Two weeks ago I talked about what I’d learnt in over two years of blogging and then in response to feedback decided to blog some practical advice. This in many ways turned out to be, hopefully, encouragement for those dithering and wondering about the technicalities of creating their own blog. For those who have gone through this process I hoped it might illicit some recognition and sympathy for those starting out. This week I’m assuming you’ve got your ‘how to’ book for WordPress (see last week) and you’re itching to get started. Also that you’ll know things like the difference between posts (the blog) and pages i.e. everything else on this site. If not a quick read will clarify. So this is not going to be a step by step guide, but rather some of the key things to think about/understand about your blog and how it works.
The first decision what’s the basic look of the thing. If you go into your wordpress site which is now sitting in anticipation on your server and look in the appearance tab (editing menu) you’ll find themes, it may show the theme ‘Twenty Fifteen’ or whatever year it is when you are reading this. Now there’s nothing wrong with this one. You know it’ll work and it should be straight forward. But if you press ‘ADD NEW’ you’ll find a whole load more. Have a good look, be adventurous, but not too adventurous. Remember you’re looking for one that is well suited for a written blog, not photographs etc. There are all sorts of ‘whizz bang’ things you can do, but my advice is keep it simple. Again think about exactly what you are trying to do. I also went for one that didn’t need coding. Once you are up and running you can always change.
Widgets and Plug-ins
Yes, jargon, but worth being familiar with. These are standalone bits that add extra functionality to your site. Basic wordpress already has some widgets to allow you to add pictures, text etc. to your sidebar (if your scheme has one) – see mine. Have a play. Plug-ins (see plug-ins in your editing menu) are just extra widgets or other discrete bits and pieces that will enhance your site. My ‘how to’ book suggested a basic set of these to start with and showed how to use them i.e for spam, stopping unwanted contacts, security and SEO (see below). Also things like the disclaimers you see on my menu were downloaded as a job lot.
The first plug-in to go for is Jetpack by wordpress – it has a whole host of functions, some you’ll want, others you won’t. One word of warning though, every time I update it, it disappears from my edit menu (anyone know why?) and I have to remove from my server and re-download, luckily all the functions I’ve set up come back.
If you think your site is not quite doing what you want it to search under plug-ins, chances are someone else has had the same thing and done something about it – how good is that! I added new ones for twitter, and facebook buttons etc, one that displayed my most popular posts. Everything you see in my sidebar is a widget/plug-in, chosen because all you need to do is select from menus/write a bit of text/choose an image etc. None required coding unless it was something I could just copy from elsewhere.
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
If you’re like me on first seeing this you go ‘Eh??’ But this is worth a bit of research (i.e. look at a few blogs on the subject). It is basically making it as easy as possible for anyone searching on a search engine to find you. And the more attention you pay to it the higher up those searches you will come. I use SEO by Yoast (free plug-in for wordpress). Why?, because my ‘how to’ guide said so. It was only some months later that I realised how important this was and how to use Categories, Tags, Keywords, Meta descriptions etc. to maximise visibility. The plug-in even has a red, amber, green notification to show you if you are getting it right (it also has a much more detailed breakdown of how you can improve).
Jetpack has a decent Stats function that as the site administrator shows how many hits you’ve had on your header and then more detailed information behind it. Believe me you will become fixated by this. There are others, I was also running Clicky stats at one point. After all you need to know if people are visiting your site and what they’re looking at.
OK, so now you are just about up and running. Do remember to test things as you go. Get a friend to give it a try and make sure things work as you expect them too. In part 3) I’ll cover a few more, what I consider, vital points about getting started with the blogging rather than the blog itself.
As always comments, observations and questions are welcome.