I used to make money building websites, which started with me building my own. Back in the day, it was all about coding, and for me it was fairly simple. It lasted for a few years before more people started buying templates; oh well…
Something I never did was build a blogging theme. I learned how to build a website using WordPress software, but I wasn’t a fan of it. Lucky for me, I only had to do two; harder than I imagined it would be. Continue reading →
On Monday I wrote about how I got hacked last year and what I had to go through to fix everything because it also ended up taking out some of my other websites for awhile. I also mentioned in that post that it was due to some free themes that I’d downloaded years earlier that I never used, but forgot to remove from my blog at the time.
This brings us to the discussion about paid versus free themes. Often you’ll read where some blogging “professional” is telling people that a paid theme will help you make more money because it’ll work better with your keywords and thus Google will love you. They’ll also tell you that if you want to look like a professional you’re going to need to get a neat photo icon to pop on there to help your branding.
I agree with only one part of this; you want to have a blog that looks nice and professional. It turns out that you don’t have to go the paid route to get that, although you’re probably going to need some technical expertise or a couple of friends to help you out. I’m telling you this one from experience as someone running 5 blogs.
What makes a blog look professional? That’s kind of a tough question to answer because there’s no one way to look like you know what you’re doing. Instead, let’s go from the aspect of what makes you look like you don’t know what you’re doing.
First, colors. If people can’t read what you have to say then you’re just wasting time. Hey, my favorite color is red, but a bright red background, no matter the color of the print, is going to freak people out. The same would apply if I had red print against almost any color. This blog stands out because my print color is burgundy; how many other blogs have you seen using that color? But it fits well with the overall color of the blog if you ask me.
Second, your header. You want something that’s at least a little bit unique. In my case I use the banner that’s also at the top of my website. Some people use colors, some have images created that fit well up there. Going with the WordPress header is quick and convenient but truthfully, so many other people use it that you not only won’t stand out from the crowd, you also won’t look very professional. If you don’t care and just want to write then it’s fine. But if you hope to do business, you’ll want to change something up.
Third, your sidebars. There’s nothing wrong with pimping a product or two on your sidebars, but being too busy can be distracting for people who you hope are there to read your content and learn more about what it is you do or can do for them.
With all of these things, if you go the free route then you’re probably going to need some help, at least initially, to help you get it right. If you pay for your theme then your learning curve is much easier and you can get some expert help. Still, you’re paying for it whereas you might not have to pay a friend. Or you might if you want a nice fancy business logo.
What I want to mention in closing is that even paid themes can get hacked if you don’t keep up with software changes. WordPress is great because they’re always updating for security, but if you’re not updating your blog, the theme won’t matter. Decide whether you want to spend more money or more time getting your blog correct, and then go forth and write.
Next morning I woke, came to the computer and tried to access that blog; access denied. I then tried accessing other blogs; some I could see, others said access denied. I then tried to look at my websites; some I could see portions, others access was denied; yeah, that’s a big problem.
I called my friend Kelvin, with whom I share the space, and asked him to look into it, as I had to get to work. He wrote me with the bad news; per the host, I’d been hacked through two of my blogs. Luckily, the host caught the attack and froze access, which was why I couldn’t access anything. He forwarded me the email which explained part of the problem, and what I had to do to fix it.
When I got back to the hotel (as I’m out of town right now) I went to work on the problem. I’m telling you what I did so and what you should do if it happens to you you’ll be able to fix it quicker than I did.
First, the email mentioned that I’d been hacked through the footer of themes on two different blogs that I wasn’t using. Truthfully, when I saw the names I didn’t even remember having those themes on those sites. It didn’t matter; they had to go. The email recommended certain files to remove through a FTP (file transfer protocol) program. I mainly use WS-FTP, but I’m going to recommend Filezilla for those times when you have to delete lots of stuff. WS-FTP lets you delete things, but it won’t delete any folders that have files in them, which can be a pain as I’ll bring up; Filezilla will take care of the entire thing for you.
I went in & deleted the files recommended, and while I was at it I decided to delete the entire theme as well off both blogs. However, all my sites were still closed down afterwards.
The next thing it recommended was for me to go in and update all the software on my blogs. Here’s where, if I’d known something I’ll mention in a little bit, I’d have bypassed. The reason I’d have bypassed it is because I had already updated all the blogging software; all I ended up doing later on was delete and re-add what I already had. If I hadn’t updated it would be a different story; I wasted a lot of time on this step, one I could have skipped if I’d had Filezilla already on my laptop, as I have it on my main computer at home.
Here’s the problem. My assumption was that the hack, which wasn’t major but still problematic, had infiltrated all my sites. What happened instead is that once my host, 1&1, locked everything down, it shut down all my sites, not just the two blogs that were hacked. If I’d thought of what I’m about to tell you now I’d have saved at least 3 1/2 hours, as I spent 4 1/2 hours on the problem.
The other thing I want to tell you about is using free themes from other people. Most people who create free themes add things into the footer and hide them with some type of scrambling program. I learned that a long time ago when one of my blogs was being found for certain terms that I’d never written about. I obtained some software so I could see what was in there, stripped it out, and never had another problem with those terms after a month or so.
However, the blogs hacked are my oldest blogs, and I had downloaded a bunch of other themes that I never used, thus I never thought about those footers. I got away with it a long time, but in retrospect I should have deleted themes I was never going to use, other than those that WordPress gives you; take that as a major hint and recommendation.
Anyway, I spent hours deleting files and folders, first with WS-FTP, which took a very long time on the one blog I used it for, then with Filezilla, which went way faster but I’m on a hotel’s internet connection, not the speedy 30 MBPS I have at home, so it still took awhile. Truthfully, it’s possible that if I hadn’t reloaded that software I might not have been able to get into my dashboards and would have still had to go through the process, but I should have done this other thing first, which would have been a snap and maybe might have saved a lot more time.
When the host locked down my sites, what they did was change the file permissions to 644, which basically shuts everything down; at least it did for me, as I couldn’t see any of my files online, though I could get in through the FTP. To make sure everyone else can see what you want them to see, you need to change the file permissions to 755.
You can do this a number of ways, but the fastest and easiest way to do it is to use a FTP program that can do it for you. WS-FTP can’t do it, but Filezilla can. I went online and downloaded it, as it’s free, loaded it up, then used the username & password that accesses all my sites at once so I could work on multiple accounts at the same time. What you do is right click on the file or folder you want to be accessible, see what the permission is, and change it by typing in 755 over the 644 or, possibly, xxx if that’s what you see. Then you hit okay and it releases those files and your stuff can be seen once more. When I was done, all my sites were back up, looking like they were supposed to; whew!
By the way, you might have an occasion to have files on your site which you don’t want anyone to know exists, hence you’ll want to be perspicacious in determine whether you want all your folders or files having their permissions changed.
Here are the major lessons to take away from here.
One, stay cool; by staying cool I didn’t do anything really stupid.
Two, if you don’t already have a preferential FTP program I’d recommend Filezilla. The program I use is pretty old, but I’m most comfortable with it for the most part, even if it can’t do everything Filezilla can.
Three, follow the initial instructions recommended by deleting bad stuff they tell you to get rid of.
Four, I should have tested the file permissions on one of my blogs first to see if I could regain access and if I could get into my dashboard before reloading everything; I could have always done it if I hadn’t gained access after the test.
Five, always keep your software up to date when recommendations for upgrading come your way for security reasons. At least I had that part covered.
And six… well, lucky for me I was hacked only to mess with me. They couldn’t get into my blogs or content because I have some plugins on it that protects the blogs, as well as passwords hard enough to figure out to make it more of a chore. That and quick thinking from my host saved me.
Lots to learn here; I hope it helps someone in the long run if this situation comes your way.
How many of you eat tuna fish? I know a few are going to say they don’t, but did you know that tuna is ranked as the most favored fish in the United States, with more than twice as many people eating it than salmon, which is #2? I was stunned by both of these because when I go to restaurants, most of the time they serve either haddock or cod. But these don’t seem to translate well to eating at home, which is why tuna and salmon rank so high.
my tuna mix
You know one of the strange things about tuna? It’s not a pretty food. Look at this picture of some tuna I made up the way I like it. When I posted this picture on Instagram some months ago and had it also going to Facebook, it was universally hated for its appearance. Yet, I know that all tuna looks pretty much like this after it’s been mixed with people’s favorite ingredients; have you ever seen Subway’s tuna?
Do I have a point? Of course! Lately there’s been a lot of discussion about what people’s blogs look like. I covered some of that on my previous post where I said if a website or blog works for you then go with it. I also said that it’s possible that people might not necessarily agree with you and that if they decide to stay away and you’re okay with it then fine, but if you want visitors you might decide to make some changes.
In my opinion, it’s not the look of blogs that drives people away as much as what a blog has to say. There are some very ugly and plain websites that draw thousands of visits a day. Why? Because someone found their content compelling enough to keep them coming and indirectly got them to share the content to help make them popular.
This isn’t a slam on pretty websites or on fancy themes. They can be as pleasing and tempting as the dish on the left. It’s a postulation if you will that states content really matters a lot more than what one’s blog looks like. The idea of having a website look professional is a big one, but professional can be minimalistic as well as fancy-dancy with all sorts of things popping out and videos and music automatically playing and flash pages and… well, you get my drift. You don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for a blog theme unless you really want to.
I just introduced this blog through my other blog, my main business blog, which I’ve never mentioned before but will now. It’s called Mitch’s Blog, which turned out to not be as original as I had thought it would be when I named it. Still, I’ve had the other blog for almost 4 years now, I believe. I had kept the two blogs separate except for the blogroll because I had wanted a separation of the two (actually 3) businesses, but hey, it’s all about promotion, right?
The other blog was set up with the original WordPress template, which pretty much suits me just fine. I have looked at changing templates in some fashion, but they never tell you everything you should know if you’re thinking about changing templates. All the stuff you have on your present blog doesn’t just move over; you have to add it all back on there, which could make things at least time consuming if not somewhat problematic because, unless you thought about copying it all to other files beforehand (I’m talking about copying all the code that goes into making these blogs in the first place) you’ll be going back and forth between templates, trying to copy and paste, all while still being live; that just doesn’t get it done.
However, if you do look at the other blog, you’ll notice one slight change from the norm. The surrounding color of my blog is the same color as my main business site. It took me awhile to figure that one, one of those “nights” where I stayed up until 4 in the morning because I just had to figure it out.
All I had to do was create my original color as a new picture file, name it the same as what it was already called, then upload it to the proper place. I then noticed that the main background is also a picture file, and were I so predisposed to do so, I could change the look of that also. But I decided to leave well enough alone, as my wife says, because, well, I was getting tired.
I also learned how to add a sidebar to the comments area, which isn’t a default on the original template, and that was a big deal to me. Now I see that I can actually add a sidebar to the other side, but for now I think that would be overkill. At least when I found the template for this blog, it already had two side panels, which is what I was looking for in the first place.
I think I’ll stop here for now, but in some of my succeeding posts, I’m going to talk about things to think about when one is thinking about setting up a blog; stay tuned.