After reading the first steps in setting up your mom blog (or other type of blog), there are still quite a few tasks and decisions ahead of you. But this article will walk you through them!
By setting up your site with the right look and plugins, you can set yourself up for success from the very beginning.
Let’s look at what that means:
Jump to a section:
- When To Launch Your Blog
- Blog Theme
- Your Homepage
- WordPress Settings
- Choosing Plugins
- Google (analytics, Search Console, etc)
When To Launch Your Blog
Before going into some additional steps prior to launching your blog, let’s talk a little about WHEN your site is ready to go live (launch).
Honestly, you can launch your blog at any time in the process of getting it set-up! The sooner you launch, the faster Google will start looking at it.
It’s very easy to delay your launch until everything is PERFECT!
The Perfect Blog
Here’s the truth: your site will never be perfect.
There will always be some detail (design, content, cool plugins to try, etc) to delay just getting your content out there. But, once you have a somewhat cohesive site, just launch!
You can try to form a following on social media to bring up hype around your site so that when it launches you have readers ready and waiting.
But, force yourself to just do launch even if you don’t have the number of posts you are aiming for or all your plugins worked out (or an active following waiting).
Again, there will always be more you want to accomplish.
If you want a short checklist, this mama would make sure the following are in place before launch:
- Choose and sign up for a blog host
- Purchase a blog name/URL (hopefully with an SSL to make your site trustworthy)
- Create an About Me page
- Write and publish at least 5 posts (preferably your “pillar” or “epic” content)
- Connect Google Analytics to your site
- Choose and install a blog theme
- Provide a way for readers to share your content on social media
What isn’t listed is providing a way for readers to join your email list. You want to set this up ASAP!
Why is there a checklist but tons more information on this page?
Well, the below information is fairly comprehensive to help you be better informed and make choices that are right for you and your blog.
The checklist is merely a guide so you don’t get stuck in all the nitty gritty details to follow!
See this article on how to eventually launch your blog (when you are all ready!).
But let’s get going:
Why did this section come after it was suggested to start writing posts (in the first steps post)?
Having some content to see within context when testing a theme makes the process of finding the right theme so much easier.
Your words will NOT be the first impression. Your site theme will be!
The theme you choose will be the first thing your readers will notice about your blog before they even get to reading your article. Most blog posts will require even a little scrolling past your header, title and featured image (the image at the top of your post if you choose to use them).
But, now that you have your brand colors and logo ready to go, now you can go find the right theme for your blog!
Note that his section assumes you are using WordPress for your blog. Please do your own research if you are using a different service.
Finding Your Theme
There are thousands of themes out there for you to choose from. BEFORE you go searching for a theme, make sure to decide on a budget (free IS possible to start out).
After you sign up for hosting and link your host to WordPress, you will automatically be signed up for a free theme.
After you have chosen and installed your new theme, you will want to go back and delete the theme(s) automatically installed on your blog.
Choosing Your Theme
What is the right theme for your blog? Only you can answer that.
If you have no clue where to start, try looking at other sites you go to regularly. What about the site do you enjoy?
A few rules of thumb when choosing a theme:
- Find a theme with a lot of reviews/downloads
- Check to ensure the themes are updated regularly. When was the last update for the theme? (if the theme is not updated with each WordPress update, there could be issues (called “bugs”) that can hurt your blog performance)
- Make sure the theme you choose provides support for any issues you may run into. Is there customer support? If not, you may need to contact someone to help you with issues that they may not know how to fix. If you spend your hard-earned money on a theme without support, you may lose more money down the road hiring help!
- Generally, themes with more white space (meaning empty, white sections on the blog so content can “breath” and users can easily find what they are looking for) provide a clear and easy user experience. (source) (source)
- Many themes for free or for purchase are not easily customized without contacting the theme creator (can cost money to get help). In a bit there will be a couple of themes that provide amazing customization without the need for help from the developer.
- Only choose a theme that is responsive. This means your site will display on desktop computers AND mobile devices (phones and tablets). For many sites, readers are generally 60-90% on mobile devices!
Here are some sources to purchase for your theme:
If you are looking for a free theme, you can easily search directly from your Appearance > Themes section and click “Add New Theme”.
You will navigate to an area you can search all the themes you can download directly through WordPress (though these may not be created or managed by WordPress so make sure to check out the details and refer to the list above on what to look out for).
If you Google “free blog theme” you should find a lot of sites that offer or do reviews on free themes, like this one.
There are likely other ways to find and download free themes than going directly through WordPress. Just do some research.
Here are popular themes that many bloggers use, mostly for the ability to customize almost everything to fit your needs. There is a learning curve with each, but once you master it you will have one amazing blog!
- X Theme: provides amazing customization and over 60 templates you can choose from. This is used on two of this mama’s sites.
- Divi Theme: while this mama has never used this theme, this is usually a theme that comes up all the time when someone asks for recommendations in blogging groups, etc.
Installing Themes From A Download
Some themes will not automatically upload to your site, especially if you are purchasing your theme from a third party (meaning not directly through WordPress).
You will be given a .zip file to upload to your WordPress account. Make sure to not “unzip” the file (by trying to open it). WordPress will unzip the file when it is uploaded.
Here’s what to do:
- Go to Appearance > Themes from your WordPress dashboard.
- Click the button near the top that says “Add New”.
- Locate the .zip file on your computer and upload.
- Navigate back to Appearance > Themes.
- Locate the theme you uploaded and click “Activate”.
- Refer to the section above about deleting unused Themes.
If you experience any upload issues with your .zip file (WordPress may say you are missing a file…something you cannot fix), contact your theme provider for a solution or updated .zip file to upload.
If you install a theme and later decide to change your theme, this is easy! Just make sure to back up your site before installing and activating a new theme, especially if you have content on your site!
See the plugins section below for a potential, free backup solution (though some hosts will offer free backups based on the plan you sign up for).
Merely go to Appearance > Themes. You can activate and deactivate a theme right there with a click of a button.
Removing Old Themes
Since your blog came with one or more free themes already installed, it’s good practice to delete old themes to keep your blog optimized (running fast and smooth).
All you need to do is go to Appearance > Themes from your WordPress dashboard to find all the themes installed on your site. There will be a button on each to delete (but only on those that are not active on your site).
Many bloggers start with their blog being their landing page (meaning their “blog archive” is the first thing readers will see if they go to your URL). This will be the default setting in WordPress.
The phrase “blog archive” refers to the feed of all of your blog posts in order of posting. How this will look depends on the theme you choose.
Other bloggers want a static landing page (meaning a single page created for the initial experience for readers):
Why Use a Static Homepage
Using a static landing page for your blog homepage can clearly outline the intention of your blog and provide an easy way to create sale funnels and opt in offers right off the bat.
Think of it like your chance to put your best foot forward marketing to you readers.
That isn’t to say you want to hit up your reader with tons of prompts and sale offers!
You want to welcome your reader and provide a clear impression of the purpose of your blog: How will your blog help them? Why would they want to return to read more? Why would the reader want to subscribe to your email newsletter (opt in)?
Personally, if there is an instant ask to sign up or purchase something, this mama will leave the site. Why would you sign up for something before you even know anything about the blog?!
Plus, if you set up content pillars (covered later), this is a great way for your readers to navigate to the information they are actually looking for.
Once again, search your competitors or look at sites you enjoy. Do they have static homepages? What kind of content do they share?
How To Change To A Static Homepage
Some themes will automatically set you up with a homepage you can build without any real work on your part.
However, if you need to set this up on your own, here is how to do it:
Please note that this workflow for creating the page may merely require you to modify a page that already exists from your theme (meaning you may not need to create a new page if it already exists).
- Go to Pages > Add New from your WordPress dashboard.
- Create a page called “Home” or whatever you wish to title the homepage.
- Modify the page however you want. Make sure to change the setting to “full width page” in the right panel.
- Once finished, click “Publish”
- Go to Settings > Reading from your WordPress dashboard.
- Change the setting from “Your latest posts” to “A static page”
- Select your new Homepage from the dropdown.
The image below shows the homepage and posts page created by a theme. Choose the page title you have created.
Static Homepage Suggestions
Do you want more from your homepage than what your theme or WordPress allows?
Many themes may come with a static homepage option. But, if it doesn’t, how do you create a homepage that you can customize without the help of a developer?
Thrive Themes provides a bunch of different services (like opt in forms through Thrive Leads), including a fully customizable page editor called Thrive Architect that integrates with WordPress so you can edit any page with a click of a button.
As mentioned before, if you are still debating on your blog theme, the X Theme has fantastic homepage designs that you can make your own in soooo many ways with a drag and drop editor that you can use on any page on your site (including landing pages). Divi theme is also a good one to try. Both are paid themes.
To find example homepages that look amazing, you can always search for images or reviews online of other homepages (like this).
TIP: Do you love a theme you found on another blog and want to know what it is? Follow these instructions to discover the theme the site is using!
Now that you have a theme, there are some details you need to work out within WordPress.
Here are the suggested settings changes (and places to enter your blog information):
General Blog Settings
Some of these settings will already be set for you when you linked your blog host to WordPress. But, it’s a good idea to double check that everything is filled out correctly.
Here are some areas in WordPress to update information about your blog (found in the dashboard of your blog):
- Settings > General: Ensure that your blog name, tagline and general information are filled out correctly.
- Settings > Reading: Make sure search engines can find your site! The box for “Search Engine Visibility” should NOT be checked. You WANT search engines to find your site!
Whether you are the only writer on your blog or not, make sure you go to Users > Your Profile from your WordPress dashboard to make sure all your information is displayed correctly.
- Do you want your name to appear in your blog? Change this in the “display name publicly as” section. If and where your name is shown is determined by your theme.
- Do you want to display a short biography? Again, this is mostly determined by your theme. Enter this under “Biographical info”.
- Do you want to upload an image of yourself? Add this under “Profile Picture”. Yup, this is also depending on your theme if it will display anywhere.
There are other fields you can fill out if you choose, as well and some preferences that affects your dashboard but will not change your site.
Make sure to click “Update Profile” at the bottom after any changes are made.
As a side note, make sure your password is “Strong” to keep your site as safe as possible from hackers!
Remove The Date From Your Posts
The thought behind removing the dates from your posts are to provide content (whether it be seasonal or evergreen) that never appears old. Plus, your URLs will look much cleaner.
If you don’t change the default setting, your blog URLs will appear like “myblog .com/2019/2/9/blog-post-title/”. By removing the date, your URL will look like “myblog .com/blog-post-title/”.
By removing the date from your posts, you are able to create content and have readers be unaware of when the article was written.
There are some people who prefer to display the date, especially if their content relies on the dates for accuracy (like a product review site – the date helps readers know how relevant the information is). For the vast majority of us, it’s best just to remove it.
Note that if you have already launched and wish to change the format of your URLS, you will need to redirect the old URLs to the new format BEFORE you change this setting. See the plugins section to follow for ways to do this.
Settings > Permalinks: Select “Post name” so the date does not display.
Plus, “Plain” is usually selected by default and will make your URLs not so pretty.
If you do not create redirections, any links you have on the internet will receive a 404 error when readers navigate to your site (meaning your page or post will not display, only an error message).
Keep in mind that although your reader can’t see the date, Google can. According to some, Google is more interested in the last time the content was updated rather than the original publish date. (source)
You can find this exact information in a separate post if you want to save or pin just this section. Click Here.
Plugins add more functionality to your blog, like keeping your posts safe (backing up your data), add social sharing buttons, help you track your analytics and more.
A note of warning! Using too many plugins can slow down your site! So, pick and choose the best plugins that work for YOU.
Let’s look at some recommended plugins and functionality:
How To Add Plugins
All you need to do is go to your dashboard and click on Plugins > Add New.
You can either search the WordPress database and download them from there (the easiest) or you can go to the plugin site and download the .zip file.
To upload a new plugin you have downloaded on your computer, just go to Plugins > Add New and click on “Upload Plugin” at the top.
If you experience any issues with the upload (WordPress may send an error if the .zip file is missing something), contact the plugin creator.
Make sure that once you have downloaded or uploaded a plugin you activate it from the screen that appears after download or by going to Plugins > Installed Plugins (there will be a small button on the plugin listing to click).
Backing Up Your Site
Backing up your site should be a high priority! Essentially, setting up backups will save that current state of your blog. In essence, you are taking a snapshot of your blog in case of any issues (and you need to revert to an older version).
Once your site is backed up, you can “restore” an old backup if something goes wrong on your site.
There have been many bloggers who either switch themes or updated a plugin and it causes their site to crash (errors cause the site to not load). And, if your site is ever hacked or attacked, you will have a saved version from before the activity started.
Check your host plan to see if free backups are included (contact your host with any questions). If your host does offer backups, check to see how much storage space they offer – some bloggers (in this mama’s Facebook groups) have reported their storage filled up within a month.
If your plan does not include free backups, here are a couple plugins you can use:
- Updraft Plus (free): you can set up automatic backups and push a button to manually back up your site (which is great if you want to update your theme). They do offer a Premium (paid) version that provides backups hosted on their own servers. But, you can set where your backups are stored, like on Dropbox or Box.com.
- ManageWP (paid): while this mama has not used this service, there is a small monthly fee to gain access to all the functionality the plugin offers. The services range from updating info on multiple sites from one place to backing up your site. This plugin is posted from a recommendation from a couple successful bloggers in this mama’s Facebook groups.
Although you can (and should) resize all your images for your blog, there are ways to further save on file size, which leads to faster site loading times.
It cannot be stressed enough how much page loading time can affect your traffic – if your site takes too long to load, your readers will likely leave and find another source (which also affects SEO).
- ShortPixel offers a free plan of up to 100 images a month. There is no max file size restriction, so all images will be compressed regardless of the uploaded image size.
- Smush is a completely free plugin that optimizes your images but does have a max file size restriction. So, if you don’t resize your image for your site first, the image may not be compressed and will remain huge (slowing down your page load).
It’s highly recommended to provide easy ways for your readers to share your content and connect with you on social media (even if you are not active on all the platforms).
Here are some plugins to help your readers share your content AND some to help you control what your readers will share:
- Social Pug (free and paid): the share buttons are customizable and the free version comes with 5 share buttons included. It can also display share counts (though Twitter and now Facebook are notoriously hard to track).
- MiloTree (paid): Provides a pop up asking users to follow you on social media (as opposed to others that ask you to share content). The pop ups include an actual view of your social accounts like Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
- Pinterest Pin It Button (free): allows your readers to hover their mouse over an image (or tap) to pin it to Pinterest. Note that some other plugins (like Social Pug listed above) comes with this functionality.
- WP Tasty Pins (paid): While this is NOT a plugin for your readers to use directly, this plugin allows you to write pin descriptions without using the alt section (which you should avoid), disable images from being pinned and hide multiple Pinterest pins on your post (to save on visual real estate and provide a better user experience when you have multiple pin images for a single post).
Every plugin offers a different look and feel. Check them out and see what fits your theme and blog the best.
Broken Link Checker
Using a plugin to check for broken links on your blog is amazing. The plugin will check your site every day for broken links in your posts, pages and anywhere else links are found.
Basically, if the plugin finds a link that receives an error code (404) when followed, you will receive a notification to fix it (and where).
- Broken Link Checker (free)
Do you plan on accepting comments on your blog? Here are a couple plugins that can help filter out spam comments:
- Anti-spam: (free): blocks spam comments.
- Akismet Anti-spam (free): blocks spam comments and potentially spam emails through your contact form(s).
No matter how great your password may be, your site can still be hacked, infected with viruses and spammed by bots (automated computers trying to gain access to your site or spam your comments, etc).
- Wordfence (free and paid): This plugin helps protect your site by blocking malicious activity on your site. The free version has prevented tons of potential intruders (in all their forms) on this mama’s sites. There is added functionality like blocking specific IPs (computer addresses) for the paid version. You will ALSO receive emails when the plugin detects issues like a plugin or your theme needs updating (which is SUPER helpful!).
Basically your site (and computer) will cache (store) information to improve performance by making your site run faster.
Using a plugin to help your readers have a better experience on your site is up to you.
A great benefit of having this plugin is the ability to clear your cache with an easy click of a button after you have installed a new plugin or made a major change to your site. Sometimes, a change may not appear on your computer since it has cached the previous state of your blog.
Note: to meet GDPR requirements (info on this later), this is a plugin you will need to list in your legal pages.
- W3 Total Cache (free): Boasts a 10x site performance for your readers. See the link for more technical details.
Here is where there is a HUGE debate on the best SEO plugin to use.
SEO = Search Engine Optimization
Basically, SEO is a way to help you rank (meaning the spot your article will appear in search results based on search terms called keywords or long tail keywords) better in Google search results for more traffic/readers.
The goal for every blogger is to rank in the top 10 on Google, which means your article appears on the first page of search results.
Both of the plugins below offer the ability to update your meta description (what appears in Google search results – this field will be below your post when you are editing it) and help you track how well your post or page is doing when it comes to SEO.
Each has it’s own challenges and parameters it used to test how well you are doing on SEO.
Learn what you can about SEO outside of a plugin!
Lots of bloggers get caught up in making sure they meet the recommendations of the plugin and their posts can 1) take forever to write and edit, and 2) may not be that easy to read.
The biggest and most important pieces you should worry about is picking great keywords, providing relevant content and ensuring you are writing the BEST piece of content on the subject possible.
Nobody knows everything about the Google algorithm (the metrics by which they rate and prioritize content in search results) except a few of those that work at Google.
This mama has taken many courses, a few specifically around SEO. Each one of them had contradicting information about best practices.
But, here are the two plugins that are recommended to check out to help you on your way to determining what works:
Want to learn more about SEO? Click here!
While you can just go straight to Google for your analytics, there are a few plugins you can use to get your data right from your blog (and, hopefully, in a more user friendly format):
- Google Analytics Dashboard for WP (GADWP) (free)
- Analytify (free and paid)
- MonsterInsights (free and paid)
If you want to provide a way for your readers to fill out a form to contact you, there are lots of plugins out there to choose from for free (or paid).
While it isn’t user friendly for us bloggers, here is a commonly used form:
Sometimes you decide to delete a page or change your settings to remove the date from all your existing posts. This plugin allows you to provide the old URL and redirect readers to a different URL.
- Redirection (free): Not only does this plugin allow you to redirect URLs, but it will also show you any URLs that are receiving errors (the dreaded 404 error when your page doesn’t exist or other error codes). However, unlike the Broken Links plugin mentioned earlier, this plugin requires you to look in the plugin to view the results rather than receive an email when a link is broken.
Most of us are not web developers or coders. Make your life easier with a plugin that allows you to enter code in one place.
For example, you will need to enter code “before the <header>” of your blog for Google Analytics and ad services.
A plugin like the one below will also help with things like ads on your site:
It’s funny that the plugin is perfectly descriptive of it’s usage:
- Pretty Links (free): Create URL links to your site that are short and easy. This is especially great if you choose to use Twitter and have limited characters to use! You can use this plugin to track the actual link usage as well. There is a paid version, but this mama has never needed the added functionality. You can also use this plugin to tidy up your affiliate links (though make sure “masking” affiliate URLs isn’t against the rules of the program, like Amazon’s affiliate program) AND you can add “no follow” to your link without needing to add code every time!
You can also use sites like tinyurl.com or bit.ly to shorten your links. But, it is great to have the functionality right in your blog (and easily accessible right on your Dashboard!).
An example of this is an Amazon affiliate ad you want to use multiple times. All you do is add the code in one place, give it a name and then add the shortcode (will look like “[shortcode name]”) in your post or page.
This plugin has saved this mama sooooooo much time and effort!
The greatest benefit of using this plugin is the ability to change an ad or other code from a single place and have it update throughout your site: for example, change the shortcode you have named “Seasonal Amazon Banner” (would appear as [Seasonal Amazon Banner] in your post or page) to the different offerings at the time like a banner for Christmas highlights or a banner for Mother’s Day.
You can even designate if the code should appear and display on desktop, mobile or both!
- Shortcoder (free)
Note that when you are in your editing mode you will only see the shortcode. You will be able to see the executed code by previewing or publishing your post or page.
If you have purchased an SSL (meaning a secure connection that is encrypted – https: rather than http:) and it is installed on your site:
- Really Simple SSL (free): forces your site to use SSL.
Google. The number one search engine everyone is trying to master. Google has complex algorithms that every blogger tries to understand but can’t (only those at Google REALLY know what they’re looking for).
While we aren’t going to dive into SEO (that will be here), below are some things to set up for your blog:
If you want to succeed at blogging, you need to be able to tell what is working and what is not.
To do that, you need to see the numbers. So, here’s how you connect your site to Google (your site does not need to be live/launched, though you will understandably not see metrics until your site is live):
Note: In a lot of forums and blog conversations, you may see Google Analytics listed merely as “GA”.
- Go to analytics.google.com
- Sign in with a Google account (or create one)
- Follow the prompts and enter your website name and URL (note that you will need to specify http or https depending on whether or not you purchased an SSL)
- You can now either link your account to a plugin on your blog (like MonsterInsights) or authenticate your account by adding code to the <head> (see the Plugins section for a helpful plugin to use for this). Most bloggers like to be able to see their numbers through their blog AND through the Google Analytics app or online, so authenticate if you want more visibility.
- If you choose to authenticate your account, go to the Admin section of Google Analytics (should be found on the left bottom of the screen with a gear).
- Click on Tracking Info > Tracking Code
- You will now see a bunch of HTML code to place above the <head> section of your site.
- Copy and paste the code above the <head> section of your site (in the plugin if you choose)
- Once your site is live, want to test if it worked? Click the button near the top that says “send test traffic”
Google also has instructions on connecting your blog to analytics here.
You’re all set!
You won’t be able to do much testing to ensure it’s all hooked up correctly until after you launch.
Check out the plugins you can use to display your analytics right in WordPress here.
Google Search Console
The next thing you want to do is claim your sight through Google Search Console. You are merely validating that the site is one that you own:
- Go to Google Search Console
- Login with a Google account (the same one you used for Google Analytics)
- Follow the prompts to fill out any required information about your blog.
- Go to Settings > Ownership verification
- You will presented with a number of ways to claim your account (the easiest are adding more code to the <head>, use your Google Analytics account or verify through your blog host)
- If one method doesn’t work, try another. You are all done when you see you are confirmed.
You can also submit an index of your site to Search Console to help Google see your site structure. But, according to some sources, indexing has not been shown to help your blog much. Google will crawl your site (meaning basically scan and read every page and piece of content) and have the best information that way. (source)
There are a lot of great ways to use Search Console to make sure your site is healthy and Google isn’t seeing any errors. See this article from Yoast for some great information.
The confusing (and at times scary) part of creating a blog is trying to understand the legal side of blogging.
- What kind of legal documents do you need?
- Should you form a company (LLC, etc)?
- What in the world is GDPR?
While these are all things you will need at least a basic understanding of, there are sources to help you.
- Disclaimer (or Disclosure)
Why Are Legal Pages So Important?
In the event of a conflict on your site, your legal pages could really save you! From storing cookies on your site and readers opting into your email list, there are a ton of ways you want to make sure you are covered in the case of a lawsuit.
Can You Just Copy Legal Pages From Another Site?
While some bloggers have done this, it is not recommended. Not only could there be mis-information in the page (or missing language) but it’s plagiarism. This mama purchased her legal language and it is not allowed to be shared.
Where Do You Put Your Legal Pages?
Where Can You Purchase Legal Pages?
You can contact a local law firm to get some referrals or you can check out the sources listed on the Resources page under Legal Pages.
Basically, GDPR is a regulation put in place for online business who have visitors from the EU (European Union). A visitor must give explicit consent to store their information in any form (most notably in cookies).
There is a lot of confusing information out there. But here is an article that may help you understand from a great legal blogger.
See the Resources page for some (paid) help in implementing GDPR requirements under Tech Support.
There are thousands of courses out there for you to learn from. The hardest part is figuring out what is worth spending your hard earned money on!
See the Resources page under Courses for suggested, helpful classes (some FREE) this mama has actually taken or has been highly recommended by other bloggers.
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