Desperately Seeking WordPress: An Interview

When I began designing blogs, I could only work with Typepad or Blogger because WordPress was a giant beast that I had no idea how to tame.  Then one day my blogging buddy Heather over at Desperately Seeking Sanity (best blog name EVER) approached me about a partnership.  I could design blog headers, but knew nothing about WordPress.  She knew WordPress like the back of her hand, but had no interest in the artsy-fartsy part of the job.  But together, we could do WordPress blog designs.  So Desperately Seeking WordPress was born.

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In time, Heather got too busy to keep up so Cathy joined her.  These days, Cathy is my main contact over at Desperately Seeking WordPress, and by main contact, I mean that she is the one I refer my WordPress installations to at DCR Design and the one that I bug every time something looks amiss on one of my blogs.  Which is usually due to user error, but she is always patient and kind with me, even though I have a way of coming up with the weirdest problems in WordPress history.  This is probably because I only know enough code to be dangerous.  But I’m learning, slo-w-w-w-ly.

I thought it might be fun to introduce Cathy — the “geek behind the beauty.”  And I also took this opportunity to pick her brain a little bit with some commonly asked WordPress questions.  Maybe it will be helpful to some of you.

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There, Cathy, is that better?  🙂

J: How long have you been using WordPress?

C: When my third baby girl was nine months old, I was pulling my hair out with all the ‘baby’ duties and my techie hubby suggested it. He installed it. He taught me how to log in. But I didn’t buy it. Who would want to hear from another mother? Then, he said I could make money….

J: How did you get interested in learning code?

C: I’m a wee bit of a perfectionist, and I spent hour upon hour scouring the WordPress.org theme repository looking for something I liked. If I liked the look of it, then the function wasn’t there. In those days, that meant it wasn’t widgetized. If it was very slick and widgetized, it looked like a man designed it with a carpenter’s pencil and a handkerchief. So I started with a theme, then I started to look through the stylesheet to see if I could change stuff. It would say “background-color: white;” and I knew was white was, so I substituted. I broke a lot of themes. lol

From there, I read the WordPress forums like it was a novel, and found the sites that the regular posters were recommending. Once I got to W3Schools, I was good to go! (and break more stuff) It was fun, and I had nobody to disappoint but myself. And I had ooodles of time on my hands.

J: Oooodles of time?  What is that like?  And how do you get it?

J: What is your philosophy of design?

C: I’m big on unique. I think that unique is memorable and will help ‘brand’ either the site or the author. So even if something is to be ‘clean’ and ‘minimalistic’ I still think that proper shading, and perhaps a really classy font can make the biggest difference. Also, I firmly believe that designing for readability on a screen is very different from readability in print. Perhaps that will change as technology changes, but right now, the ‘rules’ are very different. A good rule of thumb – rarely use real white on a screen. It is stark and makes reading difficult. And even less often, use white on a true black background.

J: Hmmmmm.  I like white.  Maybe I’m blinding everyone with all the white on my sites.

And now for some specific WordPress-related questions…

J: How do I get a cute little image beside my post titles?

C: This requires knowledge of CSS (or a willingness to hack it, and break it.)  The simple steps are as follows:

  • Go to the Appearance panel >>Editor.
  • Select your current theme from the right-hand drop down box.
  • Select the main style.css. Click on that, and it will pop into your editor.

Very Important: select all, copy, and paste into a notepad or Crimson Editor and do you edits there. If you do them live, there is NO UNDO button! (See note above about breaking things!)

  • Look for the headline or H2 or post title styles.
  • Add a background-image to the style.
  • Add a padding to the style as well to accommodate the image.
  • Save the changes, copy all. Go to editor. Select all. Paste.

Note – many a designer has been frustrated that changes aren’t taking place, because they forgot to REFRESH the browser window!! 🙂

J: How do I get those Share This icons at the bottom of each post?

C: There are two plugins that are great for this – one is “Sexy Bookmarks” and the other “Sociable”. Both of these will automatically add those cute little buttons to the end of your post where people can add the post to their bookmarks, or email to a friend, etc. These buttons are entirely DIFFERENT from the buttons that help readers follow you on twitter, friend on facebook, or view your linked in profile.

To find a particular plugin:

  • Browse to your Plugins panel
  • Add New subpanel
  • Search for the plugins in exactly the same way that I’ve written them, without the quotation marks.
  • Find the correct plugin, click on the far right [install], [install now], [activate].
  • Then browse to the settings panel, and configure the options.

J: How do I install a personalized signature?

C: My favorite new plugin is called “post footer”. You can download this, and it will add a box where you can put anything you want into the footer. Knowledge of some HTML is a bonus if you want to add a bunch of stuff. But if you only want to add a signature, you can easily upload your image to your media library.

  • Copy the link.
  • Go to the Settings>>Post Footer tab.
  • Copy and paste this bit, replacing the “thisismylink.jpg” and “myname” bits with your own.

J: How do I add a separate page for BlogHer reviews?

C: Unfortunately this is more complicated than it sounds. Because blogs are dynamically created, it makes this kind of page difficult to create. So far, I have found the best solution is to create a separate blog and link to it from the header of the main blog. Readers (you!) won’t know that you are at another blog because it is a virtual copy without the BlogHer ads. Depending on the complexity of the website, this can become a bit of a project.

J: How do I get my posts under category x to show up all together and link to them?

C: I get this question quite a bit — we all want our posts to be easy to navigate and find. If you have a particular group of posts, like an entire collection of recipes, and you want your readers to be able to see an index, you need the following:

  • Create a category.
  • Assign each of the recipes to that category.
  • Add a link to the nav bar connecting to that category (this is different for each theme, try the “page links to” plugin.)
  • The default category template will display excerpts of each post that belongs in it, in reverse chronological order. And usually with the heading, “The Category Archive for …. “
  • Alphabetical indexes can also be achieved with ‘site map’ plugins.

J: How do I get a tweet this button at the end of my posts?

C: That’s easy! Tweet this buttons are built into the sociable and sexy bookmarks plugins mentioned above. But you can also get one by using the “Tweetmeme” plugin.

J: How many clients do you want to smack in a given week?

C: That depends how many clients I get in a given week. 😀  By the way, I mentioned making money as a mommy blogger in the first question — I have to tell you, I made $0.12 the first SIX months I was blogging. (If that’s you, I feeeel your pain!) Unfortunately writing didn’t become my vocation, but I couldn’t be happier being the technical support behind so many great bloggers!

You can find Cathy at Strawberries Are Gluten Free and of course at Desperately Seeking WordPress.  She offers troubleshooting services, assistance with WordPress, installation of new themes and customization, and can even move your blog from Blogger or Typepad to your own WordPress domain.  Follow her on Twitter at @multimom and @dswordpress.