Blogging Toolbox I: WordPress

Blogging toolbox: graphics of toolbox and wordpress logo

For all its quirks and bugs, WordPress is a great place to find and build a blogging community. There’s a lot to learn along the way, and perhaps this post will address some things you’ve wondered about. The other posts in this blogging toolbox series are:

WordPress FAQ

  1. Why do some notifications in WordPress link to sites that no longer exist?

    This is often a Gravatar issue, and the person has changed their blog URL but their Gravatar is still pointing to their old URL. Chances are they don't even realize this is the case. Here's how to check if this is an issue for you:

    1) In the WP app, go to “Me” at the bottom of the screen. In the browser version, click on your Gravatar image near the top right of your screen.
    2) Go to “Account settings.”
    3) Find “Web Address” (below this, it says “Shown publicly when you comment on blogs.”
    4) Make sure the domain name listed here is correct.

  2. Why can't I like or comment on someone's blog?

    Your comment may have accidentally got caught by WP's Akismet spam filter. It's also possible that the person has blacklisted you to prevent you from commenting.

    It may also be an issue with your browser settings—specifically, cross-site tracking and/or third-party cookies, as this is what lets someone's site recognize that you're signed into WordPress.

    If you’re using Safari, go to the “Safari” menu > “Preferences” > “Privacy” tab. “Prevent cross-site tracking” needs to be unchecked.

    In Chrome, go to the “Chrome” menu > “Preferences” > scroll down to the “Privacy and security settings” and click on “Site Settings” then “Cookies and site data”. “Block third-party cookies” has to be turned off.

  3. What's a pingback?

    Pingbacks let other bloggers know you've mentioned them in a post. If you include a link to someone else's posts (note: it has to be the link to the post on their actual website, not the version shown within the WordPress Reader) in one of your posts, when you publish it, they'll get a pingback, which appears as a comment on whatever post of theirs you linked to. 

    If someone has disabled pingbacks, they won't be notified that you've linked to them. Some blogs (like mine) have pingbacks enabled for posts, but not pages.

    If you get a pingback show up on one of your posts, you can delete it as you would any other comments.

    Pingbacks can also be a way to find out if someone has ripped off one of your posts. If this post links to post [X] on my site, and someone copies this post onto their site without removing that link, I'll get a pingback on post [X].

  4. What's the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?

    WordPress.org is open source software that WordPress sites run on. To run a website, you need a host. WordPress.com, which is owned by the parent company Automattic, offers hosting with different plans (like free and pro). You can also go self-hosted by finding a different hosting provider.

    This post on WordPress.com vs. self-hosted explains what the differences are and why one might be preferable to the other.

Comments and Interaction

Some tips on getting the comments flowing:

  • Posing a question or idea to contemplate at the end of a post can help to encourage comments by giving people something to focus on.
  • Try to respond to most comments left on your blog in a relatively timely manner. If you don’t really have anything to say, an emoji is still a more meaningful acknowledgement than simply a like.
  • If you have a few regulars with whom you regularly exchange comments, that can help to create an environment where others feel comfortable commenting.

Comment moderation

Some people choose to moderate comments, meaning they need to approve comments before they show up. In “My Sites”, go to “Settings”, then click the “Discussion” tab. Scroll down to “Before a comment appears.” You can then select “Comment must be manually approved.” The other option that’s listed is to moderate comments left by commenters that you haven’t already approved comments from.

You can also simply delete unwanted or offensive comments. While some may argue that that’s “censorship”, it’s your blog and you get to decide what you are or are not willing to allow on it.

Blacklisting

If you’re getting inappropriate boundary-pushing or hate in your comments under My Sites > Settings > Discussion, under the “Disallowed Comments” heading. You can blacklist by username, URL, email, or IP address. Comments from blacklisted users go straight to your comment trash folder.

You can also blacklist by word contained somewhere in the comment, but be careful with this, as it will block out partial word matches as well (e.g. blacklisting “press” will also trash anything that includes “WordPress”). I use this for things that would pretty much only appear in spam, such as “proxies.”

Spam

WordPress’s spam filter is called Akismet. You have a comment spam folder; it lives under My Sites > Comments. Akismet catches a lot of the spammy comments left on your site by individual spammy visitors as well as spambots. It will also occasionally send legit comments there, so it’s good practice to check it regularly.

If you get spammy comments, flagging them as spam rather than just deleting them helps Akismet to continue to learn what spam looks like. Similarly, if legit comments go to spam, approve those so Akismet can learn they’re okay.

Likes

You’ll sometimes hear bloggers talk about serial likers. I think of this as encompassing two different groups of people: rapid-fire serial likers, who will like 20 of your posts within the space of 2 seconds, and meaningless likers who will scroll through the WP Reader and like a bunch of people’s posts without even opening and reading them. Either form of serial liking is probably a strategy to try to get others to go and read the liker’s own posts (you can read about the like-for-like phenomenon here). WordPress will occasionally crack down on accounts that engage in behaviour like this that appears bot-like and restrict things like their ability to “like” posts.

While you can blacklist someone to keep them from commenting, there’s no way to stop them from being able to click the like button. You can remove the like button altogether and/or remove the comment like option from your site by going to My Sites > Tools > Marketing, and then clicking on the Sharing Buttons tab. While this removes the like options from your site itself, people can still like posts and comments within the Reader, so it really doesn’t accomplish much.

Following

It’s nice to make it easy for people who stumble across your site to follow it. A good way to do this is by adding a follow button and a subscribe block in one of your site’s widget areas.

WordPress.com Business or Pro plan blogs or self-hosted blogs need to use HTML code to add a follow button. WordPress has a button creation page that allows you to generate code for your site. This isn’t relevant for a lot of people, but if you care about Google Core Web Vitals, you should position the follow button below the fold (so it’s not visible when the page first loads) to avoid it contributing to cumulative layout shift.

Managing sites you follow

Usually, WordPress.com blogs (with the exception of blogs on the Pro or Business plan) will show a little box showing if you’re following someone, as well as 3 horizontal dots. If you click the 3 dots you can, among other things, view the post in the WP Reader. I find that sometimes the three dot doo-dah doesn’t show up until after refreshing the page.

If you don’t want to get emails notifying you of new posts from blogs you follow, in the browser version of WordPress, click on your Gravatar image in the top right corner of the screen. Then go to “Notification Settings,” where you can adjust the settings for notifications you get from activity on your own site, sites you comment on, and sites you subscribe to.

Within your WP Reader feed, if you click on a blog’s name, which takes you to a list of all of their posts, there will be a cogwheel button near the top right just below where it indicates if you’re following the site. If you click on this, you’ll be able to adjust your notification settings for that specific blog.

HTML Anchors

If you want to allow people to jump ahead to a certain section on a post or page, you can use HTML anchors. This can be useful if you’re creating a table of contents, for example.

Let’s say I want to create an anchor for the “HTML Anchors” heading at the top of this section. In the WordPress editor, I would click on that block, and then in the block settings, I would scroll down to the “Advanced” section. Click on the down arrow to expand this section. In the “HTML anchor” box, enter the word or words you would like to use as an anchor. If you’re using multiple words, separate them with hyphens rather than spaces.

If I enter “html-anchors” as my chosen anchor text, I could then create a link to that element on the page that takes the form #anchorname (or you can write out the full URL yoursite.com/yourpost#anchorname). In this case, the full URL would be https://mentalhealthathome.org/2022/07/24/blogging-toolbox-i-wordpress/#html-anchors, but #html-anchors accomplishes the same thing (and it will also work when you’re previewing the page).

There’s more info on this in the WordPress.com article on page jumps.

Plugins

Plugins offer additional functionality, and they can be plugged in or out of your WordPress site without changing anything else about the site.

On WordPress.com, only bloggers on the Pro or Business plan can install plugins. Bloggers who are self-hosted can also use plugins.

These are a few plugins that I find useful:

  • Header Footer Code Manager: allows you to easily add code snippets to your site without having to go in and make changes to your site’s HTML yourself. This is where I’ve added the code to preload images on my site.
  • Redirection: allows you to set up HTTP code 301 redirects so that if someone enters a particular URL on your site that you’ve set up a redirect for, they’ll automatically be taken to the URL you’ve specified
  • SimpleTOC: gives you a customizable table of contents block that you can add to your posts
  • WP-Optimize: does various things to improve your site’s performance, including image compression and database cleanup
  • Yoast is a popular SEO plugin. It allows you to enter “meta descriptions” to tell search engines what your posts/pages are about, and it gives you a variety of tips on how to make each post more SEO-friendly. RankMath is another popular option.

Privacy

You have a few options if you want to be not-so-public with your blog:

  • Set your entire blog to private: Only people you invite to view your blog can see it. You can set this up under My Sites > Settings > General; in the privacy section, select “private.” Your current followers won’t be able to view your blog; you’ll have to invite them individually.
  • Make your blog unsearchable: You can tell WordPress that you’d prefer that search engine bots not include your posts/pages in search results. This is done under My Sites > Settings > General, in the privacy section, and is shown in the screenshot below. Beneath where it says Public, you can tick the box for “do not allow search engines to index my site.” Note that this will also prevent your blog from being searchable in the WP Reader.
  • Password-protect posts: You can require people to enter a password to view specific posts. This is done in the post settings under Status & Visibility -> change visibility to password-protected. Note that password-protected posts won’t show up at all in the WP Reader, so people who follow you in the Reader won’t see that the post even exists. Instead, you can email people and let them know or, if your peeps already know the password, you can do a public post that just has the link to the password-protected post.

Site Stats

WordPress.com offers built-in statistics for your blog (there’s more on this on WordPress’s Stats and Insights support page). Your blog traffic will naturally ebb and flow over time, so try not to get too caught up in numbers. There are lots of reasons why your traffic might drop that don’t actually have a heck of a lot to do with your blog.

A couple of things that can be interesting to look at are the search terms and referral sources that are leading people to your blog. The referral sources section gives you an idea of how much search engine and social media traffic you’re getting, and you can discover other ways people are making their way to your blog that might surprise you. The map of the countries your site has had visitors from can be a lot of fun to look at.

Google Analytics

For more detailed stats, you can use Google Analytics; this is an option if your blog is self-hosted or you’re on the WordPress Premium Plan or higher. WordPress.com has a support page with details on setting up Google Analytics.

Because of the amount of detail that Google Analytics can give you, learning how to use it will take some time and effort. Google Analytics Academy courses are a good place to start. There’s also a free Google Analytics training course on SkillUp.

The WordPress App

In July 2022, WordPress announced that later in the year, it would be removing Jetpack functionality from the WordPress app. The app will still let you edit and publish posts, but it won’t include the WordPress Reader and WordPress.com stats. Basically, the app will be geared towards self-hosted blogs using WordPress.org.

For WordPress.com bloggers, the functionality that you’re used to having in the WordPress app will now be available in the Jetpack app. It’s very similar, so it won’t be something brand new that you’ll have to learn to use.

The WordPress Reader

  • In you only want to show excerpts of your posts in the WP Reader rather than the entire post, go to My Sites > Settings > “Writing” tab > scroll down to “Feed settings” > toggle “Limit feed to excerpt only”. Note that this may lose you some followers who do all of their reading in the Reader.
  • Certain block editor elements (like media+text boxes) don’t display in the Reader the way they do on your website. There’s not really anything you can do about this, aside from only showing excerpts in the Reader or just not using those kinds of blocks.

If you want to stay up to date on any changes WP is making, you can follow the WordPress.com News blog (you can find their WP Reader feed here).

Do you have any WordPress questions you’d like to ask or tips you’d like to share?

19 thoughts on “Blogging Toolbox I: WordPress”

  1. I read a blog post from WordPress officials saying that they have heard our cry’s about the new plans and pricing. They opted to go back to the original plans offered. I took a screenshot of what each plan offers to see if they have changed but I haven’t taken the time to really look at it. That’s exciting news for those of us they were considered legacy users. I am not certain if it benefits you as I know the “new” Pro plan was offering you a significant discount from your regular business plan but I thought that was some new news to be in the loop on. Happy Sunday, Ash!

    1. Yeah, I saw that post. I’m glad my plan came up for renewal earlier this month, as I was able to switch over to the Pro plan, and they say that they’ll be keeping that plan around for people who’ve already signed up for it.

      Happy Sunday! 💕

  2. 🤔 The WordPress Reader has its pros and its cons; one of the pros is that WordPress users can have easy access to viewing blog posts from others and one of the cons is that some bloggers would prefer to read posts there instead of going directly to one’s website.

    Also, a lot of bloggers have gone through the trouble of making their blogs visually pleasing and viewing posts via the WordPress Reader strips away all of the fancy formatting and special layouts.

    Sometimes I wonder, “Why did I go through the trouble of making my blog aesthetically pleasing when mobile users are not going to see its beauty?”

    My opinion is that the creation of a blog as well as the blog posts is a form of artwork.

  3. Oh wow, thanks a lot for enlightening me about cross-site tracking and Safari! 😀 When I got my Mac I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why WordPress didn’t seem to recognise why I was signed in when I tried commenting on most blogs, so I had to enter my username and everything manually which was quite annoying. It was so annoying that I eventually had to switch to Chrome solely for blog reading because I didn’t have that problem there, and use Safari for everything else because I generally like it more than Chrome. Now I wonder how I didn’t figure that out because it actually seems quite logical that cross-site tracking could interfere with that. Anyway, I’m glad I can stick to a single browser now. 😀

  4. Pingback: Blogging Chat: Spammy New WordPress Followers - Disability News Wire

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