There are plenty of posts out there with tips for WordPress newbies, which is pretty damned handy, it has to be said.
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After all, we were all beginners once. When you first fire it up, WordPress can be pretty overwhelming — such a depth of functionality is not easily presented in an immediately intuitive manner. Having said that, it only takes a few nudges in the right direction to get on your way. Install a theme here, a plugin there, have a fiddle with the visual editor, and you’re on your way.
But what about all those things you shouldn’t do? In this post I want to focus on some of the most basic mistakes that WordPress newbies should endeavor to avoid when starting out.
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10. Don’t Moderate Comments
If I submit a comment on a blog and am subsequently informed that it is being held for moderation, I don’t feel good about the experience. This practice is commonplace amongst new bloggers, until they start getting more than a few comments per day and lose interest in moderating each and every one.
So please, do yourself a favor and skip the process altogether. People won’t like having their comments held for moderation, it will discourage future interaction, and besides, spam protection is pretty good these days.
To turn off comment moderation, click on Settings > Discussion in your sidebar and make sure that the following two boxes aren’t checked:
9. Don’t Get Carried Away with Widgets
Let’s indulge ourselves for a moment — WordPress is pretty awesome. However, this can be both a blessing and a curse. Even before you dive into the huge number of plugins available on WordPress.org (just for starters), there are a number of widgets available by default:
It is all too easy to load up your sidebar with a whole load of crap that isn’t necessary. In an ideal world, your sidebar should be sparsely populated with only the most essential widgets. Less is more.
8. Don’t Abuse Categories and Tags
When utilized well, both categories and tags can be extremely useful navigational elements. When poorly utilized, they become all but useless.
There is no better time to educate yourself on the correct usage of categories and tags than at the outset. After all, poor practice can be put into effect immediately, so why not get it right to begin with? Getting categories and tags “right” isn’t that difficult — just check this out.
7. Don’t Use Weird Permalinks
As far as just about everyone is concerned, permalinks should be keyword-rich. They should be somewhat useful to the visitor in understanding what the page is about, and useful to the search engines as they attempt to determine the relevance of your page.
As such, one of your first port of calls when installing WordPress should be to make sure that permalinks are set correctly:
Above are two examples of “correct” permalink structures. The one applicable to 95% of blogs is simply “Post name”, but you can also define your own custom structure as I have done above, using tags (don’t worry, it’s simple enough).
6. Don’t Define Generic Settings within Themes
In a perfect world, themes would not contain any sort of plugin-style functionality. There are many reasons why this isn’t done (or possible), but for the most part, you should look to achieve a separation between design and function.
Why? Because when it comes to switching themes (which as a beginner is inevitable), all of the functionality contained within the theme will travel with it. You don’t want a theme switch to affect the functionality of your site.
The same principle applies to any general settings that your theme may encourage you to define from within its interface. Popular examples are SEO settings and analytics tracking codes. The last thing you want to do is switch a theme and discover that your onsite SEO has been mangled.
As such, when it comes to such settings, either define the settings manually or find a plugin that can replace the theme’s functionality (such as All In One SEO Pack).
5. Don’t Edit PHP from the Theme/Plugin Editor
Once you have been using WordPress for a while, you may be tempted to start fiddling with PHP. After all, you certainly don’t need to be a programming expert to make simple changes to theme and plugins files.
However, any fiddling you do decide to do should not be carried out via the theme/plugin editors contained within the WordPress dashboard. To put it bluntly, if you cock it up, you risk breaking your site. Your site will literally break, and show nothing more than an error screen to would-be visitors. And because the site is broken, you can no longer gain access to the editor to amend your error.
So if you’re going to be doing anything risky, make sure that you access the relevant files via an FTP client. This way, if the site does break, you can quickly restore the original file via FTP to get things back to normal.
4. Don’t Alter “Parent” Theme Files
You should view theme files as untouchable. The main reason why is updates — if you make a change to a file within a theme, and that file is subsequently overwritten by an update, you will lose your changes.
There is however an easy way to edit themes to your liking whilst retaining any changes through updates — you need to install a “child theme”. A child theme essentially copies key files within the “parent theme” which you can then edit to your heart’s content without actually touching the original files.
This may sound complicated but it is in fact pretty straightforward. I wrote a step by step guide here.
3. Don’t Use “admin” As Your Username
There are a whole bunch of WordPress security tips out there that you should dig into when you find the time, but let’s start with something absolutely basic. By default, WordPress will set up a user called “admin” on your site. Because the name is so common, it is often the first port of call for hackers when looking for weaknesses.
As such, you should make sure that you create a non-obvious username and delete your default admin username (you can do this by accessing Users > All Users in your sidebar).
2. Don’t Go Overboard With Plugins
Whilst having a large number of plugins installed on your site isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is generally a good idea to keep the number as low as practically possible.
Although using plugins is often convenient, you can achieve many simple functions just by inserting a snippet of code into your functions.php file. Again, this may sound complicated, but it really isn’t. In fact, I recommend that you utilize a plugin called Code Snippets, which allows you to treat code snippets as plugins. Click here for more information, plus a bunch of code snippets to get you started.
1. Don’t Install Suspect Themes and Plugins
WordPress’ enormous popularity brings with it an unfortunate side effect — the proliferation of unscrupulous types who attempt to take advantage. Security breaches can take many forms, but maliciously-coded themes and plugins are a common example. For an expose on the depth of the issue, check out our post on free themes.
What Tips Do You Have?
If you’ve been around the WordPress block a few times, I’d love to know what “not to do” tips you have for WordPress newbies in addition to the ten featured above. Open fire in the comments section!
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