Customizing WordPress and Settings

Building a Blog: Customizing WordPress and its Settings

Last Updated on by Michael Brockbank

When it comes to building your new blog, customizing WordPress is one of the more time-consuming projects. You want the site to look and behave as you want. Today, I’ll go over the Settings page and how to customize a theme.

Because everyone has a different idea of how to customize the blog, I’ll only go over the basics. The settings and adjustments you make will all depend on personal preference.

Customizing WordPress Settings

There are quite a few things you’ll want to adjust on the Settings page of WordPress. These govern everything from the website’s URL to the default sizes of the images you upload.

It’s best if you go through each section of the settings page and fine-tune how you want WordPress to behave.

WordPress Settings

General

In the General settings page, you will be able to adjust the site title, tagline, site URLs, primary admin email address, and more.

When it comes to the WordPress Address URL and Site Address URL, make sure they are the same and that they start with “https.”

This is because GreenGeeks provides a free SSL that makes your site secure. And if you don’t change the http to https, it can cause quite a few headaches later on.

Not to mention how Google and various web browsers will flag a website if it is not secure. This can greatly affect your search rankings as well as incoming traffic.

I’d also set the timezone, date, and time formats for yourself. It’ll make creating content and tracking certain things much easier in WordPress.

If you don’t use GreenGeeks, contact your web host and find out what you need to do to add an SSL.

Writing

In the Writing Settings page, you can control what category is defaulted when you write new blog posts. You can also choose different post formats if you’d like.

Personally, I just keep these two options as their default settings. But as I said earlier, it is completely up to you.

You can also set up posting content to your blog via an email. While this feature does have some advantages, I believe it’s more of a hassle than it’s worth.

A lot of hacks are made through XMLRPC, and if you don’t utilize posting through email very often, it’s safer to just disable RPC and be done with it.

An example of an XMLRPC exploit would be if suddenly, someone was posting content to your website without actually logging into it. If you notice posts appearing out of nowhere, it’s possible someone has hacked the XMLRPC function of your site.

Reading

When setting your Reading options, you can control what the homepage displays, how many posts WordPress will show, and how the feeds work.

Usually, the only customizing in WordPress I make for the Reading section is the Excerpt option. I tend to create static pages for the home page which can also be managed from the WordPress Customizer.

If you want to show your latest posts on the homepage, though, you can manage how many are shown and whether you want to display the entire post or just the excerpt.

You also have the option to “Discourage search engines from indexing this site.” But if you are trying to gain an audience from Google, do not check that box.

Discussion

The Discussion section is where you control how WordPress handles the comment section of your blog. This includes who can comment, moderation features, and when you’re notified when a new comment is made.

You also have access to show avatars in the comment section. This is the small picture of the person or a graphical representation of them that appears.

By default, WordPress utilizes Gravatar for the comment section. However, some plugins can override this image, such as some that will use the Facebook profile pic instead.

Some plugins will use some of the functions within the Discussion settings, so it’s worthwhile to set these even if you plan on using another commenting tool.

Media

When you access the Media settings, you’re customizing the images that WordPress will use on your blog. This includes thumbnail size, medium images, and large versions of the files you upload.

For example, many themes in WordPress will use the thumbnail version of a post’s featured image to show in the Related Posts sections or when displaying the Latest Posts Gutenberg block.

Usually, the default settings are fine for new blogs. In fact, I haven’t had to change these dimensions on any blog I’ve worked on in the past.

But if you need to resize the image dimensions, here is where you’d do it.

Permalinks

The Permalink structure is how your blog’s URLs will appear. For example, you could have a post that has a URL of: “https://mywebsite.com/this-is-a-post.”

In WordPress, the slug of your post becomes part of the Permalink. And the slug is usually derived from the title of your post.

By default, WordPress uses the “Month and name” setting. This will show the year and month the post was originally published. You can set the Permalink to any of the available options.

Many experts believe that your Permalink structure should only reflect the slug of your post.

This is because the year won’t be visible of when the post was originally published. The idea is that people may be turned off by an article written 10 years ago even if it was recently updated.

You can change the Permalinks at any time. However, it is better to do it sooner than later. This is because once the links are changed, it can break every link to your website, including what Google has indexed in search.

Luckily, you can use plugins like Redirection that can change all of your links without losing your position for SEO.

Setting Permalinks is an important aspect of customizing WordPress and should be done as soon as possible.

Privacy

Due to growing concerns online, WordPress now comes with a section for setting up and displaying the Privacy Policy for your website. In this settings page, you can assign any page you have created for the policy.

In a nutshell, the Privacy Policy states how you intend to use visitor data and whether you have any cookies that track information.

Even if you live in the United States, you’ll still need a privacy policy live on your site for national and international laws. This is because your site is accessible to virtually anyone who has an Internet connection regardless of where they live.

For more detailed information, click the “privacy policy guide” link that is available on the Privacy Policy settings page.

LiteSpeed Cache (Optional)

When you sign up with GreenGeeks Web Hosting, WordPress comes pre-installed with LiteSpeed Cache. This plugin caches your pages to make your site load faster overall.

The reason why I labeled this as “optional” is that not all web hosting providers offer this feature. Depending on your web host, you might not have access to LiteSpeed Cache right off the bat.

If you do use GreenGeeks, the LiteSpeed Cache settings page lets you manage how the plugin operates on your website. If you’re not sure which settings to use, keep them as their defaults for now.

I suggest reading up on how LiteSpeed Cache works and then making adjustments to fit your blog.

Various Plugins Will Add More Settings

As you install more plugins, you’ll begin to see the list of settings available grow. This helps with customizing the plugins for WordPress to suit your needs.

However, not all plugins will provide a settings page. Some will just start working without you having to make adjustments.

Others will have a section on the left side of the WordPress admin panel for their own options.

For example, Yoast SEO, Wordfence, and Broken Link Checker don’t have a page under “Settings.” Instead, they will have a page connected directly to the left admin panel of WordPress. Here, you’ll be able to customize the settings as you wish.

Any time you install a plugin, it’s always a good idea to go through the settings to customize the function for your specific blog. Nonetheless, the default settings for most can easily get you by if you’re not sure what settings to change.

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Using WordPress Themes for Customizing the Blog

The settings pages aren’t the only methods for customizing WordPress. In fact, one of the biggest elements for creating the site of your dreams is by using themes.

A theme in WordPress controls the appearance and layout of your website. This includes everything from background colors to the fonts that are used to show your content.

Add/Remove Themes

The Themes page is directly under the “Appearance” function from your left admin panel in WordPress. It is here where you can add or remove themes in WordPress that you’ve installed.

At the time of this post, there are over 10,000 free themes you can choose from. And most of them can be customized to varying degrees.

Unfortunately, some of the themes that have paid versions lock some features behind a license. Still, a lot of the better themes will give you access to a slew of customization elements to fit your blog.

With the new blog I’m building this time around, I’m using the ColorMag theme from Themegrill. It has a lot of areas for various types of content, flexibility in color choices, and a ton of extras in the free version.

Using the WordPress Customizer

Once you’ve chosen a theme, you’ll use the WordPress Customizer to make your changes. This is a built-in editing system that provides a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) window.

Theme Options

That way, you can see what the changes will look like if you were to publish them.

It’s important to note that every theme is different. Some developers will include some elements of editing and others may not.

For instance, the ColorMag theme has a long list of widget areas to use. However, some minimalist themes won’t even have a right sidebar.

Regardless of the theme you choose, it should still have options for customizing your WordPress blog.

Adding Widgets

Widgets are sections of a website where you can add extra elements that are outside of the post content. For instance, you can put an event calendar as a sidebar widget to show visitors.

The widget areas of your blog are dependent on the theme you install. Some will have many widget sections while others will not.

A good example is this website. On the right sidebar, I have an Amazon widget that takes people to buy my book. You can also see an AdSense advertising widget or two.

WordPress, as well as many plugins, will have blocks specifically tailored for the widgets area. This means you can’t use those blocks within the post content without a tool like SiteOrigin Page Builder.

Setting Up Menus

Menus can include everything from the main top navigation bar to having a social icon menu at the top of your site. The menu placement is another aspect of customizing WordPress that is governed by the theme.

Some will use the most prominent pages as part of the menu in WordPress. This gets links to the content in front of more visitors because the nav bar is on every page.

There are all kinds of things you can do to customize the menu, and it really depends on how you want it to function and what you want to show.

Some themes will add the search bar to the menu, site logo, home page icon, and much more. If you’re curious as to what you can add, there are several plugins available for “menu” when looking in the WordPress plugin repository.

8 Tips When Customizing WordPress

Making adjustments to WordPress isn’t all that difficult. It’s just a bit time-consuming, especially if you have a precise appearance for which you’re aiming.

When you customize your blog:

  • Don’t go wild with installing plugins. Each function you install will begin to impact the blog’s performance.
  • Remember, nothing is ever set in stone. You can always go back later and make changes if you need.
  • Make sure your site looks good on mobile devices. Roughly half of your visitors will do so from a smartphone.
  • Remove and delete any plugins and themes you are not using. It’ll save on space while preventing exploits.
  • Pay attention to analytical data and heat maps. The information will help you identify what changes are working.
  • Periodically survey or reach out to your users for ideas. They can help fine-tune your blog’s design.
  • There’s nothing wrong with a clean, minimalist approach. Sometimes less is more.
  • It doesn’t hurt to learn a bit of CSS and HTML. Coding can help you customize the site even further.

Most of all, have fun with your blog. Customizing the website and building something you’re proud to show off can be quite enjoyable.

How Are You Customizing Your WordPress Blog?

There are a lot of gears turning under the hood of WordPress. And you can move each of them to a specific position to deliver an amazing blog for visitors to read.

It all comes down to how you want the blog to appear and what your audience loves about its design. Spend the time creating something that appeals to you as well as your target audience.

How are you going to customize your blog?

Michael Brockbank
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