June 4, 2010

WordPress Blog for Beginners – Initial Blog Design

Creating your Blog Design

So you’re going to create your very own WordPress blog. Get ready for an adventure! You’re about to become not just a writer, but a designer as well. After all, you want the blog design to look just right, to fit the topics you’ll be writing about. Whether you need a simple, casual, or formal design, with WordPress you can create it.

Choose a WordPress blog template

The first thing you’ll notice is that there’s a default template for every new WordPress blog. But go to your dashboard and click “Appearance,” then go into “Themes.” Seeing the wide variety of free blog templates available to you, chances are you’ll want to pick one to replace the default. If the blog is hosted by WordPress, it will have certain templates available for you; if, on the other hand, it’s self-hosted, you’ll be taken to a different section of WordPress where other free
templates await you. Keep in mind that other sites make free WordPress templates as well, or you can buy some or even have one custom made.

If you want a blog design that’s simple and casual, pick a one- or two-column design; to have things in the margin, you need at least two columns. For something more involved, choose three, and if you want a real elaborate setup, you can even find a four-column template or two. But at this point you run the risk of making the blog too busy. You might need to be quite good at web design to make a four-column blog look good.

Widgets

The real joy in creating a blog design comes in the sorts of widgets you add. These are boxes you put in your margin that allow you to add sections of text, a Flickr feed, little graphics, etc. As you’re looking through blog themes, temporarily select one you like, then go back to “Appearance” in your dashboard, and this time click on “Widgets.” You’ll see a list of those that automatically come with the template. But the “Text Box” widget is especially useful, because you can insert a string of code for some functions, like the code from Twitter that allows your Tweets to be posted here. WordPress also has “plugins” that might do some of the functions you’d like to put in here, so check the site’s plugin lists too.

Keep in mind that WordPress blogs hosted on the WordPress site itself are not allowed to insert Java codes into widget boxes, nor to place widgets for ads or third-party money-making sites. If your blog is hosted on WordPress, check its Support pages to find out what you can or can’t add. But for a self-hosted blog, all widgets and plugins are possible. However, you might want to start simply at first, till you get used to manipulating the blog design.

Custom Header

Another valuable type of theme lets you create a custom header, that is, a header containing your own photo or image. However, if you don’t want to get that fancy, you can also just go with a more generic theme with no custom header, keeping in mind that if you change themes later, you might lose some of the things you’ve added in the meantime.

In fact, if you think you might add a photo to the header later on, at least choose a theme that will allow it. This means you can keep that theme and put the header up later, and not lose other blog design elements you’ve already got there. When you do add the photo, again go to the dashboard, click on “Appearance,” and then choose “Custom Header.”

Creating your blog design

Once you’ve chosen your theme, this is when you can finally go to town with the blog design. Starting at the dashboard, go to “Appearance,” and then “Widgets.” Here you can click on those you want, one at a time, dragging them to the right side of the page. You can also drag to place them in the order you want them. You’ll also need to be sure you’re putting them in the margin you want (right, left, etc). Save often as you go along, and go to the top of the page to click “Visit Site,” to have a look at how the blog actually looks with the widgets you’re putting in.

Check with websites you frequent, whose feeds you’d like to place on your blog. Twitter, Flickr, and LibraryThing are a few examples, but there are many more. If your favorite sites offer code so you can place feeds on your WordPress blog, now is when you should get it, and create a text box for each separate feed.

It’s going to take time to dress up your WordPress blog and get it looking just right. But WordPress offers pretty clear instructions on its Support pages, and if you concentrate on one task at a time, it’s really not that hard. When you’re done your blog design, and the site finally looks just as you want it, it’s going to be well worth all the work you’ve put in.

(To see a sample of a self-hosted WordPress blog with custom header and widgets, visit the Bookishgal blog; for a blog hosted on WordPress.com, visit the Shiny Ideas blog.)

Continue to the next step: Tweaks to Prepare for Posting