1. Choose the right theme. When you choose a theme, be aware that the pages, menus, colors, and navigation vary widely from theme to theme. Since on Day One of blogging you barely know the difference between a page and post, it can be hard to choose wisely. Things to look for:
- will posts go in one column or two, or even more?
- will widgets go in one column or two?
- which side are the widgets on?
- where will comment links go?
- where do the widgets (custom pictures, links, menus, and icons) go? Are they limited?
- can you choose the text colors for the header?
- can you have a header graphic?
- what color will other important text go in?
- are all “Pages” linked up top, or down the side?
- is the date of each post really prominent? Do you care?
- do you like the bullets?
- If your blog is not too old and set in its ways, preview some new themes by using Appearance -> Themes -> and under one of the other themes, click Live Preview.
2. Customize the background. If the background can be edited, you have two choices: choose a solid color, or add an image. If you add an image, you have several choices for “tiling” vs. “not repeating” it. I made a collage in Picasa for the background, which I saved in sepia and faded by adjusting the light settings in Picasa. I ended up having to make my image quite small to get the tiling to look right. See tip 5 for making a collage.
3. If you want people to subscribe… Take a good look at your blog’s main page. Is it perfectly obvious how a reader should subscribe by a feed, and email? There should be a total of three or four such links. Use the Follow Blog widget and also RSS Links widget, and anything else you can think of.
4. It’s your side column. Why not use it? If you are displaying enough posts to make a very long initial screen, you can also use more of the side column, too. Widgets are unlimited in my theme. So I created one that displays a feed of other people’s blogs, that are in my Google Reader. On WordPress.com, this is called the “RSS Links” widget. How did I get that RSS feed URL? Just opened that section of my RSS feed and copied the URL from the browser.
5. Place a custom image in your header. If your theme has a header image, you can replace it by using “Header” under “Appearance.” I find it easiest to create my own collages in order to get the size, color, pictures and text that I want in a header. I do this in Picasa, which is free software.
- Open Picasa, choose the picture or pictures you want from your computer, and once they are in the tray, click the “Create photo collage” button.
- Once in Collage, under Settings choose an arrangement.
- Most arrangements allow you to re-arrange pix by clicking on a picture and you can change the angle, and scale the size, with that handle.
- You can move pictures off to the “Clips” box, or back on again.
- Under Page Format, make a custom size to match what’s needed in the blog header (find that size under Appearance -> Header back on your blog screens).
- Choose background, etc.
- “Create Collage.”
- This throws you back on an edit screen where you can add “Text.” Choose a font in a large size, but remember once typed, the text should be grabbed by the handle and enlarged.
- Text has a filler color and a border color for each letter. When setting text colors, hover over the colors to watch them change on your collage.
- Save the collage.
6. Comments are good, but contact is good too. Of course you will encourage comments. But sometimes readers, particularly unknown relatives, will want to contact you directly and it’s awkward for them to do that as a comment on a post. Try to give a way to email you either on your sidebar or on your About Me page.
7. Customize your favicon. Wait, what? The little W that appears as the tiny bookmark and tab icon in a browser can be customized by adding a picture to the General Settings page under Settings. Once uploaded, a 16 pixel square version appears as the tiny icon.
8. What more can you do on the About Me page? Your main blog page is for everybody. Your About Me page, however, is for new readers who might have an interest in knowing more about your blog and your research. Use that page to add messages about your business, your family history, your favorite causes, whatever. I figure people looking at it are probably fairly new to my blog, so I link to a few of my favorite posts, which they probably missed.
9. Pictures + text = post. I believe that blog posts should be attractive and easy to read. I’m sure I don’t always meet that goal, but I try by placing pictures throughout the post, with captions. Believe me, plenty of readers just like to look at the pictures and captions. Sources of pictures include your own photos (see Marian Pierre-Louis’ post on taking lots of pictures) and out-of-copyright photos by others. One source of such out-of-copyright images is the Dover Publications CD-Rom and Book “electronic clip art” series. Alternately, you can scour the web for your own pre-1923 publications and use a snipping tool to copy images to your own computer. For instance, if I was writing about the Battle of Gettysburg, I would search Archive.org, and look through the pre-1923 books that came up, for suitable images. Readers like it better if you give a source for each picture.
10. Avoid accidents. It happens to every blogger. You are sitting bleary-eyed blogging away at midnight, and instead of saving your work, you post it. That half-finished post, which you might have decided later is mindless drivel, has now been emailed to your subscribers, and put on the RSS feed of your feed subscribers. There’s nothing you can do about the email, and you can’t actually remove it from the RSS feed by deleting it, but since the RSS feed will give the most CURRENT version, most bloggers will copy over the text to a new post, and delete all the text from the old post, and change the title to something like – “Sorry – accidental post.” I avoid this altogether by scheduling each post, at the time I begin it, for three years later. Since I almost always blog ahead, I have to adjust the date before posting anyway. I learned this the time I posted “10 Free Rhode Island Resources” when I had only entered 8 so far (I later added one more, making it nine). Ah, great moments in blogging!
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