You might have heard and read a lot of great feedback on WordPress as an easy-to-use, intuitive and flexible content management system. But if you’ve never run a self-hosted website or blog using this CMS before, starting out can be just as challenging as it is when using any new tool, and will require some time adjusting to the new interface and learning the ropes. Here are some tips to help make your first WordPress-powered site a success, be it a blog, a business site or even an e-commerce store.

1. Themes

WordPress themes

Themes are what makes your site unique and attractive and sometimes functional, hence you should put some thought into selecting the right one. There are thousands of free and premium WordPress themes available around the Web, which means you will have plenty of options to pick from, but which can also make your choice that much harder.

Start by browsing various WP theme marketplaces to get a good idea of what’s available to you. Some popular ones are WooThemes, Mojo Themes, StudioPress and ThemeForest, among others.

Decide how you want your site to look and feel, what color scheme you want to go with, and what layout will work best for what you are trying to achieve. Keep it simple – a lot of the most successful sites these days have nothing extra and let their content be the main focus, rather than creating multiple visual distractions. A lot of digital marketplaces will let you browse by categories, depending on whether you need a theme for a blog, business site, portfolio or online store.

Besides deciding on the look that you want, remember to also keep functionality in mind. Different themes come with different built-in features, and you don’t want to keep changing your theme every time you want to add new functions. Make a list of the features you need before you select a theme, especially if you are planning to pay for one. Buying a premium theme is often worth it, as this will ensure that you do not get the same generic look many sites already have. In most cases paid options also come with customer support, so you can easily get any questions answered as you are installing your theme or customizing it for your site.

2. Plugins

WordPress plugins

Every theme comes with a limited amount of features built into it. Any functionality you will want to add to your site on top of that comes in a form of software scripts, called plugins. Once again, thousands of plugins are available to WordPress users, but don’t get too excited and install an overwhelming amount of these from the very start. A large amount of plugins can make your site bulky and slow, and your interface more complicated than it should be. Look for options that combine several functions in them and have good user reviews, including positive feedback on compatibility with other plugins. Some popular places to find plugins are CodeCanyon, WPMU DEV (formerly WPPlugins) and Templatic, to name a few.

Some of the popular functions you can add with the help of plugins include SEO tools, social media sharing, extended comment functionality, and contact and signup forms. You can also add shopping carts, payment options or even entire e-commerce packages with the help of plugins, turning your WP site into a fully-fledged online storefront. Some plugins can be seen by the viewers of your website, while others add back-end functionality, which only you can see when editing your site.

3. Widgets

WordPress widgets

A WordPress widget is a plugin visible to your blog’s visitors, which can be dragged and dropped in different parts of the sidebar, footer or other area. Your WordPress site will, by default, install with a couple of widgets, such as categories and a search box. You can add or remove others at any time, including archives, signup buttons, recent comments, RSS feed and many others. It’s important to have your sidebar clean and well-organized, and only keep the widgets that are most essential. A clean sidebar is a great place for ad placement, visitor interaction and content management.

You can update your sidebar in your Appearance & Widgets section, prioritizing your widgets the way you like them, changing the length of lists, rearranging the links and utilizing various other options. Experiment with your widgets until you find what works best, and try stripping the sidebar to just the bare minimum, only keeping the functions you think your advertisers and visitors will benefit from the most.

4. Footer

WordPress footer

A footer is an area that is sometimes overlooked by beginner webmasters. A well-designed and organized footer can be a great addition to your site though, and definitely deserves your attention from the very start. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep the footer in mind when shopping for a theme for your site or blog. Many themes out there will come with a fully functional footer area, already packed with features.

The footer is where you can provide a site map, copyright information, privacy policy and terms of use. Authors of popular blogs sometimes choose to use this area for their picture and bio, as an alternative of placing these items in a sidebar. No matter what you use your footer for, remember that many visitors will scroll down to see it, and it’s always a good idea to utilize this area of your site rather than letting it go to waste.

5. Permalinks

WordPress permalinks

Permalinks act as road signs when it comes to search engines finding your blog posts or Web pages. No matter how well-written your content is, a bad page name can ruin your SEO efforts by lowering the post’s ranking or listing it in the wrong place altogether. WordPress users can take advantage of the built-in permalink field to edit their links and see how they look like before publishing the post. Make sure you utilize keywords in your links, but don’t overstuff them with keywords either. Look through your links a couple of times and make sure they flow well, read easily and are relevant to whatever topic you are trying to describe.

Follow these tips and you’ll be off to a great start with your first WordPress website or blog. Some other elements that deserve your attention include great landing pages, keywords and image title tags, as well as keeping an eye on your traffic via Google Analytics or a similar tracking tool.

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