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Getting Your New Blog Off on the Right Foot: Setting Up House

Congratulations, it’s a blog! It’s January 1st, and we know what that means: lots of you are starting your first…

Happy 2014! Take a moment to enjoy this photo of a cat dressed as a bunny that was inexplicably my first search result for "Happy New Year." (Photo by Takashi, CC BY-SA 2.0.)

Congratulations, it’s a blog!

It’s January 1st, and we know what that means: lots of you are starting your first blogs, and many more are re-committing yourselves to blogs you already have. The next few weeks here on The Daily Post are all about tips and tools to help you kick off your blog resolutions (blogolutions? resoblogs?), starting with a two-day crash course.

Even if you’ve been blogging for a while, it’s worth revisiting the building blocks — there’s always room for improvement. And if you want a blogging immersion, check out the Zero to Hero 30-day Challenge, starting tomorrow.

Okay, enough yakking. Time to blog.

You probably want to be happy with the way your blog looks before you announce it to the world, so let’s tackle that. Today, we’ll give your online home a New Years’ cleaning. Tomorrow, Ben gets you started with the basics of publishing, so your visitors have something to read.

Happy 2014! Take a moment to enjoy this photo of a cat dressed as a bunny that was inexplicably my first search result for "Happy New Year." (Photo by Takashi, CC BY-SA 2.0.)

Happy 2014! Take a moment to enjoy this photo of a cat dressed as a bunny that was inexplicably my first search result for “Happy New Year.” (Photo by Takashi, CC BY-SA 2.0.)

The landscape

Before you can start blogging, you need to know how to find your blog. To get going, log in at WordPress.com. Once you’re in, you’re free to roam about that cabin — you can toss a new post up, browse other blogs in the Reader, or head deeper into your blog’s Dashboard to tinker with its settings.

Whenever you’re logged in to WordPress.com, you’ll see a black toolbar running across the top of your screen, no matter what WordPress.com site you’re on. Look at the right side of the bar — see your username? Hover over it for quick access to your blog and dashboard, or to start a new post.

Your title and tagline

Now, time to do a little housekeeping. Your blog’s title and tagline (if you decide to use one) are the first things most readers will see.

Your address will always be the one you initially registered when you signed up with WordPress.com, but your title and tagline can be anything you want. Just because your address is myawesomeblog.wordpress.com, doesn’t mean your blog’s title has to stay myawesomeblog. Make it personal and inviting: try My Awesome BlogJim’s Awesome BlogJim’s Awesome Blog About Widgets, or even Jim’s Widget-o-Rama; the choice is yours.

Ditto for your tagline — every WordPress.com site comes with a generic tagline like, “This WordPress.com site is the bee’s knees.” You can edit it or delete it altogether. Try variations. Change it seasonally. It’s an easy way to tell readers a little more about what they’ll find on your site before they read a single post.

To change your title and/or tagline, head to the Settings → General section of your Dashboard:

title-and-tagline

If you’re feeling uninspired, take a look at our series on choosing the perfect blog name, featuring WordPressers who’ve created just-right titles. Once you’ve got a name you love, you can also consider adding a custom domain name to bring your blog’s address in line with its title. 

Your theme

Next up, consider your theme options. Since no one is going to spend more time on your blog than you, it behooves you to make it a place you think is comfortable, good-looking, and reflective of you.  There are many more themes than you might have seen while signing up for WordPress.com, so it’s worth revisiting.

To help whittle down the options, try our three rules of thumb:

  1. Pick something that speaks to you. You might admire the bold typography of Blog Simple, but if you’re personally drawn to the soft look of Ever After, you’ll be happier with that in the long run.
  2. Consider your content. If you know you’ll be posting lots of images, themes like Spun show off photos. If you don’t own a camera but love poetry, Writr or Manifest make your text the star. If you plan to write about a few different topics, a magazine-style theme like Twenty Fourteen might be right for you. (Not sure what you want to publish? First, welcome to the 99%. Second, the Theme Showcase is your oyster. See what visuals you’re drawn to, and then consider the third guideline.)
  3. Think about your priorities. Some themes, like Cheer, have a very distinctive look, which is probably what drew you in. Others, like Twenty Ten, let you upload a custom header and make other tweaks, while themes like Minimum, have a variety of layout options and are highly configurable — they’re blank slates. We can help anyone work with any theme, but we also don’t want you to spend your time editing theme options if you just want to share some photos of your latest DIY project. Take a look at a theme’s features and customization options before making a decision.

You can completely customize any theme with advanced options like Custom Design and CSS – this is simply meant to get you started. You can also switch themes at any time, so you’re not locked in to any of your initial choices.

(We recently chatted with a few bloggers about how they chose their themes, for more advice right from the bloggers’ mouths, or check out some impressive theme transformations and get inspired.)

Personal touches

Once you’ve chosen a theme you like and have a snazzy blog title, it’s time to take the next step: customizing. There are a few easy (and free!) ways to add personal touches to your theme that’ll help your blog stand out from the pack. Here are a few to kick things off:

  • A custom header. Most themes offer space for a custom header — an image that appears at the top of your home page — like a photo or logo. Some themes come with images you can choose; you can also browse Creative Commons, a repository of available images, to find one that’s free for you to use. Once you decide on an image, upload it and make sure it’s the right size. Simply adding a favorite photo can give your blog instant personality.
  • A custom background. You can also add a custom background – an image, color, or pattern that appears behind your posts. Choose a color that complements your header image, upload a photo, or browse our recommended patterns. You can do all three — and preview your background before you decide — from the Customizer.
  • A few widgets, personalized. There are dozens of available widgets that add content to your blog; try starting with simple, flexible text or image widgets, which let you plop whatever text or image you’d like into your sidebar. Use a text widget to put a short description of your blog’s mission on your home page, or an image widget to feature a picture of yourself, your logo, or your cat.
  • A blavatar. A blavatar is an avatar for you blog; it’ll show up on WordPress.com and in readers’ browser address bars when they visit your site. Upload one — try a piece of whatever image you’ve chosen as your header — for a custom detail that makes a difference:

blavatar-examples-2

There’s much more to explore and do, but paying attention to these basics will get you ready to receive guests with a blog you’re happy to stand behind. As you delve deeper into WordPress.com and see features you like on other blogs, you can continue tweaking — but you’ll be starting from a solid foundation.

Tomorrow, we tackle content basics: your first post, your “About” page, and more. We also kick off the Zero to Hero 30-Day Challenge for a serious blog jump-start.

Enough reading — get blogging!

83 Comments

    1. For feedback, we have a weekly open thread where bloggers share their work and help one another out — look for a post called “Community Pool” on Sundays, and post your request for feedback there!

  1. This series will be great for those just starting out; and for those of us who are fledglings! I plan to use these guides as Check Lists for now… It felt terrific this morning to see I have the first assignment comfortably managed. Thank you WordPress.

    1. To start with, I’d just pick a simple image — blavatars are quite small, so anything with a lot of detail will just look like a little colorful blog. You could try a piece of an image you use as a header or background, or even just a monogram of your blog’s initials — EFT. Then, upload the image following the instructions in the link, et voila!

  2. Thanks – mostly what I’ve done so far is tinkering and then saving when I like something with no idea how I did it, then being afraid to mess with it lest I screw that up.

  3. Though we are not new to blogging, we are just launching a new blog, new theme for a fun year of blogging and dragons. Thanks for all the time you put into making blogging on WP more enjoyable

  4. This is a great refresher! Might you also do one on cleaning up and maintaining? I think I have duplicate photos, and I’d like to go in and redo some of my categories and tagging on prior posts to make them easier to find (I’ve learned a lot since I started) – can I do that without having them all come up again on my followers’ notifications? Thanks for your consideration, and happy 2014!!

  5. Thank you for posting this, it has been helpful – even made amendments to my blog. Time to write that first post of the year – putting my goals for everyone to see and make it difficult for me to back out from as the year goes on.

  6. Love YOUR tagline… Having spent the first 30 years of my life in Newark and her surrounding environs (OK, 29 in EWR and 1 in Bloomfield) and now living in Texas; I DO wish I lived in New Jersey!

  7. Thanks for laying out the basics like this! I find myself consistently overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information there is for newbies and I’m struggling to set a routine up for myself so I can try to hit the key areas daily. Sigh

    1. Check out our “Traffic and Growth” category for posts on growing and engaging your readership, and think about participants in the Zero to Hero 30-Day Blog Challenge, starting here tomorrow.

  8. I am using the Serene theme. I can not figure out how to add widgets, side menu or affiliated advertisements to this theme. I also am not sure if anyone can actually follow my blog if they wanted. Are there some themes that you cannot do this with? or am I totally missing something?? My blog is at blogphotographybychar.com

    1. It looks like you’ve got a self-hosted site, not a WordPress.com blog. Self-hosted WordPress installations come with a few widgets, but many others you’d need to install yourself. Here’s an overview of widgets for self-hosted WordPress sites:

      http://codex.wordpress.org/WordPress_Widgets

      I do see that you’ve got a few widgets, including a subscription widget, so looks like you’re on the right track :)

  9. Thank you so much! I’m nervous but excited. I’ve finally made the commitment to start a blog about what I love…Numerology!!! Thanks for your help. Looking forward to your next post!

  10. Hi Guys!

    Thanks a lot for this article. I just started out on blogging and I found the article very useful, simple to follow and much practical; especially for us ‘the newbies’. I look forward to learning more – as I pledge to follow the Zero to Hero 30-day Challenge.

    Regards,
    Madimetja

  11. Thank you so much, I am surely one of those who started one way thinking that his blog would be about one specific thing but then as I started to post, more and more, I started to realize that I want to change but wasn’t sure how to go about it.
    Now off to change my blog a little.

  12. I just finished a revamp of my blog–probably fairly minor, but it was a big deal in my mind. This post is great–I was left with ideas for more things to try, but also an appreciation of how much I’ve already learned through WordPress. Why would anyone want to blog anywhere but here? ;-)

  13. :grin: So happy that i read this! i have been wanting to make some changes to my blog, but couldn’t figure out how. Your step by step instructions were easy to folow and simple to implement. i’ ve changed my tag line and added a blavatar and a header. Many thanks, keep up the good work! Eagerly anticipating the next installment. Emily

  14. Great advice!! I’ll start with the simple things first and go rapidly down hill from there. :)

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