A Comparison of CMS Platforms

When it comes to CMS platforms, there are three that stand out as the most popular of the field: WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. All of the systems boast fast and intuitive services as well as being open sourced. As much of a benefit as this is, it does make the decision making process more difficult. The initial choice is very important, as most people do not switch between platforms and tend to stay with their first choice. To make your decision easier, we have compiled an overview of each platform.

WordPress is one of the best options for newcomers to the field, made obvious in the fact that it is far and away the most popular, with over 140 million downloads. It excels in sites and blogs that range from small to medium sized. Manual installation time runs about 5 minutes and the entire time it takes to set up a blog or website can be under an hour. WordPress offers over 2,000 free themes and 27,000 free plugins, allowing a large array of professional-looking options. Another advantage is the extensive community support that springs from the millions of users.

Cons: WordPress is designed more to support small and medium sized sites, so the larger your site gets, the more server resources are required. Also the framework can difficult to manipulate.

Overall: If you are a newcomer with limited technical knowledge, this platform will be ideal for your needs.

Joomla requires slightly more technical knowledge particularly in coding, but is excellent for e-commerce or social networking websites. It offers excellent native support for online stores and is relatively simple to set up. It is a nice middle ground between the more basic WordPress and more technically complex Drupal. Manual installation takes around 10 minutes to complete. With about 30 million downloads, it also offers 900 free themes and 7,000 free plugins.

Cons: Joomla is free, but does not offer a free hosting server such as with WordPress.

Overall: If WordPress is too basic for you, but you are not ready to tackle Drupal yet, Joomla will be your top option.

Drupal may be the most complicated to work with, but also the most flexible, with even the root files editable.  It boasts the most powerful CMS. It does stand at the lowest downloads with just over 15 million, which may simply be a reflection of the technical knowledge of the typical users, as the platform is the most technically advanced. Performance is topnotch with swift response and page loading time. Naturally this may vary as plugins are added. Manual installation takes around 10 minutes to complete. It offers over 1,800 free themes and 24,000 free plugins.

Cons: While the software is free, Drupal does not offer hosting on their servers, requiring you to purchase your own web hosting and domain name. Finding support also can be difficult, as the system requires some in-depth knowledge.

Overall: If you have a basic knowledge of coding/programing languages and are looking for ultimate flexibility, this platform will be a perfect fit.

WordPress Plugin CCTM Compromised

A WordPress plugin called Custom Content Type Manager has been revealed to contain a backdoor which its owner was using to access core files and steal user credentials. The plugin has been installed on over 10,000 sites in the three years it has been available, offering services for creating custom post types.

However, in the past month the plugin abruptly changed owner and released a new version, after having had no updates for the previous ten months. This new version was riddled with problematic changes, including the auto-update.php file which could download files from the server on the infiltrated website and CCTM_Communicator.php file which alerted the owner’s server when a new site became compromised.

The plugin gathered information on the infected site, recorded encrypted usernames and passwords, and sent the data to the core server, giving the owner full access as administrator to any of the infiltrated websites.

Those who have downloaded this plugin are advised to remove it immediately, downgrade core files to the standard version, and either get rid of the CCTM plugin or use the last confirmed stable version (0.9.8.6). Even if you have installed the plugin at some point but never updated it, you may have been automatically updated to this malicious version.

Popular WordPress Plugins

Choosing a theme and plugins for your WordPress blog can be the fun part of setting up your site, but it can also be overwhelming with thousands of possible plugins available and new ones being developed every day. Here are some of the most popular and useful plugins we have found:

Yoast SEO works as a built-in editor to encourage and promote the best writing. It walks you through techniques for readable and consistent content by having you choose a focus keyword for each article as you write it and then making sure you continue to use the keyword throughout your writing. It goes on to show you examples of what your post will look like in search results, giving you an edge on competition to increase rankings. The Page Analysis plugin works as a final copy editor to check that your posts are the optimal length, if your images contain an alt tag with the focus keyword, and if the meta description also contains that keyword. All in all, this plugin optimizes your content for search engines.

wordpress-logo-simplified-rgbFor improving your webpage’s performance and speed, Zen Cache is designed to reduce download time, optimize progressive rendering, reduce the loading time for pages, and more. Search engine rankings will improve with the speed of your site.

BackupBuddy is a secure and complete option for complete reassurance that in case of a catastrophe you will not lose anything from your database, media library, theme files, and so on.  Automated backups are easy to set up and will be quick to restore in the case of emergency.

A great plugin for easily adding nearly any type of online forms, from contact forms to surveys and user submitted posts, is Gravity Forms. It is very popular, in use on over one million WordPress sites.

Ultimate Branding promotes your logo, company name, and so forth across your network in place of any WordPress branding. It makes your site feel more unified and consistent. The best part is that this plugin does all the fussy work for you, so you won’t have to worry about writing a single code.

A helpful plugin for reducing spam is Akismet, which automatically catches comments that look like spam and allows you to review the filtered comments.

Envira Gallery is an aesthetically clean and pleasing plugin to create beautiful image galleries. If your site is photography related or tends to be picture heavy, this plugin simplifies the business with responsive design, fast loading, and stunning effects. It even offers a helpful free version, so you can try out some of the features right away.

Sucuri provides malware protection by blocking attacks, identifying spam, and preventing intrusions. It gives you real time alerts to keep you updated with any causes for concern. When it comes to website security, it is always better to be safer than sorry.

Another excellent way of tightening security on your site is Login Lockdown. This plugin limits the amount of failed attempts a user receives. This is helpful for deterring hack attempts, as most are focused on breaking your password by entering multiple combinations.

Using Design to Promote Readability

An important aspect of running a blog or a text-heavy website is readability. This is the concept of keeping a reader interested with an understandable flow of progression and alleviated strain on the eyes.    

To start off with, avoid large blocks of text.  These are intimidating and also difficult to read as it is easy to lose your place.  Separate your text out into multiple paragraphs.  This will help ease the intimidation factor of a wall of text as well as provide natural breaks for different topics.  Adding in pictures or graphics (with a buffer border to keep the text from crowding around it) or breaking items into bulleted lists will also provide some white space and metaphorical “breathing room” for the eyes.

An easy way to point out the proper path of vision is changing font size.  A step beyond this, text hierarchy, uses several sizes to differentiate between titles, headers of sections, and the body.  This keeps the text organized and clear.

Bolding or italicizing for emphasis can be a tasteful addition, as long as it is used sparsely and specifically.  Inserting bolded or italicized words creates an invisible category in the reader’s mind, so be sure to keep it consistent.  In other words, if you have been bolding terms that you then define, avoid bolding, for instance, a warning or exclamation, as it will feel out of place to the reader and be distracting.

Emphasizing with all capitalized letters is usually a bad idea.  While it certainly draws attention, it can make the word hard to read and can slow down the reader’s train of thought.  In short titles, all caps can be acceptable.

A fun way to add character and style to your text is through changing the fonts so that, for example, the title is more unique and striking than the body text.  The best way to make sure this is complementary and not distracting is to keep all of the fonts within the same font family.  If your body text uses a sans-serif font (as is typical on the web), look for a title or header font that is also sans-serif.  This is an easy trick for finding fonts that look excellent together.

Your line-length or measure ideally should be between 65 and 75 characters.  Any longer will make it difficult for the reader’s eyes to find the continuation of the sentence from line to line.

Be aware of your audience.  If you need to use a word they might not be familiar with, provide a definition in a non-demeaning way.  A simple rephrasing of the word within parentheses immediately after its use is a safe way to make sure you and your readers are on the same page.

Kerning is the space between specific characters in a sequence.  Letters like “A” “V” and “W” fit well with most other letters, but put alongside each other can be too wide, creating an awkward space in the middle of a word.  This is where kerning comes in.  Most design programs have the ability to adjust pairs one at a time, affecting only the highlighted text.  Before you begin, make sure kerning is turned on in your program’s type preference menu.

Optimize WordPress Performance

Whether you are running a WordPress blog for high-traffic business purposes or with a more low-key personal focus, you will want to optimize your performance for smooth and efficient running.

A universal quick fix option is to install a plugin such as W3 Total CacheWP Super Cache or our personal favorite, Zen Cache to store your blog posts and pages in a static format to be presented to users. This greatly decreases strain on the server’s processing load.

For shared hosting, your options are slightly limited, but it is still very possible to speed up your site! After caching plugins, look into browser caching. This will decrease the amount of requests per page by storing the unchanging files on the user’s computer, allowing the browser to check if the files have changed rather than automatically requesting them.

wordpress-logo-simplified-rgbIf you run a site with very high traffic, web server caching is more complicated but promises results.  It offers a wide range of options. On a basic level, it can cache locally in the background while other more complicated systems use multiple caching servers up front where WordPress is actually running.

Plugins can slow down your performance considerably if you have a large amount or unnecessary plugins. Before you start deleting though, try deactivating each one separately for a time to see the effect on your site’s speed. From there you can discern which plugins to deactivate and delete.

Optimize your theme by looking for unnecessary images or ones you could replace with text. Having the incorrect format for the type of image can also slow your site down. Check that all image files are optimized with the correct form (JPG/PNG/GIF). Reduce the number of files by merging all CSS files together. A plugin to help minify and condense files is Head Cleaner.

Offload static files and images (JavaScript or CSS files for example) to a different server. Feeds also are simple to offload.  Google FeedBurner, for example, is a service that takes care of the traffic for you, while still keeping up with feed updates.

Look into free hosting services, particularly for images.  Flickr and Imgur are both popular options.  The only downside to consider is that corporate networks often block picture hosting websites.  Additionally watch out for the copyright rules in the service’s disclaimer, as you might not want to share your rights to original pictures.

For virtual hosting and dedicated servers, check back later for a post dedicated to optimizing WordPress performance on those specific servers.

Securing your WordPress site, Part 1

Blogs have been an increasingly popular way of distributing information since their inception in the 90’s. They provide many benefits for promoting information, updates, and multimedia sources. Naturally if you are looking to begin promoting your business, services, or your thoughts via a blog, you are going to want a secure, trusted method.

WordPress has been growing rampantly over the last couple years as a blogging platform. According to Google Trends, interest in WordPress from 2011 to present has been consistently twice that of other blogging sites. Its layout is understandable and has many options for customizing and personalizing. Clearly it is a trusted and effective platform to blog from.

While WordPress comes with security methods, there are steps you can take to improve the security of your blog and protect it from attacks. Most hackers are not willing to spend much time or effort in breaking into your site. They are looking to compromise your server and use it to email spam. An attack is most effectively deterred by making your site more than averagely inconvenient to the hacker.

wordpress-logo-simplified-rgbFor starters, avoid using “admin” as a username or part of your username. Most attacks target the username admin with a combination of passwords. Eliminate the first part and you will be protected from the majority of attacks. If you already have that username in use, changing this is fast and easy. Simply create a new user and give it administrator rights. Then delete the old “admin” user and assign past content to this new user so that nothing will be lost in the transition.

You have probably heard this hundreds of times, but it is worth hearing again: use a complex password. Consider this: the three most common passwords of 2015 are “123456,” “password,” and “12345.” Be ahead of the curve and pick a password that is not on SplashData’s annual list of stolen passwords!

Change the table prefix from wp_ to something obscure like nho509b_ to make it less accessible to hackers and harder to guess. This might sound complicated to the less tech-savvy, but it can be as easy as a five minute fix. If you are just now setting up your blog, the customization option will be available during the set-up for database details. Simply change the default setting.

Keep up with updates. WordPress is constantly striving to provide a better blogging platform for your needs. Each new version has updated security methods to address holes found in previous editions. Updated versions are released biannually, with more minor updates released following the two major versions.

These steps are a good place to begin, but for the best security, you will want a quality hosting company. Nearly half of hacking attempts are due to faulty hosting platforms. If you are using a shared hosting platform, make sure it offers account isolation. This extra layer of protection prevents one account from overloading the server and affecting your website.

We will soon be posting a more advanced article outlining addition steps you can take to secure your WordPress site, so stay tuned!

Blogging In a Nutshell – Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this Blogging in a Nutshell series, we talked about types of content to create, when to post and how to start driving traffic to your content. While self-promotion of your content is perfectly acceptable, users are skeptical of someone promoting their own content. You have done a ton of work up until now to create, schedule and syndicate your content, isn’t it time the users started to promote your content too?

Fostering Discussion

The easiest part of blogging is creating content: you are the expert in your field, you are the mastermind behind your company’s products and services, all you have to do is write about what you already know. A more difficult task is driving traffic to your website, gaining popularity without your blog having an established reputation. The most difficult task is providing enough foundation for your users to start a discussion among themselves about your content.

Many journalists start out writing  or blogging wanting to change the world, tell a story, broadcast their ideas or opinions to a massive audience, or demonstrate something that they personally deem worthy. Many editors and publishers are focused on driving revenue from their magazine or blog. Getting users to return to your website to read or browse your content is the third major challenge in maintaining a blog. What was once a proximity-based discussion around newspapers and magazine articles can now happen between a greater sized audience without the discussion being limited people’s physical location. However, there must be a balance between making a point, driving revenue and fostering discussion.

Your content is your point: talk about your products and services, their benefit to your customers, their potential benefit to your prospects, how industry-related technology or government-sponsored legislature supports or challenges your company.

Your revenue is from your website and in generating leads: readers of your content may be presented with ads once they arrive on your website, opportunities to be sold on products or services presented by you or affiliates, viewers of your blog can be considered warm leads, readers of your blog can be considered hot leads, some viewers may even contact you directly – as a content owner or company representative – to learn more information about your company.

Your discussion can be brought on by many things: your content drives readers to think critically about something, your content provokes readers into a reaction (positive or negative), your content is shared on an individual level from your blog to a reader’s network (social, email or otherwise), the more interesting or provocative something is the more readers you’ll get to participate.

It is acceptable for users to have negative reaction to your content provided they participate in discussion explaining why. Typically a negative review of a product or service gets around to other people faster than a positive review. If readers are presented with an opportunity to express their reaction, talk through it and discuss their point of view with other readers, your discussion – albeit initially negative – has been accomplished. Remember, (however) that every second is a deadline: what is important content now, is important now, not a week from now. A user has the ability to dismiss your content without any consequence to them, find an alternate source or blog to read about – at which time your point, revenue and discussion are lost to that user. If your goal is fostering discussion or provoking reactions, timely quality content is a good means to start discussion.

If you missed previous parts, you can always go back to Part 1 and Part 2.

Blogging In a Nutshell – Part 2

Last article we explored different types of content to create and how to schedule when blog posts go out. If you missed our little introduction, jump back a few days to learn about forming original content for your blog.

Driving Traffic

In business you know that if you have a good product you can create a brand, business, store front – the whole nine – around your product. Buzz is created by your store’s physical location and buzz around your product by word of mouth from passer-byes or customers. It is far more difficult to attain reputation or recognition by passer-byes without a physical location. An example of a passer-by on the internet would be someone who uses a search engine and finds upon your blog – even if by mistake -they read some of your content and have an opinion about it. Whether they share their opinion on your blog, another means online (sharing on social networks) or discuss it offline, all methods create some level of attention around your content.

Similar to traditional media: distribution or syndication is the top communication channel to generate traffic to your blog. There are several ways to go about attaining syndication or distribution. First and foremost, know that Associated Press is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, content provider in the world. (They are a non-profit co-op and depending on the size of your organization and network, they will require a fee to add your content to their regular postings and provide you with access to their content and photos.) While not a requirement to be syndicated by AP, if your content is relevant for them, it won’t hurt your chances of driving traffic.

The simplest ways to distribute your content are easy, cost effective and steps you should take any way to help build your brand (even if you do not write a blog). First, create a dynamic sitemap; most blogging platforms will do this for you. WordPress, for example, has a series of plug-ins available to automatically (and dynamically) publish a sitemap that can be consumed by Google (and other major search providers). Next, claim your blog on syndication sites like Technorati and Google Blog Search, it’s simple to set up an account and both services will pull your posts daily (or by an interval you can set) so your newest content will always be syndicated. Lastly, any social networks (anywhere) that exist to support your company, blog, content or articles approach them about referencing your material, or post quality comments to their content linking back to your material. While link exchanging is seen as a careless method to generate search engine optimization value, having related content will help readers genuinely interested in a topic to find your blog.

Blogging In a Nutshell – Part 1

There are two primary objectives for blog articles: make a point and encourage discussion among readers. For business, there is a third overarching objective: self-promotion. The key to any blog you probably already know: original solid content. With original content your blog will draw an audience; that audience will revisit your blog which will foster discussion around your content. Over the next few days we will briefly discuss in detail how to form original content, followed briefly by means to drive traffic and finally how to foster discussion around your blog articles.

As you are already aware the key to blogging is having original content, good content that your target audience will want to read. Users are able to find the information they want and able to dismiss irrelevant content faster; users bore easier: with tons of resources at their disposal, users will spend 30 to 60 seconds skimming through headlines and initial paragraphs before abandoning your site. For example, at this point in the article, if the content you were looking for is not outlined or easy to find, attention spans are lost. The challenge is in creating and frequently providing content that will keep the attention of your audience. The solution is in planning. There are three types of articles your blog content should be focused on: multi-part series, weekly industry-relevant single posts and ad hoc one-off content.

Forming Original Content

A multi-part series, much like this one, will involve a tutorial, how-to or extended analysis of a technique, software or event. The series should actually be written all at once and broken into smaller consumable pieces after the initial composition. Most blogging software allows users to post-date their articles, which lends itself to a multi-part series very well. The content is already completed and by staggering out the launch dates, what was one longer article is now 5 articles and consumed as regular content for readers.

Each week, post something about what’s going on in your universe or in your industry, something your readers will relate to and already be reading about elsewhere. Weekly industry-relevant single posts are simply reviews, recaps, predictions or brief analysis of a current event or software launch pertinent to your audience. These types of posts are not time-sensitive. For instance a piece of industry news, such as software launch from Google, can be posted a day or two after the actual event takes place. In this example, the author should appropriately evaluate the software, any supporting information from Google’s regular media channels and if possible other bloggers’ reactions to the release of said software; these steps to establish content will allow a higher likelihood of generating solid content. Try to avoid just posting a link with one or two lines of your opinion. For these weekly-posts, try to put some more thought and opinion into your content.

Ad hoc posts should focus on at least one of two things: an account of “here and now” events or brief snippets of information sharing. Micro-blogging, while a concept not covered in detail here, is the act of sharing a link or references to another piece of information – more notably seen and experienced through the deployment of Twitter. Ad hoc posts are similar to micro-blogging: there is an event, an article or some piece of content not featured (or perhaps relevant) to your regular content; talk about it, feature it along with up to five sentences of your own opinion/insight/content. For example, if your blog is about web-based software and you want to feature an announcement about Microsoft’s Sync system, while not directly relevant to your usual topic of discussion an appropriate ad hoc post would: (1) link to the announcement with (2) a few short sentences about why the article is interesting to your audience.

The first key thing to remember is that you are creating solid original content. Your content will entice viewership and greater viewership means more opportunity for discussion. The second key point is having a variety of content. By having three types of posts – regular, one-off and right-now – the content provided to users varies in format enough to be interesting. All three types are essential: regular content users to depend on and expect large-scale content in digestible segments; weekly content allows users to count on and expect relevant regular content; ad hoc posts are the backbone for fresh content in their frequency and tangential relevance.

Scheduling Blog Content

The final challenge when focused on writing a blog is scheduling: when do you write content and when do you post content? Many blogging platforms have the advantage of being able to set the date and time for content to post (similar to full-blown newswires). This works to post content at a previous date and time as well as scheduling when a post will go live in the future. (Briefly: the only reason I would justify launching content at a previous date is to establish credibility during the initial launch of a blog – allowing for simulated longevity of content upon the blog’s launch; however this would demand future posts link and reference the pre-dated posts.) The latter scheduling concept is more pertinent: create content that will be posted at some date in the future. Newspapers used to have multi-editions per day: early morning, mid-morning afternoon, late afternoon and evening, sometimes more; Associated Press often posts out a flurry of articles at 1:00am each morning. Creating content now and planning for a story launch is a perfectly acceptable means of communication through your blog.

Goals for your blog, while not covered in detail here, should include the frequency of your posts. Before you launch your blog, you must have content. You should be prepared to launch your blog with three weeks’ worth of content: one set of content for the week prior to launch date, one set of content for the week of your launch and a final set of content for the week following your launch. At a minimum, the regular articles (the multi-part series or weekly-industry content) should be scheduled and finalized a week ahead of their launch. This way, if your new content is delayed a day or two your users are not affected. By writing content at least a week ahead of time, you allow yourself the flexibility to accommodate your real life. Real life happens: car breaks down, mother-in-law comes to town, and your dog ate your blog. While your readers’ real lives may affect how often they are able to read your content they have no empathy or mercy if your real life got in the way of their content. Your blog lives and dies by its content, no content means no life.

Next we talk about driving traffic to your blog.