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9 Ways to Better Protect Your Blog

Warren Wooden is the owner and CEO of PLR Internet Marketing.

When I think of the amount of time that I’ve invested into my blog and its resources I’m absolutely staggered by the thought of losing any part of it. So I’ve taken certain steps to protect myself, as well as my blog.

Everyone’s blog is at a different level, but regardless of which one you look at, we all have one thing in common: we’ve poured our hearts and souls into them. Here are a few things you can do in order to protect them.

Back up your website

security

Image used with persmission

You’ve heard that advice before, and if you’ve ever had a catastrophic loss of data that took your website offline for a few hours, or—worse—a few days, I’m sure you’ve remembered it.

Backing up your website is protection from server crashes or hacker attacks, but the only way they are fully effective is if you do them religiously. Determine how often you are going to back up your data, and then simply schedule some time to do it. It takes no more than the click of a mouse usually, but can save you a ton of heartache and grief down the road.

As someone who has experienced a hacker attack, I can tell you it’s not only important to keep the last few copies of your blog, but also a known clean copy in case your backups become corrupted. Often, a website owner may not find out about a virus on his site until he’s already completed several backups. If those are all he has, he’ll be no better off than if he didn’t have any at all.

The majority of hosting companies have cPanel installed for their users. If yours does, simply log in to your control panel, and scroll down to the backup icon. Once you click it, you’ll be taken to the Backup and Restore page, where you can then click on the Download or Generate a Full Backup button. This will provide you with a full backup of the website, emails, and databases, as well as any “custom” email setups you’ve configured such as forwarding. Once the backup has finished you’ll receive an email notification and can then download the backup file to your home or office computer for safe-keeping.

It’s important to note that if you ever do run into a crisis, and do not have a current backup, most hosting providers will generate a copy from their end for a nominal fee. These backups are usually only performed weekly so you could end up a week out of date with your site’s data.

Back up your resources

Backing up your website is only half the battle. Most of us have a ton of resources sitting on our hard drives in the form of ebooks, video courses, guest posts, graphics, podcasts, competition analysis data, as well as programs we use to promote ourselves, build our social networks, or track our keyword rankings, and so much more. I’d recommend creating one master folder that contains all the individual files, so that it can be easily zipped up, labeled and stored on a separate drive or CD.

If you’ve ever downloaded materials off of the Internet you know that files are compressed for both sending and storage. Two of the most popular programs are Winrar, and Winzip. With these, you can simply right-click on the file or folder you’re looking to compress for backup, and choose Add to archive. You’ll then end up with a compressed version of all your important files and programs.

Back up your list

“The money is in the list” is another phrase I’m sure you’re aware of and many internet marketers would assert that it is their most valuable asset, yet very few people bother to back it up. Having your list under a third party’s control leaves you with no recourse should the unthinkable happen, and your list end up being lost forever.

For more information, see Are you protecting your blog’s most valuable asset?

Install protective measures

Using anti-virus measures should be a no-brainer these days, but in case you’ve missed the message, there are literally hundreds of thousands of different viruses out there, and these nasty bugs can not only crash your system, they can also steal passwords, banking information, and much more. Protecting your computer system will ensure that you’re still online tomorrow to make that post, and promote your blog.

Here’s a list of antivirus solutions listed in my personal order of preference.

I’ve used each one of these at one time or another, and they each do a commendable job of keeping you and your computer protected the majority of the time. However, it is worth noting that no antivirus program will protect you from every virus 100% of the time.

Protecting your system is only half the battle. It’s important to also protect your blog from attack. There are several methods you can choose to use to keep the bad guys out. Here are just a few to look into.

  • Antivirus plugin for WordPress. This monitors your website for changes to the code, and alerts you with an email letting you know when they’re found.
  • Exploit plugins, which scan your WordPress blog for known exploits and alert you.
  • Change the default login page. Everyone knows they can usually find the admin page of a WordPress blog by simply adding /wp-admin after the domain. By changing its location, you can effectively thwart would-be hackers.
  • Make sure file permissions aren’t set to 777 if you can help it. You can change permission settings once you’ve logged in to your site via an FTP client. If you are unsure how, contact your hosting provider and they can direct you, or most likely simply switch them for you. It literally takes a second! See a more detailed set of instructions here.
  • Use brute force protection so that if the wrong password is entered in too many times the person’s IP address is locked out for a pre-set duration.
  • Keep up to date with the latest WordPress version. WordPress is great for letting you know when there is an update to any of your plugins, make sure to heed the alerts and update as soon as possible.
  • Use complex passwords, and limit access to consultants you can trust. A strong password will include upper and lower case numbers and letters as well as a special character mixed in. I’d hate to be the one trying to guess #4Rrtx37EE
  • Actively monitor your log files to see if anyone is trying to access your site. Hosting panels provide analytics and log files. By checking these from time to time, you can spot unnatural activity and take action to protect yourself!

These are just a few measures you can look into implementing on your blog, but obviously the more secure you can make it, the better.

Find a good web designer

I’m sure many of you have the skill and talent to recode your website from scratch, but there are also many like myself who are at risk of ruining everything each time they try and manipulate the code within their site. While this doesn’t stop me from constantly tweaking and enhancing my blog in order to continually improve it, it does mean that I keep a designer’s phone number on speed dial just in case.

Protect your brand

It’s a simple matter to setup a few Google Alerts to inform you whenever someone mentions your name, your company name, or the name of your blog. These alerts get conveniently delivered to your inbox where you can take a look to see what is being said about you, and can then respond almost instantly while the effect will be maximized.

If you head over to Google Alerts while you’re logged in with your Gmail ID (you will need to have a Google ID, but don’t worry, they’re free and easy to set up), you can enter the terms you’d like to be notified about, and Google will start keeping an eye out for those terms while it’s going about its daily business. Once a website is published or updated with that term, you’ll be sent a notification letting you know.

Protect your content

Unfortunately plagiarism is one of the threats we face as bloggers. Unscrupulous individuals scrape content and reuse it on their own thin sights in order to try and outrank sites such as yours. Fortunately Google does a fairly decent job of choosing the original work and ranking it accordingly. Placing a copyright notice at the bottom of your pages is the first step, but you should also actively scan for stolen articles using sites like Copyscape.com.

Find a blogging buddy

This is just someone you trust who can take care of posting for you while you are away, perhaps on holidays, or an unforeseen absence of another sort. Just as you’d have a neighbor look in on your house, it’s a good idea to have someone you can trust to look in on your blog.

Make a blogging will

Your blog is an asset, and should be treated that way. Even if it’s just a case of creating a document instructing your wife who to contact in case of the need to sell it, or perhaps a full-fledged document that details how everything works, and how to continue running things in case you yourself are unable to do so.

While this might be a morbid thought for some, the thought of losing all the work you’ve invested after a few missed hosting bills is even more unbearable for many. Darren recently wrote a detailed post on the subject.

Getting yourself into a few healthy habits such as the ones listed above can save you time, stress, and money. The peace of mind that will likely result from these actions will more than make up for any inconveniences you incur implementing them.

What tips can you add from your own experience protecting your blog? Share them in the comments.

Warren Wooden is the owner and CEO of PLR Internet Marketing. If you’re an entrepreneur, or would perhaps like to learn how to make money online through Internet marketing, blogging, or affiliate marketing, please stop in for a visit, or to grab your free copy of his 79-page ebook.

WP Troubleshooting Tips From the Trenches

This guest post is by Dan Sheehan of DSConstructiontahoe.com.

I’m one of those types who believe when something’s working fine, it’s a good time to mess with it. After all, isn’t that how progression and innovation happen?

My construction business had been slow so I decided to build my own website during some down-time.

I learned a lot about WordPress and SEO through my toying, tweaking, and dismantling of this website, and I think my tips might help newbies and seasoned WordPressers alike!

Google Webmaster Tools

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend that you sign up for a free Google Webmaster Tools account.  Much of the following post is based on the information you can get from this extremely important tool.

It is never fun to go to your Google Webmaster Tools account to find that the Googlebots have been discovering pages of your site that you never knew existed, or URLs that are non-existent. Or to find that your home page isn’t being indexed because there’s a trailing slash on the end of your home URL. The worst was when I found that both the www and non-www versions of my URL were being indexed—that’s not good for SEO.

Redirection and link juice plugins

Along the journey, I’ve tried many plugins. One thing I have tried to do is use as few a plugins as possible in an attempt to make my site as fast as possible (since Larry Page is such a speed freak).

I present here are a few plugins that I have found help my site play nice with Google, and are well worth the weight they add to my WP installation.

After changing my permalink structure four or five times and my domain name twice, I had a mess that Google pointed out to me under the “crawl errors” and “html errors” sections in the Webmasters tools.

Two plugins helped clean up a lot of this mess: Redirection and Link Juice Keeper.

The Redirection plugin allows you to place a 301 redirect on any URL within the domain. To tell you the truth, in many cases I had no idea where these bad URL’s came from—I only knew that Google was telling me they were crawl errors. And the reasons as to how I got all those errors are beyond the scope of this post.  When you use a 301 redirect, any PageRank from that homeless page transfers to the page you are 301-redirecting to.

Link Juice Keeper (or LJK) is what I use to basically clean up all the bad URLs for which I can’t find a page to redirect to. LJK automatically redirects all non-existent URLs and 404 errors to your home page. So after you go through and 301-redirect URLS that can be pointed to good, specific pages, you can let LJK pick up the rest—plus any others that pop up.

However, keep in mind that any of the subsequent redirections that LJK makes might be better replaced by a redirection to a more appropriate page on your site, so it’s good periodically to check for any new errors, and properly redirect them if possible, rather than just letting them go to your home page.

By giving a home to all these “homeless pages” you are preserving any link juice that those pages have within your domain. If a page with a bad URL can be found on the ‘net, then it has value—but not if it goes to a “page cannot be found” page. Why not make use of all those pages and have them become paths to the content that you want to rank for?

Anti-spamming plugins

Another great plugin I came across is cbnet Ping Optimizer.

Did you know that every time you make an edit to a post or a page on your WordPress blog, you’re pinging a bunch of update services like Google, Technorati, and many more? This action lets them know that you have some new content and that they should send over their crawlers to take a look.

That’s great … unless you’re like me, and are constantly correcting some spelling, or tweaking your pages on a very regular basis. Maybe you’re reformatting a post, and keep updating and publishing over and over until it looks just right.

While you’re consciously improving your content, you’re also making yourself out to be a spammer in the eyes of those update services. What cbnet Ping Optimizer does is control those pings so that you only ping the update services when you create something new (a post or a page)—not when you edit an existing post or page. If you’ve made a bunch of edits that have significantly changed the page or post, then you can go ahead and manually force-ping the services.

A Firefox addon that’s been helpful to me is SEO Doctor.

SEO Doctor provides great SEO-related information about the page that’s displayed in your browser. It will let you know, for example, if you are using two H1 tags (not good), as well as many other SEO blunders.

SEO Doctor told me that an important page on my blog was not being indexed because of a canonical link issue. In the end I found that the plugin All In One SEO was the culprit. Once I unchecked the Canonical URLs option, the issue resolved. I still love AIO SEO and find it invaluable, but without SEO Doctor, I’d never have found this problem.

Site Meter: a handy watchdog

The other day, I had noticed from my Site Meter account that Google was indexing my site with both www and non-www URLs.

Site Meter, unlike many other trackers, shows Googlebot visits, which I love. I was able to see that Google actually came to my site using specific keyword search terms! Tracing these back to the SERPs, I saw that there were both forms of the URLs in the search results. After an unrelenting research, I came across a website that mentioned the same WordPress problem. The author disabled the plugin W3 Total Cache and the problem was resolved.

I cleaned up my .htaccess file and reordered the rewrite rules and that seemed to fix it, but I’m skeptical.  To be sure it does not happen again, I made the non-www URL (www is my preferred format) the link I use to check out my site from my desktop and bookmarks. So when I click the link, I look in the Address bar of the browser to be sure that the non-www URL resolves to the www version.

The last thing you want is to make Google unhappy with you. For the beginner I think it is important to monitor all these things vigilantly until the dust settles. If you do not think you need to monitor your site then you must be doing nothing to optimize it. If you are, you’ll have no feedback about the search engine, and your progress could be hindered.

These are my favorite WP troubleshooting tips. What are yours? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Dan Sheehan is a snowboarder, general contractor, and jack of all trades.  His hobby with PCs has also turned into a small computer repair business on the side. Typically he works on something until it breaks and then he improves on it.

Are You Protecting Your Blog’s Most Valuable Asset?

This guest post was written by Neil Matthews of WPDude.

Are you protecting one of the most valuable assets of your blog—your email list?

The majority of us rigorously backup the content of our blog, but do we give the same thought to our email lists?

Why back up your email list?

“The money is in the list.” is a mantra we often hear in Internet marketing circles, and we hear it so often because it is so true. An email list is still the best way to communicate with your tribe and to make offers to them. Those people are on your list because they know, trust and like you, and are prepared to give you their attention.

Our attention is the most valuable thing we can give to a marketing message. Bombardment with online ads and the resultant ad-blindness means your list is incredibly valuable. You should be protecting this golden asset: the details of those people who have given you their attention.

You email list also represents a huge investment of time. Over the months and years, your list has slowly grown because of all the work your have done creating quality content on your blog and sending great newsletters.

Don’t let your list slip through your fingers! What would happen to your business if you no longer had that asset?

How you can damage your list

There are a number of ways you could kill your email list.

User error

You could accidentally delete all of your subscribers. Email software systems such as Aweber or Mailchimp are not the easiest user interfaces to navigate. You could accidentally wipe your email list.

Being banned

If you go against the terms and conditions of your email provider, there’s a chance that you could be banned from that service and lose access to your list. This is not a far-fetched as you may think: one time I sent out an email to my list which generated a 1% unsubscribe rate, and Mailchimp temporarily suspended my account. I was given the IT equivalent of a call to the headmaster’s office so I could explain my actions before my account was re-instated.

Persistent breaking of your mail service’s terms and conditions will result in your being banned from that service—and the loss of your entire list.

Non-payment

Your list is held by a third party, and can be taken from you if you fail to pay for the mail service because, for example:

  1. you have no cash
  2. you forget to make the payment—perhaps when your credit card expires.

Don’t loose your entire list because of a temporary glitch in your finances or oversight with your credit cards.

How to back up your list

All of the mail services I have used have an Export function. When you create an export, your email data is exported from that mail service as a CSV (comma separated values) list, which can then be stored away from the email provider as your secure archive.

Here are links to the major email providers’ support documents on exporting a CSV of your email subscribers:

  1. AWeber
  2. Mailchimp
  3. Infusionsoft
  4. Getresponse

Once you have your CSV file, you can re-add your subscribers should you accidentally delete your list or move it to another hosting provider if you’re banned.

How often should you back up?

The answer to that question really depends upon your list. If you are adding a substantial number of subscribers to the list per day, you’ll need to back up your list more often; personally, I do this once per month.

But if a recent marketing effort has added a large number of people to you list, do an ad-hoc backup to protect this work.

Even though your list is one of your most important blog assets, I bet many of you don’t back your list. When was the last time you backed up your list. And how did you do it?

Neil provides WordPress coaching and technical support services at WPDude.com.

15 Blogger Resources Not Previously Featured on ProBlogger

This is a guest post by the creators of the new site Bloggers’ Domain: 369 (and counting) blog tips, tools and resources.

One of the most exciting things about being a blogger is finding new ways to improve your blogging experience. Whether that’s by implementing a new plugin to give your site extra functionality, finding an untapped traffic source to boost your reader numbers, discovering a resource that will help you create more entertaining posts, or learning of a website that’ll reignite your blogging mojo.

Here, we’ve listed 15 blog tools and resources you may not have heard of (none have been featured in ProBlogger articles prior to now—we checked!). Some are new, some are hidden gems, and some are old favorites too good not to share.

1. Hello Bar

What is it? The Hello Bar is a simple notification bar that sits across the top of your blog. It’s designed to deliver a single message, either a link to a post you’re trying to draw attention to or your latest tweet.
Three reasons to bookmark it

  1. The dashboard provides you with options to customize it.
  2. You can view the all-important click-through statistics at a glance.
  3. You can then use this data to work out what grabs your readers’ attention the most, and adjust it to something else if need be.

Did you know? It’s fast becoming popular with its invite-only approach to site membership, and the likes of Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss and Chris Brogan all having added the Hello Bar to their blogs or websites.

2. Lanyrd

What is it? A social-media conference directory.
Why is it worth bookmarking? Sometimes, the best places to learn about all things online, is offline. And getting to know your readers and fellow bloggers IRL (in real life) is a highly rewarding experience. This is where Lanyrd is useful—use it to find blog conferences by topic or location. Find out who’s going, their Twitter handle, and other conferences they plan to attend.
Bonus info: Can’t make it to the event? Lanyrd collates numerous resources covering it, including write-ups, videos, slide decks and photos. Learn what went on, even if you weren’t there.

3. HTML Ipsum

What is it? Pre-written HTML ready and waiting for you to use.
Why it’s worth knowing: If HTML doesn’t come easy to you (and that’s okay—not everyone’s an expert at it), this handy site will make adding tables, ordered lists, and more headache-free. Simply find the HTML you’re after, copy and paste it into your blog’s HTML editor, and replace the text with your own.
How refreshing! It’s as simple as that. No sign-up, invite-requesting, tweeting or liking required. Just head to the site and use it.

4. BlogDash

What is it? A tool designed for blogger outreach.
How does it work? For publicists, it claims to provide the tools required to reach bloggers who’ll care about their story. For bloggers, it lets you set up your preferences for how you like to be pitched—email? LinkedIn? Twitter? The choice is yours. BlogDash also lets you select the type of opportunities you’re open to receiving, such as products to review or events to cover.
Bonus info: More than 25,000 bloggers are currently listed.

5. TinyLetter

What is it? A very simple newsletter tool you can use for free.
Why is it worth bookmarking? If you’ve ever wanted to charge your readers for a newsletter subscription, but lacked the technical set-up know-how, TinyLetter is as simple as they come. Simply create your account, decide what you’ll charge per month (or of you’ll charge at all), and embed the sign-up form on your blog. Easy.
Other options? The Letterly.net concept is similar, however readers must pay to subscribe.

6. Timely

What is it? A Twitter tool that tells you the best time to tweet for maximum impact.
How does it work? By looking over your last 199 Twitter messages, Timely analyzes the best times to schedule your tweets for the highest engagement. Including a link to your blog? Well then of course the more people who see it, the more traffic you’re likely to get from it.
Also note: Timely is free, but the pro account features also include letting you post to Facebook.

7. TinEye

What is it? A reverse image search tool.
Why would you use that? Scenario 1. To help discover if one of your images has been used on the web. Scenario 2. To try and find the origin of an image you may have discovered that you were hoping to use on your blog.
How does it work? With image identification technology. Either upload the image you’re reverse searching for, or enter its URL. Either way, you’ll be shown results whether they’re the same, and have been cropped, or even Photoshopped.

8. Wylio

What is it? A shortcut for finding, resizing and using Flickr Creative Commons images.
How do you use it? Simply search for the image you’re after, select from one of the many options, and choose how you’d like it sized and positioned. Copy and paste the HTML into your post article and you’re done.
Bonus info: The image is embedded on your blog, complete with Flickr credits.

9. Stella

How is it described? As a developer’s tool for monitoring and debugging websites and applications.
Why is it worth bookmarking? For a free, quick check-up to find out how fast your blog is. Enter its URL and click “Run checkup”.
What happens next? You’ll get a result indicating how your site compares to the average speed of others checked that day, as well as an idea of how fast your site is considered in plain English. For example: “Not so fast.”

10. Vokle

What is it? A broadcasting tool allowing you to host your own video talk show right from your blog.
What can you do with it? You can take “live” calls from your readers who can participate via web cam or chat. Worried about who might appear on your video? Set up a friend as a “screener” to preview them behind the scenes.
Features worth noting: You can cut to close-ups of the host or caller, making your production look extremely professional.

11. NameChk

What is it? A tool to check for available usernames.
Why would you use it? Along with setting up a new blog, comes setting up its related online profiles (Twitter, Facebook, and more). Consistency is key for your “brand” so try to register the same usernames or vanity URLs if you can.
Bonus info: NameChk will search across 160 of the most-popular sites. A similar tool is KnowEm.

12. My Blog Guest

What is it? A directory for bloggers looking for, and offering, guest posts.
Why is it worth bookmarking? Sometimes you’re short on time to write a post—especially if you’ve got a vacation coming up and you’re trying to schedule content in advance. Guest posts can help you save that time. My Blog Guest acts as the man in the middle, helping you find guest posts to publish, or blogs that will publish your writing.
Stating the obvious: Guest-posting is a great way to get new traffic to your site.

13. Color Scheme Designer

What is it? A simple tool that creates color combinations with the click of a mouse.
Why would you use it? Using an easily customized theme is one thing, lacking an eye for color is another! The Color Scheme Designer will help you quickly choose a color palette of up to four colors and you can feel confident they’ll work in harmony on your blog—even if you’re not Leonardo Da Vinci.
Clever feature: If you’re the type who just can’t make decisions, click “random” and see what you’re offered.

14. My eCover Maker

What is it? A 3D ebook cover-maker.
Why is it worth bookmarking? It offers free ecover making options, meaning you can have a professional-looking book cover to download in minutes—no sign-up required.
Worth noting: You’re not limited to ecovers. This online tool also lets you create 3D images of software boxes, iPads, and iPods (though sign-in is required for these features).

15. MeasureIt

What is it? A Firefox Addon that measures an area of your screen in pixels.
Why is it worth using? If you’ve ever tried to create buttons or graphics, or insert images of a particular size into your blog, getting the size exactly right can sometimes be tricky. MeasureIt is like a ruler for your screen, taking the guess work away.
Bonus info: MeasureIt is just one of many useful Firefox Addons to help with the design aspects of your blog. Others include Firebug and ColorZilla.

What’s your must-use blogging tool or resource?

Bloggers’ Domain is the home to all things blogging. It’s an extensive list of click-worthy resources (such as those listed here), for bloggers of all platforms, levels of experience and budgets. All items are categorized and arranged in alphabetical order, making them easy to find. The site also offers a 2011 Blog Conference and Event Calendar.

Jetpack: Bring WordPress.com Functionality to Your WordPress.org Blog

jet-pack.pngIn the last week, Automattic (the team behind WordPress) released a nice little WordPress plugin bundle called Jetpack, which gives your self-hosted WordPress.org blog some of the functionality that was previously only available in the hosted WordPress.com-type blogs.

This won’t appeal to all bloggers—especially not those who have been at it for a while and who have researched and installed a wide range of plugins to customize their blogs—but for some it’ll be a great addition to their WP.org blog.

Jetpack aims to give “feature parity” to both types of WordPress blogs, and includes the following features:

  • WordPress.com Stats – a metrics tool
  • Twitter Widget – display latest updates from Twitter
  • Gravatar Hovercards – show pop-up business cards of users’ Gravatar profiles
  • WP.me Shortlinks – a permalink shortening tool
  • Sharedaddy – a sharing tool (shares to Twitter, Facebook etc.)
  • LaTeX – mark up your posts with LaTeX markup language
  • After the Deadline – adds spell, style, and grammar checking to WP
  • Shortcode Embeds – embeds videos easily

Again, many of you will probably have other plugins that do some of this, but for those looking for an easy install to cover all of these plugins, Jetpackcould be a good option. It also looks like other plugins will be added soon.

Further reading: Read the Jetpack launch post.

How to Troubleshoot WordPress

This guest post was written by Neil Matthews, a WordPress consultant at WPDude.

Over the years, I’ve developed a troubleshooting methodology while working with my WordPress technical support clients.  My methodology helps  to solve the majority of WordPress crashed sites I’ve come across, and I wanted to share it with you, the good readers of ProBlogger.

I cannot claim that I invented the process, but I have brought together a number of useful tips from the WP community and combined them to create a repeatable and verifiable way to isolate and troubleshoot WordPress problems.

The process

This methodology isolates the various layers of a WordPress site one at a time, tests a layer by removing its component parts, and then, if the problem still exists, moves down to test the next layer.

Once you have isolated the problematic component, you can remove it from your site and troubleshoot the problem itself.

I recommend doing this in a slow and ordered manner, incrementally testing each layer as you go. Look at a layer, disable all of the components, and slowly restart them to find out where the problem lies.

The layers

I like to divide WordPress into four layers:

  • plugins
  • theme
  • WordPress core
  • database.

This methodology looks at the first three layers only.

What can this process fix?

This methodology can be used to fix a variety of WordPress issues including, bit not limited to:

  • the dreaded “white screen of death” where all you can see is a white screen and nothing else
  • “Header Already Sent” errors
  • “Fatal Plugin” errors
  • “Out of Memory” errors
  • …many other WordPress problems, too.

Back up first

Even if your site has crashed, it’s important to stop, take a moment, and back up your site as it is now.  You are about to embark on a journey which will make a lot of changes to your site.  Taking a backup of the site as it stands means you can fall back to your starting position if you need to, without making the situation any worse.

Troubleshooting plugins

I always start at the plugin layer when I’m troubleshooting a WordPress problem. In my experience, about 80-90% of system crashes are caused by plugin issues. This is because there are so many plugins (sometimes of questionable coding quality) available to WordPress site owners.  Combining these plugins with other plugins, themes, and WordPress itself creates an untested mix that can very easily crash your site.

This is how I troubleshoot plugins:

  1. Disable all plugins.
  2. Has the problem gone? If it has, you have an issue at the plugin layer, if not, move down to next layer the theme.
  3. Re-activate plugins one at a time.
  4. Test your site after each reactivation. Has the problem returned? If so, you have now found the suspect plugin: go to point 5. If not, rinse and repeat from point 3.
  5. Disable that plugin.
  6. Re-activate the other plugins to ensure you don’t have multiple plugin problems.
  7. If the problem is still cleared, you have isolated and remove the problem. Go to the Getting Support section below.

Sometimes plugins cause such a problem that when you try to log into the dashboard to disable them, all you get is the same error message. If you cannot log into the dashboard, all is not lost: I have a work-around for you.

What you need to do is connect to your site via FTP and navigate to the wp-content folder.  If you rename the plugins directory, to plugins_temp for example, WordPress no longer knows where the plugin files are, and stops running them.  Now if you try to log in to the site, you’ll find that the issue has probably gone.

If you then proceed to the Plugins section in your Dashboard, you will see an error message that the plugin files cannot be found and have been disabled. Rename plugins_temp and you plugin files will be available again. Now, incrementally start from point 2 above to see which one caused the problem.

Troubleshooting themes

Once you have tested the plugins to rule them out, you need to move down a layer to the theme. This is how I troubleshoot themes:

  1. Disable the current theme.
  2. Activate a default theme such as Twenty ten.
  3. Test. If the problem has gone, you know the theme is causing issues. If not, move down to the WordPress core layer.
  4. Re-activate all of the plugins individually to make sure there is not a composite problem. If the problem doesn’t recur, you’ve isolated the theme as the problem area.

Next, I’d try to rule out any changes I’d made to the theme by removing any code I had recently added. If I have updated the theme, I’d roll back to a previous version. If I have just added a new widget, I’d try to back this out.  As you can see, the process is all about back-tracking methodically so you can repair the issue.

Again, if you cannot log into the dashboard there is a work-around. Connect to your site via FTP, and navigate to the wp-content/themes directory. If you now rename your currently live theme directory to themdir_temp for example, WordPress won’t know where the theme files are. All you’ll see at the front end is a white screen, but the dashboard will be available. Go to point 2 above and activate a default theme.  Remember to change the name of themedir_temp back to themedir to help troubleshooting.

Troubleshooting WordPress Core Files

The last layer to check are your WordPress core files.  This is the last layer because it is the least problematic, but I have seen incidents where files have become corrupt, stopping WordPress from working correctly.  The easiest way to troubleshoot WordPress core files is to re-install a clean copy.

This is my process for troubleshooting WordPress core files:

  1. Download a clean version of WordPress from http://wordpress.org/download/.
  2. Connect to your site via FTP.
  3. Rename wp-admin and wp-includes to ensure you are uploading clean copies of these directories.
  4. Back up wp-config.php just in case. This files holds your database connection details (amongst other things).
  5. Upload your clean version of WordPress.
  6. Test. Is your issue fixed? If so, you have isolated the problem at WordPress core. If not, it’s time to call in the experts.
  7. Re-activate your theme and test it.
  8. Re-activate your plugins and test them.

Fixing the component

At this point, you have hopefully isolated the component of your site that was causing issues.  So what do you do now?  Here are your options:

  • Visit the plugin or theme developers’ site and check to see if they have a support forum to search or request support from. Any developer worth his or her salt will be only too happy to provide support, and premium plugins and themes should provide top-class support as part of your fee. Remember to be nice to them if it’s a free theme or plugin and they don’t reply in five minutes.
  • Find a replacement for the plugin or theme. There is usually more than one implementation of a plugin, so if you can, swap out the problematic plugin with another one.
  • Request some support from http://wordpress.org/support/. This is excellent for core WordPress problems, and you will often find forums for individual plugins there, too.
  • Set the social media monster to work on your problem. Sometimes it’s as easy as sending out a tweet to your network to find a solution to the problem.
  • Get the pros in—hire a WordPress technical support team or consultant to solve your problem.

Wrap up

I use this methodology on a daily basis—it’s proven in the field on crashed sites.  The key is to methodically work through the layers, eliminating as you go, until you find the root cause. Then, fix that issue.  Remember to constantly test, though, because sometimes there are composite problems with multiple plugins, or the theme and a plugin.

Do you have any WordPress bug horror stories you can share? Who solves your site’s bugs and problems—is it you?

Neil provides WordPress technical support services at WPDude.com. He has also created a mini video course on this methodology over at wptroubleshooting.com.

My 5 Favorite, but Often Ignored, Analytics Features

This post was written by the Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger. Curious? So are we!

The wonderful thing about working online is that our work is just so measurable.

In just about every other industry, a lot of decisions are based on sample data, or assumptions, or just on gut feel. But online, we can measure just about everything for 95%+ of our visitors—yay for us!

In our world of pretty graphs and statistics, we have are a stack of options to ensure we’ve got our eyes on the numbers. But when it comes to bang for buck (i.e. lots of value for no outlay) there really is no equal, in my opinion, to Google Analytics—and it just keeps getting better.

I’m sure a lot of you are already feeling the Google love with Analytics—and if you’re an addict like me, you’re using it on a daily basis. So I thought I’d share my five favorite, but often ignored, features of Google Analytics.

1. Custom Reports

There are so many levels, layers, and measures in the Google Analytics interface that I often used to waste time attempting to find my first stop in the system: reports.


Custom Reports changed that. Not only does this feature allow for a myriad of different perspectives and data, but you can also save each report and head back to it at a moment’s notice. This video is a good starting point to understanding how to make the most of custom reports.

2. Scheduled Reports

Actually remembering to jump into Analytics to make sure you’re across everything can be a challenge. Scheduled Reports make the job much easier.

You’ll probably have certain reports you’ll look at more often than others. If you click on the little email icon on the top-right of a report, you’ll be able to set up a schedule so that that report’s delivered to you via the inbox.

This is a great way to ensure that your busy schedule is not getting in the way of you knowing what’s happening on your site.

3. Navigational Summary

In December I wrote about the concept of sales funnels, and a lot of you asked how on Earth you can manage to measure all those steps. Well, the Navigational Summary report will get you started.

It covers the essential details for each page view, including where the user came from (another page, external site), and then where they went to (exit, another page)—plus everything in between. This is a key report to start understanding browsing behaviors on your critical pages. You can access the navigational summary through the Content section. I tend to use the Content Drilldown report to find the specific pages I’m after, then click the Navigational Summary for their specific metrics.

4. eCommerce and the $ Index

When you set up ecommerce tracking in Google Analytics, you open up a whole new world of insight. It’s a feature that’s only useful for those selling online, but it’s scarily accurate and amazingly insightful.

Goals Overview

With eCommerce set up, not only can you see reports on the products you’re selling, and how much money you’re earning, but you can also start to track them back to other pages in your site. You might find that particular types of blog post generate more revenue per page view—and that’s where the $ Index kicks in.

With this metric you’ll know the average income per visit to each page or collection of pages on your site. Unfortunately setting this up is not straightforward, and you might need a little help. There’s a good article on the Analytics blog that will help get you moving. Sorry I can’t show a good screen shot of this—the information was too sensitive for the other sites I have access to.

5. Goals and Funnels

Almost all websites have some sort of desired visitor action. It might be to buy something, to fill out a contact form, to download a sample, or even just look at a bunch of other pages. Setting up goals in Google allows you to track these goals like a fox. You get insight into the overall performance of your site, but you can also track back every step of the way.

Unfortunately, like eCommerce, this feature can be a little tricky to set up and is something you might wish to get help with. I won’t go into too much detail on how to do this—it’s all covered on the Analytics blog.

Warning: Analytics is Like Quicksand

I often tell people that Google Analytics is a little like quick sand. Once you make that first step, it starts to really suck you in, and a short time later you’re stuck for good. More time passes and all of a sudden your head goes under—everything goes dark and you have no idea where you are.

It’s at that point that too many people go back to assumptions and guesswork, murmuring something about leaving “all that statistics guff” to the eggheads. If you’ve fallen into the Analytics quicksand, my recommendation is to keep things simple. Identify ten key metrics you want to measure, create a report or set of reports that deliver you those metrics, and review them over time. Once you’re comfortable, move a little deeper.

The more you understand about your business, the better-informed decisions you can make—and it’s the decisions that will make or break your business, not the numbers.

As I mentioned, Google Analytics in my favorite stats package, but I’d love to hear about any other stats packages you’re using and how you’re finding them in the comments. Or perhaps you can highlight your favorite functions of Googe Analytics that I’ve not covered…

Stay tuned from most posts by the secretive Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger.

How to Make Your Blog Load Faster than ProBlogger

This guest post is by Devesh of WP Kube.

If you’re regular reader, you know that how much time problogger.net takes to load. Would you like to make your blog load faster than ProBlogger? Today I’m going to share eight simple tips to increase your blog speed. But first, you’ll need to know how quickly your blog is loading right now.

How to test your blog’s speed

So you can do a before-and-after comparison, take a moment to check how quickly your blog is loading now.

There are many tools online that let you test load speed, but I prefer to compare the loading speed of my blog against others—after all, that’s what your users will do.

One of my favorite tools for loading comparisons between two sites is WhichloadsFaster. To check your blog’s loading speed against a competing blog or a major website that’s used by readers in your niche, enter your site’s URL and that of the other site into the two boxes provided. Simple!

Here are the results of the loading speed comparison between my site and ProBlogger:

Comparing site load times

How to speed up your blog

Now that you know how your site’s loading in comparison to another, let’s look at the ways you can speed up your site’s load time.

Choose an efficient theme

Many bloggers make the mistake of choosing a free theme, or one that’s not properly coded. In my experience, every blogger should go for premium themes like Genesis, Thesis, or WooThemes. Premium themes tend to be much more carefully coded than free ones—Themeforest, for example, has some good themes, but many of the them aren’t well coded.

Review your hosting

Hosting plays an important role in your blog’s loading speed. Many new bloggers ignore this, but adjusting hosting can have a big impact on increasing your blog speed. Specifically, if you use shared hosting for your blog, you might want to look into switching to dedicated or grid hosting, as shared hosting can slow down load times when the demands on the shared server are high.

Remove extra widgets and plugins

This is one of the easiest things you can do to reduce your site’s load times. The more plugins you have on your blog, the longer it can take to load. Remove any extra widgets and plugins you’re using on your blog, which aren’t strictly necessary, and see what happens to your load time. Hand-code your functionality, and place it directly into the WordPress theme: this will reducing the number of calls each page load makes on the server.

Use the WordPress W3 Total Cache plugin

Now that you’ve reduced the number of plugins you’re using there’s one you should add! W3 Total Cache is a must-have plugin for any WordPress user. W3 Total Cache is a static caching plugin that generates HTML files that are served directly by Apache, without processing comparatively heavy PHP scripts. It’s compatible with most servers and server configurations, and gives you the choice of creating the cache on your own server, or using a content delivery network.

Use a content delivery network (CDN)

A CDN is a network of optimized servers around the world that store copies of your site’s data. By making your site available from various servers, the CDN maximizes bandwidth, and reduces your site’s load time. Using a CDN works really well if you have visitors from all over the world, as the servers closest to each user will be used to deliver content quickly. A CDN provider such as MaxCDN can provide great performance without putting a strain on your pocket.

Optimize your blog images

Many blogers don’t focus on optimizing blog images, but it’s a very effective way to increase your blog’s loading speed. There are many, many plugins that can help you to optimize blog images, but one of the best is WP Smush.it. I’m using it on many of my blogs and it really helps to make blog load faster. It offers an API that performs these optimizations (except for stripping JPEG metadata) automatically, and it integrates seamlessly with WordPress. Every image you add to a page or post will be automatically run through Smush.it behind the scenes—you don’t have to do anything differently.

This plugin:

  • strips meta data from JPEGs
  • optimizes JPEG compression
  • converts certain GIFs to indexed PNGs
  • strips the unused colours from indexed images.

Use social images instead of buttons

Social network buttons were among my site’s main problems: they take so much time to load, and can really slow your blog down. Displaying three or four buttons might be okay, but if you want to show all the buttons, I’d suggest you use images instead. Using images is the best way to show all the buttons without using a plugin.

These are eight simple tips that can help you to make your blog load faster then ProBlogger. What others can you share?

Devesh is young entrepreneur and part time blogger. Visit WP Kube for WordPress Tuorials & Hacks and Technshare for Make Money Blogging
Tips.

Use Photos to Stand Out in the Facebook News Feed

This guest post is by Tommy Walker, Online Marketing Strategist and owner of Tommy.ismy.name.

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? This old cliché has become especially true in blogging. It’s statistically proven that by inserting compelling photographs into your blog posts, you’re able to better retain your reader’s attention.

So what if photos are also exactly what you need to stand out on the world’s most popular social network?

On Facebook, Photos are the most used features of the site (after status updates of course). You may have already known that, but did you also know that Facebook is one of the most used photo sharing platforms on the entire Internet?

So how can we tap into the power of Facebook Photos to separate your Page from the rest of the noise on Facebook?

If you’ve been using Facebook ads to perform inception on your blog, you’ll have a good idea of the psychographic profile of your readers. We can use this information to create (or find) compelling images that will resonate with your audience.

Let’s imagine I run a blog about creating Hollywood movie props on an indie movie budget. Normally I build simple props that are pretty general, like ray guns, or jet packs. But lately I’ve been running Facebook ads and I’ve learned from the Responder Profile report that the majority of the people who clicked on my ad have listed “Iron Man” as a favorite movie in their profile.

Knowing this, I create a tutorial for my blog that gives instructions on how to make an Iron Man mask.

To really draw attention to this step-by-step tutorial and stand out in my fans’ news feeds only requires a little extra thought and attention to detail. Just a little more work, and I get a result that looks something like this:

Now let’s break down what I did here, so you can create results like this, too.

Step 1: Breaking up the image

Take the main image that you would like to show up in the News Feed and break it up into two or three parts using a photo editor. For the Iron Man album, I broke one photo up into two separate images, with each image highlighting a different element of the build.

The original image looks like this:

To break it up, I simply opened the image in Gimp (although you could use Photoshop or even Paint!) and selected the Battery and Arc Reactor. Then I copied and pasted it into its own image file, and did the same for the mask.

I then very quickly created the album cover by typing “Become” over the Iron Man logo, and saved that as its own image file> I then saved everything to its own folder on my desktop.

Here are two quick notes about album covers. Firstly, selecting the right image is important for two reasons:

  1. The album cover is the first thing people see when someone clicks on the Photos tab on your page. By default, Facebook also displays the two most recent photo albums on the left-hand sidebar underneath the list of people who like your page. When they visit a page, it’s only natural for people to check out the number of people who like that page — for social proof. Take advantage of this curiosity by creating an eye-catching album cover. Even with a small number of likes, you’ll appear to be ahead of the game, as this is valuable real estate that most pages simply aren’t taking advantage of.
  2. The album cover will always appear in the furthest left-hand corner when you publish an album to the news feed. Selecting the wrong image for the album cover can make the entire update completely pointless. take a look at the images below. By default, the photo titled “Step 5″ would be the album cover here, but it’s not a great image. To have the most impact on the News Feed, you’d want to make sure that the album cover shows the image titled “Step 10.” We’ll talk about this more in the next section.

Step 2: Selecting the album cover and organizing your photos

Go to the Photos tab on your Business Page and click on Create a Photo Album.

A dialog box will appear, giving you instructions on uploading your photos.

Click Select Photos and choose the photos you would like to be included in the album.

Click Open once you’ve selected all of the photos for your album. The photos will begin to be uploaded to the album. By default, the album is named with the date and time that you’re uploading the photos. Change the name to reflect the contents of the album. Also, check the High Resolution button (just because you can!).

Once the photos have finished uploading, click Create Album.

From here, select the image you want to use for the cover of your album. Also feel free to add descriptions to your pictures. If it makes sense, insert links to relevant pages within your blog (this will depend on the content of your album).

Once you’re satisfied with your Photo descriptions, click Save Changes. A dialog box will appear prompting you to Publish or Skip.

Do not click publish!

Click Skip. You will be brought to the album and all of the images will appear in the order in which they were uploaded. This isn’t always ideal if you’re really looking to stand out in the news feed.

It is vital to note the arrangement of the photos in the album, as it will determine their order in the news feed.

As I said earlier, Facebook automatically puts the album cover as the far left image of the three in the album preview in the news feed—regardless of how the images are arranged in the album. Facebook then takes the two images after the photo that’s designated as the cover, and assigns them as the middle and far-right images in the news feed.

So if the photos are arranged like this in the album:

They will look like this in the news feed:

To achieve this landscape effect in the news feed, simply drag the two images that are meant to follow the album cover in the order in which you’d like them to appear in the news feed.

Then, your album will look like this:

And the feed will look like this:

Once you have your photos arranged the way you’d like them to appear in the news feed, all you have left to do is create an album description and publish the album.

Step 3: Entering your album’s description

Underneath your photos, you’ll see an Add a Caption link. Click it to open the popup where you can describe your album and include any external links.

Facebook will allow a total of 320 characters (including spaces) in your album description before it hides the content and adds a See More link to the end of your description.

Keep your descriptions around one to two lines, and always put a line break between your description and link so that the content appears cleanly in the news feed.

After you’ve clicked Save, click Edit Album Info to see the Album Description page. Click the Edit Photos tab on the top right of the gray box. Then, click Publish Now.

And there you have it! Your album will have a good chance of standing out in the otherwise really crowded news feed!

What’s that you say? You don’t make props? There are all sorts of other creative ways to use Facebook Photos to promote your business. What are some ways you’ve used this tool? Are there other Facebook Photo ideas you can share?

Tommy is an Online Marketing Strategist and owner of Tommy.ismy.name. He is about to release Hack The Social Network, the ultimate guide to Facebook Marketing, and is currently developing a “mind hacking” course.