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Monday, April 12, 2021

WordPress Settings: Things Sloth (and You) Should Update Right After Installing WordPress

Home » WordPress and Blogging » Sloth Makes a Blog » Blog Basics » You Have Installed WordPress What Now » WordPress Settings: Things Sloth (and You) Should Update Right After Installing WordPress

OK, Zip has installed WordPress for Slothverse.com and has installed his first plugin — a coming soon page, though he doesn’t seem to have it active right now! But the first thing he should do is change and configure some of his settings. As he blogs, he likely won’t need to alter settings in the WordPress settings menu that often — but the choices he makes here are crucial. Let’s take a tour of this vital part of the WordPress admin area and go over settings to change as soon as you install WordPress.

Can’t we just get on with the design and post writing?

The design, writing, and — hopefully eventually — the interaction and/or money are the fun parts of blogging. But, I’m sorry to say, first we have to do some un-fun stuff.

This takes us to the Settings menu in your WordPress panel. This is where Zip will set up important things like whether he wants to allow comments on his blog and what his URLs will look like — important things like that.

Before he gets to writing or designing, he should go and change these settings first.

Let’s Tour the WordPress Settings Area

On your dashboard, click Settings and it will open up a submenu with a bunch of categories:

Let’s go through each one and which settings you should change. Please note that some of these things you “should” change, others are a matter of preference. I have my own preferences, and I’ll tell you why I prefer them.

But First! One of the Most Important Things to Change in These Settings and Why

I think it’s so important that, even though it comes later, I’ll get to it first, in case Zip gets bored and resumes napping before I finish this tutorial.

Permalinks are the permanent links (get it?) to your posts. Permalink settings control how your URL for a post will appear. I think the choice here is clear: use the post name as the permalink.

Why would you ever give your posts a URL like http://www.slothverse.com/?p=123 which tells absolutely NOTHING about your post content? If you use the numeric or month and name formats, they at least include the name in the URL. But I think the most straightforward structure is to just use the post name. It can even affect search engine optimization.

See the little warning at the top of the page telling you that changing this setting can affect SEO? Imagine you write a bunch of posts, then decide you want to change your permalinks. Maybe Google has already indexed those posts, people are clicking through to them but, suddenly, all of the URLs have changed. It’s a mess and would require you to redirect all of those old URLs to the new ones. Pain in the butt!

Change this setting right now before you do anything else, then stick with your choice!

See “Optional?” If you do nothing here, your posts in a particular category will look like http://yourdomain.com/category/thingamabobs, likewise for tags: http://yourdomain.com/tag/whatchamacalits.

That’s fine, and I usually just leave those boxes blank. But if you want to call your category, “crapola,” just enter your word in the box and you’ll get a nice pretty URL like, “http://yourdomain.com/crapola/thingamabobs.

Now that we’ve done that, let’s backtrack and go to General WordPress settings.

General WordPress Settings

Under the “General” tab, you’ll find the place where you enter your basic site information:

  • Site Title:
    This one’s obvious; the name of your website.
  • Tagline:
    Where, or even if, it shows on your website depends on your theme and your design choices. You can always come back and change it later.
  • WordPress Address:
    The URL to your website, complete with http:// (non-secure) or https:// (secure). Right now, Zip doesn’t have an SSL certificate installed, so the URL starts with http://. We’ll be changing this again later when he installs an SSL certificate.
  • Site Address:
    I have always kept this the same as the WordPress address. But, I suppose that if you wanted the homepage of your website to reside at something like http://yourdomain.com/home/ you could set a different URL here.
  • Administration Email Address:
    The address that will receive emails for your blog. Make sure it’s a valid one, both so you receive email and in case you ever get locked out of your account and need to recover the password.

    Wait! Zip doesn’t have his own slothverse.com email address yet! So, he’s using mine for now. He does have a default email address in his cPanel but might want one with a different name. We’ll create a new email address in cPanel in an upcoming post.
  • Membership:
    Click “Anyone can register,” and ANYONE can register.

    By default, they will be a “subscriber.” For now, we’re leaving this unchecked.

    But I usually end up checking this box. Why would you want people to be able to register on your website? Many reasons: running a store, running a forum, some commenting functions — all of these (except for guest comments) require that you allow users to register.

    But if none of these describes what you want to do, leave it unchecked. If your website gains any traffic at all, you’ll end up with tons of spam user registrations. I’ve found some good ways to stop these, however, that we’ll get to in another future post.
  • New User Default Role:
    WordPress comes with a set of “user roles,” which include Administrator, Editor, Author, Contributor, and Subscriber. Each one of these roles comes with its own set of permissions as to whether the user can add features, publish posts, etc. You’ll find that some plugins add their own, additional, user roles and some membership plugins will allow you to add custom user roles.

    But if you allow users to register, unless you’ve customized the user roles, stick with Subscriber (unless you want everyone to be able to be an author and publish their posts on your blog without approval.) But you’re asking for it!
  • Site Language:
    Self-explanatory. You can only make one choice here. Later, if you need to translate your website, tools exist that can help you do so.
  • Timezone:
    You can choose either a UTC offset here or scroll through a long list of cities organized by continent. This setting will affect the “published” time on your website and anything else that might display your local time.
  • Date Format:
    This one’s a matter of preference, choose however the date is typically displayed in your area.
  • Time Format:
  • Again, there’s no one true right way here. If you’re in a country that typically uses 24h format, choose that, or 12h format if that’s what you use or prefer.
  • Week starts on:
    What do you want your WordPress website to count as the beginning of a new week? Usually, the choice here will be Sunday or Monday.

Press “Save,” and let’s move on to…

WordPress Writing Settings

Writing settings affect posting and post formats. There aren’t too many settings here:

  • Default Post Category:
    We haven’t set any post categories here, yet, so we’ll leave it at its default: Uncategorized. I rarely change this setting because I categorize each post I write individually.
  • Default Post Format:
    WordPress can include a bunch of different formats that affect how posts are displayed. In the default theme that your WordPress installation will have initially, this dropdown will show separate formats for images, quotes, audio, video, and more. I would just leave this at “standard,” unless every one of your posts has something besides writing as its prominent feature (i.e. if you’re a videographer and will feature a video in almost every post.) You can always change it for each post as you write.
  • Post via Email:
    If you want to write an email and have that published to your blog, you’d configure the settings here just as you would for any POP email account and specify a category. I never do this. I like to customize each post too much. But it might be useful if you were “liveblogging” and writing a journal on the fly.
  • Update Services:
    The machine that goes “ping.” This “pings” services and notifies them that you’ve published a new blog post. I thought it was a bit out of date, but here’s a post with a long list of current services to ping. Time to update my blogs.

Next up…

WordPress Reading Settings

Some very important settings exist on the Readings settings page: things that affect your homepage display and search engine visibility:

  • Your Homepage Displays:
    If you choose “Your latest posts,” your homepage will show just that: a long list of your latest posts. I prefer to create a static page. It requires more work, but then you can write something about the purpose of your website and add features here like email options as well as a more customized design.

    If you do choose “latest posts,” that’s all you have to do here. But if you choose to have a static homepage, you’ll need to use the dropdown to tell it which page you want to be that homepage. Right now, Zip hasn’t created a homepage yet, so we’re going to go with the latest posts, but we’ll be back to change this one after he creates a homepage.

    Below that is a dropdown where you can tell WordPress on which page to display a list of posts. I often just leave this blank and create a customized posts page called something like, “blog.”
  • Blog Pages Show at Most:
    If you chose to have a homepage or blog page with a post list, how many posts do you want to be displayed there? Don’t pick too many: a long list is cumbersome to scroll through and slower to load. If you pick 10 but have more posts than that, pagination links will display in case your site visitor wants to view additional posts.
  • Syndication Feeds Show the Most Recent:
    If you don’t know what an RSS feed is, it stands for Really Simple Syndication. Its a file that your WordPress website outputs that you can use to allow people to subscribe to your blog in various ways: I’ve used RSS feeds in social media tools, email lists, and the like. I’ve also subscribed to other blogs via their feeds.

    Years ago, Google had a thing called Google Reader, which was very popular and allowed people to subscribe to different blogs. When they yanked that toy away from us, discussions ensued, and have continued since, as to whether “RSS is dead.” RSS is very much alive. Tools like Feedly have picked up where Google Reader left off and I find it a great way to follow blog in a way that keeps me off my social media channels (which may not be a good thing for my blogs but is sometimes healthier for my mental status.) And, as I mentioned RSS can be a handy tool to promote your blog via email lists.

    So, here it’s asking how many posts you want to show in a feed. The default is 10. I never thought too much about this until I started using RSS to send a weekly digest of posts to email subscribers. Suddenly, it became very important.
  • For Each Post in a Feed Include:
    Your choices here are full text or summary. It really depends on your priorities. Do you mostly want people reading your content, or is website traffic and getting leads via a form your priority?

    If you choose full text and someone subscribes, they can read the entire text of your post off of your website. If you want them to make a visit to your website, you may want to choose “Summary.” Then, subscribers to your feed will see an excerpt of the post with a link to read it on your website. Then, there’s a chance they may never click that link and make the trip.
  • Search Engine Visibility:
    EXTREMELY IMPORTANT SETTING ALERT (and, yes, this merits all caps!) Do you want search engines to come around and crawl your site with their bots. Unless your WordPress site is only for internal use, or unless you’re just developing it and it’s not yet ready for the world, uncheck this box.

    If you check it and then complete and launch your blog, be sure to come back around and uncheck it. You want Google paying you a visit whenever you publish a post!

    Press, “Save,” and let’s go on to:

WordPress Discussion Settings

Here are the settings that affect commenting on your blog. You can choose not to allow comments on posts by unchecking the “Allow people to submit comments on new posts,” box and saving. Even if you choose to uncheck this, if you think you might ever allow comments on a post (you can make this choice individually with each post), go through and make sure you have the settings you want in this area.

Let’s go over the settings in this area:

  • Attempt to notify any blogs linked to from the post:
    Check this, and your site will attempt to “ping” a blog that you link to in your post to inform them that you’ve linked to them. I generally leave that checked.
  • Allow link notifications from other blogs (pingbacks and trackbacks) on new posts:
    This one allows you to be the one getting “pinged” when other blogs link to you. I generally leave this setting on, but in the past, I was annoyed when trackbacks appeared as new comments.
  • Allow people to submit comments on new posts:
    Do you want people to comment on posts? For most blogs, the answer will be “yes,” here. Allowing people to comment is helpful to increase interactivity on your site and can be useful for SEO. It can also take more time as you start getting spam comments and having to moderate comments by trolls. There are things you can do about the spam comments; the trolls are another story.
  • Comment author must fill out name and email:
    I check this one. I want comment authors to need to identify themselves in some way. Of course, guest commenters can always make up a name and fake email address.
  • Users must be registered and logged in to comment:
    Do you want to allow guest commenters? If I want to encourage comments, I don’t check this box. Allowing people to comment as a guest (not to have to make an account) makes it easier for people to leave comments on your blog.
  • Automatically close comments on posts older than x days:
    Whether you check this or not is entirely up to you. If you’re writing a newsy type site with topics that are not evergreen, you may want to close comments after a time. I almost always leave this one unchecked, though, to encourage ongoing comments.
  •  Show comments cookies opt-in checkbox, allowing comment author cookies to be set:
    This is a GDPR/CCPA thing. Privacy laws require notification if your website is going to install a cookie (a small piece of code that “helps” your browser “remember things” to oversimplify.) Checking this will show a checkbox informing the user that cookies will be set, and allows them to opt-out.

    I generally leave it on (although, typically, I don’t use standard WordPress comments, and I use a GDPR bar that allows for opt-in, depending on location.) You may not need to check this if your only serving a local area that does not have privacy laws. I live in such a state but have people who visit from regions that do.
  • Enable threaded/nested comments x levels deep:
    Check this, and your comment section will show comments and responses to them in a nested format. I always keep this checked, as I find it easier to navigate comments this way.
  • Break comments into pages…etc.
    I usually leave this unchecked, but might check it if I was getting posts with a LOT of comments. It takes time to load many comments onto a page, especially if each user has a Gravatar. If I had many comments, I’d consider only showing so many per page. However, again, I typically use a different comment system and have sometimes used a “load” button that doesn’t display ANY comments until someone hits the button.

    You can also choose here whether you want to display older or newer comments first. What’s better? I think this is just a matter of preference: Chronologically, with earlier comments first makes more sense to me, but it might be easier for returning visitors to check out new comments if you display them in reverse chronological order.
  • Email me whenever…
    Here, you can choose if you want to be notified when a new comment is posted, or a comment is held for moderation. If you’re going to allow comments, you need to be notified when they’re posted so you can respond to them.

Yes, sloth, you need to RESPOND TO COMMENTS!!! If you’re going to allow comments on your website, you need to respond to them when someone comments. I helped with the website for a small organization for a while, but was not the person who was supposed to respond to comments. But I ended up doing so because the leader, even after I showed him what to do, never followed up with new commenters.

If you’re going to let people comment, let them know that you’re listening and that you care about their input.

  • Before a comment appears:
    Here you can decide if you want to approve comments manually and if a comment author must have a previously approved comment.

    If you check the first one, you’ll need to manually approve every comment left on your website. If you only check the second box, the first time a visitor leaves a comment, it will be put in the moderation queue. If you then approve it and they return and leave another comment, it will automatically be approved.

    While it’s not foolproof, leaving the first box unchecked and checking the second is one way to filter out spam comments from automatically appearing on your website but still not have to approve each comment. Of course, in the scenario, someone could add a comment get it approved, and then come back and spam the hell out of you, but often they’re weeded out before it gets to that. You also should have some other spam protection in place, which we’ll go over in a later post.
  • Comment Moderation and Comment Blocklist:
    These options allow you to set rules to add certain comments to the moderation queue automatically or to block them altogether.

    You can set the number of hyperlinks that will trigger a comment being added to the moderation queue, and you can specify specific words, IP addresses, URLs, or email addresses to either moderate or ban.

    If you find that you have a specific email domain that’s spamming you or particular terms you see in spam comments, add them here. I’ve found that I’ve had to add the names of certain erectile dysfunction drugs and German words to do with the Bible to one of my sites. I was getting a lot of very lengthy spam comments in German about the Book of Revelations. Bäh!
  • Avatar Display:
    In WordPress, avatars are the small image, usually square or round, that represents a person. They may show up in comments, or by an author’s name on a post.

    However, you can choose not to display any avatars by unchecking the box here. Many people like them because they add color and style to your website, and it’s fun to have a little picture next to a person’s name in comments. However, they can have a somewhat negative impact on website speed, though you can do some things to optimize them and speed up their delivery.

    From whence do these avatars hail? From Gravatar. This stands for Globally Recognized Avatar and is an icon representing you that (as they put it) “follows you from site to site.” If a visitor leaves a comment, even if they’re not registered on your site, and they add an email address that’s linked with a Gravatar they’ve set up, their avatar will show next to their comments.
  • Maximum Rating:
    The rating here seems to be based on the familiar MPAA rating system. When you set up a Gravatar, it asks you to rate your avatar from G (all audiences) to X (mature audiences only.) Here in your WordPress discussion settings, you can choose which maximum avatar rating to allow on your website.
  • Default Avatar:
    Of course, many people haven’t set up a Gravatar. Here’s where you get to decide what shows up if they don’t have their own avatar.

    The first three: Mystery Person, Blank, and Gravatar Logo are static. The rest are automatically generated and change (or should change) with each visitor. Which one you choose depends on your preference and website design. Of these, I usually prefer the Monster ID.

    However, if you leave a comment on this blog and don’t have a Gravatar, you might notice you end up with a cute sloth as your avatar. Many plugin exist that can help change up your avatars and how they’re displayed. We’ll get to those eventually in a future post.

Media WordPress Settings

There aren’t too many choices here. In your Media Settings tab, you can choose the dimensions for images and how you want images organized into folders.

How WordPress Handles Images

First, a word about how WordPress handles images: I’m explaining this as I’ve encountered someone who wondered why their image optimization plugin seemed to be using more credits than they thought was warranted.

You upload one image. WordPress then creates multiple copies of that image in different sizes.

Slothverse.com, being a new, fresh installation of WordPress right now, has three different image sizes: small, medium, and large. I generally keep these sizes as-is and check the box to crop the thumbnail.

However, when Zip gets around to design, and we change the theme, that new theme may designate many other image sizes in addition to these. This allows the actual size of the image to be displayed in the browser (hopefully) instead of being scaled down, which takes longer. Some plugins that display images may also add new image sizes. When you upload an image, that image then gets resized into all of those different image sizes

Suddenly, that one image you’ve uploaded has turned into, perhaps, fifteen different images. We’ll get to the media library, eventually, but you’ll only see the one image there. However, in your file directory, you’ll find multiple images for each image you upload. This can take up a LOT of space.

  • Uploading Files
    I always check this one. It will do just what it says: organize the images into folders by month and year that they were added.

Let’s save…we already talked about Permalinks right at the beginning as it’s extremely important. Let’s go on to the last page in settings, which is…

Privacy WordPress Settings

Here’s where you can select the privacy policy page for your website. By default, WordPress comes with a privacy page already set up, so let’s just choose Privacy Policy here. It’s, of course, not customized, but we’ll be coming back to edit it later.

However, if you already have one, you can choose that, or you can click the Create New Page button, which will take you off of this page and into the page editor to create an entirely new page.

All Done!

Not nearly. We’re just done with basic settings, but these are things you should attend to right away when setting up your blog. Now go take a nap. Then get up and have a cup of coffee. We have more work to do on this website!

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Cheryl is a former Occupational Therapist and WordPress enthusiast who became a writer in some parallel universe and occasionally, but infrequently, publishes things in this one. She writes two blogs (or is it three) which she won't quit because she knows that blogs, in her case, are like a hydra and if she cuts one off two more will take its place. When she's not doing that, she enjoys hiking, cycling, kayaking (formerly fast, now ebike), messing around with Adobe illustrator, making assorted things, meditating (though she wouldn't call that "like," and reading. She normally doesn't speak about herself in the third person, but she sometimes uses "we" in the royal sense while writing this blog. She lives in Poulsbo, WA with her spouse, her youngest adult daughter, a very old mutt, and a Siamese cat.
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