First Impressions

On last week’s What The Bachelor Teaches Us About Business post, Michelle posed two questions:

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

To help answer Michelle’s questions, I did a formal study on this (naturally by this I mean that I asked a few of my friends over google chat!). Here’s a little bit of what they had to say…

“A blog’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, wedding and fashion blog junkie. The first thing I notice about a blog is the 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, gives me a great first impression:

  • A clean, easy to follow, cohesive design
  • Fast loading of information
  • Quick access to links such as the RSS feed, contact information, and about page
  • An immediate clue about the blog’s main focus

And some that are not so great:

  • 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 Jasmine Star. Jasmine’s blog promotes her business, but also gives potential clients and industry readers a window into who Jasmine 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?

Installation & Basic Configuration of 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.  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.

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 URL to install WordPress to, and a MySQL username and password that WordPress will use to connect.

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

Database name = mycookingblog
URL to install WordPress = www.mycookingsite.com/blog
Username = johndoe
Password = 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!).  This 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.  We’ll talk more about that later!

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.  That email will contain the password that has randomly been generated for you for your WordPress “admin” user.  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
Password = given in your installation email

Welcome to WordPress!

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

  1. 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. 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.
  4. Settings → General.  Update all of the fields.  Be sure that the “Anyone can register” box is unchecked.
  5. Settings → Privacy.  Select the box that says: “I would like to block search engines, but allow normal visitors”.  We’ll uncheck this box once your blog is styled and ready for the world to see!
  6. Settings → Permalinks.  Choose either “Day and Name” or “Month and Name”.  Leaving the default is very 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!
  7. Navigate to Comments and delete the initial comment that WordPress creates by hovering over the name of the comment until links appear below it.  Select “Delete” and press “OK”.

Voila – you have WordPress!  The next post in this series will be all about plugins!  (As you know, plugins are my favorite things.)

Setting Up Your Server

After your domain name has been registered, the first thing that you will want to do is create email addresses.  You’ll want to add the following (in addition to any others you might want):

[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]

You can choose to manage these email accounts through your hosting company’s email interface or manage the account through your personal internet email address or in Outlook (or virtually any other way!).  I manage my Edit and Post and Elizabeth Anne Designs email addresses through my personal Gmail account.  If you would like to do the same, visit Settings → Accounts and Import in Gmail.  Choose ‘Send mail from another address’ and follow the prompts.

You can also choose to set up Google Apps for your domain name.  Visit the Think Splendid blog for an excellent article on the setup of Google Apps.  (A clarification to those who hop over to Think Splendid: Since Terrica’s article was published, Google has updated their settings to allow you to use your own mail server to send/receive.  If you select that option, the “on behalf of” line that used to accompany all sent messages is no longer shown.)

Your hosting provider should also give you instructions for setting up your first FTP user (if one was not already set up for you).

What is FTP?

FTP, or file transfer protocol, is the way that you upload and download files from your server.  Your hosting provider will give you access to a web FTP program that is good in a pinch, but to get the full power of FTP I recommending downloading one of the several free FTP programs available.  I personally use Core FTP, which you can download for free here.  In essence, what this program allows you to do is to transfer files back and forth from your computer to your server with one click.

To log in to your FTP program you will need the following information:

  • Host Name – a host name can be either your server name, your website address, or your IP address.  For ease, let’s use your website address.  So, my host name would be editandpost.com
  • Username – this is specified either by your hosting company or by you within your hosting company’s interface.
  • Password – also specified by you or your hosting company during setup.

The port for log in is typically 21 (verify with your hosting provider).  Your connection type is FTP.

Once you’ve logged in to your FTP program you should see a screen similar to this:

Now you’re ready to rock and roll with FTP, you have email, and your server is a blank slate. Next in this series, we’re ready to install WordPress!

WordPress Plugins: No Self Pings

I love WordPress plugins.  I’m a tech geek, so finding a new plugin that makes my life easier makes me happy.  Seriously, I think they are little bits of heaven (is that sad?). I love them so much that I’m going to regularly feature cool WordPress plugins here on Edit and Post.

What’s a Plugin?

For those of you who are just getting to know WordPress, a plugin is a piece of code that you install and activate.  Plugins can be complex or simple, and they either add functionality to WordPress or change existing WordPress behavior.  We’ll cover the process of installing and activating plugins in the Building Your WordPress Blog series.

Some plugins have settings that you change based upon how you want them to perform.  Some have CSS files (remember CSS?) that style their results.  Others require you to edit something in your theme.

Today’s plugin is easy, all you have to do is install and activate, and it works its magic.

What’s a Ping?

Each time you update content on your site, you are creating a ping.  A ping tells the whole web world that there is a new post in the blogosphere.  If your blog post links to another blog post, you send a pingback to the blog you linked to (make sense?).

If someone sends you a pingback and you have enabled link notifications from other blogs in your WordPress discussion settings, a pingback will then appear as a comment on the post they linked to.

This is all well and good, until you link to you.  It looks kind of silly for your own blog to comment on your own blog, now doesn’t it?

No Self Pings fixes all of that, by stopping yourself from pinging yourself.

Do you have a simple but great WordPress plugin that we should all know about?

Domain Names

So you have chosen the web hosting option that is right for you and have done some research and finalized a name for your blog or website. Now what?

It’s time to purchase domain names. The steps to this are different depending on the hosting provider you chose, but they probably make this pretty easy for you. In your account’s control panel, look for “registrations” or “manage domains” (or something similar), and for around $10 and in around 10 minutes, you can register a domain and enable it for hosting.

My advice would be to register at a minimum the .com and .net versions of your new domain. You should determine which of those will be your primary site and redirect the other. So, for example, if you visit www.editandpost.net, it will redirect you to www.editandpost.com. Redirects are key because you want visitors and search engines knowing your site by only one address, to strengthen that address’s results in searches.

When you are registering a domain, certain information will be required so that the owner of the domain is visible in engines like Whois. Your hosting provider should have a privacy service that you can take advantage of, so that your personal information is not used for the registration.

Other options for registration are the .co.uk version of your domain, .info, .mobi, .biz, .org, etc.

After you have registered your domain and set it up for hosting, you will be ready to do some basic set-up on your server and install WordPress! Aren’t you excited?