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How I Repeatedly Broke My WordPress Web Site

In the beginning, I was a support tech at a vertical market startup. The developer asked me to try to find issues with the software, and I found some – including one major bug. He dubbed me Bug Buster, and the nickname stuck.

Before WordPress

It was only logical that my first site was called BugBuster’s Best. It was a very simple site, and I prided myself on hand-coding it using Notepad. The next incarnation was Steve Case’s Place. Since it was still a simple, hand-coded site, it was easy to migrate to the stevecase.org domain when I acquired it. I completely gutted it soon after that, because my original content had been pretty random.

Twitter’s 140-character limit was far too little for some topics, so I decided it was time to compliment my microblogging with a full-on blog. The hosting company where my site lived offered WordPress as a free blogging platform, so the obvious choice was to start with that.

At the time I didn’t know about WordPress.COM vs. WordPress.ORG.

  • WordPress.ORG is where you can download WordPress software, load it onto a server, and then use it any way you please
  • WordPress.COM is a commercial site that lets you setup your website on their servers; they use the software offered by WordPress.ORG
  • By having the hosting company install WordPress software on my site, I stumbled into WordPress.ORG, which was the “right” choice for me so I could have complete control and ownership of my site

Fateful Question

WordPress’ Famous 5-Minute Install meant there weren’t many decisions to make during the installation. One that I should have given more attention to was where to install it:

  • stevecase.org
  • stevecase.org/blog

Since my hand-coded site already lived at the root directory (stevecase.org) it seemed logical to have the blog live in the blog subdirectory (stevecase.org/blog). That was doubly true since I didn’t want the world to see my blog site while I was still learning WordPress.

As I built-out the site, I wasn’t sure how to switch the blog to be the first thing people saw when they went to stevecase.org. Could it be changed, and should it be changed?

Yes, it had to change. The original hand-coded page was starting to look pretty lame compared to what I was building in WordPress.

Final Resting Place

My hosting company was becoming the weakest link. They were good at fixing what broke, but most of the time they were the ones who broke it in the first place. I made enough of my own mistakes with my site, and I didn’t need anyone making mistakes for me. They also didn’t understand WordPress very well, which may have contributed to some of the problems I had there.

If I was going to get serious about blogging, I needed to get serious about where it was hosted.

Logo for the Seattle WordPress Meetup
Seattle WordPress Meetup’s logo

One of the first times I attended the Seattle WordPress Meetup I won a door prize. It wasn’t a t-shirt or a stress ball. I won free hosting, contributed by WP Engine – a hosting company that specializes in WordPress.

That offer had been burning a hole in my pocket, and now was the time to take them up on it. I had some trouble exporting my site cleanly from the old hosting company, but WP Engine was still able to import it successfully. Only one problem: Broken internal links and graphics. Yes, my site was broken again.

Remember that choice about the installation directory that I mentioned above? Between that, and my imprecisely stating how I wanted the site imported by WP Engine, all of the links to the graphics broke.

I contacted tech support and the tech looked at my wrecked site. After several messages back and forth he finished with this:

I believe I’ve gotten everything fixed here but please feel free to reach out again if something is missing. I have made some changes that we typically do not support, but since your site was live with broken content, I felt it was the right thing to make these changes as quickly as possible.

Knowing that they weren’t even getting paid for hosting my site, that’s especially stunning customer service. Talk about exceeding expectations!

What Should the Home Page Look Like

Now that WordPress was essentially my home page, the blog was finally the first thing people saw when they came to my site. Then again, is that the best possible way to greet people?

As I worked on my own site, I noticed some things that others had done to provide a landing page for their site. It might include post previews or teasers, but the page itself introduced the site.

At first I thought this involved custom coding or a special WordPress theme. One of the great things about WordPress is that you can change your site’s appearance just by selecting a different theme. It is still the same site, but it looks (and maybe works) different.

The functionality I was looking for turned-out to be a standard option in most WordPress themes: A Static Front Page. This page would be the first thing folks would see when they come to my site. They they could select the blog from the menu. I decided on a layout that also included direct links six featured blog posts.

What’s SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) means making it easy for folks to find things on your site using search engines like Google and Bing.

One of the best things I did for my SEO was to install the Yoast SEO for WordPress plugin. It gives advice on how to make your posts easier to find, and also catches some of the stupid mistakes that make your material hard to find.

Search engines increasingly favor sites that are more friendly for the device you’re using. For example, Google gives extra credit for mobile-friendly sites if someone is searching from a mobile device.

Permalink Settings Menu in WordPress software for blogging and content management .
WordPress Permalink Settings Menu

Search engines don’t like seeing identical content on several sites. That included when my site was available as both stevecase.org and www.stevecase.org. It was yet another thing I had to fix, but who really cares about “dub dub dub” anymore?

Another way I broke my site – and my SEO – was changing the PermaLinks configuration. Originally I used the “Day and name” option, and later switched to the somewhat more concise “Month and name” option. Ultimately I went with “Post Name”. Each time I changed it, I had trouble for a while with broken links and broken SEO.

If you’re starting a site, think really hard about picking anything other than the “Post Name” option unless you’ve got a really good reason to make a different choice.

What Are You Trying To Accomplish?

In my work I’m notorious for asking “What are you trying to accomplish?” A client might ask for a three-pronged widget, which is expensive and takes a while to order. Is there something special about the requirements that can only be met by a three-pronged widget, or would a two-pronged widget serve just as well? After all, they’re already in stock, and you can get two of them for less than the cost of the three-pronged version.

Relative to my site, I waited much too long to ask that question myself. Part of the reason I had to undo several earlier choices is because I was just making choices that seemed logical at the time. What I really needed was to Begin with the End in Mind.

 

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