Setting Up a WordPress Site for Professional Writing

Okay, I've been bouncing around a bit more than I anticipated, but I couldn't wait to write about this next topic.

I know there are a lot of writers out there who want to publish more. Setting up your own site can be daunting which is why many authors relegate their content to free Blogger sites. But you don't get a lot of control there and you certainly don't have a cool custom domain!

In this post, I'll show you how to get started with WordPress for your own website.

Pick a domain

First thing's first: you need a domain.

Before you get too caught up with a name you love, check if it's available. You can go to Namecheap.com and check for any domain name there. My advice is to come up with as many domain name ideas as you can and then use the bulk check. Again, please don't get your hopes up about any single domain until you see it's available. You'll go nuts cursing the domain squatters charging thousands for otherwise $10 domains.

People give all sorts of detailed recommendations about how to pick a domain name, but you know what? It's mostly bologne. Pick a name that's available that you like. That's it.

Oh yea, one rule: don't pick anything that will get you in legal trouble! No brand names in the domain.

Get hosting

The next thing you're going to want to do is signup for hosting. You'll use WordPress to add files and content to your site. The host delivers these files to people when they visit your site. No host = no site.

There are lots of good hosts to pick from like DreamHost and Bluehost. I personally recommend Bluehost and there's a quick setup guide here you can follow.

Onwards!

Install WordPress

I know, this is supposed to be the scary part, but it's actually the simplest. Regardless of which host you signup with, they'll have a WP auto-installer for you. You basically just fill out a form like this and they spin up a site for you:

Easy, right?

Add a theme

The next step is to get a great theme.

Themes in WordPress control how your site looks. You'll probably want to pick a minimalist theme that emphasizes your writing. There are some nice themes in this list for bloggers/authors. Pick one out and then you upload a zip file through your dashboard. It should just take a minute.

Every theme has different options to configure, but since you're using a simple theme for writers, it won't be too overwhelming. Not to mention, it's your site so it's fun to setup and customize.

Start writing!

Now I can't tell you what to write, but hopefully you've got some ideas! You can start publishing write away once your WP sites is online. Not much more to say!

Tell people about it

And the final step is to tell people about your new site. Be proud of what you made and let everyone know. Sharing with your friends, family, and existing audience is the quickest way to get a nice boost to your traffic. That will give you momentum and keep web publishing fun.

If you need help with getting traffic, check out my post on social media marketing.

I hope you've found this guide helpful for launching your first site. It's a big leap for anyone new to the web, but as a guy whose been working online for a looong time, I can tell you it's incredible rewarding.  

Responsive Table Solutions with CSS & Javascript

When publishing on the web, your content will typically fall into one of these categories:

  • Text
  • Video
  • Graphics
  • Audio

That covers pretty much everything you would publish.

Today we're taking a look at how to present a special type of written content: data. I use the term data loosely as any structured information best conveyed in a table.

Now here's the thing about tables: they don't fit well into small screens.

Way back in the day when computers were still strange, esoteric gray boxes, businessmen did their finances with pen and paper. They would create massive tables on paper that spanned entire tables. Sounds completely peculiar now, but that's how it was done. It wasn't until the first spreadsheet software was invented that this changed and tables (the visual kind, abstract code databases already existed) began to be integrated into computers.

You're surely familiar with Excel and Google Sheets. The programs work great on your computer, but they're tricky to use on mobile. Google Sheets does a pretty impressive job, but what about you? Sometimes you'll need to display data on your site in table form and getting it to display well across all the various screen sizes can be a nightmare. Lucky for you, this problem has been around for quite some time, so other devs have created some pretty nifty solutions.

I browsed through a few examples on Codepen.io and here are the best ones I found.

Responsive table solution #1

The first solution is 100% CSS which is pretty cool.

The labels are all moved to the left side so that they don't get bunched up at the top. While the visual isn't so nice, this layout works pretty well.

Link: Responsive Table on CodePen.io

Responsive table solution #2

This next one is really interesting. It's similar to the first solution, but it uses the first cell in the header as a new header to separate the table entries. Here, take a look:

Link: A Better Fluid Responsive Table

Responsive table solution #3

This last solution is my favorite. It breaks each table entry out into its own box which not only looks beautiful but is also very easy to scan:

Can you believe that it's done entirely with CSS? And no, the markup isn't weird, it's perfectly valid HTML.

Link: Simple Responsive Table in CSS

Conclusion

I thought I'd be reviewing a lot more jQuery when I started this post, but I was really impressed with what people have come up with. There's nothing wrong with using Javascript to make tables more mobile-friendly, but it's hard to support when there are such wonderful solutions with pure CSS.

Thanks for reading and I'll be back with more soon. Next up will be a bit more about publishing written content and making it responsive.

Introduction to SEO for New Webmasters

Search engine optimization has always been a blessing and thorn in the side of so many webmasters. There is so much to learn if you truly want to master the art of SEO, but I will cover the basics here. SEO can be broken into two parts: on-page optimization and off-page optimization. Let's start with on-page SEO.

On-page optimization

When a user searches in Google, their search is formally called a "query." Google wants to return the most relevant results for that query. For instance, if you search for "dog toys," it's Google's job to return pages that are full of dog toys. Now, the way Google does this is incredibly complex and frankly understanding it is above my pay-grade, but here are the essential ingredients: relevance and intent.

Relevance

First, a result must be relevant. Pages about cooking obviously shouldn't show up. More specifically, pages about kids toys or dog training shouldn't show up either. Now, here's what happens in a real life search. Google finds thousands of pages that are all about dog toys. They need to find the ones that are the most relevant. The trouble is, they're all so relevant that they can't simply be ranked on that alone. In fact, Google mostly uses relevance to collect a seed group of pages and then uses a sorting algorithm with difference factors to give you the top 10 results you're so used to seeing. Here's the takeaway: if there's a keyword you want to rank for, your page needs to be highly relevant to stand a chance at ranking. You make your page relevant by, well, making it about the term! If you want to rank for dog toys then publish a page on your site about dog toys. Pretty simple stuff. There are a few technical steps involved with on-page optimization that include putting your keyword into the title, heading tags, etc. This stuff can be learned in minutes and you'll find a good overview from Moz here.

Searcher intent

These days, you have to move beyond mere relevance and think deeply about the intent of the user. What does someone searching for "dog toys" really want from a result? If you think they want an article about dog toys, you're sorely mistaken. Think about that: an article that is about dog toys and is perfectly optimized for the phrase "dog toys" doesn't stand a chance at ranking in the top 10 for the query "dog toys." That's because people who search that want to purchase toys for their dogs. The only way you're going to rank is with an eCommerce product page (more likely a category page) or with a blog post where you list out the top toys for dogs. If you spend a little while thinking deeply about this, you can make some good guesses as to what people want from any given query. However, it's much more practical and effective to get out there and see what's ranking. Whatever pages are ranking now are the types of pages Google wants to see. If a page is ranking higher than you think it should, it may be because it better serves the intent and you should follow in their footsteps.

On-page conclusions

There are other sitewide, technical aspects of on-page SEO, but we'll need to leave that for another day. For now, the two lessons are to optimize for plain old relevance and simultaneously optimize for the intent of the searcher. Make sure to think about what someone will want from their search before you write a word of content. You may end up creating a video or product instead!

Off-page SEO

Ah everyone's favorite SEO topic, link building. Yup, link building is 90% of what people are talking about when they say "off-page SEO." These days, reputation management and social signals are a part of the mix, but again, that's advanced and where not going there right now. Let's stick with an overview of link building.

What is link building?

So now you know that Google finds relevant pages that will serve the searcher's intent, but there's another big piece of the ranking puzzle. Google would rather rank pages higher that people have already said they like. One way the web "votes" for pages is by linking. Think about this: you've got a website with a bunch of tasty and healthy recipes. People with blogs and social media accounts will share and link to your recipes. Maybe the FDA even links to your site on one of their pages as an example of modern, healthy eating. If your site has a lot of these links (think votes) from other sites, they know it must be good. Now imagine you are up against other sites with very similar recipes. How does Google split the tie? By the site that has more links. That's more or less how it works, but I think I may be downplaying the effects of links. Hopefully this will change more in the future, but for now, we often see pages outranking better pages purely because they have more links. There's basically no way around it, if you want to rank well, you need to build links.

Conclusion

I hope you have a better idea now of how Google works and what it takes to rank in the search engines. At the end of the day, it's all about creating relevant and genuinely useful content for your audience. Getting search traffic is a longterm gain - it can really take forever when you are launching a new site. If you build an email list and generate traffic via social media, you should get plenty of engagement while you're getting your ranks in Google.  

How to Get Started with Social Media Marketing

The best way for a business to get customers is word of mouth. By extension, the best way to get visitors to your website too is with word of mouth. Traditionally, word of mouth has been, well, people literally talking to each other and sharing/recommending products and services they use. This is still true today, but social media has changed things a bit.

A new word of mouth

Think of social media as word of mouth on the internet. People chat openly on sites like Twitter and Facebook similar to how they may have a conversation offline. The difference is that these conversations are not private. A Facebook post on your friends wall may be seen by hundreds or even thousands of people. In a way, sharing on social media can be much more powerful than personal conversations held offline.

The simple truth

The simple truth about social media is the same as word of mouth. Excellent products get shared. Plan and simple. Now, more related to the subject of this tutorial, excellent websites will get shared.

So now I bet you’re wondering what’s next. Well first, some perspective:

Always focus first on making your site the best it can be. Make it as useful and valuable as you can, always. This ensures you get more word of mouth and more social shares. Every piece of content you publish has more potential to be shared the more valuable and unique it is.

Now with that out of the way, there is a lot you can do to get things in your favor outside of simply making a great website. Here are a few actions you can take to build traffic to your site by using social media.

Be Everywhere

The first thing you can do to boost your social media presence is to setup an account on every relevant site. A few of the most popular and important sites to be on are:

There are always new sites coming out too, so stay on the lookout (Snapchat is big for brands now). Oh, and make sure to check for niche social sites too. Heard of Ravelry? Probably not because it's only for knitting and crocheting. Being on more social sites will give you more presence online. You can better monitor conversations online and find opportunities to share with new audiences.

Look professional, get serious!

When setting up your accounts, don't just add the bare minimum information. Take the time to really spruce of your profile. No one wants to follow an egg person on Twitter! When it comes to content like taglines and descriptions, you should already have some marketing copy prepared from building your site. If not, this will be a good exercise for figuring out how you want to talk about your site.

Find what works for you

I can hear some people grumbling already. How can you manage profiles on all these sites? Well, running all of those accounts would be a lot of work, but I say you dip your toes in each one. Try it out. Make time because there's the good news: you won't be keeping all the profiles forever. The idea here is to try out every network and see which one is the best fit (could be multiple sites). Your content will fit much more naturally on some networks than on others, you'll get more engagement on one platform than another, etc. If you get 5 pinterest followers and no traffic after a month of posting, you can probably cancel it off your list. Meanwhile, if you're getting consistent engagement and generating real discussion on Facebook, well that's awesome and you should keep it up.

Post often

Most site owners don't publish frequently enough. Sure, there are those who could seriously take it down a notch, but most people need to be sharing more. Here's the trick. You don't need to publish completely original content 100% of the time. You can repost content you've already shared, especially on sites like Twitter. Twitter moves so fast that only ~1% of your followers are going to see each of your Tweets, so let 'er rip. Republish and cycle through them so that you're publishing consistently throughout the day and getting more people to see each individual Tweet you craft.

Here's a video from Gary V answering a Tweet about publishing frequency

Give yourself a hand

No, you don't need to be logged into these sites all day to publish frequently. You can use a tool like Buffer to schedule your posts. That means you can sit down once a day or even once a week and write out all the content you'll be sharing. Then load it all into Buffer and it will push the content out across your networks whenever you want. Buffer also has an extension that lets you quickly queue content for sharing that you find while browsing around the web. One more tool worth checking out is Meet Edgar. It's much more expensive than Buffer, but it's better for recycling your content. The scheduling is very intuitive. Maybe don't start with this tool, but if you see financial success with your social media marketing, it may be worth the investment.

Social media recap

So that's my overview of how to succeed with social media. In summary:

  • Give every network an honest shot
  • Stick with the ones that work for you
  • Remember to post frequently
  • Use tools to help automate

Social media marketing is really pretty simple. You share, you engage, you get results. My last tip: remember to have fun! You're supposed to be socializing after all :)

Welcome to Compass Web!

Hey readers!

This is my new project. I'll be publishing here at Compass Web various tips and tricks I've learned over my years on the world wide web. I've always been a teacher at heart, and so I can't wait to get started.

While my expertise is quite technical, I figure I'll get started with the basics so anyone can follow along. Let this site be your compass for learning the way of the web and how to use it meet your own goals and dreams!

A Roadmap for this Blog

First, we'll cover some marketing stuff like social media, SEO, and content creation.

Internet marketing

This is where you'll really learn how the web works. Sure, the technical side is how it literally works, but at the end of the day, the web is made of people not things. Learning internet marketing fundamentals is essential for anyone looking to create their own site. It's a lens that will allow you to view the web in a new, yet pragmatic way. Otherwise, it's hard to understand the purpose behind a lot of the stuff we do when building sites.

Setting up WordPress Sites

Then we'll dive into basic website building with WordPress. I think it's more important to learn the marketing side first, so you'll now how to optimize and setup your site as you build it. I know, that might seem like a strange priority coming from a tech guy, but it's the truth! Websites don't exist for the sake of being websites - they have a purpose. You'll need to make a site that meets your goals and also is optimized for the marketing that will bring visitors/users/clients.

Customizing WordPress

The third thing we'll cover is how to customize your site. The basic setup is easy enough, but this is where things really get fun. You'll learn how to use technologies like CSS and jQuery to make your website awesome and beautiful.

WP themes these days are pretty powerful. You can get a ton of features and different layouts included, and yet... that never seems to be enough. There's always a little something more you want to change that the theme can't quite do. Knowing how to customize a WordPress theme yourself is tremendously helpful when building sites and publishing on the web.

Conversions

Next we'll look at conversions. Every website has a goal and every goal can be optimized for. This is where your customizations skills and knowledge of site building with WordPress becomes truly useful. It's cool to make a form look prettier, but to design it to convert better... now that's just awesome.

You'll learn a few conversion optimization tricks and how to better design your site to serve your funnel. Oh yea, you'll learn what a funnel is too ;)

Web publishing

And last but of course not least, you'll learn the ins-and-outs of web publishing. I'll be covering how to setup an editorial content, the checklist I use for pre-publishing editing and post-publishing promotion, and much more. This is where you take off and blossom. All your other skills are multiplied in their usefulness once you start publishing like a pro.

That's it... for now!

I'll be back with some of my first tutorials soon. Make sure to subscribe to the feed in the meantime, and stay tuned for more!