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This is the third in a series of posts discussing how to set up and run a WordPress blog from a relatively experienced expert, which will feature many helpful and hopefully relevant tangents.
In the first article I discussed the first few steps involving sign-up, the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, and your social media presence.
Last week, I looked at writing your first post using the WordPress content management system (CMS) and I also offered some general writing tips for new bloggers.
This time I’ll be delving into the dashboard to help you set up the ‘backend’ of your blog, by taking a look at the diverse world of widgets.
Firstly though a quick note about the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org in relation to ‘plugins’.
A plugin is a piece of software that acts as an add-on feature to your website or blog, offering additional functionality.
These can be developed by WordPress itself or by a third-party company and range in function from social media integration to automatic search engine optimisation to spam comment filtering. It’s an endless array of choice.
I’ll be writing this for the benefit of WordPress.com users. WordPress.com users won’t find a ‘plugins’ tab in their dashboard as such.
Only WordPress.org users (those who host their own site and who don’t mind getting their hands dirty with coding and other technical matters) have access to these third-party plugins.
However, WordPress.com users do get the benefit of the most popular plugin functionality integrated into their dashboard and on top of that, there is also a section called ‘widgets’ where lots more essential add-ons can be loaded onto your blog.
This is the area where we’ll be concentrating on right now.
How to use widgets
Within your dashboard, click the ‘Appearance’ button on the right-hand tab. Here is where you’ll find ‘Widgets’.
To install a widget, it’s a very simple process of dragging your choice from the left hand column, to the ‘Widget Area’ on the right-hand side.
Or alternatively by clicking on your choice of widget, selecting your chosen widget area and clicking ‘Add Widget’.
The widgets will rearrange themselves around wherever you place your selection. You can also reorder them as much as you like by dragging them up or down.
The widgets you wish to use and the order they appear in, are directly transferred to the navigation menu on your homepage. If you’re using the standard ’Ryu’ template, the reader can access this menu by clicking the ‘menu’ tab.
Which is exactly how the widgets appear in ‘Top Widget Area One’.
Here I'll go through which are the best and most beneficial widgets for your new blog.
Obviously ‘Search’ is a must for your readers, as are the 'Recent Posts’, ‘Archives’ and ‘Categories’ widgets. Another vital one for your own administrative responsibilities is ‘Meta’ as this allows your quick access to the dashboard, Login/Logout and WordPress.com itself.
You can rename any of these with your own witty headers as you please, but do bear in mind the usability and expectations of your visitors.
This title will now show up instead of the default title ‘Recent Comments’.
What other widgets should you bring into your site’s UX?
An absolute must. Here visitors can read your last few tweets and follow you directly from the blog.
It’s a little bit complicated to set-up so I’ll talk you through it.
First, I recommend adding the Twitter Timeline to Top Widget Area Two. This way it will appear at the top of your homepage alongside the first column of widgets. It’s also good to add any other social widgets to the same area, as this keeps them all together.
Next you will need to click on this link https://twitter.com/settings/widgets/new/user to create your widget.
After clicking ‘create widget’ you will see a URL similar to this one.
All you need to do is highlight the 18-digit ID number (this will be unique to you), copy and paste it into Widget ID field in your widget dashboard.
Pick how many tweets you wish to display at one time, hit save and you should have something that looks like this on your homepage:
Facebook Like Box
Another social must, this one is much easier to set-up though. Just copy and paste your Facebook Page URL into the field (it only works with Pages, not profiles, so will have to set one up to compliment your blog) and I recommend changing the title to just ‘Facebook’.
An easy way for visitors to sign-up for email notifications when you post a new article.
Top Posts & Pages
Handy if your most popular post is perhaps older than ones that would appear under the ‘Recent Posts’ menu. This encourages your content to remain evergreen.
This is great if you're running your WordPress site in order to drive traffic to an online or offline business.
Beyond the widgets
Elsewhere in the dashboard, outside the widget section, you will find various other add-ons that would normally be available as plugins for WordPress.Org users, but WordPress.com users have automatic access to.
See which posts are your most popular. See what days of the week provide you with the most amount of traffic. See where your traffic is coming from.
This is really helpful in strategizing when is the best time to publish posts for maximum exposure.
This is where you can keep a check on spam comments.
Google Webmaster Tools
You can verify your blog with Google Webmaster Tools in order to obtain further data, tools and diagnostics for a Google friendly blog.
You can also do the same for Bing, Pinterest, Twitter and Yandex.
You need an XML Sitemap, it’s what Google and other search engines look for when indexing your content. The XML Sitemap also needs to be updated when you create new content.
The good news is, as a WordPress.com user, this is all done for you and WordPress takes care of updating it every time you publish something new, so you don’t have to worry about a thing.
In the remaining chapters of this series I’m going to offer some tips for SEO, tips for customising your templates and lots more bits of advice from my years of experience in the blogging world.