Having just about bounced back from a particularly tardy finish on the blogging front, I’m probably in a great place, yet terrible time to uncover the truth about blogging.
I just found that there are 15 million blogs on the web. Now there are 15.2m. By the time you read this there will be more blogs than phones and people combined. Here and on Mars.
Having a burning desire to learn from as many people as possible, I’m quite frustrated that I might never be able to get round all these blogs. But this can only be a good thing. Not everyone has something valuable to say. And God forbid, there may be other sites out there like this one, and like me you might prefer to experiment with sticking hot pins in your eyes rather than risk another error of judgement.
I only wish when I started at the University of Blognor in Wales (well it exists in my head) I knew the stuff I know now. I might have chosen cookery instead.
See, when it comes to blogs, they don’t say…
1. The clock moves faster. I swear it wasn’t 4.30am when I finally nipped and tucked this blasted site into submission. I had undergone hair-stripping angst at the categoric failure to fix my broken comments system. The problem resulted from my lack of focus on the intricacies of point 5. If you take pride in the content you manufacture, then the chances are the time will fly at a speed exceeding Richard Branson’s spaceship. To entertain and captivate you I underwent years of training at newspapers, magazines and websites. I don’t believe the journey of education ever ends, but I did (falsely) believe that after nearly 15 years of writing this blog stuff would consist of a lightningly-quick post every day. In reality, we’re talking at least an hour every time. That’s an hour of my working day devoted specifically to you. I can’t start any earlier, because Princess loves snuggles and won’t sacrifice any of them for your eyes. Start a campaign.
2. Care? Code! When I started this journey I was defiant – I’d have the skills I needed to captain a blog because, hell, I could write. And that’s what blogging is about, right? Well, wrong. If you have ideas above your station and want to get yourself a fully customised web presence, you can’t just rely on a free theme and a tickled ego. There’s CSS to learn, PHP to give you suicidal tendencies. Thankfully the web is replete with all sorts of funky things to help you step closer to madness. W3Schools has a great ‘spaz’ PHP tutorial list, echoecho can sort out your CSS catastrophes while lynda.com has fantastic video series devoted to both quirky ways to roll. And when you have questions? Try the excellent forums at SitePoint and WebmasterWorld
3. Making money is harder than impossible. This is a dark art as garbled as SEO right now. I’m sick to the core of people churning out self-serving ‘ways to make $$$’ eBooks. Actually that’s only a half-truth. If the eBooks work, then they are better than beer. But most don’t, believe me. The first thing you need to do is buy the OIO Publisher plugin which is just the most amazing way to manage and serve up adverts ever. If I can do it, believe me, you can do it with ease. The support and tutorials are superb and they even just launched a ‘wizard’ to install the plugin direct to your site (WordPress or otherwise) from the OIO website. Having said that, there’s some chap who puts out an absolutely genius eBook about why…
4. Pillar content rules! It took me five years to get it. To understand how you become a respected member of the electro-chattyverse. You write a single post or series of features devoted to removing someone else’s problem. It could be your problem. But if you document it and hit the nail on the head by scratching the itch, you have friends for life. My favourite pillar content creator du jour is David Doolin, aka Dr WordPress. Through experience and straightforward genius he saw there were still people in the world who wanted to set up a blog. So to those nine people (eight… seven…) David said: “Look – give me a weekend, and I’ll give you a blog. A bloody amazing blog!” And he pulls it off in such an entertaining and educational way, that even blog regularists will learn something from his wise 2.5 day tutelage. Start here.
And while you’re here, why not take up David to personally building your website over a weekend for just $300 – with every penny going to relief efforts for Haiti.
5. .htaccess matters. It matters so much it chewed six hours out of my Saturday night. That raised the hackles, let me tell you. I had no idea I had a.htaccess in the root of my server space which was reigning roughshod across my other blog sites. It meant my comments system was redirecting to a non-existent page. 404-tastic! It caused me a marathon head fug to not understand the true might of this security-driven file. It drove me mad. It drove my web host mad. But we got there.
The difference between needing to know.htaccess at a basic level is the difference between hosts. I didn’t really need to know much at fatcow, but with clook, which is a really nice web host with the best support imaginable, it mattered. Check out Josiah Cole’s ‘almost-perfect.htaccess file’ for WordPress and change all the yourdomainhere.com elements to, well, your domain name before uploading it to the root of your blog site. And check out more about.htaccess and the power it wields over everything you blog.
6. Plugins are inherently evil. They make things slow. There are exceptions like WP Super Cache and Headspace2 SEO and the Google Analytics for WordPress plugins but in most cases these days either WordPress has filled in the gaps the plugins plugged, or you can fix some code with the limitless guidance on WordPress hacks from the likes of Jeffro’s WP Tavern, Digging Into WordPress and Marko Saric’s How To Make My Blog.
7. Permissions. Permissions can mess your site up royally. They’re either impassable sentinels or free-for-all and there seems very little middle ground. One thing you need to know is how to change them when you suddenly come up against a brick wall. Make absolutely sure your code isn’t at fault then dive in to the Permissions on an individual file level, before changing the Permissions of an entire folder. You do this in FileZilla (my FTP client of choice) by right-clicking on the file and selecting Permissions. If what you’re doing is blocked, go for 755 and if not, 777 (but unless absolutely necessary, restore its previous Permissions because leaving the gate widen open – as 777 does – can be a security issue).
8. You gotta write like a literary ninja. I’ve decided to banish all evil scribbling from the web. I’m hoping this will be a crowdsourcing strategy. I may use that Mechanical Turk website but I’m thinking it would probably cost Barack Obama’s annual salary alone just to get rid of the spelling mistakes from websites operated by bed and breakfast joints.
Since my pockets are not bottomless I have decided to adopt a slightly different tactic. I will be helping everyone around me to write better instead. Watch this space…
9. You need a book. You have four options: The WordPress Bible, Digging Into WordPress, How To Be A Rockstar WordPress Designer and the frankly now-outdated WordPress 2.7 Cookbook. Let’s roll with it: Digging for code, Rockstar for design, Cookbook for a smorgasbord of everything. Like a finger buffet with chicken and mushroom Toast Toppers vol-au-vents. Don’t lie – you love ’em too!
10. Check out frameworks. They’re the future for everyone. There – I said it. Frameworks are the skeletons upon which you mould the flesh of your site. So you start with an impermeable (but basic-looking) foundation with all the code you need, then using CSS and a bit of PHP (realistically, as much as you feel comfortable with) craft your own unique blog site. Thematic is incredible. Hybrid – a Justin Tadlock production – shows incredible potential and he’s even dispensing solid insinuations he may soon be working on a model not dissimilar to the ‘tailor your own home page shifting blocks about’ concept first employed at the BBC website. Focus on these. There are others, but for invaluable support you can’t go wrong.
http://www.davethackeray.com is, perhaps predictably, the home of Dave Thackeray. When Dave isn’t sleeping, reading or forcing beer down a passage he’s practising the art of writing for himself and for businesses who dare to be different. He loves writing and talking about how communications and technology make the perfect bedmates.
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