Use the Text widget to promote your posts inside your WP blog

text-widgetAfter seven weeks, I have written more than 20 articles including How to customize your blog with widgets. When I had only 15 or less articles, I did not have any problem listing all my articles on the sidebar using the Recent Posts widget since the widget allows 15 for linking.

But what if you have articles much older than post number 15 which you want to promote and get the most out of those posts? How do you promote them?

I am not sure about others, but I have looked at widgets like Top Rated or Top Posts, and they may not be the answer to my quest. After all, if the posts we want to promote are already top rated or most visited, there is really no point highlighting them for our visitors to notice, is there?

The other approach is to configure your blog Settings > Reading to whatever number of posts you want displayed on your main page. The default is 10 posts. The downside of this method (aside from it being an indirect method) is that your visitors would have to scroll all the way down and may not even notice the article you want them to see. And worst, what if the post you want to show is, for example, post number 75?

Activate the Tag Cloud widget? Again, this is very indirect, and does not immediately display the results you want.

Why not simply be straightforward? As they say, be bold. Stake your claim.

Use the Text widget.

All you really need is insert your promotion text and a little knowledge of HTML coding to direct your visitors straight to your target posts. The top sidebar of this blog is created using the Text widget. See also Personal and more… in my personal website for another demo.

In the hands of an HTML writer, the Text widget is the easiest and most effective method. With the Text widget, you also have better control on how to display your promotion messages.

To me, the Text widget is a powerful tool. Are you going to leave it idle?

tweet-this-wp

A simple solution to tweet and retweet your WP posts

Our post two weeks ago on Publicize: Twitter is about automating the process of sending an update to a Twitter account each time a new post is published in your blog.

tweet itBut what if others want to tweet and retweet your posts?

One simple solution: Place a Twitter sharing code at the bottom, or anywhere else, on your post.

A sharing code comprises the Twitter grabber, a teaser which normally is the title of the post, and optionally, the permalink of the post or its equivalent shortlink. A shortlink is the “tiny URL” version of your post’s permalink generated by and stored in WP ~ very useful to get around the 140-character limit of a Twitter update.

Here is a sample structure of a Twitter sharer:

<a href=”http://twitter.com/home/?status=This+is+the+post+title+OR+Create+another+teaser+http://wp.me/Get-Shortlink”>Tweet it</a>

End Note: I acknowledge currently there are social bookmark applications which automate this process taking into account the scripting limitations imposed by WP. At this time though, I don’t think I am ready to use them, particularly if these are run in a local drive. I will just wait until their scripts are taken on board by WP.

Feel like designing your own “tweet me” icon? Why not create your own special Twitter graphics and store it in your Media library. Try googling out “Twitter icons” or similar search terms to pick up Twitter icons for use as-is or for customization.

Here is a sample Twitter icon customized for this blog:

tweet-this-wp

How to encourage audience response

Every blog owner loves discussion and interaction with, and among, the blog audience. Interactions by way of audience responses show the blog is alive, and the blogger is not alone.

With a WordPress.com-hosted blogs, I found that you can (or at least WordPress.com has provided the tools) generate audience or readers’ responses with the Ratings plugin pre-installed in a WordPress.com blog and Polls using an interface with PollDaddy.

Let me share with you in this post my observations on the Ratings plugin. PollDaddy is my next post.

The Ratings plugin is located on the left control panel after the Comments section. When opened, the plugin has two sub-sections, the Settings and Reports. To enable the plugin, open Settings and choose where you want to display the ratings.

You can enable it for blog posts, pages or comments by selecting the corresponding tab and ticking the check box. You can also easily position the ratings either below or above each post, page or comment using a drop-down box. For purposes of testing, I have enabled the plugin for my other experimental site, When on the Road. The illustrations are sourced from that site.

The result of your selection is instantly available. When you view your posts, posts or comments, you will notice the ratings image (defaulted to 5 stars for the post or page) and the thumbs up or down for the comment if you also enabled the plugin for comments.

If you are using widgets to customize your blog’s sidebar, the ratings plugin also has a Top Rated widget. As usual, just drag and drop the Top Rated widget to where you want it to show. You can customize the Top Rated widget too by selecting the options you want.

That’s all there is.

*** Note: If you noticed the first screenshot above, there is that 1 Votes displayed. 1 Votes? Sorry, we don’t have access to the plugin file to edit it. But not to worry. With 1 more vote, that should be right. 😦

How to customize your blog with widgets

Screenshot of some WP widgets

Screenshot of some WP widgets

I am surprised to see a number of my friends’ blogs using the ready-to-use sectional links on the sidebar of their blogs like calendar, archives, etc. when they have so much to display.

Either they don’t have time to explore the functionalities offered by WordPress.com to change the looks of their theme (at least on the sidebars) or they are not into experimenting.

As we wrote in an earlier post, unless you want to pay a few dollars to have access to a CSS editor, there is not much you could do with the appearance of a selected theme other than to customize the custom header, that is, if that is an option in your selected theme.

But the widgets feature can change the appearance of your theme in terms of content and layout. The widgets can make your blog a little different from blogs using the same theme. This blog is using the Mistylook theme, but with the use of widgets, it now looks different from others blogs using the same theme. (Not the best-looking blog, I admit, but it demonstrates what widgets can do.)

In terms of content, there are so many things one can do with sidebar widgets. Here are some of them and what you can do with them:

  • Image: This is one of the latest features of WordPress.com which easily displays an image in your sidebar
  • RSS: Fetches the latest entries of your favorite site with RSS feeder
  • Top Posts: Excellent for showcasing to your visitors which of your posts receive the most number of views
  • Twitter: To display your latest tweets if you have a Twitter account or the latest tweets of your favorite Twitter-er
  • Text: This allows you to enter any message like announcements, greetings, etc. on your sidebar

Screenshot of the widget page used on this site

Screenshot of the widget page used on this site

To activate a widget in your sidebar, all you need to do is “drag and drop” it on where you want it to appear. For most linking widgets, for example, RSS or Twitter, like the Recent Posts or Recent Comments widget, you can specify the number of entries you want to display.

Layouting or re-ordering the sequence of your widgets is very easy as well. Simply “drag and drop” your active widgets to where you want them to appear.

Want to remove the widgets? Easy. Open the widget by clicking on its down-arrow button, and press the Remove text link.

Why not try the widgets and give your blog a lift?

How to post by email (an experiment)

If you have a WordPress.com-hosted blog, you are on the road most of the time and you have a smartphone, then you should try your blog’s Post by Email feature. I have been experimenting with it for a couple of days now on my mobile blog, and the feature works great.

To activate or enable the feature is very easy. All you need is to click on “Enable Post by Email” on your blog’s control panel to output a randomly generated email address. If you think the email address is not to your liking, you can keep on re-generating an email address.

Send your post to that email address just like sending a normal email message, and voila!, your entry is automatically posted to your blog. You can see a demo of this feature on my moblog.

Warning: You need to keep that email address secret. Otherwise, anyone who knows that email address can post to your blog.

Digression: I acknowledge that WordPress.com has some applications which you can run in your mobile phone to enable you to post, edit, etc. like what you normally do in your WP dashboard. I tried that using the WordPress for Blackberry, but it does not work for me. It may work fine in your case.

How to upgrade your WordPress theme

After selecting your WordPress theme and you are still not happy with some of its elements like theme’s font sizes, column sizes and other similar styles, you can customize the theme’s CSS through custom CSS.

Unlike with self-hosted blogs however, in WordPress.com blogs, you need to buy credits from WordPress.com via PayPal. (I have not tried buying credits for this purpose, but I imagine that with the purchased credits, you will be given an extra command in your dashboard control panel which would allow you to “edit” the stylesheet.) Based on the WPMU version I am using, to upgrade a WordPress theme, you need to pay something like $14.97 which is good for one year.

Did I hear you asking “What is a custom CSS?” If you did, then the Upgrade is not for you. The upgrade is for advanced users only. As the “Upgrades” page on my WordPress.com dashboard page states:

“This upgrade allows you to add custom CSS to customize any theme on this current blog. This is recommended mostly for advanced users who understand CSS.”

With that upgrade requirement, how then do you customize your site?

Yes, the operative word is “site” and not “theme” since customizing a theme would mean adding custom CSS which may be outside the current knowledge of a beginner or outside his/her budget.

But don’t fret. Even if you cannot add custom CSS to a theme under the current WordPress.com free blogs environment, still you can change the looks of your site and make it a little bit different from other sites using the same theme.

We will tackle that in our next posts.

How to XHTML validate a WordPress theme

Selecting a WordPress theme is not all about the layout and other design elements. Consider also if the theme can pass the test of being XTHML valid.

For those who would like to know more about XHTML validation, you can refer to the W3 website or to this article “Are your webpages XTHML valid?” which I wrote some months ago.

To quickly check if each theme you like is XHTML valid, run it against this test by entering your WordPress.com URL onto W3’s validation at http://validator.w3.org.

When I ran my WordPress.com URL using this current theme, the test results came out with 3 validation errors. Yes, I wanted a perfect score, but to me anything less than 10 errors is quite acceptable.

Is your theme XTML valid? If it yields with more than 10 errors even without any post yet, drop it. It’s not worth tweaking.

How to select a WordPress theme

After successfully logging in to my account (and responding to a prompt to change my system-generated password in the profile page), my first task is to select a theme.

Others would probably start entering a post but me, I just want to make sure that I have the right design for me to proceed with my blog. I don’t know about you but having the right theme somehow sets the mood of my blog.

To select a theme in a WordPress.com-hosted blog, step into the following:

Step 1: Select Appearance > Themes on the left panel of your dashboard.

WordPress themes

WordPress themes

Step 2: Browse over the 76 themes (that’s the number of themes as of to date).

NOTE: Unlike in a self-hosted blog, you have only very limited options to change the layout and looks of the theme. But still, you can customise the theme. For my blog at WordPress.com, I chose Grid Focus by Derek Punsalan as it is the closest to my self-hosted blog in terms of layout and design.

Step 3: Press the Activate link to select the theme you like.

You can change the theme anytime you want. Whilst the Preview mode will give you an idea of how your blog would look like, still I prefer to actually Activate it so I can run other tests which I will explain in subsequent posts.

Try other themes repeating Steps 2 and 3 until you find the right theme which reflects your writing style, content and aesthetic preference.

That’s all there is.

Updated October 22: I have changed themes twice already after this post. Current I am experimenting with NeoEase’s Inove WP theme.

How to blog at WordPress.com

For the last few five years or so, we have been using WordPress as a blog platform or a CMS in most of our websites. Being an open-source, we can tap onto the creative and ingenuous works of WordPress community of bloggers, developers and designers to produce easy-to-manage websites.

As a result of our 24/7 encounters with WordPress, we have developed a knowledge base of information on how to select themes, install plugins and other customisation works which we are sharing with others with self-hosted blogs.

The expert-information needs of those with blogs hosted at WordPress.com however are different. Compared with self-hosted blogs, WordPress.com-hosted blogs are understandably restricted when it comes to design customization and plugins installation and usages.

It is in this light that we have created a blog at WordPress. Hopefully, we should be able to get a better understanding of how to run a blog at WordPress.com from which we can help our friends on how they can best maximize and optimize their blogging efforts at WordPress.

Our next entry: How to select a WordPress theme

Updated 22 October 2009: After this first entry, we have posted 15 other observations on how to blog at WordPress.com. Thanks to those who have sent their feedback using the comments box in this site or through our private email.

Updated 11 November 2009: Upon the request of some friends, we have re-published this and other articles in A Matter of Sharing | How to blog at WordPress.com