A Beginner’s guide to building a website – Part Two
If you managed to follow the steps in the first segment of my Beginner’s Guide to Building a Website series, you’ve got a WordPress site up and running, and you’re all set to add content. Congratulations! Now you’re ready for the fun stuff. After all, being able to share your thoughts, photographs and video content is likely why you began this process. What I intend to outline in this post is how you can make your job of content creation easier, how you can improve your website visitors’ viewing experience, and how you can protect your work from the dark forces that exist on the internet. If that interests you, read on.
Before I get to the guts of the article though, a blog reader asked why I would bother to write about this subject when it’s probably been done to death elsewhere on the web. I agreed that was a fair question. My answer to him follows:
The truth is that the post was inspired by my niece. She was asking for someone to build a website for her, and I suggested that she should learn to do it herself, advice I have given to fellow martial arts school owners countless times. To help her out, I decided to share the process that I have used. You’re no doubt right, I’m sure that it has been done before. I think that sometimes though, the advice of someone who is not an expert, who has figured it out on his own, is valuable in its own way. To some people, at least. Besides, how many sunset pics can I post? 🙂
Website Content is King
Content is everything. If you initially started your website to keep your parents up-to-date on your travels, write to them. If your objective is to write posts for people traveling in the same region as you are, sharing tips and trip reports as you move about, write to them. Whatever you do, just write, and post. Don’t initially concern yourself about traffic. For months and months, we didn’t even post our names or faces on this blog. We simply used our initials, M & R. I’ve since gone back and edited the posts to change that to our names, but you won’t find any pics of us on the earlier posts, and definitely didn’t share the link back then. We just posted, and posted, and ultimately, after sharing consistently, the traffic came.
If you build it, they will come. — Field of Dreams
Post quality content and the traffic will follow.
One tip with respect to content creation is to create a note, either on a paper pad, on your laptop, or your phone, where you can record all of the great “things to write about” ideas that you’ll inevitably come up with. I have just such a list. It seldom has less than 30 items on it, and I refer to it daily.
If you’re on a boat, one thing you’ll come to expect is that your internet connection will drop from time to time. To combat the possibility of losing a lot of work, I always write my posts on my laptop in a simple text file, saving frequently. I really resist the temptation to write in my browser using the WordPress back end. I’d like to say that it only took me losing one post before I learned that lesson, but it didn’t. I made the same mistake multiple times.
Every time you come up with an idea for a blog post, write it down on your list.
When I do get around to putting my text into the post-creation part of WordPress, I save frequently, and still copy and paste the html code back into my text file. Better to be safe than sorry.
Everyone loves to look at pretty pictures, and your website will likely include a number of them. I have just a couple of suggestions on the topic. While really tiny photos generally don’t look all that appealing, massive images, too big for the average screen size, do nothing but slow the load time of your website. The same goes for posting images that are saved with too high a resolution, unoptimized for the web.
This image was saved 800 px wide, at 50% quality in Photoshop. The result is a file that is 65kb in size.
The first thing I’d suggest is to figure out the ideal image size for your blog’s theme. In our original theme, that was 596 px, but since updating the site midway through last year, I now save images 800 px wide. You can go look at this older post to see the difference. When I edit my pics in Photoshop, I also Save for Web with a quality of 50%. You should experiment to find out what works best for you, keeping in mind that not everyone has a broadband or 4G connection.
You might also be interested in:
Videos should be treated similarly to images. I prefer to host our videos on Youtube as opposed to Vimeo. With our often strained internet connection, Vimeo drives me batty, taking forever to load. Your milage may vary.
Spam affects everyone, and bloggers are no exception. You’re definitely going to want to install some anti-Spam protection. We run the following two WordPress plugins:
With those two running, I seldom see a Spam message, nor do I come across any false positives (legitimate comments being flagged as Spam) when I do occasionally take the time to glance inside the Spam box.
$$$ CleanTalk is a paid service. We pay them a whopping $8.00 US per year, which, in my opinion, is a ridiculously small sum to pay to avoid having my time wasted by thousands of Spam messages. Yes, there really would be that many!
One of our readers, Craig, recently wrote that WordPress can be the “low-hanging fruit” for hackers. I can attest to this because at one point in time, even our site was hacked. The result of that hack was almost certainly invisible to our readers, and definitely harmless, but it did negatively affect our Google search rankings.
Don’t be the low-hanging fruit!
Fortunately, an extremely helpful fellow cruiser, Peter, was able to strip out the malicious code. He also made some security recommendations, and since that time, we have done the following:
As much as I like to live by the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t screw with it,” I make sure that I update the WordPress app itself, and any plugins that we are running, as soon as an update is available. Many times these updates are security related, patching holes that hackers have begun to exploit.
We also run the following plugins:
With those plugins working to harden our site – and I’m sure I don’t even use them to their full potential – I feel that we’re fairly well protected.
I can’t fathom how traumatic it would be for us to lose our site. I recently heard of a cruising acquaintance, an author of a very popular cruising guide series, who was faced with just this type of problem.
If you’re going to invest time and money on your website, please use some form of backup.
With over 2500 posts on our site, over 30,000 comments, and too many images to count, many of which I no longer have copies of, this is the kind of problem that I used to lose sleep over. For the past couple of years, I have been able to minimize this anxiety by employing a third-party backup service: BlogVault. While I’ve never been forced to use their services “in anger,” I have on several occasions tested their backups. Having done so, I feel reasonably confident that were we to be faced with some sort of catastrophic failure that our web hosts couldn’t deal with, I’d have BlogVault to fall back on.
$$$ Blogvault is a paid service. We pay $9.00 US per month for their basic service. It’s money very well spent, in my opinion! The link that I shared is also supposedly an affiliate link, although we’ve never seen any results from sharing it.
There you go, that’s the majority of the tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over the past 8 years of blogging. Hopefully you’ll be able to put some, if not all of of them, to good use. As before, if you have a question on this content, leave it in a comment. I’ll do my best to help you work through it. If you require more technical help, or would like someone to walk you through the entire website-building process, starting from the ground up, I wholeheartedly recommend our friend David Rowland. He has been extremely giving of his time to us, and continues to help us on a regular basis. David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy blogging!