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WordPress Customization and using WordPress as a Content Management System (CMS)

Posted by Computer Friendly Associates, Inc. (CFA) on April 15th, 2010 — in Blog, Website Design + Development, WordPress Customization

Introduction
WordPress is the most popular blog software in use today.  I think of WordPress primarily as a user-friendly content management system (CMS), with blogging as only its most obvious application. WordPress is online software that enables website owners to easily write and post articles to their website. Website developers and designers can customize WordPress to have any desired look, feel, and functionality available on the web today.

The flexibility of WordPress makes it a great tool for a variety of scenarios. Our company has customized WordPress to provide content management for several projects. In some cases, someone simply wants a basic blog website to post articles. We create a simple customized design and the blog website is ready to go.  Sometimes we use WordPress as a content management system in which the public website does not appear to be a blog, but the site owner can update the content of the site using the WordPress editing tools. We also integrate WordPress into existing websites so that a website can have a separate blog page that is consistent with the design of the whole website.

Getting Started
WordPress is free. You have a choice of using the WordPress hosting server (go to www.wordpress.com for more information) or installing and using WordPress on your own hosting server (go to www.wordpress.org for more information). We strongly recommend that you have WordPress installed on your server because this enables you (and/or your web developer) to have maximum flexibility to customize WordPress for your needs. If blogging is just a hobby and you want to post a few articles, using the WordPress server is fine. However, if you want more options and flexibility, work with a web developer/designer who will set up WordPress on your server and work with you to customize it.

Once WordPress is set up, you simply login to the WordPress administration page using your login name and password. Once you login, you have access to the WordPress tools.

Update Content Easily
At the heart of WordPress is a set of tools that enable you (the website owner) to add/edit/delete posts (articles). You may also add/edit/delete separate web pages. The tools include a basic online word processor in which you can easily type in and edit text. You can do basic formatting and even insert hyper-links and images. You do not need to know anything about programming or HTML. If you do know some HTML basics, you can do even more.

If your website has multiple authors, WordPress allows you to have a separate login for each author, and the author’s name can appear with the article.

You can assign “categories” and/or  “tags” to each post to help organize your blog or website content. WordPress also automatically organizes your posts by date so that you can easily display an “Archive” listing on your website.

WordPress also enables you to select whether or not you want to allow website visitors to post comments. If you allow comments, you can easily edit or delete comments as you see fit.

Extending WordPress using Plug-ins
Many free third-party “plug-ins” are  available. These plug-ins are little tools that easily install and integrate with WordPress.

On this blog page you can see two examples: ShareThis and Tweet-this. These plug-ins enable site visitors to easily share information about articles on this site.

Other plug-ins we have used for client projects include: a newsletter tool, opinion polls, tag clouds, Amazon.com Affiliate Program. Many other plug-ins are available and we hope to continue to find useful ones.

Sometimes we find that it’s just as easy to program a function ourselves. For example, it’s easy to include Google Ads in a WordPress site (or any website). Other examples are: Pay Pal e-commerce, Google maps, and Google calendars.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Friendly
WordPress pages generally perform quite well in search engines. Pages with links to categories, tags, archives, plug-ins, and RSS feeds are rich in keyword links and phrases. Having a site that is updated frequently also improves search rankings. Enabling site visitors to post comments makes a website more interactive, interesting, and popular.

On the Technical Side (for programmers)
WordPress is a set of open-source PHP files combined with a mySQL database. Generally, you do not need to modify the basic software, although occasionally I have made little tweaks. WordPress enables you to select a “theme” and/or create and customize your own theme. The theme includes several PHP files and a CSS file. You can add PHP and CSS files as needed. With some practice and experience, customizing WordPress becomes easier and faster. You can even develop your own plug-ins to provide custom administrative tools for the website owner.

Conclusion
This article is a broad overview about WordPress as a platform for content management and blogging.  Many online resources are available that provide in-depth instructions for both WordPress authors and developers. WordPress has become a key tool for our business and development work. We are interested in doing more WordPress projects, so please contact us if you want to start a blog website or incorporate a blog and/or content management into your website.

What color is your website?

Posted by Computer Friendly Associates, Inc. (CFA) on April 9th, 2010 — in Blog, Website Design + Development

Colors inspire feelings. Human beings instinctively respond to different colors in specific ways. There are some basic color rules that everyone who runs a businss should be aware of.

What color is your website?

ROYGBIV is the classic rundown of the rainbow – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

These are the most notable colors in the visible light spectrum. In other words, these are the most clearly defined colors for us that are found in nature. Many of these colors are also commonly used in feng shui, a styling system commonly used to bring balance and life to indoor spaces.

These are all accent colors. What that means is, to have an “all (any color)” site would be visually exhausting and unattractive. The accent colors listed below are all meant to be used together with more neutral colors to give a pop” of color. Neutral colors are: black, white, all grays, and all browns. On a backdrop of neutrals, accent colors will give a site energy, personality, and life.

Red – for more energy and stimulation, choose red. It shows confidence, courage, and fearlessness. Too much can seem overly “salesy”, aggressive, or agitating. In feng shui firey red stands for fame, reputation, and ego. A little goes a long way so it is best used in websites as an accent color. Target, Overstock.com, news organizations, political groups, and sports teams have sites that use red very effectively to pound out their message.

Orange – for more creativity and friendliness use orange. It shows expressiveness, an open mind, and a fun youthful attitude. It’s a happy party color appropriate for sites that celebrate youth and creativity. Maybe not such a good choice for institutions dealing with “more serious” issues like banking or law. In feng shui, orange is used with pink to encourage strong and loving relationships. Oprah, Blogger.com, Home Depot, sites for kids merchandise, and some relationship-building sites use a lot of orange.

Yellow – increase focus and expand mental clarity with yellow. Maybe it’s related to the aromatherapy studies that show lemon oil increasing productivity, but even just the color seems to cleanse and refresh. This would be a wonderful accent color choice for many organizations. Sites that use yellow as a main color seem to use more of a gold version of the color. In feng shui, earthy yellow stands in the center for health.

Green – to inspire trust, heal, and increase prosperity… try green. It is traditionally the most common color in nature. We are comforted, soothed, and renewed by the natural world so it is no surprise that green has abundant applications online. In feng shui, green is the color of family and foundations. Numerous financial, environmental, and health-related businesses center around green.

Blue – for a calming sense of peace, relaxation, and consistency… blue is a natural choice. It is associated with logical reasoning and excellence. The colors of sky and water inspire solidarity with the everlasting things in our world. In feng shui, blue represents skills, knowledge, and wisdom. Light blue seems to help take the sting out of hot issues or aggitated feelings. Microsoft and many legal, political, and educational institutions utilize blue.

Indigo – cut through the visual clutter with indigo. Many people consider navy a neutral, but in my opinion, they really mean indigo… who doesn’t love deep blue denim and think of it as an essential part of modern style? Indigo has a deep energy of it’s own and encourages efficiency because it helps you focus on the big picture. This is a good color for meditation and the resulting action that comes from good meditation. Indigo or navy is not just the color of the essential suit for all white-collar professionals and many of our most trusted emergency responders. Open Office, artists and spiritual healers tend to use this color a lot too.

Violet – to help connect with a higher plane, touch your inner humanity, and inspire compassion… violet is your color. In nature it is relatively very rare and of course, anything rare usually becomes precious and regal. In feng shui, purple is the richest color of prosperity and abundance. In some studies, children were consistently drawn to violet more than any other color. Violet is romantic, unique, and spiritual. It is drama without aggression, it implies compassion that takes peaceful action, it reminds us to improve humanity while not losing our own.

We use a gentle mix of several colors but because our main focus for the website is inspiring trust in our skills… our main color is blue. Let us know what you think, we would love to hear from you.

Getting your website found – SEO, Google, Yahoo and Bing

Posted by Computer Friendly Associates, Inc. (CFA) on October 9th, 2009 — in Blog, Business Solutions, Website Design + Development

SEO is a popular acronym which stands for “search engine optimization”. If you want people to find your website in popular search tools like Google, Yahoo, and Bing, then it is important to apply the right techniques to achieve that goal. 

Google remains the most popular search tool. Recently, Microsoft launched Bing in an attempt to compete with Google. There are many others, and doing well in any search service is helpful. Each search engine has its own method for finding and ranking websites, and these methods change periodically.

Design your website using all of the following tips:

Relevant information
Include text using key words and phrases that your ideal customer will use to look for you online. Make your web page text informative about your key phrases. Detailed information about a key phrase makes the page more relevant to your site visitors and to searchbots.

Note: Searchbots ignore text inside graphics. This includes all graphics, even all the text inside a flash-based website. For your graphics, include an HTML “alt” tag to contain keywords.

Update your website frequently
Searchbots analyze how often you update your website. Websites with frequently updated information improve their ranking in search engines. Having an integrated blog on your website can be especially helpful.

Key words as headings
Have primary key phrases as headings in your web page. Searchbots rank larger text higher than smaller text.

Internal links
Design your website to have multiple pages. On each page include a menu of links to your other web pages. Easy site navigation enables search spiders to crawl to each page of your site. Internal links to relevant information containing keywords helps your website’s ranking.

Incoming links
Get your website listed and linked on other relevant and valuable websites. One reason why website services like Twitter, Digg, Facebook, etc. are popular is because they are external web pages you can use to promote your main website.

Meta Tags
Include a “keywords” tag of a list (about 50) of your most desirable keywords and search phrases. Also, include a “description” tag of a short description (about 250 characters) that fully describes your website. Be sure to include your most important key word phrases in the description. Information about your target customer can be included in the description.

Title Tags
The text you use for each page’s “title” tag can significantly impact the website’s ranking, so be sure to include keywords.

Frames are bad
Websites that use html frames generally experience difficulties with search engines. If you want a frame-based website to do better in searches, you need to restructure the website to not use frames.

Sitemaps are good
It your website has many pages, then include a separate page to be a sitemap for your visitors. The sitemap is a page devoted to displaying links to each of the website’s other pages. Also, include a “sitemap.xml”, which is an XML file in your website’s root directory specifically for the purpose of assisting searchbots to correctly index your website. This website – http://www.xml-sitemaps.com/ – is an excellent resource for easily creating an effective sitemal.xml file.

Considerations about programming well for SEO
Flash: Websites designed in Flash rarely rank highly in search engines. It is fine to include Flash objects in a traditional HTML web page or have your Flash appear in separate windows.

If your site uses coding languages (e.g. javascript, Java, ASP, CGI, etc.) or Flash, be aware of the impact your code has on searchbots. In some cases we may need to program specifically with SEO in mind.

Database programming: Searchbots do not necessarily analyze web page HTML code generated from a database. You can work around this by saving the generated code in a separate file when database updates occur. Use a “server-side include” statement to incorporate the latest saved file into your web page.

How to Plan a New Website: Four checklists of web essentials

Posted by Computer Friendly Associates, Inc. (CFA) on January 3rd, 2009 — in Blog, Website Design + Development

What do you really need in order to set up a website for your business? Here are the basic building blocks as well as some important guidelines for what those blocks should and should not contain. They are broken up into four different checklists for clarity: Website building blocks, Blocks of what?, Play nice with others, and Golden rules. These checklists are a great starting place for the small business owner who wants to put their business online effectively and sustainably.

Note: Of course, these lists do not cover “all there is” on this topic and things do change over time. If you have a website, or if you are considering one, take a look at our blog for current tips, trends, and techniques that may improve the outcome of your site. The details and real-world execution of these lists can get a bit confusing and detailed so we will address these topics and more in later posts.

Our main business goal at CFA is to help our friends, like you, get online and keep current so you can compete more effectively than ever before. All the best!

Think about the basic framework and sustainability of your site. There are a limited number of essential parts to a good website. Each part has an important role to play.

Checklist 1 – Website building blocks

These are your basic building blocks for the framework and sustainability of your site.

  1. domain name (URL) – Domain name, URL, or web address… this is the named space for your website online. If you have not decided the name for your new business yet then you are really lucky! Find a great .com domain name that is not taken and derive your business name from that if possible. If you are in business already then try to reserve a domain name as close as possible to your business name.
  2. logo & tagline – These are how your ideal site visitor BEST recognizes you. Even the smallest business needs a strong personality to help people connect with your identity. The whole process of determining exactly what represents you is extremely important. 
  3. keywords & description – What makes it unique and attractive and valuable? These words are how your ideal site visitor KNOWS you and how they describe you to their friends. These words and phrases will also guide new ideal site visitors to your website from an online search. They crystallize the essence of your business.
  4. header – Your logo, tagline, and other header content makes your ideal site visitor feel comfortable and reinforces your overall vision and personality on every page.
  5. menu – Your main menu holds your main pages with every major topic about your business that your ideal site visitor usually wants to see. Sub-menus can add clarity and detail.
  6. main pages – Cover all the important topics and satisfy all the basic needs of your ideal site visitor on your “main” pages. These should have great content (see Checklist 2) and be similar in style and layout.
  7. sub-pages – Expand on the main page topic in more detail, sub-topic by sub-topic. Always show respect to your ideal site visitor by making pages that succinctly offer relevance and value.
  8. news & links – Illustrate your relationships as well as your awareness of trends in your industry and the market as a whole. This always requires regular updating and is often satisfied by an RSS feed or blog option.
  9. footer – Reinforce your image, boilerplate, and contact information as well as important security/privacy agreements, certifications, awards, credentials and/or memberships on every page.
  10. maintenance – Constant critical evaluation and upkeep is vital to looking vibrant, current, and relevant to your ideal site visitor. Things are constantly changing and the best advantage a small business has is their ability to quickly respond to their environment. (see Checklist 3)

So what needs to go in each of those basic building blocks? 

Checklist 2 – Blocks of what?

Most business and organizations should follow these essential rules that are based on the guidelines given by Google: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35769

In addition to recommendations by Google at the above link, we recommend:

1. Great content

  • Know yourself and your core business and always write your content with your best customer in mind. Treat others as you would like to be treated as a customer.
  • Write out all your pages is very thorough outline format.
  • Efficiently give the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of your business. Preferably on the home page.
  • Show that you really know and can easily relate to your target audience.
  • Site visitors are looking for specific information and want to find it fast.
  • Know your best keywords and phrases that people may use to search for a business like yours. Use keywords often, but make sure all your site text is optimized for humans first.

2. Attractive and classic design, not distracting or busy

  • Communicate your business vision as effectively as possible using both text and images. Think efficiency. People want what they want when they want it and they don’t appreciate having to dig for information.
  • Have a look and feel that your target audience expects and has an appropriate reaction to. If you deal in beauty, make your site beautiful. If you deal with intellectual property, show that you are organized, calm, cool, and collected.
  • Creativity is important but is secondary to functionality. If a site visitor can’t find what they are looking for in a few clicks, they will likely leave and never come back. Make it easy for people to buy whatever you are selling.

3. Current but durable

  • Classic styles last longer and are more easily understood by a wider audience, so use standard layouts and navigation.
  • Use blogs and RSS feeds where appropriate to inject current events and news into your site.
  • Don’t follow short-term trends unless you have the resources to update your corporate image often, however if you have a business whose nature it is to follow trends then work with your web designer on a sustainable solution.

That was really hard work… is there more? Just a few more things… 

Checklist 3 – Play nice with others
Security and maintenance are extremely important. Remember:

1. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

  • Keep your anti-virus software current and only download essentials.
  • Be careful about sharing personal and business information online.
  • Only go through trusted routes for online payments etc.
  • Don’t sign up for most freebies… they can cost you a lot in the end. 

2. Know the your online playing field.

  • Who are the other teams? Who are the sponsors? Be aware of what current websites offer and what works for your business.
  • Who is in the audience? Know what your customers are experiencing online with your direct and indirect competitors.
  • Who are your competitors? Visit their websites often to know what they are doing. 

3. Look into online marketing.

  • Find out what online networking and advertising opportunities are available and participate in the ones best for your business.
  • Research what publications, bookmarking, and networking sites your customers utilize. Build, maintain, and share accounts there too.
  • Join appropriate groups that are related to your business and encourage them to link to your website from theirs.
  • Create a free blog if you do not already have one that is part of your website. Post often and have a reciprocal link with your website.

4. Check our CFA blog often for updates on tips and techniques for marketing your business online and more.

And finally… 

Checklist 4– Golden rules
Concepts to keep in mind during the whole process of building and maintaining your website:

  • Be critically confident in your corporate identity. Make sure your image is helpful to wherever you want to take your business. If it needs updating don’t try to avoid this important work… just make it happen! We can help.
  • Always think of your best customer with every decision that you make.
  • Constantly ask for and learn from all your feedback. See it through and implement the changes that make sense for your business in the long term.
  • Customers and potential customers come to your website looking for specific information. They want to find it fast and get on with their busy lives… honor their time if you want to keep them. Focus on them. Give them what they seek. Anticipate their future needs in reference to your business.
  • Opportunities and traps are everywhere. Just like in real life, you need to stay on top of trends, question everything, and surround yourself with smart, honest people who care about your business. Your challenges will change over time, sometimes dramatically, so get comfortable with technology… it’s your new friend and it can help!

How we are improving our business during this recession

Posted by Computer Friendly Associates, Inc. (CFA) on January 2nd, 2009 — in Blog, Business Solutions, Cost-effective, Database Software Development, Website Design + Development

I knew the economy was bad when one of our clients called us about one year ago to say that his business was closing.  This was sad news and a personal harbinger of the looming economic recession. I encouraged him to keep his website going and he did. Hopefully he can revive his business eventually.

We decided to ride out this recession and use any available time to improve our business. We set several realistic goals that we could implement relatively quickly:

  1. Become more cost-effective, especially by lowering our dedicated web hosting server expenses.
  2. Keep down the costs to our clients and keep our prices very competitive.
  3. Improve the quality of our products and services.
  4. Deepen our technological expertise and code libraries.
  5. Launch a brand new version of our website, including a new design and improved content with an integrated WordPress blog.

At the same time we always prioritize producing high-quality and timely results for our current client projects. We needed to work very hard to meet our project demands while allocating time to also restructure our business to be more competitive moving forward.

We have successfully completed our goals. Of course, we always engage in continuous quality improvement, but these were specific benchmarks for us to attain. Now comes the fun part: leveraging these achievements to bring in more clients through new marketing efforts.