How to blog professionally (part 3)

Last time I outlined setting up a WordPress blog and the basics of creating posts. By this point you’ll hopefully have started to build up a corpus because, after all, you won’t want to introduce your new blog to the world with just a tiny amount of content. Doing so will look worryingly one of literally millions of blogs that were started in earnest and then abandoned.

This month I look a little more at techniques behind creating posts, then move on to examine customising your blog and making it look professional so that it inspires confidence in readers and advertisers.

Next month it’s time for the all-important topic of what professionals call monetising your content (and sadly they really do speak like that – please don’t shoot the messenger).

Expert’s guide to posting

However, first let’s take an in-depth look at how to make postings. On the face of it this seems elementary – after clicking the pencil icon at the top right, a word-processor-like interface appears and hovering the cursor over each icon on the toolbar shows a small pop-up window explaining what it is.

As with a word processor you typically highlight text you want to format, and then click the relevant icon. To insert a link, for example, you’d highlight the word(s) you want to make into a link and then click the link icon, before typing the address when prompted.

However, there are a few less obvious icons.

The first is blockquote, which is used if you want to quote longer sentences or passages from an individual or other source. Simply highlight the quote in your post, then click the blockquote icon. As in traditional print publishing this will ensure the quotation is formatted in a way that indicates to the reader that the words are from somebody else – usually by surrounded it with exaggerated quotation marks and styling it in a different font.

blockquote

The second mysterious icon is Read More, which is at the far right of the toolbar. This is used to ensure only an excerpt of the posting appears on the blog’s front page, followed by a “Continue reading…” prompt that the reader must click to carry on. (The exact phrasing of the prompt depends on the theme being used.)

Using Read More avoids the front page of your blog being too large and cluttered with long postings. Simply position the text cursor where you’d like the prompt to appear, which is usually after the first few paragraphs, and then click the toolbar button. While editing you’ll see –MORE– appear, but on the actual blog the posting will end at that point unless the reader clicks to continue.

Lastly, note the small calendar icon alongside the Publish button. This allows the scheduling of postings. If you’re in the habit of writing more than a couple of postings a day you might schedule them to go live at one or two hourly intervals, rather than dumping them on your readers all at once.

If you’re aiming your blog at a worldwide audience it’s good to think in US timezones, and scheduling posts is ideal for this. Many of my American colleagues default to Pacific Standard Time, even if they live elsewhere, because that guarantees the widest possible daytime audience. In other words, you might find yourself scheduling posts to go live late in the British evening in order to catch American readers towards the end of their working day, a time when they’re likely to be most receptive.

Images

Inserting pictures into postings is a good idea and, as in print journalism, even mindless stock imagery is better than nothing. Free sites like Pixabay (https://pixabay.com) should definitely be on your bookmark list.

There are two ways to add an image to a posting. The first is simply to position the cursor where you want the pic to go, click the image icon on the toolbar (it’s top left), drag the image from your hard disk onto the browser window, and then click the Insert button.

The second way is to add a featured image, which can be done by clicking the button at the left of the writing area. This is the post’s key image – the one that sums-up the post and accompanies its title in the main listing of blog posts, for example.

To make life that little more complicated, not all themes (see below) support the use of featured images, and not all of them use them in the same way. Usually the only way to find out is to add a featured image to a post and then publish it to see what happens.

Finally, you might want to create and use a logo on your blog to add some pizzazz. WordPress offers no tools to design a logo, so you’ll need to take care of that somewhere else (or pay somebody to do it for you). However, to insert the logo so it appears at the top of your site, open the side menu by clicking the My Site link at the top left, then click the Customise button alongside the Themes heading. Then click the Site Title, Tagline and Logo heading – if there is one, that is, because not all themes support the use of a logo. Unticking the Display Header Text, if it appears as an option, will stop the title of the blog appearing as text under your logo.

Themes

Themes define the look and feel of your blog and you can change yours by clicking the My Site link at the top left of your administrator page, and then clicking the Themes entry in the menu.

Understandably, themes vary tremendously in every way. Some are provided free by WordPress, while some are created by specialists and cost money. Some are informal in feel, and some professional or corporate. To get an idea of how a theme you like will look with your existing postings, click the three dots icon at the corner of its thumbnail, then the Preview menu item, and then the Try and Customise icon.

In choosing a theme a bewildering number of options are thrown at the user. Some themes are more customisable than others, for example, and this can help your blog stop looking the same as all the rest. Those that are customisable are usually very keen to let you know in their description text.

However, easily the most important aspect is responsiveness, which is how the layout of your blog adapts so that it appears perfectly on every computing device – from mobile phones, to tablets, and including the traditional desktop PC. If your blog doesn’t have a responsive design then Google demotes it in search listings and doesn’t list it in useful enclaves like Google News (which I’ll discuss next month when I look at ways to build traffic).

For example, if your non-responsive blog provides a recipe for Shepherd’s Pie, and one of your competitors does too, then their post might be listed above yours in Google’s search results even if your attempt better fulfils the user’s search query. And remember that people click the first they see.

You can test your blog’s current responsiveness at Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test: https://goo.gl/0zWQ1T.

Sidebars and customisation

Regardless of their design, most themes include a central wide column where your posts are listed and/or displayed, plus sidebars at the left and/or right of this. Somewhere at the top or sides will be a menu of some kind, which will probably be autogenerated based on any pages you create (see last month’s column for the difference between a post and a page). At the bottom of your blog will be a footer and this is typically where the copyright blurb appears.

Sidebars deserve most of your attention because it’s here you can offer useful functions to your users, like a search facility, or the ability to subscribe to your blog. To start the customisation process, click the My Site menu at the top left when viewing the front page of your blog, then the Customise button alongside the themes heading within the menu. Then click the Sidebar entry.

widgets

The things that provide functions in WordPress are called Widgets and each sidebar is constructed from several of them. By default, your blog’s sidebar(s) will probably already include the search widget, for example, and the archives widget by which users can access your vintage postings. There’s a handful more that WordPress includes by default, including Meta, which provides access to the wider blogsphere. This one can probably be deleted unless you specifically want to be part of that world.

Adding a new widget is simply a matter of clicking the button marked as such, while existing widgets can be removed by clicking them for viewing and then clicking the Remove link.

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