Widgets and Plugins?

WordPress widgets and plugins add functionality to your website.

Widgets can be found on the WordPress Dashboard under Appearance. Choose the widget you want from the list on the left and then drag and drop it to where you want the widget to appear on your sidebar on the right.

Standard widget functions include search boxes, text boxes, calendars, Akismet (to prevent spam), links and categories.

Plugins (found under Plugins) are special functions that go beyond the widget functions that come with your WordPress theme. There are plugins for just about anything under the sun. Use the Search Plugins on the Upload Plugin page to find what you are looking for. Be sure to choose carefully: check the number of stars and the number of downloads to see how the plugin has been rated and how many individuals have downloaded it.

Keep in mind that you will need to keep these plugins updated. You will find which  plugins have updates available by looking at your Installed Plugins page.

Before you update your WordPress the first time, make sure that you have created a child theme, so that your WordPress site will not be overwritten when update are made.

Learn more about WordPress child themes.

Posted in Wordpress | Leave a comment

Why Are Blogs So Rigid?

Blog formats are rigid so as to allow high functionality and the ability to make updates easily

Blog formats are rigid so as to allow high functionality and the ability to make updates easily

WordPress templates provide a variety of formatting possibilities, but they do not allow for much reformatting within the templates themselves — that is, unless you are a web design professional.

However, what is lost in flexibility is gained in the ability to make updates to the blog. No special training is needed.

WordPress is essentially a database. Everything you enter onto the site goes into a data field, and then when you are ready to add or edit the material, you “publish” the changes. Because of the database nature of WordPress, formatting can be somewhat inflexible.

But WordPress is quite user friendly. With a little patience, some of my clients who seem the most intimidated at first find that they are up and running the site in no time. With more time and patience, users can begin to implement functionality through the use of plugins and widgets.

The ability to make updates yourself is important because search engines can detect whether or not your site is up to date. When a new site is launched and then just “lays there,” the search engines will assign the site a lower priority, and the search engine rankings will drop.

Because of the functionality it provides, WordPress  has become the “go to” content management system for many new website owners.

Posted in Do-it-yourself SEO | Leave a comment

Content Driven SEO

Do It Yourself SEOIf you are looking for a do-it-yourself method for search engine optimization (SEO), try providing your audience with regular updates that contain information that is useful to your potential clients.

If the information you provide is something that users might be inclined to link to, you are on the right path. Material that someone might send to a friend or colleage in the form of a link in an email is the type of thing you want to develop.

A blog is an excellent format for providing new information on your website. I recommend WordPress. Make sure your blog resides on your own server, so that you will receive the benefits: the search engines will consider your blog updates as updates to your site, and therefore will assign your site a higher ranking.

Insert relevant links to your website on your blog. This will encourage users to seek out more information on your site; a second click from users will also boost your rankings.

Think of it this way: pretend you are a search engine. Wouldn’t you want to give preference to websites that are up to date? Regular updates ensure that the search engines will view your site as active and growing, rather than stagnant and untouched.

Questions? Contact Christopher Merrill.com.

Posted in General Web Design Tips | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Show ‘em Where to Click

wheres_the_hotspotHave you ever had the experience of coming to a website and wondering where the links are? Irritating, isn’t it?

Don’t assume users will be patient simply because it’s YOUR website they are looking at. Make sure the links on your site are obvious to the user immediately. Avoid styling them in a way that confuses the user.

Avoid using images as links. Search engines prefer text links. Use your CSS file to style them so as to avoid unnecessary code in the html file — search engines like this.

It’s especially important to underline links that occur within the text so that users will recognize them and be encouraged to click on them.

Avoid styling your links so the underline only appears when the mouse hovers over the text. Users associate underlined text with a link and will likely have trouble finding them if they are not underlined.

It is good to have the links change colors. This is a further indication to the user (aside from the “hand” image that appears) that they have found a hotspot. Be careful not to choose colors for your rollovers that will fade in with the background color.

In terms of link colors, use light against dark or dark against light.

This means that the text should be dark if the background is light, or the text should be light if the background is dark. Be wary of flirting with the “in between.”

Posted in General Web Design Tips | 1 Comment

Research Your Plugins

WordPress Plugins can do everything except clean your kitchen sink, it seems (and I hear they’ve started working on that one). Some plugins do wonderful things; others, not so much. And some plugins used to do wonderful things, but not any more.

How do you find the good ones? Research. And then more research. But where to start?

First, search for potential plugins by accessing the search box that appears on your plugin page. Then, check each plugin to see how many downloads the plugin has received. Also, check to see how many stars it has earned.

Your next step is to check the plugins out on the web. You can use search terms like “best backup plugins” or “best contact form plugins” to see what others have experienced.

Try talking with your friends to see if they have used the plugin you are considering. WordPress is becoming pretty common; you might be surprised by what you find.

In the end, if you want the plugin, you’ll have to take the plunge. Download the plugin and then click ACTIVATE. You will see the plugin appear on the left, possibly under the SETTINGS link.

You can adjust the settings (if they exist).

Be sure to update your plugins the same way you update your version of  Wordpress.

Questions? Contact Christopher Merrill.

Posted in Wordpress | Tagged | Leave a comment

Google’s SEO Starter Guide

Consult Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide for SEO basics for your website. You will probably notice that the parameters they list make sense.

Imagine you are in charge of running a search engine. You’d prefer sites that have a strong track record (been around for a while and have been updated at regular intervals). You would not prefer sites that were launched and then never updated again.

You’d also want your code to be clean (clear of tables, with as little as possible coding in the actual page). Styling should come from a cascading style sheet with the appropriate css file extension rather than from within the html code.

The guide will show you how to create unique, accurate page titles as well as accurate meta tag descriptions.

You’ll also learn how to improve the structure of your URLs using descriptive words in the URL, make your site easier to navigate, prepare two sitemaps (one html and the other xml), write better text, insert alt tags for images, use header tags appropriately, make effective use of robots.txt, be aware of rel=”nofollow” for links, and how to promote your website.

Social media is another effective tool for promoting your site

Want to know more? See Search Engine Optimization.

 

Posted in General Web Design Tips | Leave a comment

Test Your Website

You’ve got everything on your new site up and running in a development folder. Now’s the time to launch it, right?

Wrong.

You need to test it first.

Testing means trying — aggressively — to find errors. Essentially you want to try to break the site, the way you would test a child’s toy by trying to break it.

Testing is especially important with database-driven e-commerce sites. The last thing you want to do when you open your online store is give people products or services for free — or worse, overcharge them and then have to refund money.

First impressions can make or break your site. You don’t want to give your first users a bad experience: they will never return, and they will tell their friends.

Proofread all text (preferably by a professional proofreader), and test all email links by using them to send yourself a test email. Keep track of all the emails you send and compare that list with the list of emails you receive.

Go out of your way to find errors;  then track the errors you find, correct them, and verify that each error has been corrected. You must be able to reproduce the error.

For professional proofreading, contact Christopher Merrill.

Posted in General Web Design Tips | 3 Comments

But Is it Really a Logo?

A common mistake that many small businesses make with their first logo design is to try to do too much. There’s a simple rule of thumb for logo design for the web: Keep it clean, simple and small.

Size Matters!

For web purposes, your logo should be recognizable and easily legible at a height of not more than 90 pixels and a width of not more than 250 pixels. Anything more will limit your options, and almost certainly waste valuable “real estate” on your page. If your designer has generated something for you that cannot go that small, make them redesign the logo for you, and make them show the results to you at these dimensions or smaller.

For print purposes, the logo should be clean and legible at a height of no more than 1/2 inch and a width of no more than one inch.

Take a look at the two logos above; each uses two colors (not including white a black). Clean, simple and small.

WARNING: There are many individuals out there who claim to be logo designers, but don’t understand the restrictions of a web page. Be sure you hire an experienced, qualified logo designer who will tell you when too much is too much.

If you are looking for a logo designer, go to LukeRenn.com.

For more information on logos and logo size, go to Logo Design Mistakes.

Posted in General Web Design Tips | Leave a comment

All Hosting Companies Are Not Created Equal

There are big differences among hosting companies. Here are some things to consider when you are shopping for one:

  • Do they often have site downtime?
  • How long has the company been in business?
  • Is the company reselling from another source?
  • Are site add-ons available (form mail, WordPress, statistics panel, etc.)?

and most important:

  • Is 24-hour phone support available? If so, what is the average wait time?

Avoid cheap hosting companies or resellers. You are likely to regret your decision down the road. You also may end up paying more in the long run.

Godaddy’s telephone support is excellent, and their reps are usually courteous and patient.

If you don’t need immediate responses to your support issues, Dreamhost is another option. They respond reasonably quickly when you send them a trouble ticket, and they allow a limited number of callbacks with some hosting packages.

Novice website owners often think that they will never need to contact their hosting company regarding issues that arise; perhaps about half the time, this is not true.

Be sure to keep your user name, password and pin number readily available in case of emergencies. You never know when you will need them.

Set up a Godaddy account here.
Set up a Dreamhost account here.

 

Posted in General Web Design Tips | Leave a comment

Dreamweaver Is Not Enough

Yes Dreamweaver is an excellent tool, but it will not cover everything.To get the most out of your Dreamweaver experience, you’ll need to hand code from time to time. This is why it’s still important to become fluent with the basics in HTML. You can get the basics from an online course, or simply from any of the basic books like Html for Dummies.

For those who don’t understand HTML, WordPress would probably a better solution.

Stuck inside all that html code? You can search for answers on the Web or contact Chicago Web Designers at Christopher Merrill.com

Posted in General Web Design Tips | Leave a comment