Knight Digital Media Center Multimedia Training

Tutorial: WordPress: Managing Settings

By Scot Hacker

For updates and discussion on this tutorial, visit:
http://kdmc.berkeley.edu/tutorials/wp-settings/

Introduction

Image by Debs

You can control dozens of aspects of WordPress configuration and behavior from the Settings section of the Dashboard control panel. If you've just read the WordPress: Beyond the Basics tutorial, read this one next to learn how to configure WordPress itself.

The settings section of WordPress is accessible only to users with the Administrator role. It goes pretty deep, but we'll do our best to document every important aspect of it.

General

Site Title and Tagline: These are generally called from the banner area of most themes. However, themes are free to place these wherever they like, or not use them at all. For SEO reasons, it's a good idea to include the site title in an H1 tag in your theme.

Settings Title

WordPress Address and Site Address: These let you establish the URL of your site, which may be simply a domain name (http://example.com) or a domain name and path (http://example.com/blog). The Site Address field is usually the same as the WordPress address, but may differ if you don't want the WordPress installation files living in the document root of your main web site.

Settings General

E-Mail Address: This is the address of the site's main administrator. Even though each User in the system has their own email address, this address will receive comment moderation emails.

Membership: In most cases, you'll want this turned off. If enabled, users will be able to sign up for accounts on the site. This is generally useful only in two cases: 1) If you only want to accept comments from registered users, or 2) If you want to accept content contributions from the community.

New User Default Role: if the Membership option above is enabled, this will set the role for newly signed-up users. Set this either to Subscriber or Contributor. It is extremely rare that you would want newly signed up users to have a higher role (and it could be a big security risk).

Timezone: Be sure to set this as soon as you install a new site, since it will affect the timestamp of all posts you create in the system. WordPress will look at the system clock of the server it's installed on and adjust timestamps accordingly if necessary.

Date and Time formats: These are self-explanatory.

Writing

Size of the Post Box: How many rows of text should appear in the Post writing box by default? You'll want to change this if you use a very small or very large screen. However, note that in most modern browsers, you can change the size of the post writing box by dragging its lower right corner:

Settings Resize

You can also use the Fullscreen button on the toolbar (circled, above) to use your full screen width for editing.

Default Post Category: If you forget to put a post in a category, it still needs to show up in some category. By default, this is "Uncategorized," but you can change the name of that category from the Posts | Categories manager.

Default Post Format: This should be "Post" for almost all sites.

Post by Email: Lets you create posts by sending to a special email address, which you'll need to set up on your server. The usefulness of this feature is debatable. When would you have access to email but not to the web? And if you have access to the web, why wouldn't you just post through the Dashboard? If you want to use it, full instructions are present in this section of the settings.

Remote Publishing: If you find the WordPress Dashboard lacking, you might prefer to use desktop software to publish to your WordPress site. In the past, tools as Ecto and MarsEdit were very popular. But as the Dashboard has evolved over time and gotten better and better, their usage has waned. If you do choose to use one, enable the protocol specified in the settings here, then configure your desktop publishing tool to match.

Settings Mars

Mars Edit is an example of 3rd-party software that can be used for posting to a WordPress site without using the Dashboard.

Update Services: You can configure WordPress to "ping" an external service whenever you create a new post. Most such services are blog directories. You could potentially benefit from some increased traffic by listed in these directories, though these sites are not nearly as well visited as they once were.

Reading

Front page displays: WordPress isn't just for blogs - sometimes you'll want to use it for building other kinds of web sites as well. A great way to push the "bloggy" front page off to another location is to build a custom front page however you like, then come here and tell WordPress to use that page as the front page.

Settings Frontpage

If you still want a Posts listing on another view, create a blank page in the system (which creates its URL), then select it as the Posts Page here.

Blog page shows at most: By default, WordPress will display the 20 most recent posts on the homepage and on "index" pages such as Category or Date listings. You can change that number here. The Syndication setting just beneath this option does the same thing for your site's RSS feeds.

For each article in a feed, show: People disagree about whether it makes more sense to provide full article text in your RSS feeds. RSS addicts love it, but it will probably mean less direct traffic to your site, and thus less ad revenue. However, people really enjoy getting full-text in their feeds, which may result in more positive buzz for your publication in the end. You might want to read more about this ongoing debate.

Encoding for pages and feeds: In almost all cases, you should leave this set to UTF-8 for best handling of international and unusual character sets (including those pesky special characters pasted in from MS Word documents).

Discussion

Default article settings: Note that these options relate to the default settings for newly posted articles. You can always override these settings on a per-article basis. Turning them on or off will not affect existing posts in the system - if you want to do that, use the Batch Management tools described earlier.

Settings Discussion

The first two options relate to "notifications" or "pings." This is a technology through which two blogs discussing the same topic can include links in one another's comment stream. If I link to your blog from one of my posts and we both have notifications enabled, a link to my blog will automatically appear in your post's comments.

Comment author must fill out name and e-mail: This setting is strongly recommended for all sites - allowing anonymous comments makes it much more difficult to keep spam under control.

Users must be registered and logged in to comment: This is a fantastic way to keep spam levels down, but at a high cost: Most users aren't willing to register just for the privilege of commenting. Expect your comment traffic to go way down if you enable this (we don't recommend it). Akismet and other tools (described earlier) are a much better way to fight spam.

Automatically close comments on articles older than xx days: A lot of spam shows up on older articles, while most legitimate comment activity happens on recent articles. You can cut out a lot of spam by simply closing comments on older posts. However, this can be very frustrating to users who happen to stumble across one of your old posts and have something useful to contribute. Again, we don't recommend doing this - there are better ways to fight spam.

The rest of the options in Other Comment Settings are pretty self-explanatory, as are the "E-Mail Me Whenever..." options.

Before a comment appears: Since WordPress knows which commenters you've approved in the past, you can allow it to automatically accept new comments from people who have been previously approved. This setting is highly recommended, but the other one - Requiring administrators to always approve comments -- is a little heavy-handed, we believe.

Comment Moderation: This section lets you give WordPress additional rules about how to determine when a comment should be held for moderation. Since many spam messages include lots of links, WordPress defaults to marking any comment with more than two links as needing moderation. You can change this. You can also establish a set of "stop words" that should automatically trigger either moderation or immediate marking as spam.

Avatars: Years ago, a service called Gravatar let users set up a personal icon/avatar associated with an avatar. When that user left a comment on any blog or site that used the Gravatar plugin, their icon would show up, universal across the web. Automattic later bought Gravatar and integrated it with WordPress. From this panel, you can turn avatars on or off, and protect yourself from avatars that might potentially be offensive, with a movie rating-like system. You can also set the default avatar for users who haven't yet set up their Gravatar.

Settings Discussion Gravatar

Media

Image sizes: When you upload an image to a WordPress site, the system automatically creates a thumbnail version of it (for use on index pages and in galleries) and a medium size version for use in story bodies, if the full-size version is too large. This means you don't always need to resize your images in Photoshop before uploading (though it's generally still a good idea). This page let you control the sizes at which WordPress should do its resizing for each of the three versions.

Settings Media Sizes

Embeds: Many sites, such as Flickr and YouTube, provide "embed code" - chunks of HTML and Javascript that can be pasted into other sites, so that media from the external site is embedded directly into the blog. That's wonderful, but comes at a price - allowing arbitrary embed code can be very dangerous, since it could be manipulated to include malware. Therefore, WordPress only lets users with the Admin role embed this code into posts.

Of course, normal authors want to be able to embed legitimate external media too! To get around this problem, WordPress 3 supports an emerging protocol called oembed. With this system, the post author only needs to paste in the URL of the page that hosts the external media, not the actual embed code itself. When WordPress detects this, it reaches out and grabs the actual code to embed in the post. Therefore, there is no risk of bad things happening, and normal authors can safely embed external images and videos. Be sure to turn this option on - it rocks!

Oembed1
To embed media from external sites with the oembed option enabled, just paste in the URL, NOT the embed code! This lets unprivileged users embed external media, not just admins.

Oembed2
WordPress scans the URL, determines that embeddable code lives at the end-point, fetches it and inserts it automatically.

Uploading Files: By default, all directly uploaded media is added to the wp-content/uploads folder on the server. Don't change this unless you know what you're doing, and its potential impact on existing images. You should also definitely keep the "Organize into month- and year-based folders" option enabled - if you don't, and you upload a lot of media, you'll end up with a single folder cluttered with thousands of files over time. Trust me - you don't want that :)

Privacy

The only option here is whether to allow search engines to index your content. The only time you wouldn't want that is if you're developing a site that isn't yet ready for public consumption and you don't want visitors arriving early (though in that case you should be using a plugin to block the whole site from unregistered users). If you turn this on, remember to turn it off again when your site goes live, or you'll be mystified why you're not showing up in search results! Later versions of WordPress will warn you if you accidentally leave this turned on.

Permalinks

It's important that your URLs are not just machine-readable, but human-readable as well. A URL like:

http://example.com/?p=2392

Does not tell the reader where in the site hierarchy they are, nor what date it was written on. And it doesn't give search engines any keywords to help in the indexing process. These URLs, however, are meaningful both to search engines and to humans:

http://example.com/about/products
http://example.com/2011/05/18/plasma-tvs-compared

But web servers need to give a hint called a Rewrite Rule to WordPress so it can translate those friendly URLs into database IDs, so the right content can be served up. For most purposes, we recommend the Day and Name URL structure.

You can also set a different URL base for category view, so that, for example, your photography category has the URL:

http://example.com/topics/photography

When you click the Save Changes button, WordPress will attempt to write to a special file called .htaccess on your server and you'll be all set. If WordPress doesn't have permission to write to the directory on the server, it will give you a block of code instead. You'll need to log into your server's file system and create a file called .htaccess, then paste this code into that block. See our FTP 101 tutorial if you need a hand.


And that's it! You've now got a better handle on the mechanics of running a WordPress site than your average bear. There's tons more to learn - see the Related Links section for an even deeper dive. And remember, there's no better teacher than experience - go build a site!

About this Tutorial

This tutorial was prepared for fellows in the KDMC digital media training programs but is suitable for anyone running a WordPress site.

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