Beginning blogging and WordPress.com tips and tricks


I’ve been pleasantly surprised that even though my readership is small, several readers have asked how to make a website like mine. I’m going to charitably assume you mean my blog, which is what you’re reading, and not my temporarily abandoned website. Therefore, here’s a post about choices I’ve made, research I’ve stumbled upon, and hacks I’ve created. I will start with the most rudimentary information, since it’s what has been requested, and move on to the more difficult work and choices.

Blogging services

The first question a embryonic blogger wants to ask is what service to use; there are several. WordPress, Blogger, and Squarespace are the most used sites among my friends, family, and colleagues.

WordPress

I chose WordPress for two reasons: I had professional experience with them through StyleFeeder, and I appreciate their dedication to open source communities. However, WordPress.com blogs do not get to see many of the benefits of WordPress’s open source community; if you want to revel in the programming aspect of it, visit WordPress.org, download their server software, and tinker with it. Not up for that game? Well then say goodbye to easy extra functionality via WordPress plugins; you can’t use them. Also, there’s no javascript support at all, so you can’t even hack code together. Everything that you accomplish has to come through their already-provided widgets, which was tricky for me but also enjoyable.

The site does have many useful background tools, some of which are shared with Blogger. However, the default viewer statistics seem to be much more advanced on WordPress than Blogger (unless you use Google Analytics, which WordPress.com blogs can’t do). Also, media storage and other functionality such as media sharing that looks equivalent between the two sites is actually, in my opinion, much more user-friendly on WordPress.com.

In my experience, WordPress is used mostly due to their open source software, which isn’t any good to me, and also mostly by companies. While I’m very happy with my choice of home, average Joes tend to avoid it in preference of Blogger.

Examples:
gregfreed.wordpress.com
ranyachantal.wordpress.com
writingcontests.wordpress.com

Examples of WordPress.org blogs:
www.hyperorg.com/blogger/
blog.futurestreetconsulting.com

Blogger

Very many of my friends from Emerson and back home and most of the people I’ve found through Twitter so far use blogger. In my opinion, the sites looks messier in design than WordPress equivalents, but content should drive most of your visitors, meaning that the cluttered Blogger look shouldn’t dissuade you in itself. Also, how clean or cluttered your site looks will depend mostly upon the amount of time and effort you’re willing to put into design.

Blogger, at first glance, has more functionality that a WordPress.com blog and is more user-friendly for simple tasks. For example, you can put javascript on Blogger, allowing you to automate “Twit This!” buttons and other sharing services, which will garner you free PR. WordPress.com does not have this functionality, and making a workaround (see below) via html has already cost me several hours and will cost me more time in aggregate hours in the future.

Examples:
steadyblue.blogspot.com
mundaneproject.blogspot.com
dallasdreamer.blogspot.com

Squarespace

I only know two people using Squarespace. Both of their sites show extreme customizability and are built for heavy traffic and easy use. I’m under the impression that their blogging and site building experience has been fairly intense, but they both have something to show for all of their time and effort. Paul Wesman has worked in communication for years, and his blog shows his dedication to corporate quality and readability. Sadi Ranson-Polizotti is a deaf friend and mentor who is renowned for her knowledge about Bob Dylan, Lewis Carroll, and the written word; she has a new book of poetry, For Goodness’ Sake, due in August through Twilight Times Books. (Boy, do I wish I had an affiliate program right now… lolz.)

Examples:
www.paulwesman.com
tantmieux.squarespace.com

Hacks, or making my WordPress.com blog work for me

I discovered Problogger early, which has been both helpful and not. On the one hand, they have very good advice; on the other hand, most of their advice seems to me like common sense, or rather, like the decision that I came to when I thought to myself for a second about what I was trying to do with my blog. Either that, or their advice was far in advance of where I happened to be.

New readers are hard to come by, and you want your blog to be ready to receive them when they arrive. Problogger posted an article recently about the nine first steps for new bloggers. I’ll try to cover what I think they missed below.

Design

Readers coming to your site will have a series of questions in mind, such as Who does this blog belong to and why am I reading it? or Where’s the good info at?! Not having readily available answers to these questions puts your new reader at risk of leaving the site and never thinking of you again.

From Tim Ferriss I learned several points, but one most crucial theory: Do not have an easy exit point for new viewers. Every link that a reader can see within seconds of entering the site should be directed back at your site. Yes, you want to plug other people’s blogs wherever possible, but you don’t want a reader to leave your blog before they’ve even seen one post, and they will if they have reason to believe that you’re leading them into more interesting content than they expect to find on your site.

The topmost section of your website should be dedicated to you. Have an About page so that potential readers can get to know you and feel like they belong with your content. Have a Contact page, letting people know that they can feel free to contact you. List your most recent or most viewed posts at the top of your sidebar so that readers can find the interesting content they’re looking for as quickly as possible. Just don’t provide an easy out or the viewer just might take it.

RSS widget

That said, making the RSS feed I have in my sidebar was a bit tricky; maybe it’s because I’m a nub, maybe it’s because I wanted a custom RSS feed where I could decide what content my blog would link to. In order to accomplish my task, I created a Google Reader account. In Google Reader I subscribed to all the blogs I wanted to keep up with, which included Facebook friends, actual friends, and family in addition to the helpful blogs like Problogger and the blogs that created material I was actually interested in. Start sharing posts you think your readers should see; they will be allocated into an RSS feed at http://www.google.com/reader/shared/YOURGOOGLEIDHERE, which can be accessed via the “Shared items” menu. Access that page, and you will see the link Atom Feed next to the universal feed icon: feed-icon-12x12-orange. Copy the link location.

At that point, go to My Dashboard->Appearance->Widgets and drag the RSS widget to your sidebar (I drug mine to the bottommost section). Copy the link location for the Atom Feed where the widget says “Enter the RSS feed URL here.” Name the widget if you want (mine is titled simply My Google Reader), change whatever settings you want, and click Save. If that doesn’t work, mash you head against the keyboard until you successfully spell out Head hit keyboard sequentially, and then contact me, and I’ll do my best to help.

Subscribe links

After a little research on this crazy web of ours, you’ll find that WordPress.com recommends Google’s FeedBurner for all your subscription uses. Though a little tinkering is required, I now recommend it, too.

After signing in with your Google account, a basic page will load that says Burn a feed right this instant. Type your blog or feed address here. So do it and follow the rest of the instructions.

Go to the Publicize tab once you’re set up with FeedBurner.

Click on the BuzzBoost tab on the left, change the settings as you see fit, and then click Activate at the bottom of the page. When the page reloads with the service activated, there will be a box with javascript that FeedBurner tells you to put on your site. Except you know that you can’t use javascript on a WordPress.com blog. Therefore, check on your own to make sure that your RSS feed is activated by pasting http://feeds.feedburner.com/XXXXX?format=xml where XXXXX is set as your FeedBurner profile name.

Next, go to the Email Subscriptions tab. Simply click Activate.

Now go to My Dashboard->Appearance->Widgets and drag the Text widget to where you would like it to appear. Input the following code:

Subscribe to this blog via <a href=”http://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mailverify?uri=XXXXX”>email</a&gt;!<br>Subscribe via <a href=”http://feeds.feedburner.com/XXXXX?format=xml”><img src=”http://feedburner.google.com/fb/lib/images/icons/feed-icon-12×12-orange.gif”></a><a href=”http://feeds.feedburner.com/XXXXX?format=xml”>RSS</a&gt;!

Replace the XXXXXs with your FeedBurner profile ID, and the code should be ready to go! I coded the RSS image and the hypertext seperately so that the image would not share an underline with the hypertext.

If, like me, you would like to invite people to join your Facebook group, simply create a group and then use the following code:

<br>Also, join this blog’s <a href=”http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=XXXXX”>Facebook group</a>!

Replace the XXXXX with your group id and it should be good to go!

“Share This!” links

As I said before, WordPress.com does not support javascript, so there’s no way to have automatically updated buttons. However, these buttons are so useful in publicizing a blog that it just seems a horrible waste to not have them. Therefore, I developped a workable work-around, though it does take some effort to pull off for each blog.

After some research I discovered the basic submission links for some of the syndication sites I felt my blog might likely get plugged on: Del.icio.us, Digg, Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter. I also discovered, though I can’t remember to link from where, AddThis, which on one page covers all sites that anyone anywhere might ever possibly want to link your blog to. While AddThis has such powerful capabilities, I opted to keep the specific website buttons because the less you ask of your audience, the more likely they are to follow through.

A little HTML trick I picked up: in order to have the icons contain links without being underlined, you have to link them seperately from text. Because of this, the HTML looks redundant, but it’s not; it’s simply a little extra code to reflect a design choice. The code I use for the buttons is below, and instructions on how to use the code follows it.

<a href=”http://del.icio.us/post?url=XXXXX;title=YYYYY&#8221; target=”_blank”><img title=”del_icio_us” src=”http://gregfreed.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/del_icio_us.png&#8221; alt=”del_icio_us” width=”16″ height=”16″ /></a><a href=”http://del.icio.us/post?url=XXXXX;title=YYYYY&#8221; target=”_blank”>Save to del.icio.us</a><a href=”http://digg.com/submit?phase=2&amp;url=XXXXX;title=YYYYY&#8221; target=”_blank”>
<img title=”digg” src=”http://gregfreed.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/digg.png&#8221; alt=”digg” width=”16″ height=”16″ /></a><a href=”http://digg.com/submit?phase=2&amp;url=XXXXX;title=YYYYY&#8221; target=”_blank”>Digg it
</a><a href=”http://reddit.com/submit?url=XXXXX;title=YYYYY&#8221; target=”_blank”><img title=”reddit” src=”http://gregfreed.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/reddit.png&#8221; alt=”reddit” width=”16″ height=”16″ /></a><a href=”http://reddit.com/submit?url=XXXXX;title=YYYYY&#8221; target=”_blank”>Save to Reddit
</a><a href=”http://www.facebook.com/share.php?u=XXXXX&#8221; target=”_blank”><img title=”n20531316728_2397″ src=”http://gregfreed.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/n20531316728_23971.jpg&#8221; alt=”n20531316728_2397″ width=”16″ height=”16″ /></a><a href=”http://www.facebook.com/share.php?u=XXXXX&#8221; target=”_blank”>Share on Facebook
</a><a href=”http://twitter.com/home?status=Check+out+XXXXX”><img title=”twitter” src=”http://gregfreed.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/twitter.gif&#8221; alt=”twitter” width=”16″ height=”16″ /></a><a href=”http://twitter.com/home?status=Check+out+XXXXX&#8221; target=”_blank”>Share on Twitter
</a><a href=”http://www.addthis.com/bookmark.php?pub=dvd&amp;url=XXXXX;title=YYYYY&#8221; target=”_blank”><img title=”aolfav” src=”http://gregfreed.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/aolfav.gif&#8221; alt=”aolfav” width=”16″ height=”16″ /></a><a href=”http://www.addthis.com/bookmark.php?pub=dvd&amp;url=XXXXX;title=YYYYY&#8221; target=”_blank”>Even more ways to bookmark</a>

Copy this code into a text editor with a replace function, such as Microsoft Word. Using the Replace All function, replace all XXXXXs with the exact web address of your post as you can copy it out of your browser’s address bar. Replace all YYYYYs with the title of your post. Select all of the updated code, put your WordPress post creator into the HTML tab, go to the part of the post you want the links to appear in, and paste the code. Click either Publish or Update Post and then check your links. If there are any errors, it’s probably user-generated, so look over your own HTML code before you come crying to me about how it’s broken. If it is legitimately broken, however, I would like to know and will help you resolve any issues. If you want submission links that are not included here, AddThis is a much better research tool than I am: I will not do your research for you.

Good Luck!

And with that, I’m outta here. I have that faint yet numb buzzing in my head that’s generated solely by technical writing, so it’s definitely time for a break!

n20531316728_2397Share on Facebook
twitterShare on Twitter
del_icio_usSave to del.icio.us
digg
Digg it
redditSave to Reddit
aolfavEven more ways to bookmark

Author: Greg Freed

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8 Comments

Filed under Technical

8 responses to “Beginning blogging and WordPress.com tips and tricks

  1. I had been trying to figure out how to add the social media bookmark tags to my own WP blog. Thanks for this information!

  2. I thought that my manners had been poor … taking your markup for the social media bookmarking and *not* clicking on any of those links on your blog.

    Perhaps you can do a guest post on my blog and we can get another one off the list. ;-)

  3. Admin

    Great info! I will have to come back when I have some time to play with stuff.

    Thanks

  4. Amos

    Hmmmm…

    The idea of a blog does interest me, but as I don’t have active plans to activate one, I’m not sure how to reply to this one.

    It’s certainly a fine way to be kind to those following in your footsteps. And if it weren’t for the buzzing in my head that’s generated solely by your technical writing, I’d say it’s more than a fine way. :)

    Be nice to your readers, and they’ll be nice to you.

    I suppose it takes new ideas a long time to gestate, unless they catch you at the most rare of times in your life.

  5. gregfreed

    No problem, Jim. It had been bugging me for a while, too, since not having this buttons is almost as bad for a blog as not having comments; you don’t enable your user to show appreciation for your work. Glad I could be of help! :)

  6. gregfreed

    also, thanks for the delicious plug. I guess that covers one of the steps for early bloggers from the blog pro post. :)

  7. gregfreed

    Glad to give worthwhile information back to the community. Hope it’s helpful after you tinker. :) Jim Lawless used the social plug code on his blog with no hassle.

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