Configure Wordpress on Your Domain

Now that you've installed Wordpress, you need to take some steps to get everything configured so that your site will work the way you'd like it to.

Wordpress Dashboard

First, log in to your Wordpress dashboard. Either follow the link to your dashboard from the Wordpress web application page in your cPanel or add add “/wp-admin” after your domain url to get to the login screen (in other words, “davidmorgen.org” goes to my Wordpress site, while “davidmorgen.org/wp-admin” brings me to the page where I can log into the dashboard).

Identify parts of the dashboard

Along the top of your dashboard, you can see the Toolbar. Along the left-hand side is the sidebar. In the central area of the dashboard are a set of widgets (widgets are just applications, or components of an interface, that enable a user to perform functions or access services). The sidebar includes access to all the different functions you need to manage your Wordpress site. The toolbar repeats a few of those same key functions–the difference between them is that the sidebar remains on the page when you are logged into your account even when you're on the site itself instead of just inside the dashboard.

In the toolbar: from the Wordpress icon you can go directly to the Wordpress help pages (codex.wordpress.org) and get to other information about Wordpress.org software. The home button will take you out of the dashboard and to your domain. The dialog bubble will bring you to the comment management area. The “+ new” button will allow you to quickly add a new post, page, media item, link, or user.

We're going to begin by configuring settings in three areas. First, we'll edit your user profile. Then we'll change a number of settings. Then we'll take a look at themes.

Edit Your Profile

Click on Users > Your Profile to edit the information in your profile.

You can customize any of the settings in your profile except your username, which cannot be changed. The only time you need the username is when you log in but if you decide you hate the username, the only way to change it is to add a new user with administrative privileges and switch to using that user.

By default, the display name for your profile is “admin,” no matter what username you have. If you want something else to display as your name whenever you publish a post, page, or comment, just enter a first name, last name, and/or nickname in the name fields–anything you enter into any of those fields becomes selectable from the pull-down menu for display names.

(Here's the Wordpress documentation on the profile page, in case you want more information on any of the other settings available here.)

There's no real reason to enter contact information or bio information here. However, the one other important thing you can do in the profile page is to change your password. If you ever need to change your password, just do so here.

Once you've finished making any changes to your profile, click on the blue “Update Profile” button at the bottom of the page to save your settings. Once it saves, a confirmation message will appear at the top of the page saying “Profile Updated.”

Settings--General Settings

Next, click on Settings in the sidebar. The sidebar menu will expand to show you a series of subpages underneath settings and will start you out on the General Settings page. If you did not change the title or tagline for your site when you installed Wordpress, the default “My blog” and “Just another WordPress site” will appear here and you should change them to something else. If you have customized the title and/or tagline but want to change them, you can do so here at anytime.

By default, Wordpress sets the timezone for all new sites at Greenwich Mean Time. You should change the Timezone to UTC -5 (or, if you scroll further and get to a list of cities, you can choose one of the cities in the Eastern Zone, like New York). You can change how the date and time will display, if you'd like.

Click on Save Changes to save, and watch for the confirmation message at the top of the page.

(Here's the Wordpress help page on Settings administration. It includes links to the documentation for each subpage of the settings configurations subpages.)

Adding Pages

Before we can change the next setting we need to, we need to make a small diversion to add some pages.

Select Pages in the sidebar to see a list of the current pages on your site. When Wordpress is first installed, by default it creates a single page called “About.” We are going to create a new home page and a blog page. Create a new page one of three ways: click on add new under pages in the sidebar, click on the add new button in the pages widget, or click on the + New button in the Toolbar and select page. They all take you the same place, so it's just whichever is most intuitive for you.

Add new page

First, let's create a home page. Enter a title (“Home” will do just fine, but you can call it something else if you'd like). If you have a sense of what you'd like to say on the home page, you can go ahead and enter that text here too. Or you can just leave it blank for right now. Then hit the blue Publish button on the right to publish the page. A “Page Published” confirmation message will show up at the top of the page, including a link to go view the page as it appears on your site, and underneath the title box, the permalink for the page will show up (a permalink is the permanent link or URL for that specific page).

Add another new page again, this time the page that your blog posts will show up on. (You can call it “Blog” or “Updates” or whatever else you'd like to call it.)

(Here's the Wordpress documentation on adding new pages, if you want more information on options available here.)

Settings--Reading

Once you've created a home page and a blog page, go to Settings > Reading. By default, Wordpress sets the main page of your site as your blog. We want a static page to show up as your home page, so we need to assign that page here and then tell Wordpress which page to use to publish blog posts. Click on the radio button to tell Wordpres to display a static front page, then choose your home page as a front page and your blog page as the posts page.

You can watch our 2-minute tutorial video explaining a bit more about static front page and a blog page.

There are lots of other settings that you can customize, but these are the most important ones. Check out the Wordpress help pages for more information about adjusting these settings. But for now, let's move to themes.

Manage Themes

Any Wordpress site created this year will have “Twenty Fourteen” as the default theme. It is a very customizable theme. For example, while the default install doesn't include a header, you have the option of adding one of your own images. You can also easily modify the colors of the different fonts and backgrounds used in the theme. Twenty Fourteen also provides you with the option of choosing a slider or “grid layout” for your site's homepage and to use a custom tag to determine which posts show up on your homepage. McKenna Rose has a post on her site about customizing Twenty Fourteen and there's also a page on customizing Twenty Fourteen in the Wordpress codex.

You should by default have Twenty Thirteen and Twenty Twelve available as themes you can activate too. If you hover over any of the theme badges with your cursor, you can select theme details to learn more about it. If you'd like to change to any of the other installed themes, hover over the theme badge and choose Activate.

To install a new theme, click add new.

(There is more information in these documentation pages on Wordpress themes too. And here's the Wordpress help page on using themes.)

There are lots of posts out there about “how to choose the right Wordpress theme,” but honestly I'm not sure there's a good substitute for just trying out a theme for a little while, playing with it some, and then switching to something else when you realize there's something that you want in your site that the current theme isn't doing well.

Add Themes

When you first view the add themes screen, you'll see 6 featured themes. Click on the theme badge for details about it and a preview of how it looks. If you select Popular or Latest, you'll be able to choose from the 100 most popular or most recent Wordpress themes. Feature Filter allows you to search based on a checkbox of features you're looking for.

When you find a theme that you like, just click Install to install it into your Theme menu. Then Activate it to make it the theme that is currently running your site.

Customize theme

Once you've selected a theme, go to Appearance > Customize. The exact options that are available here will vary depending on which theme you've activated, but you can set many options here. Usually, you can upload your own image to use in the header (and most themes will tell you here exactly what size image is best here). Often, you can also set a static front page in this area and change the title and tagline of your site (which we have already done through the settings steps above).

Assuming you are going to keep Twenty Fourteen as your theme, there's one important step here. Click on the either the Primary Sidebar widgets or the Footer widget area, then select the add widget button and add the “Meta” widget. This widget will add buttons either in your sidebar or in the footer that will let you log in to your dashboard directly. So next time you need to log in to your dashboard, instead of trying to remember to append “/wp-admin” onto your site url, you can instead just go to your domain and click on the Log in/Site Admin button to get to your dashboard.

Next steps

Now that you've got some of the basic settings configured, the next step is to try out a few plugins.