The Very Best Widgets, Menu Items, and Pages For Your WordPress.com Blog

WordPress.com offers the best service for anyone wanting to create and run a free blog site using a professional, attractive theme and smart widgets. But while you can certainly create a WordPress blog in under 10 minutes, there are several additional things you can do to improve your newly minted website.

We have previously provided a set of essential tips for starting a WordPress blog, and have also explained the difference between Google’s Blogger and WordPress.com. This article covers a set of advanced tips most useful for beginner WordPress.com users whom have already set up their blog and added some posts.

The basic setup of most WordPress.com blog sites are the menu bar, the sidebar, and the blog posts on the homepage. To engage your readers more, you definitely want to create additional pages on your site, such as “About Me” and “Contact Me” pages.

Adding A Contact Form

The latest version of WordPress makes it easy to add a “Contact me” page. Open the dashboard of your WordPress.com account, and click on Pages > Add New in the sidebar. Next, click on the Add Contact Form button.

Wordpress contact form1   The Very Best Widgets, Menu Items, and Pages For Your WordPress.com Blog

The form is set up and ready go, but wait, you see that “add more fields” feature? It might useful for getting specific type of feedback from visitors to your site, in the form of a checkbox, drop-down, or additional information. You can add this feature as optional or required for when submitting the form.

Wordpress fields   The Very Best Widgets, Menu Items, and Pages For Your WordPress.com Blog

In the menus section of this article I will explain more about what can be done with the “Contact Me” page in the menu bar of your site. But before you hit the publish button, you might want to scroll down to the bottom of page and disable the discussion and likes and shares features, if you don’t want them showing up on your contact page.

Adding Other Pages

In addition to the contact page, you should add other pages that provide your readers with more information about your site, (e.g., an “About Me” page, “FAQ” page, “My Services” page). Pages in WordPress are for static content, which means you can’t add multiple blog posts to them, but you can of course change and update pages at anytime. You compose and post content in static pages similarly to how you create blog posts. Simply add your content and click the publish button.

Wordpress pages 2   The Very Best Widgets, Menu Items, and Pages For Your WordPress.com Blog

Below I show how to add your pages to the menu bar, and also how to set up a page to consist of a collection of categorized blog posts.

Notice also in the new pages section there’s a feature for creating a poll, which is self-explanatory. But the cool thing is, after you save the poll you can copy the PollDaddy embed code and paste it into a blog post, separate page, or in the sidebar of your site where the poll will appear.

Wordpress poll code   The Very Best Widgets, Menu Items, and Pages For Your WordPress.com Blog

Adding Menu Bar Items

WordPress menu   The Very Best Widgets, Menu Items, and Pages For Your WordPress.com Blog

 

The theme for most WordPress blog sites consists of the homepage and about page in the menubar, but after you’ve added some additional pages to your site you can edit and manage the appearance of your menu bar. In the side dashboard, click on Appearance > Menus. In the Pages section, click to see your existing pages, either under Most Recent or View All.

If you have added some new pages to your site that are not in the menu bar, click the boxes next to the page titles you want to add, and then click the Add to Menu button. In the Menu Structure you can click and drag menu items for how you want them to appear.

WordPress menu 2   The Very Best Widgets, Menu Items, and Pages For Your WordPress.com Blog

 

You can also create a drop-down of menu items as shown above in my blog site menubar. To do this, select and drag a page item(s) to the right under another page. So on my site, the drop-down on my menu bar consists of four different pages: “About Me”, “My Services”, “My Recent Articles”, “Sample Articles”.

After you click the “Save Menu” button, refresh the homepage of your site to see the updated changes.

You can also add a menu item that directs readers to a collection of articles based on a particular category that you assigned to published posts.

Again, inside the “Edit Menus” section, click on the Categories drop-down. Click on one or more categories you want to add to your menu bar, and then click to “Add to Menu”. From there you can drag and re-order items, or create a drop-down list of categories.

Wordpress categories   The Very Best Widgets, Menu Items, and Pages For Your WordPress.com Blog

For my site I created a menu item for all my “Journal Writing” posts. When visitors click on that menu item, they will see all the articles that are assigned to that category. And that page will update as more blog posts are assigned to the category.

Adding Widgets

With the free WordPress.com site, you cannot add third-party plug-ins, but there are plenty of default plug-in widgets which provide additional functions to your site. In the dashboard, click on the Appearance > Widgets button. There are dozens of widgets to choose from, but you might include a few of these to get started: Recent Posts, Twitter Timeline, and Categories.

To add a widget to the sidebar of your site, click on the widget and then click the blue Add Widget button, which will add it to the Primary Sidebar section on the Widgets page.

Wordpress widgets 2   The Very Best Widgets, Menu Items, and Pages For Your WordPress.com Blog

For the Recent Posts widget you can set the number links to the recent posts you want shown in the sidebar. You probably should leave the “Display post date” unchecked, unless there’s a particular reason why the dates are important to your readers.

As you do with menu bar items you can click and drag widgets in the order you want them to appear in the sidebar. You can also choose to have specific widget items appear only on a selected pages. For example, on my site I wanted all the links to my free PDFs to not show up on other pages, but only on the homepage. To make this happen, click on the Visibility button, and then select if you only want the item to appear on the front page, or on another page. This setup makes your pages less cluttered.

Wordpress page selection   The Very Best Widgets, Menu Items, and Pages For Your WordPress.com Blog

You don’t want overuse widgets in your site, so choose only the ones that provide useful information or navigation tools for your readers. Adding blog stats, a calendar, and top clicks widgets to your site might not be a good idea until you have built up some hefty traffic on your site.

Add WordPress Upgrade

At some point you may want to go from using a free WordPress site to a self-hosted WordPress site. Our article, What’s the Difference Between Running Your Blog On WordPress.com & and WordPress.org? explains the difference between the two and how to make the switch.

But instead of creating a self-hosted site, you might consider making your WordPress.com blog look more professional by adding the WordPress premium upgrade for your site, which is what I chose to do with mine. The premium upgrade includes a domain name of your choice to replace the “wordpress.com” default address, 10GB of storage space, more custom design features, and ability to embed HD video directly into your site, instead embedding from another site like YouTube.

With the premium upgrade you don’t need to worry about installing the WordPress upgrades and dealing with a third-party hosting site. A self-hosted WordPress does enable you to add add third-party plug-ins, but quite frankly WordPress.com provides, as you can see, a good selection of default plug-ins to get you started.

Let us know your questions about building a WordPress.com site, and what you think are the advantages of using the service and tools.

3 Comments - Write a Comment

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Caroline W

Hi Bakari :) I’ve had a few blogs and I cannot tell you the headache I got from trying to go self-hosted – it was an absolute nightmare!

I completed a short course called ‘WordPress – Blogging on the Web’ which introduced me to WordPress.com and helped tremendously with explaining how to set up a blog: http://alison.com/courses/WordPress-Blogging-on-the-Web Without it, I personally, would have been too overwhelmed and given up. But…. Nothing prepared me for WordPress.org and self-hosting!!

WordPress.org is a hackers paradise. Not only that, but I found it 90% more difficult than its .com cousin which leaves out the stress. I literally had no clue what I was doing and the hosting company was even harder.

Yes, wp.com has it’s limitations whereas wp.org has an abundance of goodies you can pick from. If I was say, going into business, I’d have to go self-hosted, but whether the site would be a wp.org site, is slim – unless I had someone who knows what they are seriously doing with regards to security.

I know this is all a bit off topic, I just had to share my experience. And in the end, I wished everyone luck with their .org sites and that I was going back to WordPress.com. (I like the community spirit there too).

Your article is really great and any would-be blogger will find it helpful – I know I have esp, in regards to what you can do with menu’s; never knew all that. But still, how anyone gets on with self-hosting and uses WordPress.org is totally beyond me ;)

0 votes

Bakari Chavanu

Caroline, it’s great to get your feedback. I agonized over whether I should transfer my blog to a self-hosted site, because I kept reading about the advantages of doing so. But at the same time, I didn’t see any particular features that I needed for my blog that WordPress.com wasn’t providing. So I decided that if I maintain and grow my blog, I would only go self-host when I needed to. Hopefully WordPress will continue to add widgets and features for users like us who don’t have the time to fiddle with a self-hosted site. Thanks for sharing your feedback.

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Caroline W

Hi Bakari, I’m glad my comment was seen as positive feedback, I was worried I’d veered off topic a bit too much.

I’ve too heard, and still hear, the same about how it’s better to go self hosted and with WP.org; and I see why you thought about it like I did. I found that for a whole month I was consumed with maintaining it, trying to build it, reading how-to’s, designing, adding plug-ins before I got to even writing a thing.

If someone has enough tech/design/code knowledge as well as an hour extra a day for maintenance, then it would be suitable.

Same too, like you, if a time comes when it’s needed, then I’d give it another bash as the alternatives like Joomla and Drupal I’ve heard are even more difficult.

I think WP.com will keep adding bits, but the argument for self hosted is that it’s more cost effective by far to go with WP.org in comparison. At least it will still there – and it does keep up with improving security measures – should the time come when it’s required.

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