One of the great things about the proliferation of content management systems and blogging is the ability to publish whatever you want, including text and photos and images. One of the not so great things about this is that things can be published in a far from optimal format, leaving quality on the floor in the name of convenience. Specifically, I am writing with concern over how images and photos are often published and look fuzzy or are slow to load. This can be easily remedied with simply realizing the physical dimensions of an image to match the desired display dimensions.
Here’s an example to illustrate my point, literally, of what we at Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC advise to our clients all the time. As it’s a nice and cold day in Chicago as I write this, why not use a photo of Panama City Beach, Florida taken earlier this year, as shown below.
The dimensions of the photo below are 480 pixels wide by 318 pixels high. The original dimensions of the photo were 2,048 x 1,356 pixels, which is not only much too large to display within the layout of The Hot Iron but too large for most blog feed readers. Using the most basic features of PhotoShop, I reduced it to the size above. As a result, the physical dimensions of the photo match the display dimensions, not to mention the size of the file being much smaller as well.
The alternative to this would have been to add the photo to the blog post and resize its dimensions “logically” by adjusting the HTML display dimensions. This would have had 2 negative impacts on the beautiful picture. It would have appeared grainy or pixilated as I am simply squishing the image without altering its physical size. Also, it would have taken longer for it to appear, as the filesize would be 10 times larger than the physically resized image.
Larger images logically resized appear more than you would think, or now would like. I see it on blog posts, Web sites for businesses as well as email newsletters. The user experience is often where the entire page loads and the photo or image slowly appears, line-by-line, from top to bottom. Many times I have been tempted to contact the owner of the Web site or newsletter, however from past experience such submitted issues go unresponded to.
So how do you resize your images? Many of you may already have software to do this installed on your PC or Mac – some may come from the OS itself, or in the case of Windows it may be pre-installed software from the hardware vendor. Some digital camera software comes with basic editing tools. Some online photo sites may offer editing and resizing capabilities as well. You can also acquire a full copy of Adobe Creative Suite, or its lower-priced cousin PhotoShop Elements.
With a little bit of work, you can provide a greater experience to your readers with good looking photos and images displayed in an optimal way.
My 3 words for your Web site are – Measure, Function and Backup.
Measure – Any decision you make for your Web site (or for your business for that matter) should be the result of facts or planning. Whether these are successful or not are determined by the numbers, and you must measure them to ensure if you are on track, way off, or need an adjustment. Many people do not measure their Web site. This starts with the hits, which many people use Google Analytics to measure. It then continues with feed tracking (for blogs or RSS feeds), social media links, surveying and so forth. If you are not doing any measuring, do so. If you have no data to work with, start collecting it.
Function – As much as a Web site must have great content and look good, it must also work. Links should not be broken. Forms should submit properly and accurately process the information entered. Any unique functionality should not only work but also work in all browsers. Where you may think these examples should be a given, many times they are not. The simple thing is to test your Web site on multiple browsers – Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, etc. – and on multiple platforms – PC, Mac, Linux, mobile devices – and see how they look and perform. Ensuring your Web site works means it is working for your customers.
Backup – Do you have a backup strategy for your Web site? Or do you even have at least one, single backup copy of your Web site stored someplace secure? If not, then you should. Develop a plan of what to backup and how often. Backups can be as simple as a database dump or export of orders, blog posts or customer data. It should be done on an interval that works for you. One you create it, test the backup plan, as a backup is no good if you can’t restore from it. Fortunately your Web host more than likely has some form of backup procedures in place. But why wait until there’s a problem to fund out they don’t?
There are a lot of things to consider with regards to any Web site, as I have presented before with The State of Your Web Site. These are 3 core areas from which you can build the success of your Web site. If you have any questions or comments on any of these, please enter them in the comments area of this post below. If you need help to make these happen, please contact me personally.
Contaminated water tanks, oil leaking into water supplies, high levels of prescription medication found in drinking water, political corruption surrounding paying for water, water management agencies offices in high-rent areas, high taxes on bottled water…
…And all of these things are just in and around Chicago!
There’s no point in reiterating how important water is to all living creatures. Living in Chicago, where the entire eastern border of the city is surrounded by Lake Michigan, I am constantly reminded of it. Yet, for some reason, many tend to forget the real reason for all of what is done to get all the clean water we need. Today is Blog Action Day, a day where bloggers around the world write on a particular topic. This year, it is water.
Whenever conversations around a global concern take place, people tend to forget what is immediately around them, their backyard. As my Mom always said, charity begins at home. Keeping her great advice in mind, I propose not only thinking locally and acting globally, but acting on both.
Many people don’t know how the water gets to run out of their faucets. Here’s your opportunity to go out and find out what you don’t know. In Chicago, the city has a water management department and as well there is a regional water authority, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. I will be honest in that I don’t know too much about either of these departments, other than the latter has prime offices just off the Magnificent Mile and people buy billboards in their bid to be a commissioner of this organization. The also manage a system called “Deep Tunnel” to prevent overflows and flooding.
So why would you want to know this? Understanding the political ecosystem is usually as important as the environmental one, as the former has to do with how much you pay for your water, as well as the safety and purity of the supply. Though they should be straightforward systems, they tend not to be, and it can be summed up in 1 word – politics. I’ll leave it at that.
Knowledge is power, especially on the local level, and if you need to act – or react – you can be ahead of the game in knowing who is responsible.
Unless you’re planning on traveling the globe to do so, your options to help people’s water supplies around the world are limited. Here’s a great way to help such a cause while learning from great entrepreneurs – buy a copy of the Age of Conversation 3!
You may recall I talked about this great book, where myself and hundreds of people around the globe contributed to a truly collaborative story. The book is also a not-for-profit endeavor, and all proceeds from it go to Charity: Water an organization where all proceeds go to helping people around the globe, and they have the photos and geo-locations to prove it. Simply buy a copy of Age of Conversation 3 from Amazon or any other outlet and you have helped the cause. I’ll even autograph it for an extra donation!
We can all do our part to help – for the benefit of others as well as ourselves. So think before you take that drink of water today, all 8 glasses of it.
Recently I heard from a friend who had questions about starting a blog. As their questions were not personal in nature, and could benefit others as well as them, I have decided to respond in an appropriate manner, in an open blog post. Here are the questions and my responses.
Q – How did you come up with the name of your blog?
A – The name “The Hot Iron” is a play on the term “strike while the iron is hot” and is something I had thought of a few years before I actually started the blog. The idea for the name being I would write about not only topical items but would write while something was fresh in my mind.
I registered the domain name thehotiron.com right away, and it was ready for me to use when I decided to start blogging.
Q – What are the top 3 things I need to think about as a new blogger?
A – Audience, promotion and time.
Where you could be simply writing a personal journal out in the open, ideally you are writing for the benefit of others as well. Keeping in mind your audience, not only as you start but on-going, will help you focus on what topics to write and how to present the information.
If you write it, people may not necessarily come and read it. You will need to spend time to promote your blog. Whether it’s emailing all your friends, getting links to other sites or any other method, you will need to spend some time to do so.
And as you can guess, writing for and managing a blog take some time. However much you decide to spend on it is up to you, but keep this in mind with everything else you have going on.
Q – Are there any mistakes you made that you learned from when you were just starting out that you would pass on to a new blogger?
A – Are you asking about mistakes I made in the past, or continue to make?!
Whenever you start a blog, you have energy and excitement. Over time, this can change, and usually will decrease. You will need to motivate yourself to maintain a consistent blogging schedule.
You may also write something that will tick off someone, as I have done before. They may contact you offline to make a change to what you wrote. Don’t do it. I have made a couple of small tweaks to posts over time, showing goodwill to these people and in return asked them to comment on my posts, but they never did. A cease and desist letter form a lawyer is one thing, but in general your blog is your opinion, and you should be true to your convictions.
Q – Do you think there is a life span to a blog?
A – As someone said to me moments before he got married, “nothing is forever!” Everything has a lifecycle, and a blog could as well. When you get to the point where you think it’s over, you may have options to either shut it down or transfer or sell to someone else. But you’re just getting started now, so nothing to worry about regarding this now. Oh, and that guy has been married for almost 20 years now.
Q – What are your suggestions for evaluating hosts?
A – As I build blogs for a living, I recommend hiring my Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC to build your, including offering and managing your hosting! However, there are many options out there. You could have your own hosting and then manage your own installation of a blog platform, like WordPress or ExpressionEngine. Or you could go with a hosted platform, like WordPress.com or Blogger.com.
However you go, I strongly recommend you do 2 things. The first is use your own domain name for the blog, and not use the default URL that may come with the host or hosted solution. Also, use Google Feedburner to manage your blog feed and not the default feed URLs that come with either. By doing these, you have flexibility to move to a new platform or host and not lose users or feed subscribers with a new URL for each.
Q – What blogs do you read regularly and would send me to view as I begin this process?
A – I subscribe to the feeds of over 200 blogs. This does not mean I read all of them, in some cases I simply skim the headlines or titles. I recommend setting up a Google Reader account, and then begin subscribing to the RSS feeds of various blogs, from ones in the same vertical of which you are planning for your own blog, to news services or blogs in different categories. Some blogs do all things well, many do some a few things well, and some do most everything poorly.
One blog I will recommend is ProBlogger – it is a tremendous resource for blogging, whether for someone new like yourself or a seasoned blogger like myself.
Good luck with the launch of your blog! As I wrote these questions out in the open, I welcome anyone to comment on these, and make any recommendations they may have for getting started with blogging.
the3six5 is a story of the year 2010, told daily by a different person. It falls under the category of a crowdsourced piece. It is the mastermind of Daniel Honigman and Len Kendall, 2 people who work in social media and the Internet in Chicago with whom I have the honor to know.
Last Thursday, August 19, I contributed “my day” to the project. Below is what I submitted. If you are not following the3six5 I highly recommend you do. It is a unique perspective on the year told my a wide variety of people.
Taking my little girl to daycare every day allows me to somewhat recreate Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, where he plays out in his mind’s eye how his next moves will take place. Of course I say somewhat, for as much as I would like, the day of a Web consultant can sometimes be unpredictable. Then again, this is part of why I do what I do.
After I drop her off and watch her bounding into her class (and once again wondering how she does it without the 3 cups of coffee that didn’t allow me to keep up with her) I continue out my role as Holmes, but with a Patriots jersey on, as it’s a gameday. In between client calls, development and some blogging, my mind wanders back to the date – August 19.
When I chose this day to share my day with you, I knew it would fall on the date, 6 years later, when I arrived in the Windy City. I wasn’t quite sure if it would be a big day, or just another day, or where I would even be this day. I also wasn’t sure if I would be reminiscing about what’s transpired over the years. As it turns out, though there have been some lows, the highs have trumped them, and I am pretty positive about where I am right now. Ok, the photos of my family and pictures of some of the Web sites I have build which surround me may have some influence on that, not to mention not following the news today!
I am also looking ahead to the next few weeks – this weekend I was invited by Nokia to a beach house in Huntington Beach, CA to try out a new mobile device, which will be followed by some quality time-off with the family, followed by kicking off a great Web project. Some days the glass is half full and some days it isn’t half full, rather shattered on the floor and liquid splattered. Then again, I probably have followed the news too much those days.
A special hello to new readers of The Hot Iron, especially those who came here after reading the latest edition of the “Out of Date Newsletter” by Christopher S. Penn. I was mentioned in the newsletter which arrived in my inbox yesterday, and I appreciate the kind words!
Apparently I am returning the favor, as mentions from me in social media drove traffic to his newsletter. Of course you can only find out this information from analytics, which I have talked about quite a bit here. If you’re not already reading his newsletter or his blog, visit ChristopherSPenn.com and do so, not to mention the amazing marketing podcast Marketing Over Coffee he does with my good friend John Wall.
The Power Of The Last Post And Tweet
If you are new or a regular reader, you may have noticed I haven’t posted to The Hot Iron in a couple of weeks. I won’t get into any excuses as that is not important. But if you did subscribe, thank you, as many may not have found something relevant as of late and may not have chosen to. Also, if you read my Twitter stream yesterday, you may have seen more mentions of my wedding anniversary than anything business-related, as I took yesterday off. If you are following my tweets, again, thank you!
In a 24/7 world where attention spans are short, where we last left off is sometimes all people see from us. In social media and blogging, this is something to always be aware of. But then again, it is no different than a Web site with minimal or outdated content. You never know who will read, and when, and hopefully what they see is of interest to them. This is why on the Web pages of The Hot Iron I just have a link to my Twitter page, as sometimes the last one I leave is not always the best one.
Any Press Is Good Press
Despite this, I am thrilled to have the mention, especially as not everyone reads an email newsletter the day it is delivered. In my case, it was the next day – I was of course monitoring my email during the day and saw it in my inbox, but did not read it in full until today. Plus I subscribe to Donald Trump’s mantra that “any press is good press” as people are talking about you, and where you can’t control the message all the time, you can have an impact from what you say yourself.
Be on the watch for new thoughts and commentary coming from me here at The Hot Iron. Seriously.
The next Chicago ExpressionEngine Meetup will be on Tuesday, May 18, at OfficePort Chicago in the Loop. During the first Meetup the idea of "opening the books" and sharing our work in EE was discussed. We now have our first volunteer for what will certainly be a lively discussion and learning experience for all.
Eryan Cobham of Cobwebs Consulting will be subjecting himself to a "code review" by the group for a site he is currently building using EE, and facilitating a discussion on the proper way to do accomplish certain functions in EE. Some topics may include: using extensions, URL segments, and any other questions that people may interest people.
After gauging the response to the post, as well as general commentary I saw around social media about April Fools Day and blogging, the question presents itself, “should you blog a joke on April 1?”
There is no shortage of opinion out there, and that can also relate to your blog as a whole as well as its individual post. When thinking about reactions to such a post of your own, there’s many angles to look at from. Some say you should ignore anything posted on April 1 in general, as it is a waste of time to sort through the jokes to find what is real. Others say your attempt at humor may not get through to an existing reader or a new reader, which could turn them off and away from your blog. Then others say that in a world where things are too serious, why not have some comic relief?
So summing it up, blogging on April 1 may be a no-win situation. But thinking about it more, isn’t that true for the other 364 days of the year as well?
Be True To Your Blog
My recommendation is to be true to the mission of your blog. By consistently writing relevant content and engaging with your community you should be in good shape. Over the long term, you should have increased readership – both in page hits and subscribers. Watching hits and activities on a day-to-day basis may not be relevant for you, as for whatever reason you may get people unsubscribing or a decrease in the number of hits. But like the stock market, you may have bumps along the road but over the long term you should gain.
Keeping true to The Hot Iron, I never try to take myself too seriously, so every once in a while snarky comments may come out, and yesterday that was in the form of an entire post. I will continue to strive to educate and engage in conversation, and hopefully you the reader will enjoy it as much as I do.
Should a blog have its own domain name? The answer to this is obviously "it depends" as no solution fits for everybody. Let's take the idea of branding a blog step-by-step.
Start With The Brand
It is good practice to brand your blog. By giving it a name other than "company's blog" a brand name helps the blog stand on its own, which many times is the case. Many people come to read a blog based on its own content and not necessarily linked from your company's Web site. RSS feeds and social bookmarking sites may guide many readers to your blog, and people may be more likely to read it if they think there's a level of independence to the blog, and that it isn't just a mouthpiece for the company. If you are adding a blog to your existing Web mix, this is a way to add some energy and buzz from the blog, and to your Web presence overall.
The brand name for a blog can be something completely new to your company, or it could be something you already have. Many blogs are given clever names (like The Hot Iron!) or they can use the company's tag line for the blog name.
This also depends on how you may be marketing or positioning the blog. Many times a blog is the official company blog. In some cases, it is a company blog, but designated it is the opinion of an employee of the company. If you market your key people as individuals, you may want the blogs to have their name as the domain name, or some other phrase or moniker they may use. This will build upon their individual branding.
Then Add A Domain Name
If you go through the effort to brand the blog, ideally you want to acquire a domain name for that brand name, as you should for, at a minimum, to protect the brand. A unique domain name, separate from your company's main domain name, builds upon the momentum of brand name you have given the blog. This is not to say that if you call your blog companyname.com/blog it will not be popular or successful. A domain name also allows for additional blogs down the road.
Many times when a blog is added to a Web site, it may not be hosted along with the site and reside on different servers. If your company has the ability to manage the DNS of its domain name (if you don't know what this means, you probably don't have that ability!) you can add a unique domain name to the blog wherever it is hosted. If your blog is hosted at a blog service like WordPress, you can add a domain name or subdomain (e.g. blogname.companyname.com) and it is recommended to do so - otherwise the blog will have an address of blogname.wordpress.com; if down the road you want to host the blog itself or move it to another service, then its Web address will have to change. When a blog is added to a Web site, it may be running different technology than the Web site. Thus a simple way to manage this is to have a unique domain name for the blog. This actually reduces DNS management for the company's main domain name.
In some cases, you may not be able to add a domain name to a blog, and the reasons can vary. Some companies may have it as policy that you cannot use another domain name other than the main one for the company's Web site. Seriously, this can happen, and was the case with a former employer. Even though we owned domain names for all of our branded products and services, they were not used - yes, the domain names did not resolve to anything! They did not want the brand to be splintered at all, even though in reality the company itself was heavily siloed into separate business units. Other companies may have other policies about managing DNS you will need to be aware of before making such a decision.
Another nuance to consider is the continuously blurring line between Web site and blog. In some cases, the Web site is a blog. A good example is the blog Dunkirk Systems, LLC and Visible Logic, Inc. recently build for the soon-to-be-bestselling book OUIJA - For The Record. This site has a few content pages, but it is primarily a blog and forum. It has one domain name and this is all it needs. There are a few content pages, but the overall goal and design were about conversation about the book, so as it is structured it works well to achieve this goal.
The Brand Beyond The Domain Name
If you do choose a domain name for your blog, ensure to carry it through in your other uses of social media. You can use the domain name in association with Google Feedburner to aggregate and promote your blog feed. Register accounts with associated social media sites - Twitter, etc. - and social bookmarking sites - StumbleUpon, etc. - to carry through and reinforce the blog's brand.
Whether you use a unique domain name or not, the design of the blog may or may not be consistent with the company's Web site. As the flow of a blog can differ from a traditional Web site, the current Web site's design and layout may have to be modified to be used for the blog. If you want the blog to be highly integrated into the Web site, then you may want a consistent design. If you do not, or are not sure, then you may want a unique look for the blog, although the company's brand would be present in the new design. There is a lot more to consider with design, though this post is about the brand name more than the look.
Whichever direction you choose, it in itself will not determine the success of your blog. Unique, interesting and relevant content published for readers published on a regular schedule is still the sweet spot of any blog!