Lesson One: Fine-Tuning Your Blog - Visibility, Spam, Plug-Ins, Widgets, and Security
This is one of the longest lectures in the course.
I'm going to ask you 3 questions in this lecture.
1. Is your blog succeeding at driving traffic to your website pages and selling your books?
2. Is there anything you can do to improve the look of your blog and to make it more user-friendly for visitors?
3. Is your blog (and website) as secure as you can make it against hackers so that all of your hard work doesn't go to waste?
Question One: Is your blog succeeding at driving traffic to your website pages and selling your books?
The first rule of thumb is making sure that your blog clearly directs visitors to your website and books. The best case scenario is if your website has a button leading to your blog, and your blog has a button leading to your website. Take a look at my set-up, which has worked well for me:
You'll notice that my blog and my website share the same navigation bar so everything is connected. It wasn't always this way. When I first launched my website in 2009, I hired a talented designer to create a beautiful site in Dreamweaver. About eight months later, I started a Wordpress blog and promoted it via a small link in the website's sidebar. (click here for Stacy's blog.) I was able to easily maintain the Wordpress blog myself, but . . .hardly anyone clicked to my blog from that small website link.
And vice versa. My blog had a small link in the margin saying "Stacy's website." Although the blog got hits from Twitter, Facebook, etc, most of those people were NOT clicking on that small website link to find out more about my books.
I knew my stats and my traffic sources from studying them on Google Analytics.
Basically, my blog was failing as a way to draw people toward my website and books. This led to me making a huge overhaul. Back in 2009, my husband and I had thought we could maintain the website ourselves as we had Dreamweaver, however, that turned out to be a big mistake. He found it extremely difficult to update my website, as even though he knows a lot of computer programs, Dreamweaver was much harder for him to navigate than he'd expected, having never taken a class in it. I tried to learn how to use it from books, but it was impossible. It was a beautiful site, but it wasn't working for me. It didn't make sense to pay someone for every single update, when I found myself needing to make updates more and more frequently as I began publishing more and more books. Especially now that I knew how much easer it was to work with Wordpress as opposed to Dreamweaver.
So I knew that two things needed to be done:
- I had to have my website redone in Wordpress so that I could maintain it myself, the same way I maintained my blog
- I needed the website and blog to share the same navigation bar so when people came to visit my blog, they were already on my website, and vice versa
This was the final result: http://stacyjuba.com/blog/ This was one of the best decisions I ever made as the hits to my website pages increased dramatically. And it was so freeing being able to maintain my website myself!
Are your website and blog driving traffic toward one another, or do you need to make some changes like I did?
Question Two: Is there anything you can do to improve the look of your blog and to make it more user-friendly for visitors?
As far as being user-friendly, do you require your visitors to type a Captcha code before leaving a comment? I have heard many people say that this turns them off from leaving a comment, as often it takes several tries before you can find a code that you can even read correctly. Personally, I have gotten frustrated with some blogs that use this security measure and given up after a couple tries of attempting to decipher the squished together letters.
I do understand the need to prevent spam, though. Check out other options.
I use a plug-in called Akismet. http://akismet.com/?return=true
This automatically filters out spam so the comments rarely appear on my blog.
Do you know how to add a plug-in to your site? On Wordpress, you go to your dashboard and click on Plugins, then Add New. Then you can search for the name of the plug in, such as Akismet, or browse based on popular tags.
Here is another plug-in that I like:
Jetpack by Wordpress -http://wordpress.org/plugins/jetpack/ - This has all sorts of features you can activate such as social networking sharing icons, a contact form, subscribe to comments, choosing the pages your various widgets go on, and lots more. You might not want to activate every single feature as too many could slow down your site, but there are a lot of handy options in one place.
Or you can install some of the below plug-ins separately:
Subscribe to Comments - this gives visitors the option of subscribing to the comments of a particular post.
Share This - http://sharethis.com/ - Selection of share buttons for Twitter, pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and more. The plug-in allows the buttons to appear on the bottom of each blog post.
Add This - http://www.addthis.com/ Shows social networking icons so readers can follow you
Before installing plug-ins, make sure they have a good star rating, that it seems to be well maintained and updated, and that it is compatible with your blogging platform and version. You can visit the plug-in site for more information about what to expect. You also want to update them when updates become available. As a pre-caution, make sure your website has been recently backed up before adding/updating plug-ins. Also choose your favorites - don't be tempted to install every plug-in you come across due to issues such as slowing down your site.
How about widgets? Have you explored the widgets function on your blog? For example, I have a newsletter subscription box and an image widget of a book cover in my right sidebar.
On Wordpress, you can find Widgets under the Appearances tab. You drag over the ones that you want to use. Other options include Archives by Category, Recent Comments, a Search Form, and Recent Posts.
Watch that your sidebars aren't too cluttered. This can distract readers and cause them to leave your site as it's not easy on the eyes. Pick and choose what is most important.
Question Three: Is your blog (and website) as secure as you can make it against hackers so that all of your hard work doesn't go to waste?
I am speaking not as an expert, but as a blogger who has learned a few things the hard way. This is a good article that will at least get you thinking about whether you are vulnerable or not. http://codex.wordpress.org/Hardening_WordPress
Speaking as a Wordpress user, I can tell you it is important to update to new versions of Wordpress at some point when your Updates section lets you know there is a new version available. If you don't update, then your blog will be more vulnerable to hackers.
Be sure to have strong passwords - 12-15 characters.
Make sure you have a back up. Back up from time to time. If you don't know how to back up your website and/or blog, then you may want to check in with your web designer or hosting service.
Here are a couple of helpful plug-ins to detect malware and malicious scripts on your site. You can run scans periodically to see if it shows any proven or potential threats. If it does detect a known threat, you may wish to talk to a website designer or other expert on how to get rid of the bad files.
Anti Malware: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/gotmls/
Sucuri Scanner: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/sucuri-scanner/
Want to do a quick scan of your site right now without installing anything? Enter your URL and the scanner will check your website for known malware, blacklisting status, website errors, and out-of-date software. Visit: http://sitecheck.sucuri.net/scanner/ and http://www.unmaskparasites.com/
Make sure you have a web designer that can advise you on how to make your site secure.
Please share your blog links so we can see some examples of different blogs. Feel free to share your host service, blogging platform and whether you would recommend these to others.