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Blogging: Fundamentals

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Want to register for this course? Visit the Blogging U. home page, and click the “Start” button next to any course to get going!

Blogging: Learning the Fundamentals works through the tasks that help most bloggers advance their blogging goals. Some tasks ask you to write a post, while others are more technical, such as adding widgets or customizing your theme. Every task is voluntary; if a task asks you to do something that doesn’t feel quite right for you, or that you’ve already done, feel free to skip it — although we encourage you to read through our tips and materials. You never know what you might learn!

You’ll get an email each day, with additional resources and tips available below. Happy blogging!


Day One: Write an Introductory Post

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Our advice…

Feeling a little overwhelmed? Saying “hello world!” might feel a little scary, but the community can’t wait to greet you — and writing out an introduction will help you focus your own ideas for your blog.

(If you’ve already been blogging for a while, we still encourage you to do a version of this assignment: use it to revisit what you said when you first started blogging, to take stock of what you’ve accomplished and what more you’d like to do, or to lay out some goals for your next six months.)

The post can be short or long, a personal intro or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto or a simple outline. To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly instead of keeping a diary?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what do you hope to accomplish?

Feeling stuck? Write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “shitty first draft” (her language). Anne makes a great point — just write, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “blogging101” so other new bloggers can find you, and that you haven’t added more than a total of 15 tags and categories (or your post will be invisible in the Reader).

Once you’ve published, share your post with us: there’s an open discussion thread on The Daily Post called First Friday that’s specifically for brand-new bloggers to share links to their first posts. Share yours (and consider visiting a few of the people you see there to support them!).

If you want to speed your progress, visit The Daily Post’s Community Pool. It’s a weekly feature where bloggers gather to share links to posts and pages they’ve published and get feedback from one another. Everyone is welcome, and we know you’ll feel comfortable in the pool’s friendly, positive atmosphere.


Day Two: Make Sure You Love Your Title

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Choosing a site title and tagline can feel like a big decision, but it doesn’t have to be. You set your blog’s address when you registered at WordPress.com, but your blog’s title — what readers see on your site when they visit — can be changed at any time.

Just because your blog’s address is maryjanesmith922.wordpress.com doesn’t mean you need to call your blog maryjanesmith922. Your title should reflect you, your personality, and your blog’s subject.

A title is typically only a few words, so consider adding a tagline as well — a phrase that appears under your title and helps flesh it out. Think “Burger King: Have It Your Way.”

Looking for inspiration? One of our favorite nuggets of advice:

Try listing adjectives that describe your personality, and play around with the words until you can tweak them into a name that’s catchy but uniquely “you.” Puns always work well. Start with certain common phrases, songs, and literary titles, and then mix the words up. Or use your own name in a clever way.

We’ve also got some examples of great taglines, along with a few tips on creating one that stands out in the blogging crowd:

  • Avoid repeating your site title. Your tagline is a space to share some context on what your site is about. Take advantage of it.
  • Keep it short and sweet. Thirty-word taglines leave us breathless.
  • Be original. Don’t let your blog’s tagline become another in the sea of “musings about thoughts” — make sure it tells us something about you.

(Note: there are some themes that don’t display taglines. If you enter a tagline and don’t see it on your site, you’re probably using one of those themes.)

Brainstorm some ideas and try them out. It may take a few days or weeks to perfect the site title and tagline that best fits you and your blog. You can edit your site title and tagline as many times as you like until you get one you love.


Day Three: Learn to Use the WordPress.com Reader

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Part of what makes blogging a rich experience are the relationships we develop with people around the world. Plus, reaching out to other bloggers is the best way to have them return the favor.

The first step is finding people you want to connect with. Follow topics you care about to discover a world of blogs. In the WordPress.com Reader, topics are organized using tags. Adding tags to your Reader lets you access them quickly whenever you feel like doing some reading.

As you browse tags, follow five new blogs, too (and check out the blogging101 tag for other posts by new bloggers). On WordPress.com, you can follow any blog by clicking the “Follow +” button in the bottom-right corner of the screen (you can always unfollow these later if they don’t live up to your expectations; following a blog is a guilt-free activity).


Day Four: Identify Your Audience

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Who do you write for? Whether serious, frivolous, or purely hypothetical, focus on your dream reader(s) and write a post — about anything — aimed at him, her, or them.

In your post, we encourage you to include one new kind of element. Trying something new brings an interesting twist to your blog, makes your posts more engaging, and forces you to think about what you post from a different angle. The more tools you have at your disposal as a blogger, the more effectively you can tell your story.

If you’re a photo blogger, try adding context to your images with some haiku. If you’re a parenting blogger, add a photo. If you’re discussing current events, embed the tweets of other folks chatting about the same topic. If you’re an Instragram or Pinterest user, embed one of your own shots or some pins. Embed a song (whether a video clip or just the audio) that resonates with what you’re posting about, or a map of a place mentioned in your post.

If you’re feeling extra-saucy, give one of our many shortcodes a try — you can use them as shortcuts to accomplish a wide variety of goals on your blog, like inserting maps, polls, recipes, and more.


Day Five: Love Your Theme

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

  1. Pick something that speaks to you. You might admire simplicity and bold typography on other sites, but if you’re personally drawn to something soft and romantic, head in that direction.
  1. Consider your content. If you know you’ll be posting lots of images, pick a theme meant to show off photos. If you love poetry, choose a streamlined theme that makes your words the star. Not sure what you want to publish? Try anything!
  1. Think about your priorities. Some themes have a very distinctive look out-of-the-box. Others let you add custom touches like headers and backgrounds, while some have a variety of layout options. Take a look at a theme’s features, and think about how much time you want to spend getting things configured.

We’ve also talked to several bloggers about how and why they chose their theme — read more from them.


Day Six: Publish an “About” Page and Add a Widget

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An About page is the single most important page you’ll have on your blog: it’s likely to become your most-visited content each day, right behind your newest post.

If you blog anonymously, you could divulge what pushed you to start a blog, and what topics you address in your posts. If you do blog as your real-world self, an About page is the perfect place to say a bit more about your background.

As one of our favorite writers put it:

“A shopping list and a delicious meal have a lot in common, but they’re not the same thing. Imagine a hungry friend comes over for dinner. Instead of serving your signature spaghetti, you serve a bunch of ingredients. ‘Pasta!’ you announce. ‘Cheese!’ ‘Tomatoes!’ Half an hour in, they start to cry.

That’s what most About pages feel like. ‘I come from blah blah,’ you say. ‘I like dogs,’ you say. But it doesn’t hold together — it’s just a shopping list. Your job is make those parts into something greater than their sum. Tell us a story, connect the dots.”

Done? Time for a widget. Widgets are small doohickeys — that’s a technical term — that you drag and drop to add different functions and content to your blog. Once you’re happy with your About page, distill it into one or two sentences and add them to a text widget — shoot for the widget to have no more than 6-7 lines of text. (Note: there’s no need to use the “About.me” widget here — that’s for use specifically with the separate About.me service. A simple text widget will get the job done.)

If you’re having trouble making it short and sweet, ask yourself: if a total stranger found my blog and only remembered one thing about it, what would I want that to be? You can also add a link to the full page in your widget with some simple HTML.


Day Seven: Headers and Backgrounds

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Picking a theme you love is the first step. Then you need to make that theme your own, with things like headers and backgrounds. They’re free, simple ways to add instant personality to your site.

Not sure what we mean by “header”? In most themes, it’s the image or text across the top of your blog. Check out this example — on the left is the standard home page of the Twenty Eleven theme, with one of the theme’s default header images, and on the right is a blogger using the same theme, who’s added her own header:

header side by side

Don’t worry if you’re not sure what you want. Start simple; pick an image that represents what you want your blog to be, or just a photo you love. If you’d like to tweak it — change the colors, add some text — we love the free and simple image editor PicMonkey. (In fact, we like it so much we used it in our tutorial.)

Need inspiration? Here are a few headers we love:

header E

header G

header C

header B

header D

Your background can be an image, color, or pattern. Choose a color that complements your header, upload a photo, or browse some patterns — there are online sources where you can download free patterns to use as backgrounds.

When you’re in your Customizer, you can preview headers and backgrounds without committing, so feel free to play. Nothing becomes permanent until you click “Save & Publish.”


Day Eight: Say Hello to Your WordPress.com Neighbors

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Publishing posts is just one part of blogging; interacting with the community is the other.

Conversation is inspiring! You never know where (or who) your next post idea will come from — and the best way to spread the word is by connecting to other bloggers. No blog is an island.

We know it can be a bit intimidating to leave your thoughts on someone else’s blog, but it’s an invaluable habit to start cultivating — so much so that we’ll be doing it repeatedly in Blogging 101. When commenting, try to leave something substantive and thoughtful to contribute to the conversation.

Not sure what makes a thoughtful comment? You’re not alone! Here are some tips for crafting comments that contribute to the conversation:

  • Try to avoid comments that simply say “Great post!” or “Thanks!” — make an effort to add to the discussion.
  • Be specific about why you enjoyed the post.
  • Ask a relevant question.
  • Respectfully offer a counterpoint. (And because it can’t be overstated: respectfully!)
  • Share a related experience.
  • Be concise. If your comment is more than two paragraphs, write a post of your own and let the blogger know they inspired it.
  • Don’t leave a plug just to link to your blog — your name links to your blog anyway.
  • Mind your manners. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it in their comment thread.

Day Nine: Get Inspired By the Neighbors

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If you thought a post was worth commenting on, that means it struck a nerve — it’s a topic people (and you!) are interested in. Why not link to it? Linking to other blogs adds to the fabric of the blogosphere, and helps other bloggers find you.

Choose the post you found most intriguing and build on the discussion by publishing your own post. Not sure how to expand your comment and continue the discussion? A few ideas:

  • Did you have questions about what you read in the original post? Search for more resources or other blogs and share your findings.
  • Did you mention a personal connection to what was written? Tell that story, using the original discussion as a starting point for your own.
  • Did you disagree with the post? The blogging community is a space for lively debate: contribute to the discussion with your own points. (It bears repeating: disagree respectfully.)
  • Did you continue mulling over the post after you’d left your comment, but found your thoughts veering in another direction? Explore where they’ve gone and how they got there.

In your post, link back to the original post where you left the comment; you can refer to the post title and/or blog or blogger’s name somewhere in your post, and make those words a link to the original post. The other blogger will get a notification that you linked to them, so don’t be surprised if they pay you a visit!

(And as always, remember to tag your new post with blogging101!)


Day Ten: Build a Blogroll

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How do we love blogrolls? Let us count the ways. You tell readers about yourself through what you choose to share. Giving readers recommendations turns you into a trustworthy source of great stuff. And when bloggers see you sending them readers, they’re likely to visit you.

There are two widgets that will get the job done in different ways:

  • The Blogs I Follow widget automatically displays a list of the WordPress.com blogs you’ve followed in your Reader. The widget will list up to 50 blogs, starting with the ones you’ve most recently followed.
  • The Text widget — like the one you used to create your About widget — is a simple yet powerful widget that allows you to display many things. It accepts HTML, so you can use it to display (and describe) links. If you’d like total control over which links to display, this is a great option.

If you have an extensive collection of links you’d like to display — or prefer not to have a sidebar or footer on your blog — an alternative to a blogroll widget is a permanent “Links and Resources” page. Our Blog Challenge Survival Guide is an example of a static page that compiles a longer list of links.


Day Eleven: Use a Writing Prompt

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Writing prompts can be your best friend: when inspiration is low, responding to someone else’s question can get you out of a slump.

Prompts work best when you personalize them to fit your interests and perspective. They’re flexible: they’re just there to help you get blogging. To find our Daily Prompt, head to the The Daily Post — you’ll see the prompt in an orange box on the middle-right side of the screen.

Maybe you’ll know what you want to publish as soon as you read the prompt — great! If you’re not inspired, don’t abandon it right away. Just like you customize your theme to match your tastes and preferences, you tweak prompts to fit your interests and blog.

Take this (terrible) prompt:

Two plus two equals four: yes or no?

Sure, you could just answer the question. You also could publish a post…

  • About why you love math.
  • Ranting about the technology behind solar calculators.
  • With photos of pairs of things.
  • Telling a story about how you met your best friend in 9th-grade algebra.

None of those posts answer the question; all of those posts respond to the prompt.

Read today’s prompt, and interpret it. Focus on a particular word. Take a broad view. Use it metaphorically. Find an alternate interpretation. Remember: We don’t want you to write about something that doesn’t fit on your blog. We do want you to come up with your own take on the prompt, one that fits right in with everything you normally blog about.

You can also take a look at more than one prompt — just above the prompt, you’ll see the “Try Another” button. Click that to load a new prompt. When you publish your post, adding a link to the prompt in your post (also called a “pingback”) will list your blog alongside all the other responses to the prompt.

When you decide on a prompt to use, click on it and copy the direct link to the prompt and/or bookmark it — the link will come in handy tomorrow!


Day Twelve: Commenting, again!

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Reading others’ takes on a topic you’ve tackled challenges your own thinking (and blogging) — and It’s easier to enter a conversation when everyone has a shared experience, like responding to the same prompt. Reading other responses and commenting is a wonderful way to connect to other bloggers. And it encourages them to visit *your* blog, helping to grow your readership.

As you read others’ posts ask yourself:

  • How did the author approach the prompt? How was the post structured?
  • Was there anything particularly creative or original done that you could take inspiration from?
  • Did they interpret it in a way that would have never occurred to you?

Reading and finding inspiration in other bloggers’ posts teaches you new ways to re-imagine prompts — which is a great tool for preempting writer’s block.

Note the posts that elicit the strongest reactions from you — is it a post that’s particularly well written, or one that you passionately disagree with? It’s these kinds of posts where it’s easiest to engage the author in a meaningful way. That’s where you’ll want to leave comments.

Do you have a few more minutes to spare? Leave more than two comments — especially if you’re enjoying a lively discussion with another blogger!


Day Thirteen: Add a Blog Icon

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Today, you’ll extend your brand with a custom blog icon. They look great, and help you feel like a “serious” blogger — which means you’ll be more likely to keep it up.

A strong brand is a guarantee. Nike. Coke. Zappos. Target. You may not use them, but you know what they are and what makes them unique, and you probably have some feelings about them. That’s the power of a strong brand. When a reader sees something associated with your brand — a post on your site, a tweet, an email notification — they know what to expect, be that a laugh, a great DIY project, a recipe, parenting advice, a movie review, whatever.

You started defining your brand when you picked a theme and title for your blog, added a header image, added widgets, and played with color and font. Now you’ll add a blog icon, which is like an avatar for your blog. It appears in browser tabs (think of the yellow “a” you see in front of amazon.com, or the red “N” for Netflix), in the Reader, and in the emails your blog’s followers get.

PicMonkey, which lots of you have already tried for custom headers, is perfect for this project. Use it to crop a piece of your header, create a monogram, or design something totally new.


Day Fourteen: Create a Regular Feature for Your Blog

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One of the best ways to inspire reader loyalty is to publish consistently. And one of the best ways to make sure you publish consistently is with a recurring feature — it’s like making a pact with yourself and your audience. Even a purely personal blog of random musings benefits from a little structure. We’re all creatures of habit, bloggers and readers.

Not sure what kind of feature will work for you? Look at previous posts to see what resonates with readers. Take a peek at your stats page — some posts are Like-magnets, others generate lively discussion, others get shared on Facebook, and some are unicorns that get all three. Choose one you find meaningful, and spin that into a feature. Or just think about what *you* like to read.

Here are a few ideas to give you a head start:

  • A weekly photo post.
  • A monthly roundup of blogs and posts you’ve enjoyed reading.
  • A Music Monday featuring a song you heard and loved over the weekend.
  • A Flavor Friday dedicated to the last recipe you experimented with.

Your features don’t have to alliterate: a Tuesday Rant is just as good as Snarky Sunday. If a weekly commitment is too much, that’s fine: a monthly book review or current events-inspired reflection works just fine. Aim for consistency, not frequency.

Along with tags, give your feature a Category. This will be useful down the line, allowing you to create a link to all your posts on that feature by creating something called a Category Page — you can learn more here.

Once you decide on a feature, publish (or schedule) the first installment. If you’re not ready, publish a post announcing the feature to let your readers know what to expect, and when. Once you’ve got a few installments published, add a menu item or widget to highlight your feature and let new readers know about it.