Category Archives: Blogging

Articles about blogging, platforms, techniques and so on.

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 – 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?)

 

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+ ;)

Getting into the g+ groove – google authorship and wordpress.com

There’s a new social network in town, and it’s not going to go away in a hurry. If you’re getting ready to hangout on g+ (see what I did there?) one of the things you should be thinking about is claiming authorship. Don’t know what that is?

Quite simple. If you try checking out the search listings these days, you should see some articles come up with a fetching headshot of the author next to them.  Those authors have claimed authorship of that article via google. You can claim authorship across multiple sites, but for today I’m going to concentrate on wordpress.com blogs.

After some experimentation, it seems to me there are two major ways to claim authorship on your site. One is by displaying a badge on your site, which has its own difficulties, given that you can’t use javascript on wordpress.com and the nice tool Google has supplied only seems to build javascript.

Before we go any further, you do have a G+ profile don’t you? You’re going to need one. You can pop off and create one now if you like, I’ll wait.

Right, here’s how to build a nice badge that links to your G+ article. The google tool to do it is here. Even though it says it’s a static tool, it looks to me that it’s building javascript, so that’s not going to do wordpress.com authors any good at all. Fear not, I have a solution. This is the code I’m using on my wordpress.com site, Let’s raise the roof.

You will want to swap out the long number in the link for your own profile number – you don’t really want to be displaying my badge all over the place! But this code should give you a nice badge for your site. I’ve put it in a footer widget as I don’t have a sidebar, but wherever you can that displays it on every page really.

Then you need to go back to your google+ profile and make sure you’ve added the site to the contributing section.

You’ll want to test that it’s all working – google have handily supplied a rich snippet testing tool.

I also have an author tagged link in my about page although I’m not convinced this is completely necessary if you’ve got the badge all over the place. Do let me know if you find differently.

(Again, swap me out for you.)

If all that has worked, it’s probably time for a cup of tea. And maybe a biscuit. Sit back and congratulate yourself.

Now, I’ve every reason to think that this would work fine if your site is self hosted, but what if you don’t want to display a g+ profile badge on every page, or you want to show a page badge, or you have multiple authors? Don’t worry. The article that covers all of those is coming up tomorrow. Stay tuned. (Or even subscribe to the RSS feed so you never miss a thing.)

Ten minute tip – Jetpack extra sidebar widgets.

Yesterday I posted about adding sharing and following options to this blog, and the solution I settled on was Jetpack.

I’m not 100% happy with the sharing buttons. It appears that you can’t customise the tweet that goes out without hacking adjusting the code yourself, and while I’m perfectly capable of getting down and dirty with php, I really don’t want to have to. Also I’m not about to be going round recommending to my lovely readers that they do that – there are all sorts of problems inherent in wading into core files, not least that whatever you have working now, might not next time you upgrade. And that’s if you don’t do anything horrid to your install in the first place ;)

So, jury is out on the sharing options. But what I did need was a box in the sidebar that allowed people to subscribe, and in the mahoosive page of options within the jetpack configuration, there was one labelled extra sidebar widgets that promised just that.

So I clicked on that option,

Jetpack options - extra sidebar widgets

went into the page and added the widget.

Blog subscription options

I also discovered while wandering around the options, that I sent out an email yesterday with the greeting howdy at the top of it. I do apologise for that, Nickie. So, further hints and tips when you are using Jetpack to offer email subscription, go into Settings>Reading and customise the email that is sent out. Unless you’re happy saying Howdy to people. Maybe you are.

And as all of that still only took about 5 minutes, rather than the 10 I’m limiting these posts too, I went for broke and added a facebook page widget. As I’m currently the only person liking the page, it’s a bit embarrassing and I may take it off. Can’t quite decide whether I want the twitter feed there. Hm.

Thoughts?

I’d be really grateful if anyone who finds these posts useful would let me know with a quick tweet or a comment. And if you don’t find them useful but there’s something else I could be helping you with, let me know about that too.

Ten minute tip – sharing and following.

As has been pointed out to me by a few people already, this blog didn’t have a follow by email option. RSS exists for wordpress, though I haven’t done anything to highlight how to subscribe, but the drawback of using plain RSS is that you don’t get any stats on who is following you.

There are, obviously, ways around this. The biggest and best known way is probably feedburner, which is now owned by google. The drawback to that is that google has deprecated the api, which is a technical way of saying that they aren’t developing it any more, may well cease to support it and eventually it just won’t work. Given that moving subscribers between services can be rather a pain, and the feedburner stats have been flakey to say the best, that means it’s no longer top of my recommendations list.

If you discuss this on twitter at any point, you will very quickly hear from one @phollows. He is the founder of FeedBlitz, a feedburner alternative. He has a tutorial on how you migrate from Feedburner to Feedblitz, and I suspect it’s a good alternative for businesses, but it may be just too pricey for bloggers as you are charged by email subscriber.

Another option is Mailchimp, which until you’ve got 2000 subscribers, is free. Free is a word I’m fond of. This isn’t a system I’ve tried though, so I’ve now run out of things to tell you about it ;)

When I asked on twitter for other suggestions, there was only one person who spoke up, Mummy Barrow. She uses subscribe2 from within wordpress – it’s a plugin. I took a look at it, and it’s what I would call option lite until you start paying, and as I’m trying to avoid paying, I’m moving on again.

Plugins within wordpress did look like a good option though, and so I started to investigate Jetpack. As I mentioned previously, it’s now possible to migrate at least some of your followers from wordpress.com to a self hosted wordpress blog if you’re using Jetpack, so that looks like a good starting position. It does far more than manage email subscription, but as this is a ten minute post, I won’t explore more than following and sharing at this point. Configuring the following options for email was as simple as ticking a couple of tickboxes in a settings page, and I now offer email subscriptions.

I had installed Addthis to manage my sharing buttons, but somewhere between me using them on my personal blog and setting them up on here, the layout appears to have gone seriously askew. So I am uninstalling them, and will explore the Jetpack features for sharing as well.

Configuring the Jetpack sharing buttons is just a case of dragging the buttons you want to display into a box. It doesn’t look like I can configure the tweet that will be sent out, but I may be missing something – I’m running out of my ten minutes though, so I’ll come back to that later.

The blog is now set up to be followed and shared – I hope that you’ll do both :)

Ten minute tip – Back up your blog.

You know it makes sense. You’ve put your heart and soul into that writing, you do not want to lose it.

So the first in my ten minute tip series is Back up your Blog.

As WordPress is my platform of choice, we’ll go through that first. If you’re self hosted, there are actually a variety of back up techniques, but the first one I’m going to cover is the simplest, and applies to wordpress.com as well. Go into your dashboard, scroll down to tools, find export. This will download a file containing all your posts, comments, categories and so on, and if necessary you can import it into a whole new wordpress blog.

It looks something like this. (Click to see larger.)

There are other back up techniques, particularly if you’re self hosted, but this one is quick and easy to get your content out and you’ll have everything you need *except* your template/widgets and any CSS customisations. But as you can install themes separately, the widgets are the only thing that you might have to redo manually in the event of an unscheduled move.

Get into a habit of doing a backup regularly – make an appointment with yourself weekly in your google calendar and set a reminder.

If you’re on blogger, basically you’ve got the same ability , you’re looking again under tools for an export blog section. You can find a detailed tutorial over at Geekalicious – Back up your blogger blog.

If you are self hosted you can use ftp to copy all the files that make up your blog, though you will still have to export the data separately. I’ll be doing a separate post on that very soon.

Another way of making sure you have your content regularly is to set up an email subscription and subscribe to it. Similarly you can get your comments emailed to you from most systems.

If I’ve missed anything out or you have questions, feel free to ping me on twitter @liveotherwise, or leave me a comment here.