Blogging with WordPress

By Curtis Dicken

Introduction to WordPress Blogging

Just about everyone has heard the term blog. In simple terms a blog is basically an online diary which provides the blogger with a medium to post their thoughts on everything from recipes to politics to technical subjects. Since the first blogs began to appear in the mid 1990’s, they have continued to evolve and gain popularity. In fact, estimates put the number of active bloggers at well over 100 million. In this article we’ll take a look at one of the most popular free blogging tools on the web today, WordPress.

What is WordPress?

WordPress is a completely web-based tool that allows you to quickly and easily set up your own blogging site for free. Signing up is about as simple as it gets with only a name for your blog, a username, an email and a password required to get started. Once signed up you need only reply to an automated activation email and you’re in business. It took me only about 10 minutes to go from start to a fully functional basic blog complete with my fist post (“Hello World!”). It’s really that easy.

The Highlights

While you might think that a blog like WordPress is as simple as picking a design and posting some content, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Here are some of the basic features:
  • Dashboard – The dashboard contains several different options for managing your blog account. However, there are only a few that you need to deal with when getting started. The main dashboard page gives you a handy overall view of your recent posts, comments, referrals, stats, etc. The Blog Stats option gives you some nice detail, both graphically and textually, about how much activity your blog is getting. Lastly, the My Blogs option gives you a central place to switch between blogs if you are managing multiple blogs.
  • Posts – This section is, of course, the heart of your blogging site. Here you can add, edit and delete posts as well as manage tags. The post editing interface is very simple and straight forward. Each post has three basic elements: title, content and excerpt. The title and excerpt are simple text but the content is customizable, at least in some basic ways. You can bold, italicize, align and do other basic text formatting. You can also upload media files such as images, video and audio. There is also an option to add a poll which uses WordPress.com’s sister site PollDaddy.com.
  • Media – In this area you can upload and maintain a library of your audio and video media files. However, space here is limited to 3 GB for audio files, and video files require an upgrade. Depending on how much and what type of media you want to upload and display, this could cost you some cash.
  • Links – The Link section allows you to link to other websites, blogs, etc. Adding and editing a link is simple and has only four elements: title, link URL, category and an optional description. You can create as many link categories as you like. Each category is then displayed as a separate “box” in the right column. Categories with no links associated to them are not displayed. In my case, I created two categories, one to link to my business website and another for links to tools and services that I recommend. There are also several more advanced options like setting the target, defining the link relationship and setting a rating.
  • Pages – In order to allow some flexibility to the blog, WordPress has added the ability to create static pages. By default you will startout with an “About” page where you can add some bio info about yourself. You then have the option of adding more pages which appear as tabs across the top of your design. Some common uses for static pages might be billing rate info, service descriptions, testimonials, privacy policy, terms of use policy, etc. Keep in mind there is no hierarchy here, so you are not going to be able to build complex drill-down navigation system with hundreds of static pages.
  • Ratings – With ratings you allow your visitors to rate posts, pages or comments. In this area you can keep it simple and just define which options should have ratings and where the ratings will appear. In my case I turned on ratings for the posts only and set the ratings to appear at the top of the post. There are also several advanced options that you can tweak which determine the style and behavior of the ratings option. Additionally, you can view rating-related reports here.
  • Polls – In order to use the polling section you will have to sign up with WordPress.com's sister site, PollDaddy.com. The first time that you visit this area you will be given the option to automatically sign up or do it manually. The automatic option transmits the required information pulled from your WordPress account and gets you set up in a matter of seconds. The next thing you do is define the poll and select a style. Once the poll is created you can add it to any post by clicking the polls button that is included with the rest of the media buttons. Though the interface and options are sound, there is one thing that I would like to see improved. There is no widget option, so a poll can’t be easily embedded on all pages. Hopefully, this will be an improvement in the future.
  • Appearance – Define your blog’s look and feel here. This will probably be the first section that you visit once you get an account. There is a theme area where you select the theme for your blog which includes a sample image, description and tags. Selecting a theme is a simple as clicking "activate". There is also the Widgets area which uses a slick drag-and-drop interface to add widgets to your right column. Widgets cover everything from video to links to simple HTML text. In my case I added recent posts, categories, links and a copyright notice. You can further define the appearance through Extras (e.g. enable a mobile viewer), a header image uploader, Typekit font selections, and a CSS editor.
  • Users – If you decide to create a blog with multiple authors you can add users and even define roles for them. Role options include Administrator, Contributor, Author and Editor. Each role places access limits on different parts of the site based on the role.
  • Tools – From the Tools section you can install helpful tools, import posts from other blogs, and even export posts. While this section can be quite handy it’s probably not going to be something that you jump into right away unless you are an experienced blogger.

Conclusion

As you can see, blogging with WordPress.com is easy to set up, feature packed, and best of all it’s free (to a point). While there are several upgrades that can be had for additional fees, the basic blogging is free. Whether it be social commentary or business, WordPress.com is a great way to get started blogging. To sign up for a free account go to WordPress.com. You can also take a look at my WordPress.com blog that I recently set up. All total it took me about 4 hours to get signed up, define the appearance, add the widgets and define the posts, categories and links. Next week we’ll explore some of the more advanced features that WordPress has to offer. Happy Blogging!

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