Blogs | Zach Everson

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Seven ways for travelers to empower themselves by blogging

CNNThis article from CNN.com is worth a read for aspiring travel bloggers (even though it was published a few months ago):

Pushy bloggers to travel industry: Be nice

While all of Christopher Elliott’s suggestions are worth following, pay special attention to his second tip: “Find a specialty.”

There are thousands of general travel websites on the Internet, many of which are owned by media outlets or barons with more resources than you have. Don’t try to compete with The New York Times, Rick Steves, or Weblogs, Inc.

Instead, find a quirky aspect of travel that appeals to you and you are an expert about (or at least want to become one).

Examples of such niche blogs include

  • European travel for seniors making their first trip outside of the United States
  • tips for traveling with a musical instrument
  • travel for the professional travel writer

Automatically share your latest blog post on 30 social networks and microblogs with twitterfeed and Ping.fm

Given my vocation, it should be clear I’m not a visual thinker. But when it comes to explaining how to share your latest blog post automatically on more than 30 social networks and microblogs, an illustration is better suited (my penmanship notwithstanding).

Website flowchart: From new blog post to twitterfeed to ping.fm to social networks and microblogs to readers

Website flowchart, how to automatically share a new blog post on social networks and microblogs

Website flowchart: How to automatically share a new blog post on social networks and microblogs

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The only three WordPress plugins your website or blog needs

In my last post (Four easy steps to starting your own website or blog) I covered the basics for marking your territory online. Once you’re comfortable with using WordPress, however, you’ll probably want to add some features that extend its functionality.

That’s where plugins come in.

How to install a WordPress plugin

  1. Find a plugin you want to install (the WordPress Plugin Directory is a great place to start)
  2. Download it to your computer
  3. Upload that plugin from your computer to your website’s WordPress plugins directory (wp-content/plugins/)
  4. Activate the plugin in WordPress (Plugins > Installed)

There are thousands of WordPress plugins available (4,245 as of this writing actually), but the only essential ones are these three.

Askimet

Askimet is a spam filter for your blog’s comments. It’s a must if you allow comments on your website (it’s blocked at least 7,343 spam comments from this website).

Askimet comes bundled with your WordPress installation, so you don’t need to download it, but installation requires a few steps. They’re self-explanatory though and WordPress will guide you through them via the Plugins menu.

All in One SEO Pack

The All in One SEO Pack helps your website perform better in search engine results. While installing it doesn’t mean you won’t have to do anything else to improve your website’s search engine optimization (SEO), it is a good first step toward getting more visitors through Google.

(For more information on search engine optimization, read my posts on the subject.)

ShareThis

You see that little green icon with ShareThis written next to it at the bottom of this post? This plugin is responsible for it. ShareThis makes it easier for visitors of your site to share your content with people via social networks and e-mail (marketers get paid a lot of money to refer to this achievement as “going viral”).

You want your website’s content to be spread around the Internet, so make it easy for your visitors to do so.

Four easy steps to starting your own website or blog

Recently I’ve helped a few friends and clients start websites (creating one seems to be contagious this time of year). Here’s a basic look at the steps involved.

1. Buy a domain name and server space for your website

I use Bluehost for both. You can save money by going elsewhere, but Bluehost’s customer service is fantastic (I have a tendency to blow up websites at 3 a.m.; a calm, knowledgeable Bluehost rep is always available, even at that hour, to help me undo the damage). It’s hosted my sites for years and I’ve never had a problem. I pay about $150 a year, which includes the domain name and e-mail accounts too.

2. Install the website software

I use WordPress for all of my sites. It’s a free blogging platform, but it also can be used for non-blog websites (like this one I created to rent out my house for the Kentucky Derby). It’s easy to use and costs nothing (hence my use of the word “free” in this paragraph’s second sentence).

WordPress is easy to install through SimpleScripts in the Bluehost control panel. And if you have any problems doing so, call Bluehost.

3. Install a theme for the website

The template is the website’s design. Don’t use the default one because, well, it looks like a default setting; using it is the equivalent of buying a Lego set and just making what the instructions tell you to rather than constructing your own crazy contraption.

There are many good themes available for free. I like the free ones at www.woothemes.com (this site uses its Typebased theme), but you also can find free ones at

Choose one with a lot of positive reviews. If the theme doesn’t work well, it can cause a lot of problems. To install a theme

  1. Download a theme from one of the aforementioned websites to your computer
  2. Upload that theme from your computer to the theme directory in WordPress (wp-content/themes/)
  3. Activate the theme in WordPress (Appearance > Themes)

4. Start writing web pages or blog posts

WordPress has an easy-to-use what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG) editor (Posts > Add New for blog entries, Pages > Add New for static page). When you’re happy with your content, select Post.

Behold the renovated (again) ZachEverson.com—feedback appreciated!

As overhauling this blog seemed less daunting than unpacking all of my possessions after my recent move to Louisville, I spent the past couple of days renovating the website. I

  • upgraded the blogging platform to WordPress 2.6.5–it has a slew of new features, so many in fact that I only needed to install two plugins
  • installed the ShareThis plugin–it appears after each post and allows visitors to easily, um, share the post via social networking and bookmarking sites, blogs, or e-mail (previously I needed three separate plugins to handle these feunctions)
  • added the fantastic free Typebased theme from Woo Themes
  • corrected a coding problem that caused a lot of punctuation to appear as code (which is certainly not acceptable on a blog that covers grammar and punctuation)

Feedback—good or bad—on the update is appreciated. Thanks!

The Obama campaign and new media and social networking

While I’m politically active, this blog isn’t—if you want to read about politics you probably can find a few other websites that delve into the subject.

But anyone interested in online communications and social networking has to be paying attention to Barack Obama’s campaign: Nov. 4 will be the biggest test of the real-life power of that emerging technology.

The Obama campaign isn’t just using, but is distributing quality content via

And the campaign got 2.9 million people to opt-in to receive text messages from it in exchange for being the almost-first person to know whom Obama selected to be his running mate. Think it might use that data as part of its get-out-the-vote efforts?

Will it pay off on November 4? I suspect the Obama campaign has studied Howard Dean’s candidacy in 2004 and realized what it needs to do to translate virtual support into real votes.

Automattic releases WordPress application for iPhone (and I’m posting via it now)

The first WordPress application for the iPhone, aptly titled WordPress, was released this week by Automattic.

While the features are limited—there’s no way to code links (I added the one in the first sentence after posting this entry), the function to change the date a post goes live isn’t working for me, and it’s not possible to edit anything on a site other than posts—the application is a good first step toward blogging on the iPhone.

WordPress for iPhone supports WordPress blogs running release 2.5.1 or higher. And, of course, it’s free.

My professor the author: Justin Catanoso’s new book on faith, family, and miracles

Justin Catanoso, the executive editor of The Business Journal and a former journalism professor of mine at Wake Forest, recently published a memoir, My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles.

After discovering that his grandfather’s cousin was on the fast track to sainthood, Justin reconnected with his large family back in Italy and his long-lost faith. I talked to him for a while at a friend’s wedding a few weeks ago, he’s excited about the book’s reception and his book tour. He also said that writing the book was the hardest project he’s ever undertaken.

Justin’s blogging about subjects related to the book at www.justincatanoso.com.

Here’s a review of the book that I posted on Amazon.com:

My Cousin the Saint is provocative—it’s impossible to read this book and not contemplate your own faith and the meaning of family. I consider myself far too practical and rational to be religious. So it was interesting reading about how someone with the same self-image started believing. Or at least trying to.

Furthermore Catanoso’s vivid descriptions of his family in the United States and in Italy provides an interesting contrast of the social norms in those two countries.

Growing up outside of Boston, I was jealous of my many Italian-American classmates and their large, boisterous families. This book confirms that my envy was well founded.

Finding information on your favorite blog (hopefully it’s this one)

This post is the third in a three-part series that covers how to subscribe to this site, share posts on it, and navigate it. Recently I have been working with some clients to attract readers to and retain them on the clients’ websites; these articles reflect some strategies we’ve implemented. This series isn’t just to encourage the use of those features here, but also to help other bloggers add them to their sites.

The two best ways of encouraging visitors to stay on your website are by having engaging content and making that content easy to find. This post covers the latter.

Tags and tag clouds

The list of keywords that appear after each entry on this blog and many other ones are called “tags.” From Wikipedia:

A tag is a (relevant) keyword or term associated with or assigned to a piece of information (e.g. a picture, article, or video clip), thus describing the item and enabling keyword-based classification of information.

Tags are usually chosen informally and personally by the author/creator or the consumer of the item—i.e. not usually as part of some formally defined classification scheme. Tags are typically used in dynamic, flexible, automatically generated internet taxonomies for online resources such as computer files, web pages, digital images, and internet bookmarks.

By selecting a tag on this site, and most other ones that use them, you’ll get a list of all of the posts on the site that have been tagged with that keyword. If only the current post appears, it means it probably is the first time that keyword has been used on that site.

Many sites have tag clouds to help visitors browse the topics on the site and see which ones are the most common ones. Again, from Wikipedia:

A tag cloud (or weighted list in visual design) can be used as a visual depiction of content tags used on a website. Often, more frequently used tags are depicted in a larger font or otherwise emphasized, while the displayed order is generally alphabetical. Thus both finding a tag by alphabet and by popularity is possible. Selecting a single tag within a tag cloud will generally lead to a collection of items that are associated with that tag.

On this site, the 10 most-popular tags appear in the right sidebar under the Common Topics header.

(Using tags also can improve a site’s ranking in search engine results; they usually generate pages for each keyword. And, if nothing else, they lead to an additional instance of the word appearing on a page.)

I used the Ultimate Tag Warrior 3 plugin for WordPress to add tags to this site. That plugin also has the option to repeat the tags as meta keywords, which can help a website’s ranking in some search engines too.

Search box

Most sites have a search box in the sidebar (as this one does on the right) or in the header. Search boxes are built into many templates (as is the case with this site), but they are easy to add via widgets or text boxes too. Sometimes the box will give users the option of searching that site or the entire web (typically via Google).

Search boxes on blogs and other websites typically work in a similar fashion to search engines. The biggest difference, however, is that the returned results usually are in order of the entry’s post date (from newest to oldest), whereas search engines return rank results based on many factors.

Popular posts

This site and many other blogs highlight the most popular posts (mine are in the sidebar to the right). That lists isn’t an exercise in vanity, or at least it’s not meant to be here, but rather as a place for users new to the site to determine the best starting point.

I’m sure there’s some widget or plugin that can determine that the most-popular pages automatically. As for this blog, I just list the pages that get the most traffic and comments.

Easy way to share a blog post with a best friend—or a complete stranger

This post is the second in a three-part series that covers how to subscribe to this site, share posts on it, and navigate it. Recently I have been working with some clients to attract readers to and retain them on the clients’ websites; these articles reflect some strategies we’ve implemented. This series isn’t just to encourage the use of those features here, but also to help other bloggers add them to their sites.

In the earlier days of the Internet, if you wanted to share a website with someone, you had to copy and paste the URL into an e-mail message and send it to a friend. Now on many blogs, including this one, you can just select a button to share an entry. And you can share it with anybody, not just someone you know.

Here are some easy ways to save and share content.

del.icio.us

Selecting the multicolored box under each post on this site will bookmark the article on del.icio.us, a social-bookmarking site. According to del.ico.us, “The primary use of del.icio.us is to store your bookmarks online, which allows you to access the same bookmarks from any computer and add bookmarks from anywhere, too…You can also use del.icio.us to see the interesting links that your friends and other people bookmark, and share links with them in return. You can even browse and search del.icio.us to discover the cool and useful bookmarks that everyone else has saved.”

Digg

Selecting the dog with the shovel will submit the article to Digg, a social news website. According to Digg, “Everything on Digg is submitted by our community (that would be you). After you submit content, other people read your submission and Digg what they like best. If your story rocks and receives enough Diggs, it is promoted to the front page for the millions of visitors to see.”

Reddit

Selecting the character with the wide E.T.-like face will add this article to reddit. According to reddit, “reddit is a source for what’s new and popular on the web — personalized for you. Your votes train a filter, so let reddit know what you liked and disliked, because you’ll begin to be recommended links filtered to your tastes.”

Others

If you use another social networking or bookmarking site (such as Newsvine, Furl, or Blogmarks), please let me know and I will consider adding it to the site. (If you have a blog and are interested in adding these features to your website, I used Cal Evans’s Notable plugin for Word Press.)

E-mail a page

Selecting the “E-mail” option that appears under each post will open your default e-mail application and prefill it with information about the post, including the link, so you can pass it along to a friend. The e-mail addresses you use are private; I cannot see them.

Any questions?

The next post will cover features on this blog that allow you to easily navigate the site. And, as with the ways to share content on a blog described herein, they are easy to replicate on your own website.

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