I have been setting up websites since I made TapSuccess in 2003. Many of those have been WordPress. I have made lots of mistakes, and I learned how to fix them and prevent them. Since then, I have worked with lots of beginners. These are the biggest beginner mistakes and how to avoid them.
There are lots of simple “How to set up WordPress” tutorials online. I don’t cover that. Making the wrong choices at the beginning can mean doing your entire website over. This is something you want to avoid. What I teach here are the little-known secrets that can set up your WordPress site for massive success.
First, a little introduction to WordPress. WordPress websites are designed to work with several parts:
Core – The WordPress core is the basic installed code that connects all these parts and contains the ‘functions’. Functions are the parts of the code that make your website do certain things. Some examples of the things your website does with the core code include contact forms, sliders, sorting pages by menu and sorting your blog posts by date or subject.
Database – Most of your content (images, pages, posts, menus, titles, but also users, names and passwords, plugins and more) are stored in a database. This allows your website to be ‘dynamic’. HTML, by contrast, is like a printed brochure and is ‘static’. Your dynamic WordPress website can remember your visitors’ names and what they bought before, and make their lives convenient.
Themes – The design of your website can be changed by the set of fonts, colors, and designs called a theme. Changing your theme should be done when you begin the website. Changing it after you have made your website can be done, but is not recommended because themes are different and this can break some of the things the theme does.
Plugins – WordPress websites use little mini-websites that contain special code and do specific things for your website. Plugins are very diverse. They can help your SEO, change your posts to pages, and vice verse, block spam comments and many other things.
Shortcodes – Shortcodes place special code into your website where it is needed. Shortcodes look like this: ‘[shortcode]’. The shortcode is easy for humans to use and your website substitutes this with the real code when your website is published.
Widgets – The term widget is coined to mean a diverse set of function code and/or plugin and/or theme design into a particular place on your website. This is often used in menus and at the end of pages and posts.
Tip One: Set up permalinks first
This is vital to your website’s success. By default, your WordPress installs an outdated link structure. Things have changed. What used to be best now hurts your SEO. You need to change this before you write anything. If you don’t do this, and you write an article titled “How to blog”, it will, appear on your WordPress website as www.yourwebsite.com/p=?123 That’s called the link structure. This is ok for computers, but unacceptable for Google and worthless for humans.
WordPress created a page, gave it a number, and that is what WordPress uses in the database.
The problem is that this p=?123 doesn’t tell Google, or humans, what page 123 is about. You need to tell WordPress to give it a name, just like you gave your website a name. This tells your visitors what that page is about.
This is the same thing that giving your website a domain name does. By default, your website address will include an IP number, like 192.168.1.15. By using the Name Servers system, you can build a phone book or directory. Google, and humans, will more easily remember Example.com, and it will remember more about what your website is about.
Before computers, we had the same problem. Everybody got a landline telephone, and each phone had a number. People couldn’t remember those numbers either. That’s why they made phone books with everybody’s name listed alphabetically and their phone number. This way, they didn’t have to remember all those numbers.
Here is where you name your pages by changing your your permalink structure:
Dashboard > Settings > Permalinks > Custom Structure > and then fill in
This will change example.com/p=?123 to example.com/how-to-blog
(The reason they set it up this way is because the database used to be located away from the server and it was faster to use the post id ‘p=?123’. That is no longer the case, so for modern sites simply use the post name as your permalink structure.)
WARNING: The reason this is the first tip, is because changing this later will change EVERY page link on your website. Changing your permalinks on an established site will destroy any external links to your site. Doing this later means you have to start all over. Do this now and leave it alone.
Tip Three: Use a Quality Theme
When I began using WordPress, there weren’t any menus and no themes. The websites worked really well in certain areas but they didn’t look very good. Eventually, the community adopted the WordPress architecture and WordPress began issuing a theme. Soon there were dozens and then hundreds of themes designed for WordPress. Whole communities sprang up around WordPress themes. Be careful. Themes that look good to people don’t necessarily work well for the website.
I do not recommend the cheap themes from ThemeForest. Every time I’ve tried it I regretted it. I wouldn’t recommend you spend the money on a premium theme if it weren’t 100% worth it. Justin Tadlock is a smart programmer and a long-term WordPress supporter. He wrote about his experience in designing a quality theme and getting it accepted by ThemeForest here and followed up a year later here. Ignore this advice at your own peril. If you buy a cheap theme, expect your site to sooner or later freeze up and die.
Today WordPress has moved to Gutenberg. Gutenberg makes quality themes not only possible, but really rich and powerful ones easy. Personally, I see the BeaverBuilder community is exactly what WordPress needs. There are several ‘themes’ and options that make WordPress come alive. Many students are able to take a few quality parts and combine them into a powerfull, rich and successful business.
Tip Two: Back up your database!
WordPress stores everything in a database. You can easily roll back to your latest backup IF you have a backup. Otherwise you are sunk. WordPress is a big set of complicated code, things can happen, and it can freeze up. When this happens, you must restart it. To do that you must reinstall your data from the database. This is easy with a quality system. This is why you need to have a quality system in place. A backup is the ONLY way to get your articles, comments and photos back if something happens to your website.
There are several methods for this. There are some quality plugins that back up your website. Some plugins are free ans some are paid. There are several free plugins for backup. My preference for free plugins is to use Backup to Dropbox. This saves a copy of your entire WordPress database to your Dropbox account each week. An even better option for backup is called Backup Creator and is a $50 plugin that has advanced functionality that I need on my site. Another is duplicator. It uses a ‘freemium; model for payment. Free to start with upgrades available.
I highly recommend that you choose one, set it to back up your website regularly, and test it. Do this now so you know how.
Tip One: Test your social media buttons carefully
Social media share buttons, often with graphic icons, allow people to share your content to their social media. This means they can do your marketing for you. This is an important way to reach people you don’t even know and be discovered by new readers, and potential customers. This is what you want.
Google, and other search engines, is how you can be discovered organically, which is FREE. This is how your work is marketed by your visitors, which is also FREE.
CAUTION: Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your buttons work without testing them. This is the same issue as with cheap themes. The ones that look good may not work the best. When I switched from one brand of share buttons to another, my shares DOUBLED. Ironically, the fewer buttons you offer increases the shares. Psychology has tested this over and over.