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Behind The Scenes of Blogging – The Back End

Hands-on experience...
Hands-on experience…

If you can turn on a computer, connect to the Web and write an email, you have enough technical skills to start a blog. However, “having” a blog is a bit like “having” a place to live. You can rent, which is usually less responsibilities but also comes with a few rules, like not painting the walls—or you can become a homeowner, but you will be responsible for all the maintenance and repairs. Similarly, in the blogosphere, you can start a blog worry-free on a platform like Blogger.com or WordPress.com or you can run a self-hosted blog.

After a couple of years with Blogger.com, I chose the self-hosted route. This blog is powered by WordPress with the SmartMag theme that I bought and customized myself. The domain name is registered with Namecheap and the blog is hosted by SiteGround.

So why did I make my life so complicated and why did I choose to spend money on a blog? Why didn’t I stay with a free out-of-the-box solution? First, because at one point I realized that I had been blogging for months and I was enjoying it, so I saw it as a long-term investment. Second, because like most bloggers, I wanted to claim ownership, customize my new toy, add a header, tweak categories, maybe figure out a cool function… and oh shit, a bug!

For the first few years, I spent hours tweaking my blog. Nowadays, I tend to focus on content unless I really want to add a new feature or I need to fix something. This is not a case of “I’m a mother now!” but rather customization fatigue. Blogging changed over the years as well, and many early hacks are now integrated with the platform. I can still edit code but if I can find the right plugin to do the job, I go for the easiest solution.

I have this theory that you can recognize new bloggers because they:

  • Display twenty-thousands widgets
  • Have super busy sidebars
  • Proudly add visitor counters and world maps
  • Use 20 different fonts and colours
  • Switch theme every week

I’m not being condescending, I did exactly the same! But as the blog (hopefully) picks up, you tend to clean up and feed readers what they really want—lovely articles, not widgets that display the world’s time zones (presumably, you know it’s late and you should be in bed by now, right?).

Today, I have two to-do list for Correr Es Mi Destino: routine tasks and the improvement plan.

Routine tasks:

  • Keeping up with plugin updates (a one-click task in WordPress) and major WordPress updates (again, a one-click task, although a hold-your-breath moment because updates can occasionally break everything).
  • Backing up all content and data, usually once a week or before every major update
  • Dealing with spam, i.e. emptying the junk caught by Akismet and fine-tuning parameters (usually, this involves blocking Russian IP addresses…)
  • Keeping up with interesting new plugins and trends by reading tech blogs like Noupe, Mashable or Smashing Magazine.
  • Following up on any hosting issue. These days, I’m having troubles with SiteGround because the service occasionally blocks the website for “high CPU usage”, whatever that means.

Improvement plan for readability and functionality

  • Testing a new font, a better archive system, contact form, etc.
  • Updating the various core pages of the blog in the menu bar (i.e. the “About me“, “About this Blog“, “Life in Canada” etc.) These are permanent resources that seem to be the first stop for many visitors.
  • Analyze data. Or at least, wish I could analyze data.
  • Fine-tune integration with social media, mostly Twitter.

I have always found the WordPress community forum very condescending and not helpful at all. When I have a technical issue, I usually go to DigitalPoint, a very busy forum with discussions related to search engines, including optimization, marketing, tools and other technical aspects. It also has a marketplace where you can hire skilled people, if you need to.

So, what did I learn over the years as a blog manager?

  • My own pet peeves as a blog reader taught me that less is more. What truly matters is the content, the rest is just fluff. There are blogs I gave up on reading because I couldn’t decipher the handwriting font or the centered text.
  • It’s important to have some kind of “about me/about this blog” page. Whenever I stumble upon a new blog, this is the first thing I check—yes, I’m curious, I want to know who the writer is! Understandably, some people value their privacy online, You can reveal as much or as little as you want, but do share what the blog is about.
  • If something is broken, Google the issue. Chances are you aren’t the only one dealing with it.
  • Streamline tedious processes like filtering spam (the Akismet plugin in WordPress), scheduling article (Editorial Calendar plugin), backups or social media integration.
  • Open-source software, like Notepad++ and Filezilla, are very useful.

What technical advice would you give to someone starting a blog or managing one? What did your experience teach you?

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