A New Blogger’s Guide to WordPress

A new blogger's guide to WordPress from Mental Health @ Home

Welcome to the WordPress community!  We’re happy to have you!  This new blogger’s guide contains tips to help you engage effectively with the community and have a more positive blogging experience.

First up are some things that are useful to know about WordPress that you may not be aware of yet.  Next are some blogging etiquette tips and more general blogging tips, which have been compiled with input from other members of the blogging community. Some community practices might take a while to pick up on, but it’s all part of the journey.

Blogging & writing tips from Mental Health @ Home

This page is devoted to the basics of blogging, while the blogging & writing tips page has more advanced info and strategies to take your blogging to the next level.

A Few Things to Know About WordPress

The WordPress community is a lovely place, but WP itself can have some odd bugs and quirks. Sometimes there’s an unfollowing gremlin lurking around, randomly unfollowing people. This may mean some blogs you’re following randomly get taken off your following list. These sorts of gremlins ebb and flow, and it just seems to be part of the WP experience.

For more WordPress quirks and quarks, check out Assorted WordPress Tidbits You Might Not Know.


Your Gravatar should match your domain name

Your Gravatar is the picture and username that get displayed in other bloggers’ notifications if you follow, like, and comment on their posts.  That Gravatar should be connected to your blog site, so people can click on it to go visit your site. 

But if you’ve changed your domain name and the wrong site is connected to your Gravatar, people who click on it will get a message that your site no longer exists.  Not good, right?!

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

Check your comment spam folder

Did you realize you have a comment spam folder?  You do, and legit comments people leave on your blog will sometimes end up there by mistake. 

  1. In “My Sites”, expand the “Sites” section
  2. Click “Comments”
  3. Click on the “Spam” tab at the top of the screen
  4. For non-spam posts, click “Approve”

Make a habit of checking here on a somewhat regular basis to see if there are any legit comments that should be rescued.


WordPress.com and WordPress.org aren’t the same

You may have heard the terms self-hosted, WordPress.org, and WordPress.com, and wondered what the difference is. If you have a blogging plan through WordPress, and your site lives on WordPress’s servers, that’s WordPress.com.

WordPress.org provides the framework for people to create their self-hosted sites. Going self-hosted means the world is your oyster in terms of customizing your site, but it’s also your problem if you break it. You can read more here about How Many Ways Can You WordPress?.

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Blogging Basics

These are some of the things that no one tells you about when you start using WP, but most people start to gradually figure out as they go along. Hopefully, this will help to speed up that process.

What are blog awards?

You may notice a lot of blog award posts in your Reader feed. These aren’t really awards, per se, as people get nominated, but there’s no winner from among the nominees.

Blog awards serve a few functions. When you’re nominated, you’ll typically be given questions, and answering them in an award post is a way for your readers to get to know you better. They’re also a good way to give a shout out to some of your blogging buddies.

There are always “rules,” but that doesn’t mean you have to follow them. Some bloggers (like me) don’t do award posts. There’s no “right” way; it’s all about what works best for you. You can read more about blog awards here.


How do you use pingbacks?

What the heck is a pingback?  If you include in one of your posts 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), when you publish the post, they will get a pingback, which appears as a comment on whatever post of theirs you linked to.  It’s a handy little way of notifying other bloggers that you’ve mentioned them.

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.


Should you have a blogging niche?

While it’s easy to find plenty of “expert” blogging advice saying you must stick to a blogging niche, that’s just not true across the board. If you want to, sure, absolutely. If you don’t want to, that’s totally okay too. What matters is what works for you and your blog. You can read more on this here: Should You Stick to a Blogging Niche?


Should your blog be searchable?

If you select discourage search engine indexing in your privacy settings, it will ask search engines not to index your site when they crawl it. It doesn’t block search engines or any meandering bots; it just asks politely for them not to look. Your blog will no longer show up through search or tags in the WordPress Reader. This setting doesn’t hide your site quite as well as you might think it does, so the benefits won’t necessarily outweigh the downsides.


Some more blogging basics

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Blogging Etiquette

Like any community, the blogging community has certain social expectations, and if you violate those, it can start to annoy people.

Don’t plagiarize

That should be self–evident, but apparently, some people miss the boat on that.  And by the way, changing a few words but keeping the same structure, tone, and overall content still counts as plagiarism.

And this isn’t really plagiarism, but if a blogger runs a series with quite a unique name, don’t use that name unless you’re participating in the series. Otherwise, you’re just ripping off someone’s idea, and that’s tacky.

If you discover that you’re own content has been plagiarized, have a look at this post on submitting a DMCA takedown notice.

On the other hand, it’s great to get writing inspiration from other people’s posts. Just make sure that what you write is your own take on the issue, and include a link to the blog that inspired you. That shows that you’re being community-minded rather than trying to steal someone’s work.

Want some tips on how to get inspired? Check out Where Do You Get Blog Post Ideas From?


Don’t be a rapid-fire liker

If you click like on 20 of a person’s posts within the space of 2 seconds, and they happen to be online and see those rapid-fire likes pop up, they will know you didn’t read them and they’ll probably think you’re a douchebag.  Don’t be a douchebag.

It’s generally assumed that if your notifications show 20 likes in a row from the same person, that’s considered spammy. You’ll probably see this in your own notifications at some point if you haven’t already. An exception on the spammy front is people who like all of the comments in a single post. Some bloggers will do this to recognize the value in the comments left by others.


Don’t over-reblog

There’s nothing wrong with reblogging other people’s posts once in a while.  But if you keep reblogging the same person without talking to them about it, that can start to get a little creepy and/or annoying.  Your readers are also less likely to be interested in your reblogged content than your own original content. You can read more about reblogging here.

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Comments and Commenting Etiquette

Comments are a great form of engagement and forming deeper connections with other readers. To help get conversations going on your own posts, try asking a question at the end of your posts to give readers a direction to focus their comments. The post does your blog get comments? has more tips.

  • Don’t say “Great post!  Follow and like my blog mentalhealthathome.org.”  It’s spammy.  If you are going to leave your link in someone’s comment, there should be a very good reason for it.  After all, people should be able to find you through your Gravatar.
  • Generic comments don’t tend to go over well.  “Nice post” doesn’t even convey that you’ve actually read the post; instead, you’re better off just clicking the like button or leaving a more relevant comment.
  • When people leave comments on your blog, try to respond to at least most of them – this is a great way to engage with people and develop a sense of community.  If you regularly don’t respond to comments, people will stop leaving comments.  However, if people leave spammy self-promoting comments or offensive, derogatory comments, go right ahead and delete those.
  • Be careful about giving unasked-for advice, especially to people you don’t know.  It may end up annoying the other blogger rather than helping them.
  • If you disagree with someone’s post, be polite or just move along.  Don’t be nasty.

Censoring comments is an issue that bloggers have to deal with. You may choose to moderate comments so they won’t be posted immediately, or you can delete inappropriate comments. Some people argue that it’s censorship if you remove their comments and it’s wrong of you to do that. But you know what? It’s your blog, so tough cookies for them; your blog is your territory and you can do what you want with it.

Trouble-shooting: Having problems with being unable to like/comment?  How to fix problems liking/commenting on blogs shows how to make sure your web browser cookie settings aren’t causing the problem.

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Tips from Bloggers: How to Have a Better Experience

Avoid blogger burnout

Trying to keep up what you think you “should” do is a recipe for blogger burnout.  While there’s loads of expert blogging advice to be found online, you don’t have to follow it.

Write what you’re passionate about, and readers will notice that. Do what you want with your blog rather than what you should, and if you have an idea you want to pursue, go for it! Your purpose makes a much better compass than the ebbs and flows of what’s happening in the blogosphere.

If you don’t get a post out when you’re “supposed to,” that’s totally okay.  There is no minimum amount you “have to” post.  Your blogging pace will change over time, and that’s okay – life happens.  If you need a break, that’s okay too.  Blogger burnout is a thing, and you don’t want it to happen to you.


Stats can be a bottomless pit

Try not to get sucked into the bottomless pit of checking your stats.  And more generally, try not to focus on comparing your blog to others.  Each blog is unique, and that’s what makes the blogosphere interesting.  It’s hard to avoid entirely, but try not to get stuck there. 

Views and likes may have very little to do with your blog’s quality.  If you take a blogging break, your stats will drop; it has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with how people read blogs (i.e. what’s new in the WP Reader, email notifications of new posts).  So don’t take it personally. But if you are so inclined, there are certain elements of your stats that can be a lot of fu to look at; find out more in Having Fun with Blog Statistics.

Realistically, we’ve all got blogging insecurities. People may not talk about them that much out in the open, but we’ve all got them. A blogging report card looks at how to check in with yourself around your blog and whether or not you’re getting distracted from your purpose.


Proofread

Your posts don’t have to be perfect, but if the grammar and spelling are so bad that the post becomes unreadable, then people aren’t going to read it.  Grammarly is great for the lazy proofreader as it will catch a lot of your errors, but it doesn’t work quite as well as usual in the WP block editor. Some people prefer to write out their posts in a word processor (Grammarly works well in Google Docs) and then copy and paste into the WP editor.


Don’t only look at your site using the WP editor

What you see when editing your site isn’t necessarily what readers see when looking at your website. It may look fine in the editor, but not so much on the site itself. Your theme may have started you off with things like generic widgets in random places and “this is your first post”. If you see them when you type your URL into your browser, your readers can see them too. If they’re ugly to you, they’re equally ugly to them.

It’s also important to look at your website to make sure your colour scheme works, and that your text is actually readable against the background. If you have dark blue font on top of a dark grey background, people aren’t going to be able to read what you have to say when they visit your blog.

Guide to the Block Editor, part of the New Blogger's Guide to WordPress

The editor is where the magic happens as you put your blog posts together. You provide the magic, and WordPress provides the editor.

In 2020, WP announced it was getting rid of the WordPress.com classic editor. Grumpy people like me were forced to shift over to the block editor, with mixed results. These tips can help you make the most of the block editor and recognize some of the strange hiccups that it has.

Block types

WordPress has info on all of the different blocks on this WordPress support post.

Classic blocks

Within the block editor, you can create classic blocks, which give you a simpler editing experience. When you use this block type, you’ll see a toolbar as shown in the screenshot below. Within a single classic block, you can combine multiple multiple paragraphs and images, and you can edit your text all at once rather than having to do one paragraph at a time using the paragraph blocks.

classic block toolbar

If the block editor is driving you bonkers, using classic blocks might make things easier.


Cover blocks

Have you ever come across a blog with the fancy feature where an image stays in place as you scroll? That’s where the cover block comes in. It allows you to put text over top of an image. If you want to get fancy, go to the block settings in the media settings section, and toggle on “fixed background.” Boom, you’ve got yourself some fancy! The image below is an example of this.

To use the fixed background setting, you need to have a tall image. If you use a square or horizontally-aligned image, activating fixed background will cause the image to become very zoomed in, and it just doesn’t work very well.

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Creating white space

If you try just putting an empty line between two lines of text, when you preview your post, that line disappears. You actually have to put something there to let you have white space. The Separator block allows you to insert lines or dots, and the Spacer block allows you to have whitespace of adjustable sizes.


Custom HTML

Let’s say you have the code for a Feedspot badge or a widget from Bloglovin or Goodreads. It may look like Greek to you, because it’s written in HTML rather than normal language. Create a custom HTML block and paste in the code. In the bar above the clock, click Preview to see what it will actually look like.


Embeds

You can easily embed content from social media, Amazon Kindle, and various other sites using the embed blocks. What makes it easy is that you don’t have to pick out the block type to create. Just start a new line, paste in the link to the original content, hit enter, and poof, WordPress creates the block for you.


Headings

First, you create a heading block, and then you may have to change to the type of heading that you want (it will automatically select H2). H1 is for your post title, and then the other levels of headers you can pick and choose from to your heart’s content.

If you want a certain style for your headings, you may be able to adjust your H2s using your theme customizer; aside from that, you can use CSS or do it slowly and manually for each individual heading.


Lists

The list block lets you do a list with points or numbers. You can also switch to a list with checkmarks in the Styles section of the block settings. In the bar that shows up above the block, there are arrows to change the indentation of your list items. The editor only lets you do certain things with the indentation, so if you want to make a change but the arrow keys are greyed out, that’s WP’s way of saying too bad, so sad.

A list block will start automatically if you start a new line with either a hyphen followed by a space for a list in points, or “1)” followed by a space for a numbered list.

To move on to a new block, hit the enter key twice after the last list item.


Media + Text

This type of block pairs an image and associated text, and it can be quite useful as you don’t have to worry about resizing throwing off all of your alignment. It seems to want to default to large text when you create the block; to put it back to normal size, go over to your block settings on the right side of the screen. In the typography section, click the Reset button.

Reusable blocks

Do you reuse the same bits of images and/or text over and over for a series you run or prompts you participate in? If so, reusable blocks are your friends.

Reusable blocks don’t have to be a single block. You can use the mouse to highlight multiple blocks. Then click on the three horizontal dots, then select “add to reusable blocks.” You’ll be asked to enter a name for your reusable block. It will then show up at the bottom of your available blocks list for you to insert wherever you want it. No copying and pasting required.

Changing a reusable block changes it everywhere else that it’s used. To make changes, click edit in the top right of the block. You’ll then be able to make changes and click save when you’re done. If you want to make changes just on that particular post, copy the contents and paste it into a new block, and then remove the reusable block.

Adjusting your settings

The block manager

There seem to be just short of a gazillion blocks, most of which you’ll never use. That can make it harder to find the ones you want. If you click on the three vertical dots in the upper right corner of the block editor, you’ll find “block manager” under tools. This allows you to deselect the block types you don’t want it to show you. These settings aren’t maintained if you’re using a different browser or if you delete your WordPress cookies.

Jetpack settings

This is the white on green lightning symbol in the top right corner. This lets you override your default settings for whether or not to show the like and sharing buttons. Want to change whether comments are allowed? That’s found over in document settings under “discussion.”

Miscellaneous quirky bits

WP has a few quirks that can take some time to catch onto.

Add a block between blocks

Hover the cursor between the two blocks, and after a couple of seconds, the plus sign will pop up to add a new block.

Media+text blocks and the WP Reader

I like media+text blocks that contain an image and text, but unfortunately, the WP Reader doesn’t like this and certain other block types, and will display them in strange ways. Media+text blocks are displayed with the full size image on top, with the text below.

Table of contents

Want to create a table of contents that lets readers jump to specific points in your blog post/page? HTML anchors let you do that, and they’re easy to set up in the block editor. Find out how in Fancy Yet Easy: Using HTML Anchors.

Text formatting

Great, you’ve made the text in a block bold and italic. You go back a minute later to add some more text, and bye-bye bold and italic. You have to use your arrow keys until you get to the point where what you’ve previously typed becomes highlighted in grey. Then you can start typing and it will keep the formatting.

Word count

It took me a while to find this. Click the “i” with a circle around it in the top left of the screen.

WP Glitches

Sometimes, the block editor is hard to figure out. Other times, WordPress glitches mean it’s not working properly. You never know where the glitches will pop up, but they’re almost assured to happen. Here are a couple that have come up multiple times for me.

“Not a valid JSON response”

Sometimes the block editor just stops working. You can’t search for previous posts to link to, and your reusable blocks aren’t on the list of blocks. You try to save, and get the invalid JSON response message. I don’t know why this happens, and it’s bizarre that WordPress hasn’t fixed it, but there you have it.

All you can do is reload the page, and hope that it will give you the option to restore an autosave, and hope that autosave actually captured everything you did. If not, you’ve got to do it all over again. Ah, the joys of WordPress.

“Unexpected nonce”

I don’t know what a nonce is, nor do I care. But sometimes the block editor just won’t load at all, and it will show this message. When this happens, I click the back button on my browser and try to open the post/page again, and it’s always worked. 🤷🏻‍♀️


Well, my friends, there you have it. For more blogging tips and tricks, head on over to the blogging & writing tips page.

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