Since launching my blog a few months ago, I’ve had to fend for myself because my blog is self-hosted. I thought it would be useful to share some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way. I have spent many hours beyond midnight fixing and tuning things on my blog and trying to figure out how things work. I thought I’d put together a post of the knowledge I’ve gained along the way in hopes my dear blogging colleagues will benefit from it. Maybe this will save some hours of time and frustration if problems arise. This is not a comprehensive list of settings and things I’ve discovered but I think these are the top 8 tips I could provide to you.
Understanding WordPress.com and WordPress.org – What’s the Difference?
Before I jump in and provide the WordPress tips I’d like to share, I think it’s important that you understand the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. When you set up an account and blog on WordPress.com, you select a template and create a blog and everything is taken care of for you. It’s a matter of minutes and your blog is up and running. Your photos, posts, and WordPress program are actually residing on a server managed by WordPress people and you don’t pay to keep your content on that server. However, there are limitations on how much space you can use, whether or not ads get displayed on your site, etc. Wordpress manages and controls the environment for you. They keep it optimized, back up your data, provide you with support and some plug-ins for your site. This is referred to as WordPress.com but you sacrifice control of your content. It’s the easiest way to set up and manage a blog. Most blogs I see on WordPress are hosted with WordPress.com. Simple enough concept, right?
Next we have WordPress.org. This is still a WordPress site but it’s not co-mingled with the WordPress.com sites. The WordPress software is installed on a web server selected by the blog owner. That may with GoDaddy, Blue Host, or any other service provider the owner has chosen. This also comes with a cost. When you self-host your blog, you pay the service provider for the space and services you use.
You are probably wondering, why would anyone want to self-host their blog when you can have it on WordPress.com for free? Well there are a lot of advantages and flexibility when doing this. The website and all the associated files and content are completely within your control. However, you have to have some technical expertise because there is no one stop shop for support and you aren’t in a controlled environment managed by WordPress personnel. On WordPress.org, you can use a template for your blog from any company you choose. This means you have many more options to customize everything from front page design, colors, etc that may not be available in the WordPress.com templates. You can even customize the templates if you know how to write program code. You have complete control over everything so you can customize any aspect of your site. By default, there is typically more flexibility in the advanced templates available for .org and there are thousands of plug-ins available. The user has the freedom to do anything they want. For a more in depth read on the differences, check out this article designed to help users figure out what environment is best for them.
Allright, now that you know there is a difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, these tips I share with you should make more sense. By the way, my site is self-hosted and that’s why it looks different than some of yours. It also behaves differently when you go to follow the site and perform other actions. For example, you can’t comment on my site from the WordPress reader. That’s because I’m self-hosted.
1. Understanding the Limitations of Reblogging
Reblogging is where you quickly grab content from someone’s site and publish it on your own. This only works on sites that are on WordPress.com. A WordPress.org user (such as me) or someone using a different platform such as Blogger.com cannot reblog your posts. When you run a contest and ask users to reblog, not all users can perform that function. We may have the button but the reblogged post go will not appear on our self-hosted website. It’s a good idea to offer an alternative for people who are self-hosted or your followers on another blogging platform (or not platform at all – you may have followers who are not bloggers and hopefully you have given them a way to subscribe to your blog). Keep in mind, the search engines may also see reblogged posts as duplicate posts and this can affect your rankings and make it harder for people to find your post when Googling content. I don’t know how Google handles this today, and algorithms change constantly, but it’s possible the reblogging causes search engines to frown on your sites.
2. Wordpress.com Reader Basics
The reader which is a aggregate feed of blogs is really designed for the WordPress.com blogs. When you review posts in your reader, you will see all the posts for blogs you follow. You can review posts by a tag such as “Makeup”, “MAC”, or “NARS” and in that case, you will see posts that are tagged with those key words that you may or may not be following. This works the same for anyone who registers on WordPress.com and uses the reader. Personally, I search by tags and I use lists which I will discuss further down. If I want to see all the posts on “Jimmy Choo”, I will enter that as a tag and I will see posts in the reader filtered with a category or tag of Jimmy Choo. I can subscribe to those I’m not subscribed to and others may appear in the feed that I’m already following.
On the left hand side of your WordPress reader, you should see these options. You can see below that I have a tag I use called “Beauty”. While the screen capture cuts it off, I also have about 20 other tags. Everything from “Apple PC” to “Christian Dior”. That’s how I filter the millions of the WordPress blogs to find content I want to read and maybe subscribe to.
3. Properly Sending Link Back Love
Everyone likes to receive link backs because it increases your ratings with the search engines. However, if you create a link to my website, http://www.abeautifulwhim.com, that doesn’t create a true link back. If you create a link to an actual post such as http://www.abeautifulwhim.com/cruelty-free-makeup-brands-may-not-actually-be-cruelty-free/beauty/ then the owner of the blog gets credit for a link back. If you clicked on that link, it would take you to my article about cruelty free makeup. I just created an internal link within my site as well which is something Google looks for as well. (I don’t know why – the whole Google thing is a complex animal but just know link backs and internal linking matter). A lot of bloggers will post a link in a comment to their own site (this usually offers no Google value. It just offers some exposure for people who may see the comment and link. Sometimes spam monitors in WordPress will put this into a spam folder. I run Askimet which is a spam filter for self-hosted blogs and anyone who includes a link lands in my spam folder. I usually find it a couple of days later and pull it out and publish the comment. In addition, most blogs are set to tell the search engines not to follow links in comments. So, it’s a waste of time if the the purpose for placing the link is to attempt to create a link back to your site. If it’s just to share, then yes, people will see it.
4. Subscribing To Your Colleagues Blogs That Are Not On WordPress.com
If a site is self-hosted or on another blogger platform (custom website, blogger.com, tumblr.com), you will not see the WordPress “follow me” button on the site. This button is only available for WordPress.com sites. It’s a good idea for self hosted sites to have another way for users to subscribe. If you go to mine, you’ll see I have an email subscription plug-in for users to subscribe. I also have Bloglovin. There is also an RSS feed but most people don’t understand how to use those anyhow (I barely understand them). I wish I could explain why some WordPress.com users will see the WordPress toolbar for self-hosted sites, like mine, where others do not. No one can explain this to me and believe me, I’ve tried my hosting company, my template provider, WordPress.com (who really doesn’t support me since I’m self-hosted) and no one knows the answer. I suspect it is a setting but you’d have to contact WordPress.com support and get a real guru to get the answer.
If you want to subscribe to a self-hosted site, you need to follow from the WordPress toolbar (if you see it and this is random) or enter your email address in the subscription box (if they offer one like I do). You can also register as a WordPress user on the person’s site and that will make you a subscriber which is the same as following the blog on WordPress. Bloglovin subscriptions are great but they don’t count as WordPress subscribers (Just an FYI if the numbers matter to you). Bloglovin is just another RSS reader that aggregates content for people. You can show your Bloglovin subscriber counts with their widgets. Just remember, those do not count anywhere as subscribers to your WordPress blog. I know it’s starting to get fuzzy now, right?
5. Use The WordPress Reader Efficiently
You are probably subscribed to more blogs that you can actually read and have favorites you want to review on a regular basis. The easiest way to do this is to organize blogs into lists within your reader. Did you realize you could do that? You can have your favorites list, a fashion list, a recipe blog list, etc. What’s nice about the list is… for those self-hosted sites that you follow or sites on blogger.com and other platforms, you can enter their URL into your list and the blog posts will appear in your WordPress reader. You may need to the enter the URL as www.website.com or http://website.com. Try both ways if one or the other doesn’t work. Once the site is added, if posts are missing, it’s because they have a problematic RSS feed. If that’s the case, just move on! You can tell them the RSS feed is not working but there’s nothing you can do to fix their feed. Here’s an example of a list and how I add a site to the list that is not a WordPress site (this is actually a custom website I’m adding to the reader that is not even associated with WordPress).
In most cases, blogging platforms take care of creating the RSS feed and if you copy the blog URL to your list, the posts will magically appear in your feed. Even a custom website like Temptalia or PrettyShinySparkly will have an RSS feed. You can copy their URL into your list like I did above and the posts will appear in my reader. But again, you are not giving that person the benefit of a follow when you do that. You would need to subscribe to the blog, mailing list, or whatever the person offers to allow you to follow. If you just add the URL to your reader, it’s as if you are just a silent by-passer. It’s possible the RSS feed will register that it’s being picked up but let’s that’s an entirely different post. It’s nice for bloggers to have their readers actually subscribed. After you subscribe, add the blog to your reader and then you don’t have to have tons of emails to let you know a new post came out. Once you start using lists, you will positively love them. It will save you from hunting down the blogs you want to see each time you log in.
6. Liking and Commenting on Posts from the WordPress Reader
This is convenient and an option only for WordPress.com sites. However, if you want your colleague to receive a page hit so their visitor stats are better, take the time to go to the site to make your comment and like the post. When you do it from the reader, your fellow blogger doesn’t receive the same benefits as when you visit their website. Plus, if you are going to comment, why would you do that without reviewing the post? It’s like saying “I saw your post in my feed but I didn’t read it but I just wanted to click “like” or make an irrelevant comment so you know I saw it. However, I really didn’t care about what you had to say.” Um, OK, gee thanks! What is the point? That’s the really the message being sent so it’s nicer to do your colleagues a favor and visit their site if you are going to comment or like the post or just pass on it until they post something relevant to you. If you just click through and like every post, you really dilute the quality of your feedback and it’s not going to earn you additional followers.
7. Know The Limitations of WordPress
Are you wondering why you have a post that is not appearing in the WordPress reader? Well, keep in mind, WordPress has some limitations. Your combined number of Tags and Categories chosen for your post must not exceed 15. If they do, your post will be suppressed from appearing in the reader. This is to avoid spammy posts. Although, I don’t know about you but I want to scream every time I see the Halloween makeup, free samples, and permanent makeup spam posts. Those are the most obnoxious things ever. Each time I see them, I block them, and every night the gremlins out there make a new WordPress account and post their stupid spam again with the same image. Sorry for that tangent but it drives me crazy. Anyhow, keep the tag and category limitations in mind because if your post is suppressed from the reader, your colleagues won’t see it. If you go and fix the tags and reduce them to 15 or less, the post won’t reappear. You can try to republish (not update, but republish) the post might reappear but my experience is that it doesn’t. You just need to be mindful of the tags and categories you use going forward.
8. Use The Read More Tag
This was another hard lesson I learned. Why were my images not showing up on Bloglovin? Why was I getting less page hits? Well, several reasons. I wasn’t getting the page hits because ] instead of publishing an excerpt, I was publishing the full post and people who received emails could read everything there and not come to my blog. When I switched to publish just excerpts, Bloglovin didn’t display my images. That’s because my featured image didn’t appear in my RSS feed. RSS feed? Oh, an issue with that and I’m running for the hills. I was pulling my hair out dealing with this stuff. So, what I found was using the “more” tag solved all those issues. It’s like inserting a page break. It’s the little button that looks like a road in the photo below. Anything below that line the user must click on read more and they will be directed to your blog. Any photos above the more tag, will be displayed on Bloglovin or in email or on your site. This is also something seasoned bloggers will appreciate your for since they won’t have to scroll through an entire post while on your blog to get to the next one.
These are some of the painful discoveries I’ve learned in the first few months of blogging and dealing with being self hosted on WordPress.org. I love being on .org because I love my theme but I have spent countless hours figuring things out due to the complexity of self hosting as well the complexity introduced with the thousands of plug-ins available (which can easily break all sort of things on a blog). Oh, I should tell you that if you ever go to self-hosted, never choose HostGator as your web hosting service. I’m in the process of getting off them and it’s a nightmare and they can never help me. I hope these tips have helped you with something blogging related! I’m no expert by any means but I have discovered these things and I thought I would share to make it easier for anyone else out there!
Love of Love,