Getting a DIY WordPress website up and running can seem pretty darn simple at the start: buy a domain name, get some hosting, pick a theme, you get the idea! But there are definitely lots of little things that are worth remembering, too: like setting up Google Analytics, installing an SEO plugin, remembering to adjust your comment settings, etc. Take it from someone who has been building websites for awhile now: if I don’t go through my checklist each time, I am STILL guaranteed to miss at least one step in my usual process!

Today, I’m going to take you through my personal checklist that I run through every time I’m setting up a new WordPress website—this has saved me time and time again. Hopefully this will help to make sure your next WordPress project is smooth sailing!

Basic Setup

  • Choose a reliable hosting provider: I personally like to recommend managed WordPress hosting platforms like DreamPress* or WP Engine*.
  • Purchase a domain name: I would get your hosting first, as lots of web hosts kick in a free domain name for a year when you commit to a hosting package.
  • Make sure an SSL is installed: if you’ve chosen DreamPress or WP Engine, there’s definitely an SSL included in the price of your hosting. Other hosts may charge you separately for this, but I HIGHLY recommend installing one, even if it costs you a bit extra!
  • Install WordPress (if necessary): if you’ve went with a Managed WordPress hosting platform, this should be all set for you already. But if you’ve opted for VPS or shared hosting, you may have to manually install WordPress or run an installer.

Page & Menu Setup

  • Create the necessary content pages for your site, including a page for your blog: at this point, I typically just set up the pages themselves and then drop the content in later.
  • Create your navigation menu(s): I do this at this stage in the game so that I can easily access the various pages when I want to edit them or add in content.

Blog Setup

  • Set up at least one initial test blog post: that way you can test how comments appear, how social sharing buttons look, you can play around with font sizes, etc.
  • Determine the best size for your post’s featured images: (this varies a bit from theme-to-theme) and stick with these sizes going forward to help maintain a consistent look.

Sidebar/Widget Setup

  • Set up any necessary sidebar areas: in addition to the default blog sidebar.
  • Add in any widgets you’d like to use: recent posts, secondary navigation menus, etc.

Basic Configurations

  • Make sure to change your site’s tagline: you’ll likely want it to be something other than the default “Just another WordPress website” 😉
  • Customize your timezone: totally optional, but I like to make sure this is accurate.
  • Adjust reading settings if necessary: this is where you can set which page shows your homepage and which shows your blog posts.
  • Make any necessary edits to your discussion settings: if you want to allow or disable comments, if comment authors should be approved first, etc.

Theme Setup & Styling

  • Install a premium or free theme of your choice: here’s an article I wrote awhile back with some of my favorite free and premium theme options.
  • Set up a child theme: I HIGHLY recommend this step—if you’re not familiar with the process of setting up a child theme, click here for a great resource on this.
  • Customize your look and feel using the built-in theme settings (or with some custom CSS if you’re feeling savvy!): especially when working with a premium theme, you’ll likely have endless options for making the site look and feel your own.
  • Add in your Google Analytics tracking code to the theme options (if available): otherwise, you can implement using a Google Analytics plugin (I’ve seen lots of folks using Google Analytics for WordPress) or if you’re a little more tech-savvy, you can embed the script in your child theme’s header.

Plugins to Install

  • Install Yoast SEO plugin: this is what I personally use for SEO optimization on my sites.
  • Install Jetpack: I typically install this on the sites I manage because I like some of the added features Jetpack has, including social sharing functionality, comments, site stats, and more.

SEO Optimization

  • Use SEO plugin: add in SEO-friendly titles to your content, ensure URLs are optimized, add in custom meta descriptions where necessary, and keyword test pages and posts.
  • Optimize imagery and links: add in image and link alt tags.

Things to Test

  • Test that your contact form submits correctly: I can’t tell you how many times folks have launched sites and have later discovered that their contact form submissions were either being sent to spam—or not coming through at all!
  • Test that any email opt-ins submit correctly: if they are being routed to an email marketing platform, if the correct opt-in confirmations are in place, etc.
  • Test all of the links on your site at least once: social media links, links within your content, navigation links, etc.
  • Test your site on a variety of devices: even though you’ve used a responsive theme, it’s always a good idea to double check things on a variety of devices including a tablet, desktop using all browsers you have available, and on a phone or two!

Backup Plan

  • See if your host provides automated backups of your website: if so, great! You’ll want to ensure this is activated and your site is set to back up at least weekly. If backups aren’t included, I’d recommend using something like Jetpack’s VaultPress for super simple daily backups.

Advanced Add-Ons

  • Install a caching plugin (like W3 Total Cache): it will depend on your host whether or not you can use something like this, but it can be hugely helpful in optimizing your WordPress site.
  • Install a security plugin (like Wordfence): to help lock down and protect your WordPress site.

*Denotes an affiliate link, meaning I’ll make a small commission should you choose to sign up from my link (as always, you may of course choose to just Google the recommendation and buy via a non-affiliated link!).