7 Essential Tips for WordPress Beginners

image of wordpress logo

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar …

You meet someone and they say all the right things. They’re full of compliments and accolades.

Except, something bugs you about them. Their words don’t quite match their actions. They can be forgetful, and even mean. Eventually, the glow wears off, and you see them for who they really are. It’s not what people say, it’s what they do that makes a relationship work.

And that’s how it is with your hosted WordPress website, especially if you’re just getting started.

That’s because you can’t just talk about how great WordPress is and expect it to work for you. You can’t just read about it, either.

To see the results you want, you have to put some action behind those words. You need to use the WordPress best practices outlined below.

WordPress beginners who implement these helpful (and effective) techniques early on will set themselves up for success, and see results faster.

1. Your sidebar isn’t your hall closet

You know that hall closet you’re afraid to open because all the stuff shoved on the top shelf might come tumbling out and hit you on your head?

That’s what a lot of WordPress sidebars look like.

They’re stuffed with your ads, your social media icons, links to your most recent tweets, photos of your Facebook fans, and on and on. Buried among all that information might be a link you’d really like your site visitor to click on, but if they can’t find it, you might as well not have it there.

The solution? Pare down your sidebar to the absolute essentials.

Go into Appearance & Widgets and remove everything except the widgets that actually do something for your business or your cause.

If a widget doesn’t add people to your list, put money in your bank account, or get someone to take an action you’d like them to take, remove it.

2. Make it easy to find what’s in your library

If you own a library of books, does it make sense to house the books in separate buildings by the month they were acquired?

Of course not. You’d end up walking from building to building, searching for the book you wanted.

Your Media Library in WordPress is the same way. Creating one integrated folder where you place all your media makes it easy to search: just plug in a keyword and you’ll have the file you’re looking for in no time.

To set up your WordPress site so all your media files go into one folder that you can search by name, go to Settings & Media and uncheck the button next to “Organize my uploads into month- and year-based folders.”

3. Clean up your permalinks

You work hard to create compelling content for your site, so you want Google, Bing, and Yahoo to find it. Make it easy for them by using short “road signs” that point to your information.

How do you do that?

You want to take a little time to learn the basics of SEO Copywriting (it’s not as hard as you might think). One quick improvement you can start making immediately is to use the built-in WordPress permalink field at the top of the editing page to revise your links before you publish them.

Eliminate unnecessary words, and make intelligent use of keywords in your description.

Don’t stuff it with keywords — make sure the end result is pleasant to read for a human being.

For example:

yoursite.com/7-ways-to-choose-the-best-tires-for-your-vehicle

becomes …

yoursite.com/choosing-tires-tips.

And this:

yoursite.com/the-copywriters-guide-to-getting-more-clients-than-you-can-handle

becomes …

yoursite.com/getting-copywriting-clients.

The idea here is to create a compact permalink that tells search engines what your post contains in a glance, and helps you rank for a keyword you’d like to be known for.

4. Maximize impact with targeted titles and descriptions

When you share your posts and pages on Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn, these services pick up a page title and description to go with the link you share.

And when your page turns up as a result in a search engine, the title and description are what people use to decide whether or not to click on your link. Page titles are also an important element for search engines.

That makes the title and description some of the most important text on your page!

To get better control over what appears in these results, use SEO optimization software like Scribe to edit the page title and description.

Remember, descriptions are mainly for readers. Don’t try to cater to Google robots with these — instead, make them enticing, elaborate on the promise made in your headline, and use a strong call to action to encourage clicks.

5. Put your images to work for you

Images add beauty and interest to your pages. They can have a search engine optimization job to do, too.

Every time you upload an image to your website, you have the opportunity to add a keyword in your image title and alternate text fields.

What are those, you ask?

The title tag for your image generates the helpful little text that appears when someone hovers over that image.

And if for some reason the image is unavailable — or your reader is using an assistive device to view your web page — the alternate text tag is the text they’ll see in place of your image.

Again — they need to make sense. If it’s a story about tires and you’ve used an image of a muddy tire, don’t just call it “Tire.” Call it “Best Tire Brand for Muddy Roads,” or some other text that describes what people will find in your content. And make sure the alternate tag accurately describes the image you’re showing. This isn’t a place to stuff random keywords, it’s just another way to make it crystal clear what your site is about.

6. Focus attention and spark a response with a landing page

Want to get your site visitors to take action? Remove distractions and focus their attention with a landing page.

Many premium themes — including Prose from StudioPress, my favorite theme of all time — have a landing page template built right in. It produces a page with no navigation menu and lots of white space to work in.

This focuses your visitor’s attention on the one action you want them to take, and increases the chances they’ll fill in that form, click that Add to Cart button, or follow that one, single link you share.

If your theme didn’t come with built-in landing pages, the Premise landing page software for WordPress can help. And even if your theme does have a landing page template, Premise can help with the copywriting advice and an extensive library of images that will make your page effective.

Premise creates versatile landing pages and gives you complete control over style and content without knowing a single line of code, and it works with any WordPress theme.

7. Don’t forget the lowly footer

Down at the bottom of your WordPress site is the sometimes-forgotten footer area.

It’s where you can include a copyright message, a link to an important page, or information about who owns your website.

Many premium themes allow you to expand this area into a full-fledged content section where you can include a short bio, an opt-in to your email list, links to popular posts or pages, and more.

Remember, people scroll down to the footer to see who’s behind a site, so give them what they’re looking for and continue to engage them in this important space.

Start off on the right foot

Relationships work best if they get off to a good beginning. That goes for your relationship with your blog or website, too.

Fulfill your needs by building a long-lasting relationship with your WordPress site using the 7 techniques outlined here.

Need more tips for WordPress beginners? Take my free Love Your Website class today.

Have a burning question? Don’t be shy: let us know in the comments.

About the Author: Not loving your website right now? Let Pamela Wilson and Wendy Cholbi show you how easy it is to love your website. Click here to sign up for their free, on-demand Love Your Website class, and learn how to create a site that’s easy to maintain and looks great.

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Comments

  1. I really, really, really agree with you on point #1. Many new bloggers put so many things at their sidebar. Not enough with sidebar, they also put so many things at the footer or header.

  2. Really useful post, thanks.

    A couple of things I already knew but needed a reminder about, like keeping my sidebars clutter free and taking the extra time to make use of the image and alt options with all my images (so easy to get lazy with those).

    And a couple of things that were new to me too, like having one integrated media folder (gonna do that on all my blogs today), and the customized, streamlined permalinks. I’ve always just left those alone out of laziness and ignorance – the result is some very unsightly links!

    Something else I’d add for complete beginners who want to set up a blog: don’t worry about getting everything in this post right from day 1. All of this can be fixed at any point down the road. I’ve got blogs that have been going for years, and I’m still making changes today that should have been made a long time ago.

    The main thing is to just start today and get some good content up.

  3. That’s so true, Alex: getting started is the most important beginner move.

    Some of the tips here do work best if you implement them from the start. Shortening your permalinks and getting in the habit of labeling your images, for example, both help boost your search engine results if you adopt those habits early on. And having a single media folder just makes your life easier!

    You’re right, though: it’s never too late to fix these little details. They’ll make a difference whenever you do them.

  4. Hi Pamela,

    1 and 6 are beyond spot on. The whole post is, actually.

    Some overload with widgets for fear of “missing out” on subscribers, or fans, but the fear is counterproductive. It confuses readers, which leads to fewer calls to action take, less fans, or subscribers. This might be mistake #1 for all bloggers, independent of platform. Figure out what you want readers to do more than anything else, and trim virtually all other fat, save for sharing a few social icons and a few of your top posts for reference (and some nice SEO juice too ;)

    Keep it light and simple. Focus your readers to take 1 primary call to action. Cut out the other stuff. My blog is pretty clear, pretty plain, but people do what I want them to do. I get calls taken, because I don’t include much else in my blog. I want people to sign up for my newsletter and learn more about my gifting club. So this widget is uber prominent, and I end each post with a clear and direct call to action, to do the same things.

    Thanks for sharing your insight Pamela!

    Ryan

    • Clear, simple and plain (but not boring) design is a key to making your content take center stage. It’s more pleasant to read, your visitors stick around longer, and you get more clicks on your calls to action.

  5. Wow I didn’t know about #2, organizing your media library. I can’t stand those month and year folders. Thanks!

    • I don’t understand why month and year folders are the default setting. It seems very unwieldy to store stuff like that! The “everything in one big folder” technique is a lot more streamlined.

  6. Great ideas – not just for beginners! Will the Premise software work with Thesis themes? Is it a plug-in?

  7. Outstanding post Pamela – thanks for speaking what so many people (including me) want to say. I’ve never been a fan of cramming sidebars, and I’m becoming a huge advocate of light, minimalist and spacious websites.

    The one thing I always think about when I see someone’s blog is how folks at HGTV would react if they were “walking into the house”.

    The reaction would either be “OMG, this is gorgeous and has just the right amount of accents” or “OMG, you must remove a ton of clutter before we list this property”.

  8. You’re very right with point #1. As an example, when we first started our small business blog, we thought that using a tag cloud presented a nice, visual way to drive visitors to relevant content. We quickly found that the number of tags ballooned to an unmanageable number. This did two things: 1) it made the sidebar look exactly like your “hall closet” example and 2) it pushed the number of on-page links way above 100.

    Not only did it clutter the site design for visitors, but it also made search crawling more difficult. It was a double whammy and a lesson learned. We’ve become a lot smarter about things as a result, but the advice above can save new bloggers a lot of optimization time.

    Thanks for the great post,
    Justin

  9. I know it is not glamorous, but the first thing anybody should do with WordPress (if you are new to it or experienced) is to install WordPress Firewall and Login Lockdown (or similar) plugins. I have lost count of how many sites I have had to recover for various people (including myself…!) after a WordPress hack.

  10. I’ll have to look into the possibility of reorganizing the media library. Thanks for the suggestions!

    • Just to clarify Doug: your best course of action on an existing site is to change the setting with the understanding that it will affect all uploads from then on — it won’t retroactively remove folders (or put previously uploaded media into folders).

      WordPress looks at this setting whenever you upload something new. Previously uploaded stuff stays in whatever folder(s) it was uploaded into originally. And that’s how it should be, otherwise you may end up breaking links on your site.

      This is why choosing this setting is important at the beginning if possible.

  11. Very useful info, Pamela (as usual). Hadn’t given a thought to permalinks or media folders.

  12. Thanks for the tips! I started my website, learning along the way. I tend to be an “over-thinker” (aka, Perfectionist), so I came to the conclusion I needed to just start! Of course, that leaves lots of room for improvement along the way as I learn new things.

    As I read, I wondered about the media library, too. I have used the default setting, all the while wishing there was a better way. Now I know there is! But do I understand correctly that changing the folder setting a year into the life of my blog is not going to cause any unpleasant “surprises” with missing links to images, etc.? I just need to change the setting and all is good?

    Thanks again,
    Sheila :)

    • Hi Sheila,

      Please see my comment to Doug above: you don’t want to move things out of the folders WordPress saved them to or you might break your links. But you can change where your media items upload to and use the “one folder for all” technique from here on out without any trouble.

  13. All this 7 tips are very good, but right now I’m going to execute #2 immediatly. Then I will take #5 like a new habit.

  14. Wow I’ve been using WordPress for years and have never seen the organization tip for the media library! That is really killer and I wouldn’t have thought of it.

    I love how people will still call their title tags things like “Home” or “Welcome”. These are horrible!

    Many people want to do a lot of “SEO” but just handling the basics of on-site optimization will many times get them further than where they are now.

  15. Wonderful job on this post – it crystallizes really key information into something digestible.

    On point #3 – using more focused permalinks: I’ve noticed a lot of the well-ranked and well-optimized blogs I read are doing this. I wanted to bring up the point of optimizing posts after publishing and the importance of using 301 re-directs. If you’ve changed a post URL to be more search-friendly, but the old URL is still floating out there on the social web, people could end up on an error page.

    Does anyone have feedback on the general practice of optimizing post URLs after publishing?

    Thanks!
    Rohan

  16. Wow, I’m amazed at how much of this I didn’t know! Thanks! I’ve thought for a while now that the media folder was SO unwieldy, but it never occurred to me that I could do anything about it!

    I’ve slowly been making better SEO habits and I’m going to implement your suggestions about permalinks now. Thanks for a great post Pamela!!

  17. This is good info for experienced bloggers too. There is SO much information on what one should do when blogging. The one thing I like in reading Copyblogger is that it is tested. There is really only one other person who I follow as seriously as what you recommend. As I am working forward with all my blogs, I will be reviewing using the above materials

  18. Hi Pamela,

    I couldn’t agree with you more about sidebars of peoples blogs. Why do new bloggers think that their sidebar should compete with their main content. A great piece of information could be totally ruined by a flashy ad or some other nuisance which leaves the reader not wanting to come back again.

    I wish others would revise the word “minimal” when it comes to designing their blogs.

    Great post,
    Jonny Rowntree

  19. Awesome post! You inspired me to get rid of my archives widget and to add descriptive text under my blog title. Good notice to other folks to move beyond reading and studying to action.

  20. Great post! The Media Library organization is something I haven’t done, but will start!

  21. Wonderfully uncluttered!

    You can actually read without navigating around the ads!.

    I recently removed adsense from a site because of the clutter, plus the $4.59 wasn’t worth the distraction! Because the theme I was using split the text and there was Adsense in the middle of the first paragraph.
    I clicked on Brian Clarks tweet to get here, glad I came.!. A Newbie, but learning!

    • Hi Carata!

      I’ve always found that if you’re not being paid enough to keep a certain ad on your blog for a certain time, it is time to remove it. I think my Adsense account gained me £20 in 2 years. Affiliate ads paid me 5 times as much!

      Jonny

  22. Pamela,
    Very useful information. I’m still somewhat of a newbie at WordPress, so I thank you for the suggestions.

  23. S

  24. Some excellent tips however if you or a client has many images, I would not recommend changing the default directories structure. First, the search isn’t impacted by the images being in different directories. It’s a database search and not a server search through WordPress and numbers does up database queries. Second, most server Is have restrictions as to how many files can go into a single directory. I’ve had clients have terrible trouble over loading a single directory with too many files. For the casual blogger this isn’t a big deal. For photobloggers or image intensive sites, it is.

    Thanks for the great round up of tips.

    • Lorelle, it’s an honor to have you weigh in here! Yours is one of the sites I referred to frequently when I was learning WordPress. :-)

      I end up searching my image folders via FTP pretty frequently, which is why I recommended keeping everything in one place. If you only ever search from within WordPress, you’re right: you’ll never notice the year and month folders.

      It’s good to have the information on single directory limits, too: that would definitely affect image heavy sites.

      Thanks for your comment!

  25. Thanks for the great tips. One question though; you guys send the complete post in your email, which typically prevents me for clicking through to go to your site to read the same post, unless I want to make a comment. Why don’t you want us to come to your site :) ??

  26. I’m surprised you left off editing the “uncategorized” category. This is a major issue on so many WP blogs. Bloggers need to edit it to a relevant default catch all category. Unfortunately, WordPress users seldom correct this. Otherwise, the post is jammed with wise advice, especially editing permalinks “before” they are published. I’ve seen some insanely long permalinks.

  27. You have touched on some valuable tips there, Pamela. These are the kind of tips that can be aimed at experienced bloggers as well, not just beginners.

  28. Don’t forget these useful plugins you can add to your wordpress blogs for boosting overall performance and security both on and off page:

    1.) WP super cache for caching your dynamic content and boosting site performance
    2.) ALL in one SEO for easily adding keyword rich title and description tags to your blog and posts
    3.) Akismet for preventing SPAM comments
    4.) Google analytics or getclicky for tracking your visitors and traffic
    5.) Sharebar to easily let your visitors share your content on social sites

  29. Excellent and very useful tips. Thanks!

    As others said, this post is not just for beginners at all. There is always something new to be learned or remembered, or a new perspective to consider.

    Cheers,
    Heather

  30. An additional benefit to cleaning up the sidebar is the decrease in the long load time which is one of my pet peeves.

  31. I had to laugh….”Your sidebar isn’t your hall closet” ;-)

  32. Wow, Prose from StudioPress is your favorite theme of all time? Seriously? Pretty basic if you ask me.

    • That’s what I love about it, Jim. It’s a blank slate that I can make look however I’d like it to look with design controls. It’s only basic if you don’t do anything to it.

  33. This is great information. I wish this information was available when I first started.

  34. Good simple information to put into immediate use.

  35. Awesome tips I think permalinks is probably the most important thing to get right first, makes such a big different for your search engine results.

  36. Thanks for the great 7 tips post. Eek I’ve got a lot of room for improvement with these. I’m going to go and declutter my sidebar now. Permalinks do make a heck of a difference. I redid a post completely recently using a wordpress seo plugin and the post made it onto page one of google and I got over 90 comments on my webpage! Never had that before. So it really is worth the effort.

  37. this is really good stuff. The Permalinks are so important. thanks for sharing.

  38. Thank you Pamela. I have had this saved in my “Read It Later” for some time now, but I am getting to working on my blog a bit.
    I appreciate this insight.

    K, bye

  39. I would also suggest to really be careful when you install extensions… The last one I installed totally erased by wordpress website…

  40. *my wordpress website :)

  41. Excellent set of tips. Useful for me even though I have been on my blog for about a year. LOL at the first part, where you mentioned that the sidebar ain’t a hall closet.

  42. It might also be worth mentioning that you can have more than just ‘posts’ on your blog. This may be slightly more advanced than beginner level but since WP version 3.0 you can set up custom post types. Getting to grips with them allows you to not only post blog ‘posts’ but also things like ‘articles’, ‘stories’, ‘movies’ or whatever else you can think of.

  43. That is great advice for someone new to WordPress. Especially the point about setting up the permalinks correctly. Leaving the permalinks as the default, can really reduce the growth of your blog.

    I have personally found the plugin: WordPress SEO by Yoast, to be great at solving this issue. What would you recommend as the ideal SEO plugin for a beginner?

    • Hi Erfan,

      I like the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin, too. For my own site, I use Scribe, which is made by Copyblogger! It’s very robust and has some powerful features that help you rank for the keywords you’re aiming for.

  44. Hey Pamela, I really like the way you present important WP beginner tips.

    I’d like to expand on the first point about sidebars. I’ve been guilty of stuffing everything and kitchen sink there. I agree it’s not effective. One solution you can do if you have a broader site topically and many posts/pages is use a custom sidebar plugin and create different sidebars for different posts/pages. This way you can tailor your sidebars for different visitors which can dramatically improve user experience. I do this for a large broad site and it works really well.

    I typically use StudioPress themes and they have a free Genesis simple sidebars plugin for this that is dead-simple to use for setting up different sidebars. If you’re building a subscribership, you can actually build multiple, more highly targeted lists using different incentives and opt in forms across the sidebars.

    This technique can work for bloggers, business websites, etc. It’s totally underused in my opinion, but can be a really great way to build a more user friendly and profitable website.

  45. Brilliant introduction to wordpress. Im using All in one SEO but im going to get Scribe soon.

    Bookmarking this site too!