Blogging is becoming essential to writers who wish to engage with their readers

This relatively long post has grown out of discussion in the e-writers group I manage about the value of blogging and how to become a blogger. It is also relevant to two of the courses I deliver through Gold Coast TAFE Adult Education: Blogging for Business and Search Engine Optimization.

Increasingly, blogging is becoming the medium through which writers reach out to their readership. Yet many writers seem diffident about taking the plunge into the blogosphere. Working with Words is designed, in part, to help writers make the transition so it is worth spending some time looking at how to create a blog using a WordPress content management system (CMS).

We will use the Working with Words content interface as our example although what we talk about will have general applicability to most WordPress sites running Version 3.4 of the software.

We will deal only with blogging and will not, in this post, discuss other content creation.

Logging into WordPress

In order to post to a blog site you will need to have a username and a password. These are provided by the site administrator or someone with higher level privileges to manage the site. You will also need the URL of the dashboard. The dashboard is the place from which you manage your CMS.  When you type the URL address into your browser it will take you to a login screen similar to that shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The WordPress login screen

Figure 1: The WordPress login screen

You have the option to have your browser remember your login details and if you are on a secure computer this is probably the preferred option because it means you only have to log in the first time. After that, it can be accomplished automatically.

Exploring your dashboard

Once you log in you will be taken to your dashboard (Figure 2). What you see in your dashboard again depends on your level of privileges. We will come to that in a moment.

The WordPress Author Dashboard

Figure 2: The WordPress Author Dashboard

‘Author’ privileges allow you to post your blog directly to the site without the need for moderation or approval. However, you cannot add or modify other pages on the site, such as the home page (if it is not the blog page). To add or modify other pages on the site you need administrator privileges and these are usually held by only one or two people for obvious reasons.

On the left-hand side of the screen you will see the navigation options menu. If you want to add a post, simply click Posts?Add New. This will bring you to another screen from which you can create your post. This screen is shown in Figure 3.

Add new post

Figure 3: Add new post

Creating your post

It is a good idea to create what you want to say before you start your post by writing a Word document (or other word processing software – I mostly use Pages for web content creation). Ou can then cut and paste into your Add New Post screen.

There are a few tips to remember when creating posts; it is not only about creating your content.

The first thing you will be asked for is the Title of your post. You will see that this is the first pane in your content screen. After your title comes your content. This is written or pasted into the content pane. You will see the formatting options in the menu bar above this pane. The menu bar shown is a simple one but you can extend your options by clicking on the right-most button to bring down extended formatting options (Figure 4). These additional options can be quite important as we shall see in a moment.

Wordpress extended menu options

Figure 4: WordPress extended formatting options

 

The font styles are contained in the upper menu bar. The extended formatting options allow you to add paragraph styles to your document beyond the Paragraph style which is the default. In particular, there are six levels of Heading styles (Heading 1 ? Heading 6).

Use heading styles to delineate blocks or sections of text. Heading 1 is the most important and should only be used once in any single blog. Following the principle of avoiding orphan headings, there should always be at least two sub headings below any given heading level.

For example

Heading 1

Heading 2

Heading 3

Heading 3

Heading 2

Heading 3

Heading 3

Heading 2

Headings are important when it comes to optimizing your pages for search engines so that your page can be easily found. We will cover the basics of search engine optimization (SEO) in a separate blog.

For the moment, let’s assume you have given your blog a title and that you have arranged the content. We will look at the options you have in your right hand column. Let’s look first at the Categories.

Post Categories

You can categorize your post and you are not restricted to a single category. By adding categories you help people who want to search for information in that particular category.

In the case of Working with Words, the first category is usually the name of the author. Other categories can then be added depending on the subject matter.

Categories are important in determining how WordPress will create a URL for your blog. For example for my blog entitled ‘Services to Writers’ the first category selected was my own name. When WordPress came to assigning a URL to this page, it came up with the one shown below.

http://workingwithwords.com.au/mike-clancy/services-to-writers-2/

This illustrates another point. Categories and titles are also used by search engines so WordPress creates a Smart URL that reflects the subject matter.

Post tags

You also have the option to add tags to your post. Tags are similar to keywords. Both are used by search engines although the precise manner in which they are used is somewhat of a mystery since the main engine providers are highly secretive about the algorithms they use to categorise and store information. Put simply, keywords are words picked out by the search engines as they search your document, based on the number of times that word appears in the text. So far I have used the word ‘tag’ six times in this post so the search engine crawler will take note of that and assume it to be a keyword.

Tags are slightly different but perform a similar function. Tags are keywords that you create yourself. It is a form of self-participation in the content indexing.

Tag clouds

WordPress tag cloud

Figure 5: WordPress tag cloud

There is a lot of debate about the usefulness of tags and keywords but tags have one other use and that is something called the tag cloud. The tag cloud is a WordPress plug-in that displays information on your posts based on the frequency of tags used. Working with Words is a relatively new site and so the tag cloud is rather small at this stage. On the other hand, I have been blogging on my Creative Genie site for more than two years and so the tag cloud has become substantial (Figure 5). You can see the topics most frequently tagged by the size of the font used. Clicking on any word will bring up a list of all posts tagged with that word.

Tags are therefore of greatest benefit when you have words or phrases that you see of importance but which are not used with sufficient frequency that the search engine will recognize them. In this particular blog I have added bold text to words that I want to tag (although you would not normally do this in your final post, it is a useful practice in identifying your tag words and phrases.

Here is a useful post by an expert on the topic of tags and keywords. It is worth reading.

http://lorelle.wordpress.com/2006/03/17/keywords-versus-tags/

Publish options

Once you have your content sorted and your post categorized and tagged, its time to publish or is it? Your ‘publish’ options are at the top of column 3. WordPress gives you the option to preview your post before you publish to the world and this is always a good option to follow. It gives you the opportunity to proof-read before you publish. Of course, you can always edit your post later but that is always second best to getting it right first time.

You can also save your post as a draft if it is a work in progress or you can delay publication to a particular time and date. This option is particularly useful if you are part of a blog management team and you create several blogs at the one time that you want posted progressively over a period.

Of course, you always have the option to trash your post. But why would you want to do that?

A word on using the English language

Being a global language has its problems. American English, Australian English, British English are all slightly different, not only in the words they use but also in some of the spelling and grammar rules. Generally most people use the -ize for recognize and similarly ending words whereas Australian English prefers the -ise ending as in recognise.

One option for bloggers is to use International English which, in theory at least, is acceptable anywhere. It depends firstly on the level of localization/localisation (there is another one) you intend for your readership. But in the world of the web, where search engine indexing is important you have to give this additional thought. If you are using localized words and localized spelling variants you have to be careful that in doing so, you make your page less visible than it otherwise might be. Sadly I have to admit that I don/t really know the answer to that one.

What now?

In my next blog related to this topic I will discuss more on search engine optimization and especially how to use the All in One SEO Pack that is available with WordPress.