Tag Archives: Blogging

small business

What good is a website?

During a conversation with a friend and business owner, he said that he didn’t care about having a website for his businesses. For him, it didn’t make sense.

I don’t care if someone in California wants to see what’s going on.

That makes sense only if you don’t understand that local customers — and potential customers — use the Web on a daily basis. They might use the Web before visiting your business — at their home or even in the parking lot.

Remember, the Web isn’t just for desktop computers anymore.

Here are three ways a business who doesn’t need a website can use a website:

  1. Encourage people to sign-up to your new email list. If you’re a good business person and your customers like you, then they’ll want to hear your expert opinion. Email marketing (‘ol school!) is still the most effect way to encourage sales.
  2. Establish and define yourself as an expert in your field. Whatever business it is, it doesn’t matter, you’re an expert compared to your customers. People who use the Web are starved for information, and on your website you can be a source of information.
  3. Become ingrained in your local community. The only way to become part of the conversation on the Web is to have a presence on the Web. That includes providing opportunities for customers to review your business and having online conversations with customers.

Whether you like it or not, your customers rely on the Web every day. Why wouldn’t you want to be where your customers are?

If You Don’t Fix This WordPress Problem Now, You’ll Hate Yourself Later

In 2006, Darren Rowse at the ProBlogger site wrote that more than 200,000 people were still using the default page text that appears when a WordPress blog is first installed. Do you know the words I’m talking about?

“This is an example of a WordPress page, you could edit this to put information about yourself or your site so readers know where you are coming from. You can create as many pages like this one or sub-pages as you like and manage all of your content inside of WordPress.”

That was in 2006. Today a Google search will pull more than 13 million results for those words. Sad. On my search, on the first page of results, I found a friend’s site listed. I’m embarrassed enough for them, it’s hard to mention what I found.

Part of the problem is that when people start their blogs, write new pages, then never delete the default page that’s created at installation. One other issue seems to be that some people don’t understand the difference between a page and a post, then write posts that should be pages, and never look at the Pages administration tab to delete the default page.

If you’ve installed a WordPress blog lately, double check your default page situation. Please.

Give birth to 10 WordPress blogs in 30 minutes

If you need to roll out multiple WordPress blogs, this article is for you. I’m going to show you how to set up 10 blogs in 30 minutes, or I’ll eat my hat! Not only that, but we’ll set them up with a standard group of plugins, extra search engine optimization, and security hardening to prevent hacking of your blog.

Here are the 4 basic steps:

  1. prepare the WordPress and plugins upload
  2. set-up your databases
  3. configure your wp-config.php file
  4. WordPress install process

Let’s get started.

Preparing a WordPress installation archive

First, download the latest version of WordPress (WP). Here’s the clever part of this step: because of the WordPress automatic update, you’ll never have to do this again. As I write this WP is at version 2.9.2, but when the next version is released and I want to install a new blog, I’m going to upload the older version (that I’m going to customize) from my computer. After I upload version 2.9.2 I’ll upgrade by going to Tools > Upgrade.

Now that you’ve downloaded and opened the zip file to your computer, let’s customize a couple of things. You’re going to need a plain text editor like Notepad (Windows) or TextEdit (Mac) to create four files. Make sure it’s a plain text editor that can create asci text files, otherwise you might have problems.

The first text file you create is named robots.txt. This file is where you’ll include the rules for search engines that index your site; if you restrict the search engine bots from indexing extraneous files on your site, it’s better for the good content on your site. These are the rules for your robots.txt file:

 

User-agent: *
Disallow: /cgi-bin
Disallow: /wp-admin
Disallow: /wp-includes
Disallow: /wp-content
Disallow: /trackback
Disallow: /feed
Disallow: /comments
Disallow: /category/*/*
Disallow: */trackback
Disallow: */feed
Disallow: */comments
Disallow: /*?*
Disallow: /*?

Sitemap: http://www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml.gz

 

See that last line? That tells search engine bots where you’re site map is; we’ll get to that in a moment, but for now just change the domain to yours. Save the robots.txt file into the WP directory that you unzipped.

Next we’re going to create the .htaccess file. This file can do many things, among them it includes the rules for your permanent link structure (found under Settings > Permalinks). Add the following rules to your .htaccess file and save it into the WP directory.

 

Options All -Indexes

# protect wp-config.php
<files wp-config.php>
Order deny,allow
deny from all
</files>

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^www\.
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.%{HTTP_HOST}/$1 [R=301,L]

 

wordpress directory
Highlighted files we'll be working with

First, note that depending on how the preferences are defined on your personal computer (Mac or Windows), you may or may not be able to see any file that begins with a period, as in “.htaccess”. Because of this, it’s probably best to not include the period when you save the file into your unzipped WP directory; you can add the period (don’t forget) after all the files in the WP directory are uploaded to your server using FTP (or better, SFTP). Also, after uploading  the file, removed the “.txt” so that the file’s name is “.htaccess”.

Looking back at the code I gave you for the .htaccess file, let’s review it from the top. To begin with, the first rule tells the server NOT to display the contents of any directory that doesn’t include any type of index file, such as index.php or index.html. This is for the security of WordPress and your server.

The next rule is also for security, and depending on your server may be redundant, but nevertheless won’t hurt anything. The rule allows access to your WP configuration file only from your server.

The last rule in the .htaccess file is for better tracking of statistics if you’re using something like Google Analytics. Did you know that “www.yourdomain.com” and “yourdomain.com” are two different things for search engines and site stats applications like Analytics? True. That means if you don’t force all your site visitors to one or the other domain URL, you may only be tracking some people. So, that last rule forces the server to always add “www” to your domain URL.

The last two text files you’ll create are “sitemap.xml” and “sitemap.xml.gz“. These are empty files that’ll be used by a plugin we’ll talk about soon. Don’t worry about them, though note that you might have to change their permissions using your FTP program in the future, depending on how the server is configured. The plugin will throw an error and tell you if that’s the case. No worries!

Gathering your WordPress plugins

Part of what makes the process I’m showing you so efficient is that you’re doing preparation that doesn’t have to be repeated in the future. So, gathering your plugins first and putting them into the ‘wp-content/plugins’ directory (unzip the plugins and delete the .zip files) will make your life easier. It makes sense because, at least for me, with minor exceptions, I generally always use the same plugins across many different WP Web sites.

You can develop your own set of go-to plugins (favorites), but here are the ones I recommend:

Again, this is the set of plugins I commonly use. Your set might be different. But, as with the easy updating of WordPress, the same is true with the plugins. If after uploading the WP directory you see that some of the plugins need updating, no problem: go to Tools > Upgrade and update all the plugins in one shot. Finished.

Set-up your databases

Because there are so many variations on how to set-up your database, depending on your server, I’m not going to get too deep into the details. I will note one thing: use strong passwords and unique database and user names. Make them a little weird, for security sake. Other than that, copy down the database info and let’s move on.

Configuring the wp-config.php file

This is straight forward, though let me recommend two things you should do. Under “Authentication Unique Keys” always make the effort to get your keys from https://api.wordpress.org/secret-key/1.1/ and copy them into your wp-config file. Always.

Second, under “WordPress Database Table prefix” always change the default “wp_”. This is for the security of your database. Never use the default. I always throw some random numbers in there like this: “w865p_”. It’s another small step for security, not using default or easily guessed values in your blog configuration.

Installing 10 Blogs Process

You’re ready. You’ve created a customized WordPress directory that you can upload multiple times. Look at that image above of the directory; does yours look like that? It should.

With your first database set-up and the wp-config file squared away, start uploading to your server. While that’s happening, on your other domains create your the WP databases, copying down the corresponding information. After the first upload is finished, move onto the second domain by editing the wp-config file again with the new information, then save. Upload to the second domain. And so on.

See how easy it is to roll out many WordPress blogs once you have a customized directory set up?

If you have any other tips that should be included in this tutorial, leave them in the comments. I can always learn something new.

Photo by Scott Beale (Laughing Squid) and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Help me write one of the best blogs of 2010

I have high ambitions this year: write a weblog that’s good enough to be on one of those end-of-year best of lists. I’d at least like to write blog that garners noteable interest in 2010.

I’ve been blogging off and on since 2001. Mostly off. But in January of this year I was meeting with a new client about setting up their professional blog, and they asked me why I hadn’t updated my own blog in more than 6 months. I didn’t have a great answer, but I got the message: if you want to help people with their blogging needs, you need to be a regular blogger yourself.

Since the beginning of the year I’ve been writing regular posts about things that interest me, or that will be useful to some readers. Usually, I’m writing 3 or 4 posts a week. Not all the writing is great, but at least once a week there’s a post I can point to with pride, in my opinion.

What would you do to make this a great blog? I’m leaving this open for comments because the more feedback the better, and I could use your help. Thanks for taking the time.

Photo by Annie Mole and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Jason Kottke and Hugh Hefner: men with a common project

I‘m sure you’ve heard of Hugh Hefner. And you might have even heard of Jason Kottke, who’s been blogging since pretty much the beginning of blogging in 1998. Did you know that Hefner and Kottke have something in common? (This is totally safe for work, trust me.)

Kottke’s Scrapbook

I’ve been reading Jason Kottke’s blog since 2000. It’s evolved quite a bit since then, but in a certain respect I’ve always thought of his blog as a scrapbook of a mans’ walk through culture, which reflects his tastes, values, and passions. Most of the blog is not about Jason’s life — especially the posts from the last few years — though what he publishes is a personal editorial decision, so I think we can assume that those decisions say something about him.

Kottke/Hefner
Kottke/Hefner

That’s why I think Kottke.org is certainly a scrapbook (of a sort) that chronicles Jason’s experience with “the liberal arts,” as much as it is about the liberal arts themselves. After all, the blog is not comprehensive of the liberal arts; it’s representative of the liberal arts Jason finds compelling. If you read through Jason’s interviews (links below), Jason says that he tries not personally editorialize or advocate for certain points of view on his blog — he wants to be “neutral” — but by curating the content, he is expressing his interests in his scrapbook.

Hefner’s Scrapbook

I would love to know what’s going to happen to Hugh Hefner’s scrapbook after he passes. Have you heard of this thing? Hefner has amassed about 2,000 volumes, dating back to high school, into a scrapbook of his life. Of course, his life really hasn’t been his life for some time; in part, because of his chosen profession, his life is a history of post-1950s censorship battles, socio-sexual developments, and race relations. Through the 1960s and 70s, Hefner and Playboy were part of (Hefner might say center to) a conversation about morality and sexuality in the United States.

Here’s one example of how the Hefner scrapbook is more than a personal journal. In an interview with Brigitte Berman, director of the documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel, she relates one thing she found surprising in the scrapbook:

So Hef’s into scrapbooking?

He still does them. One of things I loved was the one about the Big Bunny–the big personal plane he has with the bunny logo on the tail. Hollywood friends asked him if they could use the Big Bunny to rescue Vietnamese orphans during the war.There are these incredible photographs of the bunny girls caring for these orphans on the plane.

The scrapbook has been a passion for Hefner since before World War II (even using Twitter updates here and here to let us know when he’s working on it), and I think because of that the scrapbook will be made public after he’s finished working on it (the day he dies, I would imagine). It’ll probably be given to a library or other public archive, and probably digitized for researchers.

That’s the key difference between the Kottke and Hefner project: one is readily public, the other is not (though Hefner has given access to researchers and filmmakers in the past). Despite this, I think they’re both scrapbookers at heart, collecting their interests and passions into compendium of entries. Both reflect their life experiences. Kottke is pointing us towards things that might interest us now; Hefner is collecting points in history that will interest us later.

Related Links

Kottke/Hefner photos by megnut and cliff1066 and republished here under a Creative Commons license.

How to be generous and drive more traffic to your blog

Don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner, but yesterday I did a little experiment that’s going to change the way I write and publish blog posts. I learned that the more generous I am with crediting photographers who offer their photos with a Creative Commons license on Flickr, the more traffic my blog will get.

When I publish a post, often I’ll find an accompanying Creative Commons photo on Flickr; they’re easy to find using the advanced search. As long as I give credit to the photographer with a link back to the original photo, I’m not really obligated to do anything else. But yesterday I went back and contacted each photographer whose photo I used in a post, giving thanks and a link back to my post with their photo.

What most of the photographers did next was the great thing: not only did they visit my blog, but they also posted a link to the post on their Facebook pages, which drove more traffic to my blog. Moreover, it looks like some of those people subscribed to my RSS feed.

To recap: I spent about 30 seconds per photographer contacting them, and they were kind enough give a link back to my blog. I hope they feel as good about this “transaction” as I do. Thank you Creative Commons, and thank you photographers.

Photo (CC) micah.e (thanks!)

Who was the master live blogger of the Apple iPad announcement?

I just finished following the live blogging from 3 different sources: MacWorld, the NY Times, and Engadget. Why is this important? Well, if you’re interested in the live blogging of events, this is a good hint at where to look in the future. Until now, I was never sure myself; now I know who’s got their shit together.

First, theoretically MacWorld should have had the best coverage. In the end, they had the worst by a mile. A complete mess. Five minutes into the presentation their internet connection went dead (nobody else had a problem). Because of this, I would assume, they switched from what would have been the best interface to a regular blog page, but there was no auto page reloading and new entries were on the bottom of the page, not the top. A pain in the neck. They had a few images. The text was well written, made better by the fact that they had three people simultaneously live blogging (Jason Snell, Dan Moren and Jonathan Seff). The content was okay (more images, please), the interface made the live blogging useless.

Update: Jason Snell responds in the comments, including a detailed explanation of what happened with their technical issues.

The New York Times did a good job, but their coverage might be different than you’d expect. Not a lot of images during the presentation, but the text is expansive and well written. If you like reading about the event, check out the Times live blogging. In terms of the interface, it’s nothing special: a regular blog page that you’ll have to refresh yourself. At least new entries are posted on the top of the Web page. I give them credit for that.

Funniest line from the NY Times coverage:

I’m cutting out all of Mr. Jobs’s “phenomenals” and “amazings” and “incredibles,” folks. Just assume they are there.

Who had the best coverage? Engadget had the best coverage because of the ridiculous number of clear pictures. Their downfall was the the text descriptions, but this is live blogging of a consumer product roll out, so you want the pictures, right? I think so. But there needs to be better technical specification descriptions. Plus, for live blogging, Engadget had the two features that are necessary: sorting most recent updates at the top and auto refreshing of the page.

Funniest line from the Engadget coverage:

“We have a breakthrough deal with AT&T.” Wow. Some serious sharp intakes of breath here.

Did I miss some good live bloggers? Who do you think did the best live blogging of the iPad announcement?

Interview: Morriss Partee on PodCamp Western Mass

Coming up on February 6, 2010, a camp is taking place … no, not the kind of camp where you take swimming lessons and drink “bug juice“. PodCamp Western Mass is taking place at Westfield State College, where people will get together to talk and learn about all aspects of social media. PodCamps have been happening around the world since 2006, so I thought I would invite Morriss Partee, one of the organizers of PodCamp Western Mass, to discuss the 2010 event.

Morriss, aren’t PodCamps usually held in larger cities? Why have one in Western Mass?

Being a Western Mass resident for most of my life, I know that many folks think of our neighboring large cities, Boston, New York, as where the action is. I’ve always felt that we have amazing talent, people, business, organizations and energy right here in gorgeous Western Mass, and thought it would be great to bring all these folks together.

What was it about the first Western Mass PodCamp that made it worth doing a second time?

My hope in organizing the first one, along with social media pioneers Tish Grier and Jaclyn Stevenson, was to foster connections among all of our Western Mass talent; to bring together social media innovators such as Jason Turcotte, and Christine Pilch, alongside business leaders, programmers, artists, web designers and so forth. It was totally a success in terms of learning and networking in a fun environment. Everyone wanted to do it again, so here we are!

Can you please explain to people who aren’t aware, first, what is this “pod” business, then what about the “camp” part?

It’s a funny name, but the main idea is that this is an unconference where we all contribute and share our social media knowledge with one another. The “pod” comes from podcasting, and the “camp” represents the unconference, or grassroots, approach to the event. We stick with the name because it’s trademarked on behalf of the common good. PodCamp is an offshoot of BarCamp, and here’s the wikipedia info on that term’s origins.

It’s called a PodCamp, but are people only discussing and presenting about podcasting? Can you tell me what kinds of things people will see and learn at PodCamp Western Mass?

PodCamp was originally about podcasting, but the name stuck even as people became more interested in all facets of social media. We’ll determine most of the sessions the morning of the event, but tracks and subjects that are shaping up include: Social Media 101, blogging tips & techniques, video blogging, journalism/citizen journalism, social media in higher ed, and programming social apps. But anyone who has social media info to share or a session they want to learn more about, are welcome to submit it, and if there is interest, we’ll put it on the agenda!

Who do you think would most interested in PodCamp Western Mass?

Anyone interested in learning more about social media, including business people, educators, artists, programmers, designers, writers, PR people, and marketing professionals.

I’ve gone to a couple of PodCamps, including the first one, 2006 Boston. The one aspect that surprised me the most was the community spirit among people interested in social media. I think social media has sort of an unsocial reputation — these people can only communicate via the Internet — and that actual face-to-face communication is awkward. But that’s not true! At least not in my experience. Can you tell me about some of your good experiences at PodCamps?

I missed the first PodCamp Boston, but attended numbers two and three, and yes, the community spirit is wonderful. I think that’s part of the reason why PodCamp is such a great and important event– we interact with each other from a distance via computer screen all the time– but there’s no substitute for actually being the same room. I’m thrilled that Western Mass has “grown up” in the online social media space– there are many fantastic people who made friendships at last year’s inaugural PodCamp WesternMass, and I can’t wait to make many more friendships this time around! Including, that I hopefully get to meet you f2f for the first time, Bill!

Thanks for taking the time, Morriss. Hope to see you on February 6th.

PodCamp Western Mass has more information, plus you can register for the event. Of course, they have a Facebook page?

Have you ever been to a PodCamp, Western Mass or otherwise? Have a good story?

Here’s How I’m Doing a Better Job Getting My Followers To Read My Tweets

One of the hardest things about communicating on the Web is trying to both be effective (and affective!) and not annoy people taking the time interact with your content. If someone is interested enough to read your blog posts or tweets, watch your video, or listen to your podcasts, you shouldn’t annoy them. Corporations and their marketing messages already bother people too much; you don’t want your communication lumped into the pile of corporate spam.

So, here’s what you can accomplish by repeating some  tweets and how to prevent your readers from being annoyed.

As your list of followers grows, especially beyond people you actually know, I think it’s safe to assume that people won’t read every one of your tweets. People’s Twittering habits are highly variable, but one thing is safe to assume: tweet reading is not comprehensive. You’ll never get all your tweets read by all your followers, but you can increase readership by repeating a tweet a few hours apart.

By repeating a tweet in the morning then the next day evening, you’re likely to catch people with different tweet consumption habits. For the obsesive folks monitoring their streams 24/7, repeating tweets aren’t likely to surprise those folks. Of course, you can only repeat tweets that aren’t time sensitive.

It probably isn’t necessary to repeat every tweet; not everything you write has the same value, therefore why potentailly make a nusance of yourself? Recently I repeated a tweet that caused a negative response, pointing out a problem: I probably repeated a tweet not worth the effort. Here’s the tweet I repeated:

Probably telling you something you already know, but the best wood fired oven bread in #westernma is Hungry Ghost Bread http://ow.ly/Pmdh

I may be very passionate about this bread and the bakery, but by repeating  the tweet multiple times, it made me seem like a shill, even though I wasn’t getting paid for the promotion.

Balance your own enthusiasm with what your followers will be interested in, because even though most people won’t read all your tweets, you don’t want to continuously annoy people that are interested in everything you write. Balance!

What kinds of tweets would you repeat?

5 strategies to build enthusiasm in your organization for blogging

blogging enthusiasm I’m working with a small educational institution, helping them develop a blog that covers their specialized approach to educating students. It’s a great project; worthwhile, their blog could be a hub for writing and resources that I haven’t seen on the Web.

There’s one problem (so far!): finding and motivating regular contributors among the ranks of their institution. As part of my work for the school, I’ve brainstormed 5 ways they can get dedicated contributors on board:

  1. Don’t ask someone broadly, “can you write a post?”, instead ask them “can you write about X?” Ask them to write about their expertise or passion. That way people will give you better work and will enjoy it more. Set them up for success.
  2. Approach people and be ready to answer every “No” they could possibly have.
  3. First approach people that will both be likely to give you a “yes” and be advocates for your project. In every organization there are leaders, if not in position then by personality. Get the pied pipers on board first.
  4. Give the best support you can to your contributors. Develop a tip list for your contributors that will help them write posts: headline ideas, topic brainstorming ideas, and post format ideas. All of this together answers the statement, I don’t know how to write a blog post.
  5. Develop a good “elevator pitch”. It can be a very effective tool. One thing to be aware of: this term is often used around the business world, but there is no reason the techniques can’t be used in any number of settings. The idea is to deliver a summary of your blog in 30 seconds, in such a way that the pitchee then asks you to talk more about the project. Because you’ve created interest about your project, they’ll want to know more.

I’m sure there are other effective ways to get contributors to your blog on board. How have you done it?