Author Archives: jax

About jax

With 8 years experience in programming, and 10 years experience in blogging, it was obvious that at some point I'd start a technology blog. This is my third attempt to keep it regularly updated!

How to choose a host for your shiny new wordpress website.

So, you’ve listened to the talks on self hosting your website, you’ve read around on the issues that using wordpress.com or blogger or other free systems might imply and you’ve decided to take the leap.

You know you need a domain name, and a host. But what are those things, where do you get them, and what do they mean?

Domain names

The domain name is the bit that you type at the top of your browser, the person friendly word based address for your website. (A more technical explanation of all of this can be found here.) You buy it from a registrar, and I tend to recommend that you use a registrar separate to your host, because if it all goes pear shaped you don’t want to be trying to transfer domain names as well as all your files. Personally I use lowcostnames – they are reasonably priced, and don’t sting you on renewal.

Then it’s time to look for a host.

Hosting

When you’re just starting out, you don’t need a dedicated server (the machine that all the actual files sit on), shared hosting will be fine. This just means that you are using a server that lots of other people use too, and that you are sharing the IP – there’s some funky software that keeps all the sites separate both in terms of people viewing it, and in terms of you managing it at the back end.

You won’t need a huge amount of storage space to begin with – because you are optimising your pictures for the web before you upload them, aren’t you? And you won’t need a massive amount of bandwidth (this is how the traffic to and from your site is measured) until you’re seeing a reasonable number of visitors.

Personally, I look for CPanel as the hosting interface – it’s well structured and has everything you can need. It also (usually)provides a one click installation for wordpress, meaning that your life stays simple and you don’t have to start installing via ftp (which is not that difficult, but just adds to the stress levels when you’re starting out). Do check that the host you are looking at does provide this though, it has been known for people to turn it off.

Some recommendations (which include affiliate links – please see my affiliate linking policy if you’ve any queries about this):

TSOhost – I haven’t used them personally, but I know a lot of people who have and seem very happy. Use code blogfest to get 10% off (not sure whether that applies to their lowest priced package).

EUKhost – we’ve been recommending these people for around 10 years, and not heard any complaints.

ezpzhosting – we have a server here, and they are excellent.

You can also check out a variety of webhosting review sites – be aware that many of the links on those will be affiliate links as well.

Once you’ve got the domain name and hosting sorted out, and pushed your one click button, the next step will be making your site look pretty – coming soon.

Twitter cards for blogspot users

I’ve previously written on implementing twitter cards on wordpress and in a comment on that post was asked if it could be achieved for blogger.

The answer is of course yes, and I found a number of articles claiming to achieve it, but none really seemed straightforward to me, so here’s my own recipe.

(To recap, a twitter card is a tweet with some extra bits on it. Like this one. This is a twitter card set up against a blogspot blog, using the instructions below.)

Header code.

You need to put some code in the header of your template.

I’ve put my snippet right before the closing tag.(click to see bigger)

editing template in blogger

My code looks like this:

Two points
1) Change the @YOURTWITTERNAMEHERE in this code to your own twitter name.
2) This code is relying on you having set a metaDescription on each post. You should be doing that for search engine friendliness reasons (I’m assuming you want to be friendly to search engines anyway.)

If you don’t have this switched on, this twitter card configuration won’t work.

Turning on metaDescriptions

To turn metaDescriptions ON you need to go to Settings> Search description and enable search descriptions.

enable search description

Then when you’re editing, fill it in on the left.

search description

Validate your new twitter card

After you’ve done all this, you’ll want to check that your card validates.

Go to the Twitter card validator on twitter itself and use the try card section. Or if you’re feeling brave, just skip to validate and apply – filling in the url of a post you’ve made that has a description and everything else.

Once you’re happy with how it validates, you have to apply to twitter for the code to actually work – in my experience this takes minutes. There are of course other twitter cards as well as summary cards, you’d have to tweak the code above if you want a different one, if you do that, please do let me know!

How to get a new twitter widget to fix that broken tweetstream.

Twitter API upgrade leads to broken twitter widgets

At the end of last week, Twitter upgraded API from 1.0 to 1.1. (API is how external sites link to twitter’s code.) The result was that lots and lots of tweetstreams on blogs and sites around the internet broke.

It’s likely that if you’re in that situation, you’re hoping that a developer is just going to roll out a fix, you’ll press an upgrade button, and all will be well again. Sadly, that’s not the case. The new design means that you’ve got to create a twitter app to make most plugins work, or your developer may need your twitter login to do it for you.

The twitter widget – a simpler option

There is a simpler option. Remove the plugin/ broken widget, and get yourself a shiny new twitter widget. No log in needed, and all customisable.

Pop over to twitter here and fill in the settings.

create twitter  widget

There are some options you can use to customise your code.

The ones you are most likely to want are:

data-theme=”dark” – light! Always light! (The default is light, so if you want light, you don’t need this bit at all.)
data-link-color=”#cc0000″ – probably nice to set this to be the same colour as the navigation links on your site?
data-tweet-limit=”3″ – personally I think 5 is a nice number.

But I don’t want a widget!

For wordpress obviously there are a number of plugins. Some of them, including the one I’ve been using based on the Genesis framework, haven’t been updated yet. The drawback is that even if you use them, you have to create a twitter app, which means going to twitter, and doing set up, and putting in your user details. By the time you’ve done that, you might as well do the widget instead. The widget solution is actually more straightforward, and isn’t affected by rate limits, whereas I think apps are.

What do you do with your widget code? You need to paste it into your sidebar. For wordpress I’ve used a text widget which takes html, and that’s worked fine so far.

As always, do check out the terms and conditions of use of this sort of thing – for example, while embedding a single tweet is fine, it looks to me that a conversation with interspersed comment is not (see Display Requirements, point 6), which makes me wonder how come storify is still running. But there you go. Enjoy your widget!

Twitter cards – what they are and how to integrate.

Twitter cards are the latest upgrade to twitter that allows you to add extra information to your tweet when sharing a link. They come in a number of different formats – the one that is most likely to be useful to a business or personal blog is the summary card, which adds a headline, excerpt and pic. Big platforms like wordpress.com have already implemented cards for their users – but it’s easy to do if you’re self hosted as well.

Still not sure what they are? Here’s an example – my first tweeted article from technology solved that includes a twitter card.

The card gives you that extra bit under the 140 characters, and hopefully makes your tweet that little bit more enticing to encourage click through. You’ve probably seen them on twitter from newspaper articles at the very least.

As you might imagine, there are a number of different ways to implement them for your site. Yoast’s WordPress SEO has a twitter section under social if you’re using it, or you can go for a standalone plugin that just does the card integration, which is what I’ve opted for this time, using Twitter Cards.

The plugin doesn’t require any set up, but you do then go to validate it at twitter itself. I was a bit dismayed once I’d filled in all the fields to get a message saying I’d get feedback in a few weeks – but being the impatient sort, I tested it anyway, and it worked fine.

Big hint: twitter cards apply to individual articles, *not* to your home page. If you look for the markup in your homepage you won’t find it, and if you try to validate your home page it will fail. Work from a post within your site. (There, I’ve just saved you the ten minutes I wasted doing it wrong earlier!) Also, it seems that short link tweets from the jetpack publicise don’t get the card associated with them, possibly because it’s not showing the validated domain?

And that’s about all there is to it. So off you pop and give it a whirl, and let me know how you get on. If you found this article useful, don’t forget to follow the blog either via email or on G+.

The absolute basics of SEO.

basics of SEO wordcloud

There’s an awful lot of nonsense spouted about search engine optimisation, as if it’s a difficult topic. It’s not. Here are the basics of SEO as I see them. Your mileage may vary.

A post should be 300-500 words. Good content is written for people, but works for search engines too. A good post summarises the topic in the title, and in the first paragraph, talks about in the main text and summarises in the final paragraph. It’s the tell them three times principle – tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them.

Stick to the point – don’t wander or go off topic. This gives you naturally keyword rich text. (If you’ve got something else to talk about, write another article!)

Use a good platform, like wordpress, which lays the article out well for you. You can use a plugin like wordpress seo from yoast, which will check your text for you and make sure you’ve got the words you need in the right places. WordPress also promotes good site navigation, allowing your readers, and visiting spiders to find all your content easily.

Lift relevant content into your current article by deep linking to related articles. This promotes your authority as having a bank of material on your topic.

And after that, it’s about the promotion, which is where the social media and social search is increasingly coming in. You need to set up authorship, so that search results have that smiling face in them. Brands/ businesses probably also ought to have a page, (facebook and g+) so that they can have a unified presence, but authorship is about individuals.

There’s also something possibly coming in about author rank, which is about authority of that author, but that’s not confirmed yet, so may or may not be worth worrying about. If you’re doing content building and authorship well, author rank should flow naturally out of it.

People will tell you it’s all about the backlinks. Once upon a time that might have been the case, though that can be argued. It’s increasingly less so. Good content will promote inlinks and sharing, which will do the same thing anyway.

So there you go. The basics of SEO coming down, as always to good content, presented well.

How to improve your page load speed using pingdom.

Why would you check your page load speed in the first place?

If you’re like me, you hate hanging around waiting for a page to load. So have you considered checking how speedy your own blog is? There are some simple tests you can do to check what’s going on – one resource I’ve used is called pingdom, and it highlighted a quick and easy fix I could do that improved my page load time.

I tested my lovely personal blog Making it up – it’s quite a busy site and so I think it’s important that’s it’s reactive.

First test result

Speed test result 1

Speed test result 1

Not bad, but I might be able to do better. So I check through the results and find a warning.

missingfiledetails

Take action

I’ve got a missing file – icon-dot.png. And as it’s called from my theme it’s going to affect every page on my site. Not good. Very easy to fix though – I go and look for it and put it back where it should be.

And retest.

speedtest2I’ve gone up two percent against the rest of the test base. Dropped my load time from 2.51s to 2.36s. Not a huge improvement, but if you’ve more than one problem you could easily get a much more exciting result.

Just to confirm:

filedetails

That’s the miscreant file, returned to its proper position. You can see its little load bar is looking much better.

Pingdom is a great tool for testing out the page load speed of your website – and often you can find little problems, easy to fix, that will make a big difference.

(To be fair, I’d already done a variety of other interesting improvements to help with load time, but I’m letting them bed down properly before I write them up. You’ll probably want to check back to see how I get on – why not subscribe to my RSS?)

 

Terminology untangled – anchor text and links, or how to make them work for you.

I think we’ve got to a point now, if you’ve made it to this website, where you know what a URL is. (I’m not talking about what it stands for, which is Uniform Resource Locator, but what it is.) It’s that thing you type in the address bar to get to a website – it starts with http:// and includes the domain name and so on. And most people know if they want to add a link in to their post, they need to copy that in. But do you know how to make it look pro? WordPress gives you a tool for it. If you’re in the visual editor it’s right there, looks like this linkicon     When you click it you get this little box linkinsertbox

Now, it’s fairly obvious that you put the place you want to link to in the top slot. But what’s the title all about? Well, that comes up if you mouseover a link. It’s used by some screenreaders, but absolutely shouldn’t be stuffed with SEO stuff, so don’t even go there.

Now you might notice that there’s some text in my paragraph that’s linked there. I did that by selecting the text *before* I clicked the link tool. And the text that is hyperlinked is called the anchor text – it’s information about what the link is going to be about. So, if you want to link to someone’s blog, for example, you might write about Not different but interesting, then select that text, click your link tool, insert the URL and away you go. You’ve got to admit it looks better in the flow of your post than having http://notdifferentbutinteresting.wordpress.com hyperlinked? And it tells the reader (and the search engines) what you think that link is about. Wins all round. Give it a try next time you want to put a link in. (Note blogger has a similar tool. The dialog is a bit better though: bloggerlinkdialog

So it’s got a place to type in the text, makes it plain what you’re putting in linkwise, and even mentions rel=nofollow. If you want to do that on wordpress, you’re going to need a plugin or the text bit of your editor. Let’s cover that, and why you might want to use it, in another post.)

More on G+ – authorship on self hosted wordpress including multi author sites.

Yesterday I wrote about how to claim authorship for your wordpress.com site. The technique I used included displaying a profile badge on your blog. You might not want to do that (perhaps you’d like to display a page badge instead, more on that in another article), or you may have more than one author on your site, like I have on Making it up, so need something a little different.

Don’t worry, this is still straightforward. There are plugins, such as Yoast, that will achieve this for you, or you may be able to do it with your theme, particularly if you’re using a premium theme like Genesis from Studio press, but it’s very simple to do it yourself. Basically, there are two steps.

Step 1 – each author needs to list your blog in the contributing section of their google profile.

So my profile looks like this:
g+ profile showing contributing sites (as ever, click to embiggen).

Step 2.
In your wordpress admin, find users on the left hand side. Select, then select yourself. In the biographical info section, you’re going to put your g+ profile link with the rel=”author” tag. So mine looks like this:
wordpress user info showing biographical info field

And I’ve got code looking like this:

in there.

(If you cut and paste this handy code, do remember to swap out my name and profile number for yours!)

If you’ve only the one author, you’re done. Otherwise, you repeat for each individual author.

You can test that you’ve got it all working fine by using the rich snippet testing tool.

If you have any problems getting this working, do let me know via the comments box, or ping me on twitter or even via g+ ;)