How to Install and Set Up WordPress

by Martin Malden

So you’re thinking of moving to WordPress but you’re not sure how to set it up.

It takes a bit of care at the outset, but the time you spend now getting everything into shape will be more than repaid later.  It’ll enable you to focus on your content instead of struggling with your configuration.

So here’s how I set up new WordPress blogs.

Initial Installation

The first step is to decide whether you want your blog on its own domain (e.g.www.yourblog.com) or whether it’s going to be in a directory within your existing domain (www.yourdomain.com/blog).

Once you’ve decided where it’s going to be, you have two options for installing it:

  • 1-click installation – if this is offered by your hosting provider
  • Standard, manual installation.

If your hosting provider offers 1-click installation and this is your first blog, I recommend you use it.  The process will vary slightly from provider to provider so just follow their on-screen directions.

If you decide to install your blog manually, WordPress themselves have developed extremely good, clear instructions. You can find them here.

Here’s an overview of the steps you’ll follow:

  1. Download the zip file from WordPress.org to your computer and unzip it into a new folder.
  2. Set up your blog database on your server
  3. Insert the database details into your configuration file (wp-config.php)
  4. Upload the unzipped wordpress folder to your server. You can rename it before uploading – I suggest ‘blog’ unless you’re giving it its own domain, in which case upload only the contents
  5. Fire up your browser and type in the URL that you’re given in the instructions from WordPress and follow the on-screen directions.

After typing in the URL from WordPress you’ll be presented with a screen containing fields to complete.

Change the Username from ‘admin’ to something else and create a strong Password – you can mix up letters, numbers and symbols for both and I recommend you do so!

Those steps are explained in full detail in the WordPress instructions, so be sure to visit, print them off and have them handy before you start the installation process.

Configuring your new blog

Once you’re in your WordPress admin screens you can start configuring your blog. WordPress is extremely flexible and provides a lot of options so, for simplicity, I’ll focus now on setting up a simple, 1-author blog.

Once you’ve got these steps down, changing the configuration to add more authors or other features later will be straightforward.

So here are the steps to follow:

Go to your profile screen

The most important step here is to create a Nickname, that’s different from your Username, and make sure your new Nickname is the one that’s displayed publicly.

The default Nickname is the Username you just defined during the installation process. If you don’t change it that’s what will be displayed publicly, which will give hackers half the data they need to access your site!

Go to your Settings > General screen

Most of the settings here are self explanatory.  Give some thought to your blog title and tagline – your blog title will become the H1 header for your blog that the search engines look out for, so choose a title that contains your keywords and is closely relevant to the subject of your blog.

And amplify that with your tagline.  If you don’t want to use a tagline at this point, that’s OK – you can always add one later.

I suggest initially leaving all other fields on this screen at the default values except for the ‘Timezone’, ‘Time’, ‘Date’ and ‘Week starts on’ options at the bottom. Set these to reflect your location.

Next go to your Settings > Writing screen

I like to increase the size of the post box to 15 lines – it gives me a bit more space.

There’s also a button in your post write screen to make it full screen if you want to. You can toggle this on and off. So setting the post box size to 15 lines is not critical – just something I like to do because that’s where I do most of my work.

If you’re planning to use the HTML view when writing posts then check the box against ‘WordPress should correct invalidly nested XHTML’.

However, my advice (if you’re new to this) is not to use the HTML view for anything other than inserting something you can’t do through the ‘Visual’ view.  Do so in the HTML view, and then immediately return to the Visual view.

WordPress uses HTML filters to ensure that content entered in the Visual view is displayed correctly and occasionally this causes your hand-coding to be ignored.

If you really want to write your posts in HTML then there’s an excellent plugin that resolves this problem. I reviewed it here.

That said, the Visual view is a very effective HTML editor.  I only need to use the HTML view very rarely, and then only for something very specific, like embedding videos.

Leave all other settings on that page at their defaults.

Next go to your Settings > Reading screen

Here’s where you can choose what you want your front page to display.

Unlike Blogger, for example, WordPress gives you the option to make your blog look like a traditional blog or a normal static website.  You can change how it appears with the first option: ‘Front Page Displays’.

If you select ‘Your Latest Posts’ it will look like a traditional blog.  If you select a static page it will look like a normal, static website.

You might want to use this setting if you’re running a small business.  You could create a Home page for your business and make this the start page of your WordPress blog, and the site would look like a normal website.

If you choose this approach add the content to your Home page but don’t give it a title. Then select the page without a title as your front page in the ‘Front Page’ drop down menu.

This would work best if, for example, you’ve established your WordPress installation in its own domain, rather than as a directory within your existing domain.

You will then need to create a blank page called ‘Blog’ (or any name you choose) and select that page from the second drop-down menu (‘Posts Page’) to tell WordPress that’s the page that will contain your blog posts.

The whole lot will come together to look like a normal site with an integrated blog.

My front page is set to ‘Latest Posts’, and I generally set my blog pages to show at most 5 posts.

Using the correct plugins (covered later) you can get a lot of content in front of your readers while still keeping the front page relatively short.

The rest of the settings on this screen I leave at the default values.

Next go to your Settings > Discussion screen

This is an important screen if you’re wanting to build a community and get lots of interaction going on your blog – comments and trackbacks.

On this screen I check everything except: ‘Users must be registered and logged in to comment’, ‘Automatically close comments older than 14 days’, and ‘An Administrator must always approve the comment’.  Those I leave un-checked.

From the bottom of the page I select: ‘show avatars’ and ‘mystery man’.  You’ll need to select the rating based on the content you’re going to put up.

I ignore the Media screen (which means I’m accepting the defaults).

The next screen I go to is the Settings > Privacy screen

On this screen I select the top option – making my blog visible to everyone, including search engines. If you want to keep your blog private then select the bottom option.

The next screen to go to is the Settings > Permalink Screen

This is another important screen – this time for SEO purposes.

On this screen I select the 2nd option, which includes the name of the post. Having the name of the post in the URL strengthens your site’s SEO.

You’re probably be going to be changing this selection, because the 2nd option is not the default. In this case be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom of the screen because WordPress may generate some code that you need to paste into your .htaccess file.

This is particularly important if you already have posts up, because this code will re-direct people searching for those existing posts to the new permalink that they will be given when you select that second option.

If the code is there, copy and paste it into your .htaccess file.  If it’s not, it means that WordPress has dealt with the redirection itself (this is usually the case on versions of WP after 2.5).

The final page, Setting > Miscellaneous

This page does not need to be changed at this point.

OK – so those are the main settings for your WordPress application.  They’re the settings I use because they give me the best balance between control, security, efficiency and search engine friendliness.

Plugins

Next you’ll want to add some plugins to strengthen the overall effectiveness of your WordPress install.

As it happens I have an entire post on what plugins you should look at.  You can find it here.

Important point to re-emphasise: Plugins add overhead to your site, making it slower to load. So only use plugins that are going to bring you a real benefit.  De-activate and remove any that won’t.

Themes

WordPress.org comes with just 1 default theme, unless you use the 1-click install process, in which case your service provider may have added some other themes.

If you don’t like the ones on your Appearance > Themes page you’ll need to go on-line and look for a theme that matches the tone and subject of your blog.

There are hundreds of free themes available but they’re not always coded very well.  This can cause problems with plugins, and can leave security holes that can be exploited by hackers and miscreants.

If you want to use a free theme then the best place to get one is from the WordPress repository.

This is simplicity itself: on your Appearance > Themes screen click the Install Themes tab and use the filter options to define the characteristics you’re looking for.

Click the ‘Find Themes’ button at the bottom once you’ve made your selections, and you’ll be presented with all the themes in the repository that match your criteria.

When you find one you like simply click the ‘Install’ link, and you’re done!

But do be careful in your selection of a theme.

My own view is that having gone to the trouble of downloading, installing and setting up your blog it’s a waste of all that effort to use a theme which carries risk.

So I’ve used paid themes for a long time now.

One paid theme that is very well worth looking at is Thesis. I wrote a review of it here.

OK – so now you’ve installed your WordPress platform, configured it, installed the plugins you need and installed a theme.

You’re all set – all you need to do now is write, write and write some more!

Good luck, and if you have any questions please leave them in the comments box below.  I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Cheers,

Martin Malden

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