Zero to Hero: 30 Days to a Better Blog


Zero to Hero: 30 Days to a Better Blog

Zero to Hero Banner

Created by a team of top blogging experts (i.e., us) based on years of scientific research (i.e., writing blogs), we’ve created 30 days of digestible blogging assignments that will get you from “What’s this blog thing?” to a blog you’re excited and proud to publish. One bite-sized task a day for 30 days for a solid blogging foundation; that’s it.

Day One: Introduce Yourself
Day Two: What’s your name?
Day Three: What’s on your mind?
Day Four: Explore the Neighborhood
Day Five: Love Your Theme
Day Six: Try a New Element
Day Seven: Personalize Your Theme
Day Eight: Make Your About Page Irresistible
Day Nine: Head Deeper Into the Blogosphere
Day Ten: Add Two Widgets
Day Eleven: Leave Three Comments
Day Twelve: From Comment to Post
Day Thirteen: Build a (Better) Blogroll
Day Fourteen: Blogger’s Choice!
Day Fifteen: Explore Visuals and Content
Day Sixteen: Personalize a Prompt
Day Seventeen: Increase Your Commenting Confidence
Day Eighteen: Activate a Social Network
Day Nineteen: Publish a Post in a New-To-You Format
Day Twenty: Add a New Page
Day Twenty-One: Build on your last post
Day Twenty-Two: Try (Another) Blogging Event
Day Twenty-Three: Publish a Roundup
Day Twenty-Four: Chat with Other Event Participants
Day Twenty-Five: Add One More Custom Touch
Day Twenty-Six: Set Up a Few Drafts for Later
Day Twenty-Seven: Revisit at Task
Day Twenty-Eight: Build on Your Popular Content
Day Twenty-Nine: Build an Editorial Calendar
Day Thirty: Set a Goal for the Next Thirty Days

Day 1: Introduce Yourself

Time for the first step: whether you’ve just finished the sign-up process and are staring at an empty blog, you’ve spent the past few days tinkering with your theme, or you signed up six months ago and haven’t done anything since, you’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re a little lost with WordPress. Just click the “New Post” button, and write.

Today’s assignment: write and publish a “who I am and why I’m here” post.

Why?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your  blog?
  • Because it will help you focus you own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, deeply personal or more of a bloggy mission statement, or a simple outline of your goals and the types of things you hope to publish. To help you get started, here are a few questions you might answer in the post:

  • Why are you blogging, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout 2014, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may give you a few other post ideas.

Write it no matter how new — or not — your blog is. If you’ve been blogging for a while, use it as an opportunity to revisit your original intro post, reflect on whether you feel like you’re meeting your goals, or re-focus your site if it’s changed since you first started.

Here’s the nitty-gritty on publishing a basic post, and here are instructions for adding tags to a post. To chat with other Zero to Hero participants, head to today’s forum thread, and tag your newly-minted post with zerotohero so we can find one another.

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Day 2: What’s your name?

We make snap judgements about websites all the time — how many times have you disregarded a site because it wasn’t immediately clear what it was about? Today, you’ll name your blog and expand on that with an “About this Blog” widget, drawing on the introductory post you published yesterday. Let no reader click away to the next site because they were unsure of your focus!

Today’s assignment: edit your title and tagline, and flesh them out more in a widget.

Why?

  • Because the title is the first thing most readers will see.
  • Because “What’s this blog about?” is the first thought most readers will have.
  • Because a short description of your blog helps readers decide to stick around without requiring them to commit to reading a full post or take the time to click over to a separate “About” page.

Your title does not need to be the same as your blog’s URL — there’s no need to leave you blog’s title as “maryjanesmith922.” A tagline adds a bit more context; try to keep it pithy, and connected to your title.

Here are the details on editing your title and tagline, along with some accumulated wisdom from other WordPress bloggers on choosing the perfect title and tagline.

Once you’re happy with your title, look at your title, tagline, and introductory post, and create a one to two sentence description of your blog. Take that description and put it into a text widget, so it will always be visible to readers. If you have no idea what a widget is or how to add one, here’s the overview. For a closer look at text widgets and some “About” examples, check out this post.

(Hint: you can access and configure widgets by hovering over the name of your blog in the black bar that appears across the top of your blog when you’re logged in to WordPress.com, and select “Widgets” from the drop down menu.)

Already have a title, tagline, About widget, or all three? Take a few minutes to revisit your choices and think about whether an update makes sense. There will also be lots of folks seeing input on their titles, so why not take a few moments to browse today’s forum thread and offer the benefit of your wisdom?

Feel free to publish a post in addition to completing today’s task if you’d like! If you need some writing inspiration, take a look at our prompts and challenges.

To chat with other Zero to Hero participants, head to today’s forum thread.

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Day 3: What’s on your mind?

When you thought about starting a blog, you had some idea for a post: something you wanted to say to the world, a photo you wanted to share, a short story on the tip of your brain. Maybe you just wanted a place of your own on the web or had broader goals about writing regularly — but you probably had an idea for a post too, no matter how nascent. Today, you’ll write it.

Today’s assignment: write the post that was on your mind when you decided to start a blog.

Why?

  • Because it’s an idea you were so passionate about, it motivated you to begin this new project — there’s something to that.
  • Because the best way to become a better blogger is to blog.
  • Because you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment for following through on the idea, the blog, and the post.

Open a new post, and let the ideas flow from brain to fingers to keyboard to screen. If you’d like, spew it all out first without worrying how it sounds, then take some time to go through your thoughts and give them shape.

You don’t have to publish this post if you don’t want to. Maybe your ideas about blogging have already changed and you plan to focus your posts elsewhere, or maybe you’re not quite ready to share Your Big Idea with the world just yet. That’s okay — save the post as a draft, and hang on to it. Revisit it at the end of the month, and see how it feels then.

If you’re feeling less than confident about your idea, take a moment to read our post on breaking down your own internal critic. If you need a refresher on how to draft and publish a post, head here or watch the video tutorial.

If you’ve already written this post (or you don’t remember what you were thinking about when you began blogging), you still have options. Write the post that was on your mind when you decided to commit to Zero to Hero, or read the post on breaking down barriers, and draft a post that you’ve been holding back. You can also lend your expertise and support to others in today’s forum thread – there’re going to be a lot of nervous folks hitting the “publish” button!

To chat with other Zero to Hero participants, head to today’s forum thread. If you do decide to publish this one, remember to add the zerotohero tag.

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Day 4: Explore the Neighborhood

Blogging is a communal experience; if you didn’t want anyone to read your posts or interact with you, you’d keep a private diary. That means publishing posts is just one piece of blogging — you also need to engage with the community. Today, you begin the process of engaging with the blogging community, a key step of building an audience.

Today’s assignment: follow five new topics in the Reader, and begin finding blogs (and bloggers) you love.

Why?

  • Because reading and thinking about what other bloggers say will sharpen your thoughts and inspire new ones.
  • Because reaching out to other bloggers is the best way to have them return the favor

Part of what makes blogging such a rich experience are the conversations and relationships with people from every corner of the world.  Those conversations can only happen when we reach out and connect with one another. The Reader brings every WordPress.com blog together in one easy-to-search place. Your blog is where your ideas come to life, and your Reader is where you connect with others — our community hub.

The first step in making connections is finding the people we want to connect with. By following topics you care about in the Reader, you’ll discover a world of blogs. Some of them will become favorite reads, and some of their authors will become your fans.

To get you started, review our Reader tutorial or take a look at our tips on using the Reader to find and follow blogs that speak to you. A few of our editors have also shared their favorite Reader topics. We’d also suggest following the “zerotohero” topic, to connect with fellow challenge participants. Add five new topics to your Reader today.

If you’ve been blogging for a while and already have a long list of blogs you follow, take this as an opportunity to branch out. Skim some topics you ordinarily wouldn’t — read the posts above for some offbeat inspiration. Check out some fiction, or poetry. You can never predict where the connections you make in the blogosphere will lead.

Note for bloggers using platforms other than WordPress.com: It’s possible to sign up for a WordPress.com account without starting a blog, which would allow you to use the Reader. Alternatively, you can do a version of today’s task by following five new blogs anywhere in the blogosphere — try clicking around the blogrolls of sites you already read, and see where that takes you. If you don’t currently read any blogs, sites like The Huffington Post have blogrolls organized by topic (scroll to the bottom of the page to find them); start there!

Feel free to publish a post in addition to completing today’s task if you’d like! If you need some writing inspiration, take a look at our prompts and challenges.

To chat with other Zero to Hero participants, head to today’s forum thread.

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Day 5: Love Your Theme

Okay, let’s get going!

Starting a blog is kind of like buying a house: first, you decide what neighborhood you want to live in — that’s where you blog. (WordPress.com? Self-hosted? Blogger? Tumblr?) Then, you figure out what kind of home you’d like to have — that’s your theme. Finally, you fill your new home with stuff — your posts. Today, we’re focusing on number two.

Today’s assignment: try out at least three other themes — even if you’re happy with the one you have. Include at least one you would never think of using.

Why?

  • Because no one is going to spend more time on your blog than you, it behooves you to make it a place you think is comfortable, good-looking, and reflective of you.
  • Because, as with jeans, you never know if a theme fits until you try it on. Design and content should work together.

It doesn’t matter what blog platform you use, or if you have a self-hosted blog — WordPress.com users can use the Theme Showcase, but wherever you blog, you have ways to tweak your layout. Preview or upload some new themes, or just try out some of the options available to you from your blog provider. Minimalists, try something ornate! Photobloggers, try a magazine-style theme! Shake it up.

And yes, you should do this even if you love your current blog layout. Even if you’ve had it for years. You never know what ideas will be spring forth when you see your words displayed in a new way (and in the end, you can keep the layout you love).

To help whittle down the options, try our three rules of thumb:

  1. Pick something that speaks to you. You might admire simplicity and bold typography on others’ sites, but if you’re personally drawn to something soft and romantic, head in that direction.
  2. Consider your content. If you know you’ll be posting lots of images, pick a theme meant to show off photos. If you love poetry, choose a streamlined theme that makes your words the star. If you plan to write about a few topics, a magazine-style theme might work. (Not sure what you want to publish? Welcome to the 99%. Try everything!)
  3. Think about your priorities. Some themes have a very distinctive look out-of-the-box, which is probably what drew you in. Others let you add custom touches like headers and backgrounds, while some have a variety of layout options and are highly configurable — and if your blog is self-hosted, you have even more flexibility. Take a look at a theme’s features and customization options before making a decision.

Here’s a fuller description of our three rules. We also recently chatted with a few bloggers about how they chose their themes, if you’d like advice right from the bloggers’ mouths, and you can check out some impressive theme transformations and get inspired.

For help understanding theme features and functions, take a look at our guide to evaluating themes; for details on how to browse and preview themes, head here.

Feel free to publish a post in addition to completing today’s task if you’d like! If you need some writing inspiration, take a look at our prompts and challenges.

To chat with other Zero to Hero participants, visit today’s forum thread.

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Day 6: Publish a post that includes a new element

Time to put your publishing hat back on!

What is it they say? “A picture is worth a thousand words”? It can be, as can a video, animated GIF, embedded tweet, or any number of other non-text items. On the other hand, text can help flesh out a photo essay, or lend context to a video clip. Today, you’ll explore the variety of ways you can express yourself on a blog beyond what you normally do.

Today’s Assignment: publish a post that includes a new-to-you element.

Why?

  • Because sometimes, an image can say things that words can’t — and vice versa.
  • Because the more tools you have at your disposal as a blogger, the more effectively you can tell the story you want to tell.
  • Because mixing media in posts adds visual interest and white space that makes posts easier (and more fun) to read — and when your posts are easier to read, more people read ‘em.

After the past few days, you probably have your own post ideas — great! For today’s assignment, publish a post on any topic you’d like (if you don’t have anything in mind, try a prompt or challenge). Post as you normally do — a story about your day, an opinion piece, a photo, a poem, a piece of short fiction, a recipe, whatever — but include one new element.

If you’re a photo blogger, try connecting your images with some haiku. If you’re a parenting blogger, add a photo. If you’re discussing current events, embed the tweets of some other folks chatting about the same topic. If you’re an Instragram or Pinterest user, embed one of your own shots or some pins. Embed a song that resonates with what you’re posting about. Writing about travel? Embed a map. Already do some of these? Pick a new one. What you do is up to you; the only important thing is that you try something new.

No matter how long you’ve been blogging, you can introduce a new element to your posts. You may not decide to do it again in future posts, but trying something new can bring an interesting twist to your blog, and thinking about what you post from a different angle is a great exercise for beginner and expert alike.

Here are embed instructions for WordPress.com bloggers; others will need to check with their blog provider for specifics.

For inspiration and examples, take a look at how your fellow bloggers responded to a multimedia storytelling challenge from last year, or this challenge, which encouraged bloggers to use music in their posts.

Before you hit “publish,” make sure you’ve added the zerotohero tag to your post — it’s the easiest way to make sure other participants can find you. (Not sure how to add tags? Read this.)

To chat with other Zero to Hero participants, visit today’s forum thread.

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Day 7: Do Some More Personalizing

Picking a theme you love is just the first step — next, you have to make that theme your own. There are lots of ways to do this, from picking a custom font to writing your own CSS. Today, start with the basics — a header and/or background. (If you’re already set with those, then write CSS at will!)

Today’s assignment: create and upload a simple header, or test out a few different backgrounds.

Why?

  • Because these are free, simple ways to add instant personality to your site.
  • Because photos, images, and colors work with your title and tagline to tell new visitors about your blog.

Not sure what we mean by “header”? It’s the image or text across the top of your blog. Check out this example — on the left is the standard homepage for the Oxygen theme, and on the right is a magazine site that’s added its own header:

oxygen beatroute layouts

Most themes allow you to upload a custom header. To verify that yours does: check out this list, of hover over you blog’s name on the left of the admin bar across the top of your screen and click “Customize” to open the Customizer. If you see “Headers” as an option, you’re ready to go. Most themes also allow you to set or upload a custom background, which you’ll find under the “Colors” section in the Customizer.

You can change headers and backgrounds whenever you want, so don’t worry if you’re not totally sure what you want to do, or don’t have a logo for your blog. Start simple – pick a photo you like or that represents what you want your blog to be, and go with that. If you’re comfortable, try an app like Piction to layer text over an image. As you keep blogging, you may land on something else, or decide to design something (or have something designed) to reflect your personal brand.

A blog’s background can be an image, color, or pattern. Choose a color that complements your header image, upload a photo, or browse our recommended patterns. You can do all three — and preview your background before you decide — from the Customizer.

Preview a few different header and background images or colors, and note how the feel of your blog changes. Try something simple, and something ornate. Try a photo, try a solid color. The ultimate goal is not to design The Perfect Header, but to continue deepening your understanding of how visuals influence your content, so you can continue refining the look and feel you want.

If today’s task is quick work for you, or you decide to skip it, take the time to visit today’s forum thread – there’ll be lots of folks looking for advice and support!

When you’re ready, review the instructions for uploading and previewing headers and backgrounds, which also have some great examples. We’ve also got some advice on picking visuals for your blog. If you don’t have photos of your own to use, learn to source images from Creative Commons.

Feel free to publish a post in addition to completing today’s task if you’d like! If you need some writing inspiration, take a look at our prompts and challenges.

To chat with other Zero to Hero participants, visit today’s forum thread.

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Day 8: Make Your “About” Page Irresistible

You’ve completed the first week, congrats! This week, you’ll continue posting fresh content and personalizing your blog to perfection. On day eight, you’ll create (or perfect) the one element that nearly all popular, established blogs have: a great About page. We know lots of you have already tackled an About page — but you haven’t tackled it with our tips.

Today’s assignment: create an About page, or revisit and improve the one you have.

Why?

  • Because blogs aren’t just about words and photos, they’re about the people who publish them. An About page gives readers more insight into you, the blogger — which makes your blog more interesting (and follow-worthy).
  • Because posts are displayed from newest to oldest, but an About page lets you to keep important information about your blog constantly accessible.

An About page is the single most important page you’ll have on your blog: it’ll likely be the most frequently-visited visited one, and can frame the story you’re telling in your posts and entice readers to dig further into your blog. Your posts remain the best selling point for your blog, but a good About page can seal the deal and get your new reader to click on the Follow button.

Last week, you did important work thinking through the focus of your blog and distilling that into an About widget. Think of your About page as a more elaborate take on that. It’s more that just a list of fun facts about you — it contributes to creating the frame and focus of your blog. It tells your blog’s story. It tells readers where you want them to go, and what you want them to do. As one of our favorite writers put it, it’s a meal, not a shopping list:

A shopping list and a delicious meal have a lot in common (okay, ingredients), but they’re not the same thing. Imagine a hungry friend comes over for dinner. Instead of serving them your signature spaghetti dish, you serve them a buch of ingredients. “Pasta!” you announce. “Cheese!” “Tomatoes!” Half an hour in, they start to cry.

That’s exactly what most About pages feel like. “I come from blah blah” you say. “I like dogs” you say. “My best friend Winnie thinks it’s cute when I blow my nose trumpet” you say. But none of it holds together. It’s a shopping list. Your job is to put those parts together and make them into something greater than their sum. Tell us a story, connect the dots.

If you haven’t written your About page yet, take a look at our About Page 101 tips, and get cracking. If you’ve already got something published, check out out 101 tips anyway — they’re good! — and then move on to 201. Review your work with a critical eye. Take your About page from “here’s a list of things about me” to “here’s a compelling story that will make you want to read more.”

Ready to create your a page? Here are all the instructions you’ll need (hint: it’s exactly like writing a new post, and just as easy).

(If  you feel like you’ve crammed too much into your About page, have no fear. Once you get the hang of publishing pages, nothing stops you from adding another one. Here are some ideas for other pages that can complement your About page and make more of your content easy to find.)

To chat with other Zero to Hero participants, visit today’s forum thread.

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Day 9: Head a Little Deeper into the Blogosphere

You’ve already explored the WordPress.com Reader last week, and started following topics and blogs that resonate with your own interests. So why are we doing it again? Growing your community is a process, not a single task.

Today’s assignment: Follow five more blogs and/or topics.

Why?

  • Because the more bloggers you follow, the more posts to be inspired by, reflect on, and respond to.
  • Because getting a clearer sense of the breadth and global reach of the blogging community will make your own blogging stronger and richer.
  • Because the more you put yourself out, the easier it is for others to find you.

When we search for topics to read about, we usually start close to home. The aspiring chef looks for food blogs, and the new college student searches for other blogs about university life. It’s a great idea, though — and a good habit to cultivate — to mix things up every once in a while, looking up topics you know nothing or have been curious about.

You could look up the name of an author you like, to see what others have thought about books you’ve read (feeling adventurous? You could equally search for posts about an author you’ve never read). Or, why not search a faraway country (Estonia? Madagascar? Nicaragua?) as a topic: who knows what you might dig up?

If you’re a fan of longer, thoughtful prose, check out the WPlongform topic page. If personal takes on current events are more up your alley, give WPrightnow a try. And, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to follow the zerotohero topic.

If you’ve already added topics to your Reader, you could focus today on finding new blogs to follow; conversely, if you already have a growing list of blogs populating your Reader, explore new, uncharted topics. Or mix it up with a bit of both — you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a WordPress.com user, explore the blogosphere at large and find five new sites to follow.

When you visit a blog you’re already following, scour the comments section for readers who left thoughtful remarks — it’s a promising sign that their own posts are equally interesting. You can also do some blogroll-surfing — click a link on the blogroll of the site you’re visiting, and repeat every time you’re ready to move on (pro tip: open each new blog in a new tab, so you can easily find your way back to the blog you were initially visiting).

Part of the fun of blogging is the serendipity. No matter how long you’re been blogging or how many bloggers you already follow, you never know when you’ll find a new favorite writer, make a connection that changes your blog (or your life), or be inspired in a way you never saw coming. And when you start exploring, you’re also putting yourself out there, and making it easier for others to find you.

To chat with other Zero to Hero participants, visit today’s forum thread.

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Day 10: Dress up your blog with widgets

You’ve done a lot so far — published a few posts, worked on your About widget and page, and dabbled in personalizing your blog with a custom headers and backgrounds. Today, let’s insert a few more widgets to add more personal touches to your blog.

Today’s assignment: add and customize two widgets.

Why?

  • Because you want to make it easy for your readers to find all your content, follow you, get engaged, and get the most out of your site, and widgets add features to help them do it.
  • Because widgets are another opportunity to add a personal touch to your blog, and to create a consistent look and personality.

For those who need some Intro to Widgets, “widget” is a fancy word for “doodad,” which is itself a fancy word for “small items you can add on to your blog that add a variety of functions and content.” They let you add features and embed objects on your blog without knowing any code.

For this task, you’ll add two widgets: one that adds a text-based feature, and one that adds something image-based. If one of those doesn’t fit with your vision, feel free to change it up as long as you add two new widgets.

A few simple yet useful text-based widgets to consider:

  • The Search Widget adds a search box to your sidebar or footer and allows readers to search for posts and pages in your archives.
  • The Follow Blog Widget lets your visitors sign up to receive your posts via email.
  • The Twitter Timeline Widget displays your public Twitter feed, and lets readers easily follow you.
  • The Top Posts & Pages Widget displays your most-liked posts, or up to 10 of your most popular posts.
  • The Categories Widget organizes your posts by category — handy for visitors who want to find more of your posts about certain topics.

And some image-based widgets to try:

  • Instagram Widget: You display your feed in your sidebar, without adding a new Image Widget for every photo. The widget automatically updates with your newest shots.
  • The Gravatar Widget shows your Gravatar, which is the picture attached to your username across WordPress.com. (If you haven’t uploaded a Gravatar, get to it! It’s an easy way to build a consistent online presence and let others know who you are.)
  • The Gallery Widget creates a gallery or slideshow of images. The widget supports all the same tiled-gallery layouts as full-size galleries, so you can add a graphic element to your sidebar without any graphic design know-how.

Here’s the full list of available widgets on WordPress.com. Check out other quick and easy widgetswidgets to showcase your community-to-be, and more image-based widgets. Review our tutorial series — Widgets 101201, and 301 — or take a step back and think about your overall sidebar strategy.

You can spruce up widgets even more by personalizing the titles to match the theme or niche of your blog, so be sure to explore all the options each widget offers.

Does this seem too simple? Then we challenge you to experiment with more complex Text Widgets — see “Get Creative With Text Widgets” in Widgets 101 — as well as customized Image Widgets that complement the overall look of your site. Check out  “Custom-made Image Widgets”  in Widgets 201 for inspiration. Those of you who experimented with tools like Piction for your headers might also find them useful for making custom image widgets.

To add a widget to a WordPress.com blog, go to Appearance → Widgets in your dashboard. Here, you can drag a widget from the ”Available Widgets” area on the left into a section on the right, called a sidebar (depending on your theme, you might have multiple sections). When you see a dashed line appear, drop the widget into place. You can also re-arrange existing widgets by dragging-and-dropping.

Note for bloggers on other platforms: WordPress.org, Blogger, and Tumblr blogs also use widgets, although you may have to upload them yourself — check out your platform’s instructions. 

If you also want to publish a post today, we suggest trying a shorter-form post — a post of under 400 words; under 200 if you can.

To chat with other Zero to Hero participants, visit today’s forum thread.

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Day 11: Be a good neighbor — leave comments on three new blogs

The best thing you can do to connect with others and build a community around your site is to, well, engage. You’ve already been following topics and blogs, and chatting with other Zero to Hero participants — let’s take that up a notch.

Today’s assignment: leave comments on at least three blogs that you’ve never commented on before.

Why?

  • Because engaging in conversation will inspire you; you never know where (or who!) your next great post idea will come from.
  • Because if you’re new to the blogosphere and no one knows about you or your site, the best way to spread the word is by branching out and connecting. Remember: no blog is an island.
  • Because if you interact with people, especially on topics and issues that interest you, they’ll likely visit your blog to see what you’re all about — and continue the conversation.

When you add something of value to a conversation, you help make the original post that much richer, and you invite others to be drawn into the discussion. Not only that, but leaving thoughtful comments means that other readers will want to know what else you have to say — and will find their way to your site.

When leaving comments today, we encourage you to go beyond fellow Zero to Hero bloggers (although you should definitely keep visiting and supporting one another!). If you haven’t already, dip a toe into the larger blogging community. If you have, wade in a little deeper.

If you’d like to take this a step further, add a post to your own blog today highlighting and linking to the three blogs. Let your readers know why they intrigued you, and what kinds of conversations they’ll find there. Links are the lifeblood of the blogosphere; every time you give fellow bloggers a little link love, you strength the fabric of the blogging community — which ultimately benefits you as well. Sharing great links with your readers also helps them to see you as a trusted resource

Never sure what to say in comments? You’re not alone! Here are some tips for crafting comments that contribute to the conversation:

  • Add something substantive to the discussion — avoid “Great post, I agree!” or “Thanks for sharing this!” comments, unless they also expand the discussion.
  • Be specific about what you enjoyed in the post.
  • Ask a relevant question.
  • Respectfully offer a counterpoint. (And because it can’t be overstated: respectfully.)
  • Share a related experience — a relevant anecdote that moves the conversation along.
  • Be concise. No one wants to read rambling thoughts. If your comment ends up being more than a paragraph, maybe you should just write a post and let the blogger know you’ve responded that way.
  • Don’t leave a shameless plug that simply links to your blog — these are meaningless, are often deleted, and aren’t the right way to get attention. Your name links back to your blog anyway.
  • Mind your manners. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it in their comment thread. Criticism is fine, but there’s no need to be rude.

Read more advice on how to perfect the art of commenting.

Also — remember where you left comments, because they’ll play a role in the post you’ll be writing tomorrow.

To chat with other Zero to Hero participants, visit today’s forum thread.

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Day 12: From comment to blog post — be inspired by the community

Yesterday, you left comments on three different blogs. (Or more, if you found more great posts that made you think or pushed you to respond, you overacheiver, you.) Lots of you shared the blogs you found in posts or in yesterday’s forum thread. We also advised you to remember where you left your comments — you’ll need one of those comments today.:

Today’s assignment: write a post that builds on one of the comments you left yesterday. Don’t forget to link to the other blog!

Remember when we said to “be concise”? One sentence to a short paragraph is a good target length for a comment. When commenting, getting to the point is important and appreciated — but that doesn’t mean your train of thought ends when the comment does.

If you were really engaged in the post, you probably have more thoughts than what you put in the comment. Today, you’ll expand on the discussion or offer a different perspective than what was shared in the original post by publishing your own. Letting yourself be inspired by other bloggers and comments is an ideal way to explore your own thinking, nurture the conversation and community, and draw likeminded readers to your blog.

Not sure where to start? A few ideas:

  • Did you have questions about what you read in the original post? Consider searching for more resources or other blogs and sharing your findings to teach yourself — and your readers — what you’ve discovered.
  • Did you agree with the thoughts in the post and mention any personal connections to what was written? Tell the story from your own life. Use the original discussion as a starting point for a new one.
  • Did you disagree with the post? Expand on your own point of view, and do so kindly. The blogosphere is a place for lively debate: contribute to the discussion with your own points.
  • Did you continue mulling over the post after you’d left your comment, but found your thoughts veering in another direction? Explore where they’ve gone, and explain how they got there from the original post.

If you need a bit more of a boost, take a look at this recent piece on making writing prompts personal – many of the tips can be applied to using another’s post or a comment as a jumping-off point.

In your post, be sure to link back to the original post where you left the comment; you can refer to the post title and/or blog or blogger’s name somewhere in your post, and link those words to the original post. Doing this creates a pingback, which is a type of comment that’s automatically created when you link to another WordPress.com post (provided the blog the post appears on hasn’t disabled pingbacks in their settings). The other blogger will then be notified that you’ve linked to and commented on their work — so don’t be surprised if they visit your blog to continue the conversation!

As always, be sure to tag your post with zerotohero so we can all easily find another.

To chat with other Zero to Hero participants, visit today’s forum thread.

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Day 13: Build a (Better) Blogroll

By now, you’ve made some community connections and have at least a few favorite reads — after all, you’ve been following new topics and blogs and commenting, and are on the receiving end of comments and follows yourself. Today, you’ll continue weaving the fabric of the blogosphere, using one of its essential tools: link love.

Today’s Assignment: Create, edit, or expand your blogroll.

Why?

  • Because you tell readers more about yourself, your personality, and your interests through what you choose to share.
  • Because giving readers recommendations is not only a low-impact way to give them more great content, it turns you into a trustworthy source of great stuff.
  • Because those you link to will often visit or link to you in return, helping introduce your site to new readers.
  • Because the more people you introduce to subjects you love, the more that community grows. We’re all building the blogosphere together, so it behooves us to share the love and support one another.

The ever-expanding vastness of the blogosphere can be overwhelming. Enter: the blogroll. When I find a blog I like, I’m always excited to see a blogroll — it’s like getting recommendations from a friend rather than blindly falling down the rabbit hole of the internet. Throw in community- and traffic-building benefits, and a blogroll becomes a no-brainer.

There are widgets in WordPress.com to display blogs your follow and posts you like, but blogrolls let you display any link, WordPress.com or not (they don’t even have to be blogs — link to any site). You’ve probably got sites and blogs you love in all corners of the internet-o-sphere, so don’t restrict yourself to sharing blogs on a single platform.

Already have a blogroll? Make it even better. Consider one (or) more of these proven blogroll enhancement techniques:

  • Add hover-over text to the links, and add punchy descriptions that entice readers to click. “The funniest blog about reptiles on the internet!” “Easy-to-follow tutorials for Renaissance Faire costumes.” You get the idea.
  • Categorize your blogroll. If you’re really into parenting blogs, home renovation blogs, and video game blogs, split your blogroll into categories to help readers get to the content that’s relevant to them.
  • Consider a “Links” page. If you have an extensive blogroll, it may be unwieldy to display in your sidebar. Consider adding a permanent “Links and Resources” page to your blog, where you can add, organize, and say more about your collection of links.

Here are the basics for creating a blogroll on WordPress.com blogs:

  1. Adding your chosen sites in the “Links” tab in your dashboard.
  2. Heading to Appearance → Widgets and dragging the “Links” widget into your sidebar or footer.

You can get more detail in the Blogroll support document, or check out our “Build a Better Blogroll” tips.

WordPress.org, Blogger, and Tumblr blogs all have ways to build blogrolls; here are instructions for self-hosted WordPress bloggers, along with tutorials for Tumblr and Blogger users.

To chat with other Zero to Hero participants, visit today’s forum thread.

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Day 14: Blogger’s Choice!

We’ve got our suggestions for what you should do today, but everyone’s blogs move at a different pace. In recognition of that, today’s task is your choice!

Here are our suggestions — feel free to try one of these, or something else entirely.

  1. More commenting! Leave at least three comments on blogs. These don’t have to be new-to-you blogs — feel free to comment on sites you love.
  2. Spend time in the Reader, or in your whatever blog reader you use! Adding a topic to your Reader or following a blog is just one step — actually reading is the next. Spend at least 10-15 minutes clicking on the topics you’ve added. You might discover new blogs to follow; you might stumble upon a post you completely disagree with; or you might fall into a rabbit hole, clicking here and there, reading intriguing discussions on topics that excite you.

Why?

  • Because with content creation comes consumption. Blogging isn’t just about publishing — it’s also about reading the work of others and being inspired by ideas in the blogosphere.
  • Because it’s good to get into the habit of regularly reading and commenting, so it doesn’t feel like “extra” work — it’s not!

Some tips to consider as you surf the Reader and look for places to engage:

  • Think about terms that are natural extensions of popular topics you’re already following. For example, are you interested in different genres of photography? In addition to the photography topic, follow topic streams like fisheye for pictures using the fisheye effect or film photography for analog shots. (For more tips like this, read this post on special photography topics.)
  • Consider custom topics for particular types of content — we established the wplongform topic for those who enjoy reading longer posts of 1,000 words or more (or want to tag their own writing so readers can find it), as well as wprightnow for people interested in responses and conversations to current events and timely topics.

If you feel like publishing a post that’s been on your mind, by all means — publish away! You could also draft a post reflecting on these first two weeks, what and what you’ve learned about blogging and your blog. Take a look at today’s post on developing your blogging voice, and use today’s post to explore yours.

Today is also a great day to head to the forum thread for some broader conversation about how your month is going, what you’re enjoying, and where you still feel unsure.

To chat with other Zero to Hero participants, visit today’s forum thread.

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Day 15: Learn more about how visuals influence content

On Day 5, you explored themes to make sure you’d chosen your blog’s dream home, on Day 7, you played with backgrounds and headers, and on Day 10 you test-drove some widgets. Now it’s time to do some more decorating, and learn about the ways colors and fonts change the feeling of your content.

Note: the goal of this task is not to sell you a design upgrade, it’s to help you understand the interplay between content and design, so you can make decisions about how to display your work to its best advantage. Today is about play and exploration. For those who’d also like to publish something, read to the end of today’s task.

Today’s assignment: open the Customizer and try out some new fonts and colors (and backgrounds and/or headers, if you’re still undecided).

Why?

  • Because whether you’re a new blogger or an old-timer, making a theme your own is an ongoing process that benefits from lots of experimenting.
  • Because testing customization options will help you understand how your content and your site’s design are connected and how they can enhance one another.
  • Because a well-customized site is one where you’re more likely to publish regularly.

If you blog on WordPress.com, you’ll play with color and font using the Customizer. You can open the Customizer by hovering over your blog’s name in the admin bar, at the top of your screen, and then clicking on “Customize,” or from your dashboard, by going to Appearance → Customize. When you alter any of your theme settings there, your blog immediately shows you a preview of the changes. Click “Cancel,” and everything returns to the way it was.

(Note: both Custom Colors and Custom Fonts are part of the paid Custom Design Upgrade. However, even if you don’t plan to purchase any upgrades, you can use it to preview options to get new ideas and insights about your blog’s look. Some these also come with free options, like alternate color schemes, that you’ll also be able to play with in the Customizer.)

There are many neat features to explore in the Customizer, but today we’d like you to focus on the visual elements that make the most powerful — and immediate — impact on your site’s look. Try out a new color palette or a sleek font for your blog, and see how it changes the feel and readability of your content.

Bloggers can use fonts to great effect; You’d be shocked by how radically different your posts will read just by switching from a classic serif font like Le Monde Journal to a modernist font like Futura PT. With colors, too, you can change the vibe your blog gives off by experimenting with different palettes, from hushed grays and blues to in-your-face greens or reds. If you’re a photoblogger, look out for combinations that help visitors focus on your images. If you write longer essays, get a feel for the fonts that make for the smoothest, easiest-on-the-eyes reads.

Even if you end up where you started, you’ll have gained insight into the ways your content is best displayed, and how your posts and your design feed off off each other. You might come away with new ideas about your header or background (which almost any WordPress.com blogger can customize without an upgrade), a way to use photos in your posts to create an emotion, or a sense of how to arrange your sidebar.

Not on WordPress.com? You can still try different looks even if your blog’s hosted elsewhere — check out the customization options available to you — from text size to background colors — and make three changes to your blog’s look. Keep or discard them; the exploration is what really counts today.

If you’d like to publish as well, feel free! Today, try exploring and varying your blogging voice, to learn what works best for you. If you need some subject-matter inspiration, try today’s prompt, or this week’s writing or photo challenges.

To chat with other Zero to Hero participants, visit today’s forum thread.

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Day 16: Make a writing prompt your own

Writing prompts can be a blogger’s best friend: on days when inspiration levels are low and fresh ideas are few, responding to someone else’s question can do get you out of a slump. Even if they were created for consumption by thousands of bloggers, they’re most productive when you personalize them to fit your own interests and perspective.

Today’s assignment: publish a post based on your own, personalized take on today’s Daily Prompt.

Why?

  • Because learning to interpret prompts will be an invaluable skill when writers’ block hits.
  • Because the best way to become a better writer is to write — and prompts and assignments force you to focus on your writing.
  • Because hundreds of other bloggers respond to each prompt in hundreds of different ways, and exploring that can inspire you in unexpected ways.

Prompts are not homework. They’re here to help — and the best way to make the most out of them is to own them, personalize them, and transform them into something that really inspires you. Just as you customize your theme to match your tastes and preferences, you can tweak prompts to fit with your interests and blog. Some bloggers use these prompts for Post-a-Day projects, while others only use them when they need a push to turn on their laptops (or tablets. Or smartphones. You get the idea).

Here’s today’s Daily Prompt:

Do you have a reputation? What is it, and where did it come from? Is it accurate? What do you think about it?

You could tackle this prompt head-on, and tell us about how you’ve come to be known as a patient origami master, a tortured pastry chef, or a passionate champion of vintage eyewear. You could tell us an anecdote that exemplifies your reputation, or one that refutes it entirely. You could tell the story from your own perspective, or from the point of view of a person who’s just met you.

You could pass this prompt through any number of filters — stylistic and other. How about a parody of your reputation as a dog lover, pushing your devotion to your pets to its comical limit? How about a series of haikus? How about a dialogue between your two best friends, in which your character is discussed in glorious (or embarrassing) detail?

If the prompt doesn’t speak to you, go meta:

  • Compose a scathing critique of the very idea of “reputation,” and instead talk about the need to go beyond superficial impressions.
  • Ask whether reputations actually reflect who people are, or are instead the result of social biases and stereotypes.
  • Take the concept of reputation to write about something altogether different — a post about women in the media, travel in supposedly dangerous countries, or a recent visit to a highly-acclaimed restaurant.

If it’s still not moving you, write about whatever thought popped into your mind when you first read the prompt — even if it seems to have nothing to do with it — or just write about how you don’t like prompts. For more, check out our tips on making prompts your own.

When you’re really feeling stuck, check out the comments section: some bloggers might’ve already posted their response, and you can post a reaction to a take that strikes a chord with you. You can also post a photo or a music video that’s related to the topic if the words refuse to come out. Look at the prompt from every angle, and extract every ounce of inspiration you can out.

(If you ever find yourself in need of additional prompts, or really aren’t moved by a given day’s offering, check out past prompts or browse our 365 Writing Prompts ebook. You can also search for “Prompts” in the Reader to find lots of other options.)

A reminder: comments are closed on Daily Prompts, so don’t forget to add a pingback to the prompt, so that other challenge participants can read your post. And of course, be sure to use the zerotohero tag. We’ll be building on this assignment tomorrow, so no skipping!

To chat with other Zero to Hero participants, visit today’s forum thread.

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Day 17: Increase Your Commenting Confidence

Yesterday, you published using the Daily Prompt as a starting point, so today you can explore the same prompt through the eyes of dozens of your fellow bloggers. There are also two options for posting today, depending on whether you completed yesterday’s task — skip to the end to learn more.

Today’s assignment: read six posts written in response to yesterday’s prompt, and leave comments on at least two of them.

(If you didn’t complete yesterday’s task, leave two comments anywhere, and write a new post of your own.)

Why?

  • Because reading others’ takes on a topic you’ve also tackled is a great way to challenge your own thinking (and writing).
  • Because it’s much easier to enter a conversation when all parties have a shared experience, like responding to a writing prompt.

To find other entries, go back to yesterday’s prompt and scroll down to the list of pingbacks. When you go over the entries to yesterday’s prompt, pick any six that strike your fancy. You might go for those whose titles sound enticing, or decide click around arbitrarily. Either way, spread the love — don’t just click on the first six links you see!

As you read, ask yourselves: how did the author approach the prompt? How was the post structured? Was there anything particularly creative or original done that you could take inspiration from? Reading (and finding inspiration in) others’ writing is a foolproof way to preempt any future writing block.

To comment, note the posts that elicit the strongest reactions from you — it a post that’s particularly well written, or one that you passionately disagree with. It’s these kinds of posts where it’s easiest to engage the author in a meaningful way.

Remember the basics of commenting etiquette: Stay on topic. Stay respectful. Be brief — if you have more than a paragraph, consider a post on your own blog, with a link to the original post. Avoid one-line comments like “Awesome!” or “Nice post!” Think of your comment as the beginning of a dialog, not a verbal emoticon. Don’t forget that you wrote a post in response to the same prompt — use your experience of writing it when you compose your comments.

Have a few minutes to spare? Feel free to leave more than three comments — especially if you’re enjoying a lively discussion with another blogger! If you feel like posting today, pick the most thoughtful comment you’ve left, and expand it into a blog post. Don’t forget to link back to the original post, and use the zerotohero tag.

If you didn’t post on yesterday’s prompt or want a different writing task, publish a post on the topic of your choosing, and use two of these formatting tools to emphasize your points and create visual interest: block quotes, preformatting, or an ordered or unordered list. Instructions for those are here and here.

To chat with other Zero to Hero participants, visit today’s forum thread.

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Day 18: Activate a Social Network

While there’s no exact science to building a readership, social networks — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest — can play a big role. Figuring out how to connect with your audience on social networks is an important step, and if you blog on WordPress.com, you have a tool called Publicize that lets you automatically share new posts across your social networks.

No blog is an island. Clicking Publish is just one step of blogging. Getting your work out there and attracting readers — other than your mother and best friend — is just as important. If you’re dying to publish today, you’ve also got two posting options.

Today’s assignment: Explore one or more social networks, and start an account so you can being exploring the possibilities. If you’re already active on a social network, set up Publicize and link the account to your blog, and/or create a strategy for how you’ll use it.

Why?

  • Because networks like Facebook and Twitter are full of new readers, just waiting to find you.
  • Because social networks can act as an extension of your blog, giving readers another place to connect and you a place to share other thoughts and links.

You have lots of options – PinterestTwitterFacebookLinkedIn, and Instagram, for starters. If you’re a photographer, try Instagram. A food or style blogger? Pinterest waits for you. Hoping to building a business? LinkedIn. A generalist, or not quite sure where your audience is? Twitter and Facebook.

You’ll also want to think about how to use the platform. Simply sharing your posts isn’t enough — that’s no different from following your blog. You’ll want to engage with other members, share other content (like links you love), and use it as a place to extend conversations that start on your blog.

Not sure where to start?  Click on any of the links above for our run-down on the platform, how it can work with your blog, and how to get started.

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