Chronic Blogging – Setting up your blog with the most important elements

Once you have your blog setup, you need to get your overall design together. There are a lot of different choices, but I focus on the following three elements:

  • Sidebars
  • Widgets
  • Sharing

I’m sure there are plenty of people who would argue with me on this, but for me, simplicity is best. I’ve tried different settings and configurations over the years, and to be honest, keeping it super-simple has really turned out best for me. But it’s up to you. Whatever you like and works for you, is just as good.

And always remember — you can go back and change things later, if you like. Just experiment with it, and see how it works. You’ll learn a lot, so keep an open mind and have an adventure 😉

Sidebars are the columns to the right or left of your main blog content area. Many blogs have two of them, but a lot have only one, on the left or the right. I prefer a sidebar on the right, because it looks better to me — more like a blog, and less like a regular website. There’s nothing wrong with having a design like a regular website, but the convention for blogs seems to be putting your extra stuff on the right.

Some themes will let you pick and choose how many sidebars you have and which side they’re on. The theme I use just puts it on the right, so that keeps it simple.

Widgets are the extra stuff. You find them under the menu with the little paint brush:

widgets-menu

You’ll see the options you have for widgets, as well as where you can put them.

widgets-selections
Click the image to see full-size

Widgets include “follow” buttons, email signup fields, lists of archives and recent posts, social sharing, as well as promotional and nice-to-know additions on the right. I’ve seen authors put pictures of their books on the right, and then link to their “buy page” so you can get a copy of their book. I have put extra stuff like quotes and facts and figures in my sidebars. These are all done through widgets in WordPress.

Depending on your theme, you can have a ton of different options. Here’s what I have to choose from:

all-widgets
Click the image to see full-size

Obviously, I’m not going to use ALL of them. I need to pick and choose carefully. So, after years of experimenting, and realizing that some things were more trouble than they were worth, I ended up using these:

sidebar

Sharing is a really important piece of your setup, because you want to reach as many people as possible, and giving others the ability to share your posts with others. You can put a Social Media Icons widget in your sidebar, at the bottom of your posts, and you can also configure your blog to share automatically for you.

You find your sharing settings under the Settings Menu:

sharing-menu

You’ll see this page (if you’re hosted on WordPress):

sharing-settings
Click the image to see it full-size

First, you want to set up your Publicize settings. Click the Publicize button:

publicize

And you’ll go to this screen:

publicize-settings

You can see that I have only connected to Twitter. I blog anonymously, so I don’t want my posts connected to any of my “real life” personal or professional social networks. So, all I have connected to is Twitter. You may wish to connect to everything. That’s your choice.

Whenever you post to your blog, with Publicize, you’ll post to all your connected social media without needing to do anything. For someone with memory and sequencing issues, this is a godsend — you don’t need to make a checklist of where all to post after you blog something. Publicize does it for you.

That’s why it’s so important to set it up.

Next, you want to set up your Sharing Buttons (which will appear on your pages), so people can share your posts with others. You just drag all the Available Services down to the Enabled Services area. You can see that I only have Twitter, Facebook, and Email enabled, because my posts are very text-heavy and also very personal. I could put the Print button in there, but people usually know how to print pages, so I won’t take up the space on the page.

sharing-buttons

You also want to turn on the buttons for your whole blog — check all the boxes beside “Show buttons on”, and you can also put your Twitter username in there, so whenever your readers tweet your posts, your own username will show up.

Like and Reblog are also turned on for me — especially Reblog because that makes it really easy for people to share your posts on their blogs.

So, that’s the lesson for today — three basic things to do that aren’t terribly complicated but will make your blog easier to use and share with others.

Chronic Blogging – Picking the right theme (design)

I like WordPress. A lot.
I like WordPress. A lot.

WordPress is basically made up of two parts:

  1. A “back-end” framework, like the inner gears of an engine, that runs the whole deal. Think of the back-end like you think of an engine of a car. You don’t necessarily need to know how it all works, to pick the right car for you.
  2. A customizable “front-end”, using themes that change the design of your blog and offer different features. Think of themes as the “body” of a car – it has the elements that you (and others) will actually have contact with on a daily basis. Just as you pick a car based on its roominess, interior features, color, and flexibility, you pick a theme for your blog.

The part you really care about for your blog is the “front-end” – it’s what you can most easily control. And you usually don’t need to know any programming to manage it.

There are literally thousands of themes available for people to use. Design professionals make a business out of creating WordPress themes, and there are some really great ones out there.

You can pay for a theme, or you can get them for free. I always go for free, because my needs are basic and straightforward, and I can do everything I need to do with a free theme.

What are my needs?

  • Responsive – my site will adjust to the size and shape of whatever device people are using: phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, etc.
  • Customizable header – so I can change my look, if I like.
  • Sidebar – so I can put in my “follow” buttons and links list and archives, etc.
  • White color scheme – it’s easier for me to read.
  • Social sharing – so people can share my posts with others.
  • Good font size – that makes it easy to read (most themes have that now, but it’s an important thing to check).
  • Free – because there are too many good choices, and I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles.

So, where do you find the magic? Log into WordPress, and you’ll see an “Appearance” choice in your WP-Admin.

theme-menu

 

Choose Themes, and you’ll see this (or something like it):

theme-choices

This page shows you which theme is active for you, and it lets you pick from a wide array of choices.

You can see all the different options that you have for themes. There are themes with a single column, two columns, three columns, and there are themes in different colors and so forth. I have spent a lot of time looking through a lot of different themes, and I have found that in my case simplest is best. You can easily spend hours and hours looking through all of the different options, trying them out, and seeing what you like. But it is a much better use of your time, if you find something simple to use, and start with that.

If you search for “responsive white sidebar”, the page will change to show the ones that fit your search. And you can explore from there.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of Twenty Sixteen. It’s responsive, it has one sidebar on the right, I can customize the header, and it does everything I want it to do. It’s fast and easy to configure, and it’s not a huge headache like other themes.

There are many, many web pages and guides out there which talk about WordPress themes, so if you want to dive deeper, scout around a bit.

To activate your theme, all you have to do is put your mouse over the theme, and the Activate and Preview buttons will show up:

theme-activate

You can preview your blog and see how it will look with that theme. If you don’t like it, then just close the preview. If you do like it, click the Activate button, and now you’ve got that theme.

Remember that you can easily change out your theme in the future, so don’t worry too much about choosing the exact right one, right off the bat.

You’ve got plenty of flexibility to change later.

So, have fun with it!