business & technology for wedding and lifestyle pros

Servers and The Basics of Hosting


Now that you’ve taken the preliminary steps of designing your blog and purchased your domain name(s), it’s time to select a hosting solution.  If you have a website for your business already, you likely already have a web hosting provider and either space on a server or your own server. If you are setting things up for the first time, you will contract with your chosen web hosting provider who will allot you website space on a server and set you up with a FTP (file transfer protocol – this is the way you upload and download files from your server) account.

Servers and Hosting

Photo: © F.Schmidt / Shutterstock
What are the basics of hosting and which type is right for me?

Basics: A server is essentially a large computer that is held in a hosting provider’s data center. Your hosting plan determines how much of the server your account “owns”. There are three main types of hosting services: shared server, virtual private server, and private server.

Shared Server: The most economical option.  Your website is hosted on a server along with multiple other websites.  The hosting provider that you choose will set limits for your account so that you do not overload the server and cause the rest of your server’s websites to go down.  This option is great for those of you just getting started, as the memory and bandwidth that you will be provided is likely sufficient for your needs.  However, if you expect several thousand visitors per day (at peak times), you may experience slowness with shared server hosting and your web host even has the ability to take your site down to steady the server.

Best for: Just getting started; Non-complex sites; Static websites (non-blogs); Sites without a rush of traffic at peak times

Virtual Private Server: Picture a server as a packing box for glassware.  You get the space for one glass and share the box with multiple other glasses.

The server is partitioned off so that you have full control over only your piece.  No other website can touch your area of the server, and vice versa.  Advantage: your own place to play, guaranteed server resources up to your partition’s cap.  Disadvantage: you can’t take advantage of the resources that the other partitions aren’t using like you can with the shared server.

Best for: I personally don’t recommend VPS hosting.  I tried it for a while and was completely unimpressed.  In for a penny in for a pound, I say, and if I’m spending money and getting dedicated resources, I’d rather have…

Private (Dedicated) Server: Your very own home for your website.  With dedicated hosting, you will have full control over your entire server.  There are differences between private server plans, so you should do your homework and speak with potential hosting companies to see where your website fits in with their offerings.  Be sure to know:

  1. Exactly what type of server you will receive and how much horsepower it has
  2. The level of support you receive from the hosting provider
  3. What you will be charged for (bandwidth, number of databases, disc usage, FTP accounts, etc)

Best for: High-traffic websites, those who want lots of control over their site and the resources it consumes.

Which hosting company is right for me?

As I’ve previously mentioned, each of my domains are registered with DreamHost, but my hosting is with LiquidWeb. I have a dedicated server. LiquidWeb is the third hosting provider that I’ve used, and I could not be more pleased with their service. Real, live people pick up the phone, ya’ll! They are incredibly responsive, my move over from my previous hosting provider was painless, and I experience very few issues. No hosting company is perfect, but LiquidWeb was recommended to me by a trusted friend, and I have personally recommended LiquidWeb to other bloggers who have also experienced the same stellar service.

I also know bloggers who use and enjoy Bluehost, though I have no experience with them.

Managed hosting providers

There are several commonly-used managed hosting providers, such as WP Engine and Synthesis. Managed hosting providers typically offer standard pricing plans, with certain levels falling under either shared, VPS, or dedicated server hosting. The benefit of a managed hosting provider is that their servers and architecture are optimized for WordPress. The downside is that some plugins and other functionality are disabled by default. Many plans also place limits on bandwidth transfer, storage space, and the number of WordPress installations you can run on your account. WP Beginner has a great article on managed WordPress hosting, which I highly recommend that you read if you’re thinking of going this route.

For experienced website owners: what type of hosting do you use and what hosting companies do you recommend? Have you had good experiences with Virtual Private Servers? If you have a high traffic site, when did you switch to a dedicated server, or, have you been able to stick with shared hosting and save money?

Coming up in this series: Setting Up Your Server, Installing WordPress

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The Midas Whale


Several seasons ago, there was a duo on the Voice by the name of Midas Whale. Legend has it, one member of the duo asked the other if he wanted to form a band, and he replied “Might as well”, and thus the name was born. From then on, in the office, each decision we made because we “might as well” was referred to as a Midas Whale.

The Midas Whale

Photo: © Dreams by the Sea / Etsy

Over time, I’ve come to the realization that though he may originally appear cute and harmless, the Midas Whale is a dangerous predator. It’s so easy to follow the Midas Whale that the best alternative may be left by the wayside.

Perhaps:

  • You’re going down the path of least resistance.
  • You might not truly want to take the route, but you can’t think of a reason not to.
  • Your first choice wasn’t available, so this is the next best thing.
  • Other people are doing it, so you think you should as well.

Before following the Midas Whale, ask yourself:

  • Is there another course of action with a higher potential upside?
  • Am I doing this because it’s easy, or because it’s best?
  • What do my instincts say about the choice?
  • Am I swimming with the current (pardon the pun) or simply being carried along?

Have you followed a Midas Whale? How did you feel about your decision?

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First Impressions


With our lives moving at an incredibly fast pace and our attention spans becoming ever more diminished, your website’s first impression is becoming increasingly important. Did you know that the average user forms an opinion about your site in 50 milliseconds? Or that the majority of readers spend less than 15 seconds on a webpage? So, as website owners, our challenge is to make a good first impression, and keep our content sticky.

Website First Impressions

Lettering: KELLY CUMMINGS

How do you make a good first impression with your website?

A website’s first impression for me is all about the layout. The menu bar tells the whole story – it is where I like to see a blog’s main topics. From there, I like to be able to use tags to quickly find my way around to what I’m looking for.
Julianne Smith

I’m a self-professed design and lifestyle blog junkie. The first thing I notice about a site is the layout, design and photography. A blog that makes a great first impression has a simple, pretty layout that is easy to read and pleasing to the eye and showcases great photography. If one or the other is off I’m not likely to return.
Cyd Converse

What do these answers have in common? They both form their feelings about a site at the first moment they see it. If it’s cluttered, difficult to navigate, or not appealing to their eye, they aren’t likely to stick around. They may not have read a word and yet they are ready to leave.

Here are a few things that, as a reader, give me a great first impression:

  • A clean, easy to follow, cohesive design
  • Fast loading of information
  • Quick access to relevant information
  • An immediate clue about the blog’s main focus

And some things that make me click away:

  • Difficult to follow navigation, or a large amount of clicks to get the information I’m looking for
  • Music
  • High-resolution photos that take several seconds to load
  • Distracting elements, such as pop-up windows or flashing ads
What do you think makes people come back?

These are the things that keep me reading when I visit a new blog: clean layout, unique design that says who they are, good grammar, content that is obviously written with a wider audience than one’s family in mind, and posts that aren’t consistently about the banal things in life. The one exception to the banality rule? Those who can write about the mundane and make me laugh. If you’re one of those few genuinely funny people out there you can write about putting the groceries away or retrieving the mail from the mailbox and I’ll still keep reading.
Jenna Cole

Jenna is a reader that truly wants to engage with a blog author. If you are a follower of her blog, this won’t surprise you, as her own blog is personal and she has built a wonderful community with her readers.

Being personal isn’t just for “personal blogs”. If you are in the wedding industry, you no doubt know the name Lara Casey. Lara’s site and social profiles promote her business, but also gives potential clients and industry readers a window into who she is as an individual. She is branding herself as much as she is branding her talent, and people want to connect with her, as well as connect with her work.

A few things that keep me as a reader coming back to a blog:

  • Consistent, informational posts
  • Unique content, especially written with a distinctive point of view
  • Posts that start me thinking—this could be a post about business philosophy or beautiful inspiration photos

What resonates with you when you read a blog for the first time? What makes you return for more?

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What Las Vegas Teaches Us About Business


Ah, the land of smoke and slot machines. Las Vegas is an interesting case study, economically. Hotels are luxurious and relatively inexpensive, yet restaurants and shows are exorbitant. The casinos will give you free drinks, even at the penny slots, but a cab down the road is $20. So what can we learn from Las Vegas about how to run our business?

What Las Vegas Teaches Us About Business

Lesson 1: Get them addicted and they’ll keep coming back

Whatever it is that you’d like people to consume, you want to find a hook—something that keeps them coming back for more. Is it your amazing photography? The unique and creative product that you are selling? Your sparkling wit and dazzling intelligence?

How are you drawing people in to your blog or business website? What are you doing to keep them there? Are you:

  • Putting out good products or information on a consistent basis?
  • Creating “sticky” content? As people find your site, do you lead them through to other content by using related post functionality or backlinks to other content?
  • Providing something that gives them immediate gratification? For example, if someone reaches your website through a google search for “Seattle wedding photography”, are Seattle weddings what they see when they get there?
  • Showing them who you are, what you do, and how to get in touch with you through easy to find links?
Lesson 2: Give something away for free and they will stick around

Casinos have this one down, don’t they? Not only does the free liquor make people feel as if they are receiving some sort of value for their time and money, but it impairs their judgement. We’ll skip the fuzzy memories and the “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” attitude and focus on the giving piece of the equation.

  • Customers are more likely to buy your product if they have seen tangible proof that your work is fabulous.
  • People are more likely to pay for supplementary content if your free content rocks (think e-books, magazines, etc).
  • Give people something of value to them, whatever that something is (a discount, a sample pack, a great shopping bag — hello, lululemon!) and they are far more likely to purchase from you in the future.
Lesson 3: Objects may be further away than they appear

Anyone who’s ever walked between casinos in Las Vegas knows this one. Hence all the tourists in fanny packs and sneakers.

If you’re like me, you tend to underestimate the time it will take to get something done. “Just 5 more minutes” turns into a half-hour of editing a blog post, or responding to emails. I also overestimate the energy that I will have to devote to projects on an ongoing basis.

  • Budget your time as well as you budget your money.
  • Make sure that you accurately assess the effort it will take to reach your goals, or complete your daily tasks.
  • Pushing to reach the finish line is a great thing, but not if you are exhausted and tapped out in the end.

I’m not an advocate of “slow and steady wins the race”, more like “focused and controlled helps you reach your goals faster”.

Lesson 4: To succeed, you must take risks

You shouldn’t be gambling your life savings away. We’re not even talking huge leaps of faith here, although it could be.

It may be the daily risk of putting yourself out there on your blog. Or the risk of creating a new product line that stretches your business boundaries. Or even something as simple as taking a small capital risk by advertising on a new website or attending a conference.

  • How are you taking risks in your business?
  • What are you doing to invest in your success?
  • Are you committed to your business strategy, even if there are obstacles?

What else can Las Vegas teach us about business?

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Installing WordPress


For the vast majority of you, installing WordPress will be an incredibly simple exercise.  Most hosting companies offer a one-click install package, such as Fantastico or Softaculus.  So mosey on along to your hosting provider’s interface and tell it to install WordPress already!  If your hosting provider does not have a one-click install, you will need to download the latest WordPress package and follow these instructions for installation.

How to Install WordPress

As you might remember from this post, WordPress needs a MySQL database to run.  You will need to define a database name for your MySQL database, a table prefix (usually wp_), a URL to install WordPress to, and a MySQL database username and password that WordPress will use to connect. A one-click installer may select the database username and password for you, so don’t worry if this isn’t one of the options available.  You may also get the option of selecting an admin username and password.  If so, take advantage, as “admin” is the most common username tried by hackers.

So, for example, if you are want people to visit your blog at www.mycookingsite.com/blog you might choose:

Database name = mycookingblog
Database prefix = wp_
URL to install WordPress = www.mycookingsite.com/blog
DB username (if asked) = your FTP username
DB password (if asked) = 0987fed654cba321
Admin Username (if given the option to select one) = johndoe
Admin Password (if given the option to select one) = 123abc456def7890

Take careful note of your username and password.  I recommend choosing a 16-character randomly generated password (something more secure than the one above, obviously!).  The database username and password are stored in a WordPress file called wp-config.php that will be automatically created for you by your installer.  Any time you change your password (which you should do relatively often, for security purposes), you will want to update wp-config.php.

If you are using a one-click installer, you will receive an email from your hosting provider once WordPress is successfully installed on your server.  Go ahead and go to WordPress and log in.

The login location for My Cooking Site would be: www.mycookingsite.com/blog/wp-admin

Username = admin OR your johndoe
Password = given in your installation email OR 123abc456def7890

Welcome to WordPress!

There are a few things that you will want to do immediately.

Delete the “admin” user. If your installer did not give you the option of selecting a custom admin user, you’ll want to:

  1. Navigate to Users » Add User.  Create a new user for yourself.  Make sure that author name is the one that you want to be visible inside WordPress.  Give that new user the role of Administrator.  Make sure that you choose a password that is secure and different from your database password.  Again, I recommend a 16-character randomly generated password.
  2. Log out of admin and in with your new username.
  3. Navigate to Users » Add User.  Delete the admin user.  Hackers target blogs that are easy to get into, and the first username that they will try is ‘admin’.  Make yourself less susceptible by deleting the user.

Adjust your basic settings.

  1. Navigate to Settings » General.  Update all of the fields.  Be sure that the “Anyone can register” box is unchecked.
  2. Navigate to Settings » Reading.  Select the box that says: “Discourage search engines from indexing this site”.  We’ll uncheck this box once your blog is styled and ready for the world to see!
  3. Navigate to Settings » Permalinks.  Choose either “Post Name”, “Day and Name” or “Month and Name”.  Leaving the default is bad for SEO (search engine optimization purposes).  A post URL of www.mycookingsite.com/blog/?p=123 means nothing to Google; a post URL of www.mycookingsite.com/blog/2010/01/brownie-recipe is much more descriptive!

Remove WordPress default content.

  1. Navigate to Comments and delete the initial comment that WordPress creates.
  2. Navigate to Posts and delete the “Hello world!” post.
  3. Navigate to Pages and delete “Sample Page”.
  4. Navigate to Plugins and delete the “Hello Dolly” plugin (unless you really love the song Hello Dolly!).

Voila – you have WordPress!  The next post in this series will be all about plugins!

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