Category Archives: Tutorials

blog broken? look first to your plugins

One of the best things about working in WordPress is all of the fantastic free plugins that are available. When I first started developing WordPress websites, I felt like a kid in a candy store, who’d been told that she could have as much as she wanted, and it was all free! I installed every single plugin that looked the least bit interesting or useful.

The problem, as with candy, is that not everything you put in your site works together, and often a blog belly ache can result. If your blog breaks, it is often a plugin that is the culprit.

Today I had a client call me and all of their blog posts and pages had disappeared. The first thing I do when that happens is check the database and run a repair on the database tables. That usually fixes the problem. Not in this case. I could see the posts in the database, but nothing was showing up on the website.

I then upgraded their WordPress to the latest version and ran a database upgrade. Still no content.

I changed their theme from the custom one they had, to the WordPress classic theme, to make sure that it wasn’t a theme bug. Still no content.

Finally, it occurred to me to rename their plugin folder on the server, to quickly de-activate all of their plugins. Voila! All of the content came back again.

I judiciously added back the minimum of plugins, testing after the addition of each one to make sure the site worked.

The take away on this article is to only add plugins to your wordpress site that are integral to its functionality. Quality over quantity.

Whenever you run a WordPress upgrade or a plugin upgrade, test your site. If something breaks, it most likely is a plugin conflict. Try de-activating plugins and testing after each to see if the problem goes away. If you can’t get into  your admin after the upgrade, change the name of the plugin folder on the server to see if things start working again.

 

 

Are you having trouble getting single line spacing in your blog?

A number of my clients use WordPress, and most of the others have custom content management systems with which they can manage their website content.

One of the help questions that comes my way frequently has to do with their content showing up double spaced.

This doesn’t occur when typing a normal paragraph and hitting the return or enter key to start a new paragraph. The text in the paragraph is fine.

It happens when you need single line breaks. For example, you are writing a poem, a recipe, a resume; you need short sentences or phrases separated by single line breaks, but when you hit the enter or return key, the blog editor thinks you are preparing for a whole new paragraph.

The solution is really easy. Hold down the shift key when you hit “enter” or “return”. This will force a single line break.

If you have copied and pasted text from word or another text editor, you may need to delete the space between the lines and then go in and reapply the line break holding down the shift key.

Here is an example:

I

am

writing

this

just hitting my return button.

I
Am
Writing
This
Holding down the shift key when I hit return.

 

Some simple guidelines to make your blog look designed, without hiring a designer.

WHY should you care?

Blogs are all about content. We use a blog platform to deliver good content to our audience, and thus promote our businesses or our brand.

How your content is presented, however, can either improve your message, or hinder your message.

Your audience, before they even read your content, is looking at how it is designed, how it looks visually on the page. If the presentation isn’t appealing, they might not read it, or they might read it, but discount it.

If I own a store, I know that in order to get my audience to walk through the door, the store front needs to be clean, the windows organized and the walkway swept. Once people enter my store, my merchandise needs to be polished and presented in such a way that highlights it and that makes it easy for customers to find what they are looking for.

If I own a salvage yard and sell bits and pieces of salvaged items and my customers expect to dig through piles of dusty stuff to find hidden treasure at a bargain price, then I might not worry about how organized or clean my warehouse is. However, if I DO sell treasures and I expect to sell them for what they are worth, I am going to be very aware of how I design my store’s interior and exterior and how my content is presented.

A blog should follow the same principles. If you want people to be able to read your content easily and to value your content, there should be some design consistency in how it is structured.

Step one is KEEP IT CONSISTENT.

The key to good design is consistency. Less is more on well designed websites. The designer chooses a select few fonts, colors and font sizes and these are used in moderation for emphasis. The more you have a variety of shapes, fonts, font sizes and colors on your site, the more cluttered and hard to read it will be.

On your blog, make sure you use consistent capitalization. This is the easiest change you can make to have your site look more professional.

Look at the image below that shows all different treatments of capitalization. It looks like a mess.

Compare it with the image below:

It is much easier to read what the words are saying, if they follow a consistent system of capitalization.

Fortunately, you can fix your blog capitalization with just a few lines of code in your blog theme style sheet. You don’t have to go back in and retype every single blog post title, tag and category name. Using CSS you can transform text to be capitalized, uppercase or lower case.

With these few lines of code in my style sheet, I was able to make all of my blog titles, category names and tags capitalized.

.sidebar_list a {text-transform:capitalize; }
.entry-title { text-transform:capitalize; }
.headline_area { text-transform:capitalize; }

Decide what capitalization you are going to use and contact your blog programmer to make the changes for you, or if you are comfortable doing so, go in and edit your themes style sheet yourself.

On websites that are designed well, things line up.

Keep the WIDTHS OF YOUR IMAGES consistent within a blog post, and even from one post to another.

In good design, things line up visually. Often, a blog will show multiple posts on one page. The width of all the images on all these posts are going to visually relate to one another. If you are using varied sizes  and proportions of images, then it it will start to look disorganized.

The easiest way to avoid this pit fall is to  choose a consistent width for ALL of your blog images.

Under your settings, in the Media section, you can set the widths of how large you want your large, medium and thumbnail images to be on the site.

(These dimensions will depend upon the blog theme that you are using and how wide your post area is.)

I recommend  filling in these settings and then sticking to them when you upload images to your blog posts.

When you click to upload an image, once you’ve selected it, at the bottom of the window you can indicate what size it is and how to align it. If you’ve filled in these values in your media setting, it is a simple step to ensure that all your images are given consistent widths.

If all of the images have a consistent width, then your blog will start to look organized, and the content will be easier to read.

If you want to re-size your images before you upload them to your blog to make sure they are all the same widths, a great free online tool for re-sizing and editing images is http://resize.it.

Step two is KEEP IT SIMPLE.

The blog text editor is not conducive to complicated design layouts. Unless you have a custom theme created with custom fields for displaying specific data, it is best if you stick to the most simple formatting. Put your content in short paragraphs. Use ordered and unordered lists. Upload images and video. But avoid any fancy formatting.

The most successful blogs visually follow a simple pattern for their blog posts. They might start with an image at the top of the page. Then put in a paragraph or two. Then another image or video, and then more text as needed.

They find a pattern that works for the type of content they are going to be blogging about, and they consistently use that pattern on all of their blog posts.

Think about how long your blog posts are typically going to be, figure out a simple  structure that would work for the majority of your blog posts, and stick with that.

This is particularly important if you have side bars in your blog. Side bar content can often be busy and varied. If your blog post content is simple and restful to the eye, the audiences’ attention will settle on it naturally. If the blog content is displayed in a disorganized and cluttered manner, it will blend with the clutter in the side bar, and the content will be harder to read.

THINK TWICE ABOUT ALIGNING IMAGES LEFT AND RIGHT

Be very careful when having the text wrap to the right and left of images. It is tricky to get images that are aligned left and/or right with text wrapping around them to look like balanced design elements in your blog post.

Your blog post is going to be viewed on all different computers, platforms and browsers and what looks great on your computer, might not look the same on another.

The illustration below shows how left and right aligned images can be problematic.

In example 1, the images have different widths, and it looks sloppy.

In example 2, 3 and 4, the images have the same width and are inserted above the paragraph, so they look much better than example 1.

However they illustrate how the same text and images can appear on different browsers depending upon browser settings. You think your blog post is aligned beautifully, but someone else might see the images in an entirely different configuration depending upon how their browser treats font sizes and line height.

Also, beware of inserting an image in the middle of a word or sentence by accident. It might look fine when you preview your blog post. Because the text is wrapping to the right or left of the image, where it is placed in the word or sentence is not noticeable. But the appearance of your blog post when translated into other platforms, like rss feeds and emails, will degrade.

The code that your blog editor adds to the image to tell the image to go right or left on your blog’s website page is not recognized by email clients (gmail, mac mail, outlook etc..), so if your blog posts are being sent to subscribers via email, for them, any image that is aligned left or right on your blog will be stuck right in the middle of the text where you inserted it.

This image below illustrates an email that I received from a blog subscription. The blog post, although it looked fine on the blog, did not look good as an email.

For this reason, I recommend inserting images in between paragraphs and not aligning them left or right..

Think about how long your blog posts are going to be generally, figure out a simple  structure that would work for the majority of your blog posts, and follow that structure on all of your posts.

In Summary

  • Keep the formatting simple.
  • Follow a consistent pattern for the formatting of blog posts throughout the blog.
  • Stick to the same capitalization rules throughout the blog.
  • Choose three image widths for large, medium and thumbnail images and make sure all of your images throughout your blog, stick to these widths.

If your content is well designed, it will be easier to read, and the audience will value it more.

Photo credit 1 –  Photo credit 2

Video tutorial: how to easily add custom content to a text widget

The WordPress text widget is the most powerful widget in your widget library because you can add anything at all to it…. as long as you have the code. Dragging the text widget to your side bar and clicking to edit it, one is presented with a big white blank box, and that can be intimidating if you aren’t a website programmer.

My colleague, Sheryl Dagostino from thispresentlife.com, told me a neat trick for composing content for your text widgets which I am going to share below. It makes it so easy to add images, links and custom coding to text widgets. You now will have one less reason to call your web designer, and more control of your blog’s appearance.

How to place a feedburner email subscription form on your blog

A great way to keep up to date with a blog that you love to follow is to subscribe to an email subscription of their posts. That way, when a new post is made, it lands right in your email inbox. If you want to offer this to people who visit your blog, it is easy to do.

The first step is to create a feedburner account for your blog. Feedburner is now one of the tools that google offers, so if you have a google account, you can log in, click the feedburner icon under your account settings

and fill in the address of your blog’s feed.

(If your blog is hosted on my server, the address would be [blog-address]/index.php/feed/rss/
So my blog feed URL or address, for example, is http://goffgrafix.com/blog/index.php/feed/rss/ )

Once you’ve burned your feed with feedburner, you click on the name of the feed, and then click on the publicize tab.

And then click on the email subscriptions link in the left hand menu

You then need to activate that service by clicking on the activate button.

Once you’ve activated the email subscriptions, feedburner gives you the embed code for the opt in form that will let visitors subscribe to your blog and have it arrive in their email inbox.

Highlight and copy all of the code, and then you can paste it into a blog post or a text widget on your blog website.

 

 

reasons why emails bounce back

Several weeks ago I had a client call me in a panic. She said that her emails were bouncing back and could I fix it? It ended up that she had just sent a big mailing with attachments out and a handful of the emails bounced back. Her bounced emails inspired this blog post.

There are any number of reasons why emails might bounce back. What is certain, is that when they bounce back, the server that bounced them will give you a reason why they bounced, right at the top of the bounced message. Usually they bounce for benign reasons that have nothing to do with who hosts your email.

For example:

You may be sending the recipient an attachment that is too large for their mailbox capacity. If that happen, there will be some text that states that the message size exceeded the fixed maximum message size. (see image below).

It could be that the email address is no longer valid, or has a typo in it. If this is the case, you will get a message saying that the address was rejected or that the recipient is not their customer or doesn’t exist.

See the two examples below:

It could be that the mailbox of the recipient has reached its quota or is full.

Often, the receiving person’s mail server is down or has a very large queue. When that is the case you will receive a message at the top saying that the email hasn’t been delivered yet, but your server will try again.

If your mail server has been blacklisted for spamming, then your email might bounce back as well. In that case there will be a clear message stating so.

If I am hosting your email, and you get a message about RBL lists and black lists, then please DO contact me immediately, forward me the bounced email and I will put the wheels in motion to fix the situation.

Can you think of other reasons why emails bounce? and what the clues are in the returned mail heading?