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Getting Started with WordPress.com

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WordPress is one of the top blogging platforms on the web right now. ¬†It’s an open-source blogging software that can be installed on a server OR used through the site WordPress.com. ¬†Today I’d like to show you the latter and give some tips on how to get your blog off the ground.

When you first register, you’ll have to fill out a form (pictured above). This first step is important as you can set your URL, through you can¬†change it later. Catchy blog URLs are one of the first things you can do to optimize your site to attract more visitors. ¬†I’d recommend making it both short¬†and relevent. If you’d like to pay for a .com or a .net (domain name) you can, but WordPress.com charges more than a regular domain name registrar (seller). I’d recommend against paying for one until your site gets a moderate amount of traffic and you know you’re interested in putting a lot of effort into the blog you’ve created.

Now that you’ve registered and created a URL, go to¬†http://YOURBLOG.wordpress.com/wp-admin/ (with “YOURBLOG” being replaced by whatever URL you chose in the first step). This is the control panel and is not easy to go to from the top menu, but is a place where you can manage all facets of your blog.

Here there are a few things to be done before we get ready and post everything. You’ll notice two yellow boxes with help information, those are always good to look at if you need help with anything. Find on the left side where it says Posts¬†and click on “All Posts” from the dropdown menu. WordPress puts in a default welcoming post confirming your installation was successful, but it’s not something you’ll want to keep. You can delete posts by either checking the box and going to the dropdown which says “Bulk Options” and selecting “Move to Trash” OR hover your mouse over that post and you’ll notice links appear at the bottom, click “Trash”. This will also delete the premade comment that was on that blog post.

Next order of business is going to “Settings” (left menu). In the “General” area we need to set 1) Site name, 2) Site slogan, and 3) our timezone w/ first day of the week. Site name can be similar to your URL and slogan should also tie in (ie: japanblog.wordpress.com / Japan Blog / #1 Blog about Japan). Remember, catchy is good!

After those basic options have been set, head over to the “Appearance” menu item. In my opinion, this is one of the most fun parts of setting up a new blog. ¬†Try to find a theme that fits what you have in mind. ¬†You can use the search box on the right hand side along with “Filters” to narrow down the selection of themes to fit what you’re looking for. ¬†Keep in mind that most themes are free, but some are not. ¬†Just like the domain name, I would urge users to get used to blogging and make sure they’re going to make a commitment to their site before spending money.

When choosing a theme several things should be kept in mind. The first should be usability. Maybe you see a nice pink design that is totally “you”, but if the pink background makes some pink links hard to read it may not be the best choice. Users who have a hard time navigating your site won’t want to stick around and you’ll quickly wind up with no one stopping by. But that doesn’t mean you should forgo a cool design, the second point is to choose a theme that’s eye catching. People will be more likely to stop by your blog if it looks nice. It doesn’t have to be flashy or colorful (although it definitely can be!), minimalistic designs can work very well sometimes. Just as long as it looks decent and you like it as well. A third thing to keep in mind is organization. You’ll see that themes have a lot of different ways of displaying menus, sidebars, and your posts. If you want to put important links or information in your sidebar you probably shouldn’t pick a theme that puts that section at the bottom or in a hard to spot place.

Once you’ve chosen a theme, you may customize it by using widgets. ¬†These can be found under the same “Appearance” menu drop down. Widgets can be placed in certain areas of the layout you’ve chosen and I recommend just playing around with these and using the ones you feel are interesting.

Before we post, we must add some Categories which can be accessed by clicking the link of the same name in the “Posts”¬†menu. Categories serve to organize your posts by topic. If, for example, you were creating ¬†blog about Japan, I might add these categories for starters, “Food”, “Landmarks”, and “Culture”. ¬†That way if you want to post about the awesome okonomiyaki you had last night you could file it under “Food” (and maybe “Culture” too) or if you want to show off your trip to Kamakura you could use categories “Landmarks” and “Culture”.

Finally! We’re ready to post! This is what the main posting screen looks like, although from WordPress.com you also have a more minimalistic posting screen. ¬†This one’s a bit more complicated, but it will serve you better to understand it in the long run. Let’s go over the areas of this screen:

  • Title:¬†I always recommend picking a title that focuses on keywords. Think about what people will be searching in Google to get to your post. Don’t use a generic title like “Beautiful Temple”… put words in there that are descriptive, such as “Kinkaku-ji, Japan’s Beautiful Golden Temple”. People will probably be searching for one of those words, the first title didn’t even have a location.
  • Publish: To the left of the title box you’ll see an area with the title “Publish”. ¬†These are the options for your posts publishing. After you’re finished writing you’ll hit the big blue “Publish” button, but you can also configure it to publish at a certain time as well. If you want to see what you’re post will look like, use the preview function. ¬†The “Save Draft” button is handy if you’re interrupted and have to finish your blog post later.
  • Category: The aforementioned categories we created can be used here. ¬†Check the boxes of whatever categories the post is related too. Don’t hesitate to use multiple categories, but make sure they stay relevant! If you don’t have the perfect category for the post you can also add a new one with the link at the bottom.
  • Tags: Tags are like categories. You don’t have to use them, but if you do just add in some keywords that go along with your blog post.
  • Featured Image: Most people won’t need this and unless your theme uses it, I wouldn’t recommend wasting time on it. If you feel your visitors will share your information Facebook you may want to use it as it will hypothetically set the picture that pops up next to your URL on that site
  • “Add” Icons: Under the title box there are 3 icons. These are for adding media, polls, and forms (in that order). The most important is the media icon and I’ll cover adding media in a bit.
  • Post Box: The post box is directly under the three icons and features a nice big white space for you to write in and a row of buttons to format your post. These are very similar to a stripped down word processing program and if you hover over the buttons they’ll display a tooltip which tells you their function.
  • Writing Helper: If you have a similar post you’ve done and want to do a new one in the same style you could use the “Copy a Post” function. If you want to get some help on your writing, you can “Request Feedback”
  • Likes and Shares: This is a simple check box that gives you the option to display social media sharing and Facebook “likes”. Because social media is a great traffic driver I recommend leaving these boxes checked so that they will display.

Now it’s time to write your post! Blogs are great for expressing yourself because there are no rules about what to write, how to write, or in what style you should be writing. A picture and a few words of description are perfect as are long fictional epics. I would suggest that you take the time to make sure your spelling and grammar is correct. Blogs that contain many mistakes are more likely to appear as unreliable and may also turn visitors away. When writing also take the time to be descriptive and, like the title, predict what keywords visitors might be looking for when they’re trying to find your post through a search engine. In the long run it may significantly increase your ranking in search results.

When posting, I always encourage people to include a picture!¬†This will catch the readers eye and may get them to read what they otherwise wouldn’t have. A paragraph is much easier to ignore than a paragraph under an thoughtful and relevant image. The image above is displaying an image which I have uploaded from the aforementioned “add media” icon under the title. Let’s take a look at the options! The image title¬†must be filled in, but WordPress automatically uses the filename. ¬†If this is unsatisfactory you can manually set it. ¬†Alternate text¬†will display if for some reason the image doesn’t display or a visitor has images turned off on their browser, setting it is optional. Default Caption¬†is just that, a caption. Do NOT set it unless you want the caption to appear. ¬†If you want just the image please leave this blank. After that we have the description which is optional, up to individual preference whether or not to fill it in. I would advise new users not to touch Link URL¬†unless they want the image to click on to another page (ie: post the Google logo and have it go to google.com).¬†Under the text options are display options in regards to how you want it inserted into your post. These are self-explanatory. It’s always good to mix up image location, so don’t always just put a centered image at the top… move them around! Longer posts are usually needed though if you want to put an image on the left or right side. Under those we have size options. The scaled “Medium” is almost always the best way to go. Once you’ve set everything click “Insert into Post“! If you made a mistake or want to change one of the settings, simply click the image in your post. ¬†You may choose to edit the options or delete it.

Now you’re set to publish your first post and hopefully many more!


Written for CIS Spring ’12. I know I only asked for 5 points, but I skipped out on the other EC to really focus on this and put together something that’s, in my opinion, very comprehensive (so I am willing to accept more :p). ¬†Perhaps if I had written it in the beginning of the semester there may have been less questions.

Feels like a weird way to end¬†the semester… publishing something on how to start¬†blogging. Cheers everyone! ¬†I had fun with you all and loved commenting on everyone’s blogs! Was an amazing experience and I was shocked to hear TUJ wasn’t interested in continuing it.

– Paul

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