Category Archives: Improve your website

Finding and sizing images for your blog or website

Images make webpages and blog posts more interesting, and they’re absolutely essential if you want your content shared to image-focused social media sites like Pinterest. They’ll get your shares more noticed on other sites like Facebook and Twitter, too.

But where to find good images, and how should you size them? I’ve put together three short videos to help you get started!

Image sources

There are lots of great resources for free and cheap images; here are three of my favorites: Pixabay, Unsplash, and Creative Market, and the pros and cons of each.

Links:

Pixabay

Unsplash

Creative Market

(Note: I get a small credit at Creative Market when you purchase through this link. Thanks for your support!)

 

Determining what size your image should be

Sizing your images is important! Too small, and they’ll look jagged and fuzzy. Too big, and they’ll slow down your page load time. Here’s how to determine the pixel width your image should be, based on your website’s theme template.

Link:

piliapp – measure webpage elements

 

Cropping and sizing your image

I like PicMonkey better than Canva for this, because not only is it super-simple to use, but you can control the image quality, allowing you to create smaller, faster-loading files.

Links:

PicMonkey

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Have other image-related questions? Ask me!

starting a blog - the basics

Starting a blog: the basics

I hope to eventually create my own tutorial, but today I discovered a fantastic resource that has tons of useful information for beginning bloggers – Amy Lynn Andrews. But she has SO much info it can be overwhelming, so rather than make you wait for my future course or wade through all of hers, I’ve curated her most basic, most pertinent information right here.

18 Tips for New Bloggers – Lots of reassurance and encouragement as you wade into this new world

How to Find (or Re-find) Your Passion – Great questions to help you explore what you care about enough to blog about long-term

How to Choose a Domain Name – And one place you can do so. (You might also refer to my post, Where should I register my domain?)

How to Start a Blog – VERY thorough; includes how to set up a self-hosted WordPress site.

The Trouble With Blogging – On comparing yourself against others

Hope you find this helpful! As always, please contact me with any questions you’d like to see answered here. Or if you’re ready for someone else to do the heavy lifting, request a free, no-obligation price list! 🙂

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Hosting and domains and websites — oh my! (what’s the difference?)

When you’re building a website or starting a blog for the first time, there’s so much new terminology to learn! Web hosting, servers, domain, domain registration — what does it all mean?

Here are your answers…

Web hosting

All the files and code that makes up your  website are contained in and accessed through a server, or “web host.” Servers are stacks of computers that look like this:

big-computer-servers-600x620

Ideally, they’re located in a secure building with protections in place to provide backup service in case of severe weather, power outages, etc.

If you have a free blog through wordpress.com, then your host is WordPress. (But NOT if you’re using wordpress.org. Learn the difference in my post about wordpress.org vs. wordpress.com.) If you have a free blog through Blogger, then your host is Google. Otherwise, you will need to find and purchase your hosting.

How to choose a host would be a whole ‘nother blog post, but here are some quick basics. Uptime and security are of primary importance. Customer service is a close second. And in that area, you usually get what you pay for. I.e., cheaper is great, until your site goes down and you can’t get any answers. Also, when you’re reading online reviews of hosting providers, make sure you know whether the reviewer gets a referral fee.

We’ve used LiquidWeb for years: in several years and multiple websites, we’ve only experienced one outage. And their customer service really is heroic. Other popular hosts that I consider reputable include RackSpace and BlueHost. (I do not get any fee or reimbursement for saying this. Proven by my not providing you any direct links to those hosts. 🙂 )

Effect of changing from one host to another:  Your DNS record needs to change. (This will be explained later in this post.)

IP address

For the internet to find your website, it has to know where the files are located. From the computer’s point of view, your website’s location is a numeric address that looks something like this: “321.45.789.00,” and it’s determined by your web host. It’s called the “IP address.” (IP stands for Internet Protocol.)

computer-user-hands-only-450x300

Domain/URL (and domain registration)

But those kinds of addresses are hard for humans to remember, so to make things easier on us, “domains” were invented. Domains are sometimes also called URLs (Uniform Resource Locator). You’re familiar with domains; they look like this:

  • amazon.com
  • yahoo.net
  • ku.edu

To make sure that you have the legal right to use a particular domain name, and prevent anyone else from using it, you need “domain registration.”

“Domain registration” is the internet equivalent of copyrighting a company name. The company you pay for this service is your “domain registrar” or “designated registrar.”

There are many places to purchase a domain name and register it. You can purchase it through your host, or a place that specializes in domain registration, such as name.com. Both have the same effect: the name is yours for as long as you’ve reserved it and you keep paying your registration renewal before it expires. (Don’t worry; they’ll remind you!) The company you purchase it from will make sure your info is entered into the official registration database.

Registering your domain is as simple as going to a website that sells domain registration, typing the name you’re hoping to get in the field provided. They’ll immediately tell you whether it’s available or not. If it is, just click on the prompt that will walk you through purchasing it. If not, take your time thinking through your alternate domain.

You can purchase domain registration for a time period anywhere from one year on up. The maximum period of registration for a domain name is 10 years. Wikipedia says, “Some registrars offer longer periods of up to 100 years, but such offers involve the registrar renewing the registration for their customer; the 100-year registration would not be in the official registration database.”

In the past, there was some speculation that reserving your name for longer (a few to several years, vs. one year at a time) might benefit your Google ranking, but that seems to no longer be the case. (I’m relying on the advice of others here.)

Here’s what Nuts and Bolts Media has to say about whether you should register your domain at the same place you buy your hosting:

The Domain Registration Dilemma

When you set up hosting for a website, you can also register your domain through your host (most of the time). For a lot of people, keeping all your website stuff in the same place sounds like a good idea. You only have to keep up with one set of login information, and you know that your host’s technical support staff will make sure everything is configured correctly.

However, you also have the option to register your domain elsewhere and simply point it to your host. This is what I strongly recommend for a number of reasons.

Keep your domain in one place. If you ever get mad at your web host and decide to move your site, you’ll also probably want to transfer your domain if it’s registered with the old host. Domain transfers can be annoying, time-consuming, and confusing. But if you’ve registered the domain elsewhere, you don’t have to do anything except update your DNS settings to point to the new host.

Register all your domains together. You might be thinking, But I only have one website! That may be true, but for many of us, websites are addicting. For example, I own 45 domains right now. If I need to manage them, like when I transferred all my files to my new servers, I can just go to my registrar and mass update the DNS settings.

Added security. A few years ago, my dad’s website got hacked. Not only did the hackers destroy his site, but they also transferred his domain away from his web host and took it over. It took ages for him to prove ownership and get everything back. When your domains are separate, even if someone gets access to your files, your domains are safe (assuming you aren’t using the same login and password).

Effect of changing from one domain registrar to another: None, other than where your billing comes from.

phone-book-550x275

DNS

So, how does the internet know which IP address to go to for your domain? It refers to the “DNS” or Domain Name System. Think of it as the behind-the-scenes phone book for the internet: it translates the human-friendly domain name into the computer-friendly address that networking equipment needs to find your website’s location. The company you pay for this service is your “DNS registrar.”

Effect of changing from one DNS registrar to another: None, other than where your billing comes from. But… When your host changes, your IP address changes. Part of the crucial information in your DNS record is your website’s IP address, so if you change hosts, your DNS record needs to be be updated, too, to contain the new IP address.

Got it?

I hope that helps! Let me know if I didn’t answer something clearly enough.

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Need a web developer/designer? Check out my work.

Creative Market - cheap fonts, illustration, photography

Great photography, illustrations, and fonts for the budget-minded blogger or designer

I’ve previously written about 7 great sources for free or low-cost photography, but today I want to sing the praises of another source of great photography source that also offers tons of options in fonts, illustrations, mock-ups, templates, and more — all sold directly by the creators. (Kind of an Etsy for designers.) The creativity and the skill of execution is consistently high, and the prices are, by and large, extremely reasonable. You can find beautiful hand-drawn fonts, versatile backgrounds, and on-trend illustrations, all for $5 and up!

Here’s just a minuscule sampling of the wide variety of goodies you can find at Creative Market. (Click on any image to go right to its product page.)

Unique fonts:

Brilant font

Hello Beautiful font

(Yes; the above is a font you can buy!)

Airbag font

Versatile backgrounds, for use in print or online:

wood backgrounds

watercolor backgrounds

Business card and website templates:

business card template

website theme for Shopify

And a wide variety of design elements for print and web::

blog banners

design elements, blog kit

design elements - badges + monograms

design elements - icons

They also have a killer referral/affiliate program! Sign up, and they pay you for every purchase a referred customer makes! Earn 10% on all referred customers’ purchases for a full year.

(Which, by the way, I’m doing in this post. But I wouldn’t promote it if I didn’t really use, love, and highly recommend Creative Market!)

Creative Market - cheap fonts, illustration, photography

7 ways to promote your local business

"Patience, my young padawan!"
“Patience you must have, my young padawan!”*

Small business owners who contact me about creating or updating their website often ask, “Can you get my site on the first page of Google results?”

Business owners often get so focused on the supposed holy grail of “first page Google results” that they forget the purpose of Google results: to get more traffic to their website. So, even though my answer to the above question is “no” (and here’s why), this is no reason to despair. Here are a number of things any small business owner can do for free or minimal cost to get more traffic to their website — which is the real thing they’re after:

Connect with local bloggers. Look for bloggers who are already placing high in search results related to your business and area, and consider how you might partner with them. Offer your product or service for them to feature in a giveaway, or offer to contribute a guest post (IF your writing skills are up to the task).

Get your business on the map. Be sure to claim your business in online directories such as Google+ BusinessYelp and Yahoo. Free listings are available for all three. (Source: Biz Journals)

Get your website listed in specialty directories. Many business and industry associations allow you to list your business on their Web site. In addition, there are individuals who maintain popular lists of resources; use Web search engines to find these lists, and then create an entry for your business. (Source: Verio)

Sponsor an event. Look for charity events in your area, and inquire how to be a sponsor in said event. Ask if sponsorship includes a link from their website. You’ll get exposure to a larger, more diverse audience — and exposure that puts you in a positive light.  (Source: Chron)

Speak up! Organizations are often looking for qualified, subject-matter experts who can present to their groups. Take a deep breath and volunteer. You don’t have to be a pro at speaking, as long as the information you share is helpful to the audience. And it gets easier the more you do it. Plus, it positions you as a credible authority in your field.

Freebies of your product or service. Give a free trial or sample. People are usually more comfortable purchasing something they’ve been able to experience first, at little or no cost to themselves. But use this option with caution: you don’t want to create an audience who doesn’t value what you offer at regular price because it’s so often discounted.

Encourage your happy customers to be walking ads. Give away t-shirts that promote your brand, but are also cool, humorous, or unique. (Just slapping your logo on a shirt? Doesn’t qualify as cool.) Also, reward word-of-mouth by giving a substantial thank-you to those who bring a friend: a gift card to a local restaurant or coffee shop; home-baked cookies; or even just a sincere, handwritten thank-you note. That’s pretty rare, these days, and may help your happy customer connect with you even more.

*One last caveat: Patience you must have, young padawan. Don’t fall prey to the thinking that you have to find THE ONE thing that will drive immediate, impressive amounts of web traffic your way. View promotion as an ongoing endeavor, made up of various strategic elements, and you can expect to see results add up — snowball, if you will — over time.

And time is one of Google’s algorithm factors — the one that absolutely can’t be faked.

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Image use based on advice here and here.

How do I get my site to show up on the first page of Google search results?

BillyMills-1964-tweaked-580x450

Search Engine Optimization is a tricky science, made more so by the fact that Google is constantly tweaking the 200+ factors that determine search results. But there are some safe bets.

Make sure your website is populated with useful, information-rich content; updated regularly. Place keywords in strategic places, in strategic quantities. But be careful! Too many may count against you. Incoming links from relevent, respected sources are also helpful, and the best way to earn these is, again, by providing useful content.

How long your website has been up is also factored into its ranking in search engine results. New and young sites should not depend on ranking well in search engine results for the first year or more, but should rely on other methods of driving traffic to their site. Other methods include traditional or online advertising, pubic relations, and blogging on sites that already have high traffic.

And more advice, directly from Google itself:

  • Make pages for users, not for search engines…. A useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?
  • Don’t participate in link schemes, also called link farms; your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.
  • Don’t use unauthorized computer programs to submit pages, check rankings, etc. These consume computing resources and violate our Terms of Service.

For more information:

A detailed list of what Google considers good and bad site behavior.

Confirmation that stacking the keyword meta tag gets you nowhere.

Discover other free and low-cost ways to promote your local business.

On choosing a SEO (search engine optimization) company.

By Jana Snyder – If quoting, please include attribution and a link to this page.

Image: Billy Mills 1964 Olympics; Official Marine Corps Photo # A411758 (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

Is your website mobile-ready?

Smart phones are already outselling desktops. Tablet sales may soon overtake laptop sales. Websites are being viewed on a wider variety of screen sizes than ever before, and that situation isn’t going away any time soon.

Is your website ready? It is if it’s responsive. That simply means that the code behind the design will recognize and adapt (or “respond”) to the device it’s being viewed on, whether a desktop mega-monitor, an iPad, or a smart phone.

What a responsive theme looks like on different devices

It’s easy to tell whether your site’s responsive, even if you don’t have a smart phone or notepad. Minimize your browser window; grab it on the right edge and drag it left, to about the width of a notepad. Drag it some more to the width of a smart phone. (Try it right now on this page; it’s responsive.)

When you try it on your site, is the navigation still visible? Do the major elements rearrange themselves to fit the resized window? If so, good news! Your website is “responsive” – i.e., mobile-friendly.

If not, you’re stuck in 2010.

And I can help with that.

button-orange-contact-me-220x50

Starbucks ice cream in four flavors

Which blog platform?

Trying to decide which blogging platform to build your blog or website on? The big four are:

  • Blogger
  • Tumblr
  • WordPress.com
  • WordPress.org

At first glance the options may seem about as different as four flavors of coffee ice cream, but dig a bit deeper to find out what really suits your needs best. (Before you get too stressed over this decision, though, remember this: you can always start on one platform, and switch to another later on as your needs change.)

Here are eight questions to get you started:

Do you need a blog that’s super, super simple to set up?

The simplest of all is Tumblr. Blogger and WordPress.com are pretty doggone easy, too.

Do you need free hosting?

Blogger, WordPress.com, or Tumblr are all free.

Do you want to make money on your blog with Google AdSense?

1st choice: Blogger (easier). 2nd choice: WordPress.org (more control).

Don’t care about selling ads now, but might want to later?

Start with WordPress.com, switch to WordPress.org when you’re ready.

Do you need wide-open design options?

Then count Blogger out. WordPress.org is the way to go. Tumblr is a very close second as far as themes are concerned, but has no flexibility in page types. WordPress.com has over a hundred themes, each varying in customability and page types.

Do you need multiple authors accessing the same blog?

Only WordPress.org and WordPress.com make this available.

Do you need online web forms?

WordPress.org and WordPress.com make this really easy.

Do you need to post documents such as pdf’s and powerpoints?

WordPress.org and WordPress.com make this just as easy as posting an image.

two choices

Have it narrowed down to two? Here are some comparisons.

WordPress.org vs. the world:

Okay, not the world really, but all of the other common blogging platforms. What makes WordPress.org (also known as “self-hosted WordPress”) distinctive from all the others is that with it, you have to purchase hosting, and install WordPress on that host. All the others host your blog/website for free. In addition to those responsibilities, you and your host-of-choice are the ones on whom falls the responsibility for security, back-ups, and upgrades. On the free-hosted platforms (Blogger, Tumblr and WordPress.com), that’s not your headache. The main advantage that WordPress.org has over all the others is limitless design options, as well as numerous plug-ins to extend the look and functionality of your site.

Blogger vs. WordPress.com:

Blogger is a little easier to use, but WordPress offers more design options. Also, Blogger integrates with Google AdSense (so you can sell ads); WordPress does not. For more details, see my Blogger vs. WordPress.com chart.

WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org:

WordPress.com is free hosting; with a .org site, you need to purchase hosting, which will be an ongoing cost. However, you are allowed to sell advertising on a WP.org site, but not on a WP.com one. For more details, see my WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org chart.

Blogger vs. WordPress.org:

You will probably only be considering these two against each other if you must have the ability to sell ads on your site. Blogger has free hosting and is easier to learn and use; WordPress.org has infinitely more design options.

Tumblr vs. WordPress:

I can’t do better than this article. Although, ignore the “Content” paragraph. There are plenty of WordPress templates that are image-driven, and uploading media of any kind is a snap.

What about Tumblr?

The newcomer in the group, Tumblr has the most simple sign-up and posting process of all. It’s also geared more toward those who want to post primarily images and video, but it can also be used for a more traditional text-focused blog. You cannot place ads on a Tumblr site. BrandYourself did a Twitter survey of people’s opinions of Tumblr, and here’s what some of them had to say:

“People actually BLOG on Blogger, whereas Tumblr is more like a collection of random moving images and quotes of people’s emotions.” – @DoralyP

“Tumblr is a fun way to blog. I used WordPress… for more professional blogging.” – @ThomasConnery

“I think Tumblr is very simple to use and straightforward. I also think that its purpose is a little different than Blogger…I consider Tumblr a photo and video based blog more than a written type.” – @gazalle

More info about Tumblr vs. other platforms:

A thorough (though not totally up to date) assessment of Tumlbr vs. WordPress.

The Pros and Cons of Tumblr for small business.

Round 2 of Tumblr vs. WordPress vs. Blogspot: FIGHT!

Want more help sorting it all out and getting your website up and running?

Contact me!

Statistics for browser, screen resolution, operating system and more

I just discovered StatCounter.com — easily the most interesting and useful stats counter/compiler/display that I’ve found. In the past, I’ve used the stats from W3 Schools, but their results are skewed heavily toward computer/developer/ programmer geeks, since those results are based on traffic to the W3 Schools site.

At StatCounter, you can filter results by time period and geographic region. You can specify what type of stat you’re looking for: browser type, operating system, screeen resolution, mobile vs. desktop, search engine and more. Here’s the complete list:

types of statistics

This data is incredibly important for web designers: knowing what size of screen your end users will be using and what browsers your site does (or doesn’t) need to work on can help you design more intelligently.

Of course, the statistics for web traffic vary with every site, and the best data, if you can get it, is the statistics for your particular website. But if that’s not available, this is the next best thing.

And if you need to share your data from StatCounter, you can export it as a jpg or a csv, like this:

graph of screen resolution

Or you can grab the embed code to display it on your web page. (Works on wordpress.org sites, but not wordpress.com sites.)

To put things in perspective, though, I’ll end with a quote attributed to Mark Twain:

There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

“How can I increase traffic to my website?” (This may be the wrong question to ask.)

website traffic cop

Let me say up-front that I’m not claiming to be an SEO expert. What follows is my personal opinion, based on what I’ve researched and observed on the web since about 2003.

Site traffic is important for websites which sell products, and critical for site owners who make their income off of advertising sold on their site.

For the average professional who provides a service, however, I believe that, “How can I increase traffic on my website?” is the wrong question to ask.

The vast majority of clients who visit your website do so because they already know about you — either having personally met you, or having been referred by a mutual contact. Therefore, the most important question you can ask about your website is, “How can I get site visitors to contact me once they’ve hit my site?

This is best achieved by:

  1. having a professional-looking site;
  2. making sure the personality or emotional feel of your site is a positive experience for them;
  3. making the information they’re after easy to find;
  4. seamlessly introducing them to info they didn’t know they needed but which tip their choice in your favor (if that is the case);
  5. making it really easy for them to find your “Contact us” buttons and/or links. (But not to the point of being obnoxious.)

There are firms who specialize in SEO, who really know what they’re doing and can help you successfully wade through the complexity of SEO factors. However, most web-design-hosting-package providers who tout their SEO services tend to focus on:

  • meta-tags, which are really just not that important; and
  • submitting your website to Yahoo!, Google, etc., which you can do yourself. OR just wait for it to happen, since search engines are constantly crawling the web and will find new sites within a few months, at most.

The MAJOR factor in a website’s ranking is relevant content. That is, are there appropriate keywords in there (making up no more than 5-10% of the page’s content), and can people find the kind of information they’re looking for?

And lastly, I believe that one of the other major factors that weighs search engine ranking is the age of the domain. That’s one thing you can’t fake.

Hope this helps!