Customize Your WordPress Blog & Build an Audience

Want to quickly give your blog a fresh coat of paint and make it stand out from the pack?  Here’s how you can customize your WordPress blog and make it uniquely yours.

WordPress offers many features that help you make your blog the best it can be.  Although it doesn’t offer as many customization features as full WordPress running on your own server, it still makes it easy to make your free blog as professional or cute as you like.  Here we’ll look at how you can customize features in your blog and build an audience.

Personalize Your Blog

WordPress make it easy to personalize your blog.  Most of the personalization options are available under the Appearance menu on the left.  Here we’ll look at how you can use most of these.

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Add New Theme

WordPress is popular for the wide range of themes available for it.  While you cannot upload your own theme to your blog, you can choose from over 90 free themes currently available with more added all the time.  To change your theme, select the Themes page under Appearance.

The Themes page will show random themes, but you can choose to view them in alphabetical order, by popularity, or how recently they were added.  Or, you can search for a theme by name or features.

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One neat way to find a theme that suites your needs is the Feature Filter.  Click the link on the right of the search button, and then select the options you want to make sure your theme has.  Click Apply Filters and WordPress will streamline your choices to themes that contain these features.

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Once you find a theme you like, click Preview under its name to see how your blog will look.

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This will open a popup that shows your blog with the new theme.  Click the Activate link in the top right corner of the popup if you want to keep this theme; otherwise, click the x in the top left corner to close the preview and continue your search for one you want.

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Edit Current Theme

Many of the themes on WordPress have customization options so you can make your blog stand out from others using the same theme.  The default theme Twenty Ten lets you customize both the header and background image, and many themes have similar options.

To choose a new header image, select the Header page under Appearance.  Select one of the pre-installed images and click Save Changes, or upload your own image.

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If you upload an image larger than the size for the header, WordPress will let you crop it directly in the web interface.  Click Crop Header when you’ve selected the portion you want for the header of your blog.

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You can also customize your blog’s background from the Background page under Appearance.  You can upload an image for the background, or can enter a hex value of a color for a solid background.  If you’d rather visually choose a color, click Select a Color to open a color wheel that makes it easy to choose a nice color.  Click Save Changes when you’re done.

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Note: that all themes may not contain these customization options, but many are flexible.  You cannot edit the actual CSS of your theme on free WordPress blogs, but you you can purchase the Custom CSS Upgrade for $14.97/year to add this ability.

Add Widgets With Extra Content

Widgets are small addons for your blog, similar to Desktop Gadgets in Windows 7 or Dashboard widgets in Mac OS X.  You can add widgets to your blog to show recent Tweets, favorite Flickr pictures, popular articles, and more.  To add widgets to your blog, open the Widgets page under Appearance.

You’ll see a variety of widgets available in the main white box.  Select one you want to add, and drag it to the widget area of your choice.  Different themes may offer different areas to place Widgets, such as the sidebar or footer.

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Most of the widgets offer configuration options.  Click the down arrow beside its name to edit it.  Set them up as you wish, and click Save on the bottom of the widget.

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Now we’ve got some nice dynamic content on our blog that’s automatically updated from the net.

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Choose Blog Extras

By default, WordPress shows previews of websites when visitors hover over links on your blog, uses a special mobile theme when people visit from a mobile device, and shows related links to other blogs on the WordPress network at the end of your posts.  If you don’t like these features, you can disable them on the Extras page under Appearance.

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Build Your Audience

Now that your blog is looking nice, we can make sure others will discover it.  WordPress makes it easy for you to make your site discoverable on search engines or social network, and even gives you the option to keep your site private if you’d prefer. 

Open the Privacy page under Tools to change your site’s visibility.  By default, it will be indexed by search engines and be viewable to everyone.  You can also choose to leave your blog public but block search engines, or you can make it fully private.

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If you choose to make your blog private, you can enter up to 35 usernames of people you want to be able to see it.  Each private visitor must have a WordPress.com account so they can login.  If you need more than 35 private members, you can upgrade to allow unlimited private members for $29.97/year.

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Then, if you do want your site visible from search engines, one of the best ways to make sure your content is discovered by search engines is to register with their webmaster tools.  Once registered, you need to add your key to your site so the search engine will find and index it. 

On the bottom of the Tools page, WordPress lets you enter your key from Google, Bing, and Yahoo! to make sure your site is discovered.  If you haven’t signed up with these tools yet, you can signup via the links on this page as well.

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Post Blog Updates to Social Networks

Many people discover the sites they visit from friends and others via social networks.  WordPress makes it easy to automatically share links to your content on popular social networks.  To activate this feature, open the My Blogs page under Dashboard.

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Now, select the services you want to activate under the Publicize section.  This will automatically update Yahoo!, Twitter, and/or Facebook every time you publish a new post.

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You’ll have to authorize your connection with the social network.  With Twitter and Yahoo!, you can authorize them with only two clicks, but integrating with Facebook will take several steps.

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If you’d rather share links yourself on social networks, you can get shortened URLs to your posts.  When you write a new post or edit an existing one, click the Get Shortlink button located underneath the post’s title.

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This will give you a small URL, usually 20 characters or less, that you can use to post on social networks such as Twitter.

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This should help build your traffic, and if you want to see how many people are checking out your site, check out the stats on your Dashboard.  This shows a graph of how many people are visiting, and popular posts.  Click View All if you’d like more detailed stats including search engine terms that lead people to your blog.

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Conclusion

Whether you’re looking to make a private blog for your group or publish a blog that’s read by millions around the world, WordPress is a great way to do it for free.  And with all of the personalization options, you can make your it memorable and exciting for your visitors.

If you don’t have a blog, you can always signup for a free one from WordPress.com.  Also make sure to check out our article on how to Start Your Own Blog with WordPress.

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