Building a Blog, Part II: Configuring WordPress

Ok, so you’ve followed the instructions in part I and you now have…a simple, very blue blog.  Doesn’t look very interesting yet, does it?  Don’t panic!  We’ll be spicing it up very shortly.

If you’re logged in to your dashboard, you should see a sidebar with a number of links including Posts, Media, etc.  The one you want right now is at the top of the second batch of links and is labeled Appearance.   You’ll see your current theme (the WordPress default) and probably the classic theme.  Not very exciting…but there are tons more to choose from!  At the top of the page, next to the Manage Themes title, is a button marked Add New; click on it and you’ll be treated to a huge number of free themes you can use for your site.  When you see one you like, just click install; once it’s installed, click activate to (you guessed it!) activate the theme and change the appearance of your blog.  There are many paid themes as well, some costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars, but to start you should stick with the free themes until you know what you like.

One of the options in the Appearance dropdown is Custom Header; this allows you to upload your own header image rather than using the default.  You can crop your image from within WordPress, but you’re better off just uploading a correctly sized header: 850 by 120 pixels.  The appearance of your blog is very important, as it needs to match the rest of your site; if you’re not a graphic artist, it’s probably a good idea to hire one to create your header image.  Research shows that customers have more trust in websites that have a professional look, and consistency plays a big part in that.  For example, this blog’s style matches that of our main site, although they were designed at different times.

Underneath Appearance is a link called Plugins; this is where you can download software that adds additional functionality to your blog. WordPress ships with Askimet, which helps keep spam out of your comments, but you have to sign up for a (free) key and activate it before it’ll work.    As with themes, there are a huge number of free plug-ins; you’ll want to read the comments and find some that interest you.  We’ll recommend a few in a future article.

Under Settings, you can change the blog title and tagline; just delete the tagline if you don’t want it to be superimposed over your header.  You’ll also set things like your time zone and the format to use for the date and time of your posts and comments.

You’ll notice there are a ton of various options that can be set, but the defaults should work until you’re up and running.  Next time, we’ll talk about making your first post.