This is the checklist I use when setting up new WordPress sites. It’s not practical to write everything I do in one post, so more information will appear in parts 2 and 3 which I plan to publish later.
I always start with a Genesis child theme from StudioPress. Next I add my favorite plugins and services to that site.
- Select A Genesis Child Theme
I use the Genesis Theme Chooser to decide on a Genesis Child theme to use on my next site.
Why Genesis Child Theme Selection Is Important
The reason I use the Genesis Framework (apart from its quality) is because it saves me doing any design work. The child themes provided by StudioPress work out of the box and look good immediately with zero effort on my part.
Make A Few Styling Changes
I don’t use the child themes exactly as they come – I do change them a little. But I don’t do anything complicated to achieve this.
For example the site you are reading now was created using the Aspire child theme. All I did to change that theme was to
- Add my logo
- Change the fonts used for headings and content
- Change the colours of sidebar, menu and content links
- Add some style to commonly used HTML elements
- Added some button style.
Those changes took me about 30 minutes. In other words they were trivial.
Don’t get me wrong, people who like doing loads of design work use Genesis too. But you can cut that design effort to a minimum by leveraging the talents of the people at StudioPress. It means you can launch sites quickly and start making some income.
In my experience, unless you’re a graphic artist whose work IS her Art, only your mother or your best friend will be interested in your theme. Everyone else – customers – want a site that is plain and easy to navigate. They’re not that interested in the flowery bits around the edges (the theme), they’re interested in what you have to say (your content).
Unless you make your living from building beautiful WordPress themes, I advise that you leverage the work done by StudioPress, do the smallest amount of design necessary, and move on. Put your effort into the site content.
Where To Look For Genesis Child Themes
When looking for a child theme, I never look beyond what is offered on the StudioPress website.
How To Decide On A Genesis Child Theme
What the child theme gives me out of the box is key. So for example,
- how many menus does it have?
- how many sidebars are available?
- is the logo in the middle or on the left?
- does it have a fixed header?
- is it mobile first or desktop first?
- does it have an edge-to-edge deign or is it a page design
- which one of the six types of Genesis child theme is it?
These are the important questions and the child theme chooser answers these questions.
Genesis does not not require you to drag and drop anything around the page. Everything you need for a new site, is already there, out of the box.
This saves you time so you can get on with the main task of making the content for the site. The content is what will provide you with another income stream.
- Choose A Host
This is an easy one. I use WP Engine for hosting.
Why Use WP Engine?
Hosting is not much fun when it goes wrong and it is also the least fun part of this whole process. I essentially outsource all of the tedium associated with hosting my sites to WP Engine.
If you want to know more about why I chose them, you can read more about WP Engine’s managed WordPress hosting offer.
If you’re already convinced, here is a link to get a discount off your first payment.
- Set Site To SSL
Google prefers sites that run under SSL so if you expect traffic from Google, you now need to make sure yours runs under HTTPS.
This is very cheap (read free) and easy to do if your host supports Let’s Encrypt.
On WP Engine there is a button for moving a site to SSL. It’s simple to do and if you get stuck, their support will help you do it.
- Get A Logo
Once my WordPress site is installed, I put Genesis and my Genesis child theme onto it and then I create a logo.
I normally buy one from Graphic River and adapt it.
Why Buy A Low Cost Logo?
It’s easier to buy a logo than to try and create your own. If you want to create your own, one way is to do it with just text using Photoshop.
What you should probably not do is spend lots of money on a bespoke logo design. You could do that later when your business is doing well.
A really good bespoke logo design won’t be low cost for good reason.
- Install Plugins
There is a set of plugins I install on all sites. These plugins form the basis of every site for me.
- Antispam Bee – to help fight spam IF you are allowing comments on your site. If you are not allowing comments, this plugin is not required.
- Genesis Dambuster – for creating hand crafted landing pages. I don’t use page builders or fancy tools for this. For example here is an article about a simple landing page I built myself.
- JetPack – for casual stats
- The SEO Framework – for SEO
- Widget Logic – for widget control
- HTML Editor Syntax Highlighter – If like me, you’re using the text editor, you’ll need this plugin.
- Genesis Club Pro. This is one of our plugins and I use it all the time. It contains many of the features I need to make building a Genesis site a bit easier.
- Genesis Extender. This allows you to make modifications to your site, like the ones I show you how to do over at Genesis Blueprints
- Gravity Forms for all forms on the site.
- ClickMastery – for affiliate link tracking. You get this WordPress plugin for free if you sign up to the ClickMagick link-tracker via that link.
- Optional – ActiveMember360. This is only required if you are running a membership site. It works beautifully, in conjunction with ActiveCampaign (see Must-Have Services below).
- Optional – WP Rocket – speeding up your site. (Note WP Rocket is the only performance plugin allowed on WP Engine hosting. )
Note that I am not using plugins like WP Super Cache or Revision Control.
If you host at WP Engine plugins like these are either not required or not applicable.
Caching plugins are not required as WP Engine does caching for you, properly, at the server.
Revision control does not apply as at WP Engine, post and page revisions are switched off by default because they bloat the database.
- Get Must-Have Services
These are software services that I use. Once you get them you can use them on all your sites.
My Essential Services
- Active Campaign – Email marketing and CRM. This is simply the best email marketing system I have used. (I have used Aweber, Constant Contact, MailChimp and Infusionsoft).
- OptinMonster for increased sign ups.
- ClickMagick for affiliate click tracking (essential if you plan to make money from affiliate marketing).
- And now for the crème de la crème, the best keyword research tool in the world. Period.
- Optional – Clicky for easy traffic monitoring.
- Rename Uncategorized
WordPress comes with one category called Uncategorized. Rename this to Blog. I say rename to Blog as most sites need a Blog category.
If for some reason, yours does not, rename to some other category. Whatever you do, do not leave it as Uncategorized.
- Set Up Other Categories
Your site should have three or four categories into which your article topics will naturally fall. These are the major ways in to your site and will form the backbone of your navigation menu.
The naming of these categories can indicate to the visitor very quickly, whether or not your site will address their questions. So think this through.
The categories should name the core pillars of information that define your business and provide the promise of the answers your target audience wants to hear.
- Set General Settings
On the Settings / General Page do the following :
- Ensure your WordPress Address (URL) and Site Address (URL) are the same.
- Set your timezone
- For the avoidance of all ambiguity, set your date format to Custom and give it the custom value of d-M-Y
- This may be a British thing, but all this am/pm stuff is for softies. I set my Time Format to Custom with a value of H:i:s
- Set Writing Settings
On the Settings / Writing Page do the following :
- Set the Default Post Category to Blog
- Set the Default Post Format to Standard
- Set the Update Services to http://rpc.pingomatic.com/
- Set Reading Settings
On the Settings / Reading Page do the following :
- Set Front Page Displays to Your latest posts
- Set Blog pages show at most to 6 (you can change this later)
- Set Syndication feeds show the most recent to 10
- Set For each article in a feed, show to Summary
- Uncheck Search Engine Visibility so that your site is indexed by Google
- Set Discussion Settings
If you are using WordPress comments, set the following settings. If you plan to not use WordPress comments, then it does not matter what is set here. You can ignore all these settings if you want no comments at all, or if you want to say use Facebook comments instead.
I personally just deleted all my comments from this site. I am looking into using Facebook comments at the moment.
On the Settings / Discussion Page do the following. If nothing is mentioned about a particular setting, leave at the default setting. These settings only apply if you have allowed comments on your site. See the instructions for Genesis Theme Settings below.
- Uncheck Attempt to notify any blogs linked to from the article
- Uncheck Allow link notifications from other blogs (ping backs and trackbacks) on new articles
- Check Allow people to post comments on new articles if you want people to be able to post comments
- Check Comment author must fill out name and email
- Uncheck Users must be registered and logged in to comment
- Set Automatically close comments on articles older than to 30 days (up to you, really)
- Set Enable threaded (nested) comments to 5
- Uncheck Break comments into pages …
- Check Anyone posts a comment
- Check A comment is held for moderation
- Check Comment must be manually approved
- Uncheck Comment author must have a previously approved comment
- Uncheck Show Avatars as fetching avatars slows down your site.
- Set Maximum Rating to G
- Set Media Settings
On the Settings / Media Page do the following :
- Leave all image sizes at their default setting
- Uncheck Organize my uploads into month-and year-based folders
- Set Permalinks Settings
On the Settings / Permalinks Page do the following :
- Select Custom Structure and paste /%post_id%/%postname%/ into the box.
- Leave Category Base and Tag Base blank – you can come back to this later if you want to.
- Your Profile
Go into Users / Your Profile and do the following
- Check Disable the visual editor when writing. This removes the pesky Visual Editor.
- Uncheck Show Toolbar when viewing site
- Take a long hard look at your username
- Give yourself a first name
- Give yourself a last name
- Give yourself a nickname that is nothing like your first name, last name or username
- In the Display name publicly as field, select a name from the list that appears that is nothing like your username. You should be able to find something. Please note this Display Name should be something you are happy to have seen on the site as the author of your posts. If this is not the case, go back and make changes to your first, last and/or nickname so that you can find a display name that works for you.
- This step is only applicable if you have installed the Genesis Club Pro plugin. If there is a box labelled Fix User Author URL at the very bottom of the page, and if you have definitely selected a Display Name that is unlike your username, but that you are happy to use as your author name, check this box. If this box does not appear, do not worry. It only shows up if there is a security issues with your display name.
- Hook Up The Blog Page
- Add a new Page called Blog
- Select the Blog Template
- Save the page without any content
- Genesis / Theme Settings
From the dashboard go to Genesis / Theme Settings
- Select whichever Select Default Layout you want on most of your posts and pages
- Checkbreadcrumbson single posts
- Check Enable Comments on posts (if you want WordPress comments on your site), leave all other options blank. If you want to use say Facebook comments, then uncheck this option.
- Check Entry Excerpts on Comment Archives
- Check Include the Featured Image and select a size.
- Set Entry pagination to Numeric
- On the Blog Page Template set Display category to Blog
- Add Basic Navigation
From the dashboard go to Appearance / Menus and create a menu called Primary Menu
- Check the display location box for Primary Menu
- Add a custom link called Home and give it a URL of /
- Add each category to the menu except for the Blog category
- Add the page called Blog to the menu
- Save the menu
- Set Up A New Gmail Account
It’s a good idea to create a separate gmail account for your site administration. A separate one from the one you might be using for your every day email that is. I have one for example that is just for all my WordPress.com and Google Analytics for my personal sites. I make a different one for each client.
- Create a brand new gmail account. So if your name is Michelle – you might set up firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com or something like that.
- Set Up An Account At WordPress.Com
This account allows you to use the JetPack plugin. JetPack is an unusual plugin in that it requires you to have a WordPress.Com account.
- Sign up to WordPress.com for an account (not a website – refuse this if it asks you if you want one). Make sure you use your new gmail address when prompted for an email address.
- Using the same username and login that you used to create the WordPress.Com account, login and initiate your account at Gravatar.com
- Add the email address that you will associate with yourself as an author, to the Gravatar account and supply a Gravatar image that represents your face or your online business persona. It’s always best to use your face. It means that you will be identified on other sites that allow Gravatar images and will help with your personal branding whenever you comment.
- Set Up JetPack
I am not a huge fan of the entirety of Jetpack. There are just a couple of things it does that I like. I turn most of it off. You of course can do what you like. But this is what I do. Go into JetPack settings, set each tab as follows:
- In another browser tab, log into your WordPress.Com account that you created earlier.
- While logged in to that, go back to the browser tab where you have your WordPress dashboard and connect the Jetpack plugin to WordPress.Com
- General Tab. Turn everything off.
- Engagement Tab. Turn everything off except Site Stats, Site Maps, and Enhanced Distribution.
- Security Tab. Turn everything off. I don’t need any of this as my hosting is good.
- Appearance Tab. Turn everything off. Again, I have better ways to edit CSS and control widget visibility.
- Writing Tab. Turn everything off. It would be nice to include the spell-checker but unfortunately it is incompatible with the HTML Syntax Highlighter plugin.
- General Tab. Turn everything off.
- Set Up Anti-Spam Bee
- Uncheck Trust approved commenters. Unless you have thousands of people commenting and therefore it might be too time-consuming to do, you really want to read and approve every comment
- Uncheck Trust commenters with a Gravatar as some spammers do have Gravatar images.
- Uncheck Consider the comment time because your site can be visited by multiple tie zones.
- Check BBCode is spam. A lot of spammers use BBCode
- Check Validate the IP address of commenters.
- Uncheck Use regular expressions until they supply documentation on how to do this. Right now this is missing.
- Check Look in the local spam database.
- Uncheck Use a public anti-spam database.
- Check Mark as spam, do not delete.
- Check Notification by email. If you get too much email – you can of course uncheck this later.
- Uncheck Not save the spam reason.
- Check Delete existing spam after x days and set the box to a value of 30. This will give you enough time to review any spam an decide if it is not spam.
- Uncheck Limit approval to. The reason is that you should not have pings or trackbacks anyway if you have followed my WordPress settings
- Uncheck Delete comments by spam reasons – because we are not deleting spam at all – not for 30 days anyway.
- Check Statistics on the dashboard because you may as well see how much spam you are getting.
- Check Spam counter on the dashboard so you see how much spam you have had overall.
- Uncheck Do not check trackbacks/ping backs because you should have turned these off anyway.
- Check Comment form used outside of posts if you have comments on pages, but uncheck if you don’t.
OK – so that’s it for now. Look out for more articles in this series such as how to start building traffic to your site and also how to set up the SEO Framework plugin.