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Frustrated computer user

Changing or upgrading your website can be a bit challenging and frustrating — especially if you’re trying to do it on your own, or on a laughably tight budget.

I’ve managed to get the site at least looking presentable, and I thought I’d tell you how I’ve done it, what it cost me and what I’ve used, in case there was anything here that you thought might be useful to steal and go and put on your site.

Try and use free stuff
First of all, this website is a WordPress site. That’s a free bit of software that takes a little bit of setting up, but a lot of web hosts these days have a WordPress auto-install feature, so that can take a good deal of the headache out of it.

You’ll still want to upload some (free) plugins to give it greater functionality and you may need to dig around under the hood at some point, so grab yourself a good FTP (file transfer protocol) programme. I’m on a Mac so I use Cyberduck (also free). There are plenty of alternatives.

Design
I’m using a free template called Grid Focus Public 1.0 which I found just by doing a few Google search variations on the phrase ‘best free WordPress templates‘.

I happen to have a 15 year-old son who likes to play with Photoshop, and he made some banners for me. He says they’re nothing special, and he did them fairly quickly, but I think it would have taken me quite considerably longer to much less satisfying effect. Thanks, Jake.

Your experience of teenagers may vary.

He’s actually made similar banners for my other websites too and helped me choose colour palettes from Adobe Kuler (recommended). Given that I’m a bit colourblind (reds and greens), that’s really helpful.

The photograph of me in a pub is by Kate Beatty.

Plugins
Then the site needed some functionality. That’s where the free plugins came in.

I already had a handful of these (though some of them needed updates) but my friend Craig sent me a link to a page of 50 Best WordPress Plugins.

There are far fewer than 50 on this site, but there are some I just wouldn’t be without. So – in case you’re wondering, these are the plugins I currently have installed on New Music Strategies:

Akismet
This deletes all the spam comments before I even see them. At the time of writing, Akismet has so far prevented me from being bothered by 81,936 spam comments. So it’s earned its keep.

All-in-one SEO pack
Search Engine Optimisation. Makes the website easy to find on sites like Google.

Audio Player
Allows me to easily put a piece of audio into a blog post. Like this:
[audio:sitedesign.mp3]

Comment Relish
If you’ve never left a comment on this site before, go leave one now. Comment Relish lets me send out an automated thankyou note to all first-time commenters.

Disable WordPress Widgets
I’ve disabled the sidebar widgets on this site and used this plugin to help me do that. I originally started using it because the old theme (based on K2) needed me to in order to function. The new theme doesn’t use sidebar widgets either – which suits me fine. I like to get in and mess with the template. It’s a geek thing, probably…

DoFollow
Wordpress automatically adds a ‘no follow’ tag to outgoing links in the comments. I’ve used this plugin so that the link that you add to your own site counts towards its Google ranking. You’re commenting on my blog? It’s the least I can do. A quantity I specialise in…

Feedsmith
This plugin replaces the RSS feed that WordPress generates with the souped-up, all-singing, all-dancing RSS feeds you get when you sign up to Feedburner. Which I recommend doing, because it makes the whole subscription thing much easier for your readers. Click here to get New Music Strategies delivered to you automatically and just see how easy that is.

First RSS
This is very clever — it’s a plugin that lets you embed an RSS feed into a page. I use it to create the Newswire. I take the RSS feed from my del.icio.us bookmarks (the ones tagged ‘newswire’, that is) and they just turn up on that page as a steady stream. Easy-peasy.

Full Feed
Why should my readers have to come to my site to read my blog? Just because I put all this work into making it look nice… Full Feed gives RSS subscribers the whole post, even when I’ve put a ‘Read more’ tag into the post itself. You need never know what New Music Strategies looks like again — but you’ll still get all the content.

Google Analytics
Very useful stats right on your WordPress admin page. This shows you how many people are reading your site, where they come from, what they were searching on when they found you, whether they’re there for the first time or returning, how many pages they looked at on your site, what they had for breakfast…

Google Sitemaps
Handy. This builds a little file for the robotic spiders from Google to find so that they know exactly what’s on your site and what it all means. This will cause you much better search results, and therefore visitors.

Less
This is a little plugin that just changes the way the ‘Read More’ link works. It just makes reading the posts a little more intuitive. Rather than leap to the bits of the text you haven’t seen yet, it shows you the whole post from the beginning – which seems more helpful.

Share This
This creates a link at the bottom of a post that lets you share it on one of any number of social bookmarking sites, or just send it on to a friend via email. Very helpful, and I recommend you click on it often.

Simple Twitter
I haven’t quite worked out where to put this yet — and I may only end up using this on my personal blog — but this allows me to very easily import a simple ‘What I’m Doing Now’ status update from Twitter and put it in my sidebar. I recommend that musicians who have fans (or would like some) should use this feature on their sites. Which means use Twitter.

Subscribe to comments
This allows for readers to be kept up to date by email whenever someone comments on a particular post. Particularly useful if they’ve left a comment themselves and want to keep track of what the response is like.

WordPress Database Backup
Things go wrong. Even the best computers in the world break. To allow for this simple fact of life, this plugin automatically backs up my WordPress database with all of the posts, pages, comments, templates and plugins, zips it all up and emails it to me once a week. Or daily, if I prefer.

WordPress Reports
Again, this is about Google Analytics. Actually, I’m a little confused. Either this plugin or the Google Analytics plugin above is giving me all this useful traffic data. Doesn’t hurt to have both installed. They may even be two parts of the same whole. At any rate, I know where you live. Or at least – I know how many people are subscribed and how many people visit New Music Strategies each day.

Tweaks and cheats
I’ve also gone into the template and messed around with the code to do little things like change the colour of the navigation buttons and make them touch the site banner rather than leave a 5 pixel gap between the two of them. I can be trusted to do those sorts of minor amendments.

But I also paid someone £10 to upgrade all of my websites to the latest version of WordPress and do a little debugging (there were some bits of this site that weren’t working so well).

I found my IT support on Elance — a site that allows you to post any job, take bids from professional providers from all around the world, negotiate terms and read their feedback from past customers before you cut down a shortlist and decide who’s going to get your work.

You can get some very good work done for not very much money — which is helpful when you’re in a business with just a little cashflow (on a good week) — and you need some things done that lie outside your particular area of expertise. But be careful checking the feedback about reliability, etc. Cheapest is not always best.

All in all, a successful upgrade for £10, several hours of time, the aid of a teenager and that special bit of concerted effort you need to get over that reluctance to just get stuck in and dismantle the damn thing so you can build it back up the way you want it.

Unfinished business
There’s just one remaining bug that I need to iron out: there’s something screwy going on with the categories. I think it might be a conflict there. Anyone got any suggestions on where to look?

I’m also going to continue to mess around with the sidebars. Let me know if there’s anything not doing what it’s supposed to.

Hope you like the results.