I share my posts.
- Comment author must fill out name and email — turn this on.
- Users must be registered and logged in to comment — turn this on.
- Automatically close comments after ___ days — leave this off unless you wish to allow comments for only a certain number of days after you publish a post.
- Break comments into pages — leave this off unless you get hundreds of comments to manage (a high-class problem).
- Comments should be displayed with older/newest comments first — Older is more common but set this any way you like.
- Email Me Whenever controls notifications you’ll receive from WordPress. I prefer to be notified so I leave these turned on, but feel free to opt out.
- Before a Comment Appears
- An administrator must always approve the comment — You’re the administrator—turn this on if you wish to approve comments before they appear on your site
- Comment author must have a previously approved comment—after someone has posted a comment and you have approved that comment, allow that person to post further comments without you having to approve each one. This is safe as long as you don’t get duped into approving a bogus comment to give a spammer a “free pass.” We’ll install excellent tools for filtering out comment spammers, but don’t approve comments that offer praise for your blog while mentioning nothing specific about your content.
- Comment Moderation provides other ways of filtering comments to control spam without having to manually approve each one. I suggest leaving these blank unless you find you have comment management problems down the road. After two years of regular blogging, I haven’t touched these.
- Avatars are fairly trivial. You can turn them off, show “Gravatar Logos” for people who register one at Gravatar.com and want their face or a graphic to appear next to their comment or select one of the other avatar options that range from decorative to downright goofy.
WordPress Settings: Media These settings control how images and other media are handled by your WordPress site:
- Image Sizes
- The Thumbnail Size Settings control how the thumbnail images that are generated for each article appear. The 150x150 pixel setting (about 2 inches square) is fine. Check the box that crops the thumbnails.
- The Medium Size and Large Size image settings control the options WordPress offers for embedded images in your posts. Leave them as they are unless you have specific image size requirements
- Embeds controls graphics and other media embedded in posts and pages
- When possible, embed the media content from a URL directly onto the page — this means if you type a link to (for example) a YouTube video, WordPress will attempt to display the video and not just the link. Turn this on unless you prefer links instead of the actual media.
- Maximum Embed Size — leave this blank for now. After you customize your site’s appearance later, you can adjust this setting if embedded graphics exceed the margins of your content area.
- Uploading Files controls where uploaded images and other media are stored on your server.
- Store uploads in this folder — leave this blank unless you have a specific directory other than the WordPress default where you want to store images
- Full URL Path to Files — leave this blank unless you have a specific directory other than the WordPress default where you want to store images
- Organize my Uploads into Month and year based folders — this will be invisible to you, but if you or a technician ever has to poke around in the site files, having images organized can be helpful. Turn this checkbox on.
WordPress Settings: Privacy
Controls whether search engines index your WordPress site. I like to turn indexing off and then turn it on later after my site is ready to be seen. That way, I avoid having draft or test content accidentally indexed by search engines.
WordPress Settings: Permalinks
Permalinks are permanent addresses WordPress assigns to each post or page in your site. By default, WordPress assigns an identification number that’s functional but not useful for search engine optimization or memorable for users. There is only one important setting to change on this page. Select “Custom Structure” and type /%postname%/ in the box next to it. We’ll work with permalinks later, but this setting will change your site links from technobabble to English.
WordPress Setup: Jetpack
You may have noticed a “Jetpack” banner at the top of every page. “Jetpack” is a suite of useful add-ons provided by WordPress.com to users of WordPress software downloaded from WordPress.org. To set up Jetpack (and get rid of the nagging banner), select the “Connect to WordPress.com” button at the top.
You’ll be taken to a page where you can register your site with WordPress. Your registration allows the WordPress developer community to track how many WordPress sites are out there and what kind of traffic they receive in exchange for a selection of useful tools. Registering with WordPress.com requires you to fill out a form and respond to an email confirmation request.
Once your site is connected, you’ll be taken to the following screen:
Click to explore as the banner suggests. We’ll set up these tools in an upcoming article.
Now you have a working WordPress site. You’re ready to start publishing content. Part 2 of Websites for Writers and Publishers will cover posts, pages and how to organize your main menu bar. Subscribe to my newsletter (the subscription form is in the sidebar of this page) to receive future articles in your email box.