Posts filed under Blogging & Websites

Alt Summit 2011

Hi Edit and Posters! I hope you are having a wonderful start to 2011! I’ve been busy busy working on great new things for Elizabeth Anne Designs, as well as helping my good friends Cyd and Mojito Maven create brand spankin’ new sites!

I also just returned from Salt Lake City, where I attended the Altitude Design Summit. Not only did I get to spend loads of quality time with some fabulous ladies (like Cyd, Nole, Vane, Victoria, Emily, and Amanda), but I also was able to hear panelists like Heather Armstrong, Jordan Ferney, and Erin Loechner speak on a variety of topics including The Art of the Pitch, Advertising: Beyond the Banner, and Blogging Personal Stories.

I’d like to share a few overarching themes of the conference with ya’ll, and get your feedback on them.

Alt Theme #1: Blog with Integrity

The largest concept that repeated through the conference was blogging with integrity and honesty.

  • Giving your readers full disclosure about any compensation for content
  • Respecting your competitors and fellow bloggers
  • Taking sponsored content only where you feel it fits with your audience
  • Crediting all sources of content

We have all seen those blogs that bash other blogs, those who seem just the slightest bit sleazy with their sponsored content, who credit a blog and not the photographer when posting an image… Moral of the story?  Don’t be that blog.

Alt Theme #2: Monetize Your Blog

Although I don’t take ads or sponsored content on Edit and Post, I do on EAD, so this part of the summit was the most interesting to me.  I came away from Alt with a few salient points on monetizing:

  • Think outside the box when it comes to monetizing.  Case in point?  Check out I Wear Your Shirt.  Literally, this is a group of people who will wear your company’s t-shirt around town for money.  It’s so crazy it works, and I find it pretty awesome.  Explore alternatives to banner ads, such as affiliate relationships and ad networks.
  • Don’t undervalue yourself.  I came away feeling like design bloggers are lightyears ahead of wedding bloggers in this respect.
  • Monetize in a way that is in line with your readership (as in, if you blog about personal finances, a sponsored post on pet food probably isn’t a good way to make a buck!).
Alt Theme #3: Growing Your Online Community

Every aspect of a blog will be better if you are engaging your audience and are authentic.  One of my favorite panels, Blogging Personal Stories with Karey MackinMarta Dansie, and Stephanie Nielson, honed in on developing your voice and taking small things from your daily life and weaving them into your blog to tell a story.  People love knowing things about other people and connecting with them.

Personally, I took the most learning opportunities from this theme and am excited about implementing some of my ideas on EAD.

So did you attend Alt this year? What do you think about the themes that the conference covered – does it get you thinking about your own blog?

Google Analytics Advanced Segments

I’m sure most if not all of you know about the awesome tool that is Google Analytics.  It’s FREE, there are multiple wonderful plugins to integrate it with WordPress (I use Yoast’s plugin), and when used correctly, it allows you to track all kinds of interactions with your website.

One of the easy features to implement is the Advanced Segment feature.  Advanced Segments require no updates to the Analytics code on your site, only a little bit of configuration within Google Analytics.  I use Advanced Segments for a variety of things, but one important use is to track how readers from a specific referring source interact with your website.

So let’s say I want to see how readers from Google interact with Elizabeth Anne Designs.

First, log in to Google Analytics and access your website profile.

On the left sidebar, click on Advanced Segments.

Click ‘Create new custom segment’.

Under Dimensions expand Traffic Sources.  Drag and drop Source into the dimension or metric box.  Leave the condition as Matches exactly and in the value field type google.com.   Name your segment Google and click Create Segment.

Now, navigate back to your Google Analytics Dashboard.  In the top right, there is a dropdown for Advanced Segments.  In the dropdown, place a checkmark in your new Google segment and click Apply.

Your Dashboard will now show you how “All Visits” and “Google” stack up to each other!

Now to take it even further, let’s say you sell a product and have a checkout page on your site.  If people successfully check out, they are taken to a “thank you” page.  That thank you page represents your sales conversion page.  With Advanced Segments you can now see how many visitors from Google are converting into sales.

Navigate to Content -> Top Content.  At the bottom of the table, in the Filter Page field, type /thank-you/ (or the URL of your order success page) and click Go.

Voila! Data showing you how many sales conversations you received from Google visitors.  Of course, this is also useful for other page views, such as how many visitors are viewing your contact page, and other referring sources, such as external advertising you might purchase.  And soon, we will talk about Google Analytics Event Tracking and how to combine Event Tracking with Advanced Segments – which is where the real fun comes in!

So have I inspired you to try out Advanced Segments?  How will you apply them to your site analytics?

Images In Blog Posts: The Technical Side

We’ve talked about the legalities and etiquette of images in your blog posts.  Today, let’s chat about some of the technical things you should know when blogging images.

Size matters

High resolution images are a no-no.  Not only will it kill the speed of your site to host high resolution images, but it’s also bad blogging etiquette.  For best results, size images to no more than 500kb (and less is preferable).

Because most people are viewing your site on a widescreen monitor, portrait/vertical photos should be sized to about half of the width of landscape/horizontal photos.  This will help to keep the file sizes smaller, as well as keep each image within the viewable area of everyone’s screen.  For aesthetic reasons, this is why many blogs choose to “pair up” verticals in their posts.

Use WordPress’s built-in Media resizing functionality to help you out with resizing.  Under Settings -> Media you can supply a thumbnail size, a medium size (I use this for vertical images) and a large size (horizontal).  As you upload photos, WordPress will automatically create copies of the image resized to each of your specified dimensions.

What’s in a name?

A lot actually.  Search engines can’t “see” images, they simply recognize the caption (aka alt text), title, and image name and read those to index the image.  Name your images something descriptive and WordPress will automatically fill in the alt text and title with your image name.

When deciding on a file name, put yourself in the shoes of the searcher. “Juli and Jon Wedding” likely won’t produce any search hits. But “Yellow Sunflower Bouquet” might.

A helpful hint

If you find a photo on a blog and want to use it for your own blog (with the appropriate credits and permissions of course), it’s likely that the photo size won’t be exactly what you need for your blog. WordPress and Blogger both have ways of “hiding” the original photo source of a full-size photo. These little shortcuts may help you find a larger photo to meet your needs:

WordPress puts the sizing at the end of the photo name. Removing the sizing produces the full-size photo.

http://www.elizabethannedesigns.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Retro-Dessert-Table-249×375.jpg

becomes

http://www.elizabethannedesigns.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Retro-Dessert-Table.jpg

Blogger on the other hand, embeds the sizing within the URL. As with WordPress, removing one little section produces the full-size photo.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/__udAgyKza48/SpxravhrAmI/AAAAAAAABVo/VcllvgzGBfs/s400/snapdragon-flowers.jpg

becomes

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/__udAgyKza48/SpxravhrAmI/AAAAAAAABVo/VcllvgzGBfs/snapdragon-flowers.jpg

My favorite image plugin

And last but not least, if you have an image-heavy WordPress blog, here is a plugin that you will love me for (seriously). It’s called Faster Image Insert.

WordPress by default allows for the uploading of multiple images at once, but the insertion of only one image into a post at a time. This plugin fixes all of that and allows you to insert multiple images into your post with one click. If it’s compatible with your version of WordPress and the other image plugins you may have installed, I definitely recommend giving it a whirl on your test site and seeing if it’s a fit for you!

What other image tips and tricks do you have to share?

Using Images In Blog Posts

Some of the common questions as people begin blogging are about images: how to credit them, what are the copyright regulations, and general proper blogging etiquette.

Images and the Fair Use Doctrine

First up, the legal stuff: images are copyright to the photographer. Unless you have received permission from the photographer, or they have licensed their work for creative commons, you are using any images you post under the US government’s doctrine of “fair use”.

You should read this short page for the complete information about fair use but to paraphrase, if you are using an image for the purposes of illustration or comment, are not using all or substantially all of the author’s work, and clearly notate the copyright owner of the work, you are falling under “fair use”.

As you can see on the copyright office’s page, the entire fair use area is gray. Here are a few things that are absolutes:

  • Getting approval from the owner means you are in the clear to use the image.
  • A creative commons license (which many bloggers who take their own photos provide in the terms and conditions of their site) means you are clear to use the image.
  • If the owner of an image asks you to take it down, take it down.  Period.
  • You should ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS credit the owner/photographer.  Even if you have permission.  Even if it’s creative commons.  Unless it’s something like a stock image you have purchased, this rule should be followed 100% of the time.
Blogging Etiquette

If you are a blogger yourself, it is a great idea to have a policies or terms page on your site, telling your readers whether or not they are free to use the photos (and content) that you have posted and in what manner.

When you post images that you do not own, I think it bears repeating that you should always credit the photographer.  You should also credit the source of the information (where you found it), and any sources that they have named.  For example, I posted an image last week on Elizabeth Anne Designs that I found through the blog Little White Book.  She found the image via the Ruby Press blog.  The original image was from the blog Matt Bites, who is the original owner of the photo.  So my full credit was: image by Matt Bites, via Ruby Press and Little White Book.

It doesn’t cost anything to be nice and give credit where credit is due, so pretty please be nice and link to everyone who helped you find the image!

Other bloggers and photographers, do you have tips to share on image etiquette or guidelines for usage?

You Need a Test Site

Big red flashing word of warning!

Be super-careful when you are following these instructions and be very sure not to edit the web server or database for your actual website!  Always be sure that you have backed up your database and web server before doing this, just in case.

We’re going a little out of order here, but this topic has come up several times already and is so important that I thought we should cover it immediately.

You need a test site.

So how do you set up a test site for your WordPress blog?  First, purchase a separate domain name (anything works) and set it up for hosting.  Then, take the following steps to copy your production site (the techie term for your user-visited website) to your test site.

Let’s say your production site is www.mycookingsite.com/blog and your test site is www.mytestsite.com/blog.

Step 1: Copy your web server
  1. FTP the following files and folders from www.mycookingsite.com/blog/ to your computer or hard drive:
    • wp-admin
    • wp-content/themes
    • wp-content/plugins
    • wp-content/upgrade
    • wp-content/index.php
    • wp-includes
  2. On your computer or hard drive, delete the plugin folder for wp-stats if you have it enabled.  This is to insure that you do not confuse WordPress’s dashboard when you create your test site.
  3. FTP all of the individual files that are at the same level as the wp-admin, wp-content, and wp-includes folder to your computer or hard drive.
  4. FTP all of the files from your computer or hard drive into www.mytestsite.com/blog/.

You’ve now made a copy of everything on your web server except your images (no need to have these on your test site).

Step 2: Copy your database
  1. You have already downloaded the nifty WordPress Database Backup plugin.  If you have yesterday’s backup handy, great, otherwise go to Tools → Backup and run a backup of your entire database.
  2. Create a new SQL database through your web hosting company.
  3. Through your web hosting company, there should be a service called phpMyAdmin.  Log into phpMyAdmin using the username and password for your database.
  4. Select your newly-created database in phpMyAdmin and click on the “Import” tab.
  5. Browse for your backup file, be sure that the SQL button is checked, and click Go.

Step 3: Update your test database’s WordPress options
  1. In phpMyAdmin, click on your test database, and the table wp_options (or wp_xxxxxx_options).  BE SURE YOU ARE IN YOUR TEST DATABASE.
  2. Find the option name “siteurl”.
  3. Click the pencil on the siteurl line to edit the information.
  4. Change the siteurl to your test site.
Step 4: Update your wp-config file
  1. In FTP, navigate to the root of your TEST wordpress installation.  In our example this would be www.mytestsite.com/blog.
  2. Open the file called wp-config.php
  3. Change the values for DB_NAME, DB_USER, and DB_PASSWORD to your test database information.
Step 5: Validate
  1. Visit www.mytestsite.com/blog/wp-admin and log into your test site.  You will log in with the same username and password as your production site.
  2. Verify that your test site is visible at www.mytestsite.com/blog.

Voila! A perfect copy of your blog.  Use your test site to edit your theme, install new plugins to play with, develop new functionality, test upgrades of WordPress or plugins, etc before applying the changes in production.

PS – If you aren’t on WordPress, but instead have an HTML website, you should still have a test site.  Simply FTP the files from your web server to your computer, and then FTP back up to your new domain.

PPS – Your web hosting provider should also allow you to easily password-protect your test site’s domain.

PPPS – You should also read the WordPress Codex articles about Restoring Your Database From Backup and phpMyAdmin.

Edited To Add: PPPPS – See comments below for some reasons why you need a test site – this can include changes to your WP theme, or testing out plugins and new functionality, and creating new page templates – and also a shortcut method that doesn’t involve a whole backup of your production site.