October 2010: I had never blogged at all. I knew nothing about the platforms available or that anyone might actually read anything I wrote! My daughter introduced me to blogging as a possible way of dealing with a particularly stressful time in my life. Love versus Goliath: The Book is a good place to start if you wonder about where the stress was coming from. It seemed as reasonable a suggestion as anything else and it was free, something that was very attractive at the time. The other personal benefit was I could write about how I was feeling without boring my friends and family to death.
I started on an Australian blogging platform which drove me insane with software bugs. Half the time, and I DO mean half the time, users couldn’t even log in. I have not once experienced such an issue with WordPress. The first lesson I learnt was look for a reliable platform with responsive support personnel.
Frustrated with my local provider, I Googled for something better and found Blogger. My daughter was adamant, “Please just try WordPress” she said. So on a mother and daughter night she convinced me to import my work to date to WordPress. I admit I have an advantage over many bloggers as I am an information technology professional: I do know the odd thing or two about software applications so manage to find my way around most of the technical aspects reasonably well.
The next thing I learnt was to use the excellent WordPress forums. There I found help, advice and people like TimeThief who had seemingly endless patience when it came to sharing their skills and knowledge. I reasoned that anything I wanted to do had been done before and rather than reinvent the wheel, I’d ask those with experience in this strange new world.
At first I used a standard default theme but one thing drove me nuts: the fonts of the headings and body text were not the same. Call me pedantic if you will, but I like consistency in my fonts! I also prefer sans serif fonts so I was spending time I really didn’t want to spend in the HTML edit window adding font specifications. Some of my older posts still contain those font codes and one day I may go back and remove them. I know nothing about CSS and wasn’t about to learn. I searched the available free themes and nothing really was exactly what I wanted (there were not as many back then). I caved in and purchased the premium theme I still use. By this stage my blog had developed into more than just a way of expressing my anger and frustration so I set about learning ways I could make it more appealing and more meaningful. Besides, I’d paid $68 , I wanted a return on my investment!
Now I had something I’d parted with cold hard cash for, I experimented with everything. The slider, page templates without the side bar, creating a Contact Us page using the shortcode. Having found that, I then experimented with the Archive Page template of the theme and the shortcode. In short, I played with the functionality and learnt as I went.
The more tag was something I struggled with. Not how to use it, but when to use it! Opinion in the blogging community seems to be divided. Some love it because it reduces scrolling, others dislike having to click into an article to read the rest of the article. At first I left new articles on the Home Page in their full glory, adding the more tag to previous posts. Now I use it on most articles unless they are short and sweet. I figure I can’t please all of the people all the time!
Another debatable feature is the slider. I know TimeThief doesn’t particularly like sliders. I’ve taken my off at times, added it back on, changed the feature posts around. The jury is still out and I’m still running the slider for better or for worse.
I set about learning about Custom Menus. Now I have Pages, Categories, sub-menus and links to pages external to my blog on the menus. I read both WordPress support documents and One Cool Site Blogging Tips, absorbing like a sponge.
Google Page Rank baffled me for days! Everyone was talking about this miraculous measure of “something” (I had no idea what) and I couldn’t for the life of me find out how I could find out if I had one, let alone what it was if I did have one! I asked in the forums but clearly I didn’t ask the question the right way because despite answers from wonderfully patient people, I still didn’t “get it”. Of course, what I learnt was I should have Googled it much sooner! Suddenly the light dawned and I felt decidedly stupid. Not only that, my rank was 0/10. Being a glass half-full type of person, I decided this was much better than “This page is not ranked by Google” – at least Google knew I was alive with a rank of 0/10.
I tried various widgets and discarded many. I had a BlogRoll widget for a while, but it was getting WAY too long, so I set up a “Sites I Visit” page. The same with a widget displaying awards from other bloggers: that also morphed into an Awards page.
Next was SEO. In plain English, Search Engine Optimisation or how to help Google and other search engines find your work. What a minefield! I read TimeThief’s articles on the topic, I read other’s opinions, I read several threads on the Forums. I still probably break most of the rules but at least I know I’m breaking the rules. Out of that learning exercise came the idea of my own domain. So http://teamoyeniyi.com was born, dropping the “wordpress” from the URL. This was a HUGE learning curve as I think I did everything wrong as far as the redirection was concerned. I discovered later had I just WAITED a few hours, Google and Bing and Yahoo would have automatically changed everything over. I got myself in knots with two Google Webmaster accounts and all sorts of complications I won’t go into! My advice: get your own domain but let the system do what the system does and wait for the redirections to happen automatically and everything will be cool!
I read Google likes domains that are not going to expire within 12 months. Too many domains are set up as short term domains for spamming and other nefarious purposes. So I renewed my domain name registration out into the future.
During a particular period of danger to my husband, I had hidden (made private) a number of posts that could have identified his location. Once he and the children were on the plane home, I wanted to make those visible again, but I wanted a table to list the articles and the original dates of publication. TimeThief’s articles to the rescue again, with How to make HTML tables for your WordPress blog. I learnt how to make HTML tables.
When my family arrived home, I added Users and an Author widget so all could contribute to the site. I still do the bulk of the writing, but my family do chime in from time to time!
To summarise, in 12 months I came from a place of knowing absolutely nothing about blogging or blogging software to a place where I have followers who have supported us through good times and bad, a Google Page Rank greater than 0/10 and daily page views are 500+. I’ve learnt not only about WordPress, SEO and blogging software generally. I’ve learnt that people care. That was probably the best lesson of them all!
The one thing I haven’t figured out yet is statistics! Maybe I will sometime during the next twelve months. To all new bloggers, keep at it. Ask questions. Read everything you can. Learn a bit at a time, don’t try to learn everything at once. It all comes together and there are great people out there willing to help and share their knowledge.