My good friend Greg Hernandez, a veteran Hollywood reporter, was laid off from his job at the Daily News last Monday. In the week since, it’s a been an all-hands-on-deck rush to get him established on his new blog, now up at Greg In Hollywood. Below, a look at how it all came together, with a focus on the many details you have to consider when getting a new blog (or web site) up and running.
By the way, Greg has his own account of the launch at From layoff to kick-off in seven days. Be sure to check that out. My look below is more from a technical nature.
The first step was determining his domain name. Greg had founded the Out In Hollywood blog for the Daily News. He kind of wanted to carry over that name and was considering “Out In Hollywood Blog,” since that domain name was available. I thought he should go for something different and turned to Google results to make my point.
In a search for out in hollywood, his old blog ranks first followed second by the Out In Hollywood social site. Did he really want to be a third site fighting it out in those results?
After further thought, Greg came up with “Greg In Hollywood.” A great choice, since his blog is so much about Greg personally talking with actors, directors, producers and others in the entertainment industry. A great choice also because people searching for him weren’t going to be confused about other exisiting brands. In fact, his placeholder page went up on Friday, and by Sunday night, it was ranking third for greg in hollywood, behind two YouTube videos.
Next, web hosting. That was easy. Tiger Tech. My friend Rob Mathews runs it; my other friend Ken Spreitzer oversees tech issues. If having friends there wasn’t enough — hey, low cost ($80 per year!). It’s a wonderful service and able to withstand Digg traffic and more. Search Engine Land has run for years on it.
Blog software? We went with WordPress, because it’s so common and easy to install. I mean really easy. Ken pointed me at Tiger Tech’s help instructions, and I had WordPress installed in about 15 minutes. No need to use a shell program. Nothing but FTP and a web browser.
With the software up, we needed a design. I’d twittered that we were looking for someone who could fast tweak to an existing template. We really just wanted something to get Greg along for the time being, until he had some content established and more time to work out a long-term design.
Within hours, we heard from Kate Cohen, a long-time friend of both of ours from our newspaper days in Orange County during the 1990s. Among other things, she runs a kick-ass hyperlocal site called the Seal Beach Daily. She volunteered herself and her equally talented husband Val Cohen to do a template in a matter of days.
The clock was ticking. Greg’s a blogging machine and was anxious to get back in the swing of things on Friday. Getting it together just wasn’t going to happen, but we pushed on Thursday to get a placeholder page up in time for Friday, with the full blog launch aimed for Monday.
The placeholder was useful, because it let us get a lot of the behind-the-scenes technical stuff up and running. For one, we set Greg up with FeedBurner, so that people could sign-up for his feed in advance, as well as sign-up for an email list that FeedBurner also provides. A key point — we used MyBrand, so that Greg could have the feeds stay in his own domain name, rather than FeedBurner’s. My article Stay Master Of Your Feed Domain explains more about this, and also see FeedBurner’s help page on it. It’s free — DO IT!
Since the blog wasn’t actually live, Greg didn’t have a feed being produced. No problem. I faked up an RSS feed. You can see it here, and you can easily alter it if working on your own site and in need of a fast feed template. I fed that source feed to FeedBurner, which in turn spit it out under his feeds.greginhollywood.com/greginhollywood address.
If feeds are essential, so is Twitter. Greg has had a Twitter account since last year, but he hasn’t done much with it. So my wife, Lorna Harris, took Greg under her wing. She spent time teaching him Twitter etiquette, how to do replies and helped him build up to a nice core of 150 followers. She also set-up a separate account for his blog, one that would provide people with news alerts out of it, rather than Greg’s personal Twittering. That was easy, too — Twitterfeed simply pulls whatever is in his blog feed and puts it out on Twitter.
The placeholder was also a time to test out Greg’s new AdSense account. And good thing we did. Despite being accepted into the program, AdSense refused to display ads. No idea why. Today, this is still the case. We put in a help request to AdSense asking what was up. That was no help at all. It kicked back a message saying “we’re unable to respond personally to this particular message” and to read some help pages that didn’t answer the problem. Thanks, AdSense. For the time being, we’re using a different AdSense account to populate his ads until things can get straightened out. I also got a chuckle that after sending the useless response, AdSense then sent a survey asking “How’d we do” on the message. Not so well.
Since I was already signed into Google, I also made a quick detour to verify his site with Google Webmaster Central. By downloading a simple file, I ensured that Google knew about his site and would report back on any problems down the line. This also let me tell Google that even though the site could be found at either www.greginhollywood.com or greginhollywood.com, it was the non-www version that should be listed as the preferred domain. Since then, a 301 redirect of the www to the non-www has been put in place to further ensure the site doesn’t somehow come up both ways.
Tracking also went up for the placeholder — three types. Google Analytics, for the nice long-term analytis. BLVD Status for real-time tracking. And Quantcast, in case Greg might needs some comparative stats for ad reasons in the future.
The placeholder was also a time to do that essential keyword research. Greg had never really thought about how to describe his blog in a few words, for someone who might be seeking it out. He did have a tagline for his old blog, “All things pop culture through a gay man’s eyes” that he wanted to carry forward to the new one. But that didn’t incorporate any terms we thought people might be using to seek him out.
Off to the Google AdWords Keyword Tool to try some ideas out. We started out with “gay” to see what type of results came back. I was dead surprised to get this message back:
We’re sorry, but we’re unable to generate relevant keywords for this keyword. Please make sure you have entered the keyword correctly. Or, enter another keyword into the box to see related keywords.
Wow. What’s up with that? I went back and enabled synonym matching. That brought back matches that weren’t really synonym matches but instead a list of terms containing “gay” that I’d first sought.
Going down the list, “gay news” leaped out. And that was it. Not “gay celebrities” or “gay hollywood,” terms we’d thought might be on it. They didn’t show at all. And when I searched directly for “gay celebrities,” still no matches. But “gay hollywood” as a direct search did come up — and in volume that should have had it on the “gay” search overall.
I turned to Google Trends for a second opinion, checking gay celebrities, gay celebrity and gay hollywood. All seemed to have a healthy amount of volume, so it was title and description time:
Greg In Hollywood – News About Gay Celebrities & Gay Hollywood
Veteran Hollywood reporter Greg Hernandez covers the gay celebrity scene, bringing you the scoop from newsmakers, creative types and keeping you up to date on entertainment, LGBT and political news.
On the title, we needed the name of his blog, of course. We decided that “gay celebrities” read better than “gay celebrity” in different variations, so stuck with that. I debated whether I wanted to repeat the word “gay” again for “Gay Hollywood” but decided it read better to keep it there, plus perhaps it might help with doing well for that exact phrase.
As for the description, the goal here was to stress who Greg was and his background for those doing searches and discovering the site for generic terms for the first time.
From Friday through Sunday, it was time to work on the blog itself. That was down to Kate and Val, putting together a screaming design that says “Entertainment!” the minute you see it. One of my favorite parts is the “Greg Your Way” box at the top, which incorporates the ways to get the blog other than via web (IE through feeds, email or twitter), plus Greg’s social presence on Facebook and Twitter.
That box also links over to Greg’s new Flickr account, more new pimping for his move. Greg hadn’t used Flickr before, and I’ve seen firsthand how putting pictures out there can really help improve a site’s traffic. I suggested he let anyone use the photos he’s collected of celebrities over the years for free, as long as they attribute them to his Flickr account or his blog. He went for it. We’ll see how it goes. But so far, he’s loving having all his photos organized into different sets like “Oscars 2009” and “Emmys 2008.”
We also hooked Greg up with a YouTube account, which will get posted to the blog later once he’s got content there. He hasn’t shot video before, that that will change soon. He’s going to get one of those easy point-and-shoot Flip cameras. He does so many interviews that shortly, he should have a great collection of material.
Of course, another hardware change was moving Greg off this tiny Samsung dumb-phone he’s had for years. He’s all about the iPhone now, checking his mail, rigged to upload to Flickr, able to Twitter and soon able to blog via it. He’s often out at various Hollywood parties and events, so he really needed a more capable device. And after reviewing the various smartphone options with him, the iPhone was perfect for his sometimes less-than-tech-savvy ways.
Greg was also without a computer, having to leave behind his laptop with the Daily News. I figured he had two choices — one of the cool and surprisingly cheap netbooks out there, so he could be mobile with it, or a Mac for the simplicity. We looked at various types, but it was no contest. He swooped up a Macbook 13″, and now you can’t pry him off of it.
Sunday evening was crash time. Kate and Val moved across the new templates, and Greg started making live a number of the posts he’d written. We had a maddening time when the WordPress installation refused to display images that were uploaded, something we’re still working on. As a backup, we pulled from his Flickr account — which caused more maddening issues when line breaks we tried to do wouldn’t happen. A hugely annoying thing about WordPress is that the “HTML” view for a post is anything but. It doesn’t show the actual HTML that sometimes is being used to render a page. Hey WordPress, show me the damn HTML.
To help with the Flickr pics, we installed the Flickr Manager Plugin. This integrates Greg’s Flickr collection right within his blog. He can pull code for any of his pics and add images with a few clicks.
Speaking of plugins, we also used the Feedburner Feedsmith Plugin, which makes it easy to ensure those eight billion feed URLs that WordPress spits out all get redirected to a common FeedBurner URL using Greg’s own domain.
Time for another plug-in, All-In-One SEO Pack. This is useful in so many ways.
For one, the blog title you can set in WordPress’s settings page? That doesn’t just get used for your HTML title tag on the home page. It also gets appended to every title tag in the site, along with the post title. That meant Greg was going to have long titles like this:
Who’s that Oscar guy? Meet Christopher McDaniel! – Greg In Hollywood – News About Gay Celebrities & Gay Hollywood
There’s some debate on whether a blog’s name (or a site’s name) should be in the title tag of each page on a site. I think it depends on the particular brand. In Greg’s case, I felt it would be a distraction for those finding him through search. So using the plug-in, we were able to override this and give him nice short titles like this:
Who’s that Oscar guy? Meet Christopher McDaniel!
The plugin also ensures you have a unique meta description tag on each page. Unfortunately, it doesn’t allow you to add this tag:
meta name=”robots” content=”noydir,noodp”
What’s that do? It prevents Google and other search engines from using a title and description of your site as listed in the Open Directory and Yahoo from using a title and description from the Yahoo Directory. See my Meta Robots Tag 101: Blocking Spiders, Cached Pages & More for more about the why and how about all that.
Aside from plugins, another structural change was to make his permalinks use the post names to form the URLs. I went through this on the Search Engine Land launch. Keywords in the URL field are a small factor, but if people link to use using your URL rather than your page title, then you get some anchor text love for those keywords that might help further. Plus, the words in the URL can help reinforce clickthrough. Rather than use one of the WordPress defaults like:
I copied what we use at Search Engine Land in the Permalinks setting of the WordPress installation. Specifically:
Why? I didn’t think the date helped that much, and it makes the URL longer, when shorter URLs tend to be better for various reasons.
There’s much more that we did that I’m sure I’m forgetting. But it’s late now, and sleep beckons. More to be done, too. Custom 404 page needs to go up, “Back Issues” archives will be coming and there’s the inevitable things that get forgotten or overlooked that I’m sure will turn up. Still, Greg’s back with a new home to blog from — and we all wish him the best of luck going forward.