An idiot’s guide to freshening up your blog

It came up on me all of a sudden. A thought. An idea. An URGE. I think it was a bit like when you suddenly fall out of love with someone. One minute, they’re grand, you’re getting along, it’s all good then BAM, they pick their nose or something and you’re like GET ME AWAY!

Anyway that was what happened with me and my WordPress theme. (I’m married now, picking noses is not a running away offence apparently). I didn’t even notice how my blog theme looked. Sure it was grand. It did the job. It was there. Posts went up. It worked.

Or did it? Well yes and no. Yes if you were on a desktop. Not really if you were on a mobile. And tough luck if you were on an iPad. On a tablet, you couldn’t click on any links. It had been like this ever since I went self-hosted in WordPress last year, but because it was such an effort (or so I thought) to change themes, well then I had to grin and bear the no traffic from tablets.

But not any more my friends.

Now I have this baby.

(Points all round and waves hand. Especially the scroll bar, have you seen the scroll bar?)

My new theme. My makeover. My bloggy facelift.

Yes I’m very proud of myself because I am not technical by nature so to have changed over without losing too much sleep, hair or time, is an achievement for me. And, I hope it will increase my traffic, my readership and give oxygen to the content I’ve been chipping away at for the past two years, but that has been dying a death somewhere between page 9 and the back button that no one ever uses.

Below I outline some of the reasons you too may want to review your blog and check that it’s working best for you as well as some of the tips and tricks I picked up along the way.

Reasons to think about changing theme

  1. Showcasing your content

I try to write as much quality content as I can. (You dear readers will be the judge of that, of course). I picked my old theme because it offered space for about ten posts to show on the home page  – at the time I thought this was loads. Now that I have tons of posts on my blog, I realised I wanted many more to show on the homepage, so that when a reader clicks on my blog, they have a range to choose from and can see at a quick glance, what the blog is all about. Nobody is going to trawl back through all your posts, which is what they would have had to do, if they weren’t clicking through categories on my old blog. Oh and an added bonus of spreading your content out across your home page; it doesn’t matter if you haven’t posted this week or not – there’s so much else to choose from. With my old theme, it was very obvious if I hadn’t been active on the blog recently.

  1. Functionality

As outlined above, my blog didn’t work correctly on tablets or mobiles. I tried everything at the time, adding in mobile plug-ins and searching for support online. I went through many forums and it turned out others were having the same problem and the theme itself had a fault in it. One day, months after I’d posted looking for tech help, a guy from Romania emailed me and asked me had I had any success as he was desperately searching for an answer too. The fact was that we were using a free theme, and because you haven’t paid for it, you’re not entitled to or can’t expect any help in return. For this reason, I don’t think I’d ever go with a free theme again. My new blog allows much better functionality, from making it easier to follow on social channels, to making it easier to read related and tagged posts. Hell, there’s a million things that work better on this new blog – sure I’m just delighted with my functional self.

  1. Staying fresh

At work we recently updated our company website and I got to see what direction websites are moving in. Web fashions come and go, but by downloading a relatively newly developed web theme you can ensure you’re staying fresh and modern, all with the help of someone else’s hard work. C’mon you don’t want to look like a blogger from 2007 do you? (Joke, I’m joking, we all know they’re the true cools).

  1. Just because

I recently had to pay my hosting fees for the blog and it reminded me that I’d been using the blog as it was for a year. I wanted a change and what LadyNicci wants she gets*. (*May actually be a dream and not reality)

How to choose a new theme

How you choose your theme will all depend on what you’re looking for personally and what type of blog you write. I had settled on a magazine theme, which gave me loads of space to lay out content. But you may want a minimalist theme if you’re writing about design, photo based theme if you’re writing a fashion blog or a very glam theme if you’re writing beauty. Once I had my blog theme type I googled for ages and came up with a shortlist of themes I liked, then I went through them in more detail till I’d pulled out one I knew would work best for me. Check what people are saying about themes in the comments at the end of posts while searching – you may find there are problems with some themes.

Good places to check for blog themes are:

Etsy
Elegant Themes
Theme Forest
Colorlib
WordPress

Steps to take before you take the plunge

  1. You should back up your site before you go making any changes, just to be sure to be sure. I used a plug-in called Updraft Plus. This was tricky at first because I tried to back it up to my Google drive which involved more secret codes than James Bond and ultimately didn’t work for me. Kindly, the husband let me use his dropbox for this task, as mine is full of baby photos. It was pretty straight forward after that and I feel much better knowing I have a back up, as it’s something that’s been on my to do list for aaaaaaages now.
  2. Take pictures of all the back workings of your blog, where widgets are placed and setting of background images for example. I also copied across some pages and code onto a word doc as this was easier for me than having to go back and search for code later – I’m talking badges etc.
  3. Download a maintenance mode plug in. This puts up a splash page, which allows you to carry out all your testing and work behind the scenes before going live with your new theme. There is a way of keeping your old blog live, while working on your new theme but this involves temporary servers or other such technical shite, that I would never be able to work out. I was happy to take my site off line for a few hours while I did the work. Unless you’re a seriously profitable or life saving business blog, I’m sure it can afford to take a little rest during surgery.

And now the techy bit, concentrate

Actually, don’t bother, because nothing I can tell you can be told any better than the millions of forums out there to help you through the changeover. The techy bit is – Google the fluff out of all the questions you have and you will find the answers!

The theme I chose came with documentation with the exact lay out of the demo blog I wanted to copy. This was handy, as truth be told, the backend was a lot more complicated than I expected. There were things that puzzled me and at the start, I was pretty slow to get going, but with practice and sheer determination I was able to work through the problems one by one. (Besides, knowing my site was down was an incentive. How COULD those spammers do their work if I was offline?)

It also came with really good video tutorials and although I bulled on at the start and tried to do it all myself (I always do that) when I did look through some of the videos there was some really clever information.

Some of the problems I encountered included –

  • not making my page a ‘static page’ at first. You need to do this for your changes to show. I spent ages flutin around the backend not being able to understand why nothing was happening out front. (HA)
  • I couldn’t work out how to add text to my ‘About Me’ picture on the widget on my theme – there was no space to do so. I found I had to go into User and Profile and put the text in there and it automatically showed – it was linked to my Gravatar
  • One plug-in I used when having image problems was ‘Regenerate Thumbnails’. I think this is a standard plug-in to use when updating your theme and it took about half an hour to complete due to the amount of images on my site. It didn’t solve all my photo images – some are just the wrong shape and size, so I had to manually go in and update these.
  • When I finally got live, I was all delighted with myself and the spread the message far and wide. (OK, I posted on Facebook). It was only afterwards that I realised the mobile version was not working at all and I had to go back and disable two mobile plug-ins in the widgets, one of which was in a list of Jetpack features and with the click of a box, the mobile version came up of my new site.

Lessons Learned    

I started with a free WordPress.com site and it was grand for a few months. How it looked wasn’t important. I was developing my voice and learning how to blog – learning what it was to want to blog.

Then I guest posted on www.herfamily.ie and as I knew I would be getting some extra traffic (wouldn’t have been hard, I had hardly any readers at the time) I designed up a new site in Wix. It looked great. I was proud of it. But it barely worked. If someone left a comment, there was no notification system and it was impossible to try and engage.

Within three months, I decided to go self-hosted and return to WordPress. This was a scary thing to do, WordPress frightened the bejaysus out of me. I used an app to transfer all my content from Wix back to WordPress, but when it arrived in and it was all skewed. I stared at the dashboard blankly, poking around, and moaning to myself.

I needed help and it came in the shape of a lovely lady called Stacey Corrin  – she was able to go in and position everything where I wanted. We’d agreed on an affordable budget and it was well worth it for me to have someone give me back a functioning, nice looking blog. (Another freelancer I’d recommend is Sheila Pollard)

Now, a year on, having got to grips with WordPress myself, I was able to download a much more complicated theme and within hours, adjust it all to my own liking. (Well mostly, the header is still wrecking my head). Instead of paying someone to rework my blog, I was able to put that money into buying a new theme (they cost about the same).

So, develop as you go. Learn where you can. Add features as you think of them or as you see them on other people’s blogs.

Most of all, don’t be afraid to take the plunge. Make sure you’re in the form for it – don’t organise to do it when you have a deadline coming up or a lot of things on – because there is work involved if you’re doing it all yourself.

A few weeks ago I blogged about wondering if I wanted to blog at all anymore.

Now I realise I just needed a new coat.

I’m all fresh again. And ready to go, with all that quality content I was talking about.

(Ahem).

Have you updated your theme or have you been thinking about it? Do you use WordPress .com or .org or are you working on the blogger platform? I’d love to hear how you feel about blog appearances and whether they matter at all.

 

20 Comments on An idiot’s guide to freshening up your blog

  1. Site looks fab, worth all your hard work. I shall be going self hosted in the next couple of weeks and Sheila will be doing it, effort of any technical stuffs… Great tips though 😊

    • Oh Kellie, I can’t WAIT to see your new blog – it’ll be fantastic, I know it will. Plus, you’ve such amazing content, will be great to see how it all looks. Sure there’ll be no stopping you then, you’ll leave us behind for dust!

  2. The place looks great Nicola–love the theme! Just wondering whether you use wordpress.com or .org? I use .com and am wondering whether I should move to wordpress.org or not, or whether it makes any odds?

    • Hi Dean, thanks for your comment! I’m self-hosted so it’s .org. If you see at the end of the post I talk about how I started with wordpress.com, moved to Wix and then moved back to WordPress but went self hosted. It was tricky at the start so I got someone to help, but a year on, I understand how it works and I was able to build this theme myself. (Oh the proudness!) Going self-hosted gives you much more freedom in how you lay out your blog – you wouldn’t get a theme like the one I have now for .com (as far as I know anyway) It also allows you to put in advertising if you wanted for example and have a custom domain etc. I would def recommend it, but there are hosting cost involved and theme if you’re buying one. It depends on what you’re looking for – I know plenty of people on .com and it’s working for them too.

  3. First of all, let me tell you that I really, really like your new theme. And you got me thinking: maybe I shoudl opt for a magazin theme myself. I do like my blog a lot, but I see the benefit you’re talking about displaying mor eof your content.
    I’m a bit scared to learn that the backend of the WP magazin theme will be different, though. Still, I think I’ll try it, sooner or later 🙂

    Thanks so much for sharing this. You got me thinking 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment! Are you on wordpress at the min? Once you get used to it, and practiced, you’ll get more confident with it. It took me the year (as also using wordpress at work) to get any way skilled with it, and even still I’m just using the basics. There are great supports / comment forums out there though. Yes magazine theme def good for showcasing lots of content!

  4. I’m the same. I used to change my theme often and whenever I was faced with a blogging slump and wonder whether I should just throw in the towel, a new theme would always pick-me-up and then I trundle on. I’m trying to stick to my current one a little bit longer, since I paid for it. Let’s see where I go from here 😉

    • Glad I’m not the only one who goes through these phases! But it is such an addiction : ) Yes it’s given me a complete new lease of life, I have tons of blog article ideas now. Thanks for stopping by and looking forward to checking out your blog too x

  5. Love the new look, I do all my own updates & layouts too. I buy a stunning theme and edit it to what I want, it’s made a huge difference to my stats so I hope you get a huge boost too 🙂

    • I hope so too, will have to wait and see! That’s great that you can edit it and lay it out the way you like too, gives such freedom! The company who built this theme are showcasing it as one of their samples now I think so that really was a seal of approval. Looking forward to checking out your blog x

    • Wow, that’s great going, I started off with a free one and had it for a long time, but I think if you are going to do it seriously, long term, a paid theme or self hosted is a great way to go.

  6. Well said, I desperately want to give my blog a revamp but there is too much at stake at the moment. I am on Wix and if I move to another platform I will lose all my hard work :/

    • I moved from Wix to WordPress and used an app that transferred across all my content. I don’t think u would get all your comments though and you’ve worked hard to build those up. Mind you, I never looked back once I moved though ; )

  7. This is lovely and gorgeous themes. I too having a new look and freshen upstart on my blog. Great to have a change.

  8. I was terrified when I changed my blog theme but my old one was driving me crazy as it was so basic. I am a bit of a Word Press technophobe but I’m nearly there getting my blog looking like I want it to.

  9. I really like your theme. These are great tips for sprucing everything up and having a makeover x

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