10 Things I am Pretty Sure I am sure about WordPress

 

 

The title for this is inspired by Alton Brown who gives a talk called “10 Things I am pretty sure I am sure about Food”. It changes over time as he swaps out different elements but is very funny all the same.

See my Links page for links to all plugins mentioned in this article.

1. What the heck is WordPress?

WordPress is a web based content management system. There are four things it has to have to live. An OS, the operating system. This can be Linux, Windows, Mac OS. There are probably others but those are the top three. It has to have a web server, usually it is Apache but lately more and more providers are using Nginx. It needs to have a database, this is usually in 99% of the installs, MySQL an open source database platform. And lastly and this is non-negotiable, it has to have a programming language called PHP. Now you don’t really have to know much about any of that if you are using a hosting provider and they say they support WordPress and with WordPress powering 21+% of the Internet’s websites run on WordPress. According to managewp.com, 74.6 million websites depend on WordPress. Some of the biggest websites in the world depend and run their site on WordPress. NBC Sports, TED, TechCruch, CNN, CBS, Time, The New York Times, Dow Jones, UPS, just to name a few. Okay so some of you are probably stuck at the first sentence about WordPress, content management system. You give it content, a blog post, a picture, a video, whatever and WordPress makes it easy to publish.

2. WordPress is very easy to get started with.

WordPress has the famous five minute install. And if your hosting provider has Scriptalicious or other automation scripts, it could happen in three.

The issue with easy is that often you are given choices and lulled into a false sense of accomplishment because, hey, this is a wizard. I can’t pick a wrong answer, right? Also it is very customizable in that you can use themes to give it a certain look and you can use what are called plugins to give your WordPress functionality it either doesn’t have or that needs to be improved.

3. Every Picture tells a story.

Blogging is a visual art. WordPress makes it super easy to post pictures to your site. And pictures are often what draws people to read your content. Here are some easy ways to find “free” pictures for your site. Go to images.google.com in your browser, type in what you are searching for and then we need to change a search setting. You want to select, “Search tools” and then select “Labeled for reuse with modification” This means whoever posted the image said it was okay to download it and modify it for any purpose you want including commercial use. If you are blogging for fun and not for profit, you can choose “Labeled for noncommercial reuse with modification”. Granted this will mean there aren’t a lot of images as not every one designates. Additionally this isn’t foolproof but it does mean you tried in good faith to use an image no one would mind. Hubspot.com gives away a lot of great free advice on blogging and social media and it also gives away a fair amount of free stock images. You can also get images from flcker.com that are licensed under Creative Commons, but you must read each images licesning. Some give their pictures away but want a blurb about where they came from. Respect other people’s content and usually they will respect yours. Put dashes in your photo names so Google can use the image information to improve indexing of your site. Also, use Alt Text on every picture. This is good for those who can’t see well or at all and for search engines.

Google Image Search by license type

4. I have a need for speed.

Google doesn’t like slow sites and neither do readers on the Internet. Here are some quick tips on how to speed up your WordPress Site.

Squish your pictures. Most of the time we seem to post the largest picture in the world into our page. Sure everyone has fast Internet (or actually they don’t.) According to a Pew Study in August 2013, only 70% of America has access to broadband Internet. So assume someone is still looking at your site using a 56k modem with your site.

Two plugins I have used are “WP Smush It” which uses Yahoo’s image shrinker but doesn’t work with images over 2 Meg and “EWWW Image Optimizer” Both are free and work great.

Next, turn on gzip compression on your site. You can’t do this inside WordPress, instead this is done in Cpanel on your hosting providers site. The backend web server your hosting provider is using is probably Apache or Nginx. Inside Cpanel, there should be a place that says “Optimize Website” go there and turn on compression. Basically your web browser supports compressed web pages. The web server can send the pages to you compressed and your browser will decompress them on the fly. Smaller files, faster content delivery.
Optimize Website

There are more plugins that optimize your site by compressing JavaScript and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) ahead of time for you by basically removing the white space from inside the file. I use the plugin AutoOptimize. The process of getting rid of the white space in the file is called minifying. It minifies and compresses your JavaScript and CSS files.

Additionally you need a caching plugin of some time. WP Super Cache is one. There are many but that one gets a lot of buzz. Since WordPress pages are usually Dynamic, it takes your dynamic page and turns in into a static page. This means the PHP engine on your web server that creates the page on the fly and then sends it doesn’t have to do the rendering part. So pages are faster as the static pages are loaded into the memory of your hosting provider’s web servers. RAM is always faster than reading from a hard drive. If you have a page that really is dynamic, you can remove that page from caching so that it is rendered and them delivered. I will talk about another plugin that does caching in a minute. You can only run one caching plugin or bad things happen.

There are more ways to speed up your site but those are good starts.

Also test your site using Google Page Speed or Pingdom.com.

5. How to make search engines love you aka My Grandma uses the MSN search box

If rare exception, if Google doesn’t know about you, you don’t exist. In case you didn’t know it, all the cool kids run Chrome as their web browser of choice. But my Grandma’s computer came with Internet Explorer and it is the only browser she knows. And when she brings up IE, it brings up the MSN page by default. And as soon as the page loads it changes focus to the search box. How many of you have seen people type in the web address into the MSN search box aka Bing and then click on the first link on the search results page? And this is how they go everywhere. Also Grandma is running IE8 but that is another problem for another day. She is patient but I don’t look forward to explaining Chrome is also a browser to her.

MSN IE Search Box

 

So I worked on a site for an organization. Their hosting provider was super expensive and so when I took over I asked if I could move the hosting and move to WordPress. The last thing I said was it would be cheaper and easier to manage. And of course, they said yes. So I moved it. But how I surf the Internet is not how all people search the Internet. So I started getting complaints some of the group could not find their site. They said they were going to a another site with a similar name. So I called one of them up and they told me how they got to our site. MSN. So we were not the top hit on MSN. So I went into action. This meant I needed to do two things. 1)Put the site on MSN’s web crawler and 2)Put it on Google’s. While Google does 80% of search in the world, it is not the search engine of MSN, Bing is. Google and Bing both have webmaster tools. And both like sitemaps. A sitemap is an XML (extensible markup language) representation of the structure and layout of your site. So I use a plugin (that nags to get you to buy their pro version but the free one is fine) called “Google Sitemap”. This creates the XML file for you.

Here is a snippet of what mine looks like:

My Google Site Map

Or click this link to see the sitemap of this site. It changes as I add new content to the site.

In order to access Google webmaster tools, you have to have a Gmail account. Sorry, no way around it. Go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools That is where you go to register your site. It will make you download a file that you have to upload to the root of your website that Google will go and find to be sure you own the site. Because you put their special file in the right place, you must own the site, right? You can learn so much about your site after it has been online a bit. Google knows how many search and view your page. It actually knows how long people spend on your page as well. For Bing, you have to have an Outlook or Hotmail account. Go to http://www.bing.com/toolbox/webmaster login with your Microsoft account and basically same deal as Google, sitemap, upload special file. Dot Dot Dot. Google will tell you if your site has malware on it or if you have pages erroring out. All free stuff.

Google Webmaster Tools

 

Anyway, after I did that, the organization’s site was the first hit if they typed in the right keywords. Making sure your pages have good descriptive meta data is important too but I have more to cover. I told you about “Google Sitemap”. Also “Verify Bing Webmaster Tools” is another good plugin to have.

6. Locking the front door is a waste if you don’t lock the back door too.

When you setup your WordPress site, do not use the username admin. That used to be the default and well, hackers figured that out. I get two or three emails a day from my firewall telling me people are trying to log in with admin as the user. Good luck because it isn’t that. Don’t name your database the default names suggested by the WordPress install either. Sure this is “Security through Obscurity” which essentially means because you didn’t make it easy, most hackers will move along. I go into great detail about how I handle my security here.

7.  Always Backup before you go Forward

Before you allow that plugin to update or allow the latest version of WordPress to install, you must backup. I go into great detail about backups here.

8. When Themes and Plugins Go Rogue

Sometimes bad things happen to good themes or plugins. Sometimes things get a little technical. To fix, sftp to your site and rename the theme or plugin. Go to this page to read about accessing your site via sftp using Filezilla. Sure the page is really about backups.

Your themes and plugins are located under your site folder under wp-content. Once you get into the directory, you should be able to rename the last plugin or theme you installed. Look at “Last modified” date for clues as to when your installed your last plugin or theme. Once you rename the rogue item, your WordPress site will disable it and revert to default since it isn’t where it remembers it being.

themes plugins directory

9. Feed the Content Monster

The SearchEngineLand website says 97% of blogs fail in the first year. Their owners just stop posting to them and they are zombies on the Internet until the hosting provider bulldozes them over when the last payment check clears. One piece of advice that many swear by and I am going to start following is, create a content calendar. Hubspot has an Excel spreadsheet they offer for free to help with planning. And WP Scheduled Posts is a good free plugin to use to allow you to schedule when posts will well, post. If you have a great day and write two or three blog posts, you won’t want to post them all at once as people will usually read the newest stuff. They may not scroll down to post number three. So schedule your posts (unless they are time sensitive) so they are paced out.

Your Fans will appreciate if you post on a consistent basis and perhaps at a regular interval say, twice a week. It is too much of a grind to create awesome content people want to read seven days a week. Not happening. But if you follow a pattern, people will notice and they will visit your site frequently to read what’s new.

10. Sharing is Caring

You know the best way to build a following for your website? Sharing on social media. So first up, you need to work to build a following using either Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or Pinterest. Now if you are familiar with Pinterest, you may be saying, what? Well, you can post links on Pinterest and it will put the top most picture in your blog and list it on Pinterest. If people click on the picture, it takes them to your blog. I would never have thought of this but Social Media Guru Peg Fitzsimmons, co-author with Guy Kawasaki, of the book The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users swears by it. She says she has gotten a lot of traction and new followers this way.

Anyway, there are several plugins that as soon as you publish a post, posts a link to Twitter or Facebook for you. “WP to Twitter” is a plugin I have used. Basically you give it access to your Twitter account, choose your favorite URL shortener, Bitly, Tiny.url or whatever and it will post a link to your new content to Twitter. For Facebook, the WordPress Jet Pack has an option to allow it to post to your Facebook page to let people know you have new content. It is a little technical to setup so not quite as easy as the Twitter one. Now the second thing you have to do it make it so your content is super easy to share. Using a plugin like “WP Social Share” or the free version of “Cresta Social Share Counter” are a couple of ways you can put share buttons for most social networks to make it easy for others to share your content. Every plugin I have told you about up until now has been free.

But recently I paid money for a plugin because some people I follow who I have come to respect created a plugin to allow easy sharing. This plugin is called Social Warfare. I am ramping up to get really serious about writing and social media next year and I felt I needed something to make my site very easy to share from. The “Social Warfare” plugin makes it so easy for visitors to share my content and I love the sharing counters which show others how much it was shared. Strangely the most something is shared the more people want to share it more. I have stock in this product. I bought it like everyone else who uses it. And I have noticed others whose sites I follow use it. When I accidently posted something popular once, I was able to see how many times people shared it using my plugin’s links.

 

Here is a links page to every plugin I mentioned.

Links January 2015 Edition

 

 

My Review: The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users

I just finished an amazing book by Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick called The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users.

The Art of Social Media

This book has so much information you will want to take notes as you read.

First up, I don’t consider myself a power user but with the amazing tips I got from this book I can be and most importantly plan to be. My social media and blogging strategy has been hit or miss.

The book starts off with picking your social media name. I wish I knew what I know now as I would have picked a different name to use on Social Media. It explains the importance of picking just the right name so you stand out and hopefully get people to follow you. Then after you have picked your name, it goes through how to optimize your profile on various social networks. Everything from your profile image to making sure your profile is a quick read. Remember in the Internet age, everyone has a short attention span.

Then the book covers how to feed the content monster. It talks about planning your content then It gives you tips and tricks on how to find great content. What? Not create your own? You can, but can you consistently put out great content every time? If so, I am very jealous and I would like to meet you. It makes great suggestions like creating a calendar or even a spreadsheet to plan your posts. And it goes into scheduling services such as Hootsuite, Buffer, and Sprout Social as well as using WordPress plugins to schedule your posts. Then if you can just get people to share your posts. Ah, but then the book goes into detail about how to get people to reshare your posts.

So you came up with great content that you either created yourself or you are curating from others. How do you get your words across? How do you express yourself and make yourself heard? Ah, then the chapter on “How to Perfect Your Posts” is for you. It talks about how to build value and how to build your brand so your content is read and worth reading. It also talks about how often and when you should post in each of the Social networks if you are a casual blogger or a hard core blogger and how to make the most of hashtags. If your primary readership is on a different timezone than you, publishing three hours before they wake up might not be the way to go. So the chapter goes much deeper into information about different scheduling services some of which I did not know about.

Chapter 4 explains the best way to respond to comments. Of course every comment you get isn’t all sunshine and unicorns. But to interact with those who interact with you is an important part of building your audience. Go in with a flamethrower and you will lose followers fast. But if you can use the right approach with the positive and interesting comments and the right approach with the bad comments (remember, there is learning to be had from truthful comments even if they hurt our feelings). But sometimes we are hit by trolls on the loose. This chapter helps with how to deal with all flavors of commenters and interact appropriately.

Chapter 5, 6, and 7 show you how to take your blog and your social media and work them as one team to get more followers. It goes into detail how to make your blog the destination and social media the flashing arrows pointing the way. And how to get your blog followers to want to share your content to social media sites to bring more readers to your blog. Make great content and make it easy to share with others and they will come “Field of Dreams” style. And when you share your content, pictures really help tell the story. Do you know the right size image to use for each social network to get the best traction? Tweet your blog post with a 512×1024 pixel image. Chapter 7 also talks about the best way to socialize events. There are some great ideas that almost sound like marketing a product but instead you are selling you. Guy and Peg are some really creative minds. Get everyone at the event to share their tweets with your desired hashtag.

Chapter 8 covers the best way to utilize Google+’s Hangouts feature to get maximum exposure and to create content for your blog. Seriously good stuff. It covers the equipment you need to get started and when you get good at it what to use to kick it up to the next level. I have stumbled with Google Hangouts so this was some really helpful tips.

Chapter 9 covers Twitter chat. About to go live with your next big thing? Why not have a Twitter chat to get others to talk about it with you? This chapter what’s involved and the right tools for the job.

Chapter 10 is the important one for me, “How to Avoid Looking Clueless”. It talks about how to not be a jerk on social media or at least give the impression you are a jerk anyway. And how to not look like a Nube. Nothing makes people run away faster than fresh “Nube” smell.

Then the jets fire up and Chapter 11 goes into depth about each of the major social media networks and how to master and optimize your content for them. If you don’t use Chrome as your browser, you are going to want to after you read this chapter. There are so many cool extensions for Chrome that will make Social Media sharing so much easier for you.

After chapter 11, you will be like me and have so much information rattling around in your head. Chapter 12 talks about how to put it all together. It goes through case examples on how you would use social media to promote different things like “a nonfiction book you are about to publish”.  Taking the steps one by one and putting them all together makes it all make so much more sense. This information allows you to build the total package of promotion for yourself or your brand.

The book is an easy fun read. My only complaint is I have made so many missteps and this book points them out. I have some retooling on my brand to do.