As a web developer, I have set up dozens of WordPress blogs. These are all the nitty-gritty steps I take to make sure a new blog is properly set up and connected to all the basic systems. This article assumes you are using WordPress, but some steps will still be helpful even if you are using another platform.
I’ve put them roughly in order as some of the later steps depend on earlier ones. I’ve tried to make the steps as simple as possible and linked to help articles when applicable.
1. Create a custom domain email and set up Gmail to seamlessly reply using it.
I love Gmail, but I always want to send and receive mail at firstname.lastname@example.org instead of my Gmail address. This looks immensely more professional, plus you can never lose your email address. Even if your Gmail were to get hacked, you can always redirect your custom email at your web host.
Luckily, Gmail allows you to do this. This one has a few steps to it, but it’s worth it.
The steps are:
- Set up a forwarder at your web host with the address you want to use, say email@example.com. Set it to forward mail to your Gmail address.
- Next, create a mailbox with a different address (like firstname.lastname@example.org) and set that up in Gmail Settings “Send mail as” so your outgoing mail appears to come from email@example.com rather than Gmail. (expanded instructions below).
Note: You can also do this by just setting up a regular mailbox for both incoming and outgoing, but I use a forwarder to receive mail and a mailbox to send mail because Gmail can fetch mail slowly and forwarders are almost instant.
The first step above is pretty simple, but here is how to do the second step:
- Create the mailbox in your web hosting control panel. Remember, it should not have the same address as your forwarder. It can be anything you want as long as it is different. Make a hard password and copy it somewhere safe. (like LastPass). To make this simpler, I will refer to your forwarded email as your public email address and the mailbox address as your send-mail email account.
- In Gmail, go to Settings > Accounts and Import. Go to the section “Send mail as” and click “Add Another Address”.
- On the first screen, enter your name and your public email address. Leave “Treat as an alias” checked.
- On the next screen, enter the details of your send-mail email account.
- It will ask you to enter a code, which it sends to your public email address. Since you already set up a forwarder, this should show up shortly in your regular Gmail inbox.
- Make sure that on the setting page, you select “When replying to a message: Reply from the same address the message was sent to”.
- You can also set up a custom signature under Settings > General. Scroll down to the “Signature” section and select your new email address.
- Test to make sure everything is working.
- Set your WordPress admin email in Settings > General to your new email. Done!
2. Make sure SSL is installed and visitors are redirected to the SSL version of the site
This really matters because Google prefers your site to be secured with SSL and will ding you in their rankings if it’s not.
First, make sure an SSL certificate is installed for your domain. Most web hosts now include a free SSL certificate with every account. To see if your account has one set up already, go to your domain with https:// in front rather than http://. If you see the little lock, great. If not, ask your web host about it. If you just bought your account today, it may not have had time to install itself. On Cpanel servers, the AutoSSL runs every night.
Next, make sure everyone visiting your site is sent to the https:// version, not the http:// version. This one is a little bit technical, but you can accomplish the same thing with a plugin like Really Simple SSL. WPBeginner has a good SSL article that covers both the plugin method and the technical method.
3. Set up analytics
Why would I use both? Google Analytics is incredibly powerful, but it can also be overwhelming. Clicky is simple, straightforward, and affordable, and I like the interface a lot. I’ll always use Google Analytics but I check Clicky every day. I use the Clicky by Yoast plugin to hook it up. Setup is easy peasy.
Setting up Google Analytics is covered in their help article. Be sure you link your Google Analytics and Adsense account (if you are using Adsense). When you have set up your GA account, add the code to your website. Your theme may have a place to insert code into the header, or you can use a plugin like GA Google Analytics.
4. Add site to Google Search Console & connect with Google Analytics
Google Search Console (formerly called Webmaster Tools) is really useful, and it also can share data with Google Analytics, which makes your Search Queries reports much more detailed. A long time ago, Google stopped telling you what people searched for when they arrived on your site for most queries. Search Console gives you a little bit of that information back.
Add Your Site to Search Console
Do the SSL step above first, because in Search Console, the http and https version are considered separate sites.
Here’s How to add your site.
You have two options when adding – “Domain property” or “URL-prefix property”. For now, Google Analytics can only link to URL-prefix properties, so choose that one. This is why you need to get your SSL working first, so you can add the https:// version.
Using the URL-prefix property type also lets you use many different verification methods, so you can choose the one that is easiest for you.
Connect Google Analytics with Search Console
5. Install Jetpack and turn on automatic plugin updating
Jetpack is a plugin that lets you use some of the features available on the WordPress.com platform. You need a WordPress.com account for many of Jetpack’s features, including the automatic plugin updating.
Keeping your WordPress and plugins updated is one of the biggest headaches of running a WordPress site (especially if you have more than one site!). If your web host doesn’t offer this, Jetpack comes to the rescue.
Jetpack also has these additional free features that are very useful:
- Content Delivery Network for images (speeds up your site)
- Brute Force Protection
- Widget Control (lets you specify which pages widgets should appear on)
- Related Posts
- Social Share Buttons
- and a lot more, the above are just my favorite
I usually turn the Feedback Form off (I use Formidable, see below). You can do that by clicking Modules at the bottom of the Jetpack Dashboard.
Note: if you add new plugins then you have to go back to your WordPress.com account to turn on automatic updating for each plugin, so you may want to check it again when you are done installing all your plugins.
You can also pay to upgrade Jetpack to get daily backups and more security features.
6. Install Formidable Pro & add contact form
Formidable Pro is one of those plugins that is so overwhelmingly useful that I always install it. Even if I’m only using it for a simple contact form at the beginning, I know I’ll probably use it for other stuff down the road. With the various add-ons, you can use it to sell products, create a login area, and much more. They also have a free version that works great for basic forms.
I always set up a Contact page with a contact form. Make it as easy as possible for people to get in touch with you. Be sure to test it works!
7. Create About, Affiliate Info, and Privacy pages
These are just the necessary basic pages any blog needs.
- About page to show you’re a real person and tell a bit of your backstory
- Affiliate Disclosure, if you are using affiliate links
- Privacy Page
8. Install & set up Yoast SEO
Yoast is the best plugin that I’ve found for SEO. It does a lot of things so you don’t have to worry about them, like social graph tags (these help Facebook and Twitter figure out what your page is about when someone shares it) and an an XML sitemap.
9. Create an email list in MailChimp and add the subscribe form to the site
I’m really bad at email newsletters, but I know they are important, so I always set up a form to collect emails. I use Mailchimp. Explaining how to do this is beyond the scope of this guide, but all newsletter services should be able to help you get set up and there is usually a WordPress plugin to make integration easier.
10. Install WordFence for security
WordPress is wonderful, but it is also a really popular target for hackers. WordFence is a free plugin that helps block attacks and can scan your site to make sure no malicious files have been uploaded.
Bonus: Plugins That I Always Install
Some plugins not covered above:
- Classic Editor – I’m not into the new-fangled blocks, sorry.
- Pods – I use this for custom post types. I’m not sure how user-friendly it is for newbies, but it’s great for web developers so I thought I’d mention it.
- Formidable Forms Pro (paid, but they also have a good free version)
- Yoast SEO
- Clicky by Yoast
- WordFence – security plugin
More Plugins That I Recommend
These are plugins for things I have other ways of managing because I have my own private server & I’m a web developer, but if I wasn’t, I would use these:
- UpdraftPlus for backups
- GA Google Analytics (if your theme settings don’t include a section to add the code)
- Really Simple SSL if you aren’t comfortable with the steps to force SSL on your site.