When the right sidebar on my blog started getting really long and cluttered, I decided that I needed to try to find a three-column template. Since installing it, I’ve had several people ask me how I did it. I thought I’d share how I did it and a few tips that I picked up, with the understanding that I know just enough HTML to be dangerous, so I am definitely not an expert. Also, keep in mind, these tips are for Blogger only since that’s the platform I use.
The very first thing I would suggest for anyone thinking of making major changes to their blog is to back up your blog. You can do this on the template layout “change HTML” page. I copied and pasted mine (after clicking the “expand widgets” button) to NoteTab Light, which is a free download.
The next step is to set up a practice blog so that you know everything works like it should before you try to install changes on your existing blog. You can go into your Blogger account and create a new blog for just this purpose. I set mine to private and made sure that it doesn’t publish to any feeds, so anything I do there is only seen by me. (This makes a nice place for typing up blog posts, too, in case you were to accidentally hit publish before you’re ready for the world to see your post. Um, yeah, I’ve done that once or twice.)
After you’ve got your blog backed up and have your practice blog set up, you’ll want to find your new template. I searched for a three-column version of my existing template. I found one at Blogger Buster, after searching for “Rounders (my template name…you’d insert your template name here) three column template.”
Once you find your template, you have to download it to your computer, then, upload it to Blogger. You can’t copy and paste it from the screen that will pop up. Ask me how I know. ;-)
Because the template you’ll be installing is not a Blogger template, you will lose your widgets (a.k.a. “add-ons” or “gadgets”) when you install it. If you’re like me, you would just as soon not have a new template as to lose your widgets. Not to fear, you can work around this.
There are tutorials online about how to add a new template without losing your widgets, but I didn’t have much luck with them. What I do, which is a little time-consuming, (but not as time-consuming as trying to figure out those tutorials!) is to add my widgets to my new template on my practice blog. You don’t necessarily have to add all the information, just a widget to be a place holder. For example, if you have a blog roll on your current blog, add a blog roll widget to your practice blog. You won’t have to add all the blogs; they will automatically be placed there as long as Blogger can find the widget. Some other widgets for which you can just use a place holder are: lists, labels and archives.
For some widgets, you will have to copy and paste the information that they contain. HTML codes are an example of this type of widget.
Once you’ve got your practice blog looking like you want it, you can click the “expand widgets” box and copy all the code. Then, go to your existing blog, highlight and delete the code there (make sure you’ve backed everything up!), and paste the code from your practice blog.
The next step is to preview your template. Never, ever hit “save template” until you’re completely satisfied with the new one (with one exception, which I’ll cover next). If everything looks the way you want it, you can hit save. If there are any widgets that you have missed, you’ll get a message indicating which ones are going to be deleted. At this point, you can either put your old code back in or accept that some things are going to be lost and be willing to add them back in later.
The one exception to being completely satisfied with the way the new code looks is that widgets will often be thrown into weird places. For example, when I changed mine, my blog button was under the wrong heading, as was the code for it and a few other things like that. For this reason, I like to do any changes to my blog late at night, so that I’ve got a chance to clean it up before anyone else is likely to see it. As long as everything is there, I don’t mind spending some time cleaning it up and putting things back where they go. So, you can expect to have to do some rearranging when you install a new template.
So, there you have it: my tips on installing a new, custom template. I will remind you again that this is not to be considered expert advice, but rather what I’ve done. Hey, it’s worked for me. If anyone else has had a different experience or has some other tips to offer, I’d love for you to share them.