By Rob Kroese
Recently I made the transition from web developer to full-time writer. I decided I didn’t want to spend my days writing code when I could be writing novels. So as part of that transition, I rebuilt my author website to make it as simple as possible to maintain. What I wanted was a site that I could set up once and then forget about, except for posting blog updates.
Here’s my list of requirements:
- Home page with basic information about me, including links to my books on Amazon and social networking links
- Integrated blog that automatically posts to Twitter and Facebook
- Links for sharing blog posts on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites
- Automatic posting to Twitter and Facebook
- Blog commenting system with spam filter
- No hand-coding and minimal maintenance
I’m going to walk through the basic process of setting this all up. Note that I’m going to be using the WordPress blogging platform for my example, because I think it’s the easiest to set up and manage.
You can see the final results of this process at http://robertkroese.com. I’m not saying it’s the most beautiful site in the world, but it does everything I need it to do – with minimal ongoing effort on my part.
Getting a Domain and Web Hosting
First, you’ll need to register a domain and get a basic hosting package. (You can skip this step if you don’t mind using a subdomain on someone else’s site, e.g. RobertKroese.wordpress.com or RobertKroese.blogspot.com. If you’re short on money, that might be the way to go.) I use a company called MyHosting.com, which has reasonable prices and has been fairly reliable for me. I recommend going with a hosting company that uses the Parallels Automation tools. Parallels provides a simple web interface that allows you to upload files, install applications, and change settings for your website.
The process of registering a domain and setting up a basic hosting package through a company like MyHosting.com is pretty straightforward, so I won’t go into detail about it here. Just be aware that it might take up to a day for the hosting company to get everything set up. Once it’s set up, you’ll be able to log into your site control panel. You’ll see something like this:
(This is the Parallels web interface. If your hosting company is using a different service, it will look different.)
If you don’t have an email address set up for your domain (e.g. Stephen@stephenking.com), I’d recommend clicking on Add New Mailbox and doing that first.
Setting Up WordPress
After that, click on Site Applications in the Websites section. You’re going to want to click on the big +Install button.
You’ll see a list of applications you can install. Click on WordPress.
Step through the installation. You can just accept the default values for most things. One thing I would recommend changing is the default URL path. It will want to put WordPress in a /wordpress directory, which means that to get to your blog, users will have to go to that directory. This is useful if you want your WordPress blog to be just one part of your website, but for simplicity we’re going to manage the whole site through WordPress. That means users who go to yourauthorsite.com will see the WordPress content without having to go to yourauthorsite.com/wordpress.
To accomplish that, change this…
Step through the rest of the installation and you’re good to go.
Now if you click on the Site Applications link, you’ll see WordPress installed.
To log into WordPress, click the Login => link. Unless you’re happy with the default WordPress theme, I’d recommend clicking the change your theme completely link. Spend some time browsing the various themes. Remember that you want something that captures the feel you want for your author site as well as having a place for all the links and widgets you’re going to want on the page. You can change this later, but plan on losing any customizations you made to the previous theme.
Once you’ve selected a theme you like, you can make simple customizations by clicking on the big Customize Your Site button.
Next, you’re going to want to add some plugins. The first one you’ll want to add is the Akismet anti-spam plug-in. You may already have this installed, so check under Installed Plugins on the left nav menu first.
If you see Akismet listed, just click Activate to activate it. If it’s not listed, click Add New on the menu and search for “Akismet”. Install and activate it. You can also click Settings to manage how Akismet handles suspected spam comments.
There are thousands of other plugins you might find useful, but for now let’s just add two others. These two plugins are needed for integrating your site with social media platforms. We need one plugin to display links to your Twitter/Facebook/etc. pages from your sidebar and another to let people easily share your posts on these sites.
Click Add New on the Plugins menu and search for “social media”. You’ll find a bunch of social media-related plug-ins. What we’re looking for is something that will allow readers to easily share your posts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google Plus, etc. I use Acurax Social Media Widget, which seems to work pretty well. Install and activate the plug-in.
After installing the Acurax plug-in, you’ll want to configure it. Click the Acx Social Media Widget Settings button on the left nav.
Select the button style you want and enter your social media account information. You can leave boxes blank if you want; the widget just won’t display those options to the reader.
Now click on the Dashboard link on the left nav and then click Manage widgets.
You’ll see a list of Available Widgets, including the Acurax Social Media Widget. To the right, you’ll see all the widgets currently installed on your site. Drag the Acurax Social Media Widget to where you want it to appear.
It will look something like this on your site:
Next, we need a plugin to allow users to easily share your posts on social networking sites. Click Add New on the Plugins menu and search for “social media” again. I use a plugin called “Social Share Buttons” by Loskutnikov Artem. Again, there are plenty of other widgets that do basically the same thing. Install and activate the plugin. When you’re done, you should see sharing options at the bottom of your posts. It will look something like this:
Setting up Twitter and Amazon widgets
There are special WordPress plugins for displaying data from Twitter and Amazon.com on your site, but I found it simplest just to use the code provided by Twitter and Amazon, respectively. (I’m assuming you already have a Twitter and Amazon Affiliate accounts set up.)
To get the code to display your recent tweets, go here: https://twitter.com/settings/widgets.
To get the Amazon widget code, go here: https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/. You can easily use Amazon’s tools to create a widget displaying all or some of your books, with links to the Amazon page.
Copy the code for the widget. Then go to the WordPress dashboard again and click Manage widgets.
Drag a Text widget to where you want it to appear on the site.
Then click the widget header, give the widget an appropriate title and paste the code. Click Save when you’re done.
Make a separate text widget for Twitter, Amazon, and any other arbitrary text/code that you want to display.
Here’s a screenshot of my blog:
The sidebar below my bio/photo is comprised of:
- Amazon slideshow (Text widget with Amazon Affiliate code)
- Email list signup form (Text widget with code from from MailChimp)
- Ad for one of my books (Text widget with image and link url – this is the one bit of code I actually wrote)
- Social media icons (Acurax Social Media Widget)
- Twitter feed (Text widget with Twitter code)
Setting Up Your Blog to Auto-Post to Twitter and Facebook
OK, your site is all set up! You’ve got all your basic information on the site and made it easy for readers to connect with you on various social media platforms. There’s just one other step you should take to make life easier for yourself in the long run: set up your blog to automatically post to your favorite social media sites.
First you’ll need to find the URL for your blog’s RSS feed. A link to your feed URL will generally appear somewhere on your blog sidebar, depending on your theme and settings. If you right-click on the Entries RSS link, you can copy the link address.
The RSS feed is basically a version of your blog that’s easy for automated services to read.
The best service I’ve found for auto-posting to social media sites is TwitterFeed.com. Simply go to TwitterFeed, create an account and then click Create New Feed. Paste the URL for your RSS feed into the text box. You can click the test rss feed button to make sure you did it right.
Click Continue to Step 2. Select the service you want to publish your posts to. You’ll be prompted to connect your social media account(s) to TwitterFeed. When you’ve done that, click All Done! That’s all there is to it. (Using the default settings, it might take up to 30 minutes for new posts to show up on the selected social media sites.)
Note that for Facebook, you can choose to post either to your personal wall or to your author page (if you’ve set up a separate author page). If you want to post to both, simply repeat the process. You can post to as many pages as you want. Repeat the process again to post to a Twitter account or other service.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why you don’t see an option to post to Google Plus, it’s because the G+ API doesn’t currently allow write access. I couldn’t begin to speculate why. Hopefully that will change at some point.
There are all sorts of advanced settings I won’t get into here. You can also get really clever with Twitterfeed by using categories in WordPress. For example, I’ve set my blog up to post all blog entries to my personal Facebook page, but only book-related posts to show up on my author page. To do this, create a category in WordPress (for example, “Book Promotion”) and then create at least one blog post in that category. Go to that post in your blog and click the category to open the archive for that category.
Your browser will open to a page with an url like http://robertkroese.com/wordpress/?cat=6. In this case, “cat=6” means that 6 is WordPress’s identifier for the “Book Promotion” category.
Go to Twitterfeed and create a new feed, using this format: http://robertkroese.com/wordpress/?cat=6&feed=rss2 (replace my domain with yours and the number 6 with the appropriate category identifier for your site). Click Continue to Step 2 and select your author page as the destination. Now any posts in the category “Book Promotion” will appear on your Facebook author page. This is handy if you don’t want your readers to feel overwhelmed by posts about your cat, children, political rants, etc.
And you’re done! Now you’ve got a website that provides all the basic information potential readers need and makes it easy for them to share your posts and connect to you on social media sites. It even automatically posts all your new blog posts to those sites for you! All you have to do is write your posts. Have fun!
About the Author: Author Rob Kroese’s sense of irony was honed growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan – home of the Amway Corporation and the Gerald R. Ford Museum, and the first city in the United States to fluoridate its water supply. In second grade, he wrote his first novel, the saga of Captain Bill and his spaceship Thee Eagle. This turned out to be the high point of his academic career. After barely graduating from Calvin College in 1992 with a philosophy degree, he was fired from a variety of jobs before moving to California, where he stumbled into software development. As this job required neither punctuality nor a sense of direction, he excelled at it. In 2009, he called upon his extensive knowledge of useless information and love of explosions to write his first novel, Mercury Falls. Since then, he has written two sequels, Mercury Rises (2011) and Mercury Rests (2012), and a humorous epic fantasy, Disenchanted. He has just finished a new novel called Schrodinger’s Gat, which he calls a “quantum physics noir thriller.”