From the series Make Money Blogging – Free and Complete Starting Guide!
WordPress is the most popular free and open source blogging tool. It is completely packaged with all configuration done through a user interface. WordPress is very intuitive and malleable – You can install plugins to enhance any feature you need.
Remember that when you are first starting out, your domain name is not pointing to any content. Before that can happen, you will need to create the blog structure. That is done with a few clicks within the control panel of Bluehost. In the cPanel, scroll down to the Website Builder section and click on the WordPress icon.
Follow the instructions on-screen and start a brand new WordPress install. It will automatically set up all the files you need to start blogging away. You now have a proper blog attached to your domain name and it is instantly available online.
Getting Familiar with WordPress
After logging into your blog, you will be presented with the basic navigation menus. Take some time to explore and familiarise yourself with the user interface if you have never used WordPress before. It is intuitive enough but here is a short description of the standard menus to speed up your learning process:
This is your home page with a collection of information you can monitor in one place. You can rearrange the display to your liking. There is also a sub-menu to install updates when they become available.
This section will contain all your posts and allow you to write and publish content to your blog. You can create new posts, edit drafts, modify published articles from here. You can also group your posts by defining categories and assign tags to them.
This area will allow you to review all external files you have on your blog and upload new ones to use. It includes pictures to enhance your posts and other files for readers to download.
When people comment on your articles, you can review them in this area. You will be able to moderate them as well, edit or delete them if necessary. Always make sure you answer readers’ comments; that will allow you to build a relationship with them and entice them to come back. It also shows people that your blog is active.
The look and feel of your blog is a critical part of your success. In this section, you will be able to manage your visual theme, configure buttons, menus and toolbars, and edit your blog’s format, styles and colors.
Plugins are third-party code packages performing a specific functionality on your blog. It’s like an app for your blog. This is why WordPress is easy to use; there are plenty of plugins and you don’t need to code anything. No matter what feature you want, someone else will already have designed it and all you have to do is install it. And the best part? Many of the good plugins are actually free.
In this section you can see all the users registered to your blog. Provided you are the administrator, you can add new users or delete existing ones. You can also change their access rights and configure their role in the blog.
In this section, you can configure your blog default settings as well as any plugin you install afterwards.
Customisation can be one of the most-time consuming activities for bloggers simply because there is a lot of flexibility in terms of what you can do and what kind of features you can add to your blog. It’s very easy to get caught up in tinkering. I’ve scooped the features out and can offer some personal recommendations about the types of features that should appeal to anyone starting out:
Like any website, your blog may become the target of cyber attacks by hackers and spammers. If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering why anyone would bother hacking your blog. I’m not sure either.
But it does happen! Especially once you start gaining a little bit of profile and being referenced by search engines. Thus, it is important that you secure access to your administrator area. That means you need to do five important things:
a. Choose a strong password
By most standards, a strong password is long – at least 8 characters, contains letters, capital letters, numbers and special characters (e.g. #, @, &, etc…). If your password is a word that exists in the dictionary, you are baiting to be hacked and have your account stolen!
These kind of “sensical” passwords are dangerous because hackers will often run brute force programs against websites, trying to gain access. If your password is in the dictionary, it is more likely that a hacking program will find it. Make it a bit more difficult for them by making something memorable up.
b. Create a new admin user
By default, the user “admin” is given administration rights on your WordPress account. Most hacking programs for WordPress will try to login as admin and break the password using brute force, i.e. trying all combinations of characters.
A first step to preventing those attempts is to create a new username with administrative rights and delete the “admin” account. This superuser should be different from the one you use to publish your posts, otherwise you’ll be giving away your admin login and your effort has been wasted.
c. Restrict number of failed passwords
WordPress does not restrict the number of failed login attempts by default. This means that a robot can try a whole dictionary of words to crack your password and you would be unaware until it is too late, i.e. someone has altered your blog or removed you from it!
To prevent that from happening, you can install a plugin. The one I currently use is Limit Login Attempts, which is one the of the best free ones available. With this plugin, you can stop hackers after a handful of attempts, get their IP address and blacklist them.
d. Remove all user registration
You really need to be careful about two settings. If you are not, you could give anyone access to create a new username and immediately become administrator of the blog. That means they can delete user names and appropriate the blog for their purposes.
To make sure that does not happen, you need to change your Settings > General:
- Remove the Membership option for anyone to register
- Make sure that the New User Default Role is set to Subscriber
This does not prevent readers from subscribing to your blog posts and receive updates by email. It is different from having a registered account on the blog for publishing and administrative purposes.
With these settings, only an administrator (you) will be able to create new registered users.
e. Review all comments before they are published
Allowing people to comment on your articles is a great feature. It enhances your own content and creates interaction with your readers. However, comments are only good when they are appropriate. Some comments are inappropriate, irrelevant or even offensive.
In addition, there are a lot of spamming programs that try to bombard your comments section with advertisements. To avoid this, you’ll want to screen comment before they are posted on your website. The best way to do this is by requiring all comments to be approved by an administrator (you). Under Settings > Discussion, you should tick the box below:
2. Appearance – Choose a Theme
The look and feel of your blog is critical. It needs to be visually appealing to people – Otherwise it is unlikely to hold their attention and people will be more likely to leave than read. No one likes to browse a website that is clumsy and ugly.
One way to ensure a nice appearance is to choose a theme. A theme is a combination of formattings, colours, fonts, structures, etc., which are consistent. It creates a uniform visual environment for your blog and helps you stand out from the crowd. Luckily, there are many professional looking themes that are completely free to use.
But you can also pay for more advanced themes if you want to have something more unique. Some of the best looking themes I have found are on MyThemeShop.com. I got the theme for this blog from them and – best of all – it was free. They have many different themes to choose from, check the referral link below:
How do you do it? Well, all you really need to do is pick a theme you like and download the zip file to your computer. Afterwards, go to Appearance > Themes > Install Themes > Upload, browse for the zip file, install it and activate it. Within a few clicks, you will have a neat looking blog without having touched a single line of code.
Another way to install a theme is to browse through the list of themes available directly in WordPress under Appearance > Themes > Install Themes > Search. However, if you choose this option, you may need to know the name of the theme. Again, most of the themes are free.
Permalinks are the URL web addresses under which your blog posts are stored. It is important that you have a meaningful link that is as short as possible and doesn’t contain unnecessary words or data, e.g. the publishing date. This will improve your visibility in search engines.
My recommendations would be to use the Post name. You will be able to customise its label further when editing your post. This is configured under Settings > Permalinks:
Installing Recommended Plugins
Below are the plugins I use on this site. Go to Plugins > Add New to search for them, install and activate them. I’ve tried several different plugins that perform these functionalities and I found these to be the best in their category:
- Jetpack: Jetpack is a must-have plugin. It will give you many useful widgets that you can use to customise your sidebar or head banner. Additionally, it provides important statistics for page views on your blog. To install it, you will need to create an account with WordPress.com and, once installed, Jetpack will be part of your WordPress toolbar.
- Limit Login Attempts: As discussed previously, this is an important plugin to help you secure your blog. By default, WordPress does not restrict the number of failed login attempts. This plugin will prevent hackers from using brute force to break into your administration area.
- WordPress SEO: This is probably the most useful plugin I have installed. It allows you to optimise your articles so that they rank higher in search engines. Some of my blog posts are the top result in Google and I barely have any backlinks. This plugin gives you feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of your content with respect to search engine optimisation. It will also provide you with the sitemap of your blog for search engine indexing.
- AddThis: A very popular plugin that allows you to add social network sharing buttons to your articles. In a context where almost everyone surfing the web has a Facebook or Twitter account, this offers an easy way to get visibility if people like your content. I also find the look and feel of their buttons simple and aesthetically pleasing.
- Quick Adsense: An easy-to-use plugin to better display your Google Adsense advertisements. Ad placement is a critical part of your blog design if you want to direct reader’s attention and convert it into clicks (in this context clicks translate into passive income!).
- TablePress: I use this plugin to create tables for my posts. It is intuitive and has some advanced options like sorting, which is nice.
- UpdraftPlus: This plugin allows you to back up all the files on your blog. In case something bad happens, you can restore it in a few clicks. You can directly configure it to store the files on any cloud server where you have an account, for example Google Drive. You can also specify how many times a backup should happen and how many of them should be kept at a time. For instance, I have a daily backup with 5 rolling copies stored.
- W3 Total Cache: This program will help you speed up the loading time of your blog. It preloads pages in a cache and allows readers to access the cache pages rather than the original pages, which take longer to load. That makes browsing a more pleasant experience for your viewers, and will help reduce their bounce rate.
- Post Ratings: This is a very simple plugin that allows readers to rate your articles. The best part is that this rating will be displayed in Google search results and attracts visibility.