WordPress Website Checklist

This article lists the steps I take when setting up a WordPress website. I’ve included links to some of the plugins I use, and to helpful articles with more comprehensive instructions.

I’m not claiming this is all necessarily best practice, but it’s what I do.

I have also written an article titled ‘Building My “Standard” Demo Site‘ to explain how I’ve built a website using the GeneratePress theme.

Two ways to use WordPress

  1. Most of the time, I use self-hosted WordPress.
  2. However, I do think that WordPress.com has its place and would choose it in some circumstances. See my blog article “Self-hosted WordPress Versus WordPress.com“. Unless you opt for the Business Plan, WordPress.com does not allow you to install your own themes and plugins, but it has some advantages.

In certain situations, it might be worth considering a static hosting solution, such as HardyPress. My blog post “Building Static Websites Using WordPress” explores this approach.

Useful Advice

If you are new to WordPress then you may find this free online guide helpful: Easy WP Guide.

Obtain Hosting and a Domain Name

Self-hosted WordPress needs a host in order to work. WordPress.com includes hosting.

While I’m not able to recommend the “best” host to you, I can tell you that my own sites are mainly with UK host Guru, with one at Eco Web Hosting. Other UK based hosts I’ve seen recommended include Brixly, 34SP, 20i, Krystal, Kualo and Clook, but I have no personal experience of their services. If you would feel more confident going with managed WordPress hosting, and can afford the considerable extra cost, then you might want to look at Kinsta as I’ve heard that they are good.

Many hosts will include a free domain name. Taking advantage of this can be easiest way to connect your domain name to your site, but it’s generally considered to be a good idea to register your domain with a different company. That way if you decide to switch hosts, you can just point your domain to the new host and carry on.  I’ve registered domains with 123-reg and I’ve often seen Namecheap mentioned.

Connect the Domain Name to the Host

If you haven’t registered your domain name with your host then you’ll need to point the DNS records of the domain to your host’s nameservers. Search your host’s documentation to find out what their nameservers are called.

Hopefully, your domain registrar will give you instructions telling you where to input these names. Here’s a link to 123-reg’s instructions but these may be different for other companies: How do I change the nameservers for my domain name?

It may take a couple of days for the change to take effect.

Install WordPress

Many hosts will have an easy way to install WordPress from their control panel. (Note that you would not need to take this step with WordPress.com.)

WPBeginner have a tutorial covering the most common auto-installer tools: How to Install WordPress.

It’s very important that you don’t choose “Admin”, or another easy to guess name, as your username.

Note that if your host provides an SSL certificate and you are given the option of choosing https:// rather than http:// then you should do so.

It may be that your host will have automatically installed and configured an SSL certificate, but if not then you should check their support/help documentation for any special instructions about how to ensure that the SSL certificate has been applied to your site.

It’s worth checking that the permalink setting will give your pages and posts the structure that you require.

I want a nice, simple, informative url for my WordPress posts…

so I usually choose the “Post name” option as the permalink setting.

permalink setting is chosen to be post name

Install and Activate a Security Plugin

There are several possible plugins you could choose, and I use WordFence . (This step applies to self-hosted WordPress, only).

Under the settings for this plugin, I lock users out after a small number of login failures and forgot password attempts, or if they use an invalid user name of “admin” or my website name.

Install a Coming Soon Plugin

If I don’t want people to be able to see my website while it’s being developed, then I use Coming Soon Page & Maintenance Mode by SeedProd.

Change Settings

Under Users: Your Profile you can choose the name that is displayed as the author of posts. So, my username should be something people won’t guess, but I can have a nickname of “Jane” and can specify that this is the name that is displayed publicly.

I usually switch the site language from English (United States) to English (UK) in the General Settings area.

You can also change the date and time format, the site name and description (Tagline) and ensure that you have the correct email address.

This is a good time to check the image sizes in Media Settings, before uploading any images.

Install and Activate a Theme

A new WordPress installation will come with the default theme already installed and activated. You can choose to use this theme or can install and activate an alternative.

There are hundreds of different themes to choose from if you are using self-hosted WordPress. Many of these are free and can be installed directly from the WordPress dashboard. WordPress makes it easy to change themes and you can try out lots of them to find one you like.

Having said that, I pretty much always use my favourite theme, GeneratePress.

The theme itself is free but, to make it easier to customise, and to take advantage of some extra features, you can install the GP Premium plugin.

Please note that this is an affiliate link, as described on my Privacy and Cookie Notice page. I am happy to recommend GeneratePress and also GenerateBlocks. The theme and plugins together provide useful features for customising numerous aspects of a website. They are designed to be lightweight and the level of support is amazing. I trust the developer, Tom Usborne, and his team to provide a solid, dependable base for building my websites. GeneratePress 3.1 introduced global colours and dynamic typography which makes the free GP theme more easily customisable than it was previously. This means there is less need than before to purchase GP Premium, although it still adds some powerful extra functionality.

When I’m using GeneratePress, I install and activate the GP Premium plugin and input my license key. I activate the add-ons I need e.g. Menu Plus, Blog, Spacing, Disable Elements, Copyright…   Then I can edit the copyright in the footer to be my own name/website name.

Add a Logo and Site Icon

Many themes will allow you to add a logo in the Customiser, in the “Site Identity” section. If I want to use SVG files for my logo (or elsewhere on my website) then I might install the SVG Support plugin.

Install an Anti-Spam Plugin

WordPress tends to come with the Akismet plugin ready installed but not activated. A subscription costs £4 a month for a commercial site. WordPress.com automatically uses Akismet.

I usually use a free alternative, Anti-spam, to prevent spam comments.

Install an SEO Plugin

A lot of people swear by the Yoast plugin for Search Engine Optimisation purposes. I have no reason to suggest you shouldn’t go for that, but the one I use is The SEO Framework.

They have an article called “Set up our plugin in 5 minutes” that you may find useful.

Install a Search Plugin

This is an optional step that may, or may not, be useful on your website. You might not realise that the default WordPress search does not search things such as category and tag names. You could consider installing a plugin such as WP Extended Search to get around this limitation.

Set Up Backups

One option is to use the free UpdraftPlus plugin and connect it up to a Dropbox account. See this article by WP Beginner for more information: How to Backup & Restore Your WordPress Site with UpdraftPlus.

Alternatively, you could choose the All-in-One Migration plugin – for instructions, see the user guide. The free version will allow you to backup your site manually and download the backup file, but you’d need to purchase an extension to schedule regular backups to be stored in, for example, Dropbox, Google Drive or Amazon S3. The developers used to have a link on their post “How to Increase Maximum Upload File Size in WordPress” allowing you to download a free plugin to increase the size of imports to 512MB. Disappointingly, the link now leads only to a paid plugin, although I assume their other suggestions will still work.

Due to the limitations of the free version of All-in-One Migration, I’ve been looking for another backup plugin to recommend. WPVivid and the free version of Backup Bliss both have good reviews and seemed to work well when I tried them.

If you are prepared to pay a monthly fee for extra peace of mind, then it’s worth considering BlogVault (as at the time of writing you can get 20% off BlogVault by purchasing via WPBuilds.)

This is another area that is not relevant to WordPress.com, with the exception of the Business Plan.

Create Pages

Unless the site is merely a blog, you’re likely to want several pages. See Adding a New Page from The Easy WP Guide and also my articles “Building My “Standard” Demo Site”, “A Simple Page Layout With GenerateBlocks” and “A Simple Page Layout with the WordPress Block Editor“.

Jamie Marsland has a great introduction on how to use the Block Editor on his YouTube channel – “WordPress Gutenberg – The Ultimate Guide“.

You might find it helpful to read through my article “Experimenting with WordPress Image Sizes” if your posts and pages contain photos or illustrations.

I recommend some clear and helpful guides by Gill Andrews: “Creating an Effective Homepage“, “How to Write a Killer About Us Page for Your Small Business Website” and “Website Content Checklist“.

You can specify which page will be the homepage in the customiser.

Set Up The Menu

By default, WordPress will add all your pages to the navigation menu, but it’s likely that you will want to decide which pages appear, and in what order.

WPBeginner have a tutorial explaining how to do this: How to Add Navigation Menu in WordPress.

Add Widgets

Most themes have several widget areas, where you can add the widgets that come as standard with WordPress, or are added by plugins.

See Widgets at the Easy WP Guide for an explanation.

Add a Contact Form

If you’d like a contact form then you can choose from various plugins, for example WP Fluent Forms.

To increase the chance of your form being delivered, and not being treated as spam, it’s a good idea to use something along the lines of noreply@yourdomainname.com in the “From Email” field – even if this email address does not exist.

If I am using Fluent Forms then I go to “Email notifications” in the form’s settings and click the blue button in the Actions column, then the “Advanced” option at the bottom of the page. Here I enter {inputs.email} in the “Reply to” box.

Sometimes you may find that messages sent via WordPress forms seem to go missing. If this happens to you then Kinsta have an article that may help.

You may decide that you would rather just provide an email address, rather than a form, to enable your visitors to contact you.

Customise the Website’s Appearance

Many themes will provide options in the customiser, allowing you to change various aspects of the site’s appearance. How much control you have does vary from theme to theme.

For some excellent design advice, see Jennifer Bourn’s slideshow on Website Design Principles. My “Colour Scheme Suggestions” page may also help.

To check that colour combinations have enough contrast, from an accessiblity standpoint, try the Learn UI Design Accessible Color Generator. If the colours you have chosen don’t meet the guidelines, then this online tool will suggest an alternative.

Check the Design on Different Sized Screens

Ideally, you’d view the website on various different devices but this isn’t always possible and there are plenty of tools you can use instead.

Here, Firefox’s Responsive Design Mode (which can be found under “More Tools”) showed me that I needed to adjust the font size and/or spacing for mobile devices, so as to fit the whole of the name “GeneratePress” on one line.

I’m not going to attempt to give you legal advice. You may decide that you should add pages for Terms and Conditions and a Privacy Policy.

You should also consider the ramifications of the GDPR. See “A Guide to GDPR” on the ico website.  Here’s a sensible article on the subject by the Design Space: How to Get Busted for Non Compliance with GDPR.

I have seen people recommend the Complianz plugin, so that may be worth a look.

More Tutorials

1 thought on “WordPress Website Checklist”

  1. Hey Jane

    I’ve just come across this: thanks for the mention of 20i. Just a clarification: 20i’s WordPress hosting is fully managed, and significantly cheaper than Kinsta with more features. Thanks!


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