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Cascading Style Sheets

In the past, I haven’t done a lot of CSS work; my interests lie more in the areas of SEO and content. We needed a WordPress programmer, though, and before I could start programming WordPress themes, I needed to brush up on my CSS and PHP. Fortunately, I had a decent book sitting around: O’Reilly’s CSS: The Missing Manual. After a few hours reading the book and playing with the CSS in some WordPress themes, it all makes sense; my only hesitation in recommending the book comes from the fact that, because it was released last year, it contains less than a hundred pages on CSS3.

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but if you’re not familiar with what Cascading Style Sheets can do, you need to run, not walk, over to the css Zen Garden and play with it a bit. Good programming practice for the web these days, and what HTML5 is built on, is the separation of style from content. HTML5 holds the content; CSS should be used to indicate to the browser how to display it. What’s really nice about this is that by using an external style sheet for your website, if you decide to change the look and feel of the site you can immediately alter every page (drastically, if desired) simply by editing one file.

CSS is really pretty simple. Suppose that I wanted to change how the text in each of these  posts is displayed. Let’s say that, for some reason, I wanted the text to appear in bright orange. In WordPress, the posts are contained in the following tags: <div id=”content”></div>. Thus, I would simply add the following code to my style.css file:

#content {
color: #FF7F00;
background: #FFFFFF url(‘images/background.jpg’) no-repeat;
}

So what does all that mean? The hash mark before the name of the div means that this is an ID, which is something that should appear at most once on each page; something that can appear multiple times should be a class and is indicated using a period. Everything between the brackets is CSS code that will apply to the contents of the content div; in this case, #content is called a selector because it selects this particular part of the HTML. Inside the brackets I can have any number of declarations; in this case I just have two. Each declaration is a property followed by a colon and then a value; some properties can take on multiple values. For example, here I told the browser that it should render the content area with a white background, use the file background.jpg in the images directory as a background image, and that that image should not repeat. If I later decide to use a less hideous color combination, all I have to do is edit this one file.

Aside from making my life a lot easier when I have to change something, this can also reduce the amount of space the code for a site takes up, as the formatting only has to be stored (and downloaded) once, rather than once for each page. This helps speed up the process of loading your site, which helps to keep Google and your customers happy.

Google Adsense and Smart Pricing

You may have noticed that we don’t run advertisements on this blog. The main reason for that is that we don’t think it looks professional on a business website; also, we don’t want you to click an ad and go elsewhere. We want you to stay here and hire us!

That said, we do own other websites which are monetized with adsense and make about a buck fifty per click. This brings us to another reason we wouldn’t want to put adsense on this blog: it could drag down what we’re making elsewhere! Why? The answer lies in Google’s “smart pricing” policy.

Google wants to  make sure that their advertisers are getting good value for their money, so that they’ll keep spending; this means not putting high-cost advertisements where they’ll receive low-quality traffic. Social media traffic, for example, tends to not click on ads and not buy when they do, so a blog that gets a lot of social media traffic compared to search engine traffic will get paid less per click. Similarly, Google hates Made for Adsense (MFA) sites, which have no content whatsoever, just a bunch of ads; the hope is you’ll click on one of these spam sites and immediately leave via one of the ads. Whereas a legitimate site like this one tries to provide useful information – we want you to find what you were looking for even if you don’t hire us – a spam site just wants you to click an ad and doesn’t want anything getting in the way of that, including content.

However, bad or no content isn’t the only way to get smart priced; as mentioned, the type of traffic your site receives matters as well. This site would do poorly with adsense because we discuss topics like blogging and web design. It’s not that Google dislikes these topics; it’s just that people who want to read about them generally don’t make money for the advertisers, so Google isn’t willing to pay much for that traffic.

A little bit of money is better than no money, right? The thing is, Google doesn’t smart price websites; they smart price adsense accounts. If I was to place adsense on this site and Google decided to smart price us, the pay rate on my other sites would go down as well, which means that having the advertisements here would actually be costing me money! Fortunately, if you get caught in that trap, there’s a way out: just remove the adsense code from the offending site and your remaining sites should return to normal.

WordPress and .htaccess

Having installed a number of WordPress blogs lately, one thing I frequently find myself doing after a new installation is editing the .htaccess file. What is .htaccess all about?

On an Apache server, .htaccess files allow you to make configuration changes to a directory (and its subdirectories); multiple .htaccess files can be present in your directory structure, with lower ones overriding higher rules where they conflict. They’re often used for access control, helping to keep the wrong people from poking around in your files. Today we’ll talk specifically about how they interact with WordPress.

Aside from the basic WordPress functions, I’ve mostly used the .htaccess file to force my webhost to use the correct version of PHP. My preferred host offers both PHP4 and PHP5, but defaults to PHP4; this tends to cause issues with WordPress plugins. The solution? Just add the following line to the .htaccess file in your WordPress directory (or a higher directory):

AddType x-mapp-php5 .php

This tells Apache to use PHP5 when interpreting a .php file, and all is well.  Of course, this assumes that your host actually has PHP5 installed; given that it’s been out since 2004, if your host doesn’t support it, it’s probably time to find a new host.

What else can we do with the .htaccess file? WordPress uses it to store the rewrite rules for permalinks. Be careful editing the .htaccess file that WordPress uses; if you put your code in the wrong place, it will be overwritten next time WordPress updates the file. I often prefer to simply go up a directory, where feasible.

Often the default amount of memory allocated for PHP is insufficient; you can increase it with the following line:

php_value memory_limit 64M

The above line is hopefully fairly self-explanatory;  other attributes you can set include upload_max_filesize and post_max_size, which often default to 2M each.

Host a site with a lot of photos? Find people stealing your bandwidth? Try this code:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(.+.)?mysite.com/ [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteRule .*.(jpe?g|gif|bmp|png)$ /images/nohotlink.jpg [L]

Obviously, replace “mysite” with your own URL and “/images/nohotlink.jpg” with the image you want to display on the site that’s attempting to display your image. (Thanks to WPRecipies for this tip) You may want to host the second image on a different server to avoid the possibility that your host will get into an infinite loop.

Next time: using .htaccess to prevent spam.