Monthly Archives: February 2014

Migrating WordPress to a New Web Hosting Company

Migrating WordPress websites to a new web hosting company can be confusing and frustrating. Not only do you have to worry about the thousands of files (including themes, plugins and uploaded images), but then you have to deal with the database.

And if you happen to be moving a site from a local or testing server with a different URL, oh what a freaking nightmare! URLs have to be changed in the database and some of those are serialized, making things that much more complicated.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Migrating WordPress the Easy Way

1. Create the Database on the New Server

The first thing to do is get your account with the new web host all set up. The biggest thing is to create a blank database. Most webhosts have a tool on the control panel that walks you through creating a MySQL database. It may be called MySQL Manager or Database Wizard. Be sure to create an empty database and a user with all privileges. You will need to write down the exact database name (including any automatic prefixes), the database username and the password for that username.

2. Install Backup Buddy on the Existing WordPress Site

Let me say, that this is NOT an advertisement for Backup Buddy. I paid for my license same as anyone else. I am posting about it because it has made migrating a site so easy and stress free. Not to mention, it is a great plugin for running regular backups of your entire WordPress site. Use it, because it works and it can save your bacon.

So if you haven’t already done so, purchase a license for Backup Buddy and install it on your WordPress site as a plugin.

3. Run a Complete Backup with Backup Buddy

With Backup Buddy installed, click on the Backup Buddy menu’s Backup page. You have your choice of running just a database backup or a complete backup (database and files). Run a complete backup. Once the backup is complete, download it to a safe location.

4. Create the importbuddy.php File

Go to the Backup Buddy’s Restore/Migrate page and then click on the “Download importbuddy.php” file button. Save it alongside where you saved the backup file. It will ask you to create a password. Just use something simple and easy to remember.

5. Change the DNS Server Information with your Domain Registrar

Go to the site where you registered your domain name. There should be a place in the settings to change the DNS Server information to the addresses that your new hosting company provided. A DNS Server address usually looks like n1.myhostingcompany.com. Put in all of the addresses provided by your new host. One these changes are saved, your domain registrar should point visitors to the new hosting company, although sometimes it takes a bit of time for these changes to filter through the internet.

6. Upload the Two Files to the New Hosting Server

Now you need to transfer both the zipped (compressed) backup file and the importbuddy.php file to the new server. You can use either FTP (using a free app like Filezilla) or SSH (using your command line tool) to transfer them to new web host. Most web hosts provide the FTP (which stands for File Transfer Protocol) details in their welcome email. If you have questions, contact your new web host.

You will most likely upload the files to a folder called public_html or www. If it has both, use either one.

7. Open up the importbuddy.php Page

In the modern browser of your choice (Firefox, Chrome, Safari), navigate to the importbuddy page. (e.g. www.mydomainname.com/importbuddy.php). From there, Import Buddy will walk you through the process of importing the backup file information and setting up the connection details for your new database.

8. Open up your migrated website.

Once the Import Buddy process is complete, open up your migrated website. If you run into any problems, go to http://ithemes.com/codex/page/BackupBuddy for troubleshooting.

There’s an Even Easier Way, too

Backup Buddy also has a Magic Migration Method that allows you to migrate the site right from the WordPress dashboard. For how to do that, visit http://ithemes.com/codex/page/BackupBuddy:_Magic_Migration.

Need More Help?

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We're also happy to provide assistance directly. Just send an email to dharma@zenpunkwebworks.com.

Six Resources to Improve Your Grammar!

People who visit your website will only do business with you if they feel you are trustworthy and competent. That includes the correct use of grammar in your web copy (text). Poor grammar usage sends the message that you don’t care about the details.

The perception is that if you are careless about your website, you are probably just as careless with the work that you do. People would rather do business with people who care about the quality of their work.

So what do you do if you weren’t the editor of your high school newspaper? Here are six great resources for improving your grammar skills.

1. Grammar Girl

Mignon Fogerty (a.k.a. Grammar Girl) hosts an entertaining audio podcast pointing out the often confusing, even contradictory intricacies of grammar. The episodes are short but extremely helpful.

2. Daily Grammar

Daily Grammar offers a number of resources to help you improve your grammar including a blog, a glossary and a workbook.

3. Chicago Manual of Style

There are many style manuals, but the Chicago Manual of Style is the one most publishers and editors consider the go-to resource. When in doubt, this is the text to consult. Copies of the actual book can be purchased online or in bookstores.

4. Writing Forward

Not only does Writing Forward provide guidance on grammar, but on writing in general. Be sure to check them out.

5. Dr. Grammar

The University of Northern Iowa provides this free resource for their students and the general public. It features a list of writing resources, information on plagiarism and a section on word origins.

6. Grammar Book

Grammarbook.com is the site for the Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by the late Jane Straus. The site also offers a number of resources to help you write correctly.

We hope this list will give you a good start to communicating more clearly and effectively while avoiding embarrassing and costly grammar mistakes.

Need More Help?

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We're also happy to provide assistance directly. Just send an email to dharma@zenpunkwebworks.com.

How Rasterized Text Can Hurt Your Website

Several years ago, web designers often embedded text in graphics (not just logos, but headings and other important elements) so as not to be limited to web-safe fonts. This is often called rasterized text. But there are several problems associated with this approach.

Rasterized Text is Bad for Search Engine Optimization

Google uses webcrawlers to search the content of websites to determine what each site is about. Google does this to rank sites based on their relevance. They rank relevant sites higher than non-relevant sites (based on search terms) because that’s what people are looking for.

Are you looking for websites on classic cars? Then Google searches for sites that provide relevant content on that topic and puts them at the top of the search results.

But if you put part of your content, such as headings, in a graphic format, rather than as searchable text, then Google’s webcrawlers will ignore it and not rank your site as high as similar sites with more searchable content.

Rasterized Text is Bad for Accessibility

For people who are visually impaired (including some who are colorblind), converting text into graphics makes this text unreadable. Yes, you can add alt values to the HTML image tag, which is something we should do for nearly all graphics. But using graphics for text is best avoided.

Readable Text Doesn’t Have to be Boring

We now have a much wider range of fonts to choose from thanks to web fonts. Lots of great, free fonts to choose from.

Also computers have many more fonts these days, so creating a font-family list in your stylesheet that degrades gracefully is easy. A great resource is CSS Font Stack.

Between web fonts and a good font stack, you have greater control over the look of your content, without sacrificing search engine ranking or accessibility.

Need More Help?

If you liked this article, be sure to sign up for your FREE subscription to the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice newsletter where we send helpful articles every Tuesday and Friday. You can either fill out the form on the right side of this page or visit the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice signup page.

We're also happy to provide assistance directly. Just send an email to dharma@zenpunkwebworks.com.

How DNS Helps People Find Your Website

The Domain Name System (aka DNS) is a way for web browsers to find the server (a computer that delivers web content) containing the files for a given website. Each server has an IP (internet protocol) address which is a numeric address like 216.146.46.11.

How DNS Works

Using DNS is a bit like the now outdated 411 information service. With 411, we had someone’s name, but needed their phone number. So we call 411, tell the operator the name of the person we needed the number for. They looked up the name and gave us the number. They could even connect our call directly.

Here’s a simplified version of what happens when you type in a domain name (e.g. mashable.com) into your browsers address field.

1. Your browser looks to see where the domain name was registered (aka the domain name registrar) and goes to their site.

2. The domain registrar keeps a listing of the DNS servers for the web host associated with that domain name. A DNS Server might have an address like n1.bluehost.com.

3. With the DNS server information,  the browser knows where your site is hosted and contacts the hosting company.

4. The hosting company’s DNS server keeps a directory of which web server your website files are on and directs the browser there.

5. The web server gets the request from your browser and delivers the information requested.

6. The browser then displays the information for you.

All of this happens in the blink of an eye, often in a fraction of a second.

Need More Help?

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We're also happy to provide assistance directly. Just send an email to dharma@zenpunkwebworks.com.

Fer Gawd’s Saik, Lern To Spel!

With few exceptions, we all make spelling mistakes. Nevertheless, misspelled words on web pages and blog posts can hurt your website’s ability to generate business.

We All Do It

Let me start by saying that despite having a knack for writing and a bachelor’s degree in journalism, I still misspell words. Also, I sometimes use words which, while spelled correctly, are not the words I should be using.

Homophones, words which sound like other words, often plague my unproofread writing. For example, I will use “there” or “they’re” when I mean “their”. My brain knows the difference, but my fingers sometimes forget. And that’s when using a laptop.

Writing content like tweets and Facebook posts on a smartphone, with its tiny virtual keyboard and predictive auto-correct, makes misspelled words all the more likely.

So What’s the Big Deal?

It is one thing when your friend misspells words on her personal tweets. Her goal isn’t to sell you a product, much less to impress you with her English proficiency.

But when people come to your website or your business’ Facebook page, people have a different standard. When you represent your business, people expect competence in all areas, including spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Using misspelled words can make you look careless. Carelessness translates into untrustworthiness, because who wants to buy products or services from someone who’s careless? If they are giving you their money, they want to be sure you pay attention to all of the details, no excuses.

Steps To Achieve Spelling Perfection (or Close To It)

1. Read a LOT!

English is a mishmash of several root languages, including Greek, Latin, German, and Hebrew. With such diverse origins, spelling rules are very hit and miss. The “i before e” rule has many exceptions like weird, neighbor, their and feisty.

To improve your natural spelling ability, read a lot. The more your read, the more your brain recognizes and memorizes proper spelling.

2. Focus on Your Troublesome Words

We all have words that we struggle to spell correctly. One of my is the word privilege. I want to substitute an ‘e’ for one of the ‘i’s, and it looks like it needs a ‘d’ before the ‘g’. So I have had to take extra time to learn to spell it correctly.

3. Pay attention to Spell-Check, But Don’t Rely On It

The ability for text editors to find misspelled words and misused words has improved greatly over the past couple of decades. But it still isn’t perfect. It can still fail to locate misused words (like homophones) and sometimes marks correct words as wrong. Auto-correct features also sometimes substitute incorrect words for correct ones. Use these features as a guide, but don’t rely on them.

4. Re-read Your Content Before You Post

Before you post your content, whether a tweet or a blog post or even an email, take a moment to proofread it. It only takes a moment, but if it avoids embarrassing mistakes, it’s worth it.

5. Read Your Content Aloud

Our brains have an auto-editor that can ignore mistakes we’ve made because we know what we were trying to say.  But when we say the words out loud, it engages a different part of our brains and makes it less likely to ignore mistakes. It’s just one of those idiosyncrasies of our human brains.

6. Use Text-to-Speech Features

With the increased support for people who are visually impaired, many apps and devices offer text-to-speech features. That means the devices read the text out loud. Sure they sound robotic and pronunciation is sometimes amusingly inaccurate, but I have caught countless errors using text-to-speech.

7. Use Another Pair of Eyes

Having someone else proofread your content is very powerful, because they don’t already know what you meant to say. This is why professional writers hire professional editors. A fresh pair of eyes catches what we don’t.

You might not need to hire a freelance editor to proof your web content, but it’s not a bad idea to ask a friend or family member with a good eye for spelling and grammar to read through your content.

Need More Help?

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We're also happy to provide assistance directly. Just send an email to dharma@zenpunkwebworks.com.

Who Should Host Your Website?

Perhaps more than any other question, I get asked who people should use for hosting their website. I worked on sites hosted on a wide range of hosts–some great and some absolutely horrible. Most were somewhere in between.

Just you case you’re not sure what a web hosting company is, a web host is the company that stores the files and databases associated with your website on a web-accessible computer (called a server).

Having a good host makes keeping your site up and running a breeze. A bad host can cause pages to load slowly and hurt your search engine optimization (SEO).

What We Look For in a Web Hosting Company

1. Up-to-Date Software

We once tried to setup a WordPress website on Web.com. The problem was that their server software (Apache, PHP, MySQL) was so out of date (several years out of date) that it wouldn’t run WordPress. Seriously. We were dumbfounded.

Not only can outdated software cause glitches for your website, it can be a HUGE security risk. One of the biggest reasons software gets routinely updated is to patch security holes. A server that is years out of date is like an open door invitation to hack your website.

Outdated software also speaks to a level of neglect on the part of the hosting company. If they can’t be bothered to update their software routinely, what else are they neglecting?

2. Up Time

If the server hosting your site goes down, no one can visit your site to do business with you.

A good host will have safeguards in place so that if a site goes down, a backup server will automatically get activated. Not all offer this, however.

Most hosts have a pretty good uptime, but we encourage you to search the web to see which hosts have the best uptime. You don’t want to miss a sale just because some a power supply went bad. Also be sure to use a service that monitors your site’s uptime. We use Uptime Robot for ours.

3. Tech Support

What happens when you try to upload files using Filezilla, but it won’t connect? Or you can’t figure out how to change the file permissions on the server?

A good web host has great tech support. You want a company that responds ideally within the hour to help requests and also has a robust, searchable knowledgebase or forum. This can be a life saver!

4. .htaccess

I realize this one’s a bit technical, but a .htaccess file is a configuration file for the Apache server. WordPress uses this for a number of things, including page redirects so you can have pretty permalinks.

One reason we aren’t fans of Yahoo is because they don’t allow you to put a .htaccess file on the site.

5. Bandwidth

Bandwidth is the amount of data you can upload and download in a given time. While most sites don’t use a lot of bandwidth, sites that deal with a lot of media (like podcasts) can run up that bandwidth rather quickly, especially if they get popular.

If you hit your limit, your web host could either shut down the site or demand more money from you. There have been popular podcasts that podfaced for this very reason. Talk about too much of a good thing.

6. Storage

Similar to bandwidth, file and database storage may be something to consider if you deal with a lot of large files like images, audio or video. Over time, the amount of storage you need may increase, which could run up your monthly costs.

7. Email support

I used to think this was a given, but there are some otherwise top-notch web hosts (like WP Engine) that don’t offer email support. Beats me why, but it’s true. So before you signup, make sure your new host offers it, if that’s important to you.

There are other companies that specialize in offering email support, including Google Business Services, but it’s not usually free like personal Gmail is.

8. Site Backup

Years ago, I made a major goof. I was removing some unneeded databases on our hosted account when suddenly I deleted the one database that ran our website. And to pile on the stupid, I didn’t have a backup. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

In a panic, I contacted ICDSoft, who was our host at the time. Thankfully, they run nightly backups. They had our site back up within the hour. Kudos to ICDSoft for saving my bacon on that one.

Also, use a plugin or app to do your own regular backup. We love the Backup Buddy WordPress plugin. It’s a premium plugin (i.e not free), but you can schedule automatic backups of both the files AND the database and send them to your Dropbox, Amazon S3  or email. It also makes migrating a website from one server to another a breeze.

Our Favs and Not-So-Favs

So who do we love? Some of our favorites include ICDSoft.com, WP Engine (despite their lack of email support) and A Small Orange. Some of the least favorite include Web.com, Yahoo and GoDaddy. This is just our opinion. Your mileage may vary.

Final Thoughts

You may have noticed that the one thing we didn’t mention in our list was price. Most of our clients are fine with shared hosting (multiple sites hosted on the same server). Prices range from $4/mo – $30/mo and you pretty much get what you pay for. So price really isn’t that big of a deal.

There are some other things we like to see in web hosts. Among these are Shell access (aka SSH Access), Git support, easy installs, etc. But the list above are the crucial things.

There are two things we would caution you against. Don’t host your site with the same company you registered your domain name with. If you discover their hosting sucks, you could be stuck there for a while.

Also, don’t try to host your own site. If you lose power for hours at a time (because a clinically depressed squirrel dove into the power transformer by your home or office), your site will be down, losing money. Good hosts have power backups as well as backup servers.

Need More Help?

If you liked this article, be sure to sign up for your FREE subscription to the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice newsletter where we send helpful articles every Tuesday and Friday. You can either fill out the form on the right side of this page or visit the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice signup page.

We're also happy to provide assistance directly. Just send an email to dharma@zenpunkwebworks.com.

Justify Your Actions But Not Your Web Content

You may have grown up reading a newspaper that used fully justified alignment on its pages. What that means is that each column of text was perfectly aligned on both the right and left side. Kind of like the following:

This is random text from http://saganipsum.com. Muse about extraplanetary, star stuff harvesting star light shores of the cosmic ocean Sea of Tranquility extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence rings of Uranus take root and flourish white dwarf Sea of Tranquility Apollonius of Perga.

Now you may be wondering how this is accomplished. Is it magic? Did I someone choose exactly the right words in order for both sides to align? No, the computer just makes tiny adjustments between letters and words to create the fully justified effect.

Back before the days of computers, typesetters would have to do this manually with thin pieces of lead between the type. Very tedious. And if the column is wide enough, it can look pretty snazzy. After all, aligned text is easier for the eye to read. Visitors like that.

And Then Came Mobile

However, you may have seen some fully justified columns that were so narrow that the justification process left ugly gaps between words or letters. Not so snazzy, huh?

More fabulous filler text from http://saganipsum.com. The only home we’ve ever known Cambrian explosion corpus callosum inconspicuous motes of rock and gas, shores of the cosmic ocean hydrogen atoms great turbulent clouds, stirred by starlight, Rig Veda!

Now you may be thinking, hey, it’s cool. I have nice wide columns. But what about when people view your site on a smartphone. What happens to your fully justified text then. It turns fugly!

Left or Right, But Not Both

So when it comes to aligning your web content, choose either left-aligned (sometimes called ragged right) or right-aligned (you guessed it, also called ragged left). Don’t fully justify your text. Avoid those unsightly gaps. Speaking of unsightly gaps, I should really stop wearing button down shirts.

And if you’re thinking about centered text, well, I’ll talk about that on another post.

Need More Help?

If you liked this article, be sure to sign up for your FREE subscription to the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice newsletter where we send helpful articles every Tuesday and Friday. You can either fill out the form on the right side of this page or visit the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice signup page.

We're also happy to provide assistance directly. Just send an email to dharma@zenpunkwebworks.com.

Proximity in Web Design

Proximity is the state of being close to something else. In graphic design and web design, proximity conveys how various objects (headings, form inputs, text, buttons, etc.) are related.

Not All Objects Are Equal

When all the objects on a web page are the same distance apart, it can be difficult to figure out what goes with what. You might think that a uniform distance is ideal, but it’s the visual equivalent of someone speaking in a monotone. Proximity creates a context for relationships.

On a well-designed page, objects that are closer together visually are more closely related than those that are further apart.

A classic mistake I’ve seen is where a heading or subheading is closer to the preceding paragraph than the one following, to which it should be associated. Here is an example:

A Heading

This is a block of random text from saganipsum.com. Consciousness emerged into consciousness gathered by gravity preserve and cherish that pale blue dot vastness is bearable only through love Tunguska event a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena, science, ship of the imagination, cosmic fugue a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena Euclid colonies gathered by gravity.

Another Heading

More random text. Take root and flourish, dream of the mind’s eye, Cambrian explosion Flatland Rig Veda the carbon in our apple pies from which we spring, worldlets brain is the seed of intelligence colonies descended from astronomers how far away made in the interiors of collapsing stars.

This can easily be fixed modifying the padding or margins of the objects in the CSS stylesheet.

Proximity Helps Visitors Find What They Need

Because of the overwhelming amout of information we encounter each day, people tend to skim rather than read, until something important catches their eyes. To make it easier for visitors to find the information they are looking for, always group related objects together. If you need help understanding padding and margins, visit the Box Model page on the W3 Schools site.

Need More Help?

If you liked this article, be sure to sign up for your FREE subscription to the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice newsletter where we send helpful articles every Tuesday and Friday. You can either fill out the form on the right side of this page or visit the Nickel's Worth of Free Advice signup page.

We're also happy to provide assistance directly. Just send an email to dharma@zenpunkwebworks.com.