Category: Wordpress Plugins

Building a Blog, Part V: WordPress Plugins

So your blog is up and running.  You’ve made a few posts, sent a link to your friends or customers, and made sure everything is spelled correctly.  Then you realize you have no idea if anybody is actually reading your posts, and the comments are filled with robot spam.  What now?

Time to add some plugins to your blog!  A plugin is a small program that adds functionality to WordPress.   As of this writing, WordPress ships with Askimet already installed; Askimet is spamcatching software to filter out robot posts from actual users.  Log into your administrative panel, click on plugins, then follow the directions to active Askimet.  Congratulations!  You’ve struck another blow in the ongoing fight against spammers!

But now you notice the Add New link, click it, and are overwhelmed by the variety of plugins available.  Which ones should you get first?  Let’s start with a few of the basics.  Remember: to use one of the plugins, you must first install and then activate it.

Google XML Sitemaps Remember when I pointed out how updating attracts search engines?  Google and other engines like to crawl frequently updated websites several times per day to keep their results as fresh as possible.  Not only does building a sitemap help the search engines to find all the content on your site, but the plugin will automatically notify Google that your website has been updated, encouraging them to crawl your site immediately.

StatPress keeps track of all kinds of handy statistics, presenting them both as numbers and as a colorful bar chart, so you can see how much traffic you’re getting.  If a promotion you’re running is working particularly well (or badly), this is a good way to find out.

Broken Link Checker What’s worse than clicking on a link and getting the dreaded 404 error?  This annoys your readers and makes you look unprofessional.  This handy plugin will keep an eye on all of the links on your site and let you know if any of them no longer work.

Are there other plugins you should have?  Absolutely!  In the future we’ll be talking specifically about plugins designed for SEO, which deserve a whole post of their own.  One thing to keep in mind when trying out new plugins is that they are not all compatible with each other; sometimes you can get odd errors as a result of interaction between two incompatible plugins.   If your site used to work right and now is behaving strangely, try deactivating plugins until the unwanted behavior goes away.

That’s all for this week; be sure to check back on Monday for more, and in the meantime, don’t forget to visit our main site!

Building a Blog, Part IV: Update Early, Update Often

Now that you have your blog set up, the tricky thing is to keep it updated; this is particularly true if you don’t have someone whose job is simply to run your online profile. Fortunately, it’s easy to have posts go up on your blog every day without actually having to write something every morning; WordPress allows you to write a post and schedule it to appear later.

If you’re at the Add New Post screen, on the right hand side above the Publish button you’ll see the words “Publish immediately”, followed by an Edit link.   Clicking on that allows you to schedule your post to go up at some time in the future.  (Do watch out, though – this defaults to 24-hour time, and if you’re not careful you could set your blog to publish in the past instead.  That, of course, could create a time travel paradox and kill us all..)

The first three articles in this series, for example, were all written last week.  Why not just post them immediately?  Well, then you’re not giving your customers any reason to come back!  Which would you rather have: a potential customer visiting every day to read your new posts, or visiting once a week when you upload them all at once?  Additionally, if you use the SEO tools we’re going to talk about in a later article, the search engines will notice every time you post an update, which helps keep your site fresh in the rankings.  Most importantly, though, look at it from the user’s perspective.  Your readers are either using an RSS feed (more on this later), in which case they’ll only visit when you post something new, or they aren’t, in which case they get annoyed when your site hasn’t been updated!

Time for an example.  One week ago today, I launched a new blog called Good News About America; I’ll be using it as an example for many of the things we’ll be talking about.  Notice that there’s no professional artwork or design involved here; it uses a standard free template that anyone can download and a few easy-to-use plugins.  The only things at all unique about it are the header (simply a few words photoshopped onto part of a photo I took) and, of course, the content.

As you can imagine, only a few days after launch, the blog doesn’t have a ton of visitors.  It is, however, being regularly indexed by the search engines and has already started receiving some traffic.  As an experiment, I deliberately stopped posting for over 24 hours; here are the results: [1]

Pretty impressive, eh?  In the first five days, I had 34 visitors, 116 pageviews, 290 spiders, and 8 feeds.  On day 6, I had exactly one of each.  However, after posting a new article and waiting a few minutes:

The second screenshot was taken less than an hour after the first one, maybe half an hour at most after the site was updated, and already it’s been spidered four more times. By the end of the day, it had been spidered 38 times and had 9 feeds.

What should you take from this?  I’m hoping these three points:

  1. Your blog should be updated daily, at minimum
  2. You should be monitoring traffic to see how changes affect your visitors
  3. You should be letting the search engines know when you update, something we’ll discuss in tomorrow’s article.

Next time: WordPress plugins you absolutely need to use.

Footnotes:

[1] The reason there are no statistics for the day the blog launched is that the tracking plugin hadn’t been installed yet; we’ll talk more about it in the article on adding plugins to your blog.

Building a Blog, Part II: Configuring WordPress

Ok, so you’ve followed the instructions in part I and you now have…a simple, very blue blog.  Doesn’t look very interesting yet, does it?  Don’t panic!  We’ll be spicing it up very shortly.

If you’re logged in to your dashboard, you should see a sidebar with a number of links including Posts, Media, etc.  The one you want right now is at the top of the second batch of links and is labeled Appearance.   You’ll see your current theme (the WordPress default) and probably the classic theme.  Not very exciting…but there are tons more to choose from!  At the top of the page, next to the Manage Themes title, is a button marked Add New; click on it and you’ll be treated to a huge number of free themes you can use for your site.  When you see one you like, just click install; once it’s installed, click activate to (you guessed it!) activate the theme and change the appearance of your blog.  There are many paid themes as well, some costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars, but to start you should stick with the free themes until you know what you like.

One of the options in the Appearance dropdown is Custom Header; this allows you to upload your own header image rather than using the default.  You can crop your image from within WordPress, but you’re better off just uploading a correctly sized header: 850 by 120 pixels.  The appearance of your blog is very important, as it needs to match the rest of your site; if you’re not a graphic artist, it’s probably a good idea to hire one to create your header image.  Research shows that customers have more trust in websites that have a professional look, and consistency plays a big part in that.  For example, this blog’s style matches that of our main site, although they were designed at different times.

Underneath Appearance is a link called Plugins; this is where you can download software that adds additional functionality to your blog. WordPress ships with Askimet, which helps keep spam out of your comments, but you have to sign up for a (free) key and activate it before it’ll work.    As with themes, there are a huge number of free plug-ins; you’ll want to read the comments and find some that interest you.  We’ll recommend a few in a future article.

Under Settings, you can change the blog title and tagline; just delete the tagline if you don’t want it to be superimposed over your header.  You’ll also set things like your time zone and the format to use for the date and time of your posts and comments.

You’ll notice there are a ton of various options that can be set, but the defaults should work until you’re up and running.  Next time, we’ll talk about making your first post.

Blogs, SEO, and Lots More

As a service to our customers, starting on Monday we’ll be publishing a number of articles on the basics of web design.  We’ll discuss how to start a blog, why SEO is important, and (as promised in the title) lotsmore!

Why teach you how to do these things for free, when we offer all of this as paid services?  Quite simply, we believe it will bring in more business.  (The fact that I like to talk might also have something to do with it..)  With today’s tools, you can create a fairly nice design without a lot of specialized knowledge, but to build a truly professional site requires years of education and experience.  We believe that once you see what can be done, you’ll want the best, most effective website you can get…which means hiring a professional.  When you do, we hope you’ll think of us.

Promoting Your Business on the Web

You have the name, you got your cards and now you need a website?  Yes, now everything is now shifting to the internet and has been for a few years.  Utilizing the internet as a marketing avenue for your company is important.  Not only will it allow your company to reach a larger audience, but it will allow you to reach out to your clients in several different ways, and here are just some of the benefits…

Internet Bandwagon?
So you have cards to promote, what more do you need?  Well for one most potential customers are now “Google-ing” instead of looking though a yellow phone book.  Rather than calling they are viewing company website’s to better research the topic or services that they are after as websites tend to be more in-depth than a phone call.  But you cannot just throw a site up into cyber space, you need the company to be branded, have the same look/feel  on all marketing materials where it be cards, print collateral and finally a website, all should be branded the same so that customers  do not get confused or think that the company is not legit .

Social Connection?
Although the internet has been around for a few decades, only in the 1990s did it explode onto more local mainstream homes, than in the 2000s we get introduced to “Social Networks” mySpace, Facebook, Digg and many others. At first glance many saw these as “tween” sites where teens/ young adults join and connect but then the dynamics changed and in the past three years there has been a growing trend for Celebrities’  to “connect” with their fans.   Another step in the social network trend was the introduction to Twitter, a simple 140 character limit to “tweet”.  Twitter grew unexpectedly and is still going strong.

Soon after they started to grew in popularity did business start to use social networks as a “tool” to connect with their customers, clients and of course fans.  Nowadays most businesses have a Facebook page, a twitter accounts to stay up to date and promote their business to viewers.