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How to Back Up and Move a WordPress Blog

This guest post is by Caimin Jones of Genius Startup.

Sometimes you’ll need to move your blog from one host to another. It’s a bit of a pain and might seem a daunting task if you’ve never done it before.

But transferring a site is a fairly straightforward process that you can do yourself with an FTP program and this step-by-step guide.

Before trying the DIY method, it’s worth checking to see whether your new hosting company offers a site transfer service for new customers. Many do—but check whether there’s a cost involved. I’ve seen free services for this, but I’ve also seen prices around $300!

If you just need to learn how to make a simple backup of your posts, and don’t need to move hosts, take a look at this ProBlogger post.

But if you’re ready to back up and move your blog, let’s do it.

What you need to begin

To get stated, you’ll need:

  1. an FTP program (two good, free ones are FileZilla or FireFTP which works as a Firefox add-on)
  2. the FTP login information for your current host
  3. the FTP login information for your new host
  4. the MySQL username, password, and host name for your new server
  5. the nameserver information for your new host—there are usually two host names, sometimes more
  6. the login details for the registrar with which your domain name is registered.

It’s best to move hosts during a quiet time of the week for your blog, which probably means over the weekend. Check that support is available at your new host, and have the number handy. If something doesn’t work as it should, you’ll be glad you don’t have to go looking for that phone number.

Two preliminary steps to make life easier

If you’re using a cache plugin like Total Cache or WP Super Cache, deactivate and completely remove the plugin before you start the move process.

Cache plugins store file settings on the server, and these will be different for your new host, so you need to do a new install for those types of plugins. Most other types of plugins won’t need to be re-installed using the process I’m outlining here.

Secondly, it’s highly recommended go to your domain registrar or hosting company and lower the TTL value on your domain to something like 300 seconds, or the lowest value allowed.

TTL stands for Time To Live. It’s the number of seconds browsers should wait before refreshing the DNS information that connects domain names with web servers. Setting it to a low value means you won’t have to wait more than a few minutes for your host switching to take effect.

You’ll find the TTL as a setting under a DNS Zone file. For example, it looks like this in Media Temple:

TTL settings

And it looks like this in Go Daddy:

TTL settings GoDaddy

Make sure you change the TTL at least 12 hours before you plan to switch web hosts, so that the newer, faster refresh time has updated around the internet.

Making the move

Step 1. Install WordPress on the new hosting company

If the new host has a one-click install feature, use that to install WordPress—you’ll save yourself quite a bit of time and hassle.

If you have to install it manually, take a look at the official installation guide.

Step 2. Back up the database

The easiest way to make a complete database backup is to install the WP-DBManager plugin .

Once it’s installed, go to Database > Backup Database and click the Backup button. If you have a lot of posts or comments, this might take a few seconds.

When you see the message that the backup has been created, go to Database > Manage Backup DB and check the backup file is definitely there.

Step 3. Back up all the files from your old server

Using your FTP program, log in to your old host and navigate to your wp-content directory. Download everything in that directory to your computer.

At this stage you have a complete copy of your entire blog—and you’re halfway there.

Downloading the copy

Step 4. Upload your files to the new server

Now, it’s back to your FTP program. Log in to the new server and navigate to the wp-content directory.

Before you take the next step, double-check that you really are logged in to the new server and not the old one.

Now delete everything in the wp-content directory.

Then upload everything in the wp-content copy on your computer to your new host.

Step 5. Change nameservers

You’re nearly there! Now you need to log in to your domain name registrar and change the nameservers to those of your new hosting company.

Changing the nameservers

Changes to domain nameservers can take a few hours or more to propagate through the internet, so it may be a while before your blog is being served from its new home. However, if you followed the tip to reduce the TTL value before you began, you’ll only need to wait a few minutes for the changes to take effect.

Sep 6. Make the finishing touches

Visit your blog homepage and refresh it every few minutes until you see the WordPress install page (if you manually installed WordPress) or an empty blog using the standard theme (if you used a one-click install option).

Don’t panic! Log in to the Admin area and go to Database > Manage BackupDB. You should see the backup file you made on your old server. Select it and click Restore.

Now check your blog homepage and you should see a fully working blog, with posts, comments, theme, and plugins working correctly.

If everything looks good, you can now reinstall your cache plugin, if you were using one. I’d also say you’ve also earned a glass of your favorite beverage!

Caimin Jones is founder of Genius Startup which gives bloggers and small startups no fluff, practical strategies to build a successful web business.

4 WordPress Alternatives: the What, Where, and Why

This guest post is by Matt Setter of MaltBlue.com.

As bloggers, we’re all familiar with WordPress, whether as a self-hosted setup, or via WordPress.com. I think that, if you’re a blogger and you’ve not used it, then you’re likely in an odd minority.

If you do a Google search for “blogging software,” WordPress will likely be among the first results you’ll see. But is it necessarily the best choice?

Yes, “everybody’s doing it,” but does that make it the right choice? Just like in the 90’s when Microsoft seemed like the only choice, but then we found alternatives like Mac or Linux, there are alternatives to WordPress too.

Now maybe you’re quite happy with your WordPress installation, it meets your needs, and your site’s humming along nicely. Well, that’s perfectly fine. But what if you’re not? What if you want to change, or have the opportunity to change?

What if you’re:

  • just starting out
  • about to rebuild or redesign your blog
  • moving hosts
  • concerned WordPress is not meeting your needs
  • contrarian in your thinking?

Well if you’re any one of these, you’ll love this post. Today I present to you four alternatives you may never have heard of, showing you the pros and cons of each, how much they cost, and where you can get them from. Ready? Great! Let’s begin.

Habari

habariHabari is a secure blogging platform designed from the ground up with the current and future needs of the blogging community firmly in mind. It’s also designed to be open and transparent, using modern software development techniques in its design.

Some examples of blogs run on this platform include:

The Habari project screencast linked below gives a great introduction to the CMS.

Features

  • Support for a wide variety of plugins and extensions, including:
    • contact forms
    • Last.FM
    • spam management
    • Amazon
    • Google Maps, AdSense, and Analytics
    • star ratings
    • members-only access
    • LinkedIn
    • Twitter
  • modern theme support
  • support for multiple users and multiple sites in one installation
  • support for tagging
  • support for a wide variety of media, including Viddler and Flickr
  • custom RSS feeds and statistics
  • Feedburner integration
  • modern spam filtering techniques
  • automatic Twitter updates
  • Disqus integration for commenting.

Cost and availability

Habari is available as a free download from the project home page. You can even try out a demo version without needing to install it.

Support options

Habari support is available via:

  • FAQ
  • users group
  • IRC (internet chat, similar to ICQ, MSN, Google Chat etc).

Is it for you?

If you’re keen to roll up your sleeves and manage things yourself, or you have great tech support, try out Habari. However, if your host doesn’t support it or you’re not able to do it yourself, then this may not be the best option for you.

CushyCMS

cushycmsCushyCMS is, as the home page says, “A Truly Simple CMS.” It was designed to be implemented with as little effort as possible; to be “Super Easy To Use!”

Where Habari is more like WordPress in that you can download, install, and configure it yourself, CushyCMS is a fully hosted solution.

Minimal manual effort is required on your part, other than the work required to implement modest customisations. Have a look at the introductory video below to see just how easy it is.

Blogs that use CushyCMS include:

Features

Depending on the package that you choose, different features will be available to you. In the free package, you get:

  • five sites
  • unlimited site editors
  • availability in 20 languages.

If you take the pro package, you can:

  • brand your installation
  • customise the interface via a wysiwig editor
  • remove all ads from the site
  • use your own domain name and logo
  • configure access rights for each user
  • customise the CSS classes.

Cost and availability

CushyCMS is available from Stateless Systems and comes in two forms:

  • free
  • pro, for US$28 per month.

Support options

This depends on the package that you’ve chosen. If you’ve chosen the free package, you get:

  • videos
  • documentation
  • package FAQ
  • access to the Google user group.

If you upgrade to the pro package, you get all that, plus direct email support from Stateless Systems.

Is it for you?

Depending on your needs and requirements, CushyCMS could be just what you’re looking for. You can sign up and get started in minutes. There’s no need to worry about what your current provider does or doesn’t support, as this system is fully hosted. You can get started with the free version, but you’ll have limited branding and domain control privileges.

You can upgrade to the pro version, but unless you’re making regular money with your blog, you might not want to pay the monthly fee for it. However, you do get a company backing the product with 24/7 support, should you have any questions or queries.

concrete5

concrete5Just like WordPress and Habari, concrete5 is available to be downloaded, configured, and installed at your web host and is a blogging platform built from the ground up to satisfy the needs of website editors, designers, and developers alike on a foundation of proven open source technologies.

The underlying philosophy of concrete5 is to make running a website easy. As you can see from the demo video below, in just about all aspects of site administration, you can simply click on a region of the page and edit it to your heart’s content.

A couple of blogs that run on concrete5 are:

Features

Concrete5:

  • is easy to theme yourself, or you can choose from a wide variety of pre-made themes
  • supports a wide variety of plugins and extensions including:
    • digital download support
    • discussion forums
    • ecommerce
    • ad servers
    • configurable menu navigation
    • star reviews
    • scrolling ticker
    • image gallery
    • traffic and statistics management
    • Google Maps
    • user chat
    • country-based redirect
    • Vimeo and YouTube support.
  • easy to configure, whether by hand or via the wysiwig editor
  • easy to update, right from your browser
  • open source and completely free to use
  • easy to install and configure.

Cost and availability

Concrete5 is available from the concrete5 website and is open source, so it’s free.

Support options

Similar to Habari, concrete5 doesn’t have a paid support option, however it does have:

If you are a developer, or have access to development support, training and integration packages are also available.

Is it for you?

Concrete5 is a good mixture of the best parts of the two previous packages. You can install it yourself, but training and custom build support are also available. So, depending on your needs and your available budget, concrete5 may be the right option for you. Why not give a trial version a go today to see?

TomatoCMS

tomatocmsLast, but by no means least, is TomatoCMS. Like Habari and Concrete5, TomatoCMS is an open source, modern blogging and CMS platform designed from the ground up to meet today’s needs and demands.

Examples of blogs that run on this platform include:

Two key aspects set TomatoCMS apart: Widgets and the Layout Editor. Let’s look at its feature list.

Features

Among a vast array of compelling features are:

  • a variety of built-in modules (extension) including:
    • banner advertising support
    • category management
    • comment management
    • simple menu management
    • multimedia management
    • in-built news system
    • tag support
    • poll support
  • built on the Zend Framework, jQuery, and 960grid, making it fast, light and flexible.

In addition to this it’s also:

  • SEO friendly
  • secure
  • highly themable
  • packaged with a simple visual editor allowing you to drag, drop, and resize almost any interface element.

Cost and availability

As with Habari and Concrete5, TomatoCMS is also a free download available to be installed and configured on your host as your needs demand.

Support options

Also like Habari and Concrete5, TomatoCMS doesn’t offer a commercial support package. However it does have a solid project wiki and a thriving forum. If you have troubles with it, then you’re likely to find the solution there without too much hassle.

Is it for you?

If you’re keen to control most, if not all, of the aspects of the system on your own host, then this is the option for you. However, if you need support then this option may not be the best choice.

Choices, choices

So there you have it. If you want to change from WordPress, have an opportunity to change, or are just starting out, now you have four additional options to WordPress to choose from.

Take a closer look and evaluate them. When you find the one that ticks all your boxes, give it a try and let me know how it goes for you.

Do you run your blog on an alternative to WordPress? Why is it your platform of choice? What makes it the best one for your blog and your business? Let us know in the comments.

Matthew Setter is a freelance writer, technical editor and proofreader. His mission is to help businesses present their online message in an engaging and compelling way so they’re noticed and remembered.

The Blogger’s Essential WordPress Guide: 13 Top Tutorials

Over the last couple of months, we’ve taken a close look at WordPress here on ProBlogger.

WordPressI know that many readers do use WordPress—either the free or paid version—and it’s the content management system of choice for many high-profile sites. I’ve been using it for years, and I’d have to say that it’s served me really well over that time.

The articles we’ve published have covered many of the essential aspects of blogging using WordPress, from choosing the service that’ll suit you and weighing up different themes, to securing, posting to, and making money from your WordPress blog.

In case you’ve missed any of these great posts, I thought I’d compile them all here for easy reference.

Getting started

  1. WordPress.com or WordPress.org? Which one’s right for you?
  2. What you need to know before you start a WordPress blog
    Security
  3. Set safe, secure user roles on your WordPress blog
  4. Secure your WordPress blog without touching any code
    SEO
  5. Essential SEO settings for every new WordPress blog
    Themes
  6. How to select your first WordPress theme
  7. Install your first WordPress theme
    Plugins
  8. Install your first WordPress plugin
  9. 19 Essential WordPress plugins for your blog
  10. 5 WordPress plugins to help you make money from your blog
    Posting
  11. Use email to post to your WordPress blog
    Making money
  12. 9 Ways to make money from WordPress … without having a blog
  13. Premise 2.0 released: complete digital sales and lead generation engine for WordPress

Thanks to all the contributors who put in the work to help us get our heads around these finer points of WordPress, including Matt Hooper, Karol K of ThemeFuse, Anurag Bansal of Techacker, Eric Siu of Evergreen Search, Louise of MoneySupermarket.com, and Sean Platt of outstandingSETUP.

Of course, while this CMS dominates the blogosphere, there are many solid alternatives to WordPress (and no, I’m not talking about Blogger!). If you’re looking for a change for some reason, give them your consideration.

Do you have a favourite WordPress tutorial or resource that you can add to this list? Share it with us in the comments.

Install Your First WordPress Theme

This guest post is by Karol K of ThemeFuse.

Seeing a headline like “How to Install a WordPress Theme” on ProBlogger might seem strange at first. This doesn’t sound like a “pro”-thing at all, right? If you’ve been dealing with WordPress for a while then this is probably even more than obvious to you.

However, everyone starts somewhere, and there are plenty of experienced bloggers who haven’t ever installed a WordPress theme—but would like to give it a try. Maybe you’re installing your first theme right now, and you’re searching for a quick guide on how to do it.

Where can you get a good WordPress theme?

This is tricky. You see, when you’re installing a plugin the best place to go is the official directory at wordpress.org. When you’re installing a theme, however, the official theme directory is not the best place to go, I’m afraid.

Of course, you can find some interesting themes there, but you’re more likely to make your search much more fruitful if you just go to Google.

The thing with the official directory is that it only contains 1,490 themes or so. This is by no means the total number of themes available on the internet. There’s much much more interesting stuff out there, and settling for what you can find in the official directory would not be a wise thing to do.

Yesterday, I described how to select a theme that’s perfect for you and your blog. So here I will just assume that you already know which theme you want to use.

Step 1. Download the theme

Once you find a theme you like, you’ll need to download it to your computer before you can do anything else with it.

The package containing your theme can consist of many various elements. Depending on the license you’ve selected, you might find some PSD files, additional bonuses, documents, and so on. Of course, the theme files themselves will be present as well. Most of the time, all the contents of a theme are delivered as a ZIP archive.

2. Extract the files

Next, you have to extract the archive somewhere—onto your desktop, for example. If the archive contains more elements than just the theme (like the bonuses I mentioned above), open the archive’s readme file to locate the main theme’s directory.

As an example, here’s what you’ll find inside a ThemeFuse theme archive:

Once you’ve successfully identified the main theme directory, you can proceed to the next step.

3. Upload the theme to your WordPress blog

This step will require FTP access to your hosting account, and a piece of FTP software. You can try FileZilla—it’s good, and it’s free.

The theme’s main directory is the one you’ll be uploading to your blog. Connect to your site via FTP (the FTP tool’s help documentation will explain how to do this if you’re not sure) and navigate to the wp-content/themes directory of your site. This is where you upload your theme’s main directory.

Here’s the default look of the directory when it contains only one theme—the default theme TwentyEleven:

The next step in the process takes place in your WordPress Admin panel.

4. Activate your new theme

Log in to your WordPress Admin panel using your Admin account details.

Installing new themes requires Admin access rights; it can’t be done through other types of accounts.

Go to Appearance > Themes, as shown here:

Your new theme should be visible among all the others. The only thing left for you to do now is activate it:

If everything goes well, your new theme will be marked as the Current Theme, and your blog will have an entirely new look.

5. All done!

This is where the guide ends. There’s nothing more for you to do now other than enjoy your new theme! Of course, you could make some final adjustments to make your blog look truly unique, for instance, adding branding elements such as your logo, pictures, and so on. Or, if you’re ready to install a WordPress plugin, we have a guide to that, too!

Have you installed a WordPress theme yet? Share your tips with us in the comments.

Karol K. is a 20-something year old web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland and a writer at ThemeFuse.com, where he shares various WordPress advice. Currently, he’s working on a new e-book titled “WordPress Startup Guide – little known things worth doing when creating a WordPress site.” The e-book launches soon, and now the best part … it’s free. Also, don’t forget to visit ThemeFuse to get your hands on some premium WordPress themes.

How to Select the Perfect WordPress Theme for Your Blog

This guest post is by Karol K of ThemeFuse.

Selecting a WordPress theme is one of those tasks that seem fairly easy at first How hard can it be? you ask yourself. You simply go to Google, type in “best free WordPress themes” and you’re good to go, right?

I’m sure you already know where I’m going with this. So let’s just say it out loud so we can put it behind us: Forget about free themes! They are evil! This is something I’ve been saying for a little more than a year now. And hey, don’t blame me, it’s just the way it is.

Long story short, almost all free WordPress themes include some kind of strange code in their structures, usually in the footer section. The code is encrypted, and, often, the theme stops working if you try to remove it. Also, you don’t have a clue about what’s actually in that code until you decrypt it. Just to make things clear, as a developer, designer, or simply a website owner, you never want to have any unknown code on your site.

What other solutions are there if free themes are out of the game, then? Three main ones:

  • You can have the theme developed by someone on a contract agreement.
  • You can develop the theme yourself on top of a popular theme framework (and create the design as well).
  • You can buy a premium theme.

Of course, at ThemeFuse (the theme store I’m a part of), we strongly encourage you to take advantage of the last option because, well, that’s our business.

But I’m not speaking as a businessman now. I’m speaking as a WordPress developer. So let me take you through the most important elements of the decision-making process, so you can select the perfect WordPress theme for your website or blog.

What do you need the theme for?

This is the first and the most important question you can ask yourself.

Every website has its own purpose. And this purpose will greatly affect the kind of theme you should be searching for.

WordPress was originally designed to work with traditional text blogs, but over the years this purpose has evolved into something much broader. Nowadays, WordPress can successfully run almost any kind of website.

Some possible applications include:

  • Video blogs: this is a new breed in the blogging world. Every day there are more and more bloggers who present their content exclusively through video.
  • Photo blogs (or graphical portfolios): These blogs are popular among photographers and designers who want to showcase their work.
  • Online magazines: These sites are created around the idea of publishing news from a given field, often along with a descriptive image to accompany text content.
  • Business sites: These sites are owned by all kinds of professionals and contract workers, from dentists and tailors, to consultants and teachers … and more!
  • Traditional blogs: These are run by people who want to share their own articles. Mostly, traditional blogs are text only content. In other words, these are blogs like we know them.
  • Corporate sites: Big companies have a slightly different idea of what a good website contains, and that’s why the corporate style has sprouted up.
  • Software/app/product sites: Some businesses are built around a given product or a piece of software. The websites of such businesses tend to focus on the product, rather than on the business itself.
  • Small to medium-sized business sites: Such businesses often find it hard to choose a site design. The corporate style is too big, and a product site just doesn’t seem to fit many service-based businesses.
  • Real-world, local business sites: This is a type of site that’s targeted towards all kinds of physical businesses, like hotels, restaurants, galleries, shopping malls, and every other brick-and-mortar business imaginable.

There are probably tens of other types of sites that WordPress can handle, but let’s just stop here as I’m sure you get the idea.

Whatever you hope your site will end up to be, you have to start with its purpose. That purpose will suggest specific goals for your site, and its design should reflect those goals. Only when you’ve decided what’s important for your future site and what isn’t, can you start searching for a theme.

The most important features of a WordPress theme

There are tons of features a custom WordPress theme can provide you with, but let’s just focus on the most essential stuff—the things you’ll actually use on a daily basis (or during the initial setup).

Price and license

This is probably the most important factor to consider when you’re choosing a theme. Just like every soon-to-be website owner, you’ll have a specific budget set aside for this, and you’ll tell yourself you won’t get anything too expensive no matter how great it is. This is a perfectly reasonable approach.

Therefore, there are some important things to be aware of here. For instance, ask:

  • Does the license you’re about to get allow you to use the theme on more than one site?
  • Do you get free support?
  • Do you get the PSD files?
  • Do you get the source files?
  • Do you get any additional bonuses?

If you’re a WordPress developer and you plan on using a given theme for more than one client, you should consider getting a multiple site license, or maybe even a complete theme package (containing all themes a given theme store has to offer). Of course, the more you want, the more you have to spend, but such an investment might pay off soon.

If you’re only looking for a theme for your own site, then getting the most basic license will probably be the best choice for you.

An SEO friendly structure

No matter what other website owners are saying, SEO still is, and will remain, a very important element for the whole “getting popular on the internet” thing.

An SEO friendly theme is a really valuable asset. If you’re planning on doing any kind of SEO work around your site, then such a theme is essential. And even if you don’t have time for SEO, an SEO friendly theme can do a surprisingly big part of the work for you anyway.

Good SEO always starts with getting the basic characteristics of your site just right. Only then you can tackle link-building and other off-page SEO tasks.

How can you find out whether a theme is SEO friendly or not? Unfortunately, you can’t know for sure until you start working with a given theme. However, there are still some things to look for when you’re playing with a theme’s live demo, or analyzing the screenshots of a theme.

  • Is there the ability to set the titles and descriptions for every post and page individually (including the homepage)?
  • Does the theme use <H> headings?
  • Are the categories and tags visible?
  • Is the layout clean and simple?
  • Does the theme support major SEO plugins?

Some of these factors can be seen when you’re looking at a theme, while others are simply listed in the promotional materials of the theme. Make sure to pay attention to these considerations, though. The more SEO features a theme has, the better.

Compatibility with every browser

This is a very important feature to look for when you’re selecting a theme. Your visitors will always use a range of browsers and devices to access your site. You, as the website owner or the developer need to make sure that the site looks the same in every environment. This is difficult to do if your theme doesn’t provide that functionality from the get-go.

There are a couple of ways to find out whether the theme you’re interested in has cross-browser and device compatibility built in. The time-consuming way is to check the live demo on different browsers yourself. The easy way is to look for the information in the theme’s promotional materials.

Customizable design

Your new theme shouldn’t force you to stick to the default layout. It’s usually difficult to find a theme that fits your requirements exactly. Serious theme developers understand this, so they provide you with the possibility to change the layout a bit.

Changes like switching to a two sidebar layout, or moving sidebars from left to right should be available inside a good theme.

Also, the sidebars should be dynamic, so that you don’t have to settle for a given layout for the whole site. You should be able to choose custom layouts for individual pages of your blog.

Different color schemes available

Sticking to the topic of customization, let’s have a word about color schemes.

Every website needs a brand identity or some other point of differentiation. Chances are that you already have a logo made, and that you want to use it with your new theme. The logo itself represents most of your visual identity, so the theme should follow the same direction and be in tune with the logo.

There’s no easier way of keeping everything in tune than by simply changing the color scheme of your theme. Good themes have a couple of predefined color schemes built in, as well as a number of well-defined CSS classes that enable you to create new color schemes with little effort.

This might not sound important at first, but it actually makes tuning the theme a lot easier if you have a color scheme in place at the outset.

Easily customizable header

Whenever someone gets a new theme, the header is always the first place where any sort of customization happens. This isn’t surprising at all: everyone wants to include their own logo, their own menu, or an advertisement banner.

Customizable headers are essential for every theme. If the theme you’re considering doesn’t support this, it’s going to be really time-consuming for you to do any kind of modifications by hand (i.e. by working with HTML and PHP code).

Widget-ready areas

Widgets are small blocks of content you can include in various areas of your blog’s structure. The most common location for widgets is the sidebar, but that’s not a rule.

Every quality theme has a number of widget-ready areas predefined within its structure. Such areas are not only a form of a placeholder, but in most cases, they’re set with custom formatting and styling too.

The most common uses of widgets are:

  • displaying your Twitter stream and other social media icons
  • displaying recent comments
  • offering an additional search field
  • showing categories and tags
  • listing recent posts
  • showing popular posts
  • displaying archive links
  • displaying ads, additional menus, and so on.

Custom homepage support

For a traditional blog, the homepage is simply a list of recent posts. This is how it used to work for years, and it’s still the default setting in WordPress. But as I said earlier, there are many possible uses of the WordPress platform these days, and this default listing is the optimal solution for almost none of them.

Of course, if you’re a blogger publishing insightful articles on a regular basis, then by all means you should make the default listing of recent posts your homepage. However, if you’re a business owner of any kind, you’re probably better off to create a custom homepage displaying the most important information about your business and its offerings.

Most quality themes enable you to create a custom homepage and choose the individual elements you want to place on it. This is either done by a special category or another widget area (depending on the theme).

Video and image friendly

Just to make things clear, you can obviously display videos and images on every WordPress blog … I haven’t stumbled upon a situation where a blog wouldn’t support images. However, some themes make working with multimedia really, really effortless.

For instance, here’s a YouTube video. If you want to embed it into a standard WordPress theme, you have to go to YouTube, click the Share button, click the Embed button, grab the embed code, go back to your blog, switch to HTML editor, and finally paste the embed code where you want it.

But if you know you’ll be using a lot of video and imagery, you’d do better to choose a theme that caters specifically to those content types. For example, doing the same thing in a Themefuse theme requires only one action. In the visual editor, you simply use the shortcode:

[youtube width="600" height="350" link="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keIGj-bTagE"]

Making an image slideshow, or displaying a map from Google Maps is quite similar.

Social media integration

Social media and all of its forms is very popular. Everyone has a Twitter or Facebook account, if not tens of other profiles. Quality WordPress themes follow this trend and provide some form of social media integration. The most popular way is to show various share buttons next to the content, Follow or Like buttons, and sometimes even Twitter or Facebook streams.

Of course, you don’t have to use all of these options, but it’s good to make sure the theme you’re considering has a few possibilities you can choose from.

The “wow” effect: your theme’s looks

Setting all the features aside, there’s one really important characteristic that every good theme offers. All the features mean absolutely nothing if you simply don’t like the theme visually.

Some people will try to tell you that looks can always be changed and that you shouldn’t focus on this that much. I advise a different path here.

If you see a theme, and it doesn’t make you think something like “wow, this is great!” then don’t get it. Period.

Of course, remember your purpose for the theme. The looks itself are not enough to make a theme perfect for you—there are other important considerations as well, as we’ve just seen.

A theme can’t be overused

Popularity is a funny thing when it comes to WordPress themes. On one hand, it’s great to get a popular theme because you know that it’s a quality product. It’s a kind of social proof—if many people have decided to buy a certain theme, then it has to be good, right?

On the other hand, if too many people are using the same theme then it loses all of its uniqueness, and it can make branding it difficult.

Now, I’m not saying that an overall number of downloads for a given theme is important in itself, but it is important for your specific niche. The fact that 50 people might be using your theme in a different niche is not a problem. But if ten people are using your theme in your niche, that could be a big problem.

Simply do a little research before buying a theme to make sure that there aren’t too many people using it in the niche where you want to launch a site. (If no one is using the theme, that, of course, is the perfect scenario.)

Reviews are important

Depending on a theme’s popularity, you might be able to find some customer reviews, or even professional reviews to help you decide whether the theme is really worth purchasing.

The best way of finding those reviews is using Google. Search for something like “theme-name review”. The rule is simple: the larger the number of good reviews, the better.

On the other hand, if you don’t find anything, it doesn’t mean that the theme isn’t good quality. Usually, happy customers don’t spend time submitting reviews around the internet, they simply enjoy their purchase and go on with their lives.

Documentation and support

Some developers don’t believe in the power of documentation, and it’s hard to understand why. The fact is that even when you get a new washing machine, you get a user’s manual.

Essentially, digital products are no different—they, too, need a manual of some kind. Serious developers understand this so they always try to make their customers’ lives easier by providing documentation that’s easy to grasp.

Support is different. The better the product is, the less work support teams have. But still, there are times when you’ll need some assistance, either when something stops working or when you simply want to do something unusual with your theme.

Don’t choose a theme that doesn’t have any documentation or support. This might be okay when you’re getting a theme for free, but when you’re paying money, it’s not acceptable.

Only up-to-date themes allowed

This is an easy trap to fall into. Here’s the scenario: you’re browsing the web to find a nice theme, you stumble upon one that’s interesting, and you decide to get it. Only afterwards you find out that the theme you’ve chosen hasn’t been updated lately and that it has been developed for version 2.7 of WordPress, for example.

I’m not saying that every next version of WordPress is completely different from the previous one, but some things do change, and you need to make sure that your theme implements all the new functionality and interesting features of the platform.

Every self-respecting theme store makes sure that the themes it offers are always up-to-date with current versions of WordPress and current trends of the web as a whole. So when you’re shopping for a theme, simply take notice of whether the theme you’re about to get has been updated lately and if it’s compatible with the newest version of WordPress.

A step-by-step approach

This has turned out to be a rather lengthy piece, so let me sum it up with a quick step-by-step guide on how to select the perfect theme for your blog:

  1. Start with the purpose of your site. When you decide what you need the site for, you’ll be able to list its most important traits—traits you need the theme to support.
  2. Note the details about the themes you’re considering. Some possibilities include: price and license, SEO friendly structure, compatibility with every browser, customizable design, different color schemes available, easily modifiable header, widget-ready areas, custom homepage support, video and image friendly, and support for social media integration.
  3. Let me quote myself: If you see a theme, and it doesn’t make you think something like “wow, this is great!”, don’t get it.
  4. Make sure that the theme is not overused in your niche.
  5. Try to find some customer or professional reviews.
  6. Make sure that documentation and support is available for the theme.
  7. Make sure that the theme is up to date with the current version of WordPress.

Even though it seems like there’s much to do when selecting a theme, it can actually be worked through very quickly. You just need to know where to look for the most important information.

Essentially, selecting a good theme is like selecting any other product—digital or otherwise. You just need to know what you’re looking for. Don’t forget to ask or read about the details that are important to you and your blog.

There’s been a lot of talking on my part here. Now it’s your turn: how did you go about selecting your current WordPress theme? What words of wisdom can you give those who are about to do it for the first time? Let us know in the comments—and don’t forget to visit again tomorrow, when I’ll show you how to install the theme you’ve selected, set by step.

Karol K. is a 20-something year old web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland and a writer at ThemeFuse.com, where he shares various WordPress advice. Currently, he’s working on a new e-book titled “WordPress Startup Guide – little known things worth doing when creating a WordPress site.” The e-book launches soon, and now the best part … it’s free. Also, don’t forget to visit ThemeFuse to get your hands on some premium WordPress themes.

How to Be a Problogger on Tumblr

This is a guest post by Gregory Ciotti of Sparring Mind.

When it comes to blogging, a number of platforms have come and gone. Recently, Posterous was acquired by Twitter, signifying that a shut-down of the platform was imminent.

I noticed this in a big way; my blog, called I Love Tumblr, which focuses on Tumblr tips and tutorials, had a huge influx of new traffic (especially to my Tumblr vs Posterous article—no surprise there).

I also started to receive a ton of emails from former Posterous users asking me if the Tumblr platform was right for them (or whether WordPress or Blogger was a better choice).

In most instances, I (like Darren) would advise a self-hosted WordPress blog above all others, however, in instances where that really isn’t desired, I have been able to honestly (and highly) recommend Tumblr to many bloggers.

Given my large amount of experience with the platform (and given its serious growth in the past few years), I thought I might explain to all of the Tumblr users here on ProBlogger how you can become a problogger on the platform.

Being a problogger on Tumblr

Being a problogger on Tumblr essentially boils down into two broad categories of advice:

  1. understanding the best practices and strategies specifically for the Tumblr platform (and knowing what makes it different)
  2. utilizing smart blogging and marketing techniques that work on any platform, and making your Tumblr blog more open to non-Tumblr users.

These pieces of advice sound contradictory, but really they are not. The point is, you need to understand both the Tumblr platform and other standard “best practices” for blogs in general to succeed, and I’m going to show you how to do both today.

Mastering the Tumblr platform

First things first: we need to understand what makes Tumblr different. The three biggest points of difference that you need to understand about Tumblr are:

  1. the social networking aspects of Tumblr
  2. what kind of content works well on Tumblr
  3. how to use the “on-site” features of Tumblr to grow your blog

1. Tumblr’s social networking aspects

Tumblr has a number of features that make it resemble a social networking platform as much as a blogging platform.

The main one is that Tumblr users can “follow” other users’ blogs—in essence, they can amass a group of followers as well as follow other blogs that interest them.

Sound familiar? It’s pretty much the same concept that Twitter uses, except that Tumblr’s a blogging platform (WordPress.com has now incorporated this feature as well).

I’ve written about how to get more followers on Tumblr in the past, and largely, that advice revolves around the topics we’re discussing today: knowing what works on Tumblr, and knowing what works on the web at large. We’ll address this “follower” aspect more later on, so be sure to keep reading.

The other big social networking aspect that defines Tumblr is the act of “reblogging”. Reblogging is similar to retweeting on Twitter, or Facebook sharing, but on Tumblr, you’re actually sharing an entire blog post to your followers.

The reblogging is a very powerful feature for Tumblr users: they have the option to either Like or reblog a post they’ve enjoyed, and they will often choose the latter if it suits their interests. Reblogging showcases whatever you’ve posted to an entirely new following of Tumblr users.

It’s one of the main reason that some quirkier Tumblr blogs have grown so quickly, in addition to the large amounts of press they sometimes recieve (think Garfield Minus Garfield as an example). Currently, my most reblogged post sits at 17,848 reblogs, and it was a goofy post on my personal site, although it did attract about 125 new followers.

I’ve found it’s not the sheer number of reblogs that counts, but rather how related your overall site is to the content being reblogged (i.e. if you post some viral content about cooking, you won’t get a lot of followers unless your site is also about cooking).

The last difference with Tumblr is now no longer a difference at all: Tumblr used to be the only platform with post types, but now WordPress has incorporated that feature as well (and theme designers have followed suit), so the only true difference remains in the followers (not available on self-hosted WP blogs) and the reblogging of content, in terms of how the platform operates.

There are numerous SEO differences between Tumblr and other platforms, and the debate over whether anything but self-hosted content is safe to pursue continues, but we will tackle those issues later.

2. What content works well on Tumblr?

The Tumblr userbase is different from other blogging crowds in that it focuses on certain interests more than others. There is definitely a targeted demographic for Tumblr, and there are certainly topics that do better there than others.

Largely, Tumblr users are younger than those on most other blogging platforms, and there is a heavy focus on photo and image content over anything else. See for yourself—here are Tumblr’s demographic data from Alexa:

Alexa data

That’s not to say text posts cannot go viral on Tumblr, it’s just that the “bread and butter” of most Tumblr blogs is going to be image and short multimedia content (audio/video), often catering to younger interests.

The reason for this isn’t only to do with Tumblr’s demographics, but also with how the platform works.

Reblogging is far more popular with image posts because they are much easier to digest (ah, the typical internet user’s attention span!) and because they take up less screen space; if you reblog an entire text post, it might take up a lot of room, while a simple image reblog does not. Users are more likely to share text posts to Twitter and other sources, with the reblog being used almost exclusively for image content.

One popular blog that takes advantage of all of these aspects is the Fake Science Tumblr. Creating humorous, original image content based around a single topic (“fake science” facts), this blog grew tremendously fast with the help of people reblogging all of its images. The vintage style, the crude humor, and the focus on images is the perfect example of the type of blog that would go off like dynamite on Tumblr (not that others won’t, it’s just that this blog was made for Tumblr).

Another blog that has done quite well on Tumblr is TinyCartridge. This is another successful blog that uses Tumblr’s interface well: the topic of the blog is handheld and retro gaming, and as such, many posts are short and focus on a single image or video, perfect for Tumblr.

Don’t be fooled, though: Tumblr isn’t as limited as you think though… Some big sites have made Tumblr “microblog” additions to their main offerings, and many of these aren’t the goofy image-based topics I’ve been pointing out above.

Examples include the Time Magazine Tumblr blog, the National Post Tumblr, and the LIFE Tumblr.

You will notice of course, that the focus here is still on images, emphasizing my point that Tumblr does best with images, no matter what the topic.

3. Utilizing Tumblr’s on-site features

We’ve already talked about reblogging, but now let’s go into more depth and discuss how to use some of Tumblr’s other on-site features to increase your blog’s exposure.

One of the most powerful features that you can utilize is the Tumblr search feature, located on the right side of all Tumblr dashboards. To make the most of search, you are going to need to understand how tagging works in Tumblr, as it’s very different (and much more important) than in WordPress.

Essentially, you can tag your posts with keywords before you publish them to your blog on Tumblr:

Tumblr tags

These tags are important because they’re at the heart of the way Tumblr’s search operates: it looks for recent posts on your search via the post’s tags. So, if you’re running a surfing blog and you aren’t tagging each post with “surf” or “surfing”, you could be missing out on a ton of on-site searches.

Luckily, you don’t have to “overtag” on Tumblr, as it picks up on related content that’s tagged with similar terms. Take this example search on “bicycles”:

Bicycle search

You should add about seven to 15 tags at most to each post. Tagging is important to get your content into the search results, but don’t add so many that you look like a spammer.

Mastering “non-Tumblr” tactics

Now it’s time to step back from Tumblr for a second, because one of the biggest mistakes I see people make on the platform is that they become too reliant on it, forgetting about the smart marketing strategies that all bloggers should be using, regardless of platform.

The three biggest issues I see are that Tumblr bloggers fail to:

  1. use the best subscription options
  2. create an easy-to-navigate and high-converting blog design
  3. promote their blogs outside of Tumblr.

I’m not sure why these three elements are so often neglected by Tumblr users, but they are, so let’s tackle them one at a time.

1. Subscription options for Tumblr

The single biggest mistake people make with blogging (Tumblr or otherwise) is that they forget or neglect to start an email list. This is a tremendous mistake, and it is especially prevalent on Tumblr blogs. The thing that kills me: it’s a cinch to get started!

Simply select a good service (I recommend AWeber or MailChimp), check out some guides on how to increase email conversion rates, and be sure to place your forms in the right places (your sidebar is the critical one, although a feature box and end-of-post forms work as well).

It is so important to focus on email, as it’s one of the best ways to make your Tumblr more accessible to non-Tumblr users: everybody understands email sign-ups!

It’s also good to start a Feedburner feed for your blog, but I wouldn’t promote it: RSS readers know how to use it, and your email list is the priority anyway. You can also embed your social media profiles (such as a Facebook like box) into your Tumblr blog, but I’d stick to promoting one at a time—Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest, not all at once.

2. Creating a high-converting blog design on Tumblr

One thing that drives me crazy is how badly some Tumblr users set up their themes. I understand the use of trendy thumbnail or single-column themes, but those themes don’t convert! Two-column layouts still rules the roost, even for Tumblr, because they allow you to have sidebar where you put some incredibly important stuff, like your email sign up forms!

What stops people from picking a good theme? Tumblr charges up to $50 for themes on its ThemeGarden.

It’s a shame more people don’t know about the premium Tumblr themes available on places like ThemeForest that go for around $12, because they could solve this problem easily.

The other thing that most Tumblr users get wrong is anticipating the way people will navigate their blog. Ideally, you are going to want a few resource pages where people can access your best content, some important pages (about, contact, etc.) … and almost nothing else!

That’s right, unless you’re publishing like a mad man (or woman), you might not even need category pages (navigation menus that show posts via categories) or post archives.

You should remember that less is more when it comes to effective blog design: you are there to let people read content and to subscribe. Other than making sales, that’s all you should focus on letting people do. This way, if your users get too overwhelmed and don’t know where to go, they can always go back.

The only other decision that you need to make (partly a design choice and partly an accessibility choice) is whether or not you are going to enable comments on your Tumblr. Tumblr itself does not have a commenting system, so you’ll have to read up on how to install Disqus to Tumblr before you can allow readers to comment on your posts.

3. Promoting your blog outside of Tumblr

I explored the subscription changes at the beginning of this post because they’re relevant to a major aspect of getting your blog to be successful: promoting it off Tumblr.

While you can attract a huge number of followers (and hopefully email subscribers) from Tumblr itself, more attention outside of the platform is always good, and will likely be one of your main sources of new subscribers. So, if you’ve got email sign-up forms all set up, you can begin this process, one that few Tumblr blogs (or bloggers on all platforms) ever pursue.

One of the best, surefire ways to get more subscribers and more traffic is through guest posting. A guest post essentially allows you to be the opening act for another popular blog (preferably in your niche) that will also allow you to drop a link to your site, sending over traffic and potential subscribers. You should look for sites with at least a few thousand subscribers to guest post on. Any less, and the readership is likely to be too low to be worth the effort.

There are better alternatives to even the guest blogging strategy, however. One is to ask authors if they would like to interview you about something that you’ve achieved, accomplish, know about, or experienced. This works so well because the interview is all about you, and it looks more natural than a guest post. See what you can offer other bloggers in your niche and try to get featured on their sites.

Are you problogging on Tumblr?

As you’ve seen today, being a Problogger on Tumblr is largely determined by they way you approach and use the platform, as well as your ability to implement classic marketing knowledge and apply it to your Tumblr blog.

It definitely isn’t rocket science. But the question remains: is Tumblr the right choice for your blog?

While I will always fully support the self-hosted WordPress blog, for some people, Tumblr does make sense. If your content is heavily image-based and you think your style would do well on Tumblr, given what you know now about reblogs and the userbase, I would say give Tumblr a go.

The key thing here (I’ll say this 100 times if I have to!) is to focus on the end result, which in any blog’s case should be building an email list. It’s okay to build Tumblr followers and RSS readers and Facebook likes—just make sure you’re collecting a slew of emails in the process, and your blog will be built to last, no matter what platform it’s on.

Are you using Tumblr as part of your blogging strategy? Are you problogging entirely on the platform? Tell us how you’re getting the most out of Tumblr in the comments.

Gregory Ciotti is an avid blogger (he’s built many, and runs a few now!) and the author of Sparring Mind, where he writes about how to build a loyal following no matter which blog platform you are using. Learn what people are saying about Greg or check him out on Twitter.

Weekend Project: Set Safe, Secure User Roles on Your WordPress Blog

This guest post is by Karol K of ThemeFuse.

One of the final steps of the famous five-minute WordPress installation is to set up an Admin account. This account, by default, is assigned to the role of Administrator, which is the most powerful user role in WordPress.

But Administrator isn’t the only role available. You can, and as a matter of fact should, use other roles when working with your blog on a daily basis.

WordPress user roles sounds like a boring topic. It sounds like something a web developer has to deal with, or an administrator, or someone with a similar job description. And that pushes user roles to the bottom of our to-do lists when we’re setting up our blogs. Even though we get exposed to the whole idea quite early, during installation, we usually ignore it completely.

If you’re new to WordPress, and the whole concept of running a site is something you’ve never done before, you might think you only need the main Admin account. This seems reasonable, especially if your blog is a single author’s work, and that author is you.

But that’s not the best approach, unfortunately. For one thing, if you only have one user account, your Dashboard will get cluttered, which lowers the usability of WordPress as a publishing tool.

Even more importantly, if you just use the Admin account, you are more prone to all kinds of attacks and hacks than if you took a more systematic approach to user roles.

Why having just one user account is a security issue

Relying on a single user account is a security issue for a number of reasons.

First of all, your username is publically visible to anyone who goes to your author archives (usually at domain.com/author/your-username). This means that if someone wants to hack into your blog, they only need to break your password.

Secondly, if your admin account gets hacked, you can lose everything—your whole blog. You can even have it permanently deleted.

This is why it’s worth knowing a thing or two about user roles, and to use the Administrator role for admin purposes only. (Also, always hide it behind a truly complex and secure password, but that’s a another story.)

What are WordPress user roles for?

Essentially, user roles define what users can and cannot do with a given blog. For instance, depending on the role, one user might have the ability to edit everyone else’s posts, while another user might not even have the ability to hit the Publish button on their own posts.

What’s all this for? If you have a multi-author blog, the answer is obvious. You don’t want to let anyone do whatever they please with your blog. (A good practice is to allow different contributors to do just the bare minimum they must do in order to get their particular jobs done.)

For a single-author blog, creating an additional account can be a solid safety measure. You can use this new account to publish content, and edit posts and pages. And whenever you have to do any administrative work, you can switch to the Admin account.

User roles in WordPress

There are five basic user roles in WordPress, and one “super-role.” They are:

  • Subscriber
  • Contributor
  • Author
  • Editor
  • Administrator
  • Super Admin—the super-role.

Let’s take it from the top.

Subscriber

This is the most basic role for user accounts in WordPress. Most blogs that enable user registration assign every new user account to this role.

Basically, this role doesn’t have any privileges at all. The only thing a subscriber can do is manage their profile—it provides them with access to the WordPress Admin panel, section Users > Your Profile.

Usually, this role is used as a placeholder. If someone is no longer contributing to the blog, but you don’t want to delete their account, you can simply change their role to Subscriber.

Contributor

This is the most popular user role you can give to guest posters and other regular contributors.

Every Contributor can create a new post, edit it, and then submit it for review. They also have access to the comments section and can manage comments. However, once a post is published, a contributor can no longer modify that post.

Contributors don’t have access to anyone else’s content, which makes this role perfect for working with guest authors, as mentioned before. If you’re operating a single-author blog, however, then it’s not a role that will be useful to you.

Author

This is a great role for multi-author blogs. Each author can manage their own posts, edit them, delete them, and publish them to the site. They can also access to the content once the post is published. Essentially, an Author is a Contributor with a possibility to publish posts.

Even though there are three roles above Author, it still should be assigned only to trusted members of your team—people who you consider coauthors of your blog. Giving this role to someone who you’re not in any kind of professional relationship with is not the best idea.

Editor

This role enjoys the privileges of all the previous ones. In addition, it can manage all posts (written by any author), create and edit pages, and has access to every other piece of content published on the blog, including categories and tag management.

All this makes it perfect for single-author blogs. It’s a good idea to set an Editor account for yourself, which you’ll then use to publish and manage content.

For multi-author blogs, this role should be used by the person in charge. That one editor (or a small group of editors if the blog is a bigger one) will get the deciding vote regarding every post or page.

Administrator

In a sentence: this is a role that gets access to all the Admin features. It’s the most powerful role (except for the Super Admin, which we’ll get to in a moment)—there’s no one above the Administrator.

As I mentioned before, you get one Administrator account during installation. You can create more Admin accounts later on, but I don’t advise you to do so if you don’t have a good reason.

Also, make sure that your Admin password is secure and impossible to break. Try to use as many special characters, numbers, and big and small letters in your password as possible. The more complex your password is, the better.

Super Admin

WordPress allows you to create something called a multisite setup. Multisite setup is when you launch more than one WordPress site from a single installation of WordPress. You can have as many sites as you want, but they all have to sit in different directories or sub-domains.

I’m explaining this as an introduction to what the Super Admin role is: basically, it’s someone who has administration access to all the websites in a multisite network. Hence the name “Super Admin.” Apart from that, the role doesn’t have any additional responsibilities over an above those in the Administrator role.

How to set user roles

WordPress has always been quite an easy environment to use, so setting roles is as easy as anything else. You start by going to the section of Users > Add New:

Setting user roles

The form that gets displayed features a dropdown list, where you get to select the role you want to assign to the new user (you can do the same for existing users):

Selecting the role you want

Once you hit Add New User or Update User (depending if you’re creating a new account or editing an existing one), the role will be set. In other words, your work is done. This must be the shortest how-to guide ever!

Just to wrap up, let me give you some quick tips on the role setup I advise you to use for depending on whether you have a single-author blog or a multi-author blog.

Assigning user roles for single-author blogs

This is the simplest setup possible, and it only features two user accounts:

  • Administrator account for all admin tasks, as described in detail earlier in this post.
  • Editor account for all content publishing tasks. This is the account you should use to add new posts, edit pages, moderate comments, and all sorts of other content-related things.

Assigning user roles for multi-author blogs

This is a more complex setup. Consider using it only if you have a bigger team of people managing your blog:

  • One Administrator account for all admin tasks.
  • One, or a small number of Editor accounts. These roles will take care of managing the blog’s content as a whole, doing some final editing, and making sure that all posts share the same quality.
  • Author accounts for every member of your team. These people will have the possibility to publish their posts whenever they please, so you still need to be careful with these accounts.
  • Contributor accounts for all guest authors, contractors, and other regular contributors. After a Contributor submits their post for review, an Editor can check it and hit the Publish button if the post meets the standards of the blog.
  • Subscriber accounts as placeholders for contributors or authors who are no longer active, but might come back someday, so it’s best not to delete them permanently.

This closes the topic of user roles in WordPress. I hope that you can see their value even for single-author blogs. I, personally, have an Editor account on all my blogs, and I rarely log in to my Administrator accounts. Only when I need to perform an update or change something about my plugins or themes will I use the Admin role.

What’s your current approach to WordPress roles? Are you using user roles or are you simply doing every task from your Administrator account?

Karol K. is a 20-something year old web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland and a writer at ThemeFuse.com, where he shares various WordPress advice. Contrary to what you might think, he doesn’t want to be the worst blogger on the planet. Don’t forget to visit ThemeFuse to get your hands on some premium WordPress themes (warning: no boring stuff like everyone else offers).

WordPress.com or WordPress.org? Which One’s Right for You?

This guest post is by Matt Hooper.

When you first start looking at building your own blog, you are going to be inundated by the different options that are out there. After considering all your options, hopefully you’ll come to your senses and realize that WordPress is your best option.

As a reward for all this deliberating you are now presented with one more decision. Do you choose .org or .com? And we’re not talking about your domain name. You, along with many others, might be surprised to find out that there are actually two different kinds of WordPress.

WordPress.com is a version of WordPress that is hosted by Automattic, the development team behind WordPress. WordPress.org is often referred to the self-hosted version of WordPress. The two are very similar but there are a few differences that you need to be aware of before you finally get down to work on your blog.

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is the safest way to go, as there are a lot of mechanisms in place to make sure that you don’t accidentally break it or prevent it from working the way it was intended to.

This means that it is nearly impossible for a beginner to render their site unusable. It also means that you are unable to really make use of some of the more advanced, and fun, features of WordPress. I’ll get to those below, but let’s take a closer look at what WordPress.com has to offer first.

The biggest selling feature of WordPress.com is the fact that everything is free and easy to use. You can head over there right now, sign up for a free account, and be blogging before you know it. You won’t even need to invest in a domain name if you don’t want to. Without any expense, you are able to have a website of your own at a domain like yourname.wordpress.com.

That’s right: you don’t even have to purchase a domain name to get started. However, going from a yourname.wordpress.com domain to yourname.com in the future is going to hurt your search engine rankings. This is something that you might want to consider before going the totally free route.

In the event that you are even remotely serious about creating a blog, you’re best to start off with your own domain. You can have your own domain name at WordPress.com for an extra $12 per year plus the cost of the domain itself.

On November 29, 2011 WordPress announced WordAds. Only WordPress.com hosted sites with custom domains and “moderate to high traffic and appropriate content” are eligible to apply for the WordAds program. WordAds appears to be a viable monetizing option for WordPress hosted sites that have established audiences. This does not appear to be an option for new WordPress.com sites.

The barrier to entry is extremely low here so it can be very appealing to the less technically inclined. For hobbyists or people interested in just kicking the tires, WordPress.com is a good starting point. However, if you are at all serious about moving forward with your blog, you’re going to quickly run into the limitations of WordPress.com.

WordPress.org

WordPress.org is the version of WordPress that you have to host yourself. This means that if you use wordpress.org, you have to go out and find a web hosting company to host your blog. This may result in you having to paying for services before you even hit Publish on your fist post.

The good thing is that some hosting companies may give you a short grace period to try out their service before you get your first bill. Then, after you get going, you’ll be looking at a cost of anywhere from a $5 to $10 per month for a shared host.

You’ll also have to buy your own domain to use with your blog—you won’t even have the option not to. Again, some hosts will give you one domain for free when you signup. This also means that you can add additional domains for just the cost of the domain, since you already have the host.

After you have decided on a shared host of your choice, you are going to have to install WordPress in your hosting account. Don’t fret: most shared hosts worth using will have a “one-click install” for WordPress, so it’s not too complicated to get WordPress installed. In the event that you do have any problems, most good shared hosts will help you out.

Once this has been completed, you will have free rein to do whatever you wish with your shiny new WordPress installation. This also means that you get access to two of the best features of WordPress that I alluded to above: plugins and custom themes.

Themes are what control the look and feel of your blog, colours, layouts, fonts, etc. Yes, it’s true that you are able to pick a theme while using WordPress.com but there is a limited selection and you are not able to do much customization to the theme itself. If you know your way around CSS, you can pay an additional $30 per year to have the ability to modify the CSS.

Even if you get to the CSS of your WordPress.com site, you still have a limited selection of themes to choose from. At least with WordPress.org, you have the choice of using the same out-of-the-box free themes as on WordPress.com or to pay a bit extra for a premium or custom theme.

But the killer feature of WordPress.org has got to be the ability to add plugins, which are not available with WordPress.com. Plugins are add-ons that expand the core functionality of WordPress. As an example, if you want to be able to scan your entire site to make sure there are no broken links, there is a plugin for that. There are countless other plugins for WordPress that will:

  • compress images
  • enhance SEO
  • create contact forms
  • lightbox images
  • and much, much more!

Initially, having FTP access to your blog might not matter to you, but as you grow into your blog, you might want to have the ability to modify and move files around on your web host’s server. This is something that you get with a self-hosted site running WordPress, that you can’t ever get with a WordPress.com blog.

Probably the most important feature of using WordPress.org is you get to make money with your blog. You’re free to use anything from Adsense to affiliate promotions. You’ll even have the option of creating and selling your own products through your site. And if the need arises, you can turn a WordPress.org site into a full-blown ecommerce solution.

That said, it’s not all roses with a self-hosted blog. There are two major things missing with WordPress.org that you get with WordPress.com: backups and protection from extreme traffic spikes.

There aren’t many safety nets with a self-hosted site, so make sure you back it up often. WordPress.com takes care of this for you. A good web host usually performs regular backups, but most will tell you that they don’t guarantee anything. So whatever you do, make sure that you perform your own WordPress backups frequently.

In the event that your blog does get popular overnight, it could buckle under the added traffic. Don’t worry: the stability of your site can be beefed up through the use of a good caching plugin, like W3 total cache. Also, it isn’t too difficult to upgrade your hosting at some point in the future when your site starts getting massive traffic. This would be a good problem to have!

Wrapping it up

I have to admit that after being so accustomed to the flexibility of WordPress.org, I would have a hard time being happy with a WordPress.com blog. If you have any aspirations of taking your blog past the hobby stage, you should just start out with a self-hosted site.

It is possible to move a WordPress.com hosted site to a self-hosted site later on. However, presuming that you might consider starting with a WordPress.com site and moving to a self-hosted site later on, you’re best to just start out with a self-hosted site.

That said, if you are comfortable living within the limitations of WordPress.com, and you want to never have to deal with the technical details of a blog, then a WordPress.com hosted blog might be all that you need.

WordPress.com is great if you are looking to keep an online journal or for small clubs and the like. Due to the fact that you are reading this site, I expect you’re interested in making a business out of your blog. On that note, at some point in the future you will end up with a WordPress.org website. Save yourself the fuss and the hassle of trying to transition your site later on. You’ll be happy you did.

The initially-free option of WordPress.com could actually result in higher costs down the road. After you start piling on extra fees for a custom domain, ad removal, extra storage space (you only get 3GBs to start), plus the ability to use custom CSS in your blog design, you really aren’t saving much, if any, money on WordPress.com, and you have to deal with its limitations.

Finally, and this is a big “finally”, you don’t own a WordPress.com website. After you’ve spent all that time to build a blog and an audience, do you really want to wake up one morning and find out that WordPress.com didn’t like your site so they deleted it? There isn’t a strong chance of this happening, but you should be aware that it could.

Have you been trying to decide between WordPress.com and WordPress.org? What challenges are you facing?

Matthew Hooper helps individuals, small businesses and organizations build an internet presence. You can get his free guide on building an internet presence or check out his online WordPress course full of step-by-step videos so that you can learn WordPress in a single weekend.

How I Brought My Blog Back to Life with Tumblr

This guest post is by David Edwards of www.asittingduck.com.

Over the past few years I’ve had success with guest posting and uploading videos on YouTube, but the one thing I’ve struggled with was my blog. There were two reasons:

  1. Illustrations are very time consuming to make.
  2. Thinking what to write used to stress me out!

I’m not sure about you but I totally failed at blogging, I set a plan to produce a fresh post every Friday and before I knew it the next Friday was here already and I had nothing to publish! There are many minefields online when you’re using images and text content, and when I was blogging, I started to drift away from the main theme.

A lot of new bloggers could probably relate to this. When you start a blog, you end up trying to find out how to rank on Google, gain traffic, and so on. That leads you to websites like problogger.net, and you read them so much that you start to talk about their subjects on your blog. Why would a designer want to know about pay per click on my blog? He can come here for that!

tumblrA few months back I looked at my blog and I didn’t like what I had published. I made a quick decision to convert it into a squeeze page and build an email list. Then, instead of blogging, I’d send the occasional newsletter.

It worked, but the traffic and community around the website lost its buzz. Back when I was publishing every Friday I did start to see that day was popular in terms of traffic stats, so I was getting that weekly return traffic. I knew that I had to get some more momentum on the website if I were to launch a series of products. The solution was Tumblr.

Why Tumblr works for lazy people

On joining Tumblr, you instantly become a member of a vast community of very creative people. You can select your favorite topics and hunt through fresh, quality posts. Within minutes I managed to follow 100 top bloggers and the five topics that I wanted to keep “A Sitting Duck” based around:

  • art
  • comics
  • design
  • gaming
  • illustration

Once you have logged in, set your tags, and started following some relevant people, the dashboard shows you posts on your subject, and basically helps you become a curator for your niche! Through the re-blog feature, you can publish other people’s hard work straight to your blog instantly. They get exposure from their work being shared, and you have something for your regular visitors to look at. It’s a win/win situation.

I’ll continue to publish drawings and ideas, but the main benefit of Tumblr is that I always have the backup of the reblog feature, which makes blogging fun again, and a stress-free experience.

I’ve already started to see my traffic climb again and people are keen to see fresh blog posts, which is a huge boost!

Why reblog?

Tumblr has a one-touch button that lets all members instantly reblog a post from another publisher on the platform. I’ve seen posts that have been reblogged over 50,000 times in a day! Reblog is kind of like Twitter’s retweet function, only that it seems more permanent, as the post is actually published on the domains of bloggers who have reblogged it.

As a character designer myself, many people ask me if I’m afraid of letting my ideas getting stolen. As far as I’m concerned, you’re better off having people see your work and share it than hide it in a sketchbook. It’s always best to get copyright advice first, but I think you need to get your stuff out there to build an audience!

Tumblr: a good choice for relaunch

The best part about my relaunch is that I’ve owned my domain for over three years now, and I’ve built up stacks of great links. Relaunching the blog has given all my metrics a kick, and I’ve joined a community which has over 30 million members, so the opportunity to grow my audience is huge.

Is your blog going off track or dead? Would you rather become a curator for your site and keep the momentum going than leave it to stagnate? As always I look forward to your comments.

David Edwards is the founder of www.asittingduck.com and today has released a brand new video on YouTube called “Milkshake Cat”.