Creating a Personal Blog with WordPress.com
- Getting Started with WordPress.com
- Focus on the ContentWhat to Put in a Personal Blog
- Growing with WordPress.com
It seems a little redundant to talk about creating a personal blog, because in the beginning all blogs were personal. To have a business blog was anathema to bloggers. Making a blog that is all about “you” is the heart of personal blogging. You is in quotes because, as you’ve learned, who “you” are online depends on how much or how little you want to reveal. Because this is a personal blog, it’s intended to reflect your beliefs, hobbies, and family—essentially, who you are.
I think many people dismiss personal blogs as less serious than “professional” or “business” blogs, but I think it’s just the opposite. Personal blogs are very serious, even if the subject matter isn’t. What’s more important than who you are? Because the origins of blogging center on the personal blog, it’s important not to dismiss them out of hand.
I first started blogging to learn about it for professional reasons and to have an outlet for things I wasn’t doing at work. My blog was the epitome of the personal blog. In my case, my blog was mostly about collaboration tools, software, and other geek esoterica. Still, it was personal, and, because I expressed myself well and made some local connections, my humble blog became a springboard to my present career. However, there is a strange hybrid here that is worth noting, the personal-business blog. My blog falls under that category because it is my personal blog, but it serves to drive and support my professional career and business life.
This chapter takes what you’ve learned in the previous four chapters and builds on it so you can go from a general blog to something that’s more your style. Roll up your sleeves here and get to work.
I’ve written this chapter to serve as a quick start for a blog using WordPress.com. I could have chosen Blogger or a few other engines—Tumblr will get a chapter of its own—to serve as the example, but I’ve found that starting a blog on WordPress.com gives you a great foundation to build a blog, or a website (which I cover in Chapter 7, “Creating a Website”), with a clear and easy path to grow and expand over time.
Unlike the first edition of this book, I don’t cover how to start podcasting or video blogging in this chapter—both of those topics are covered in Chapter 10, “Creating a Multimedia Blog.” Over the years of teaching people how to blog and create websites with WordPress.com, I’ve found that people want to do the following:
- Post content
- Post images
- Embed videos from YouTube (and other places)
- Personalize the theme or design of their blog
That’s pretty much it. This chapter puts the focus squarely on those goals. Technology will, for the most part, take a backseat to getting things done simply and easily.
Getting Started with WordPress.com
In Chapter 2, “Installing and Setting Up Your First Blog,” I talked about setting up a blog on WordPress.com. I’m going to go into the process in more detail in this chapter to get more into the nitty gritty of things.
Before we get started on creating this new blog of yours, let’s first create a place for it to live.
Creating Your Account
Creating an account on WordPress.com is fast, easy, and free. WordPress.com provides a tremendous number of features for free. In fact, it’s pretty easy to start and stick with WordPress.com for years and years.
The first step is to go to WordPress.com and look for the big Get Started Here button (see Figure 5.1)
Figure 5.1. The home page for WordPress.com.
When you click the button, you’ll see a screen that looks something like Figure 5.2. Note that I had to scroll down and shrink things down so you could see all the form fields in one image.
Figure 5.2. The sign-up screen for WordPress.com.
In Figure 5.2, you see that I’ve picked “createyourownblog2ndedition” for the name. The menu that is open shows that I can have createyourownblog2ndedition.wordpress.com for free, but other options, like createyourownblog2ndedition.com, for a cost. You don’t have to decide right this minute whether you want to buy or use a domain for your blog. We’ll talk about buying and using domains with WordPress.com later in the chapter.
You’ll also note that my username for this blog is also createyourownblog2ndedition. On WordPress.com, you can keep your username and blog name the same, or you can put a different name in the field. Something shorter, like cyob2nded, might have been a good choice here. Why? Shorter URLs are easier for you, and everyone else, to type.
I entered a password and confirmed it in the field, as well as an email address. It is very important that you enter your email address correctly because before you can start your blog, you have to click a link sent to that email address to confirm your account. When you click Sign Up, you go to a screen, like Figure 5.3, to put in a little information about yourself while waiting for that confirmation email to arrive.
Figure 5.3 The Edit Profile page on WordPress.com that you reach after starting the sign-up process.
When the email arrives in your inbox, you need to click the Activate Blog button. When you do, you’ll see a screen like Figure 5.4.
Figure 5.4. Confirmation and success! Also, your Dashboard for your blog on WordPress.com.
At this point, if you’re ready, you can start blogging! But maybe you’d like to know what some of the import settings and configuration steps are before you dive into blogging.
Key WordPress.com Settings and Configuration
Despite WordPress.com adding more and more features to the service, they’ve kept the number of things you need to do to get started to a bare minimum. Technically, you’ve completed all of them (signing up and confirming your account), but there are a few things I suggest you do to get started on the right foot.
First is updating a few of the basic settings. On the left side of the screen, click the Settings menu item (refer to Figure 5.4). This brings you to the General settings screen. You’ll see that the Site Title field is the name you created when you signed up for WordPress.com. You’ll also notice that the Tagline is “Just another WordPress.com site.” In Figure 5.5 you can see I’ve updated those fields to things that are more descriptive and interesting. Try to keep the site title reasonably short, but be more descriptive in the Tagline field. The Tagline is supposed to tell visitors a little about what they can expect to read when they come to your site. The last thing I change on this screen is the Timezone. Just pick your city from the menu.
Figure 5.5 The WordPress.com settings screen.
Scroll to the bottom of the screen, click Save Changes, and you’re done!
Now that the basic settings are updated—yes, believe it or not, that’s all you really need to do—let’s fix up a couple other things that will help you get off on the right foot.
When you start any WordPress.com blog or install WordPress yourself, the software automatically creates a new post and adds a comment to it. This is great so that you can see that everything worked, but leaving the “Hello World” post on your site isn’t needed. So, let’s delete the post—which will delete the comment as well.
First, click Posts from the menu on the left side. This brings up a list of all (right now, all one of them) posts on your blog. Pass your mouse pointer right below the title of the post until you see the menu that has Trash as an option. Just click Trash and you’re done (see Figure 5.6)!
Figure 5.6 Deleting the first default post on a new blog.
One last thing, and then you are set to get off and running. Just like creating a default Post, WordPress also creates a default About page. Again, on the left menu (you’re going to be clicking this menu a lot, by the way), click Pages and you’ll see a list of all the pages currently available (see Figure 5.7).
Figure 5.7. The list of the Pages for this site.
Just like with the Posts listing, pass your mouse below the title, but instead of clicking Trash, click Edit. You can also just click the title About, and you’ll get to the same editing screen (see Figure 5.8).
Figure 5.8. You’ll soon see that the Post editing screen looks almost identical to this Page editing screen.
What you’re going to do here is update the content. Maybe you’ll change the title to something more than just “About” (about what?) and edit the content of the Page as well. Don’t worry if you’re not sure about what you’re going to say; you can always come back and edit this Page as much as you’d like. Nothing is set in stone here. When you’re done, click Update. If you want to see how it looks, click View Page and a new tab or window will open with the results. Figure 5.9 shows what I did for this demo blog.
Figure 5.9. My updated About page, as meager as it might be.
We’re ready to start with the next step of getting this blog ready for action. Are there more things you can update? Certainly. If you pass your mouse pointer over the Users menu item on the left, a menu will pop out. If you choose My Profile, you can update the picture that is connected to your account and edit other bits of information (see Figure 5.10).
Figure 5.10. The profile page on the blog, where you can update more information if you want.
Do you need to update this? Eventually, but not right away. Right now we have more fun things to do. The next step is picking a cool and awesome theme for your blog.
Themes and Customizations
One of the best things about WordPress (and most other blogging engines) is that, on a whim, you can change the look and feel of your site with a click. Your content (Posts and Pages) isn’t affected at all. You might have to put widgets and menus back in place, but the important stuff—the stuff you’ve written—will be safe and sound.
Choosing the Right Theme for Your Blog
To get started picking a theme for your blog, first click the Appearance menu on the left. You’ll come to a page showing about 30 of the more than 190 themes available to you on WordPress.com. If you see what you like on the first screen, that’s great, but most of us want to browse around a little first.
To try to narrow down your theme choices, you can put a term into the search box (for example, “blue”) and click search, but you still might find yourself faced with a large number of theme choices. What I prefer to do is use the feature filter, as shown in Figure 5.11.
Figure 5.11. The feature filter with a few choices made.
After you’ve made your selections, click Apply Filters; you should see a few themes to pick from, like in Figure 5.12.
Figure 5.12. Results of my feature filter selections (more choices are offscreen).
It is possible you’ll see no results at all. Why? Well, because you might have narrowed the field so closely that there are no themes that appear to fit those criteria. Theme designers put in their own keywords and features, and sometimes they don’t do the most thorough job of it. So, the best suggestion when you get no results is to reduce the number of filters you’re applying and try again. Sometimes I’m reduced to looking for things like “three columns” or “blue” or “light” when looking for the perfect theme for the job. It just depends on what catches your eye for the task at hand.
After you pick the theme you’re interested in, you can select Preview to get an idea of how it looks (but there isn’t much to see, because you haven’t posted anything yet). Click Activate if you like what you see—at least for the time being—you can always change your mind later and pick a new theme.
Headers and Backgrounds
Many themes allow you to set a custom header image. Themes like Twenty Eleven and Twenty Ten come with several images that you can choose from (or have chosen at random). The theme I’m using for the examples here is called Dusk to Dawn and doesn’t come with any images, but you can easily add your own. You start by clicking the Header submenu under Appearance. In Figure 5.13 you can see that if you upload an image that is 870×220 pixels it will be used as is; if it’s larger you’ll be able to crop it (very handy that you can crop the image right within WordPress!). I made an image for this demo blog, uploaded it, cropped it a bit, and you can see the result in Figure 5.14.
Figure 5.13. The custom header image screen within WordPress.
Figure 5.14. The result! The custom header in place on the blog.
Although the ability to have a custom header is built in to WordPress, not all themes take advantage of the functionality. I particularly like being able to easily have a custom header image (and one that I can change easily), so I make sure that’s one of the features I select in the feature filter.
Some themes go even a step further and allow you to use a featured image on a Post to be the header for just that Post (like Twenty Ten and Twenty Eleven).
Being able to change your header as easily as uploading a new image makes updating your blog with a fresh look very, very easy. Changing things around doesn’t just end with the header; many themes allow you to choose new background images and colors as well.
Dusk to Dawn is one of those themes that allows you to mix things up a bit. Start by clicking Background under Appearance and, just like the Headers section, you’ll be given options for what to do next.
You can see what that default background looks like in Figure 5.14, but in Figure 5.15, you can see that I’ve picked a lighter shade of blue (if you’re reading this in black and white, trust me, it’s a lighter shade of blue). Figure 5.16 shows the result, which I think makes the details of the default background image stand out more.
Figure 5.15. Custom background screen in WordPress.
Figure 5.16. The new background color on the demo blog. Much nicer, I think.
Headers and backgrounds are nice window dressing, but what about something a little more useful, like a navigation menu? That’s our next stop.
Another feature built in to WordPress that themes can take advantage of is the custom menus function. Not long ago, editing your navigation menus was more than a bit of a chore. WordPress Menus allow you to create, edit, rearrange, and manage menus by just dragging and dropping. Like Headers and Background, choose Menus under Appearance to get started (see Figure 5.17).
Figure 5.17. The custom menu configuration screen.
This particular theme uses menus, but has them only on the sidebar. Other themes have menus horizontally across the top, either above or below the Header (sometimes even both places).
Working with Menus is easy. The first step is to create the menu by giving it a name in the Menu Name box and then clicking Create Menu. We don’t have a lot to add to our menu right now, but I added a custom link to my home page (trishussey.com) and added the About page we edited earlier in this chapter to my navigation menu. After I clicked Save Menu, I also made sure to pick the name of my menu from the menu in the Theme Locations box (and then clicked Save). This ensured that my menu would appear on my blog (believe me, I’ve missed that step before and wondered what was going on).
You can see the menu on the sidebar in Figure 5.18.
Figure 5.18. My custom menu in place on the sidebar.
The last bit of fun we’re going to have here in the themes department (and before we get to the good stuff—writing!) is talking about widgets. I talked a little about widgets in Chapter 2, but here I’m going to show you how they are used on a WordPress-based site.
Like everything else theme related, you’ll find the Widget screen under the Appearance menu by clicking Widgets. In Figure 5.19 you can see what the default widget screen looks like for this theme. Like headers and backgrounds, each theme can define which and how many widgets are displayed at first.
Figure 5.19. The default Widget screen. Oh, the possibilities!
Adding a widget to your sidebar is very easy—just drag and drop it into place! In Figure 5.20 you can see a number of widgets that I’ve dropped onto this theme’s sidebar. I left the configuration area for the Facebook Like widget open so you could see how that looks.
Figure 5.20. Just a few widgets in place as an example.
Some themes have widget areas only in the sidebars, but other themes have them in the header, footer, and even in the middle of the page. In Chapter 2, I said that a widget is just an easy way to contain extra code to display things like Twitter feeds, Facebook Like buttons, a list of your recent posts, or all the pages on your blog. Because the widgets move in and out like little boxes or containers, you can add and remove interesting interactive elements to your site without needing to know how to code them yourself.
Figure 5.21 shows what some of the widgets on this demo site look like in place. Again, as I said in Chapter 2, widgets are great and can you can add really neat stuff to your blog using widgets, but you can also go overboard. Too many widgets slows down how fast your blog loads. When in doubt, have a friend check your site on their computer to see if it still loads okay for them. If it takes a minute or two to completely load, you probably have too many widgets!
Figure 5.21. Widgets in place. Why don’t you Like me on Facebook?
That’s about all we need to do to your site at the moment to get you going to the next step—writing. If you’re feeling a little lost with WordPress, don’t worry—its Help section is great. You can refer to it anytime from the Help menu, and it should clarify something for you if one of the features has changed between my writing this book and your reading it.
With the foundation in place, let’s get to writing—or at least creating content.