I’ve been using WordPress since I started blogging in 2011. Oh, the mistakes I’ve made!

You’d think I have WordPress figured out by now, but it’s a constant learning process with new software, new companies, new whatever. If there is anything that teaches you step by step how to best put a blog together in WordPress, I haven’t found it. The closest may be WP Beginners, but even that is lacking.

In desperation—and hey $20 for a day of classes and lunch was too much to refuse—I once attended WordCamp Pittsburgh. While it was fun and I met a couple of people I’ve remained in touch with, the camp is for programmers and designers. There was nary a class for the non-technical user. Drat.

There are a multitude of things I’ve done wrong … here are some things not to do:

1. Don’t Post Large Images

This is the largest (get it?) thing I learned years ago and am still trying to perfect—the size of images. I had no idea that you were supposed to shrink your gorgeous 4500×5000 megapixels photos to something as small as 682×682 (or less) before uploading to your site. No wonder MusingsFromaRedhead took 20 seconds to load. Even then, the first techie person to point this out told me to keep images between 1200 and 1600 megapixels, which I have since learned is usually too high.

In WordPress, it’s also wrong to go solely by megapixels–the goal is to keep the photos between 700kb and 900kb.

It’s a balancing act for someone whose focus is travel writing to provide photos that will wow the viewer but remain small so the site loads in less than three seconds. I feel like I’m competing with eight second bull riders, if you get my drift.

There are still WordPress image tricks to be learned, like when I switched to Elegant Themes. This is the first time in years that I’m with a theme company with excellent support. Such an Amazon and Nespresso level of customer support that I upgraded to their lifetime membership. Okay, plug aside (since they aren’t paying me for an endorsement!), I was having issues with my featured* images being distorted. You may still stumble across one that I have not yet fixed. Why? I contacted support and oh yes, you can only use an image that fits that 682xwhatever pixels. Gee, where was that in the documentation? Which, don’t be shocked, I actually read!

What are thumbnail images in WordPress

*A featured image is the thumbnail you select that is sent out with your social media and is displayed in a list of your blogs.

There are also image optimizing programs. If you come across a wonky picture, use it as an excuse to email me!

2. Don’t Neglect Categories & Tags (aka Taxonomies)

Another beauty of Elegant Themes is that when you type their name and your topic into a search bar, you get multiple results—and don’t have to be a customer to read them. For instance, I did and added categories and tags to it. Frequently when you do that and a technical article from three years ago pops up, you might disregard it as, well, being dated. Odds are, theirs are still going to be applicable. Let me read this one and I’ll let you know if that holds true….

Note—it pains me to have to disregard the zillion typos and grammatical errors on their posts.

Back to reading … Yep, this article will help you understand the essential points of using categories and tags, but finish reading my post first.

Categories are the main headings

—if you go to a dropdown menu, those are categories. Think big buckets, the topics you write about the most. Keep them simple and descriptive.

What are categories in WordPress

On my site under the main heading of Adventures of a Broad Abroad, are various places I’ve traveled. The hierarchy looks like this:

Then there are the categories of “More USA” and “More Europe.” If I’ve only been to a place once or am unlikely to return to it even if there are a couple of blogs on the area, they go into these category buckets.

Tags are the indexes

—those other ways a site visitor may search for topics of interest to them.

While I enjoy taking tours, I’m not a tour website, therefore, they’re included under the tag, “Tours.” Same with “Veterans.” I admire our vets, but my site isn’t devoted to them. Check out the tag and you’ll see how often my path is lucky enough to cross theirs. Oh yeah, the larger the font, the more posts included in that tag group.

What are tags in WordPress

There may be times when you’re inclined to have the same title for category and tags. While this is not a WordPress best practice, I’ve done it with both humor and grief—two of my most popular topics. As a friend said last night, they are often closely related.

To sum up: Don’t get carried away with either Categories or Tags. During my agent search, I came across one site that had at least 100 Tags. Who, in their right mind, is going to wade through that to find the topic I want? Not I. I chose to move onto a different site.

3. Don’t Ala Carte Your WordPress Menus

Speaking of menus, think chapters in a book. If it’s not a novel with mere numbers as chapter titles, then you’re thinking more like what a blog menu should be. Keep your menu clear and concise. A visitor should know exactly where to find what they’re looking for. Since I’m currently refining the list of agents to submit my mystery to, I’m coming across some very bad websites—wouldn’t you think how to submit would be fairly prominent?

4. Don’t Complicate Your Layout

Anyone ever take a high school journalism class and learn about above the fold? The same thing applies to your WordPress site as it does to a newspaper—you want the most important content to show on the first screen.

People are accustomed to scrolling, but don’t put every blog on the first page—don’t you get irritated when you’re scrolling and scrolling and scrolling? Check out pagination for this purpose. You know when you go to Amazon and get your search results and there are page numbers at the bottom showing that you’re on page 1 of 100? Oh yes, and my travel journals (blatant plug) are now up to pages 7 and 9—at least for today!

5. Don’t Forget to be Mobile-Ready

Most WordPress themes are mobile-ready these days. Ever pull a site up on your phone and it’s minute and you can’t press a button without enlarging the whole thing? Not mobile ready!

Elegant Themes are mobile ready and also provide options for turning off/on certain things for mobile users. Certain photos, for example. Check your site every so often to make sure that visitors are thrilled when they find you on their smartphone.

6. Don’t Skip WordPress Headers

Okay, I admit it, the use of Headers still baffles me. You must have one H1 Header Tag per post—okay, that’s my subtitle. You should have X number of H2 and H3 tags … er, yeah, but when do I use them? After reading about headers I finally gave up and decided to use them as a writer would. I’m happy. WordPress SEO? Who knows. If you know more about this topic—likely—please add it to the comments and help this musing redhead out.

7. Don’t be Blasé About Blog Length

I’ve read that the length of a blog should be anywhere between 800-1,500 words. I love that on Medium, they note the average length of time it takes a reader to get through the article (about 7 minutes to read 1,600 words). I know I can polish off a 3 minute article, share to social media, and leave a comment. A 15 minute article? That’s more time than I usually have to spend during my workday, so I’ll bookmark it and go back when I can give the writing the proper attention.

My WordPress blogs tend to average around 1,000 words. I want to be succinct and get my point across both as eloquently (high aspirations) and quickly as possible. For a novelist, it’s wonderful practice to have this short-story approach to blog writing.

8. Don’t be Remiss with Your Privacy Policy

Did you know you should have a privacy policy on your site? I didn’t. I totally understood the “all rights reserved” that we pop into the footers of our sites. But the privacy policy was new. I read several and drafted my own.

9. Don’t be a Comment-hoarder

If you, as a new blogger, aren’t going to actively engage with other bloggers and provide thoughtful comments on their posts and share them to your social media, then don’t expect people to do it for you.

Blogging is a community. You may write at home alone, but most writers don’t do it in a vacuum of writing and keeping it to ourselves. We want to share. See this post on How to Help a Blogger and you’ll see what I mean.

10. Don’t Fret About Social Media

Don’t try to be all things to all social media. Pick the platforms you use, that you visit, and connect with. I was on tumblr for years because it was there, but I never went there to find anyone or look up a topic. I finally deleted my profile.

Monarch, from Elegant Themes, has Social Follow and Social Sharing. Followers shows the number of people across your social media outlets who are following you. However, there are glitches. I can’t get Facebook to convey a true number of followers and they don’t have any automated hook-up to Google, Medium or Amazon. Still, it’s a start.

Make it easy for people to share your WordPress posts to their selected social media. Include some version of “Click to Tweet,” in the body of your post and make sure the buttons work.

Monarch also has a reporting system to tell me how many shares each post is receiving.

11. Don’t be Lax with SEO

I recently switched from a program that shall be nameless to Yoast SEO. I’m still learning how to use it, but it seems to offer a lot of options I wasn’t getting with the previous plugin. (A few years in, I love Yoast! What customer service! What an easy SEO plugin!)

Something I’ve learned over the years with all plug-ins—paid or free—is if you aren’t getting great customer service drop them like a hot potato and move on.

About using SEO—there is so much to figure out, that I’m only noting a couple of things here. My advice is that whatever plugin you use for SEO, read ALL the documentation before starting. It will save you headaches later.

Yoast screen shot of snippet in WordPress

The blog title is important (less than 60 characters). Yes, sometimes I run over by a letter or two. Check your preview to see what Google is likely to see.

The blog description is the snippet people (you!) see when you do a search and the results pop up. For me, that usually determines what link I click on far more than does the title.

Keywords are more important than ever–make sure to read about how Google uses keywords these days.

Canonical URLs – this is an example: https://www.musingsfromaredhead.com/wear-out-levi-jeans/

Whereas your site might default to something like: https://www.musingsfromaredhead.com/2017/12/18/sample-post/

I want my content to stay evergreen, ie., without the dates aging it, so in my Permalink settings, I choose “post name” for the setting. In my SEO settings I have enabled the canonical URLs so there’s no conflict.

12. Don’t go Overboard on WordPress Plugins

There was another plugin that shall remain nameless (Ok, it was Shareaholic), that I know some folks are happy with. It would not work properly for me, so I submitted a ticket. It was over three weeks later that I got a first response. By then I had moved on and told them so. Goes back to that customer service. Three weeks in website life might as well be three years.

Biggest advice: Don’t load your site with plugins.

Despite my best efforts, and the thoroughness of using Elegant Themes Extra layout, I find myself with 16 plugins. Since a year ago, I had 22, this is an improvement.

Look at WordPress Plugins This Way

Think of plugins as add-ons to the brand new car you bought. You replace a factory part with a generic one, you add on something else not from the dealer, you throw some decals on the rear bumper. Suddenly your car is not the same new one you drove off the lot. I’m not saying you didn’t need those things, but adding them fundamentally changed your car. That’s what plugins do.

You start with WordPress, you choose your theme, then you add in the mini programs (plugins) you need to get the theme doing what it does. Each plugin can change the intricate workings of your theme, so choose carefully, assess the reviews, see when the plugin was last updated, check that it works with your version of WordPress, and always—always—keep the plugins updated.

When you add a plugin, run through various aspects of your site to ensure the new plugin hasn’t broken something else. I tried to setup Facebook Pixel to help with ad tracking. It broke my Search ability. You could search anything, even “aaaaaa,” and come up with 77 pages of results. Bye bye Facebook Pixel.

Many plugins are free, which doesn’t diminish their usefulness. I find it fascinating that developers will give us use of their hard work for free. So if you find a plugin you love—with that great support—write a review for them, if they have that cute “buy me a cup of coffee” icon next to the plugin, make a donation to them. And if you really like it, upgrade to the professional version.

13. Don’t Skip Auto-posting of blogs

What a life saver to come across Blog2Social! I love these folks. Located in Cologne, Germany (a fantastic city to visit), no problem is too small for them to tackle with professionalism and promptness. When I first started with the plugin and couldn’t get it to work right, they setup a call with me—yes, a phone call! Where do you get that type of service anymore?

Auto-posting your blogs to your social media outlets will save you time and brain power. You know what I mean if you’ve been doing this manually.

This plugin allows me to schedule each post to various social media across a week, a month, the year. It also allows me to go back and recirculate old posts with the same options.

For instance, if I have a travel blog coming up, that goes onto my Musings Page on Facebook and into my Adventurous Broads Abroad, closed group. (Ladies, want in? Friend me!) But if the post is on a non-travel topic, I skip that group and only add it to my Musings Page.

You can schedule the same post to hit multiple times on Twitter.

This plugin and the support have made me a fan for life.

14. Do/Don’t Run Facebook ads or Post boosts?

If you are selling anything on your site and using PayPal – check the buttons daily. The one I setup to sell my travel journals worked perfectly—checked on multiple browsers (thank you, sisters) and was good to go. I spent money to run a Facebook promotion—boosted post—and guess what? Somewhere along the line, the PayPal Button stopped working.

That means that any of the 600+ people who received the post either didn’t see the purchase box (Google hid it) or if they did, the PayPal button didn’t work. There’s a waste of money.

The difference between an ad and a boosted post? It’s still a bit of a mystery. I first set the journals up as an ad, but the available template means you have to have five products for sale. I input two, thinking the template would adjust. Started the ad, checked it and guess what? I was also selling their stuff—sunglasses, a bikini and hats. Cancelled that before it got too far out in the stratosphere.

In the end, although running Facebook ads got MusingsFromaRedhead a ton of post views throughout the year, it did not do either of the things I had hoped for: net more subscribers or more commenters. I will be re-thinking my ad strategy for 2018.

15. Don’t Spurn Google Analytics

This section isn’t pretty: I have been battling to understand Google Analytics for years. I still don’t get it. I know that it’s critical to setup for your site and that it can provide data on your demographics, etc. But digging that information out can cause me anxiety—and there isn’t much that does that to this redhead!

I recommend hiring an expert out of the gate. 

To Close My WordPress Advice

WordPress is a great platform for bloggers—just put your site together with the end goal in mind.