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

The new year is essentially here, so let’s make sure our blogs are ready to face the world.

Image via Matthew W. Jackson

In this post from The Daily Post archives, Michelle walks us through the basics of getting your blog all spruced up for the new year and its onslaught of visitors.

Congratulations, it’s a blog!

It’s December 31st, the new year starts in a few hours, 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 Blogging 101: Zero to Hero, our intro-level course on all things blogging-related, which starts Monday, January 5.

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.

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.

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:

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 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 one of the many free-image resources available online to find one suits your needs. 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.

Have fun tonight; tomorrow, we tackle content basics: your first post, your “About” page, and more.

Enough reading — get blogging!

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    1. Hi just popped into your blog and really enjoyed it once I got into it but first thought was long. We have become such a society of “snap info” which I hate but it is what it is. Good luck and to 2015 and that bucket list it will be awesome.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m looking forward to following and learning, so thank you for doing this! Perhaps you could give me one bit of advice … I’m essentially satisfied with the way my blog looks for now, EXCEPT that I want to be able to do two things I haven’t figured out:
    1. When I create a new page, I’d like to be able to have subsidiary pages. The whole “parent/child” thing doesn’t seem to work anywhere except my main page.
    2. I’d like to be able to put tags on content on my pages. Again, doesn’t seem an option except on the main page.

    This may be a limitation with the theme I’m using – it’s Matala. If so, should I buy a custom upgrade, and if so what kind of upgrade will give me that level of customization? Or would you recommend shopping around for another theme? (I really want the quickest, easiest solution. I don’t want to get sucked into spending hours changing things around!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pages don’t use tags at all — it’s not theme dependent, it’s just the way pages work. As for #1, you can create nested menus of pages in Appearance >> Pages. Just add a page to the menu, then drag it a bit to the right and it will snap in place below the menu item just above it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this! I just started in October and I’m finally beginning to get a meager following as well as finding my voice, which has been dormant for so long. Do you have any tips on getting featured on Freshly Pressed? I have lots of purdy pictures and fancy words all mashed together. It’s kinda neat.

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    1. I’ve been here for over 18 months and I’ve been Freshly Pressed.

      My advice is that you have to write for you. The post has to matter. If it doesn’t matter to you, it will not matter to your readers. The editors will not choose posts that don’t matter to the readers.

      I’ve seen plenty of bloggers who wanted to be freshly pressed because of how much traffic they’d get. The traffic spike is only temporary and bloggers who focus too much on stats seem to end up disappointed with the experience. If you write for you, you’ll be happy with blogging even if you’re never selected. (I was selected in my 13th month here…)

      Liked by 5 people

  3. We are never so good we can’t afford to take refresher courses. When we look at a pebble on the beach, it looks like all others; and yet that same pebble the next day, sun stroking its outer shell, provides a sparkle like none we have ever seen before. Happy New Year

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  4. This is all very helpful! Just recently started my blog and this is great information, plus it helps to have little step by step pictures to follow along to! Thank you! Will be taking the intro course!

    The13thofMay.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person