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!

Chronic Blogging – Getting Properly Setup – Blog Configuration Basics

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

The first order of the day is to get your blog properly setup and configured. This is not nearly as difficult as it sounds, and what you do here, can really help you in the long run.

The first I’ll discuss is the basics of setting up your blog to make your life easier. With technology, it’s easier than ever to complicate everything — to the point where you just don’t want to do it, anymore. I’ll keep things simple here. I also won’t cover every single topic I can think of — just the basics you should consider.

There are a lot of great books and websites out there that can offer you in-depth tips and tricks. Use them as much as you can. There are lots of smart people who share really useful info with the world.

In this guide, I’ll talk about using WordPress, because after years of blogging and using different systems like Blogger and Typepad (and some others I can’t recall the names of), WordPress is my favorite for a number of reasons.

  1. It’s stable and well-supported. It’s not just a side project of some folks who needed to do something fun and fulfilling on the weekends (that happens more often than you think). It’s managed by real people who do it for a living. And it’s actively supported. Sometimes they make changes to the interface that drive me nuts, but overall, it’s worth the hassle. There’s a ton of help and documentation about how to different things, but you can do a lot with just a little bit of information. There are many, many themes (designs) that give you a lot of different options, and they are also well supported.
  2. You can do a lot with a little — for free. You can sign up for a free blog and be publishing your work in a matter of minutes. There are a lot of different customizations you can do, but you don’t have to do many at all, to get a functioning blog that looks good. Simplicity is important, if you just want to focus on your writing, instead of configuring your “technical platform”. And it doesn’t need to cost you anything other than your time and attention.
  3. It has a lot of SEO stuff already built in – like “human-readable” urls, correct html, consistent page designs, and the ability to optimize your images so search engines love you. That is so important — I think one of the reasons I rank pretty high in Google, is precisely because I am on WordPress.
  4. You’re automatically connected with a wider community. WordPress has a ton of bloggers on it, and they’re all connected via the Reader feature. You can easily find others on WP who write about the stuff you’re interested in, and they will show you the tags that people are using, so you not only find out who’s writing, but what they’re writing about the most.
  5. They make it really, really easy. Signing up is easy. Setting up is easy. Blogging is easy – and you can also password protect and schedule your posts, if you like. Promoting is easy, too. For example, if you want to tell the world whenever you post to your blog, you can hook up Publicize to post to FB and tweet automatically whenever you publish. That’s important for your wider community.

I could list many, many more reasons why WordPress is my blog platform of choice, but the five above should be enough to convince you to give them a try.

In this section, I’ll talk in some detail about the basic things you want to do for proper setup.

  • Picking the right theme (design)
  • Setting up your blog with the most important elements – sidebars, widgets, sharing, and pages
  • Making your blog readable
  • Managing publishing, comments, and ongoing discussions
  • Making sure search engines can find you

You can read the tips and tricks in order, or you can take them piece by piece in whatever order you like. You can skip around and do what you please, and any one of these changes can make a positive difference. We don’t need to “boil the ocean” here – dealing with chronic health conditions is a big enough challenge, let alone adding a regular writing practice to the mix. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you like, but even in its simplest form, a blog can make a positive difference in others’ lives.

Well, hello…

followersYou know, I really do try to keep up with everyone who follows this blog. I’ve got 678 followers right now. That’s not astronomical, and compared to some who have thousands of followers, it’s a pittance, but it’s something. And I appreciate each person who follows me. I truly do.

So, thank you.

I periodically check my list of followers to make sure I have followed everyone who has followed me. I like to keep in touch with what others are writing and thinking about. I read people’s blogs while I’m riding the exercise bike in the mornings — it’s a good way to wake up to the day.

Plus, it’s just good practice to return the favor of someone following you… provided, of course, they’re not dangerous and/or promoting ideas and behavior that cause indiscriminate hate, harm, pain, and suffering to people who are simply different from them.

Granted, 600+ blogs is a lot to follow, but it really gives me a nice range of writing and thinking to choose from. So, if you’re one of the bloggers who follows me/is followed by me, thank you for widening my world.

Anyway, I thought I was keeping up with all my follows ‘n’ such.

But looking back at my WordPress list… as it turns out, probably about 10% of my followers are not marked as being followed by me. And a lot of them are from years ago… How did they fall through the cracks?

Really strange.

I was so sure I was keeping up. I clicked the buttons. I paged through the listings. But still, there were a lot of folks I had not followed. How did that happen?

Ha – story of my life. I have a tendency to be sooooo sure that I have everything covered, only to discover surprise!! that I really don’t. Just another reminder that I need to check my results more than once, to make sure I’ve done/said/supposed the right thing. That certainty that I feel about being right… well, it often steers me wrong. So, I have to stay honest and humble about these things and do the extra legwork to follow up.

Argh!
Argh!

Which really frustrates me, to tell the truth. I mean well, and I want to do well, but my brain seems to conspire against me. And I have to back-track to figure things out… which is also frustrating because my memory sometimes fails me, and I’m working with less information than I would like.

It’s a little like carrying water in a woven basket. So often I get to my destination without all my ducks in a row, so I have to go back to the well and fill up again, but I still keep losing the pieces of the puzzle.

Ah, well. A day in the life.

The main thing is to keep focused on what is most important — how my life is going, how I’m feeling about it, how much energy I have for the good things.

Good things like the birds at my birdfeeder, who are so, so happy that I filled it up with fresh seed. I have been remiss for the past several months. I even bought a bag of seed, and it sat in my kitchen for 2 weeks, before I got around to filling the feeder. Now it’s full. At least, it was early this morning. The birds have been so busy at it, I probably need to top it off later today.

And get more seed, the next time I go shopping.

Poor birds. I got so caught up in my own drama, my own concerns about work and life and my health, that I lost sight of the things that put a positive spin on things — helping those in need… like the hungry birds in my back yard.

When we get out of ourselves and put aside our preoccupation with the pain and frustration of our limitations, we begin to truly live. We all have our limitations, we all have our wounds and our hurts. It’s what we do with them and the knowledge they grant us, that makes it all worth it.

And with that, I wish you a good day.

I look forward to reading even more of the blogs I’m now connected with.

To my 24 new followers – welcome

Welcome, all! I'm glad you're here.
Welcome, all! I’m glad you’re here.

I have been looking at my WordPress stats, following up on who has recently followed this blog.

In the last 2 weeks, 24 of you have joined me on this journey (22 via WordPress, 2 via email), so welcome. I don’t mean to be rude or take you for granted — please know that I appreciate you following, and I hope I bring something positive to your life.

I’m about to go out for my morning walk on an amazingly beautiful day, and before I do, I just want to say:

Whatever brought you to this blog, was probably for a very good reason. People come here all the time, not knowing what they will find, then they discover something that helps them. It’s both by accident, and by design. I don’t have any particular “content strategy” in mind, other than writing about the things that matter to me, as a TBI survivor dealing with an invisible set of difficulties, a regular person trying to build the best life possible, and as a member of the larger community who is sure that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

There are times when I am annoying, I whine and bitch and complain and am not my best self by any stretch of the imagination. I can be petulant and cranky and self-absorbed, and I can be a real trial at times — especially to myself 😉

Be that as it may, I have an incredible amount of goodness in my life, and I want to share that experience, as well as show others how I’ve gotten there through a combination of hard work and perseverance, and using my noggin to determine if what I’m doing is actually working. The times when I fail are the biggest lessons — and at times the most valuable.

I’m not afraid to fail. I just get a little tired of getting back up all the time.

But then, don’t we all…?

I know I am not alone in my frustrations and challenges. I’m human, and whether you’re dealing with a brain injury, another sort of injury, past trauma, ongoing difficulties in your life, or a hidden condition that others can never suspect is going on, we are all in this together, and we all have so much to share, if we take the time and put forth the effort.

The effort is not easy. But it is worth it. I start most of my days on this blog, because I remember all too well what it’s like to go through life in pain and frustration and despair, and feel so terribly alone. Some days I’d rather be doing something else than typing into a machine, and I can go for days without writing a word. But I know this is important — to me as well as others who find their way here and really value hearing someone else talk about life in ways that they can relate to.

That happens all too seldom. But I hope it won’t happen here.

Joining us today from...
Joining us today from…

So, to all of you — followers, as well as new readers from all over the world — thank you for your support. I’m happy you’re here.

 

 

 

#Mobilgeddon works for me

See? The web world did not end.

So, a week ago on April 21, Google released an update to its search algorithm that gives a boost to mobile-friendly pages in their results.

At first, web mavens reacted with dire warnings, as though the end of the world were nigh. Some said over 40% of top websites could get dinged and lose visibility. Yet, over a week later, the collective response has turned into more of a shrug (sorta like Y2K), with people either realizing that they’re doing okay, or they set out to make additional changes that they really should have made, anyway.

For me, I think the results have been favorable. Already, on April 22, the day after, my page views went from numbers that hovered in the mid-200 views per day, to over 300 views per day.

after-mobilegeddon-days
Overall page views – before and after “Mobilegeddon” – click the image to see it full-size

It’s still early, but I’ve seen a 20-35% increase in daily page views that inexplicably happened, starting after 4/21.

after-mobilegeddon-days-4-22-15
Overall page views – the day after “Mobilegeddon” – click the image to see it full-size

And on top of that, it seems that WordPress may have made some changes on their side, because a week later, three days in a row, I had a sizeable boost in traffic – close to 400 views per day. From me doing nothing different from my usual posting – if anything, I’ve been posting less, because I’ve been so danged busy.

after-mobilegeddon-days-4-28-15
Overall page views – the week after “Mobilegeddon” – click the image to see it full-size

So, what does this tell me?

First, WordPress is on top of things.

Despite all their “interesting” choices for how to render their sites that just get in the way for people who aren’t 24 years old with a Mac and a broadband connection, they still manage to keep the platform running. It’s reliable, and considering everything that could go wrong, they do a decent job of keeping up. The fact that my stats jumped another 50 views/day as a result of me doing absolutely nothing different from usual, tells me something happened behind the scenes. It had to be WordPress updates. 50 views a day is not a lot by big-business standards, but it’s 1/5 of my usual 250-views-per-day traffic. I’ll take that 20% boost, thank you very much.

Second, my “content strategy” is working the way I want it to.

I’m just a solitary individual seeking to educate others about concussion / mild traumatic brain injury and provide support to those who suffer from persistent symptoms by sharing my own challenges and successes. I don’t have an editorial calendar, and I don’t do a ton of keyword research and write my content to be super-Google-friendly. I just write what is in my heart and head, and do my best to provide something of value. Considering that I’ve had over 382,000 total views on this site since around 2008, that seems to be getting some notice — and hopefully filling a need.

Third, when it comes to optimizing for a machine, your best friend can be another machine.

That’s what Google is — a machine. It does what it does with an algorithm (a magic formula of logic), and it does it automatically millions, if not billions, of times a day (or hour? or minute?) It “speaks its own language”, and it looks for web pages to be consistently formatted in ways it understands — work which is best done with a platform like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, or some other templated content management system.

Back in the day when I was building web pages by hand, there were very few reliable content management systems available. The ones that were on the market, just sucked. I know, because I evaluated a bunch of them for an employer. None of them were worth the price their inventors were asking. So, you had a vast sea of “creatively” built web pages filling the web — not always by people who knew how to code properly or organize their pages in a way that made sense to anyone them.  Especially not Google.

But nowadays, there are so many content management systems out there, and there is so much need for consistency of design and reliability for all the devices and search engine requirements, it only makes sense to use a content management system like WordPress (or the others I mentioned above).

That goes especially for the hosted versions (like this one), which is continually updated and kept spiffy by the folks behind the scenes. If you know what you’re doing and can keep your WP instance up to snuff with all the continual updates, database backups, etc., then good on ya. But if you’re a solitary blogger trying to get the word out about your ideas, educate others, and provide something valuable that will help others, and you don’t have time to spare to maintain your infrastructure, website platforms that others build and maintain can go a long way towards helping you.

So, “Mobilegeddon” didn’t ding me. If anything, it appears to have helped. So did WordPress, I believe. And that makes it possible for me to help even more people — I hope.

Onward.

Dear WordPress – your new “improved posting experience” is awful

I hate to say it, but you’ve managed to complicate a very simple thing and turn what used to be quite straightforward into a chore. Ugh.

The posting form should have all the options exposed, so I can immediately see what all I can do, without additional clicks and swipes, etc.

Why hide everything behind drop-downs? Seriously. Why? It might make the form look more compact, but the form isn’t here for you. It’s here for us.

I need to see what my options are, without messing around with menus.

Also, having the posting area inside a frame/iframe may be “uncool” by millennial standards, but practically, it works. Better than what you recently implemented.

By getting rid of the scrolling post area, you’ve made it effectively impossible to add tags as they come to mind. Once upon a time, the right column stayed still, while the post area scrolled. And when I thought of a tag, I could add it, without losing my place.

Now I constantly lose my place when I go to add a tag while posting, and in the process I also lose my train of thought.

On top of that, your additional UI overhead is slowing down the display of everything, which is not improving matters at all. It might be helping your back-end and offload some of the page display from the servers to the client, but geez — do I really have to wait 45 seconds to actually see what I’ve been typing?! Seems unfair.

This is “UI enhancement” because someone on your team apparently figured out how to leverage additional JQuery functionality (woo hoo!) or some-such and wanted to show off their chops.

This is not serving all the users’ needs. Well, not mine, anyway.

It’s really awful. How things worked for the last 1,859 posts was actually just fine.

Bring back the frame for posting. Let us expand its size if need be (the way it used to be), or let it just scroll fer heavensake. Leave the right column just where it is, and don’t make it disappear from view as I’m continuing to type. And enough with the “enhanced” posting form. I never want to see that piece of pseudo-UX shite again in all my life.

God knows, I love you… but this is testing my patience.

Thanks for your consideration.

Change can be good

WordPress has changed their interface for managing blogs, and I like the change. It makes sense. It actually makes the screen easier to read and helps keep me focused on the center part of the page, where I am writing my post(s). The outside navigation (which has nothing to do with what I’m writing) is a different color — it’s “reversed”, in fact, being black with white type, instead of gray and white with black/blue type.

This makes it easier – cuts down on visual confusion, and it keeps my eyes focused on the center of the page.

I didn’t fully realize just how disruptive it was, having everything the same colors, until they changed it. Now I have a palpable sense of relief.

Nice work, WordPress!

This reaction of mine is quite different from the past. In years gone by, I would have gotten upset over a change to something that is familiar to me. Any kind of change would throw me for a loop, and I would lash out at whoever had thrown me off balance. When I was a kid, I had *such* a hard time with any kind of change. The problem was, I lived in situations where there was constant change. Nothing ever stayed the same. I had different classmates in school, every single year, and none of my friends really stayed around that long – either they moved away, or my family did.

So, change and I haven’t always been on good terms.

Now, things are very, very different. I think it has a lot to do with learning how to take the edge off my anxiety and stress — with breathing and also with just letting everything go silent and still for a couple of minutes. Taking a breath and just stopping… before I react to something. That’s important. We live in a world where instant reaction is prized, but for me, that’s a recipe for more stress and suffering.

So, I’m training myself to not go there.

Real progress. And I can truly enjoy the changes around me — like this WordPress upgrade that simply rocks.