There are an abundance of simple “How to set up WordPress” tutorials online, so I’ll spare you those details. What I want to show you here are the little-known and hidden secrets that can block your your WordPress site from massive success. These are the biggest WordPress mistakes I have made or have seen.
Setting Up WordPress isn’t always straightforward. In my experience, there are 6 hidden-in-plain-sight WordPress settings that even the Pros miss. Getting these wrong can block your WordPress website from massive success before you even get started writing.
Tip #6: Set up Permalinks before anything else
Your WordPress site creates a link structure that is vital to your website’s success. Suppose you write an article titled “How to blog.” By default, it appear in WordPress as www.yourwebsite.com/p=?456. That’s called the link structure. There are many smart people who get this wrong. One example was a NPR science author (I won’t embarrass her by name) in San Francisco. Every week, she interviewed many important people on the radio. Many websites carried the interview on page one of Google, yet every week her blog was hard to find, even when you were looking, for this reason.
WordPress creates a page where that content exists. The trouble is that the page has a number and that number does nothing to tell Google what your page is about. Permalinks gives that page a name that people and Google can easily remember.
What if you already published?
If you have already created your website and have published posts, you will want to consider correcting this problem carefully. You can update these links with something called 301 redirects. The 301 is a code that tells the server (and Google) that the page has been permanently moved to another location. (A 404, for example, tells the server that the page was not found and a 200 says everything is good.).
You can install the redirection plugin that will help you change these links. Your pages will disappear from the Google listings temporarily, but it is worth it in the long run. You will rank higher in Google after you fix this problem. I guarantee it. Your permalink structure settings should use Post name:
Setting your Permalinks can have a massive effect on your ranking in search engine results.
Dashboard > Settings > Permalinks > Post name
So the link we created will now reside at www.yourwebsite.com/how-to-blog
WordPress is a database-driven website. It used to be the case that having the post id (sequential numbers) made database calls quicker than using the post name. That is no longer the case, so for most sites I recommend simply using the Post name as your permalink structure.
BE WARNED that changing your permalinks structure after your website is built will change all the existing links on your site, so you will want to do this before you publish your website, but never again. Changing your permalinks on an established site will destroy any external links to your site.
I once heard an exec at Yahoo talk openly about his experience at a MeetUp in San Francisco. They had discovered this problem with their site and decided to bite the bullet and fix the links. For several weeks, everything disappeared in the Google SERPS (search results pages) for his division at Yahoo. His friends and co-workers asked if this was supposed to happen. Publicly, he was confident and said of course that’s what should happen. Privately, he said he questioned this decision every minute. Finally their pages returned, ranking higher than before and everyone relaxed.
I also know of a woman who hosted a radio show for NPR in San Francisco. She was brilliant and skilled in many technical areas. Her show was very popular on the radio, but her website ranked on page three of Google. Many people quoting her show ranked much higher, even tho she was the source for that material. Her website permalinks structure was set to the WordPress default (
http://websitename.com/?p=123). Google couldn’t understand what her website was about from the links and neither could her listeners.
Tip #5: Write for the People
In my experience, people make far fewer mistakes with feedback. AI cannot tell you if you are reaching your audience. Don’t write for the search engines. Write for the people. Even Google says this. Get someone to read your Posts and ask questions. Many times we fall into the trap of writing for the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) index score. AI is getting better and better at understanding what you mean. It still helps if you tell Google what the page is about and what the photo looks like.
I have been building websites since March 2003. About the same time as WordPress was forked. I had been a Certified Professional Photographer and could see technology replacing my profession. Since then I have danced with WordPress, Bootstrap, and sometimes I roll my own. That evolved into Affiliate Marketing and I made good money by making referral sites for Uber and other companies. Recently, I have been inspired by Jim and Ricky, the folks at IncomeSchool.com.
The best writing means finding a question people are asking. Then answering that question as well as you can. Put yourself in their shoes and then answer their next questions. If this is a subject you know, you can share your own experience. It’s also great if you don’t know the answers. You can write about your research and where you looked and what you found out.
There is no plugin for this. There is no affiliate link for this advice. It is just the reminder that many people forget when they start. If other people has written about the same subject, link to their post. Say: This is what has already been said. Here is what I can add, or here is my own personal experience, or here is where I disagree. Transparency and vulnerability is sexy.
Tip #4: Use a Quality Theme
WordPress has a design structure called a theme. This is the set of type styles, shapes, colors for your website. When I began using WordPress, I tried many many different themes. They looked great and I would start to get things moving, and then I would start to see error messages. Also, there are many hidden features that can be built into themes that are not obvious at the start. As a result, people want to change themes after they have some experience. The same information can be presented in many different styles by changing the CSS.
If you are unfamiliar with CSS (cascading style sheets), I highly recommend that you visit the designs CSS Zen Garden. These designs were made with CSS before the current version, CSS3. In fact, they were the stimulus for moving the Internet into adopting this practice as standard.
There are two basic types of themes: Commercial (Premium) and Free. Nobody wants to spend money on an expensive Commercial WordPress theme, if they don’t need to. There are also some themes that are referred to as “Freemium” meaning, they have a free version with pro features that can be unlocked with a payment. This is done so people can try out the theme and “kick the tires”. Free themes are almost never worth the aggravation.
Spending $60 for a Commercial theme is worth the investment. Unless you’re ready to tweak and customize your site, I DO NOT recommend using a cheap theme 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.
That said, there are a couple exceptions. One free option is to use the annual theme that comes with WordPress. The current version is Twenty Nineteen. WordPress pays good money for their one annual theme supplied with the core software. It’s actually quite a nice theme, there is always official support and you won’t have ANY trouble with it at all. (The reason NOT to use it, is your website will look like MANY other websites.) Another freemium theme that I personally like is Nisarg.
Tip #3: Back up your database!
The website is where the content of your website is stored. All of the titles, headlines, subheads, images and articles are stored in the database. If your website crashes, your data should be protected and can be restored from a recent backup. You definitely need to keep a back up of your entire WordPress database. This is the only way to get your articles, comments, and photos back if something happens to your site.
Your hosting company may have a backup option but I recommend that your backup be in a different location from your website and hosting. There are several free and paid plugins for backup that do this. I hve seen recommendations for Backup to Dropbox. This saves a copy of your entire WordPress database to your Dropbox account each week.
This requires you to have a Dropbox account, but that shouldn’t be expensive. I have used Dropbox, but I have not tried this. Another paid backup I have seen recommended is called Backup Creator and is a $50 plugin that has advanced functionality that I need on my site. I also have not used this. I have found duplicator to be very useful. You can get this plugin here.
Tip #2: Test your social media buttons carefully
Your website is the hub of what you do. social media is important, but those are somebody else’s websites. Their only reason to exist is to get you to join their website for their purposes and benefit. You can use social media to your benefit if you are careful. Social media buttons are little graphical icons people can click on to share your content through their social media. Including these buttons is an important way of getting your website discovered by new readers.
Do not fall into the trap of failing to test your button designs. There is a big difference between sharing your social media and linking to social media. The number of shares I got skyrocketed when I switched to the current social media share. Just because a social sharing plugin looks slick does not mean your visitors will share your message. One other thing, and this is counter intuitive, pointing readers to only 2 or 3 social media sites is far more effective than sharing to more social media sites. I know this doesn’t make sense, but it works. Other people have discovered this, too.
Tip #1: Allow the Search Engines to Index Your Website
In Settings > Reading there is a checkbox titled: “Search Engine Visibility”
When you tell Google and other search engines to NOT index your website is honored.
By default, this checkbox is often checked during installation, or it should be. You don’t want the search engines indexing your random thoughts and half-baked ideas until they are polished. It’s very difficult to put toothpaste back into the tube. Many personal details, once indexed by Google, can be very hard to clean up from the Internet.
However, when you are ready, you want to publish your website and you need to uncheck this checkbox. I know one client who spent $30,000 on a custom website and failed to get traffic for years because of this one detail. He spent big money on advertising but got no organic traffic. Organic traffic is free visitors by answering questions that are asked in the search engines.