Hook ‘em in with nRelate

nRelatenRelate is a WordPress plugin that will insert relevant links into your blog posts. It will search for material on your blog or WordPress site that is related to the subject matter of your present post, kind of like a You May also Like These section. The links appear at the end of your blog post.

With nRelate, readers are encouraged to check out other material on your blog.

Integrity is key: The links actually do relate to other material that is relevant to your topic. Users will begin to trust your website as a place where they can find valuable information. This trust translates to more clicks, which means better rankings.

Note: There is more than one nRelate plugin available. Be sure to choose the Relate version.

nRelate will automatically turn the first image that appears in your blog post into a thumbnail as a default. You can also create your own default thumbnail if you like; or, if you prefer, you can display text links only. Another option is to direct nRelate to show the first few words of text instead of the caption.

The more you can add clicks to valuable information on your WordPress blog or website, the higher your rankings. Using nRelate encourages your user to click a second time on your webpage, and that’s a very good thing.

nRelate will insert relevant links on all your posts, if you choose.

Questions? Contact Christopher Merrill.

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Research Your Plugins

Wordpress.orgWordPress 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.

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Google’s SEO Starter Guide

Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide

Google’s Search Engine Optimization Guide (pdf format) Is Still the Industry Standard

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.

 

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Test Your Website

Test Your WebsiteYou’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.

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But Is it Really a Logo?

logos

Both logos above are simple and SMALL.

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.

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All Hosting Companies Are Not Created Equal

godaddy, dreamhost logosThere 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.

 

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Dreamweaver Is Not Enough

dreamweavericonYes 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

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Web Design: Form Follows Function

form follows function

Start with the WHAT and then go to the HOW

With Web design, form follows function. If your links don’t work or if users can’t find what they are looking for, then it won’t matter how eye-catching your website is. Your site will get a reputation for being troublesome and people will stay away in droves.

That’s why it is so important to start with the essentials BEFORE beginning the design process. Otherwise you risk ending up with a lot of wasted space.

Want your site to be different from all the others? Beware of going too far: users may not be able to find their way around (and leave your site)!

Also, be careful not to fall into a vanity trap, thinking your site is special and people won’t mind hunting around for things on your site because it is, after all, YOUR SITE, and users will be so fascinated they will never leave.

Yeah, right.

Take heed. There’s lots of competition out there.

 

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Upload Images First

dead image

Avoid dead images!

Always upload all of your new images FIRST before uploading the HTML files.

If you upload the HTML files BEFORE the images, you run the risk of having images not appear on your webpage — albeit during a brief period of time (hopefully).

If you upload the HTML files first, there can be a significant amount of time during which the images will not show up (until they are uploaded). That period of time can become long if some sort of glitch occurs immediately after you have uploaded the HTML files, preventing you from being able to upload the images immediately after.

Remember: the uploading of files to your website server should be performed in a specific order (images first) so as to avoid dead links that show up live on the webpage before you have a chance to remedy the situation.

Questions?  Contact Chicago web designer Christopher Merrill.

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What Goes in the Footer?

  • Your full address
  • Your zip code
  • Your contact phone numbers
  • Your contact email(s)
  • Copyright information
  • Trademarks
  • Small version of your logo
  • Sitemap
  • Repetition of main links
  • Link to contact us page
  • Terms of service
  • Privacy guidelines
  • Disclaimer
  • Site search

Redundancy is a good thing in websites. Just because the contact information is posted on your contact us page doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be posted in the footer (and other places as well). Perhaps the most common novice web designer mistake is to bury the contact information in a contact us page.

Remember, web users (myself included) will search your footer for links if their cursor is closer to the footer than to the header on your web page.

Every web page should have a footer, no matter how “artsy” the design.

If you want your website to look like “something no one has ever seen,” chances are, your users won’t be able to find their way around. There’s a reason why many websites look formulaic: because the formula works.

For more information, check out Freelance Web Designer Christopher Merrill.

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