Welcome to the Blogger Series (new posts in this series will be uploaded every Thursday).
Since I use WordPress.com and it’s what I recommend for those new to blogging, this post will be specific mostly to the WordPress.com platform. However, some if not most of the information here, can be relevant to almost any blogging platform.
How to set up your blog
The first thing you need to do is register with your blogging platform. So you would go to WordPress.com and register. This takes you through registering where you choose your URL.
Unless connected to a domain name (I’ll discuss that in a later post) your URL will have wordpress.com at the end.
Create your blog by typing in the blog title (name). If it’s already being used, it will tell you and you will need to select a new name.
Say you wanted to use your name but that is already taken. Try adding Writer or Author to the front or back of your name, or perhaps “writes” at the end or some other aspect.
There are numerous possibilities to try if your name URL is not available.
For blog names that are not a person’s name, this can be trickier but still adding “the” or “a” or some other “filler” word at the front or back can help.
I believe when I started “EternalScribbler” was taken so I put my blog name as “TheEternalScribbler”.
Choosing a theme
Once you are registered you can start making your blog look the way you want it to. The first thing you need to do is choose a theme.
A theme is the graphical design template of the blog that modifies the way a site is displayed.
WordPress.com has hundreds of theme options. Both free and paid versions. Paid options do often have more advanced customization but many of the free ones have everything you need for a new blog.
Themes can be easily changes later on anyway, so I suggest starting with a free version.
To choose a theme, go to your dashboard (top left corner “MySite”), there is an option called Customize and beside it, a button called Themes. Click the “themes” button.
Browse through the different options. You can separate out the free themes by selecting “free” at the top right. You can use the search bar and type in keywords to help you find themes that might work best for your blog.
Things to consider when choosing a theme
The sort of content you produce will have a factor in your theme. If you’re a photographer and want to showcase your photos, then you want something that has a gallery.
If your blog will be more text-heavy, like many writers, then a theme that is more text-based it a better bet.
Your style and personality should be present in your blog. It’s another part of your branding and should definitely be something you consider.
You can read about the importance of branding in my post How to build your brand as a writer
Do you like lots of colour? Maybe something more minimal or simple? How about something different or eclectic? Consider your style and brand when choosing a theme.
Each theme can be demo’d so you can see how it looks. Simply click on the desired theme and it will open up a new page. Here you can see some of the details including how it will look on different devices.
There is an overview description of the theme and a button top centre that allows you to try a live demo, as you can see from the below example.
Do take time to choose your theme. Read the overviews, check the demos and think about how you want your blog to look. Consider the amount of effort each theme might take. Some need more amendments and customisation than others.
When you’ve made your choice, simply click the Activate (or purchase) button.
If you see a blog with a theme you like, ask the blogger what theme they use. Most bloggers are friendly people and if approached politely, will be happy to help.
How to add a header to your blog
If your blog has the option of adding a banner/header image then this is something you might want to consider. Again, this all connects to branding and personality. So take your time, decide on the sort of image you want representing your blog.
My first header image featured a fountain pen resting on paper. I eventually moved to my current header which is the quill and inkpot.
While I don’t actually use a quill when writing (though I do have one 😉 ) I felt the image fit nicely with my fantasy writing. I now use this image on all my social media.
You can read about brand consistency in my post How to be consistent in your branding
Before you rush off and find an image, check the size recommendations for your header. To do this, go to your dashboard (MySite) and click Customize. This will open the Customization Dashboard.
Select Header Image and here it should tell you the best pixel size for your header. Below you can see my header image and the recommended pixel size for my headers.
While it doesn’t have to be exact, it gives you an idea of the image size you need. Your best bet is getting a larger image and shrinking/cropping to fit.
You can crop the image on your wordpress.com blog but while you’re looking for a picture make sure you are aiming to get one bigger than the pixels needed. Most images will need to be landscape so consider this also when looking.
If you aren’t ready to sort a personal header just yet, you can use one of the options that the theme, most likely, provides.
Adding a Site Title and tagline
While in this customization dashboard, make sure you fill in the Site Title. Even if you select not to show it on the blog itself, it’s a good idea to fill it in. This is shown on Google and can be part of your SEO (will discuss SEO in another post).
Here you can see my Site Title and tagline. As you can see I have unticked the option to have them show up on the blog, as they would sit right across my header ruining the look.
This is also where you would add in a Favicon (site icon). I discussed this in my earlier post Why you should use a Favicon for branding. You can see my icon is a little quill, that connects back to my header. 🙂
Deciding on backgrounds and colours
There is a section in the customization dashboard that allows you to change the colours and background image of your blog. I personally haven’t used this as I like clean, white backgrounds and find them easiest when reading a large amount of text.
However, you can brand your blog with a colour scheme or choose something that works more for you.
WordPress.com gives you a sample of background patterns and a palette of colours but you can also upload your own image and select your own colour.
A quick note, if you are adding your own image, make sure it’s a high-resolution image otherwise it can end up being stretched and look grainy and pixellated.
What are Widgets and why you should add them to your blog
A Widget is a stand-alone application that can be used to modify or add content without the need for coding. They are most often used in blog sidebars and footers.
If you look at my blog you will see I have several Widgets in my sidebar. These include:
- An image Widget for my avatar picture
- A text Widget that includes my mini-bio/welcome
- Social icons Widget
- A search bar Widget
- and more
Your sidebar (if your blog has one) is a good place to put some links and information. I personally recommend at least:
- A mini About Me section (with or without picture)
- Social media links
- Social media feeds
- Search bar
A mini-bio is good as anyone who stumbles onto your blog will know instantly if it’s something for them. So use this to discuss what the blog is about and who you are. I recommend keeping it very short. Remember it’s a “MINI” bio, not a full About page.
Social media icons linking to your different SM platforms is a good way to keep people connected to you.
Social media feeds are great because, at a quick glance, a reader can decide if they want to follow your SM platforms.
A search bar is a must because people will often use it to find other topics in your blog. Hell, I use my own search bar all the time when I need to link to older posts! 🙂
There is a list of Widget types that WordPress.com offer, I have listed just a few of the options:
- Tag cloud
- List of blogs who follow you
- Category cloud
- Music player
- and more
When choosing what Widgets/info to put in your sidebar (or footer) you need to consider:
- whether it’s necessary
- whether it will clutter your blog
- whether you really want it or just think you should have it
- whether it will do anything for your blog.
I used to have a tag cloud but no one ever clicked it so I removed it. It was taking up space I could use for something else.
If you’re not sure what to add, look over your favourite blogs and see what other people are including in theirs. How does it look? Do you want something similar? Try a few Widgets out and remove what doesn’t work or doesn’t look right.
What’s the difference between a Page and a Post?
A Page is a static piece of content. Whereas a post is replaced content in the sense that if you write a blog post, then write another, the first one will move down and the newest one will replace it on the blog’s homepage.
Posts are published with the date and time on them so if your reader is using an RSS feed, they will be notified of the recent posts as they are uploaded.
Since this post is all about setting up your blog, I’m going to just talk about Pages. (I’ll be discussing posts in a later post).
Pages you should consider including on your blog
This will vary from blogger to blogger and also depend on the purpose of your blog. For example, if you want to connect with people you might consider adding a Contact Me page.
If you are giving advice, you may want to set up an FAQ page. If you run a forum, you will want a Rules of Conduct page.
This is a good Page to include. Readers want to know about the person behind the blog. It doesn’t have to be 1000s of words explaining everything from your dog’s eye colour to your favourite cake.
Think about what information you are happy to include, what information your readers might find interesting and/or relevant.
Try different ways for this. Some people write in the third person, some in first. Some are detailed and professional, some are more injected with humour and personality.
My first About Page was a bulleted list (because I love lists) of things about me. When I decided I wanted to make a change. I opted for a more visual About Me page and added lots of photos.
Now I’ve changed my About Me page to a simple bio, clean links and a picture Something simple but that covers several aspects about me.
This is a good page to have if you are hoping to connect with people, gain more engagement and build a network. You don’t have to give out your email address as WordPress.com gives you the option of embedding a Contact Form.
I discussed the importance of being easy to find in my article about making sure people can find your online.
You could even just have a Contact Page and list your social media links on it. Tell people where the best place to find you/contact you is.
If you are a published writer, you should DEFINITELY have a Page listing your books (and the links of where to buy them).
This should be a given. Include a good quality image of your book cover, your blurb and your sales links.
Hell, I’m not published (as of writing this article) and *I* have a Books Page. I do it as a motivator, I do it so that people know I am serious about being a writer and can learn about my WIPs.
My suggestion is to start small. Unless you know what Pages you want, keep it to the three I mentioned. You can always add further page later.
How to add Pages to your Blog
To add Pages, simply go to your dashboard and select Site Page > Add. This will open up a new Page template.
Give it a title, add your text to the body (recommendation tip – write your text in a Word file and copy and paste. Just to stop any sudden crashing from eating your text).
Things you need to know, in the above image, on the right, under Page Template is has a little box saying “Order” with a zero. The order dictates where the Page is placed on the menu.
As you can see from my menu below, the Who, Me? Page would be zero. (Home is locked in place so is not counted). Then Books will be 1 and FAQs will be 2 etc.
So if I wanted to move FAQs to be next to Who, Me? I would change the order number on the FAQ Page to 1 and change Books to 2. So Order allows you to arrange your Pages the way you want.
To make things neater and more organised, you can nest pages beneath each other. I like this method as it keeps my menu bar narrow and uncluttered.
As you can see from the below example, I have several Pages nesting under the top-level (Parent) Page “Who, Me?”
The same goes for my Guest Poster Page. I have a link to my guest post articles in the top-level Page and then two nested Pages.
To change the level, on the right-hand side of the Page Template, under Page Attributes, it has Top Level. If you untick this it will list of all your existing Pages. You can then select which Page will be the Top Level (Parent) for your new Page to be nested beneath.
Why you should set some Pages up first
If you are new to blogging, you want to get the overall look of your blog sorted. That’s why this post discusses choosing a theme and adding a header image.
Pages give your first readers content while you start to build up actual blog posts.
A good About Me page can have readers following your blog even when there are no posts because they connect with you and think, “Yes, I want to keep an eye on this blog.”
So, take the time to get a few Pages created.
Some extra things to consider
It’s a good idea to include a copyright notice. It can be as simple as the current year, the copyright symbol and your name (or the name of your blog).
It takes no time to add a Text Widget and put it in. You can even include a more detailed disclaimer stating no content can be used without written permission from you, the owner.
Where is your blog going to be?
By this I mean, do you want your blog to be the Homepage? This is how I have mine set up. So, as soon as someone visits my page the first thing they see on the Homepage is my newest blog post.
However, you might prefer to have a Page in your menu bar that links to your blog and have your Homepage as a static Welcome page or even as the About Me Page.
Just something else to consider when setting up your new blog.