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Testing, Testing: Prep for Prime Time with a Test Blog

Building a blog you’re proud to share isn’t just about high drama, stunning photography, or sublime comedy. You also need…

Building a blog you’re proud to share isn’t just about high drama, stunning photography, or sublime comedy. You also need to love the way your blog looks and functions.

Customizing your theme, getting creative with widgets, or tweaking your settings can be nerve-wracking on an active blog — what happens when that perfect new header image is off-center? Your custom font illegibly small? Your attempt at CSS makes your widgets disappear? Luckily, there’s a simple way to ensure that your readers never see a site you’re less than thrilled with: welcome to your own private bloggy playground, AKA a test blog. It’s free, it’s easy, and it’ll let you put your best blog forward.

Why create a test blog?

I know, I know: you barely have time to keep up with one blog. How can we expect you to have two?

Not this kind of test, thank goodness. Image by wecometolearn, CC BY 2.0.

Not this kind of test, thank goodness. Image by wecometolearn, CC BY 2.0.

A test blog doesn’t actually add to your to-dos, because you’re not writing posts there. A test blog is simply a private place for you to play with your layout and get comfortable with everything WordPress.com lets you do:

  • Test drive themes and explore their options to find which you like best.
  • Try different layouts — one sidebar, or two? A static home page? Custom menus? — and see what suits your content.
  • Practice your WordPress.com skills. Insert a tiled gallery of images, or embed a few tweets. Play with post formats. Create a custom form, and tweak the fields. Get comfortable with the tools at your disposal.
  • Give CSS a try. Hide a post’s metadata or change the padding around images without worrying that you’ll accidentally delete your header or turn your font purple.

A test blog is especially handy for playing with widgets, which lack a “preview” option like posts and pages. You can use text and image widgets to create simple custom touches for your blog, and use a test blog to make sure all your HTML tags are in a row before re-creating the widget on your public blog.

There are limits to what you can do on a test blog: notably, premium themes and upgrades like Custom Design are per-blog, so you’d need to purchase them specifically for your test blog. That might be a worthwhile investment to get your dream blog, but there’s plenty you can do with a free test blog — all the widgets, menu options, post formats, and free themes are your oyster.

How to do it

If you’re already registered at WordPress.com, creating a test blog takes all of twelve seconds. Log in to WordPress.com, and click the “My Blogs” tab in the blue bar running across the top of the screen:

myblogsnav

Now, look to the left — in the left sidebar of your “My Blogs” page, the words “create another blog” are hyperlinked. Click ‘em:

createanotherbloglink

On the page that opens, pick a URL and title for your blog, and select “private” as your privacy setting:

privacyprivate

You’re done. Get to testing!

(Note: now is not the time to use up that super-clever domain name you thought of — no one but you will see this blog. Be polite, and leave it for a new blogger who’s trying to make a splash.)

It’ll be easier to see what your public blog will actually look like if your test blog has a few posts and pages to display, so publish a few. If you have some published posts, copy and paste them in — testing will be even more effective if it uses your actual content. If not, no worries! These posts and pages don’t have to be real; they just need some text and a few images. Copy a few paragraphs from a book you’ve got handy, or use a lorem ipsum generator to create some dummy text.

Now what?

Time to play! Activate some themes, including a few you don’t think you like — you never know how a little customization can radically transform them. Maybe a theme that seems too stark will be the perfect canvas, or a few tweaks will transform a cute seasonal theme into your elegant dream site. Just like jeans, you never know how a theme will fit until you try it on.

Now, dig into your dashboard. Change settings, and see what happens to the blog. Try enabling a static front page to create a more home page-like experience — how does that feel? Enable post excerpts. Turn infinite scroll on. Go to town with widgets: enable them all. See what they look like. Drag ‘em around, and customize their content and titles. If you decide to add the Custom Design upgrade, do more than futzing with colors and fonts; get your hands dirty with some CSS.

This is awful and you should NOT publish a website that looks anything like it, but it's a-okay on your test blog!

This is awful and you should NOT publish a website that looks anything like it, but it’s a-okay on your test blog!

It doesn’t matter how cluttered your sidebar gets, or how distracting your Grateful Dead bear background is. This is simply testing! Experimentation! Science Blogging! Explore all your options with an open mind — and without fear of wrecking anything. When you’re happy with your test site’s settings and features, mimic them on your public blog.

There is another way to create this playground for yourself: set your blog to private (head to Settings >> Reading in your dashboard to access the privacy settings), and experiment before opening it to the public. If you’ve just started your blog and haven’t shared the URL with anyone yet, this is a great option — you can still write and publish in the meantime, and all your content will be accessible as soon as you update the privacy setting to “public.”

If you’ve already got an active blog, a test blog may be more up your alley. (A test blog also gives you a place to experiment in the future — we add new themes and features all the time, and you may want to try them out risk-free.)

If you have a site you love to look at, rather than one that’s just “good enough,” you’re more likely to put in the effort to publish regularly and attract readers — and isn’t that why you started in the first place?

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53 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Love the idea and have wondered what my blog could look like using other layouts and such. Looking forward to trying this.

  2. Great idea. I’ve been so used to just testing on my live site I didn’t think of using a beta to do the testing. Cant wait to give it a try.

    1. Hello side question! Will wordpress look into having the ability to disable comments on certain posts, or is this something that is already in effect but I am just unaware? :) Thank you!!

      1. The latter. Go to All Posts; highlight the one in which you want to turn Comments off and click on Quick Edit; a window will open that enables you to unclick the Comments.

  3. Another thing you might want to do if you have already have an extensive blog is export the contents and then import that into your private test blog.

    Lorem Ipsum texts are useful in that the words don’t distract you from paying attention to the layout. But it’s hard to make them so that they have the same properties as your real blog, like the right mix of post lengths, amount of comments, or just the sheer number of posts, tags etc.

    Oftentimes things like that will affect what works as a design and what doesn’t.

  4. This is a great idea! I do have one test blog that I use to explore new themes. However, unless we buy the custom design upgrade we can’t test CSS properly on a test blog, can we?

    1. I’ve had two WordPress blogs, about a year apart, and I can tell you for a fact that buying the CSS enabler is worth every cent of the not large cost. Think Nike’s instruction!

  5. Wonderful! I’ve been wanting to transition another blog that I maintain to WordPress, but didn’t want to garble everything while I worked on the layout. Thanks!

  6. You lot have been reading my mind. How do you DO that? [grin]
    I got up at this unearthly hour (in Sydney) with the express thought of looking into how best to set up a test blog; and, lo and behold! – The Daily Post was telling me! Crikey!
    Good on yer, that’s all I can say.

    1. Further on this. I asked Help how to actually mirror my site so as to have another version to do the experimentation with. Turns out that one must buy the custom design thinggy every time one wishes to register another blogsite! – that is, if one wants to mirror the existing one (that does utilise custom design).
      Shan’t be doing that. And as there’s zero point in playing around with a separate site if the content isn’t the same, I’m back to fiddling with the actual.
      Sighh …

    2. Yup, as noted in the post, upgrades are per-blog. Setting our blog to “private” while you play with the design is the best bet if you want freedom to experiment out of the public eye.

  7. I’m using a test site for some time but the problem I face is that the editing/customizing isn’t that efficient because it doesn’t have the same contents as the original blog.For example,we can’t test infinite scroll and post excerpts as mentioned above.Editing the theme according to the available contents is the need. I think the solution could be copying all the contents to my test site. Please suggest if there is a better solution. :)

    1. If you want to use your original site’s content, you can create an export file and then import it into the test site. You can also create a partial export if that suits you.

    2. Exactly what Jent said! In your dashboard, go to the “Tools” tab and select “Export” to download a file with your content. Then, on your test blog, go to “Tools” and select “Import” to upload the content to your test blog.

  8. I love this idea! So often I wish I knew exactly what I could do and what an idea would look like but hesitate in favor of playing it safe. I will definitely use this. Thank you!!

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