Introduction to Blogging

Recently a friend of mine asked me a few questions about blogging and I told them I would write an entry about blogging. I’m thinking I may start a new category and turn this into a series of articles because there are so many things I could talk about! Let’s get started!

Blog Ideas

  • Recipe Blog – Instead of having scraps of paper with recipes on them floating around your home, why not take those recipes and put them on a blog? With most blogs you can put each post into a category. Your chicken casserole could be in a chicken category, a casserole category or both. You could post photos of the food with each entry. This is a great and inexpensive way to share family recipes. Printing costs can add up quickly.
  • Computer Maintenance – You’ve finally fixed that nagging dialog box that keeps popping up every time you reboot your system. Why not make a blog entry about it so others can read how to stop it too!

Those are just a couple of the possibilities you could use your blog for. There are a ton of ideas out there. The sky is truly the limit.

Reasons for Blogging

  • Save Time – How many times have you sent an email to someone explaining how to do something to only have someone else ask you the same question. Instead of emailing the person wouldn’t it be better or much easier to direct them to the entry on your blog where you already have the answer waiting for them? If you make an update to the blog entry every one can see the change and you don’t have to resend the information to everyone who wanted it.
  • Discussion – Blogging software and services give you the option to allow comments on your entries. Your blog entry isn’t just a blog entry anymore, it becomes a discussion. Going back to the recipe blog. Your family and friends could comment on your recipes telling you how they prepared the dish and how it turned out for them. Maybe they had to use a substitute ingredient or they omitted an ingredient and got something totally different or a disaster!
  • Syndication – Blogging software and services allow you to syndicate your entries across the Internet using using “Really Simple Syndication” (RSS). RSS allows your entries to be listed on thousands of websites across the Internet. If you’re wanting to get noticed this will definitely help.
  • Subscription – Using RSS, readers of your blog can subscribe to your content using your blog’s built in RSS feed. Every time you post a new entry onto your blog the reader will be notified. Reader’s can subscribe in a variety of ways: using RSS reader software, an online feed reader or by subscribing to the feed in an email program that supports RSS feeds. With WordPress your users can even subscribe to the comments of each article. This lets your readers stay on top of the discussion and notifies them if you respond to their comment.

Blogging Options

Free Solutions

  • Blogger.com – This service (offered by Google) allows you to set up a blog in a very short amount of time. It’s free and it’s hosted by Google. It is limited, however. Google doesn’t use categories, instead they use labels. Their themes are out of date. Their service is plagued with outages. However, for a basic blogging it’s okay.

If you have a hosting account you can use Blogger as your blogging software and have it publish your entries to your hosting account. This is a great option if you are using a free or premium hosting service and have a domain name connected to your hosting account already.

WordPress.com Administration Area

  • WordPress.com – This service (offered by Automattic) like Google allows you to set up a blog in a very short amount of time. It too is free and hosted by them. You can upgrade your account on WordPress.com so that you can customize your blog’s CSS file. WordPress.com blogs offer users a lot of great features.

If you must go with a free hosted option then I would highly recommend WordPress.com over Blogger. I use the free, open source version of WordPress which you can install on your own server (more on that in a moment) and I absolutely love it. The interface on WordPress.com is exactly like the software you can download and install.

The major reason I would recommend WordPress.com over Blogger.com is the fact that if you decide to install WordPress on your own hosting account in the future, you can easily export your entries into a backup file and import them in your self-hosted installation very easily.

Note: You can import entries from a Blogger blog into a WordPress.com or self hosted WordPress blog. The only problem is that after you have imported your posts from Blogger you have to go through all of the posts and make sure that the formatting is how you want it. The way Blogger and WordPress display entries is different.

There are other free hosted blog solutions out there. The two that I have mentioned above are the ones I have used the most and are most comfortable in talking about their feature sets.

Other services that you might want to look into include: LiveJournal, TypePad, MovableType, MySpace or Twitter.

Self hosting benefits

If you want your own custom branded, custom designed blog then you’ll definitely want to look into self hosting your own blog. Most businesses would want to do this for branding reasons. This type of scenario would require you to install the blogging software or content management system onto your web server.

There are a lot of CMS packages out there. The one I’ll be discussing in great detail is WordPress CMS. I have been using it for quite a while now and am very happy with it. I started off using Nucleus CMS and was quite disappointed with it’s features. It left me begging for more. WordPress offered all the features I wanted right out of the box. It’s continued to get even better over the past couple of years.

The version of WordPress that you download and install onto your own server gives you all the functionality that WordPress.com blogs have while giving you the freedom to customize everything about your blog. You can install any plugin or theme you want. You can customize the themes to your heart’s content. You get free support from the WordPress.org Support Forums and it’s really good support, too. Once you start learning more about WordPress you can start helping out in the forums which will help the community grow and the software to get better.

Custom themesWordPress.com offers a lot of themes that you can choose from. However, if you install WordPress onto your own server you can design your very own theme so that it looks exactly the way you want it to. Learn more about designing your own WordPress theme.

Movability – If you decide that you want to move your blog you can easily do so by backing up everything and moving it.

Branding – You can customize your website theme anyway you want. You can make it look like your current website by using the same styling and simply adding a few lines of PHP code.

Plugins – There are a ton of freely available plugins that you can install in your WordPress installation. The plugins allow you to easily extend your blog’s functionality.

Community Blogging – Want to set up your own blogging community, for free (hosting not included)? You can use the WordPress MU version and set up your own blogging community. Each member of the community can have their own blog. This is basically a free, open source version of WordPress.com

Other self hosted solutions: Joomla, Drupal, Movable Type, Nucleus.

Setting Up WordPress

The steps for installing WordPress are very similar to installing Nucleus CMS or any other content management system (CMS). Most CMS software comes in a ZIP file. You unzip the file, upload it and click the install button.

Requirements

  • Web hosting – WordPress does not require a lot of space. The initial size is is roughly 3 megabytes. Remember, as you go you’ll probably be uploading pictures, possibly audio & video files. So keep that in mind.
  • Database – Your web hosting account will need to provide you with a MySQL database. Keep in mind as your blog grows your database will grow too. Most hosting providers allow you to set up several. Set up one and write down the username and password.
  • PHP – PHP is the scripting language that WordPress is built on. This must be available to you on your hosting account otherwise WordPress will not work.
  • FTP Client – I prefer FileZilla FTP.
  • Latest release of WordPress – Get WordPress here.

If for some reason you can’t get web hosting with the requirements above, don’t fret, you can still play with WordPress. It won’t be online but it will give you some experience. You can download XAMPP and install WordPress to a local installation. This is great if you’re new to this and don’t want to mess something up on your web hosting account.

Installation Instructions

  1. Extract the WordPress compressed file that you downloaded.
  2. Rename “wp-config-sample.php” to “wp-config.php”
  3. Open “wp-config.php” and enter the database name, username, password and the host location.

    NOTE: WordPress says that you usually don’t have to change the server location, “localhost”. In my experience you usually do. Just check with your hosting provider or when you set up the database look to see what the location address of that database is. On GoDaddy it usually looks something like “servername123456.secureserver.net”

  4. Upload the WordPress files to your web server in the directory you would like to host your blog.

    NOTE: If you upload into your root directory and have another website in the root directory, more than likely the WordPress blog will be the first thing that appears. If you do have something else on your hosting account then I’d suggest creating a new folder and uploading the WordPress files into that folder.

  5. Navigate to your domain, IP adress or folder on your server where you installed WordPress and you should get a page that gives you a link to install WordPress. Use that link to install WordPress. Once you do you can login and begin blogging. You should also receive an email with your username and password. If you don’t receive an email it means you’re hosting provider has disabled PHP emailing.

If the instructions above are not enough, look at the installation instructions on the WordPress website. There you will find much more detailed information.

Post Installation Instructions

Spam Prevention

SPAM! If you don’t have a way of preventing it, your blog will become full of spambots leaving comments or trackbacks on your blog posts. If you don’t prevent them it may become un-bearable to delete each spam entry. Luckily, with WordPress there is Akismet. Unfortunately, you’ll have to sign up for a WordPress.com account to get an API key to activate your copy of Akismet.

  1. Akismet Configuration – Login to your administration area, click on Plugins and activate Akismet.
  2. Get your API key – Even though you are hosting your own WordPress installation. Sign up for a WordPress.com account and retrieve your Akismet API key. Take the key and copy and paste it into your WordPress installation.

Two other plug-ins that I would highly recommend are Peter’s Custom Anti-Spam Image Plugin and Spam-Bam.

Spam-Bam keeps spammers from posting to your blog by limiting the speed at which they are capable of posting comments. Sometimes I’ll even get the “Slow down Cowboy” message if I’m posting comments too quickly on my own blog.

Peter’s Custom Anti-Spam Image Plugin requires commenters to enter the word or phrase in the captcha image. It’s not as cryptic as a lot of the captcha images out on the web. They’re quite clear. It’s one of the best captcha plugins I’ve seen.

With those two plugins and Akismet I have eliminated 99.9% of my SPAM comments and trackbacks. Depending on the popularity of your blog your success at eliminating SPAM with those plugins may vary.

Other plugins I recommend

  • Dean’s Code Highlighter – I use this plugin here on TechButter when I want to display code on the blog without having to take a screen shot. So far, I’ve only used it once but think it’s a great plugin.
  • Lightbox2 – If you’ve been looking through some of my older or newer articles you may have clicked on a screen shot or photo and been presented with a larger version. This plugin makes that happen. You have to write some HTML for each entry to make it work but it’s not that hard.
  • Subscribe to Comments – I wish this plugin was built into the base install of WordPress. I love being able to click “Subscribe to comments via email” when I leave a post on other blogs. I read a lot of blogs and can never remember all of the ones I have commented on. I enjoy staying up-to-date on the discussion.
  • Contact Form ][ – This plugin hasn’t been updated in over a year (as of the latest update to this article). However, it’s still my favorite plugin for contact forms. If you’re looking for a contact form with more options you might try cforms.

Permalinks

The purpose of a permalink is so that when someone wants to link to an article you wrote, they can link to the individual post instead of your entire blog. It makes it a lot simpler to get to the information.

The default installation of WordPress gives your entries a unique number in the address field of the browser.

Example: http://domain.tld/?p=147

For search engine optimization it is best to have something that is a little nicer looking, such as:

Example: http://domain.tld/2006/11/19/synergy/

How to set up permalinks:

  1. Create a blank text document (.txt extension)
  2. Upload this file to your fresh WordPress installation and make sure there is no file listed that says “.htaccess” You may have to instruct your FTP client to show ALL files to make sure it is or isn’t there.
  3. If the file isn’t there, upload your text file and rename it to “.htaccess” (without the quotes). Nothing before the “.”.
  4. Login to your WordPress administration area, go to Options and then choose Permalinks. Choose the permalink structure that looks best to you. I usually go with Date and Name based URLs.
  5. Go to your blog and select one of your posts. The title of your post will direct you to the permalink. If you can click on that link and load an individual post without errors then you have correctly configured permalinks. If not, check with the WordPress support forums.

Database Backup Plugins

To ensure that you’re website is backed up regularly you’ll want to get a WordPress plugin that you can install and do one click backups and then have WordPress email that backup to you. The backup plugins that I use are Il Filosofo’s WordPress Database Backup and WP-DBManager for more advanced backup options.

  1. Download the plugins
  2. Extract the plugins
  3. Upload to domain.tld/wordpressdirectory/wp-content/plugins
  4. Login to you administration area, go to Plugins and activate the two plugins you just uploaded.
  5. For the Il Filosofo database plugin go to Manage >> Backup. For the WP-DB-Manager plugin there should be a new tab at the top called Database.
  6. Get familiar with making a backup using each of the plugins. Also, set up a scheduled database backup. If you update often or get comments often you’ll want to backup daily.

Promote your blog

Tagging

With the latest version of WordPress you can insert tags into each of your posts. Whenever you make a new post onto your blog WordPress pings Pingomatic which tells syndication services that you have updated your blog. When anyone goes to a site like Technoratiand does a search for a tag that you gave one of your entries, your entry should show up in the results.

Blogrolling

If you read a blog that is along the lines of your blog, you might email the author and do a link exchange. They put your link on their blogroll and you put their link on yours. This will help somewhat in increasing traffic as well as help you to get acquainted with your fellow bloggers.

Link to stories on other blogs

Whenever you link to an entry on another person’s blog your blog will usually send out a trackback which will be placed in the comments section of the blog entry you linked to. That will tell the blog owner that you mentioned them in your latest entry.

Note: With statistics software it’s possible to see where traffic is coming from and you can tell if people are linking to your site and you can stay on top of the discussion.

Interface Suggestion

If you’re familiar with HTML then I would highly recommend that you turn off the default WYSIWYG editor that WordPress provides you with. For some reason I have a lot of trouble with it. I always change the editor from WYSIWYG to the HTML editor. I’m just much more comfortable with that style of editing and in my opinion it works a lot better. You can change this setting in your user profile.

Conclusion

Thanks so much for looking through my blog post about getting WordPress up and running. I truly hope this entry was helpful to you! If it wasn’t please let me know so I can update it and help you out even more. If there is a specific question you have about WordPress please ask me! Thanks again!

Article update: Thursday, September 12, 2008: I updated this article with new screen shots. I also updated this article with updated information regarding my suggested plugins.

Article update: Tuesday, October 21, 2008: Added links to contact form plugins.

Convert Nucleus CMS Blogs to WordPress

I am wanting to convert my blogs that are running on Nucleus CMS to WordPress, there are several reasons why and first of all, I want to explain why and then I will tell you how to do this:

The first and major reason I am wanting to switch is because I do not feel as though my blogs are getting enough visitors. One reason I feel this is happening is because when a search engine spiders my blogs they are not able to index my posts. From my understanding this has to do with the URL scheme for permalinks that Nucleus uses, it’s too complicated. In the Nucleus CMS forums there are tutorials for how to change the way articles are linked, however, I have been completely un-sucessful with them.

There are more features in WordPress than in Nucleus and I am wanting them now, I don't want to have to wait on future versions. The development of Nucleus seems to have slowed down, tremendously. Features I am wanting that WordPress has out-of-the box right now:

  • Static pages
  • Password protection
  • Multiple categories
  • Better SPAM prevention
  • Easier blog-rolling or linking.
  • Dashboard that shows you news in the WordPress community as well as notifications when someone links to your site.

When you upload images using Nucleus CMS it creates a proprietary link instead of linking to the image. This is especially annoying for me because when I do convert to WordPress, I am going to have to update each post so that the images will actually work!

There are other reasons that I don't like Nucleus CMS. There are reasons why I like it. However, I seriously believe it is time for me to make the switch to WordPress CMS. If nothing else, just so I can get more visitors coming to this website! At least, I hope that will happen! So, here is how we do this!

  1. Backup your Nucleus CMS database! If something goes wrong, you might have problems accessing your site.
  2. Install fresh copy of WordPress 1.5. This is an older version of WordPress, however, the converter that we are going to use does not like the newer version of WordPress. Once we get the Nucleus CMS database imported into WordPress 1.5 we can upgrade to the latest version (currently 2.04).

    WordPress Archive Directory
    WordPress Version 1.5 (ZIP)

  3. Download the converter that we are going to use and then upload into a directory on your web server. Nucleus ConverterYou can see the original documentation for the converter here.
  4. Make sure you have available the username and password of both your Nucleus & WordPress databases. Also, make sure that your Nucleus database doesn't have a prefix. If it does, you'll need to write down what the prefix of the database is.
  5. Navigate to the converter script that you uploaded to your site.
  6. Plug in the fields and click on convert.

Your posts should now be converted into WordPress, at least, this worked for me. Now, make sure you upgrade to the latest version of WordPress and then you can start cleaning up your WordPress blog. Unfortunately, you'll have to edit individual posts and re-link your images.

If you have uploaded images to your nucleus installation you can download them from the media directory, my images were under “nucleus/media/1”. I plan to upload the images to another directory and then re-link each one. If there is a simpler solution that I come up with, I will update this post.

I had multiple blogs on my Nucleus installation and what I am planning to do is to turn each of those blogs into its own category in the new WordPress installation. I need to move a couple of blogs into their own installation. I'm hoping I can either come up with a way to export individual blogs or once they are converted, export into a new install and delete the posts I don't want. If anyone has a simple way to do this, please, let me know!

Also, I should note that when I did this I also installed a fresh copy of Nuclues onto my local server, just in case something went horribly wrong.

Is a CMS right for you?

Definition of a web designer

Once upon a time the web designer of your website was responsible for everything. They designed the layout, they coded the site, they updated content for you whenever you needed them to, they also made sure everything was in proper working order. Today however, the role of the web designer is changing, in my opinion. The main change that I see is that the web designer is no longer and should no longer be responsible for the content on the client’s website. I do however think that the web designer is responsible for making sure that the site looks good, is maintained, is in working condition and is backed up regularly and can provide assistance to the customer. How is this possible? How can a client with no knowledge of web design principles or coding languages know how to update the website? Its called a content management system (CMS).

So what exactly is a CMS?

I always tell people that a CMS is an online application that you can install onto your website that allows YOU to manage YOUR content and the designer can manage the look of the site and maintain the site. You login to the administration area and create your content and publish it. There is no knowledge of coding languages required. The only thing you need to know, is how to navigate the CMS.

Reasons to implement a CMS

  • Once the website is set up, you can assign a single user, multiple users or groups of users to manage the content on the website. A lot of business will have a secretary update the content on the website using the CMS. The best part about this is is that you don't have to email your designer, wait on them to update the content, wait on them to reply saying its updated. You can go ahead and make the changes yourself.
  • You can apply different permissions to each user. If you wanted to assign an author permission to a user but not allow them to publish the content, you could assign someone else the ability to publish articles.
  • Since it is simple to create and publish content, you can publish content more quickly and more often. You could update your site whenever any new news about your company is available: press releases, news items, new employees, new products, product updates, etc. This will help keep your website from feeling stagnated. You can also create a blog which will allow your customers to leave you comments. This allows you to have interaction with your customers.
  • Backing up the website is also much easier. You can quickly make a backup of the database and your website theme. In the event that something was to happen to your website or you needed to move it, it could quickly be fixed or moved.
  • Since the underlying framework of a CMS is already there for you, it is much easier and quicker to create the look and feel of the website. You could create your own CMS, but, why re-invent the wheel?
  • There are MANY CMS' out there and MANY of them are free. You can pick and choose which one you'd like to use based on the features it has, the database and scripting software that it runs on, user interface, etc. Most CMS websites will have a demonstration area for their CMS.
  • I think most CMS' do a really good job of search engine optimization (SEO). I think they do a better job at SEO than just having HTML/XHTML & CSS pages.
  • Problems with a CMS (there aren't many, fortunately)

  • Although a CMS is reasonably secure (usually), your IT department or your web design department will need to make sure that your website is secure. They will need to make sure certain files remain hidden from the public (for database security). They will need to make sure the database is backed up, regularly.
  • If you're going to create a blog on your website and allow comments, you will need to make sure comments are moderated so that you don't have SPAM or rude comments on your blogs. This can sometimes get out of hand and almost become a full-time job. You'll either need to make sure there is a way to take care of SPAM or simply not allow comments.
  • You are taking money away from your designer! Since I am a web designer myself, I thought I'd throw that one in there. 😉

Which CMS to use?

The two that I am going to recommend to you are free AND open source. They are my two favorite CMS', they have plugins/modules that you can extend your CMS with. They're very user friendly. They're not too difficult to install either. Best of all, if you can't hire a web designer, you can download ready made themes for your site. The bad part about that is that it won't be custom to your company. Both CMS' have plugins/modules for e-commerce. The two I recommend are:

Drupal
WordPress

WordPress is more centered around blogging, however, you can tweak the code to allow it to be much more like a standard website.

If you'd like to try out the CMS' above or other ones, you can check out OpenSourceCMS.com