Making WordPress Mobile Phone Friendly

Over the past year I’ve noticed a substantial increase in the number of visitors to my blog are using the iPhone or other mobile phone. As much time as you put in making your blog look great on a large monitor, it may still look strange and load slowly on mobile phones.

Enter WPtouch for WordPress.

WPtouch is a plugin for WordPress that makes your site more accessible to mobile phones. It loads fast and looks fantastic. I’ve had a number of people email asking why my site looks so good on their phone, and I point them to this plugin. I’m convinced I have at least one reader who visits my blog mainly because it looks so sweet on her iTouch. At least, that’s what she tells me.

Here’s how my blog looked before I installed WPtouch. The text is small and difficult to read, and a lot of scrolling is required to read more than the most recent post.

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With WPtouch installed, here’s the first page a visitor using a mobile user will see. This makes it easy to select from a number of posts including the latest. One quick finger flick and one has access to a few weeks worth of posts.

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And here’s the same article as above as viewed in WPtouch. It’s perfectly formatted for my screen. I don’t have to pinch and pull the content in order to read it. It makes for a much better visitor experience.

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One other feature I like about WPtouch is that it gives the reader the choice to turn off the plugin and view the site in its native formatting. I can’t think of many reason one would do that but it’s a welcome option to have.

If you have manage your own WordPress blog, I highly recommend WPtouch. It’s free and a cinch to install. It has a number of options you can fiddle around with, although I leave all settings at their defaults.

Nordquist Blog Goes All GQ

I’ve said it’s always good to have a friend who is a programmer. But since I’ve started blogging I’ve found it just as helpful to have a friend who is a skilled designer, and I have that in my friend, Brandon, who worked his magic on my site this evening.

I asked him to create a logo and give me a little more space to work with on my blog, yet keep the overall flow and simplicity in tact. He gave it a new look without making it too fancy. It’s also nice to have a design that’s all mine.

When I first started reading blogs regularly, I visited each site to see if new content was available. When I discovered Bloglines I stopped that practice. I switched to Google Reader recently and I use it to read a number of blogs. But I follow about 25 blogs or so that I visit regularly, and I feel I gain someone by visiting the actual sites instead of pulling the content through an RSS reader.

WordPress 2.5 Problems

I’ve having two problems since I upgraded my blog to WordPress 2.5. The first problem is that some of my text widgets will disappear. To be more precise, the content in those text widgets will disappear when I add another a new text widget to my blog. This is annoying, but not a deal killer. 

But the biggest problem I’m having is that I can reorder my current widgets. When I add a newly activated widget to my current list, it puts it at the top of the list and I can’t drag it down to reorder.

Check out the the picture below. The Flickr Badge widget was the last one I added but I can’t move it further down the list. There is also something going on with the text overlapping the SAVE CHANGES button. I have to click in the lower left side of the button in order for it to save. This is a deal killer for me, and I may revert back to a previous version unless I can solve this.

I have the same problems with this screen whether I’m running Firefox 2 or IE 7. Has anyone else experienced this issue and were you able to fix it?

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Getting Started With WordPress

A number of friends and coworkers along with a few people who read my blog have asked for help in starting a blog. Most questions centered around what blogging platform and hosting company to use. I used to tell most of these people to take a look at Blogger and Windows Live Spaces. If they were geeks, I’d tell them to roll their own blog and install WordPress on their own domain. But I was hesitant to suggest that to everyone because I knew I’d be called on to provide tech support when they got stuck.

But over the past couple years or so it’s become easier for the less technically inclined to use WordPress. I’ll get into the reasons for this later, but if you’re reasonably comfortable using an FTP program you’ll have no problems getting up and running with WordPress. The installation and administration of is handled by a slick, easy to use web-based interface. Really, there’s nothing to be afraid of.

WordPress is a fantastic blogging platform for many reasons but a few of my favorites include it’s stability, ease of use and plugin and theme architecture. With plugins and themes, it’s easy to change the look of your blog and give it additional functionality without having to know how to program.

So here are the steps to getting up and running with WordPress. This assumes you want to run WordPress on an existing domain or register your own.

Select A Hosting Company

This is the most important decision you’ll make. A bad host will lead to lots of downtown and poor service and support while a good host will make the experience go smoothly. I’ve run WordPress on six different hosts and I can only recommend two of them: Pair and Bluehost. (Note: If you find this article helpful, you can help support me by signing up with Bluehost through the links found here. If you don’t that’s cool too) Both Pair and Bluehost are top notch hosting companies with excellent support and products. As with many services, you get what you pay for. You’ll find cheaper hosting companies but you won’t care that you saved two bucks a month when you’re blog is frequently down. I’m sure there are other good hosting companies, but I’m only going to recommend the two I’ve used for years and that I know you’ll be happy with. Having said that, Bluehost is the best hosting company I’ve used hands down. They are an excellent choice for the noob as well as the web savvy veteran. I’m currently hosting four WordPress blogs from one account and was able to setup each with a single click using a cool feature called Fantastico. I don’t know if Pair uses this but I assume it does or something similar.

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Login to CPanel

After you’ve selected a domain and signed up for a hosting service you should receive an email with the IP address of your website and instructions for logging into your CPanel (Control Panel) for the first time. (It may take a day or so for your domain to propagate out to the internet, but don’t be alarmed. You can still reach your site by IP address)

CPanel is the place you go to install WordPress along with keeping tabs on your site and a bunch of other stuff related to your account. I’m assuming you’re using Bluehost but most hosts have similar looking control panels. Follow the link in the email you received that will also include a username and password. At Bluehost the login is in the upper right corner and it asks for your domain and your password. Type both in and you should be taken to the Control Panel which looks like this:

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Install WordPress

Scroll down this page until you come to Simple Scripts or Fantastico De Luxe listed under the Software/Service area. Either of these will install WordPress, but I’m more familiar with Fantastico so I’ll use that. Click on Fantastico over on the left navigation. To the right now you should see a link named New Installation.  Click on that and you should see a form that looks like this:

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If you want to install WordPress into the root of your domain so your site is accessible at www.yourdomain.com then select your domain from the Install on domain drop down list. If you want to install WordPress on a subdomain such as I’ve done (blog.nordquist.org) you’ll need to go back the Control Panel page and setup a subdomain under the Domains areas. Most people want their blog accessible off the root domain.

Under the Admin Access Data area create a username and password and write it down. If you don’t have this, you won’t be able to login to your blog. Again, make sure you write this down!

Under the Base Configuration area do the same. I just use admin as the username and a password I can remember.

You don’t have to fill out the Email Account Configuration area at this time. But if you know this information it doesn’t hurt to fill it out now.

Once you have this form filled out, click on the Install WordPress button at the bottom of the page. Fantastico will tell you if WordPress was installed correctly. If it does then you’re ready to login for the first time.

Login to WordPress for the First Time

This is the moment of truth. You will fire up your browser and go to http://yourdomain/wp-login.php where you’ll see the graphic below. If you don’t see this graphic it means WordPress was not install properly.

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Using the username and password you selected in the previous step, login to WordPress. If you’re using version 2.5, you’ll see a screen that looks something like this:

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Before I post anything I like to check to make sure WordPress has all my current information. Do this by clicking on Settings off to the far right and check to make sure everything looks OK under the General Settings area. Give your blog a Title and Tagline if you’d like. When you’re done, click on Save Changes at the bottom.

Now look over to the far right and click on Users. This is where you’ll setup accounts for those who will be posting articles on your blog. Since I’m the only person who does that on my blog, I setup an account for Brett Nordquist. You’ll need to remember the username and password for this account as well. If you want to login as this new users you’ll need to logout first using the link in the upper right corner.

I suggest looking around the rest of the admin area. Once you’re ready to post you can do so by clicking the Write link in the admin or use a product like Windows Live Writer that acts like a word processor that posts to WordPress.

Themes and Plugins

Easily one of the coolest features of WordPress is the way you can easily change the look of your site by installing themes. There are thousands of available themes you can install for free.  You can also add additional features to your blog by installing plugins. An example of a plugin on my blog is one that pulls pictures from Flickr and displays them in the sidebar. Most plugins and themes are free to use.

Check out this post and this post for a few of my favorite theme collections. My only suggestion when it comes to themes is to keep it simple. The best themes I’ve used are the ones that don’t try to do too much. Try a single column theme instead of one with three or four columns if you’re just starting out as it will make editing the theme a lot easier.

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I don’t spend a lot of time searching for plugins but I do run a few that add features to my blog that I find helpful. A few of my favorites are Flickr Badge, Google Sitemap, SRG Clean Archives, and Post Views.

FTP Recommendation

Once you’ve found a few themes or plugins you’d like to try, you’ll need a way of getting those files onto your server. There are a number of ways to do this but I’ve found that using an FTP client is the most reliable way to do this. Mosey on over to this page and grab the best FTP client around. It’s called FileZilla and it’s free to boot!

Once you’ve installed FileZilla, launch it and look for the host, username and password in the upper menu bar. In the HOST area you’ll type ftp.yourname.com along with the username and password you used to login to Control Panel. Then click on the Quickconnect button and you should see something like this if you’ve successfully logged in:

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Look for the directory named wp-content and double click on it. Any new plugins you’ll need to upload into the plugins directory. Any new themes should be uploaded to the themes directory. Makes sure you read any instructions that came with the plugins and themes.

I suggest keeping your plugins to a minimum for a while but testing a number of themes until you find one that suits your fancy. Switching between themes it done in the admin area of your blog under the Design section. Once you see a preview of a new theme you’d like to try, just click on the picture and it’s done. Any plugins you upload will need to be activated by going to the Plugin area. Once activated your plugins are ready to go.

Well, those are the basic steps to get up and running with WordPress. If you have questions or suggestion feel free to use the comment section. What other suggestions would you have for those looking at using WordPress for the first time? I’m interested to hear what other reliable hosting companies you’ve found.

Windows Live Writer 2008 Now Available

Even in beta it was one of my favorite programs. Now that it’s out of beta, it’s worth upgrading to the latest version of Windows Live Writer 2008. You can download the latest version from here

If you maintain a blog grab this tool today. It takes the hassles out of of updating your blog. It’s easy to setup and use to use. I love the “Save Draft” feature. When I’d use the online WordPress editor, I’d occasionally lose a draft before I hit the publish button. That’s a thing of the past now.

WLW frees you up to write instead of tweak. Isn’t that why you started a blog in the first place?

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WordPress 2.3 database error

I updated my blog to WordPress 2.3 last night and noticed this morning that visitors who posted comments were getting an error. Their comments were posting but included the following error:

WordPress database error: [Table ‘wordpress.wp_post2cat’ doesn’t exist

It included some other strings as well but the database part was consistent. I looked around till I found this thread at the WordPress discussion forums that mentioned the problem might be an incompatible plugin like Google Sitemap. I was using an older version and decided to deactivate it and that fixed the error. Google Sitemap plugin has now been updated to work on WordPress 2.3.

This brings up a possible feature request. It would be great if WordPress would automatically disable any out-of-date plugins automatically.

Otherwise version 2.3 is working fine.

Suggestions for first time bloggers

Recently, my mother-in-law and friend started blogging. I encouraged both of them to blog because I don’t get to see either very often and both are very good writers. I figured both would create interesting blogs that I and others would enjoy reading.

Both asked me questions about what it takes to get started. I don’t consider myself a blogging pro by any means but I’ve been doing it enough years now to have an idea of what has worked for me and what might work for others.

Here are a few questions friends or family or coworkers have asked me about blogging and my answers:

How do I get started?

I usually tell people to read a few blogs for a while before jumping into the fray. This is especially important for those who have been told to start a “company blog”. It’s worthwhile spending some time checking out different blogs before starting your own.

So I checked out some blogs, what’s next?

I’m a big believer in simplicity. So unless they already have a website, I’ll usually suggest taking a look at Blogger or Windows Live Spaces. Both make it very easy to start a blog. There’s very little to get in the way of writing which is what a blog is about anyway. I find Blogger a little easier to use but Spaces feels a bit more flexible and powerful. And, if down the road, they decide to move to WordPress, they’ll be able to easily migrate content.

If you want even more control over your blog but want someone else to host it, take a look at WordPress.com or Typepad. Both offer a hosted blog solution that many have come to rely on. Robert Scoble hosts his popular blog at WordPress.com and Seth Godin relies on Typepad to handle his. Both are proven platforms with very responsive support communities.

But what if I want to host my own blog?

I’m hesitant to suggest this option mostly because if they run into problems I become their technical support person of choice. The installation isn’t for the faint of heart if you’ve not familiar with at least some basic Linux/PHP/CSS/MySQL. But I digress. If I know someone is tech savvy I’ll suggest they take a look at WordPress.org or Moveable Type. I’ve tried a number of other options but these are the big two. I’ve been using WordPress for about five years now and really enjoy it. There are tons of themes and plug-ins available for it and it has such a strong community that any problems I run into are answered quickly. And tools like Windows Live Writer have vastly improved the writing/posting process for hosted blogs.

Choosing the right blogging platform is important but it’s not the most important decision. Creating interesting content is the most important. If you are interesting people will come. And they will return. New bloggers can easily get bogged down with all the themes, plugins, widgets, blogrolls, and the like while they ignore writing. It’s not about where your blog is hosted, your hip theme or page full of widgets…it’s the quality of your writing that matters most.

OK, put the Flickr widget down and start writing. 🙂