In Part 1 of this series, you installed and set up a WordPress blog, then created or edited a blog page and post. In this second and final series installment, you’ll learn about adjusting the settings; adding and activating plug-ins; themes; widgets; and editing templates and stylesheets.
Part of fine-tuning your site is adjusting settings for comments and permalinks. To begin doing that, click on Settings in the lower left-hand corner of the Dashboard.
From the General Settings screen, change the tagline from “Just another WordPress blog” to a phrase that describes your blog topic.
To adjust the ability to comment and the parameters of commenting, click on Discussion. This is also the place to adjust settings for pings and trackbacks. Pings notify other sites when you write a blog post. Trackbacks are similar to comments but are created when you link to another blog. A short excerpt of your post is displayed in a trackback area, similar to a comment.
You may also want to adjust or confirm the comment settings under Reading and Writing.
Another important setting affects permalinks, which are the permanent URLs for each of your blog posts and pages. By default, WordPress assigns numbers to each post and its URL. But your URLs will be more search-engine friendly and more closely correspond to post titles if you change the permalink settings.
Click on Permalinks under the Settings tab to choose from common alternatives to WordPress’s numbers-heavy defaults. I use the Custom Structure option to set my permalinks to include the category and then the post name.
WordPress plug-ins can add many cool functions to your blog, including podcasting control, image display, displays of popular posts, and much, much more. To see which plug-ins are installed, click on Plugins on the left-hand side of the Dashboard.
One vital plug-in is the Akismet spam filter. To activate this plug-in or any other plug-in, click on Activate on the right-hand side.
To use Akismet, you’ll need a WordPress ID. If you installed WordPress on your server, you may not have one, so go to http://wordpress.com and sign up for an ID (not a blog). There’s now a plug-in browser available at the bottom of the Plugin screen, or you can go to http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/ to browse available plug-ins.
Some popular plug-ins that you can download from the WordPress plug-in directory are the NextGEN photo gallery, All in One SEO Pack (for search engine optimization), Google Analytics for WordPress, and Contact Form 7.
Now let’s get into how to adjust the overall appearance of your blog with themes. In WordPress language, theme means the overall look of your blog, but it’s also much more than that.
Themes are set with a certain amount and orientation of sidebars, which may be “widget ready” or not. (More on widgets in Step 9.) Themes control the layout of the page, including not just the colors and photos, but also the default formatting of text and placement of the header, footer, and post content. To change the theme of your blog, click on Appearance. Themes will be selected.
The themes that come with WordPress installation are displayed. To activate one, click on it, and a preview of your blog with the theme applied will appear. Click on Activate in the upper right-hand corner to activate that theme.
If the themes that come with the WordPress installation don’t suit you, there are thousands more online. Some are free, some are not.
Begin by checking out the official WordPress theme directory at http://wordpress.org/extend/themes and Top WordPress Themes. If you’re still hungry for more, search on “WordPress themes” in a search engine like Google and you’ll find many sites with quality themes, including magazine style and other advanced layouts.
If you installed WordPress to your server, you can download a theme from the Web, uncompress it into a folder, and then upload it with an FTP client to the themes directory on your server. The themes directory will be a subdirectory of the “wp-content” directory.
Themes labeled as widget-ready are coded to be compatible with WordPress widgets. You may be familiar with desktop widgets, which are tools that update information or other functions on the Mac and PC. WordPress widgets are somewhat similar, except they’re coded into the sidebar of your blog.
Click on Widgets under the Appearance tab on the left-hand side of the screen. The Widgets screen displays the various widgets you can insert.
From the Widgets screen, you can control what’s on the sidebar and in what order. You can also edit the settings for some of the widgets.
Under Current Widgets on the upper right-hand corner, click the drop-down menu and see how many sidebars there are. This will vary by theme, but many themes include a Sidebar 1 and Sidebar 2. Select the sidebar you want to add widgets to and click Show.
Whatever is currently on this sidebar will be displayed in blue rectangles below the “Show” option.
Under the Available Widgets title, you can see the available widgets to display:
– Pages displays the pages of the blog, such as the About page or a Contact page.
– Calendar lists posts by dates in calendar format.
– Archives is a monthly archive of your posts.
– Links displays your list of links, which can be edited from the Links page, navigable by clicking on the Links option on the left-hand side of the Dashboard.
– Search inserts a search box into the sidebar. (You may already have a search box on the top of the blog, depending on the theme.)
– Recent Posts or Recent Comments display just that.
– Tag Cloud inserts a “cloud” of tags. The more often you use a tag in a post, the larger that tag is in the cloud.
– Categories lists the categories of blog posts in the sidebar. I suggest using this widget in the sidebar so your visitors can get to specific topics quickly.
– RSS inserts a specified RSS feed. If you use this widget, be sure you’ve inserted an RSS feed that’s related to the content of your blog. For example, a graphic design blog might have RSS feeds from CreativePro.com.
– Text widgets can display text or HTML code. For instance, a short description of the blog can be on every post, displayed in a text widget. You can also insert Google Ads or Google Analytics code into a text widget.
To add a widget to a sidebar, click Add on the widget. To edit settings for the widget, or to edit text in a text widget, click the Edit next to the name of the widget once it’s inserted. Note: Click Save Changes after inserting a widget and before editing it. If you try to edit a text widget without clicking Save Changes first, it often disappears.
The settings options vary depending on the widget. For example, the Categories widget can show categories as a drop-down menu and show the number of posts. Once you’ve added and then edited all the widgets, click Save Changes again.
The final item in this basic introduction to WordPress is the Editor. While adding widgets or changing themes, only bloggers familiar with HTML and CSS — and preferably with PHP coding, too — should use the Editor. But even if that’s not you, it’s OK to click on Editor on the Appearances tab simply to see how the coding is set up.
You’ll see the Editor with the stylesheet.css file open. That’s the cascading style sheet that includes the settings for much of the blog. If you change a setting here, such as text size or column width, it will be reflected across the blog. The other editable files are listed under Templates on the right-hand side.
The Editor can also help you change image headers and edit many other settings. Want to add text to the footer of every page and post of the blog? You could add it to the footer.php page by here. But again, don’t edit the template files unless you’re comfortable with HTML and CSS.
If you do make a mess of your blog by removing or editing coding with the Editor, you can download the same theme again, find the original of the file you just monkeyed with, and replace the problem file with the original via an FTP upload.
While there’s much more to learn about WordPress, that expertise isn’t necessary to have before you blog, or even before you customize your blog. Experiment with the various themes and plug-ins, and have fun adding content to your site.
Chad Neuman is an internationally published freelance magazine writer, graphic designer, photographer, and educator from Florida. Subscribers to his mailing list receive very occasional updates and free vector art/graphics.