Improve your WordPress blog: How I did it.

Hints on how to improve your WordPress blog

Do you want to improve your WordPress blog? On the weekend I decided I did. And below I will detail most of the steps I took. Some of these ideas may not apply to your blog but many them will so take a read through and maybe you can learn how to improve your WordPress blog too.

Tee Reviewer nee: The T-Shirt Review

Just over 4 years ago I launched a t-shirt blog called the T-Shirt Review. You can read more about how and why it came about on the Tee Reviewer About page. Despite posting fairly constantly over the last four years I didn’t really take care of the blog very well. The theme was outdated, there were unused plugins still installed, there were nearly 300 broken links and it wasn’t running as efficiently as it could have been. And it was slow.

New Domain

The T-Shirt Review was originally on a sub-domain (blog.ruderetro.com) but I think if you want your blog to be taken seriously it needs to be on its own domain. So four years after it’s inception I decide to do just that and I register the new domain TeeReviewer.com. It is quite a generic name but for a blog of this nature (a t-shirt review blog) it does have some SEO value. It is also easy to remember and not too long. That’s how the name came about.

Transferring the site to a new domain

On the one hand this is easy to do. You basically download your files and your database to your PC and upload them to the new domain. I am pretty confident in this area. I have done it before but I was very careful because it’s four years of blogging and I didn’t want to mess it up. I used a guide on yoast.com to help me through (link below) but here are a few steps I took first and I recommend you do too.

  1. Remove all unnecessary plugins.
  2. Remove caching plugins.
  3. Remove unused themes.
  4. Delete spam and trash.

Link: http://yoast.com/move-wordpress-blog-domain-10-steps/

I had a badly configured W3 Total Cache plugin installed and I think I had read somewhere that it was not a simple uninstall but it turned out to be easy enough. Again I used a guide (link below) but I think the plugin developer has cleaned up their act since this guide was created because steps 7 and 8 were redundant.

Link: http://journalxtra.com/2011/09/uninstall-w3-total-cache-proper/

Then I followed the Yoast.com guide almost exactly until step 8. My domain requirements were a little different so instead of this code:

Redirect 301 /blog/ http://www.teereviewer.com/

I used this code:

Redirect 301 / http://www.teereviewer.com/

Also I haven’t yet deleted or removed my old site (blog.ruderetro.com) as I think I need to be sure that everything is fine. When you do delete/remove your old site though be sure to leave your .htaccess file so that your links will continue to redirect to your new domain. I’d keep a copy of the files and database on your PC for a while if I were you. Just in case.

In Step 5 of the Yoast.com guide it says to use the Search and Replace plugin to change your urls. I also used this to change instances of the old name The T-Shirt Review to the new name Tee Reviewer. It is easy to use but it doesn’t seem to change everything. It does tell you what it didn’t change though and I was able to change the remaining text in phpMyAdmin. There is a short guide on how to do it in the next link but be warned, as mistake could destroy your database. On the other hand you probably still have a copy of your database on your computer.

Link: http://www.lancelhoff.com/phpmyadmin-sql-search-and-replace/

Removing broken links

This was one of the easier tasks. I just installed a plugin called Broken Link Checker and fixed/removed the nearly 300 broken links on the site. (Broken links are not good for your site and can have a negative impact on SEO.)

More SEO

This one took a bit more time but I probably should have spent more time at it. There are lots of SEO plugins on the market and I am using a ThemeHybrid.com theme which has SEO built into it but I like WordPress SEO by yoast.com. I installed that and filled in a few details and used it to create a sitemap which I submitted to both Google and Bing Webmaster Tools. You should definitely have a sitemap and it should be submitted to Google at the very least. I will talk about WordPress SEO plugin in more detail at a later date.

Speeding up my site

If you have read this far you will know that I had the W3 Total Cache plugin installed before but I removed it before moving my site. I think I never took the time to configure it properly (it is a bit daunting) so I decided to try out the Quick Cache plugin as I have heard good things about it. I highly recommend it because it really increased the loading time of my site and takes almost no work on my part.

Contact Form

I also changed the contact form on Tee Reviewer to Gravity Forms. This is the best contact form plugin I have used and I will be using it on all my WordPress sites but perhaps I’ll talk about it in more detail later. For now, let’s just say that it is very clean and saves me time.

New favicon

It’s a very small thing but favicons are a great way to make your website stand out in a list of bookmarks and they also make the site more professional. (New one here too. What do you think?) Just Google favicon generator for easy ways to make your own.

A Better Search

The search function built into WordPress is not that good. I don’t know why, after all these years, they haven’t worked on making it better but thankfully some people have. One easy way to improve the search on your WordPress installation is to install Relevanssi. It has great features and is simply the best search experience I’ve seen on a WordPress site.

 New theme

This is last but not least. You’ll notice that Tee Reviewer is using the same theme as deadhippo.com. As I write this anyway, they are both using slightly modified versions of the Trending theme by Justin Tadlock of  Theme Hybrid. I am posting the images here because if I have time  I will modify them even more.  For Tee Reviewer I changed the width of main content and the sidebar. I like to have sidebars the width of standard advertising banners and in my experience the 300×250 pixel banners get more clicks. There are no banners on deadhippo.com yet so I haven’t changed the width. (I will show you how to change this theme in a later post.)

Modifying Theme Hybrid's Trending theme

I also added a search bar to the menu bar and I customized a widget for subscribing to the blog via RSS and Twitter. One of the things I love about Theme Hybrid is that you can customize anything and quite easily too. If you are interested I can post about this customization too.

Not over yet

There are a few more things that I want to fix like integrating more with social media and making it easier for people to share the content but I’m pretty happy with the improvements to the site. Even if I were finished, the web is changing constantly and we have to adapt. Rich snippets for Google search results will be the next big thing. At least that’s my prediction.

I hope I gave you some hints on how to improve your WordPress blog. If you have any questions or comments? Fire away!

19 Comments

  1. You’ll like quick Cache, I use it on all of my sites. I do not regret ousting W3 one bit – it was too much hassle to make it play nice with plugins.

    Take a look at the Permalink Finder plugin. It helps redirect visitors to pages from an old domain to the correct page on the new domain. It does it by guessing the page requested when the actual request leads to a 404. The plugin’s in the WordPress repository.

    1. I already like Quick Cache. W3 does have many more features though, like css and javascript combining and minifying. There are separate plugins for that though so when I’m happy with the way my site looks I’ll try one of them.

      Thanks for the tip about the Permalink Finder. I don’t think I need it in this case but I can see how it might be useful.

      1. It’s the Javascript minifying that causes plugin problems. W3 is okay but I think it’s over-complicated. When I switched from W3 to Quick Cache on my home (development) server, page loads went from a sluggish 1 second per page load time to a near instant load time (as they should be because there’s no downloading involved).

        If you’re looking for security plugins, try Secure WordPress, Better WP Security and WordPress Firewall 2.

        SEO Ultimate is Rich Snippets ready and Simple Facebook Connect is pretty comprehensive for FB integration.

        Great post, by-the-way.

        1. SEO Ultimate is definitely something I might try out in the future. But I’ll wait to see how WordPress SEO develops over the next few months. Rich snippets are going to be very important. Thanks for all the tips! Appreciated. Are you using SEO Ultimate?

          1. I do use SEO Ultimate. Switched from Greg’s High Performance SEO. Switched to SEO Ultimate because it’s easier to use and provides a means to edit the dynamic robots.txt file that WP produces. Prior to that I used a separate plugin to control the robots.txt file’s output. There are a couple of other reasons for the switch. I like to change things every once in a while just to see what’s new.

  2. The effectiveness of W3 Total Cache really depends on how you set it up and how your server is configured. On shared hosting W3 can be a bit of a let-down in some cases, but If you’re on dedicated hosting and you install APC, W3 Total Cache can make your site BLAZING fast.

    W3 also makes using a content delivery network ridiculously easy. You just set up an Amazon Web Services account, add a bucket or two, enable CloudFront, and within a few minutes you’re distributing all your static content across Amazon’s massive, high-speed infrastructure.

    It took me a while to sort through all the info on the web and set everything up, so I can understand your hesitation to use it. Still, in my opinion the effort is worth it because when configured correctly there is no better caching plugin for WordPress.

    Once I finish getting my website ready for public viewing, one of my first to-do items is to write a comprehensive guide for setting up a hyper-fast WordPress site using W3 Total Cache. In the meantime, if you decide to give W3 another go feel free to email me if you need any help.

    1. Yes, I do think that W3 Total Cache is more powerful but I just didn’t have the time to go through all the settings. For one of my sites I am thinking of setting up a CDN at some point. Well, if the traffic doubles this year.
      I also want to use the javascript and css minifying functions but because I am constantly changing something on my site I’m worried it may cause problems.
      Do you know if there is a way to reverse the combining and minifying once they have been implemented?

      1. The combining and minifying is done on the fly, so the original files are left untouched. To reverse it all you need to do is disable the setting in the W3 Total Cache admin panel and you’re back to normal.

        You can also manually choose which files you want to combine and minify through the minify options panel. You also have control over whether or not to minify inline CSS and JavaScript. On one client site I had to disable inline JS minifcation in order for a particular plugin to function correctly.

        1. Thanks for the reply. I thought that might be the case but I couldn’t find the information. Probably should have searched harder. When I get time I might test it out again.

    2. You mentioned “but If you’re on dedicated hosting and you install APC, W3 Total Cache can make your site BLAZING fast”.

      When it comes to W3TC… would you consider 5 sites on a dedicated server to be ‘dedicated hosting’ or ‘shared hosting’ for configuring W3TC?

  3. One other plugin you might consider giving a whirl is Disqus. The social integration alone is worth giving it a test run and it also provides great spam protection. You can even use Akismet in conjunction with their own internal filtering for basically spam-free comments that don’t require much moderation. http://disqus.com/

    1. I see that used a lot. If comments ever get out of hand I’ll give it a shot. Any downsides to using that as a comment handler?

      1. Nope, not that I’ve noticed so far. I have seen a very slight increase in page load time on rare occasions, but they’re moving to a lazy loading JavaScript implementation soon so that should help with that quite a bit. Other than that, it looks nice, works well, and I don’t have to worry about watching for spam attacks so I’m happy with it.

        I think you can customize the look of the comments quite a bit if you want to, but I haven’t tried messing with it much yet. The default themes are very well designed in my opinion.

    2. I second that one. Disqus or Livefyre. The only time I don’t use Livefyre is when a website’s comments need to use pre and code tags.

      Another good benefit to them is that you can lockdown WordPress user registration because people don’t need to register with a site to comment with either Disqus or LiveFyre and commenting is done in realtime.

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