WordPress is a great writing platform, but there are things you should customize as soon as possible. These things can affect search engine ranking, usability, spam and accessibility. The sooner you do these things, the better off your site will be.
1. Admin Account
When you first install WordPress, change the generated password to something you will remember. Some people suggest deleting the default admin account and re-creating a new account.
2. Friendly URL’s
I highly recommend not using the WordPress default permalink structure (?p=123). This looks unprofessional and there is evidence these url’s are not search engine friendly.
Some people like to use “/%postname%/”, but I prefer “/%category%/%postname%/” to get additional keywords in the url.
3. Permalinks Structure
Similar to #2, but more specifically take the dates out of the permalink structure. If you do keep the dates in the url, you risk people automatically discounting your older content based on the date it was published.
4. Post Date
Make sure the date of the post is displayed at the end of the article, for the same reasons as #3. You will find that people will be more willing to access your older posts.
Make sure you install the must have WordPress plugins. These will prevent spam on your website, and give you access to useful functionality.
6. About Page
If people like your site, often times they will look for an about page. Use this to make yourself look good. I’ve revised my about page many times. There are different ways you can come across, but remember…even if it is a blog, you are advertising yourself.
7. Contact Form
You need to have a contact form. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to contact the site owner, but I could not find a way to do that through their website. If you don’t know of any contact form plugins, take a look at the ultimate list of wp plugins.
Make sure you install an SEO plugin, so you can specify a meta description and keywords for each post. This will help search engines figure what your post is about. Take a look at the top WordPress plugins article.
9. Best Content
Make it easy for your users to access your best content. This can be done through linking in a side bar, or you could use a tab tool that I use on this site. This works well with the WordPress Popular Posts plugin.
Having a sitemap is useful not only to your visitors, but it also helps search engines index your whole site. I use the Dagon Design Sitemap Generator WordPress plugin to do this on Montana Programmer. In this case I am not referring to the sitemap.xml file (take a look at #5 for that).
Similar to #10, but this does provide another way for users to access your older content. And again, it gives the search engines another opportunity to index your content.
12. Site Search
I think the default WordPress search tool is horrible, and so I opted to use Google Search for my website. This is a free service, and I found that it gives much more accurate results. Do not mix this service up with the paid Google site search product.
13. Use FeedBurner
I highly suggest using feedburner in conjunction with your feed, as you can easily track how many subscribers you have and it gives you access to a boatload of other features.
14. Before Promotion
Test your site in the main browsers (IE, FF, Chrome and Safari), and make sure your posts look good. It sucks to get a lot of traffic, only to realize there was a major bug or flaw in your site. I also suggest spending time checking spelling and grammar, as this can turn off new visitors immediately.
Take a look at these articles if you want more tips.
Is there anything you want to add to this list of ways to customize WordPress?