Every small business, every business even, every marketer, every church, every politician, needs a web presence. Years ago when I first began providing web presences for such people it took much more to convince them of the need. Today it seems almost every one of these people recognize the need even if they do not exactly know why. For the sake of this short article let’s assume everyone knows having a website gives direct access to your words, images and sound to nearly every person in your marketplace regardless of scope or size.
When the web first started gaining traction back in 1995 I could charge, and get, as much as $500-$1000 for a single web page, more for small business websites, that actually did something like accept information into a form or provide automated data responses to visitors. Plain static web pages would yield $150-$300 or more depending on graphics and how much content I created for the site owner. This trend continued for a few years and started to change when Microsoft and Macromedia (among others) came out with WYSIWYG, DIY solutions. Unfortunately this led to a proliferation of cookie cutter, amateurish websites which displayed awkwardly on various browsers, contained many errors in style and code, and all too often stayed out of date within days of being published.
By the opening of the new millennium various Content Management Systems were making their way onto the Internet to help solve some of these issues. These framework systems were created by groups of developers working on the code in teams and churning out stable, modifiable solutions almost always available for free. Many of these continue today and our subject, WordPress, was born in the same era and continues to grow and refine today.
But Why Choose WordPress?
Today’s selection of CMS solutions is wide. There are at least four major competitors, although another twenty or so would like to be considered a front-runner, vying for your attention today. Each of them offers a unique blend of solutions and all do so quite well. Only one is highly dominant, for reasons we will discuss, and that is WordPress.
It may seem an odd question to some but one of the most frequent questions I answer from people new to their own domain is, “What should I write about?” The question is valid, and deserves a solid answer. In order to properly answer the question, especially for business purposes rather than personal use, it is imperative to know a little more about the business, the site owner, the target audience, and the expect results. With this knowledge in hand it will be much easier to determine a set of topics for the blogger, or site owner to address. Keeping in mind the need for the answers to these questions let’s take a look at how I may advise a client in a coaching session.
What does your business offer to your clients?
Once we know what your business offers we can establish a mile-high view of what you should begin writing about. Other than the obvious, I am a real estate agent, or I am a used auto broker, there are details within your particular niche. In online marketing or search engine marketing we call these “long tails” although I prefer the old school word “highly targeted market segment”. Long tail is an abstract which is supposed to demonstrate the small end of the funnel by using the image of a brontosaurus to draw a parallel. That’s okay, I don’t really get that either.
Using the example of a real estate agent who writes for her own blog let’s look at some tip of the funnel ideas to help draw readership and encourage interaction from the site visitors. First off the term real estate, as of the writing of this article, returns about 1,300,000,000 results. In words that is over one billion search results. If one were looking for a haystack in which to hide a needle this would be an amazing place to begin. Let’s add the name of a mid-sized state like Georgia. By adding the name of the state, Georgia, the search results are trimmed all the way down to 1,200 on Google. However, this is not necessarily the direction we want to go. First we want to make sure that the search volume is high enough to make it worth our time blogging about “real estate in Georgia”.
Photo by dan freedigitalphotos.net
Someone just emailed a very valid question. It seems they were wanting to trim back their WordPress database to only the virgin install state and wanted to make sure they backed up only the data tables they needed to accomplish this. There could be arguments that not all of the virgin install data tables need to be restored but the question, verbatim, was, “how many data tables does WordPress use when you first install it?”
The answer is 11.
Of course just that answer isn’t worth much if you have 27 tables in your database. So here is the list of the tables WordPress creates when it is installed on your webserver:
Need help? Has your WordPress been hacked or just become too cluttered to deal with? Contact me for WordPress support
How do you block spam comments in WordPress?
First let me remind and inform there are two WordPress methods. First there is WordPress.com where you create a “free” website using WordPress and it is hosted on the Automattic servers. You own nothing and control only part. Then there is WordPress.org which you either download and install on your server or if you are using a good WordPress web host you simply click a button and install. While you still never “own” the software you can control it to a much greater degree and your content resides on your server under your control.
Spam comments on any blog are a real pain and can carry a high cost of resources to the site owner. Preventing spam comments from being posted to begin with is the ultimate solution but even deterring spam comments is a great plus. This method shows how to allow manual content but to slow down the spam operators who have a goal of posting as many spam comments per day as possible.
Play the audio introduction
Actually your SEO is probably already suffering with an out of the box install of WordPress (your self hosted version) but what usually happens is a user installs an SEO plugin and either they simply do not use it (thinking it will somehow magically do all the work for them) or/and they fail to go back and use the plugin on existing posts.
If you do not use one of these plugins you should. Otherwise how are you controlling your SEO? Do this experiment. Go to your WordPress site and find any single post then view the source. Then search for “<meta name=”description” and see if you find one. Chances are you will not. So how are search engines supposed to call your site “search engine friendly”? Search engine friendly, by the way, means human reader friendly.
The title of this article is actually a little sensation but it’s also a warning to you that neither All-In-One nor Yoast make SEO an automated event. You still need to work with them. I recently consulted with a prospect who insisted they were okay in SEO because they had one of these plugins installed. When we did an SEO evaluation on a couple of single posts they thought I was somehow faking the results. What we were looking at was a still blank description meta tag.
The nice feature of Yoast is it allows you to setup a template. The downside to this is your descriptions are all the same and your pages surely contain variations on your topic.
Many people assume the description meta tag has no bearing on Page Rank and that may well be true. We know keywords has no bearing but even if description has no bearing on the Page Rank it does, most certainly, have an effect on the human reader. If you do not include a description the search engine will choose its own snippet from your page and display that in the search results to the searcher.
WordPress Plugin: Simple Like Buttons
Here’s a WordPress plugin many people can use. The situation is that I had separate Facebook, Twitter and Google+ buttons scattered at the top of my posts. While I wanted them at the top I would prefer for them to all be aligned in a single row. I searched a bit in the WordPress plugins directory for Facebook Like, Twitter tweet and Google Plus 1 but was finding only individual plugins for each social media site.
Just as I was about to give up on the search and code my own I found Simple LikeButtons (Facebook, Google+, Twitter). In the image it appears the buttons are at the top of the post, and they are, but “out of the box” this plugin places the buttons at the bottom of the posts where I happen to have a lot of other things going on. Unfortunately the plugin also does not have a way through their built in options to do anything other than select which buttons are displayed.
Since WordPress works around something called “the loop” and this plugin was very simply coded (some plugins are packed with code but this one relies on much third party coding so it is much smaller and simpler) I knew it would be pretty easy to find the location in the script which handled the location task and modify it. I suppose I could have modified the admin options script but if I did that I would like re-code the entire script and submit it to the repository myself.
Recently a prospect contacted me with a need for their clientele to be able to upload a few different types of files via the website. The company requires documents from their clients and wanted to move away from the fax machine and allow customers to upload files directly from their computer to the site. The files needed were PDF, DOC, TXT, and ZIP.
Since the company already had an existing WordPress installed for their Content Management System (CMS) they needed a solution their WordPress guy had no idea how to create but needed it to work with their theme he had customized. This mean it had to be created in such a way that when their existing guy quit handling it and new updates were made the application would not break.
The coding of the file upload application was identical to any that would be created for any stand alone site not encumbered by a CMS like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. Since the maximum file sizes would be around 3 to 4 megabytes we simply used a PHP upload function and stored the files in a non-web accessible directory above the root. This was done for security purpose. We then created a simple way to inject the application into the loop on WordPress using a shortcode so that wherever ##UPLOAD## is found the application is inserted into that location on the page or a sidebar.
There are options, too, if you do not have PHP on your hosting account or if you want to go above the limit for PHP uploads. One option is to split larger files into smaller files and rejoin them on the server using PHP. The other is to use Perl to upload any size file (based on server limitations). Either way the solution is there and cost is based on how it is used.
There are plenty of things to be thankful for which we North Americans tend to reflect upon this time of year. Small business owners have a mixed bag of things to be thankful for and one of those is a little content management system called WordPress. For those of us who have been using and developing solutions for WordPress since it separated from B2 we have been ever interested in the evolution. No pun intended for those who got it.
What WordPress is
WordPress is a web content management system. It’s also almost fool proof … er, caveman proof.
For the casual user and professional user alike WordPress can be a tremendous saver of time and expenses. While it does have several limiting factors for those on a budget these are easy enough to live with. True customization of WordPress can be quite spendy when the site owner is looking for more than just aesthetic changes so we’ll leave that for another article on another day. For the next few hundred words let’s look at free (as in the site owner investing their own valuable time) and inexpensive solutions. (Word: there are multiple solutions to every challenge – we do not have time nor interest in examining every possible solution for WordPress for small business owners in this article.)
Two types of WordPress
WordPress gets a little confusing out of the gate because there are “two” WordPresses. The first one is WordPress.com where you get a free WordPress account on their server. This is the more limiting type of installation so if you really want control of your site you’ll need a professional WordPress solution. There are several available and the one I recommend (and use) is Professional WordPress Hosting. I use it for many reasons too numerous to list the advantages here.
As an ongoing part of my day job, my consulting job and my Blog Talk Radio gig I try a lot of services and a lot of products. In fact it is not rare when someone asks if I have ever heard of a service and when I go to try it I see I already have an account there … from months or years prior. It happens.
Having been involved in the WordPress project since inception I try hundreds (and hundreds) of plugins for ideas to create my own or to make sure they work with themes or other reasons. Sometime in the recent past I tried a plugin called Feed For Text Links by Dennis Hoppe. Now Dennis is a young, European capitalist so I don’t want to be too harsh on him but I do want to give him a reality check on what is acceptable, even in the quasi-capitalist union of the States.
Taking over a large percentage of real estate is not a good idea. (See screen capture.)
We all need food and some of us need beer. Most of us need money for food and beer. Not me, I’m self-sufficient, but I digress. Since this plugin is a “free” plugin and the author needs food and/or beer he certainly has the right to ask for a donation. Keep in mind this is a lesson about what it acceptable, not what is permissible, and that this translates to anything we do online not just WordPress plugins.
There is a delicate balance
Please don’t ask me to identify your tipping point as I am still searching for my own. Truly I give away, without expecting anything directly in return, a tremendous amount of information. For the tens of thousands of listeners to Social Media Edge Radio what if I covered 10 percent of the show (that would be 6 minutes) by asking for donations? Building on that thought at what point would you turn off the show, regardless of how awesome the guest is, if every 12 minutes I did a 1 minute fundraising drive for myself?
Because WordPress is so simple to install and make minor changes to like header graphics, home page class, color scheme, and plugins used there are literally hundreds of people claiming to install “custom WordPress sites”. In reality they are doing nothing, or very little, any untrained person cannot do. It’s point and click for the most part.
Here’s the really sad bit: since they are usually not developers but may be “designers lite” they don’t know how to listen to what you, as a client, really need. Furthermore if you told them what you want they likely would have no idea how to create it so they simply sell you on WordPress. Don’t get me wrong, I love WordPress. It’s a robust, out of the box solution for a lot of purposes and it is easily customized. It is, however, still an out of the box solution which means it comes with a lot of limitations and quite often a tremendous amount of overkill for many projects.
What makes WordPress attractive?
- WordPress is easy to use by anyone who can send an email. Like with anything there is a learning curve but within a few uses almost anyone can be zinging with WordPress.
- WordPress is free. People charge anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars for “customization” but the application is free. In fact it comes free with many WordPress web hosting accounts.
- WordPress is widely supported by an enormous community of developers of which I am proud to be a small part.
- WordPress is constantly updated to close security holes, add new functionality and permit new ways of interacting with the core.
Like I said, I like WordPress … it just is not always the right solution as some would have you believe. If you are somewhat technically savvy in that you actually understand how functions interact with the loop, how theme elements control the presentation, how to create at least simple widgets and plugins then WordPress may be great for you even if you just want to do some small, non-blog tasks.