Getting Started with UMB Blogs

UMass Boston provides UMB faculty, students, and staff with blogging and website space with WordPress — the most popular blogging service. Every member of the UMB community has a WordPress blog created automatically.

Examples of UMB Blogs

Blogs at UMB can be used as a platform to share information and collaborate on projects. By default, blogs are designed to display entries chronologically, but they can also be set up like regular websites, with static pages.

Here are some ways you can use blogs:

  • For personal or professional reflection by a faculty member, staff, or student
  • For an academic program or department website with multiple faculty as contributors
  • To showcase student projects in a course, similar to ePortfolios.

Working with UMB Blogs

  • To access your blog go to blogs.umb.edu and login using your UMB email credentials. Your blog will be activated the first time you log in, and the URL will contain your username in the format “http://blogs.umb.edu/username”.
  • You can request additional blogs for yourself, for your course, or department, using the blog request form.

Logging in to the Dashboard

The dashboard is the place to create new posts, pages, add media, select themes, and create custom menus. You can also manage sharing to social media, blog settings, domains, invite and remove users, and more.

To get to your blog’s dashboard, first log in to blogs.umb.edu, then click on My Sites from the top left-hand corner of the Admin bar, and select the blog you would like to work on. The Dashboard will contain a menu of options for managing your blog.

The Local Environment

View the video below for a tour of the commonly used tools and overview of the UMB WordPress interface.

Pages vs Posts

To add content to a blog you use posts or pages.

Posts are used to create continuous content (a daily journal; a weekly newsletter). Posts are the most commonly used method of posting content in a blog.

Pages are used for delivering content that will not be changing regularly (static content). With pages you can create specific template styles that can be used for different content while maintaining a uniform look and feel.

Plugins in WordPress

A plugin is a piece of software that adds functionality to a WordPress website or blog. UMB blogs has a number of plugins already installed and available for use.

The Plugins link is located on the left-hand menu on your Dashboard.

A plugin needs to be activated for its features to be added to your site. To activate a plugin, select a plugin from the listed categories (Appearance, Forms & Surveys, Social, etc.) and click Activate.

The plugins currently available on the UMB blogs network have been thoroughly tested before installation to ensure they are fully functional and don’t cause problems. You can customize plugins if you are knowledgeable with CSS and Javascript. You can not install new plugins on your site, but if there is a plugin you think we should add to our library, let us know.

Themes

Themes provide the overall visual design framework of a blog site, including page layout, font type and color, background color, etc. There are a number of attractive and functional themes to choose from on the UMB blogs network. All themes can be further customized.

Changing the Theme

New blogs at UMB are created with a default theme. If the default theme does not meet your needs, you can change the theme:

  1. Go to Appearance > Themes area of your blog’s administration panel
  2. Browse the available themes
  3. Hover your mouse over a theme to reveal information about the theme
  4. Click Live Preview to get a glimpse of how your content will look like in the new theme, before applying it to your content. Live Preview also lets you customize the theme.
  5. Click Save & Activate to use the theme, or click Cancel to continue browsing more themes.

Tips for Choosing a Theme

  • Use the Live Preview to see a demo of how your content will look like in the new theme: Look at how the theme is broken up, the different sections it gives you, and how your own content might fit into those blank spaces. Does the theme present content in a way that will make sense for your needs and how you want your readers to react when they visit your site?
  • Themes will have some kind of description and often in that text lies some of the features (mobile responsiveness, etc.). Read through it word for word because it could hold critical information that helps you make that final decision.
  • Most themes don’t let you see the backend or settings via the Live Preview demo. But they will show you different color schemes, page layouts and other options. You can usually learn a lot just by checking out the navigation bar.
  • Feel free to ask our team for recommendations.

Media Library

The Media Library, located on the left panel of your Dashboard, allows you to upload new media, including images and videos, without having to start a new post or page.

A few things to note:

  • A file has to be smaller than the maximum file upload size (50 MB) to be uploaded.
  • Your blog has limited storage space, so only upload the smallest size possible for a file.
  • Your storage space allowance is displayed in your media library (Media > Library) and is based on all the files in your media library.
  • File formats accepted on the media library are: .jpg, .jpeg, .png, .gif, .doc, .pdf, .mp3, .ppt, .wmv, .mp4, .xls, .ins, .isf, .te, .xbk, .notebook, .m4a, .ist, .kmz, .kes, .mov, .flp, .avi, .swf, .wxr, .xml, .wav, .fjsw, .docx, .pptx, .xlsx, .xml, .m4v, .max, .kmz, .zip.

Editing Images

One of the neat features of the WordPress media library is the ability to edit images. Click on an image, then click the Edit Image button. Here you can crop, rotate, flip or scale the image. Make sure to click Save, then Update to save the image changes.

See tutorial on How to upload an image to the Media Library

Appearance

Appearance is used to brand your blog. The Appearance settings on WordPress allow you to manage and customize your theme, widgets, menus, background and even add custom CSS.

Menus

Menus are an extremely important for any website. They offer a means to navigate your site and its content. Navigation menus allow you to present a site structure to your users. They help users find information and browse through different sections of your website. Since navigation menus are so important, they are usually placed close to the header in most WordPress themes. WordPress comes with a navigation menu system that makes it quite easy for beginner users to create and manage menus. The location of the menus can vary from theme to theme. Almost all WordPress themes come with at least one menu location. Some WordPress themes come with multiple menu locations to accommodate for more complex websites.

You can create menus in WordPress by visiting Appearance > Menus in your WordPress admin area. This will bring you to the Edit Menus screen which is divided into two columns. The column on your left has your pages, categories, and custom links tab. The column on the right is where you add and adjust menu items. Provide a name for your menu, e.g. ‘My First Menu’ and then click on the create menu button.

Best practices for setting up your navigation menu

  • Make sure your menus works well on a mobile device.
  • Use descriptive labels in your navigation to make it easier for search engines to find your site
  • Use fonts that are easier to read (sans-serif) and ensure there is appropriate contrast with the background.
  • Keep the menu uncluttered; less is more.
  • Reserve the more prominent locations on the menu for the most relevant links in your site.

Widgets

Widgets are preset modules or pieces of code that add to a certain function of your blog. Your sidebars, footers and headers can be loaded with widgets. Some of the common widgets include, Search Box, Recent Posts, Recent Comments, Archives, Categories, Links.

Users

The Users menu on the Dashboard allows the owner of a blog to invite additional user to contribute to the site. WordPress provides a number of user roles, each with different permissions.

Here is a basic overview of the different user roles and the permissions associated with each one:

  • Subscribers can read comments/comment/receive newsletters, etc. but cannot create regular site content.
  • Contributors can write and manage their posts but not publish posts or upload media files.
  • Authors can publish and manage their own posts, and are able to upload files.
  • Editors can publish posts, manage posts as well as manage other people’s posts, etc.
  • Administrators have access to all the administration features.

Settings

  • General – site Title and Tagline. You’ll want to make sure these titles match your site because your site title will be visible in Google search results. By default, WordPress includes “just another WordPress site” as
    your site’s tagline.
  • Writing – all of the setting on this page apply to writing and publishing content for your site.
  • Reading – this screen contains the settings that affect the display of your content.
  • Discussion – provide lots of options for the management of comments and controlling links to your posts/pages.
  • Media – allows you you to set maximum sizes for images inserted into the body of a post.

How to Video Tutorials

The following are useful quick video tutorials to help you get started with common tasks.

Best Practices for Designing your Blog/Website

  • Check if your site is Mobile Friendly
  • Choose a professional looking theme
  • Ensure your post title contains key words from the post content
  • Include Alt text in images for better accessibility
  • Remain consistent in publishing blog posts
  • Share and promote your posts on social media
  • Make sure your blog is organized and easy to navigate
  • Sign up to Google Search Console and Google Analytics to optimize your site for search engines.

Getting Help

Need help getting started? Email us at elearning@umb.edu to schedule a consult with our UMB Blogs experts.