Installing a Wordpress theme and launching a website is a relatively simple matter. Most hosts even offer assistance with this. However, there are many things you need to do to optimize your site and avoid problems down the road. You can do most of these things soon after launching. If you are developing your site locally or on a staging platform, you can do many of them before launching. Aim to complete the checklist in the first week.

Creating your site

Choose a strong username and password. In the past, Wordpress was very insecure because the username was always “admin.” This meant all a hacker or their bot had to do was guess the password, which they did by letting a computer generate every possibility under the sun. Wordpress has gotten smarter and doesn’t normally assign a default username anymore. You can do your part by selecting a long password with a mix of numbers, symbols and upper and lower case letters. Avoid any actual words in your user name.

Select your theme and customize it. Before you download a theme, check out when it was last updated, how many downloads it has and how many positive and negative reviews it has. Go to Appearance -> Themes to browse themes or, alternatively, you can browse free and premium themes on the web. If you are browsing or purchasing themes on the web, you will download your theme and then upload it to your site as a zip file.

Once you have your theme installed, you can use the built-in theme customizer to choose colours, upload your logo and favicon, add your site name and tagline, select number of columns and other elements. The number of selections available in the Customizer depends on the theme. If you can’t customize the elements you want, you will need to create a child theme and use CSS to customize your theme.

Create your pages and blog posts. Add your content to the home page. Delete the sample page and blog post.

Delete any plugins you won’t be using such as the “Hello Dolly” plugin. Sometimes the host will add plugins to your site that you don’t need. If you do decide you need a similar plugin later, you can find one. Unused plugins slow down your site and attract viruses.

At a minimum you need to establish your home page content, an about page and a contact page. Your home page can be a blog or a static home page. Secondly, you will need pages explaining your services, privacy and terms of service. Then, you can focus on blogging and adding things like resources, related services and other miscellaneous pages.

Set up your menus. Your main pages will appear in your menu. You will need to choose whether you want a top menu, a below the header menu, a sidebar menu or menu in the footer. You can have more than one menu. Make sure your main pages are clear for device users.

Making your site stronger

Install a security plugin such as
Sucuri firewall or WordFence and a backup plugin such as BackUpWordPress or Backup Buddy. Also add a caching plugin such as W3 Total Cache.

You should also keep a download of your site and database on your computer and update it every few weeks. Go to your host’s website and search the documentation about how to connect via FTP or sFTP. I usually use ?yola-link-is-coming=trueFilezilla because it works on both Mac and PC.

Also from your host’s control panel or account area, you will be able to connect to your database, which may be located in MySQL or phpMyAdmin. From there, select your database on the left and then choose “export” from the tabs at the top.

Create a custom 404 page. If your visitor arrives at a non-existent page, you don’t want them to leave frustrated. Give your 404 page some styling and links to get them back on track.

Test your forms, buy buttons and shopping carts. Make sure all your links are working, especially if you have migrated your site from an old site. Sometimes URLS will change during the conversion to the new site. Set up 301 redirects to make sure all of the old links arrive at a relevant page on your new site.

If you have purchased plugins or themes, you may need to update your licence. Many paid assets only allow registration on one site.  

Change your permalink structure. You want to have your keywords in the URL of your posts. To do this automatically, choose the Post Name setting in the Permalinks section of your Settings.

Test your website on different browsers, including mobile (if live or in an online staging area). If it is not live you can adjust the size of your browser screen to the size of the device to ensure it behaves responsively. If you don’t have access to all the browsers, there are some tools online that will evaluate your site for compatibility.

Now that Google considers an SSL certificate more or less mandatory, you may need to purchase it and set it up. Many hosts are now offering free SSL certificates.

Optimize your site

Add your site to Bing and Google Webmaster Tools
. This will allow you to gain valuable insights about your search traffic and monitor your sites for downtime, crawl errors and other problems.

Optimize your images for the web to 72 pixels dpi and adjust sizing to match the size of the image on the page. Check to make sure your videos are loading.

If you are switching from an old site to a new site, you will want to make sure your old site re-directs to the new site. Hang on to that old domain name if you changed it.

Proofread your content.

If you are allowing people to comment on your site, use the Akismet plugin to keep the spammers at bay. Some will still squeeze through, so you might want to review comments before posting if this is scalable.

Test your site on Google’s Mobile Friendly Test Tool. If Google doesn’t consider your site mobile friendly it will downgrade it in search.

Test the speed of your website. Tools such as Google Pagespeed will tell you how fast your website loads and give recommendations to make it faster.

Add social sharing buttons and connect your social accounts to allow customers to follow you from the website.

Install Google Analytics to track your traffic and gain insight into your visitors and your website performance.

Add an SEO plugin, such as Yoast. You can create a site map manually, or plugins such as Yoast will do it for you. You will also get actionable items to help you optimize your page.

Most domain name providers or hosts offer email accounts. Set it up. You will look more professional if you use an email that matches your domain and people will be less likely to shuffle your emails to the spam folder.

While you’re at it, why not set up a form to capture people’s emails? An email list can be one of the most effective ways of engaging with your visitors.

Let people know about your new website. Promote it on directories, social media and other websites where you can submit content. Write a blog about your new website and share it as much as you can. Let your friends and followers know about it. If you already have a mailing list, send an email.