Everything You Ever Needed to Know About WordPress Settings

The settings panel is one of the most overlooked sections of a WordPress installation, and for good reason – WordPress works so well out of the box that you don’t need too much customization to get up and running quickly with your new site. But, with just a few simple tweaks to your WordPress settings panel, you can enhance your site’s look, make it easier for viewers to leave comments, and even enhance your site’s search engine optimization.

There are seven sections of settings to a stock WordPress installation, listed below, along with a description of each and how you can modify the stock WordPress settings for optimal performance on your site.

1. General

The WordPress General Settings area holds your site’s most basic information and should not be overlooked. In fact, it should be the first place you visit upon logging into the admin panel for the first time.

The most important setting on this page is the Site Title, which is used by search engines to identify your site, and it is your first snippet of optimization. Your site title will show up inside internet browser tabs, and let viewers know the title of your site, along with your site’s tagline – the second setting option in the general settings tab.

WordPress Title Settings

Most modern browsers allow for multiple tab viewing, and for your site not to get lost in a sea of other tabs you’ll want to make sure the title and tag are set correctly.

2. Writing

The writing area controls both the front-end and amin-sections of your post and page editing.

Visible Lines

You start by setting the size of the post box editor by entering a number of visible lines. This refers to the height of the post box when writing your posts in the editor screens. 20 lines means your post box editor will show 20 lines of text. 5 line means you will see only 5 lines of text.

Keep in mind, this is not how your post displays to the viewer, this is just for editing purposes in the back end of the site, and determines only how the post editor displays to the admin writing the post. This setting can make quite a difference when writing posts, and a larger number here means more room to write.

WordPress Post Box Settings
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WordPress Post box settings
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The next options allow you to automatically convert punctuation into emoticons, or more commonly known as changing ” :) ” into a graphical smiley. You also have the option to automatically convert XHTML, which helps if you often use the code editor to write or edit your posts. If not, you can leave that setting unchecked.

Press This Bookmarklet

WordPress offers a “press this” bookmarklet which you can drag to your browser bookmark bar. Using this bookmark allows you to grab bits of text and other html from anywhere on the web. Simply navigate to a page where you want to grab text, click the bookmarklet and it will clip the selected text and make it available to post into your WordPress post editor. It’s a handy tool if you quote other sites or authors often.

Remote Publishing

If you’d like to post via email or through a remote third-party program like Microsoft Word or MarsEdit, you’ll need to configure the mail sever information and remote publishing protocols. This allows you to write your posts outside of WordPress and directly upload them to your blog from within that third party system. This helps you avoid logging into admin panels just to update posts.

The mail server information will be dependent on the email program you use. Google’s settings will be different that using mail from an exchange server, which will be different from the settings you’ll use from AOL mail.

But basically, what you’re looking for here are the POP3 settings from your mail server. These are readily available in the help areas of most popular email programs. You’ll use those settings in conjunction with your email account username and password to post messages directly from emails you create and send to WordPress. You can also select a default category for each of the posts that you upload remotely.

3. Reading

The Reading settings are a powerful way to control how much content is seen on your site’s blog pages, and also on your syndication feed – a way many web viewers prefer to read posts as opposed to browsing actual websites.

Blog Pages Show at Most

This setting controls how many posts will be shown on your home page (stock WordPress installation), your blog page (if using a static front page other than blog posts), and any archive pages (categories, tags, searches, and custom post types listings).

This is an important setting because it will control the height of your site. If you are using a theme or framework which shows full post content and you have blog posts show at most 10 posts per page, your site could be extremely tall – and could extend down the page further than your sidebars, which could look be unpleasant to the eye from a design standpoint.

Showing too few posts per page will force pagination and cause your viewers to click through more pages to view your posts. This can have a negative effect on readership as well.

Some themes and frameworks make use of teasers and excerpts, which display shortened summaries of your posts rather than the full content. These themes typically show one featured post with full content, and the remaining posts are usually shown as teasers.

So on a blog with Blog Pages Show at Most 5 pages, the first post will be a full length feature, and the remaining four will be shown as summary excerpts. Here’s an example of how that looks using the Thesis Theme, a popular WordPress framework.

Click image for larger view

Ultimately, to get your site looking just right, you may have to modify this setting several times as you work with your theme.

Syndication Feed Settings

Syndication settings control how your post content shows up in RSS Feeds, which many viewers use to read new posts from their favorite sites instead of actually visiting the site directly. Depending on the theme you use, your feed may not be readily visible on your home page, but all WordPress sites automatically generate a feed.

Here, you can choose to include full text or summaries in your feed. The first will display the entire post no matter how long it might be, inside your feed, which means the reader of your feed will see the entire post content in his feed reader of choice, including pictures.

Choosing summary will clip your post to the first 55 words. If you use the Except setting inside the post editing screen, this text will be shown in place of the summary, but it will still cap the length at 55 words. By default, WordPress will NOT display HTML or images inside the feed when using the summary option.

4. Discussion

Discussion settings control how your visitors can interact with your blog, particularly how comments are handled on individual posts. Here, you can set things like whether comments are shown immediately or held for moderation, and whether comments with certain words or links even get posted. For example, you might want comments with offensive language to automatically go to spam, rather than posting on your site and offending other readers.

Another setting of note in the discussion area is the avatar section. Comments from readers who have set up Gravatars will display a graphical image next to the text inside the comment area. This adds an extra aesthetic to your site and makes comments easier to read and more pleasing to the eye than a long list of bare text comments.

For a detailed walk-through tutorial on this settings area you can read the popular article A Guide to WordPress Discussion settings, posted right here on WPMU.org.

5. Media

This area of WordPress settings controls how your site handles things like images, video, and other uploaded media. For example, you can set the thumbnail image size, which is typically used in teasers and summary posts. This is also the small image option inside the post and page editors. You can also set the medium and maximum image sizes here, which will limit the size of any photo uploaded by you or your commenters.

This is another setting which should be tweaked in conjunction with your theme or custom design. As the width and height of your content column changes you’ll want your default image sizes to change with it. Unless you want viewers to open images in full resolution, like for portfolio or photography sites, it doesn’t make much sense to allow maximum image sizes larger than the width of your content column. That takes up extra space on your server, and if you run a multisite installation, it may cost you more money to host the site.

For example, if your content column has page width of 600 px, images larger than 600 px wide will have to be scaled down to fit inside the post box.

The picture below shows an 680 px wide image inside a 600 px wide post box, which bleeds into the sidebar and covers the text and links there.

Image bleed into sidebar Media Settings
Click to view larger image

Some themes automatically crop images that are too large, which will make sure the images fits within your post box, but there may be unintended consequences of doing so. For instance, it may crop or scale your image distorting it beyond recognition.

Embed Settings

The auto embed setting will attempt to automatically attempt to convert links from media sites like YouTube and Vimeo into fully functioning videos inside your posts and pages. The width of the auto embed should automatically be set to your post width, and thus will attempt to make your embedded videos fill your post column width. This can be changed easily. If you’d like to make video embeds show up no larger than half the size of your post box, just cut the default number in half and enter it into the width box in this settings area.

The video below, taken from the article Fundraising with WordPress was displayed by pasting the YouTube video link “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1NxxAGJYUw” directly into the post editor. WordPress automatically displays that media link as a full media player and sets the width to the post box width for maximum viewing size. This is handy because you don’t have to mess around with embed codes or learn html to post video and other media files on your site.

Upload Folder

The final setting in the media section controls where uploaded files are placed. By default, they’re placed in an uploads folder located in your wp-content folder of your WordPress installation. You can override this location by entering another folder location. Note that WordPress requires a relative path here, not an absolute URL.

A relative path is the location of a file in relation to the current working directory and does not begin with a slash (/). For example, if the folder you want to use for uploaded media is http://www.example.com/images, you would enter /images in the Store uploads in this folder box.

If you wanted to put them in the folder located at http://www.example.com/blog-posts/images, you would enter blog-posts/images in the box. It is always relative to the place where your WordPress files were installed.

6. Privacy

There are only two settings in this section, but they pack a powerful punch, determining, in-part, whether or not your site is seen and indexed by search engines. These settings are your introduction to search engine optimization.

Allow search engines to index this site

This is the default option, and checking this box does not restrict search engines from indexing or accessing your site in any way. Using this setting in conjunction with SEO plugins and tactics can help make your site more visible on the web.

Ask search engines not to index this site.

This setting causes the content settings in your meta tag to force a “no-index” and “no follow” setting, which discourages indexing from search engines like Google and Bing. It will also block pings from other sites which mention your site, and hide your posts from update services.

For more information on Privacy settings and the internal coding ti forces, visit the WordPress Privacy Settings Codex page.

7. Permalinks

A permalink is the actual URL address given to your post or page. This setting determines how your posts and pages show up on the web, and how viewers can access them. There are various classifications to choose from here include:

Default

This makes your post URL identical to the post ID inside WordPress. For example: http://example.com/?p=123 shows the post with an ID of 123 in the database. These are typically known as “ugly” links because they’re not very friendly and descriptive. To find this post viewers would need to know your exact post id to find it.

Day and Name

This setting forces your post URL to be displayed with the actual post title inside a folder with the day month and year. http://example.com/2012/07/30/sample-post/. It’s clearer and more categorical than the default setting, but still not “pretty.”

Month and Name

Similar to the Day and Name setting, but with only the month and year being shown: http://example.com/2012/07/sample-post/.

Numeric

Similar to Default, but without the internal post code annotation. This shows just the post id in numeric format. http://example.com/archives/123.

Post Name

This is known as “pretty” permalinks because it sets your post URL to the actual post name: http://example.com/sample-post/. This helps with search engine optimization, and has become the standard and preferred way to display your posts and pages. By including your post and page name in the permalink, it makes your site easier to find in searches.

Custom

This setting allows you to create a custom structure for your URL addresses. To do this, you’ll use custom permalink tags, which can be found in the WordPress codex. You can create a virtually unlimited amount of base options, but be careful of making your posts too complicated or too hard to find.

The optional setting here gives you the choice to add a category base or tag base to your URLs. When WordPress displays standard category and tag archives, it uses those terms in the URL. http://example.org/tag/popular/ or http://example.org/category/uncategorized/. But you may not like the terms “category” or “tag” so you can use your own custom terms by modifying the optional settings here. For instance, you can use the term “TOPIC” instead of category, which will make your category archives show up using the ‘Topic’ permalink like so: http://example.org/topics/uncategorized/

Summary

WordPress settings allow you to make big changes to your site with very few keystrokes and absolutely no coding. Using them, you can quickly differentiate your site from other stock WordPress installations, and just a few minutes spent customizing these settings can make your site more visible to search engines and your posts easier to comment on.

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