How to make a custom menu widget for your blog


One of the beauties of blogging is not having to know any ‘backend’ stuff like code. But sometimes it’s good to know a little, because it gives you the means to customise some aspects of your blog.

I thought I would show you how to make a custom menu to go in the widget area of your blog. You can do this in WordPress (self-hosted OR hosted versions) or Blogger. Probably other platforms too, it depends on whether you have the TEXT widget option.

When might you want a custom menu?  A menu is really just a list of links: it’s usually associated with your site’s navigation – home, contact, about us etc. But it could be a list of your most important blog posts (the ones you want people to see), a list of your books with links to buy them, a list of forthcoming events or readings. Some blog themes only offer you one menu in one location. Others offer custom menu widgets, but they’re not always straightforward to set up. With a bit of HTML knowledge you can create as many custom menus as you wish, and include images as well as links.

If you look at the widgets area of your dashboard (or gadgets as they’re called in Blogger) you’ll see an array of options. Scroll through and find the one called TEXT (arbitrary text or HTML) and add or drag this to the position you want it.

text widget screenshot

When your widget’s in place, click on the down arrow on the right to customise it.

Here’s an example. I recently changed the theme on my Poetgal blog, and realised that the main menu is hidden when the screen width go below a certain size. That’s OK on phones because you usually have to touch a menu icon in the corner to see the whole menu. But on a desktop computer you expect to see the menu. I was concerned that several key pages – ‘About’, ‘Books’ and ‘Poetry readings’ – were going to be overlooked. So I needed a custom menu in the sidebar. So I positioned my text widget in the side bar and called it ‘May be of interest’:

custom widget 1

My custom menu is going to be a list of 3 links. In HTML, links look like this:

<a href=”URL of about page”>This is a link to ‘About'</a>

Every part of this this syntax is important – the space between the a and the href, the fact that there is no space between the = and the first “, and no space between the the angled brackets and what’s inside them. Notice also the closing tag </a> – this is where the link text ends. Between the opening and closing tags is the text that will be visible as a link. But we haven’t yet put in a valid URL (web page address).

If I wanted to reference the ‘About’ page on Poetgal, from here, I would paste in the full address including the ‘http’ bit. This goes inside the quote marks, like this:

<a href=””>This is a link to ‘About'</a>

Which then displays as:

This is a link to ‘About’

So, going back to my custom menu text widget, all I need to do is find the correct URLs of the pages I want to link to, and paste them using the syntax you see above. Just type the code out once and  copy and paste as many times as you want links, then paste in the correct links between the quote marks.

custom widget 2

I tend to leave a line space between each link, just so it’s easy for me to see how many I’ve got. But as long as you start each link on a new line, If you then tick the ‘automatically add paragraphs’ box then your links will display with a line space between each one.

Don’t forget to hit ‘save’ – and your widget is up!

custom widget 3


Notice that you haven’t had to worry about how the links look – they are automatically ‘styled’ like the rest of the blog. That’s because the styles (font, colours, sizes, spacing etc) is controlled from another file called a ‘Stylesheet’.

Even if you’re not using WordPress, HTML is a universal language. I’ve been typing <a href=”…”>linktext</a> since 1998 and it still works. Hooray!

It’s just as easy to add images and other stuff in a custom widget. In some circumstances it’s also possible to customise the Stylesheet. More about that in a later post.



Guest blog posts & interviews


As the ‘Blogging for Writers’ blog tour comes to a (kind of) end, I thought you may be interested in some of the guest blogs and interviews that have come out of it, in case you missed them…

Erynn Newman Just Write - guest blog by Robin Houghton

Over on US author Erynn Newman’s blog Just Write, I wrote a guest post on How to turn your Blog into a Community – it’s interesting how small details can make a big difference.

The Poetry Shed by Abegail Morley interview with Robin Houghton

Then at The Poetry Shed, Abegail Morley grilled me about various things, from how long it took to write the book to whether it’s worth paying for upgrades… you have to click through to find out!

Elizabeth Spann Craig - guest blog post by Robin Houghton

Popular mystery writer Elizabeth Spann Craig very kindly hosted my blog post ‘How’s your blog doing? 5 top things to measure and why’

Trin in the Wind guest post by Robin Houghton

If blogging has become a bit of a drag and you need to get your mojo back, read my guest post at Trin in the Wind, the blog of Australian author Trinity Doyle.

Writers Digest blog post from Blogging for Writers Robin Houghton

And at Writers’ Digest, Rachel Scheller wrote a piece entitled Your 2015 Blogging Roadmap, based on sections of the book.

Huge thanks to all the writers who’ve hosted me during the tour, and there’s more to come. I’m delighted to be appearing soon at the mighty Writer Unboxed, and also on the legendary blog of Anne R Allen.

Guest blogging is a wonderful way to extend your blog community and reach. If you have an idea for a blog post which would be of interest to readers of another blog, why not approach the blog owner with your idea? They can only say no, but they might say yes!

PS – only 2 places left on my course this weekend in Brighton, ‘Set up your WordPress blog in a day’ – spread the word!


Social media Q & A with writer Richard Skinner


Richard Skinner authorMy guest today is Richard Skinner who I had the pleasure of first meeting at the Vanguard Readings which he organises in London each month, attracting big name readers and a loyal audience. Vanguard also has its own publishing imprint, Vanguard Editions. Richard is the author of three novels, all published by Faber & Faber. His work has been nominated for prizes and is published in seven languages. His poetry has appeared widely and his new pamphlet Terrace will be published by Smokestack in April 2015. Richard is Director of the Fiction Programme at the Faber Academy.

Do you have a blog or blog(s)?

Richard Skinner blog

I do have a blog page on my website but it is not a standard blog, it is more of a place to post essays and reviews and anything else of interest to me. I think of it as both an archive and a resource. I have recently taken a lot of these posts down because they will be collected together into a book of essays, reviews and interviews that will be published in May by Zero Books.

How often do you update it? Do you follow other blogs?

I don’t update my blog in any regular way, just when I find/write something that I’d like to share. I follow a few other blogs, mainly by other poets, for example And Other Poems run by Josephine Corcoran, and Spectral Lyre. I tend to follow blogs when someone posts/tweets that a new post is up.

Tell us what other social media platforms you use regularly. How do you manage the time you spend on social media – do you have any rules or tricks, for example?

I am a regular user of Facebook and Twitter, which I use for both personal and professional purposes — the two often collide.

I put time aside first thing in the morning to catch up on social media and then stop at a particular time in order to write. When I’m at home, I use my MacBook to post/tweet. When I’m out and about, I use my iPad mini (I don’t have a smart phone), but I can only use my iPad in WiFi hot spots, so I’m limited to when I can post/tweet (which isn’t a bad thing, I think). I just use the Twitter/Facebook interfaces. I did have Tweetdeck for a while but I didn’t find it particularly useful.

Richard Skinner on Twitter

How do you balance social media activity with your actual writing – any advice?

When I’m in the middle of a novel, I try to be strict with myself and only deal with social media at particular times. It doesn’t always happen though!

One tip that works for me: I have set Notifications as my Twitter homepage, not Home. I have a large enough number of followers that it would be impossible to read every single tweet on my feed, and so, by setting my homepage as Notifications, I don’t miss tweets that have my handle in them. They are the more important tweets to respond to, I think.

Some people find social media stressful. What do you most like about it what do you most dislike?

I think there’s a lot of very dull/trivial stuff on both Facebook and Twitter (kittens!)* but there’s also some amazing stuff there, particularly on Twitter. I have come across some incredible photos, links, articles and so on, none of which I would have found otherwise.
The Mirror by Richard Skinner
I think the key is to tailor your Facebook timeline and Twitter feed by stopping notifications or muting anything you don’t like so that you’re only seeing what you want to see. Be ruthless about that. The other golden rule, I think, is not to use social media solely for promoting yourself and your work. Use it to share your likes, loves and interests. There is no greater turn-off on social media than someone who only says ‘Buy my book. Buy my book. Buy my book.’

*I quite like the kittens! – Robin

Social media Q & A with author & poet Claire Dyer


This is the first of a new series of blog posts in which I ask writers questions about how they use social media.

Claire Dyer novelist & poet - homepage

Claire Dyer is a novelist and poet, with two novels and a poetry collection to her name. Her website combines a blog with details of her published work, what she’s reading and where she’s appearing. She also displays her Twitter feed.

I first met Claire at a magazine launch at the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford – she is widely published in poetry magazines – and I was interested to hear how she approaches social media.

Tell us about your blog…

My blog is part of my main website and can be found here…

I blog when I have something to say about my writing, other people’s writing, the writing life or just to say how nice or difficult the whole business of writing is!

How often do you update it?

Roughly every 4 to 6 weeks, although I haven’t updated it for a while just recently (I blame Christmas!)

What do you do if you’re too busy to blog?

I pop stuff on Facebook (my personal and Author pages) and Twitter. I also use Pinterest but not very regularly.

Do you follow other blogs, and if so, how? (eg by email, in a reader etc)

Yes, I’ve signed up for a couple (by email) but normally just keep a watch out for interesting blogs by people I admire and will retweet or share them when I can. I have made a private list of ‘People who Tweet Interesting Things’ on Twitter which I monitor so often discover blogs there.

Tell us a bit more about how you use Twitter and other social media platforms …

Claire Dyer on Twitter

I regularly use Facebook and Twitter and try and steer the tricky line between being ‘Claire Dyer the person’ and ‘Claire Dyer the writer’. What I’ve found is that the private and public sides to being a writer are very different and it’s not always easy to manage this in the right way. Someone once told me that using social media is like being at a party so it’s not a good idea to arrive, shout out your own news and not listen to others’. Therefore my guiding principles are to be interested in other people, be supportive of their initiatives, be funny, not moan too much and let people know what I’m up to but not in a pushy way.

How do you manage the time you spend on social media – do you have any rules or tricks, and do you use a social media dashboard eg Hootsuite or Tweetdeck?

I mostly use my ‘People who Tweet Interesting Things’ list on Twitter. I belong to a number of Facebook Groups so that’s helpful in tracking what’s going on but usually I dip in and out so do risk missing things. A friend did mention TweetDeck to me but I haven’t managed to get my head round downloading it yet!

How do you balance social media activity with your actual writing – do you have any rules you abide by, or any tips/advice you would give to other writers?

Log out of Facebook and Twitter when writing otherwise you WILL get distracted!

Some people find social media stressful. What do you most like about it what do you most dislike?

I love social media when it’s positive and supportive and when it serves to disseminate news and information. I do, however, find it hard to deal with it when it is used for negative reasons or when an online discussion gets personal. My tenet is that if I don’t have something nice to say, keep quiet!

Claire’s latest novel is available in paperback and as an e-book, The Perfect Affair – it’s been described as ‘A beautifully told, absorbing romance,’ by the Sunday Mirror, and it’s currently a Sainsbury’s Winter Read.

You can find out more about Claire and her books on her website and blog, via her Amazon Author Page, on Facebook, on Twitter and on her Goodreads Author Page.

Building your email list, part 2


This is the second part of a longer blog post: part 1 is here.

People who sign up to your email list need nurturing, and at the same time you need to work at signing up new readers.

You’ll always be losing subscribers through unsubs, changed email addresses, spam filters and just being invisible – whether it’s because you don’t send often enough to the list, or your emails are disappearing into spam or ‘promotions’ folders. Then again, those subscribers who are still opening and responding to your emails after many months or years are your most loyal and valuable.

It’s important to create valuable content for your newsletters so that people look forward to your email updates. But as well as this, what else can you do to help keep your list growing?

1) Encourage shares & forwards whenever you send an email – top and tail with ‘forward to a friend’ messages and include social sharing buttons.

2) Capture visitors by making your sign up box stand out. For example – with the SumoMe WordPress plugin you can set a floating sign up message & box to appear, and customise it to first visits only if you don’t want it to be too annoying.

Sumome WordPress plugin

Example of a floating email sign up box on SumoMe’s homepage


3) Offer an incentive to join your list – for example a sample chapter, a free tip sheet or entry into a giveaway. There is a caveat here: some people will join a list just to get the freebie, then unsubscribe.  Just saying!

4) Offer a short course or series by email – delivered by timed autoresponders. You can do this if you use a service such as Aweber, or the paid version of Mailchimp. The thinking behind this is that repeated exposure in the few days after signing up not only reminds readers of who you are and what you offer, but takes advantage of the ‘honeymoon’ period when people can still remember why they signed up for your emails and how great you are. For example, you could offer a short story, delivered by seven installments by email.

5) Turn your email list into a community in itself – perhaps give email subscribers access to a private group on Facebook, or let them have exclusives on cover reveals, earlybird invitations to your book-related events or readings and other ‘thankyous’ to let them know you appreciate them. Loyal email subscribers are likely to be your best advocates, talking up your work on social media and face to face with others, so they are worth looking after.

6) When you send out a newsletter or email exclusive, let it slip on your blog and in your social updates. It doesn’t have to be as direct as ‘My newsletter is going out today, sign up now or miss out’ – which can come across as hectoring – but mention the actual content – if it sounds intriguing, if there’s something ‘in it for them’ and if you make it easy to sign up, you should see some takeup.

7) Collect email addresses offline, from people who come to your readings or other events. Have a sign up list on the table where you are signing books, or a simple QR code that people can scan to join your list. (More about how to set up a QR code in another post!)

8) Promote a book giveaway, and have entrants submit with their email address. You can create a simple giveaway for free at Rafflecopter, for example.


Rafflecopter allows you to create and administer giveaways, even randomly selecting the winner(s) for you.

9) Get together with another writer or blogging buddy and offer a joint giveaway or contest – that way you both reach a new audience and potential new sign ups. (You must ask permission to add people’s email addresses to your list, don’t just add them automatically.)

10) When creating content for guest blogging opportunities, include a call-to-action and link for readers to subscribe to your email updates in your author byline. (I need to be better at this!)

There are no doubt many other ways of growing your list. Best results come from a multi-pronged approach! When you’re browsing other people’s blogs and websites, notice how they do it. Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried these or other methods and how they work for you.

Building your email list, part 1


A few years ago marketers, were all speculating on the future of email. With the rise in popularity of social media, and the seemingly hopeless issue of how to control spam, email looked like it might go the same way as the printed phone directory or the audio cassette.

But email is as popular as ever as a marketing tool.

Why you should build an email list

When someone opts in to receive email updates, they have given their permission to be marketed to and are a pre-sold audience. Direct response rates for permission marketing are higher than just about any other kind. The sender can communicate on an individual level with people, and can control the timing and frequency of the message.

By way of contrast, if you want to use social networks for marketing purposes you can only really do so with paid advertising. This is not permission marketing in the sense of it being shown only to people who have asked to see it, it is interruption marketing, or the old-style 20th century tactics which most of us endure (for the sake of ‘free’ services) rather than invite.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with trying some interruption marketing – Facebook ads, for example, can be very effective in certain circumstances. But permission marketing, in the form of an opt-in email newsletter, needn’t cost anything except your time to set up, and the payback long term is that you build a bona fide list of fans. And one of the best things about an email list is that it’s portable – Facebook may disappear overnight, your website may go down, but your email list is yours to keep.

How to create a sign-up form

To start building your email list you need to set up a few things:

1) You need an account with an email marketing service. There are plenty to choose from, but a good free service that integrates easily with various platforms is Mailchimp, so in this article I’ll use that as an example. (The principles explained here are relevant whatever email platform you choose.)

2) Decide what you’re going to be sending out, and how often – this needs to go on your sign-up form. A regular newsletter is a commitment, so manage people’s expectations and don’t over-promise. ‘Occasional updates’ is fine if you don’t want to be tied to a set publication schedule, but it’s not as compelling as ‘A weekly firehose of essential information and writerly tips’ or whatever. As marketers always say, ‘sell the benefits’. You can always tweak this.

3) (Desirable but not essential) – you need a platform from which to sign people up – for example your blog or website, and/or a Facebook Page.

Once you’ve got this far, the next step is to create a list in Mailchimp, Constant Contact, AWeber or whichever service you have signed up for, and a sign-up form for that list. Here’s how to do it in Mailchimp:

From your Mailchimp dashboard select ‘Lists’ from the menu and ‘Create List’. (You can create multiply lists and groups within lists.)

Mailchimp - add list 1

Creating and saving a list is fairly straightforward. Mailchimp ‘Support’ files are very good if you get stuck.

When you have a list, it will show up under ‘Lists’ together with any others you create. To add a sign-up form, click on the down arrow next to the list name and select ‘Sign-up forms’:

Mailchimp lists 2

Here’s where it can get a bit complicated. There are different form types to choose from.

For now, choose ‘General Forms’ and you’ll be guided through setting up your basic form – adding or deleting fields, adding some introductory text, plus some basic customising of colours.

mailchimp general form

Once you’ve finished customising, you’ll see there’s a link to your form – ‘Sign-up Form URL’. If you don’t have a website, blog or anywhere else where you want to put the form, you can link here, from anywhere you like. This is the kind of thing people will see:

mailchimp hosted form

However, if you want the sign-up form in a widget on the sidebar or your blog, or on your Facebook page, or if you have a hosted blog (on Blogger or for example), you need to do a bit more work. Here’s where I hand you over to the excellent Mailchimp support articles:

How to add a sign up form to your website (‘Embedded form’)

How to add a sign-up form to a Blogger site

How to add a sign-up form to your self-hosted WordPress blog (not sites)

How to add a sign-up form to a Facebook Page

If you have a hosted blog, like mine at Poetgal, you won’t be able to embed your sign-up form in a widget, but there are ways to work around it. I actually have a sign-up form for my ‘Social Media Essentials’ email newsletter which is embedded in the side bar of this site (because it’s on a self-hosted WordPress platform), but I can’t embed it at Poetgal. So I just have a link to the hosted version of the ‘general’ form, which comes up in a new window when you click on the link:

Sign up form Poetgal

Having a sign-up form on your blog, or linking to a hosted version, is only really the first step in building your list. “If you build it they will come…”? Hmmm….not necessarily! In part 2 we’ll be looking at strategies to build your email subscriber list and examples of how to do it successfully.

When you have nothing to say – beating the social media blahs


It happens to us all – that sudden feeling that you’ve just got nothing much to say to the blogosphere, or the Twittersphere or whatever. It often coincides with that sinking feeling that everyone else seems to have endless ideas, inspiration, energy and motivation. How do you tackle it?

First of all, try to understand the problem – is it one of motivation? (‘Why am I doing this?’) Or finding the time? (‘I have too many other important things to do’) Or confidence? (‘No-one’s going to be interested in what I think’) Or even your general state of health & happiness? You may be physically or mentally exhausted, for example. We lead busy and complicated lives.

It’s crucial to be kind to yourself – nothing really terrible will happen if you don’t tweet for a week or blog for a month. If you need a break, take a break.

If you’ve started to build a social web presence and have found enjoyment from it, and if you still believe it’s something worth doing, there are things you can try that might help shake off the blahs and get you back to bouncing social media health.

‘Why am I doing this?’

Remind yourself it’s a slow process.

I often get told ‘I’m posting regularly to my blog and yet no-one comments.’ Or ‘If I post something to my Facebook Page and nobody comments or ‘likes’ it feels like a waste of time.’

We all need the positive affirmations that comments, likes and shares give us. But not everything you post will produce a visible effect. The vast majority of people using social media only comment on a tiny fraction of the updates they read, only read a fraction of what they see, and only see a fraction of what gets posted. It’s a big old iceberg out there, and it’s growing bigger all the time.

Rather than stressing about numbers of comments, likes etc (or lack of) remind yourself that you’re building your own social network one person at a time. Put your energies into that, and it will feel more rewarding. Reach out to other people on an individual level – add value to someone’s blog post with a good quality comment, thank someone for a link they posted on Twitter to an article you found useful, enrich your Facebook Page into a resource you’re proud to send people to when appropriate, don’t let it be just another promotional channel. Ask interesting questions, invite an expert to guest post on your blog.

‘I have too many other things to do’

I read two very interesting articles recently about this. One was quoting a study which found that people are happiest when they are focusing on one task only, and not letting their minds wander. It has nothing to do with how pleasurable the task is – you could be paying bills or making love. In today’s multi-tasking world it’s an interesting idea.

In another piece of research, it was found that having a ‘time scarcity’ mindset was crippling not only to our ability to think creatively, but also to how we are able to utilise effectively what little time we do have.  (A ‘time scarcity’ mindset means the feeling of being perpetually behind with things, general overwhelm, too many things needing our attention.) In other words, when we’re in that ‘I don’t have the time/I’m too busy’ zone, we’re less able to focus on the task at hand, so we can’t get as much done as we’d like, and it becomes a vicious circle. When we’re in this state (say the researchers) we tend to give a lower priority to things that aren’t urgent, to the detriment of our health, family, relationships and other long-term aspects of our lives.

Social media can seem to function at a frenetic pace. If you feel you’re struggling to keep up with people’s updates, or read all the blogs you’d like to, let alone do any posting or tweeting yourself, it’s worth reminding yourself that there are tools and tricks to help you manage your social media time, whether it’s having an editorial calendar for your blog, using an organising dashboard like Hootsuite, or installing an app to limit your time on social sites. And it’s better for body and soul to do one thing well, and slowly, than juggle five things because they’re all important.

‘Nobody is interested in what I think.’

This is a big one to unpack. First of all, you’d be surprised how many people are interested in what you think, what you say and how you say it. You’re a writer, so that gives you a head start: you know how to communicate. I’m not saying you just need to talk about what you had for dinner, although the fact that this has become such a cliche shows that plenty of people DO tweet about this and MANY of them have happy followers.

There are all kinds of social media guidelines about what to say or not to say, topics to avoid, how to entice people into following you or befriending you with great content or whatever. I’ve written a few myself! But they are only guidelines. We’re all making this up as we go along. There are examples everywhere of people breaking the ‘rules’ and chugging along very happily. Although the word ‘authentic’ has fallen from favour, I still believe it should be at the heart of any social media presence – which you are building one person at a time – so why expend energy on trying to create ‘ideal’ updates or worrying whether what you say won’t entertain or excite people every time. It’s your day-to-day life, not show business.

Sometimes it can be dispiriting to read about other people’s book deals, competition wins or successes. It’s as if everyone else is more successful AND they’re rubbing it in your face. But that’s a feeling we all have to deal with. I thought this piece on the subject was really helpful – How to Enjoy (and Not Envy) the Success of Others – especially the advice ‘don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides’. Indeed!

Every now and then someone will tell you how much they enjoy your blog posts or your Twitter updates or your Facebook Page and it will make your day. Keep on keeping on!

‘Blogging for Writers’ launch & blog tour

Blogging for Writers (UK edition) by Robin Houghton

In the last few weeks I’ve been busy with the launch of my new book, ‘Blogging for Writers’ (Ilex Press) and organising a blog tour to help promote it. Some wonderful writers are taking part, and it’s continuing through till the end of January 2015 (and possibly beyond! Some blogs have editorial schedules arranged months in advance.)

So I thought I would point you to a couple of blog posts that have already appeared.

On Emily Benet’s blog I wrote a guest post about how to create an editorial calendar. We all let the blogging slip from time to time (when book launches get in the way, for example!) but a calendar at least gives you a framework and a bank of ideas that you can call on when you’re really hit by ‘bloggers’ block’.

London-based Emily Benet is a fine writer who started off blogging, before getting her first book deal. Since then her writing career has really taken off. She also runs blogging workshops for writers. Here’s the post – A blogger’s best friend – the editorial calendar.

Yesterday I was interviewed on Tara Tyler Talks, the busy blog of fantasy author and writer of techno-futuristic thrillers, Tara Tyler. Tara asked me all kinds of interesting questions about blogging, marketing, Twitter and more, and here are my answers – Sprucing up the blog.

Tomorrow the book is getting a mention on the Facebook Page of acclaimed Scottish author Sara Sheridan, and coming up are more guest posts, interviews and reviews. I’ll keep you posted.

Now I’ve just got to consult my editorial calendar and schedule some more posts …:)

Sorting out your LinkedIn profile & privacy settings


You know how social networks can do annoying things you’re not expecting, like sending out alerts to everyone when you fiddle with your profile? LinkedIn seems to be the network I hear most comments about. It’s not the most intuitive of sites when it comes to adjusting one’s settings, yet leaving the default settings can lead to some surprises (the same can be said of Facebook.)

If you’re an aspiring writer looking for opportunities, new connections and wanting to be found on the web, then I do recommend having a presence on LinkedIn. Although it has many of the trappings of a social network, it’s actually the least social. You can join interest groups, start or join discussions, post updates, connect with people and all the rest. But you can also just set up your profile page and that’s it. There’s no huge obligation to do a lot more, unlike say Facebook or Twitter where no activity can seem like you’ve abandoned ship.

Whether you like it or not, LinkedIn is the go-to place on the web when checking out a person’s professional background. It has helped me out many times when I’ve wanted the real story about a person or a company, not the hype. LinkedIn encourages you to fill in all areas of your CV, and make them public. It’s funny how a quick glance at a person’s background often tells you everything you need to know, and then some!

If the thought of laying yourself bare on LinkedIn makes you nervous, not to worry – you can control how much people see and who sees what. Having said that, there’s no point being on LinkedIn if you’re going to be overly cagey. Concealing more than you reveal can look suspicious!

It’s worth spending a little time sorting out your LinkedIn privacy and profile settings so that you have them as you want them.

First of all, log into LinkedIn and access your settings by hovering over your avatar top right:

LinkedIn settings

Click on ‘Privacy and Setttings’. You may well be asked to sign in again at this point, as another precaution. You’re then on a page with a number of sub-sections:

LinkedIn privacy & profile settings main

In the grey section top of page you can change or manage the basics of your account such as email address or password, or upgrade option.

Bottom left is a menu with four sections – Profile, Communications, Groups, companies and applications, and Account. For now we’re looking at Profile, so click on that you see two columns, on the left is – Privacy Controls and on the right Settings and Helpful links.  The left hand column is the one to focus on for now – I’m going to go through each item and explain what you need to think about.

NB If you make changes don’t forget to Save Changes for each item you change.

Turn on/off your activity broadcasts
If you’re happy for everyone to see when you make changes your profile, make recommendations, follow companies or do other activity on LinkedIn, then leave this box checked. Not everyone wants their activity made public. But on the other hand, a change can be a prompt for someone to get in touch. If you’re tweaking your profile for keywords or trying things out, turn this off. Every small change will trigger a ‘broadcast message’ to your network.

Select who can see your activity feed
This refers to your status updates, articles or blog posts – basically they stuff you choose to put out there (rather than back office tweaks and changes). There’s not much point setting this to ‘Only me’. ‘Your Connections’ means those people you are linked in and only them. ‘Your network’ means your connections plus their connections – potentially a very big number. You can see just how big – LinkedIn tells you this in the right hand column of the home page when you’re logged in:

Your Network (size)

Select what others see when you’ve viewed their profile
Do you want people to know you’ve been checking out their profile? If you’re carrying out research prior to pitching a proposal, you may not want an editor, agent or publisher’s employees think you’re stalking them. On the other hand, you might want to draw attention to yourself. You have three options here and they’re all explained:

LinkedIn - what others see

Who can see your connections
Only your Connections can see who else you’re connected to, it’s not publicly visible. However, any endorsements you have are visible. One of the advantages of being connected to someone is that you can see who they know – if there’s someone you want to contact you can request an introduction (although there’s no obligation for your Connection to agree.) If you’d rather people didn’t know who you knew, you can check the ‘Only me’ option here.

Change your profile photo and visibility
Here’s where you can change not just your photo but all the other sections of your profile – Summary, Education, Publications, Experience and so forth. Your connections can see everything you publish here. But you can limit what is seen by everyone else (not connected to you) under your Public Profile settings – see below.

There are two things that are easy to miss on this screen – first of all, just below and to the side of your photo is a blue button ‘View Profile as’. Click on this and you can check what parts of your profile are visible to different types of visitors. The other thing is next to this blue button – hover over the little arrow and several options are revealed.

Edit profile options

Did you know you could create a parallel LinkedIn profile in another language? You have to do the translating yourself, but LinkedIn gives you a separate URL for your foreign-language profile. You can also save your entire profile to a print-ready PDF – including your recommendations, which may be very useful to have as a hard copy. And it’s formatted very professionally. The last option is the important one for now – Manage Public Profile Settings. Click on this and you’re into a screen with a set of options on the right:

LinkedIn public profile settings

Basically you can select what bits of your profile are visible to people other than your Connections, and how much is revealed about you in web searches. You can also edit your public profile URL and make it something user-friendly. If you’re still using a URL with a load of number in it, why not change it to your name?

Now go back to your Privacy and Settings page (yes, you might have to sign in again!) and there are three more things under ‘Privacy Controls’: they are Turn On/Off How you rank, which I wouldn’t worry too much about, Show/hide “Viewers of this profile also viewed” box and Manage who you’re blocking, both of which are pretty much self-explanatory. With any luck you won’t have to block anyone, but the facility is there – click on the option to find out more.


Show your face on the web with a Gravatar


You’ve probably seen them around the web, on blogs, forums and author profiles – those little images next to people’s names. They’re called avatars, and they’re applied automatically whenever you post or comment. The good news is you don’t have set up your avatar again and again on every blog and media site you encounter, because the majority of them display the results from one place – Gravatar.

Gravatar stands for ‘Globally Recognised Avatar’, and it refers both to the individual icon itself (your Gravatar) and the site where you create one ( As with most web apps, there’s no guarantee Gravatar will be around forever, but for the moment it seems to be stable and it’s recognised as an industry standard. Which is why I think it’s worth your while setting up your Gravatar if you haven’t already.

If you’re anything like me, you put a low priority on things like filling out your profiles, uploading profile images and keeping things up to date. There just seems to be too much else to do. But once you’ve set up your Gravatar you can kind of forget about it.

If you don’t yet have a Gravatar, chances are when you comment on a blog, or in the top right hand corner of your screen when you’re editing your WordPress blog, what you see is a grey shape or something anonymous, like this:

Anonymous user gravatar

Nobody wants to be a grey, mystery man! As you post comments on blogs, and are joining in conversations on the web, you want people to remember you. Research has shown that showing your face creates greater levels of trust, more shares and more interaction. Anonymity is too often associated with having something to hide. There’s nothing for it but to get yourself a decent Gravatar and join the people with faces.

Getting a Gravatar is simple and best of all it’s free. Signup at, upload a photo – I always recommend a good, clear headshot – fill in a short profile, and really that’s it.

Most WordPress themes already come with Gravatar integrated (which means Gravatars will be displayed with your readers’ comments). But Gravatar is used on many, many sites, not just WordPress.

There are all kinds of add-on benefits to having a Gravatar, for example Hovercards – which means when you mouseover someone’s Gravatar you see their profile – it comes with blogs and can be added as a plugin to a self-hosted WordPress blog. Here’s an example of how it looks:

gravatar hovercards

You can see Gravatar in action in the foot of this post – I’ve installed a plugin called ‘Author Bio Box’ which displays your Gravatar information at the end of your blog posts. This is particularly good if you have guest bloggers or if there’s more than one of you running your blog.

You can change your Gravatar if you wish, but sometimes it takes a while to see the changes across the web. Try clearing your browser’s cache too, especially if you use Chrome, as Chrome sometimes keeps loading old versions of Gravatars even after you’ve made changes.

If you’re interested in how to build trust online there’s a ton of great stuff that’s been done in this area. Take a look at this blog post on Social Media Examiner, or read Chris Brogan’s book Trust Agents.