Category Archives for "Blogging"

PDF Files in WordPress

Before anyone complains, there is no mistake; “pdf files” is no misnomer! PDF stands for “portable document format” and so it is OK to write pdf files.

Someone asked me recently if it is possible to link to pdf files in WordPress. It is very easy and an opportunity to learn a little more about the basics of working with WordPress.

Installing PDF Files

Open the editor and then click the Add Media button towards the top left. Then click the Upload Files tab. Drag and drop a pdf file from your desktop or click Select Files and navigate to your pdf file.

Now click on the Media Library tab. The pdf file will soon upload, depending on its size and will appear on the left of the top row. Highlight it by clicking on it once.

Using PDF Files

There are two things in the Attachment Details column on the right you need to know. The first is the url. You will see the pdf file has its own unique url. You can link to it from anywhere on the site or on the web.

Everything in the media library has its own unique url. You can set up an image so, when a visitor clicks on it, they see just the image. This can be useful if the image has a lot detail.

Let’s say you call your pdf file “How to install a frog pool”. In your text you have highlighted the words “install a garden pond” and want that to link to the pdf. You can do this by using the link button in the editor and pasting in the pdf url.

Usually, though there may seem to be little point in doing this because you will need to go into Media Library to find the url. However, if you click Insert into post, you will find “install a garden pond” is replaced by “How to install a frog pool”. Why?

You will find the name of the pdf file copied into the document title and if you insert from the Media Library, it pastes the title over the highlighted text. If you want to insert the document title, then simply position the cursor where you want the title and link to appear.

Alternatively, paste in the url in as I described earlier. If you know you will feature the pdf file only once, then it may be OK to change the text in the Title box but if you are likely to use it more than once, it is better to use the other method.

Making Blog Posts Accessible

Last Thursday I made some observations about writing blog posts. I looked at the differences between using blog posts as a diary, library or noticeboard. Today, I suggest some simple methods for making blog posts accessible, to help your readers navigate your blog. There are more complex approaches but my concern here is to suggest solutions anyone can carry out.

Noticeboards

The noticeboard can be a little difficult where you have a lot of events and want them in date order. If you leave it to the default the posts will appear in order of the date you posted them and not in date order of the events.

A simple solution is to use a WordPress plug-in such as “Simple Custom Post Order”, which allows you to drag and drop posts in All Posts window.

If you have a lot of events you it may be worth looking at one of the Calendar plug-ins.  I hesitate to use them because with too few events it’s possible to have pages of calendars with no events.

Diaries and Libraries

There could be hundreds of permanent posts on your site and you need some way to help readers navigate them. I’m assuming you use categories and tags and I have written about the basics of using these.  However categories and tags alone are not enough.

If you present category pages in the usual blog format, you will find you have a series of posts in reverse order of publishing. The reader needs to find the beginning and then scroll backwards through the blog. Giving them the url for the first post in the sequence does not help them find the rest of the posts in the sequence.

There are several approaches and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Cornerstone Pages

One solution is the Cornerstone Page. You will find examples of these in the navigation on my site. A Cornerstone page lists the posts in a sequence in a coherent way.

It enables you to summarise the sequence. The reader can read the page to get an overall idea of what the sequence is about and follow the links to posts for more detail.

These pages can be used as landing pages and they can be search engine optimised. This way you can use them to draw traffic to your site and guide new visitors to what you have to offer on the topic they are searching.

Mindmaps

A mindmap is where you write your central topic heading in the centre of a page or screen and then add links as you break down the topic into its parts. This can be done using mindmap applications such as xmind.net. Mindmaps can show how the various posts link together. With xmind you can either turn your map into a pdf or use a xmind file, which can be opened by anyone with xmind. Xmind is a free application with a premium version. I’ve got a lot of use out of it without paying for the premium.

You can set it up so that the map includes links to blog posts. So, someone exploring your map can jump to a post for more information.

The main disadvantage is you need the software to open a mindmap. This may be something you give away to people who want to be on your email list.

Products

And of course you could convert your posts into products such as an ebook, a real book or a video course. If you are blogging to find out what you know, as the material accumulates you may be able to convert into a more accessible medium. Posts can be taken down but many people who value your work might be prepared to spend a little on a more accessible format.

Writing Blog Posts

Last Thursday, I completed an overview of using WordPress to write blog posts by comparing the visual and text areas. There are a lot of details I haven’t covered over this sequence and so if you have questions, leave a comment. Today’s post is about blog content.

At the beginning of this sequence I suggested there are at least three approaches to blogging; the diary, library and noticeboard.  You can combine these approaches. Using categories, you can set up pages in your navigation that each focus on one of these approaches. So you might have a noticeboard for events and take down posts when events expire and an information page where you can archive permanent information. I shall go into more detail about archiving information next time.

I found this post recently which identifies four steps to writing a blog post. Below, I shall explore the implications of these four steps for my three approaches to writing blogs. This will illustrate something of diverse approaches to blog writing.

A Plan

Individual blog posts should always be planned but the article does not consider planning sequences of posts. Perhaps a diary needs least planning as it is a response to what is happening. This is not to say though that there is no framework for a diary blog. The most successful diaries have a theme and not an aimless series of events. Some people start a blog because they know the story they want to tell. Others may find a theme emerges.

The library approach demands a clear plan for linked sequences of posts. This presents its own difficulties. Whilst it may help the writer to develop ideas and themes, it can be difficult for the reader to follow, if only because posts are usually presented in reverse order of publishing. I shall look at ways of presenting posts next time.

External events shape both noticeboards an diaries. Their posts are likely to be temporary and aim to inform their readers of events. Events might be meetings but could be a range of things readers need to know. Whilst a blog for an organisation might inform its members of its events, other noticeboards might feature events around a particular theme. So, people sign up because they are interested and find information about their interest.

Permanent or Temporary?

Blog posts are designed to be temporary. When you delete a blog post, it normally has little impact on your website, unless you have links to it.

The big advantage for a diary is you can archive it and use various methods to foreground the best material. Diaries allow you to experiment and find your voice. Once you have found it there are ways to organise your posts that you can bring your best writing to your site visitors’ attention .

Libraries are designed to be long-lasting. There is no reason blog posts cannot be long-term, substantial resources on your website.

Noticeboards need to be kept up-to-date, old posts removed or archived and new posts added in good time so readers can act upon them.

Your Audience

This is an enormous topic and I have addressed your audience elsewhere. All three types of blog are likely to attract an audience if they have a clear theme. A diary called “Living with Diabetes” might be an entertaining account of how the writer struggles with giving up sugar and losing weight. It would not necessarily provide serious information. A library about diabetes might be a series about advice for people who are newly diagnosed. A noticeboard might be for a local group of diabetes sufferers and give them information about local events they might find helpful.

All three approaches might appeal to the same audience. A site might therefore feature all three approaches or specialise on one perhaps because other sites handle the other approaches.

Search Engines

The main things to remember about search engines is (1)they aim to find the best answers to questions asked by searchers, (2) the rules change regularly.

Whatever approach you use the best advice is write about one topic per post and be clear, especially in the title about what the post is about.

You may have landing pages on your site for visitors who are searching for sites about your topic. The “long-tail” referred to in the four-steps blog post refers to the answers to a specific question a specific post might contain. If one in five of your posts attracts a visitor once during its lifetime and your blog has a lot of posts, it could attract similar traffic to your landing pages.

However search engines are only part of a strategy to drive traffic to your blog. So, a noticeboard for example may be primarily for members or subscribers to your email lists. Library and diary blogs may be intended for visitors found online and you can use social media and other networking tools as well as search engines to point people to your blog.

Using the Text View

If you enter the WordPress post editor and look to the right just above the one or two rows of buttons you can see two tabs labelled Visual and Text.

For most purposes you will work in the Visual area. This offers an approximate version of the post or page you are working on. If you want to see it exactly as it will appear once published, press the Preview button towards the top right.  The Visual area has improved in recent upgrades and now it offers a fairly good approximation to what you will see once published. This means writing your post is a little simpler than it used to be.

What is the Text View?

The text area is where you can see the underlying html of the post or page. Some people work solely in this area but I don’t recommend this unless you are familiar with html.

The text area offers a very basic facility to control the detail of what you see on the page; your theme and plug-ins control a lot of it. the Text area enables you to control  your posts’ and pages’ appearance using CSS.

There are a few buttons that allow you to add html tags and some are similar to buttons in the visual view. You can add any html into the text area even if it is not available on the buttons.

I’m not going to go into detail. If you know html you can work out what the buttons do and if not you’ll not follow it anyway.

Here are two things to note:

  1. Sometimes if your post or page does not publish how you expect it to, the reason is visible in the text view. If you know html, it’s worth taking a look.
  2. You can do a lot by using div with a class attribute supported by css. I use this method to add my cross, tick and arrow bullets. Anything that requires css will need a div tag and class attribute.

How to Insert Media

We’re almost through my account of the basics of blogging and this week covers inserting media in WordPress. Most content management systems will have similar functionality, if not consider using one that does.

One reason I’m covering basics is there are additional options available depending upon your theme and plug-ins. Today I’ll keep it simple and consider how to insert an image.  There are hundreds of plug-ins that help you present images in various ways such as galleries and sliders.

How to Upload and Manage Media

So, open the post editor and below where it says “Enter title here” you will see a button that reads Add Media. Press it and the media library pops up.

If your blog is established you will see all the media you have previously uploaded to your website. You may see a mixture of images, videos, audios and pdfs. These are a part of your site and can be used as many times as you like on as many posts or pages as you like.

If you have a new image on your computer and you want to upload it to your site, click on the Upload Files tab. Then you can either drag and drop new files into the library or select files by pressing the button in the centre of the screen.

Reviewing and Editing

Return to the Media Library and then click on a thumbnail to select it. It highlights in blue, a tick appears in the top right of the thumbnail and a new section headed Attachment Details appears on the right. You can adjust the attachment details whilst the thumbnail is highlighted in blue.

If you hold down the shift key and click on another thumbnail, you will see the tick remains in the top right of the previous thumbnail whilst the new one is highlighted and you can work on its attachment details. This way you can add multiple images to a post.

Below the heading Attachment Details, you will see the image and then to the right some information about it, ie the file name, today’s date, the file size and the image dimensions. There are two links to edit the image and delete it.

If you press Edit Image, you enter a new screen where you can crop the image and rotate or flip it. On the right you can scale the image to the size you want or control the cropping to retain the ratio of length and breadth of the image.

Adding Meta-Data

Click cancel to return to the previous screen and look at the next 5 boxes.  These include meta-data, information about your media.  This helps your readers and also assists search engine optimisation (SEO).

  1. The first, marked URL contains the image’s unique url. This means if a visitor clicks on the image they will be taken to a full size version. This might help them see its detail. The url is also helpful if you want to insert the image elsewhere on the site, eg in a sidebar.
  2. The Title is the words that appear when you hover over an image. You can add extra information in the title, for example I often use the title for information about who owns the image.
  3. Caption is text that appears below the inserted image. This is the information it is essential for all readers see.
  4. Alt text has various purposes. If for some reason the image fails to download, the alt text will appear in its place, it is the words that users reading the site with a screen reader will hear and some search engines use it. This is the one box you must complete because it helps screen readers interpret the site. You need just a few words to describe the image. If the image includes text, it should be included in the alt text.
  5. Description is sometimes called a long description because the alt text is the short description. Sometimes you need more than a few words to describe an image, for example a diagram with a lot of text.

Inserting Media in Your Post

Below this you will see Attachment Display Settings. Alignment determines whether the image is on the left, right or centred on the page. Link to determines where the visitor goes if they click on the image, ie the full size image (which is the default), the page it’s on or you can insert another url. If you set it to none, then you can’t click on it. Finally there are four size options. You can try these out and decide which size you prefer.

Click insert into post to add the image to your post. If you hover over the image in the post editor you can either delete the image or edit it, eg to change the display size.

Copyright

One word of warning.  For some reason copyright is a major issue with images.  My general rules are (1) I never use an image unless I am 100% certain I have permission to use it, and (2) where someone else owns the image, I acknowledge it, usual through the title.  See my post about copyright for more details.

Scheduling Posts

If you blog regularly, you need to think about when to schedule your posts.  There are at least two ways to do this. Whichever approaches you use, remember the purpose is to publish your blog to be seen by your followers and by new people.

If you look inside the WordPress post editor, at the top of the right-hand column you will see a box labelled Publish.  The third item in the box reads Publish Immediately followed by the word Edit. If you click on the link you can set the date and time for your post to be published.

When you do this and click OK, you will notice the label on the blue button below will change from Publish to Schedule. Once you have finished editing the post, when you press Schedule, the post enters a queue to be published at the date and time you specify.

This has a number of uses:

  • You can use it to make sure you post at a regular date and time.  You don’t have to be at your computer at your regular posting time and you can work on your blog posts at any time.
  • You can queue blog posts to publish during times when you are away from your computer, eg on holiday.
  • If you have several threads that publish on specific days you can work on one thread and schedule it so as not to break your train of thought.

When is the best time to publish? This is a difficult question to answer. One issue is whether you are broadcasting to more than one time zone. If you are it probably doesn’t much matter what time you publish. However, if you know most of your market is likely to be in one time zone, you may be able to work out the best time to publish. Obviously, the same time will not suit everyone but it may be best to publish early to mid-morning so followers find it when they switch on their computers at work. Later in the day may be better for some people, once they have dealt with the back-log of posts from overnight.

If you look again at the Publish box, you will find the last item in it reads Publicize (sorry about the z). You can set up your system so that when your post publishes, it is publicised on social media. There are various plug-ins that will help you do this.

The second way to schedule your posts is using email lists. You can set up your email service to monitor the posts you publish and to send out an email with all the posts published over a day, a week or a month.   You can specify the time, day or date when the email post will schedule this summary email.

This is useful if you believe your market is active at different times of the day or the week. So, if you publish from WordPress in the morning, you could set up your list to send a notice to everyone on your list in the afternoon.

If you publish a lot of posts, a weekly round-up may be more acceptable, so that you are not sending an email to your list every day. People on your list will know when it appears and so may watch out for it. If your posts are infrequent and not urgent, a monthly post may work. The service does not send an email if you do not post.

You need to think carefully about scheduling as it is an essential part of your marketing.

Have you any tips or tricks for scheduling your posts?

If you enjoyed this post, you can sign up to my email list at the top of the right-hand column. You will receive a weekly summary of my posts, an email sequence about community development and occasional emails about community development online.

Using Tags

Tags may not be so useful as categories. WordPress features both and most blogging applications feature something similar.  They are navigational aides.  There are usually more tags than categories and posts might have several whilst they typically have 1 or 2 categories.  Using tags offers more detailed information about a post’s content and help visitors find relevant posts.

Categories work because there are relatively few of them. They can be nested and used in navigation. Tags can’t be organised like categories but there is no practical limit to the number of tags.

If you click on one of the tags listed at the end of a post, it will open a page listing all the posts that share the same tag. Also if you search for something on a site, if it exists as a tag all those posts will appear in the search results.

Things to Watch Out for Using Tags

Tags can get out of hand. Large numbers are not a great problem but for example, do I use “blog” or “blogs” for my posts about blogging (or “blogging” for that matter)?   These 2 or 3 names should probably be a single tag. But then which do I choose? What are my visitors most likely to search for?

In the post editor there is a useful box in the far right-hand column, headed Tags. When you start to type a word in the box, type slowly because once you make a start, all the tags containing that sequence of characters will appear. You can check the tags you’ve used before.

If you click on “Choose from the most used tags” you get a cloud of tag names, the most frequent ones bigger. The least frequent ones don’t appear in the cloud. But it is an inspiration sometimes to glance through it.

If you click Tags in the left hand column subcategory of Posts, you will see a similar cloud and then below it the means to create a new tag. You are unlikely to use this as you can easily create new tags within the post editor.

Categories in Navigation

Last Thursday I wrote about how to create new categories. One of their most powerful features is they can be added to your WordPress site navigation. If you click on a category name in the navigation it will take you to a page with all the posts within that category, starting with the latest.

In wp-admin hover over Appearance in the left hand menu and click on Menus. Towards the top of this page you will see the words Menu Name in italic. The name beside this heading identifies the menu you are working on. If your site has one menu, you don’t need to worry about this. With more than one, you need to check you’re working on the right menu.

If not, click on the Manage Locations tab at the top of the page and select the correct menu. I’m assuming you have set up your  menus; at some stage I shall look at how to set up menus in more detail.

So back to Edit Menus using the tab. Now you need to look at the left hand side of the page. Depending on your plug-ins there will be several options. Select Categories and the arrow alongside it.

This opens with the categories you are using most. If you can see the category you want to add to your menu, select it. If not use the View All tab to open up all your categories.

Once you have selected one or more categories, click on Add to Menu.

WordPress will add your new category to the bottom of the list on the right. You can then drag it to the place where you want it. If the left hand edge of its box is as far to the left as it will go it will appear on your menu. The category at the top will be at the top of a vertical menu, or furthest to the left, and the later ones will follow on.

If you indent your category it will appear in a submenu of the category immediately above further to the left. I don’t think there’s a limit to the degrees of subcategory although three is probably the limit for most practical purposes.

Your theme will decide exactly how your navigation appears and so, once you’ve pressed Save Menu at the foot of the page, it is a good idea to refresh your site and look at exactly what you’ve done. If you haven’t got it right, simply go back and try again. This way you can work out the best configuration.

This approach to menus is at its best if you are using a Noticeboard approach to blogging. You may find with a long diary or large library you need to use additional navigational aids to help your visitors navigate your site (follow the link for the meaning of these terms). The fact that blogs list backwards from the latest post can be a problem when reading a post sequence.

Using Categories

The first priority when organising blog posts as you write, is assigning them to categories.  It pays to be systematic from the start. Categories help you keep track of your posts.

If you assign categories before you start, assuming you know what your blog will be about, this will help you keep track of things.  You can assign as many categories as you like to any one post.  You need to be careful if you assign multiple categories.  This is your primary way of organising posts and so you want a system that is easy to grasp, for your readers and for you when you return to it after a period.  Some people allow only one category per post.  I assign one subcategory per post and whilst this includes the parent category, I assign the parent too so that I am reminded about the parent child relationship.

Later, you may find you need to adjust your categories.  You can:

  • change their names. I usually create a new category with a new name and then migrate the posts in the old category across. This way I don’t lose track of the posts that are already in there. Remember you may be splitting a category into 2 or more new categories and so migration is often the best method.
  • split or combine categories.
  • change the relationships between categories and subcategories (parent and child).

The thing to remember is if you delete a category you do not delete its posts. You will lose a record of which posts were in the deleted category.

So if you open the WordPress dashboard and click on Posts in the left hand column, you will see Categories among the submenu items. So open the Categories page.

To the right you will see a record of your existing categories and their relationships.  To create a new category, work down the left hand side of the page and start by naming your category.

It is best to keep names as short as possible but they should convey what the category is about. One disadvantage of a long name is it will lengthen you post urls and so the next box, Slug, allows you to assign a shorter category name for your urls.

If you click on the arrow beside the word Parent, you can select one of the existing categories to be Parent to your new category. So categories can be nested within other categories, these are sometimes called subcategories. If you want a standalone category, leave this blank.  Posts entered into a subcategory will also appear in the parent category.

You can enter a category description if you wish. This may help if you have a number of blog authors, so they have some idea which categories to use.

To add your new category to the list on the right, click the blue button at the bottom. This table should be self-explanatory. The Parent-Child relationships are shown by blue dashes to the left of the category name. If you hover over the name you will see several options appear.

Quick edit enables you to change the name and the slug. Edit takes you to a new page which enables you to change just about anything.

Your new category name will appear in your post editor so that you can assign new posts to it. Once you have one or more posts in the category it will also feature in lists of categories in the sidebar or footer of your website.

If you want it to appear in your navigation, you will need to set that up; the topic for next time.

Organising Blog Posts

The flexibility of blogs lies in many options for organising blog posts. One problem is you don’t necessarily know whilst writing a post how you might use it in the future.

Post URLs

Each post has a unique url. You can link to it from other posts and pages on your own or other sites. This is an under-appreciated aspect of blogs.

I’ve seen websites that attempt to marshal large amounts of information on their web pages. So, it is almost impossible to search for anything on the site. If the site has a search box, it will take you to the page, not to the item you seek. You will need to scroll down through perhaps dozens of items to find your topic.

It can also be difficult to delete information. Deleting a page can affect the structure of a website, as other pages might be accessed through it and so become unavailable. Blog posts are independent of the rest of their site and so they can be deleted. The only problem may be if there are links to those posts from other posts, pages or sites. With ping-backs, you will have a record of them in your comments section. If a post has a lot of back-links you might wish to consider alternatives to deleting it, for example amending the content.

Posting regularly means you will have a lot of posts and so need to organise them. How you do this may become clearer as you develop your site but categories and tags are good ways you can make some initial decisions that will help you in the future.

Today I’ll explain the difference between categories and tags and then in the next three posts tell you more about them.  Remember these are the basics. There are more advanced approaches to make your posts more accessible, eg Cornerstone pages.

Categories

Categories help you classify posts. They are a basic way of indicating to your readers what the post is about and which posts are closely related to it. If, for example, you want your readers to follow a sequence, you can put its posts in the same category. Posts can be in more than one category and categories can have subcategories.

Tags

Tags help you search for content. You might want to find everything in a certain blog about a particular topic, and assuming the blog authors have identified the same topic they will have assigned tags to relevant posts. Most posts will have more tags than categories but it does depend on the author.

The extent to which and the way you use these will depend upon the blog’s author and it may take time to get used to a particular author’s idiosyncrasies. You may wonder: who cares? The most important person is the author who may need to organise posts in the future and the categories and tags they assigned when they wrote the post may help them organise their posts into more readable formats. So, it is worth making the effort to be as consistent as possible.