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    Wordpress Plug-ins: here are all the key posts


    Wordpress plugins for Business BlogsRecently, I’ve seen a spate of posts about WordPress plugins and focused on a variety of different areas, particularly after the release of WordPress 2.7. These plugins are important pieces of software which add specific functionality to the self hosted WordPress platform. They are also one of the key reasons that WordPress, for me, continues to offer greatest opportunities for bloggers and their businesses going forward.

    Do these opportunities come from the fact that it’s good to have the latest flashy, whizzy things (technical term) on your blog? No, simply that if you have software which automatically promotes, distributes and encourages people to read your posts then, as a consequence, that allows you to settle down to the real key task of blogging – writing content that people want to read.

    What makes a good Plugin?

    I get asked quite frequently which are the best WordPress plugins to use and, for me, it’s a question that I find impossible to give a simple answer to. The trouble I have is that selecting the “best” WordPress plugins is not only totally subjective but is also approaching the issue from the wrong direction.

    Plugins are designed to offer additional functionality to the blog. Rather than focusing on the plugins, I believe that it should be a case of looking at the business goals of the blog and then identifying which plugins best achieve and support these.

    In addition, since my aim is to make sure that the companies I work which are as self sufficient as possible, so it’s good to ensure that the plugins are not only robust but also likely to be updated to ensure compatibility with future software releases. This saves having to potentially change the plugins should an upgrade to WordPress make them redundant.

    Plugins offering general business functionality

    Having said that, there are certain features that I feel are particularly useful for the majority of business blogs because of their generic value and utility, and so I have decided to focus in one those here. With that in mind, what I have done is outline the plugins that best support those features and which hopefully follow their development.

    Are these the only ones I recommend? No, not at all. There are very many excellent plugins lovingly created and distributed by their developers which I use but are not mentioned here because I consider them specific to particular needs and purposes. However, these put down a good framework which will help support your content and your blogging:

    1. Facilitating content sharing

    • WP-Email: gives you “email a friend” opportunities to include with your posts and hence a easy way for readers to share or recommend your content

    • Social bookmarking: There are a number of options covering the social bookmarking sites rom SEM Bookmark to Social Bookmarks. There is also a plugin available for the increasingly popular Share This service. Alternatively, there are plugins which focus in on one of the larger communities such as Digg and offer greater functionality dedicated to that platform

    • WP Print: don’t forget that many still share content in printed format (not to mention for our own consumption) and this helps ensure that the article is printed cleanly and in full

    2. Search Engine optimisation

    • All in One SEO: gives the ability and flexibility to add a custom title tag and meta tags to each post or page. It also lets you set a better automated structure for these tags across the blog and exclude indexing on certain areas. Nice functionality – to help you with SEO, not optimise it for you! [See also Title Tag SEO]

    • Meta Robots: For full control, you might also like to include a Robot.txt function allowing page level control of what is indexed and not. Useful to control the flow of Page Rank value

    • Simple Tags: allows a great deal of control and automation of tags and their use – very useful in conjunction with the categories and posts.

    3. Onsite Functions

    • Dagon Design Formmailer: it’s important to have a minimum of a contact page on your blog and this allows you to include a contact form too – highly flexible for other purposes, signups etc.

    • Related Posts: an important addition to help readers to navigate your blog and for you to introduce other relevant information you have written to them

    • Search Everything: while the standard search function focuses on the content of the posts, you’d now want to include tags and various other useful elements. This plugin allows you to achieve that.

    • Page Numbers: allowing your readers to quickly navigate around your blog helps their experience of it and allows them to browse your content as they wish. This allows them to delve more easily into your archives.

    4. Back Office

    • Database Backup: backing up your database is a key element of your blog admin. With this plugin, you can do it automatically and there’s no need to even know what PHPMyAdmin stands for, let alone how to use it.

    • Google Analytics: this is about plugins so here is a good one to help include Google Analytics – however, you could also add the code to your footer. What is key for your blog is that you do track your visitors.

    • Akismet Spam Control: comment spam is an ineviatble result of a successful blog. CAPTCHA methods are good but my preferred version puts no onus on the commenters and that is Akismet as a Spam control method.

    5. Comments

    • Subscribe to Comments: comments are the lifeblood of a blog based community. Being informed of new replies is important and this plugin does just that. It gets people returning to your blog too.

    • Get Related Comments: bit of a reward to those who have commented and also a way to encourage others to do so and to read your blog. Very versatile!

    Are these the only plugins that I use on blogs? Absolutely not! On the contrary, there are a vast number of excellent ones which I use to achieve certain business requirements – the ones mentioned here are just those that I believe all business blogs can benefit from? I would love to hear which others you would include in yours!

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    Today, I am focusing not solely on blogging but also on WordPress which, as regular followers will already be aware, is my blogging software of choice for business blogs. Why’s that I hear you ask? Well simply because it lets you run a fully fledged blog on your own website which is easy of use, has great functionality and is expandable. For me, that’s the best way to make sure that your investment in your blogging and your online presence in general is effectively future proofed.

    So where did it start?

    Wordpress started life as simply an open source personal publishing tool used by people wanting to run a personal diary on the web. However, since then, both the use of blogs in business and WordPress itself have developed at a frantic pace – for me, a blog is now an essential tool for businesses and WordPress fills the role of blogging tool of choice for individuals, small businesses and more and more large businesses too.

    What has also happened, though, is that it has also developed beyond being a simple blogging system and is now also an excellent CMS - Content Management System perfect for creating complete websites which business owners can then develop and update themselves as they require. Along with this it still has great Search Engine attractiveness and of course extends our ability to interact with customers and prospects from just the blog area to all parts of the site. This helps immeasurably to improve customer relations which are going to be more and more key for businesses in today’s environment.

    Ideal solution as money gets tight

    If this is starting to sound like a sales pitch for WordPress then my apologies, its really not meant to be. My goal is more to show the benefits that you can achieve by using WordPresss to create your online presence rather than a simple static website – all this at a time when costs are having to be shaved wherever possible and yet a strong presence on the internet is still going to be crucial for developing new business.

    Having a standard website is often the route that small businesses take as they first create their online presence and often its a decision which is taken on cost. The trouble is that it doesnt take into account ongoing costs cost of their web developer to add new pages or change text, cost for further development, or even the costs to add the interaction that customers are not only demanding but now coming to expect.

    Given this is the case, the advantages you can gain are:

    • the ability to add pages as and when you require which develops your web presence and your website content for both customers and search engines alike (which in turn adds to your web promotion opportunities);

    • the chance to interact with your prospects and demonstrate why you are the partner of choice;

    • the ability to modify text on the pages as and when you want to without additional costs or any delay waiting for someone to do so for you;

    • the chance, with appropriate knowledge, to run your own ecommerce section directly from the blog as well as link in with your enewsletter subscribers etc.

    • the opportunity to differentiate your business. When theres less business about to be had the need to stand out and be able to adapt quickly is important;

    • easy and instant dissemination of key information out to sites and subscribers intereested in what you offer.

    Conclusion

    The point that I wanted to get across is that, while WordPress opens up huge possibilities as a blogging platform, it offers so much more than this as well. For a small business needing a strong and developing online presence, it is the perfect tool – having it set up correctly at the start gives an interactive, SEO rich website which can be developed by the owner at will. In addition, with a seemingly never ending stream of plugins being developed, the expansion possibilities are also hugely impressive.

    So whether you are looking at setting up a standalone blog, integrating one into your current website or looking at a full website for your business, take a look at what WordPress can do for you in this respect. And if you have any questions, why not give me a call?

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    Business Blogs and TagsShould you be looking at upgrading? Well, WordPress is maintaining quite a rhythm of late in terms of new releases – these can often be time consuming if you are trying to maintain several blogs with up to date software as I am for the people I work with. However, I digress as ever! :(

    WordPress 2.3 Overview

    This version does seem, however, to be well worth the time and effort. From a purely business perspective, there are a number of elements in this latest version which are of particular interest to me, primarily the canonical URLs and tagging elements which I’ll explain in more detail below. But let’s a have a quick recap of all the new things going on first.

    The main additions in WordPress 2.3 are:

    • Tagging: native tagging as they call it which includes tagging in the main software rather than relying on 3rd party plugins (see below)

    • WordPress and plugin updates: lets you know when there are updates available either of the main WordPress software or of the plugins that you have installed

    • Canonical URLs: lots of good stuff here but hugely uninteresting reading. It is, however very useful in terms of certain aspects of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) which I’ll try to explain later

    • Pending Review: allows you to run a blog with multiple authors much more efficiently as you are notified when new posts need reviewing

    • Advanced formatting when writing blogs: some additional features which had previously been hidden
    (The full list can be found on the WordPress Blog)

    Tagging

    Ok, so why am I getting even vaguely excited about tagging? Well, tagging is a way of bringing out the keywords in the post that you have written – effectively it allows you to add tags or ‘labels’ to your post so that you can classify the principal content areas yourself without relying solely on Search Engines to decide what you’re on about and therefore make an “educated” guess on your behalf.

    It’s true that the categories function in WordPress offers a way to do this but this, for me anyway, is more structural than anything else. I use categories to help readers identify start points for their research. Tagging will add an additional dimension to that and will give extra flexibility to it which is great – I believe that they are certainly complementary.

    Personally, I already use a plugin called <a href="http://dev.wp-plugins.org/wiki/BunnysTechnoratiTags" target="_blank"Bunny Tags</a> to do some of this (another excellent tag plugin is <a href="http://www.neato.co.nz/ultimate-tag-warrior/" target="_blank">Ultimate Tag Warrior</a>) but the chance to deliver tagging in the main software will help to develop this area further. I would expect to use this element much more extensively in the future and that tagging will be more 'visible' in Better Business Blogging.

    For more information, a nice explanation of categories and tags can be found at <a href="http://dougal.gunters.org/blog/2007/09/22/tags-and-categories-in-wordpress" target="_blank">Geek Ramblings</a> (thanks to <a href="http://www.nevillehobson.com" target="_blank">Neville Hobson</a> for the link).

    <h5>Canonical URLs </h5>
    Oh dear - I somewhat regret mentioning these earlier but let me try to explain. While it's not ALL to do with the concept of 'duplicate content', that is at its core. Bear with me for two minutes on this and then you can sleep ... or watch the latest instalment of <a href="http://www.nbc.com/Heroes/" target="_blank">Heroes</a>.

    Google likes unique content because then it can direct its searchers to THE best page for what they are looking for. However, when two (or more pages) show the same content Google suffers and has to decide what to do with the content and how to rank it. The trouble is that sometimes we create "duplicate pages" without actually knowing it. For example, www.betterbusinessblogging.com/ with and without a '/' or with and without the 'www', all count as different pages ... and hence potentially fall into the 'duplicate content' game. What we want to do is really have all of them point at the same place and be counted only once. The changes here should help to address exactly this problem.

    The WordPress change should essentially take away all these other "pages" - the fact that people generally didn't know they existed in the first place, I guess means that this change will mainly be appreciated by SEO interested parties. However, it is, in fact, important.

    <h5>Summary</h5>
    Well, as any regular reader will already know, I am a great fan and advocate of WordPress and the additions that they have made here in their latest release do nothing but strengthen my belief that WordPress remains the best blogging software for companies wanting to future proof their blogging investment.

    My advice: well, ever the cautious one, check the feedback as it comes in and when it is confirmed that it's stable and you have checked your plugins work, then upgrade as it looks worth it.

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    I’ve often talked about just how important comments are in the make up of a blog, most recently as part of the Business Blog Design series – indeed you could say that they are just as important as the post itself because they are what actually facilitates the communication element of a blog.

    Anyway, Mashable has published a nice list of plug-ins for WordPress which relate to comments which is well worth having a look at. Pick and choose a couple from there which are particularly relevant to you and try them out on your own blog – I’d suggest concentrating on those which encourage your readers to contribute or make it easier for them to do so.

    Another one not mentioned which I also think would be worth including is Subscribe to Comments which allows those who have already left a comment to receive notification when additional comments are made on the post – great for encouraging them to return and develop the conversation further.

    In the same vein, this might also be a relevant time to remember that services such as CoComment, Co.mments and Commentful exist which all allow you to follow the conversation on the blogs and posts where you have left comments yourself.

    All of these plugins and applications are designed to make the conversations in the blogosphere more “joined up” and that can only be a good thing. Have fun!!

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    Blog database backupIn the digital based world in which we live, if there’s one thing that we can be certain of, it’s that from time to time computers will break and data will be lost. Granted, hardware and memory is becoming ever more secure so information loss no longer happens with quite the same frequency as it did during my days at Psion during the 90s (now that ages me) when I recall people losing their agendas and address books on a fairly regular basis.

    Nevertheless, we hold more and more company critical information in digital form on PCs and servers which we would we lost without – as no doubt some of us have already discovered to our cost! :(

    Well, in your blog, you have another key business tool whose information needs taking care of, just like any other. For this reason, a word of advice – and one that I give to all of my business blog clients – remember to back up your database on a regular basis. Furthermore, just as you should be doing with the information on your PC, keep a copy yourself rather than solely relying on your host to do it for you.

    For WordPress users, there used to be a plugin bundled with the application code but this is no longer the case in recent versions. Luckily, the same WordPress Database Backup plugin has been taken on by Il Filosofo and updated as well. The most recent version has an added feature which is a godsend for someone like me that has good intentions on backups but all too often a memory like a sieve for them – you can set it to automatically create a backup on a regular basis and have it saved or sent to you. Great!

    If you prefer not to use a plugin or have a masochistic streak a mile wide in you (or for non WordPress users), then you might find this blow by blow account of how to back up your database in the WordPress Codex to be fun reading.

    However you decide to go about it, do remember to do it! Or a least keep a large swear box handy for when something goes wrong.

    EDIT: Hat tip to Graham Jones for this: it seems there is a new service called Blog Backup Online from Techrigy which offers automated database backups. Caveat – not tried it yet myself but might be worth a look.

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    SEO - Title TagThere has been a recent revision to a report which first made an appearance last year, where 37 of the finest minds in the SEO arena were asked to appraise the various elements which can be used as part of a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) programme – White Hat SEO programme, of course.

    Their opinions and comments were recorded and distributed in Search Engine Ranking Factors V2 which is probably the most comprehensive report of its type in terms of listing and appraising individual factors that I have seen. In any case, particularly given the people involved, it is certainly something to take a careful look at as you embark on any type of optimisation of your blog.

    So what is the most important?

    The element which was given the greatest value overall, and hence considered the most important individual factor in SEO terms, was Keyword Use in Title Tag.

    The Title Tag is used in two principal areas:

    • when you are using a browser, it is what appears in the blue bar right at the top of your screen and tells the reader what is contained within the page;
    • Secondly, on the Search Engine Results page (SERPs), it forms the link that you click on to reach the page shown in the results.

    As a result, not only is it valuable in terms of Search Engine rankings but also in terms of the click throughs that you get. Why is that? Since it appears in the main Search Engine Results page, it can act as an attention grabbing headline for the person conducting the search.

    Creating a “good” Title Tag

    Ideally, you should be aiming to create a Title Tag that will attract the attention of both human readers and the Search Engines – this means that it is likely to be both marketing focused as well as keyword rich. Sounds good in theory, but in practice you are likely to veer more towards one “audience” than the other.

    Opinions vary, but a good rule of thumb is that you have about 8 – 10 words (circa 60 – 65 characters) that you can use effectively in the title tag, so it’s best to make use of them. As a result, you should look to try to:

    • include your keyword / keyword phrase for the page – ideally, focus primarily on these keywords and avoid too many “the” and “and” connectors

    • rather than full sentences, consider using “|” or “-” to break up the phrases (but do remember that it needs to attract your readers too!);

    • include the important terms at the start of the Title Tag, as they seem to carry more “weight” than those at the end;

    • every Title Tag should be distinct and focused – each page and each post is different and so the Title Tag it uses should reflect this.”

    In blogs, the Title Tag is usually generated automatically using the title of the post and the title of the blog. This isn’t necessarily going to best suit your purposes so you may like to consider ways of modifying this – you could alter the template itself or you may find the tools below helpful.

    Tools to help you

    Firstly, a page which I think expands well on the themes that I have mentioned here is Best Practices for Title Tags over at Seomoz and is well worth studying.

    As for tools to help with the actual implementation, if you are using WordPress, then in my opinion, the best option is the SEO Title Tag plugin by Stephan Spencer, who certainly knows what he’s doing when it comes to SEO. This gives you full rein to do what you want with a fully customised Title Tag option, as well as an improved default Title Tag as well.

    For those who have strayed down the Blogger route, then these two articles, Control your Title Tags in Blogger and Changing the Blogger Title Tag seem to cover two options (though I haven’t tried them personally) while Rank better in Google bay adding dynamic title tags to your Typepad blog seems to cover a possible solution for Typepad users.

    Conclusion

    So there you have it – the SEO elite confirm that they believe that the Title Tag is the SEO element that will do most for your Search Engine Ranking. One word of warning though (other than the fact that the Search Engine “goalposts” keep moving, so keep on your toes!) – if the content on your page doesn’t deliver, then the best Title Tag in the world will not help you. So before dedicating hours to creating great Title Tags, I’d always recommend paying just as much attention to the content it describes. :)

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