What Is So Great About WordPress?

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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.

While it is still possible to make a royal mess of a website and to present a cookie-cutter look and feel it is also possible to have a powerful solution, likely valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to have developed from scratch, for much less than I developed five page sites in the mid-nineties. Using the most widely supported CMS helps insure it is stable, secure and continually updated to keep up with changes and challenges every website owner eventually faces.

WordPress Uses Themes

Imagine clicking a button and your entire website look and feel changing instantly. You don’t actually have to imagine because this is exactly what happens with WordPress. There are thousands of free themes available, an equally exhaustive catalog of fee-paid themes, and even having a custom theme developed (most “WordPress experts” who claim to do this only change a few colors and images and do not actually create a custom theme) for a few hundred dollars. Once the theme is installed you can activate it, switch to another, or revert to the “out-of-the-box” default theme quite literally by clicking a button.

WordPress Uses Plugins

One of the most useful things about today’s smart phones and mobile devices is the ability to install min-applications. Plugins are very similar to apps. While I still contract to create custom web apps for non-WP sites today, often for thousands of dollars, there are thousands and thousands of plugins available for WordPress for free or very low fee. The range of what they do seems to be endless and when one cannot be found a custom one can be coded for just a few hundred to several thousand dollars depending on need.

WordPress Updates Regularly

For the same cost as purchasing WP, zero dollars, every time an update (major or minor) is released the site owner or manager can upgrade their installation with the click of a button. The same goes for themes and plugins when updates are available for release. Updates often are to enhance security, keep up with changes in HTML, CSS or other protocols, or simply to release a more advanced version.

WordPress Is Widely Supported

According to live reports on WordPress.com there are some sixty million websites using WP today. The development team has a core of full-timers and an army of contributors. Making sure the core of WP is secure, fast, functional, and forward moving at all times is what they do. Any time a report or suggestion is filed by a user it is taken seriously and considered toward future developments and releases.

WordPress Is Responsive

The word responsive, in this case, means it displays well on every browser including mobile. With the release of Theme 2014 the out-of-the-box version of WP is ready for mobile just like it is for laptops, PC’s, and even large screens. What once required a separate plugin and theme set can now be achieved within seconds of installing and activating WP.

 WordPress Is Easily Installed On Most Hosting Accounts

Whether your webhost uses CPanel or other management console it is almost certain they offer 1-click installation of multiple WordPress sites. This makes it possible, and simple, for virtually anyone to install and use WordPress online within a matter of minutes. Because each WP site can be installed in the same domain name creating dozens of sites like site1.myurl.com through site99.myurl.com is possible. This makes team management simple and even though it is beyond the scope of this article it is possible to tie all of those installations back together.

WordPress Is Simple To Use

If you can send an email with a photo attached you can post to WordPress. The management console is intuitive and even looks much like an email or word processing interface. Adding photos, changing text styles, including bullet points, inserting videos, and other common tasks are completed using the easy to navigate interface. With certain plugins it is also possible to extend the features and benefits of any WP installation.

A Word Of Caution

Just because you can sit in a race car doesn’t mean you can win a race. Just because you can sit at a piano doesn’t mean you can perform Beethoven. There is an art and a science to excellent presentation online. While it is possible to create a functional website using WordPress, and to be very proud of your results, if you are depending on your website for lead generation, customer interaction, or other crucial business tasks I encourage you to contact me for a free consultation. Sometimes that is all it takes.

What Should I Blog About?

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”.

Finding the number of searches for a particular keyword or keyphrase is simple if you have a Google AdWords account. Anyone can get one, and they are free. Making use of the Google Keywords Tool is quite simple, and I have included a short video hear to demonstrate.

Give tips on what you know, and what you do.

Many years ago someone asked, “Aren’t you afraid if you give away all of your secrets no one will need your services?” No, actually I am not afraid of that at all. Not everyone has the time, talent, skills, or tools to accomplish what I do. Therefore, I write articles just like this one. It is my hopes that my articles help many, and a few come to me to have me do the work for them. So far, so good.

Write about what you know about, and help people find it easier to trust you as the go-to expert in your field.

In keeping with the real estate marketing scenario any agent should be able to write about the process of buying or selling real estate. Most first time buyers do not know how important it is, for example, to have a professional home inspection. Many sellers do not realize how much more attractive their home will be after they purchase a home owner’s warranty for the new owners. It is not important that everyone know the agent receives a thank you check from the warranty company. It is important that people are aware of the power of such a tool.

Writing about the immediate area can help attract local searches, but be careful not to dilute the message of the site so much that your purpose in business is lost. I have literally visited websites that I thought were local service directories only to later find out the site was actually about a local business. Visitors are easily confused, and if they search for tips on keeping faucets from dripping and your site is about fishing, guns, and barbecue there are likely going to be missed opportunities.

Make sure your content is current.

Quoting statistics, which I do recommend, from 10 years ago in an industry which changes monthly is not such a good idea. People want relevant information, and they will leave if they detect something which does not apply, or is outdated. One of the best tips I give my clients is to anticipate what is going to be happening in your area. If you are, for example, a caterer you already know how this works. Heating and air conditioning companies know this trick as well. Build a buzz around your business by using relevant events to promote. If there is a parade coming up which is a big deal in your area be relevant, but write about it.

Other tips all over the web.

There are literally millions of pages of content about writing blog posts and website articles. Always defer to Google and Bing for the facts. Matt Cutts from Google is one of the best people to trust for sound advice in search engine optimization. More than anything write good, honest, well formed, well planned, instructive, content which asks for a connection from the reader. That connection may exist only in their mind, but that placed you just where you want to be with them.

About the author.

My name is Kenny Cook and I have been marketing online with digital content since 1988. You read that correctly. Back in those days there was no World Wide Web, but there were plenty of online networks to market to. Prodigy, Compuserve, and AOL were among the larges. If you need an answer to a question simply use the Contact form and I will answer as quickly as possible. Thank you for your time in reading this rather long article and watching my video. Share it if you like it!

How Many Data Tables Does WordPress Use?

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:

  • wp_commentmeta
  • wp_comments
  • wp_links
  • wp_options
  • wp_postmeta
  • wp_posts
  • wp_terms
  • wp_term_relationships
  • wp_term_taxonomy
  • wp_usermeta
  • wp_users

Need help? Has your WordPress been hacked or just become too cluttered to deal with? Contact me for WordPress support

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How To Block Spam Comments In WordPress

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.

This scenario is for those of you who are using your own installation of WordPress on your own web hosting account or server. Built in to WordPress is Akismet but Akismet requires you to connect to the WordPress.com database and also is deserving of a small fee – which they ask for. And, which you can just say you don’t want to pay. Furthermore Akismet does indeed collect your user’s data and there is no privacy policy to be found. True enough tons of data are pumped back to the WP home base servers every 12 hours … which is why there just may be a totally sealed alternative coming in the very near future! This alternative is for people who are concerned about that little issue.

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.

There are many different ways to block spam comment on WordPress and this is but one simple, easy to implement, non-invasive (won’t piss of your readers), and essentially free method of slowing down or stopping spam altogether. As always I invite you to leave your favorite method in the comments or submit a guest blog explaining in grave detail why you know a better way – in fact you are invited to do so!

Warning! SEO Plugins for WordPress Kill Your SEO


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.

Another thing both of these SEO plugins do well is to override the post name as the page title. Title, as Matt Cutts has told us many times, is very important to the search. If you are writing about spinach recipes and the title of your blog post is “Grandma’s remedy for the blues” do you think you’re going to rank well for “spinach recipes”?

This post is a warning to USE the plugins not just install them. Without them you’re on your own. With them installed and you not using them on every post, including going back in time to your pre-installation posts, you are simply doing yourself a disservice.

If you have too much to do I offer a service where an admin can go in and make the changes for you on an hourly or per post basis. Just contact me and I’ll get you a quote and turn time estimate.

WordPress like button plugins – Facebook, Google+ and Twitter

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.

The “fix” is so easy that anyone even without any PHP or JavaScript or even HTML to do it. You can watch the short video for a visual instruction. If you need me to do it for you I can and will. Just contact me and I’ll get it done … $25 for this. Enjoy!

File uploads for small business websites

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.

Web Development

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.

For the WordPress plugin solution the simple configuration for the clients was under 3 hours of work at roughly $180 total including installation on their behalf. The good news? They can use it over and over on as many WordPress sites as they have need for that plugin solution.

Meet WordPress for small business

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.

Installing WordPress on your hosting account

Since you’re using the hosting solution I mentioned above you’ll be glad, as a small business owner, to know that installing WordPress on your account is literally clicking an “install” button and answering just a handful of questions about your site. The site name, the subtitle and a couple of other questions. That’s it. That’s how hard it is. What you now have is a basic WordPress installation which, at the time of this writing, uses the Twenty Eleven theme.

What’s a theme?

That’s why you’re here today reading. We’re talking about themes and plugins. Chances are you have already experienced themes in other pieces of  “software”. While WordPress is not software it is a collection of scripts that accomplishes tasks. These themes change the look of every page and post in the site.

What is a “page” and what is a “post”?

To put it in the simplest of terms a page is for content that rarely changes and has no “expiration date”. I recommend pages for topics like “about”, “location”, “contact us”, “menu of services”, “catalog”, etc. Posts are frequent, unique and relevant. Think of news stories or show and tell in elemental terms. If you are marketing your business online posts are perfect for introducing a new item or service or giving information about it. If you are a restaurant you would put “happenings” or “recent events” in posts.

Pages, on the other hand, would be for things like “menu” or “directions to our location”. Maybe the video will help a bit:

Keep it simple at first

Once you start using WordPress you may really want to start customizing it for yourself. If you are more than average in your experience with managing a website go ahead and dive in but get at least these plugins (installed through the dashboard in the Plugins links):

  • BackWPUp – this will back up your entire install with your data intact. I back mine up to the Amazon cloud but you can back it up to your local hard-drive just as easily.
  • Contact Form 7 – it’s free, has a slight learning curve but is quite powerful. I use it regularly.
  • Google Analyticator – allows you to easily install the Google Analytics code, which I know you already have, right?
  • StatPress – even though the newest version of WP comes with Jetpack and the ability to connect to the WP.com server for some web stats I also run StatPress because it provides a different set of data in a different format. I want to know where people are coming from!
  • Yoast SEO Manager – does pretty much what it says it does and does it well.
  • Hire a Professional – no this is not a shameless plug, it’s here for a reason. I can help you with specific needs as can some other professionals.

I know you’re probably tired of reading and there is much more to share but we’ll take that up on another day under another topic. Be sure to subscribe and I’ll give away as much information as I can when I have the chance!

How to beg for money and get deleted in one step

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?

So in reality it’s not about asking for money, it’s about the infringement level, the timing and the amount of real estate/time required for your hand hanging out palm up. In Dennis’s case he allowed for no way around it: “donate to me and I will remove this large infiltration from your WordPress dashboard. Otherwise it just stays here.”

Negative. Delete. Blog. Publish.

When WordPress is the wrong solution …

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.

custom landing pagesHere’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.

The flip side …

I just returned from an appointment with a prospective client here in Marietta who had requested the ability to be able to create his own custom landing pages. He hired a local “web development company” (I use the terms very lightly) who charged him $1500 to install WordPress with a handful of plugins and add his logo header. One of the plugins they installed was a plugin to let him “create his own” landing pages. So what’s the problem?

He didn’t get what he wanted. He got something anyone can have that only does what it is designed to do and is not custom tailored to fit his needs. He has a total of $2200 invested in the installation and, while he can create landing pages, none of the pages look like or do what he needs to do. He asked me if I could “fix it” to make it do what he wants. Of course I can. I can dive right in and rework the plugin and make it do what he wants it to do then at some future date when they change the core of WordPress it may or may not continue to work. Or I can code a completely custom solution for him to meet the specifications he just gave me and he will be able to do exactly what he just asked including the fairly powerful data interaction for roughly the same price.

This is not a rant. It is a lesson. With my custom solution:

  • The man want’s to be able to easily add video where he wants it. Check.
  • The man want’s to be able to easily track who signed up and when with a simple dashboard. Check.
  • The man wants to be able to change the welcome message by uploading a Word or other text file. Check.
  • The man wants the results page to be a printable copy of his PDF booklet. Check.
  • The man wants an IM sent to his phone whenever someone signs up. Check.
  • The man wants the system to verify the email address they entered and double opt-in to a mailing list. Check.

He wanted other things, too, but for me they were all checks and for the free, er um $2200, WordPress install … no checks.

Sometimes WordPress is the wrong solution.