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WordPress Tip: Questions I'm Often Asked About WordPress and Blogging

Jan 8, 2009 • general, wordpress

Common questions about WordPress blogs
Common questions I receive about WordPress blogs

My WordPress consulting side business has been getting a lot of attention lately. In fact, I've been struggling to keep up. (I do this, by the way, mainly on the weekends.) Over the last several projects, I've noticed a common trend of questions about WordPress and blogging. Here's what everyone asks.

I already have a site. How can I add a WordPress blog to it?

Although it's possible to customize a WordPress theme based on your existing site, you can buy a premium theme that probably looks better than your original site for about $100. You can then migrate the content from your original site to the WordPress blog, which will function as a micro-content management system.

When you install the blog, if you install it in your web's root folder (not in a subdirectory), your blog will load as the default site -- just remove the original site's index file. Of course, no theme is perfect out of the box, so you'll likely want to customize it a bit. But having one site for all your content will greatly simplify your life.

Here are a few sites that sell premium themes:

And some resources for free themes:

I want to sell products from my site. How can I do that?

Paypal provides Buy Now or Add to Cart buttons that you can add to your site, along with the appropriate shopping cart code. If you sign up for a Paypal account, and then go to Merchant Services, you'll see a wizard that will walk you through the creation of the buttons and code.

You can then lay out the buttons how you want them to appear on your site. I recently did this for a client here. In this example, I used div tags to push the Add to Cart buttons into a right column.

Paypal is free, but they charge 2% per transaction. You can also integrate shopping cart services that make Paypal easier to use. For example, E-junkie. Its interface is easier to manage and looks sharper. When users add a product to their cart, rather than being taken to a new page (as with Paypal), a pop-up window appears that allows users to remain on the same site. The downside is that E-junkie costs $5 per month to sell 5 products.

The following WordPress themes have e-commerce options built directly into them:

With the e-commerce shopping cart plugin, you can integrate a shopping cart with any theme you have. I find this plugin a little convoluted on the backend, but you can make it work.

What web host do you recommend?

I recommend Lunar Pages. Bluehost has great support, but I ran into a mess of CPU exceeded queries errors a while back and have since been less satisfied with them. Dreamhost is another reputable host.

There are scores of different web hosts, but some are more friendly than others with WordPress. I've seen hosts that require all kinds of permissions and privileges just to update your blog or install a plugin. It can be a pain. When you shop for web hosts, look for cPanel or auto-installers.

How do I adjust my site for search engine optimization (SEO)?

I recommend using the All-in-One SEO Pack plugin. With this plugin, you can configure two distinct titles for each of your posts: a title that Google sees, and a title that appears when your readers load the post. In SEO, three factors take precedence over anything else:

  1. Backlinks to your site with the right keywords.
  2. Keywords in your title and first paragraph.
  3. Lots of content.

Don't assume that just installing the plugin will put you at the top of Google. It's a long, hard struggle to climb up the search results. Post a lot, use the right keywords, and create interesting content that invites others to link to you.

Can you recommend a theme for me?

I can no more recommend a theme for you than I can buy clothes for my wife. Look at the links I provided in my first section. Realize that every theme can be customized -- font, widths, colors, layouts. If you find a theme that would be a good starting point, you can customize the rest. If you're good with CSS, and you're familiar with the Web Developer Extension for Firefox, you can tweak every aspect of your site.

When customizing your site, you don't need to be a PHP programmer, but you do need to understand the WordPress template tags, which are written in PHP. Read the WordPress Codex to recognize these tags and what they do.

What plugins do you recommend?

You can see all the plugins I'm using here. I recommend starting with the basics: Akismet, Bad Behavior, Subscribe to Comments, All in One SEO, Google Analytics, and Feedburner.

Then gradually ramp up to Related Posts, Popularity Contest, WordPress Video Plugin, Flash Embed, Google Sitemap, WP Super Cache, Get Recent Comments, and Google Ajax Search.

You can view hundreds of plugins at the WordPress plugin directory. A plugin exists for almost everything you want to do. But be careful about adding too many plugins. In my experience, the more plugins you add, the slower WordPress moves on the backend.

Installing plugins is easier than it used to be. Previously, you had to download, unzip, and upload plugin files via FTP. Now you can install and update plugins directly from the admin panel in WordPress. So experiment with different plugins. Play around with them. It's a fun thing to do on a Friday night while you're watching movies.

Finally, although it sounds very snobby to say this, I'll say it anyway. WordPress has a learning curve. If concepts like FTP, CSS, and RSS are totally unfamiliar to you, you'll struggle a bit at first. But if you're really cut out to use a self-hosted WordPress blog, you'll figure it out. You'll read the Codex, search the support forums, experiment and tinker until you get it to work right.

If you're not this type, you might do better with a freely hosted WordPress blog at WordPress.com. With a WordPress.com blog, you won't have to hassle with code, you can access free support when you need it, and you can focus on what you want to do: write.

If you ever want to upgrade from a WordPress.com blog to a self-hosted WordPress blog, you can export and import your content fairly easily using WordPress' built-in tools.


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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.