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WordPress is an Open Source Web Powerhouse

WordPress is an open source platform that can empower your web site to effectively run your business. By “run your business” I mean marketing, public relations, sales, communications, networking, ecommerce, distribution, and even customer support. This article covers the basics of getting WordPress installed and running. Fine-tuning and adding special features to WordPress such as ecommerce, auto-email responders, and active feeds to and from other websites will be discussed in a future article entitled “Supercharge Your Web Site with WordPress”.

WordPress Make it Easy To…

  • post articles
  • add media
  • add sidebar widgets
  • upgrade the core code
  • add and upgrade plugins
  • manage comments
  • add and switch themes

Installing WordPress

Installing WordPress on your web site should take no longer than a few minutes. Some hosts provide one-click installations (GoDaddy, Dreamhost). Others provide the Fantastico installer within a CPanel hosting interface (Hostgator, Geekstorage).
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After installation, your site will display the default WordPress theme and will have a sample “About” page and a sample “Hello World” blog post.
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Choosing a WordPress Theme

Much of the user interface and visual appearance of the site is the responsibility of the Theme. A theme is a collection of program files, CSS text files, and images that are copied into a special directory called “themes”. The themes directory sites inside the “wp-content” directory. wp-content is where most of the site-specific files are placed. Outside of this directory most WordPress configurations are very similar.

The WordPress.org sites hosts GPL-licensed themes which are, by definition, open source and freely modifiable. You can also purchase a theme from a third-party like iThemes, Elegant Themes, Graph Paper Press. WordPress Remix has a unique theme package specialized for using WordPress to build regular websites that are not specifically blogs.

What to look for in a theme:

  • SEO: designer should have tags and titles designed properly
  • Widget-ready sidebars: a feature of all contemporary themes
  • Valid XHTML + CSS: this means clean, lightweight code for your site
  • configurable: options for color, header, and layout
  • Gravatar ready: supports comment avatar images
  • spam-free: some themes come preloaded with links to the designers AdSense account, or worse, links to pr0n or gambling sites. All themes in the WordPress.org repository have been checked for spam, but “in the wild” you’ll need to do your own hand-checking and validation.

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Optimum WordPress Configuration Settings

“Out of the box”, WordPress works just fine, but it will be plain and not optimized for the search engines. We fixed the appearance by selecting and tweaking the theme. There are several other settings that we need to edit to make the site run optimally.

Title and Description

In the General settings you set the name of the site and the description. Be sure to include the most important keyphrases for your site as these words will probably be on every page. On this settings page you’ll also set the Timezone, and whether your site accepts new registrations of subscribers and authors.

Home Page Settings

In the Reading settings you select if the front page (home page) is a static page or a series of recent blog posts. You also set the number of posts per page that will display.

Permalinks

To get fancy search engine optimized URLs you need to set the Permalinks to something other than the default ?p=999. Permalinks should include realwords and descriptive keyphrases that tell the search engine what a page is about. I set my Permalinks to /%post_id%/%postname%/ this gives each post a unique ID number and adds an optimized version of the post title at the end.

Comment Settings

In the Discussion settings you select whether your site is open for comments and whether you will need to approve each comment before it gets posted.

WordPress Plugins

WordPress plugins add functionality to WordPress websites. The WordPress development team strives to keep WordPress as “lightweight” as possible, leaving specialized functionality to third parties. WordPress currently has over 4200 plugins in the official repository.

Some plugins interface with other platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Others handle media–making it easier to embed videos or podcasts into web pages.

Tony’s Favorite WordPress Plugins

  • Akismet – comment spam assasination
  • All in One SEO Pack – handles titles, descriptions, meta-tags
  • Automatic Timezone – fixes a missing (as of WordPress 2.7) automatic timezone adjustment feature
  • AZIndex – creates an easy-to-read index of posts
  • Contact Form 7 – simple, but essential contact form
  • CryptX – encrypts email addresses so simple SpamBots cannot read them
  • Google Sitemap Generator – automatically creates a sitemap and posts it to Google, Yahoo, & MSN
  • OIO Publisher – self-service advertising on your site – sell banners, text, links, and more
  • PodPress – handles audio file playback and submission to iTunes
  • Register Plus – full-featured registration page with additional fields, password strength, and more
  • Snazzy Archives – Gorgeous Thumbnailed Post Archives
  • WordPress Database Backup – keep your database backed up, features auto backup scheduling
  • WordTube – manage your videos, create playlists, embeds full-featured video player
  • WP Super Cache – prepare for traffic surges with this full-featured caching system

05/21/2011 UPDATE: 12 essential WordPress plugins

  • Akismet
  • Analytics360
  • Broken Link Checker
  • CryptX
  • Related Posts Thumbnails
  • W3 Total Cache
  • pageMash
  • Pretty Link Pro
  • Video Thumbnails
  • WordPress Database Backup
  • WordPress SEO by Yoast
  • WPtouch

WordPress developers have created some gorgeous websites that do not look like ordinary blogs, they look like, well, gorgeous websites. To see some showcased sites, see the WordPress.org showcase.

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