Keeping Up Appearances – Decorating the Self-Hosted Blog

If you’ve already been blogging at WordPress.com, much of the self-hosted WordPress environment will look very familiar.  However, there are a few key differences – even when keeping up appearances – between running your blog at WordPress.com and having your own ‘place’.

Themes

When you first login to your new self-hosted WordPress Dashboard, one of the first things you’ll want to do is customize your appearance.  To start, click on ‘Appearances’ in the left pane of your WordPress window and then click on ‘Themes:

The installation will include a few default themes, but you can add new themes by clicking the ‘Install Themes’ tab.  That tab will let you upload custom themes you design or buy, or you can choose from over 600 free themes.  

As with WordPress.com, each theme on your self-hosted blog allows a different level of customization.  You can use the links to choose from different appearance options, or, if you know CSS  or HTML, you can click ‘Editor’ and tinker with the code.   Be aware that, on a self-hosted blog, you can break a theme, so be sure to make a backup before wading in too deep. 

Widgets

As with a hosted WordPress blog, your self-hosted blog includes a Widgets, add-ons to your blog page that can be dragged to your side bar.  There are a few default widgets – Custom Menus and a BlogRoll you can add to your blog right away.  You can add others by installing them from the ‘Plugins’ section of your WordPress Dashboard.  

To add a widget to your blog sidebar, click and drag the widget to the desired place.  Widgets can be moved up and down in relation to each other:

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This is how a widget looks on the actual blog:

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Plug-ins

The plug-in is where the self-hosted blog really begins to flex its muscle.  Plug-ins are basically neatly-packaged scraps of code that you can add to your WordPress blog and that allow you to add custom Social Networking widgets to your sidebar, shopping carts to your blog, and even forum infrastructures to encourage your readers to engage with each other on your site.  If you know PHP programming, you can create your own, but the most common way to add a plug-in to your blog is to choose from the thousands of free offerings.

To add a plug-in to your site, click ‘Plug-Ins’ in the sidebar of your administration screen.  You’ll notice that the WordPress installation includes one or two default plug-ins.  Click ‘Add New’ to navigate to the search page:

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You can use keywords or categories to search for plug-ins, just as you would when installing a new Theme.

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 Plug-ins shown in your search results are rated and can be sorted by rating or by name.  Click promising listings to learn more details and then to install the one you want.  Once the plug-in is installed, you’ll have the option to ‘Activate’ it.  Some plug-ins, such as tracking programs, operate behind the scenes but need you to custom their settings to your blog.  Others, such as shopping cart plug-ins, will appear as new pages or as new widgets to be added to your sidebar.

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Because plug-ins are usually free, and because they offer new options for customizing your site, it can be tempting to add a bunch all at once.  However, extra gadget you put on your site, visible or not, is like the clutter in your junk drawer – it may be useful, but it takes up space and, in the case of your blog, can slow things down for your user.  Only you can decide when that next new widget is one too many.

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