sprucingitupGiving your new blog that pizzazz it needs

If you have been reading along with the Building A Better School Counseling Blog series – you will know this is the third entry, so we have already made several big strides. If you are just joining the series, the other two posts of this three post series (at least three for the time being) can be found at the following links:

#1 – The First Steps #2 – Making It Happen

This post will be focusing on how to take your new blog from stock theme and clipart to custom theme and great images. We will also take a look at a few free resources for bloggers and a few more of my favorite WordPress plugins for school counseling blogs.

Start with the foundation.

Before you can start designing your new blog – you must develop a firm foundation. In most cases – except for those lucky few who are not only school counselors but are also CSS/HTML wizards – you will rely on a WordPress theme. Both WordPress.com and WordPress.org installations come with some great free themes. According to ManageWP.com – there are 74,652,825 sites out there are depending on good ol’ WordPress with around 50% of this figure (close to 37 million) is hosted on the free WordPress.com, which means there is a high demand for WordPress themes. While the free templates can be nice and give your blog a great look…there are 74 million other sites and the majority of those will have similar themes as well.

One way to set yourself apart and also gain some nice features/support is to use a custom theme. For my blog, I went with the theme group ElegantThemes.com – which I used Erin Mason’s judgment and outcome when she used it for SCOPE. With ElegantThemes, you can choose to buy individual themes or buy access to all the themes and plugins ($69 for 89 themes at the time of writing), which is what I did. I like the ability to try out a few different themes before I made my choice. I am using the Nexus theme by the way.

When I helped Rebecca Lallier at School Counseling By Heart re-design her site (yes – you can hire the geek!) and take her along these steps from WordPress.com to a self-hosted WordPress install – she went with ElegantThemes too (using the Divi theme). This Divi theme is one of ElegantTheme’s bread and butter tools. It is extremely customizable with many, many options that range from organization, color, and layout to page contents. They have a unique drag & drop tool to help build pages and custom areas of your site. Some may be intimidated at first, but if you are wanting to dig in and learn some new things – it is a great path to have the highest return on options.

A final consideration is responsive design and mobile support. Does the theme you offer have a mobile landing page that can be accessed by phones and tablets? One of the great things about ElegantThemes is that it has responsive design, meaning it will adjust its layout and size based on the device the person is using on its own. There is no need to enter a mobile mode or m.yourwbesite.com – it maintains your design elements and makes your blog mobile friendly.

[Tweet “Finding out how to give my blog a fresh start via @counselinggeek #scchat”]

Use good design principles from the start.

Have you ever visited a site that had clashing colors, font that was so hard to read because it was too dark or too bright, or no flow/direction? I have. When designing your new site – it is crucial to start (and plan) your design to think of your reader. What will they way to see first or not at all. Things like fonts, main colors, readability, and image quality all need to be considered. Instead of pretending I know everything about design (I don’t.), I am going to provide some links below to get you started and feel free to google the rest:

Free Resources and Plugins For You.

If you are a school counselor – you don’t need me to explain why free is good. I think we should make at least 4x as much as we do, considering our jobs – but alas…I am not in charge of the world. So free things are always awesome – especially when they are high quality free things. One of my most used sites I use when building websites, writing posts, and making my blog pop is FreeImages.com (formerly sxc.hu). This website, as it’s name implies, is a huge repository of free stock images. Stock images, for the uninitiated, are the images you see in emails, ads, websites, or other media that have the generic customer service rep who is oh so cheerie. It is not just those cheesy images – stock images are great for using as images on their own  or for design elements of your new blog. I use it frequently for graphic design too. The image at the top of this (and many of my posts) come directly from that site. Huge tool for anyone working on the web. GettyImages also has some free image options, but it is not as easy and nice (you must embed which adds some unwanted clutter).

Another great thing any web designer who is not a prodigy is inspiration. Using other sites, graphics, or products for inspiration is a good way to use well designed products in a new way. Like the color scheme of a logo you saw – you can probably do a similar approach without breaking copyright. I love using google images and Pinterest (Follow My Boards!) to see what others are doing.

Plugin Goodies

If you haven’t yet – make sure to install Jetpack for WordPress. It is like a bunch of plugins that come in one nice package. To be honest, I don’t use or like ALL of the features, but it does have some that rock. It helps add useful tools like site stats, the ability to subscribe, and more to your install.

XML Sitemap is another tool that is the work horse of a blog but not the star player. A sitemap is how Google or any other search engine knows how to navigate your website. If you don’t have a sitemap or it is outdated, you are hurting your search results and readers may not be able to find your hard work. This is an easy fix that keeps your sitemap up to date and notifies Google when any changes happen.

Disqus and akismet are two tools to help with comment management. The comment system within WordPress is not stellar, but with these two tools – you can superpower your reader interaction. Disqus is a plugin that you install through the Disqus website and allows users to have accounts across websites that use the tool and provides an easier and more aesthetic commenting experience.

Buy your favorite male enha…..just kidding. Anyone with a blog knows that comment spam is an issue that comes with the territory. Akismet is a tool that really cuts down on your spam posts…I mean almost none. It rocks. Better than Captcha. Just install it. You won’t regret it.

Take it and go.

Red pill or blue pill.

Red pill or blue pill.

From here – you are on your way to having an awesome school counseling blog. It will take some practice, trial and error (hopefully more trial than error), and a little research when you get stuck, but the journey is fulfilling and mostly fun.

You can choose to sit back and use the vanilla blog platform that you started with years ago or you can take your blog and find out how deep the rabbit hole goes. The choice is yours.

 

 

 

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