disqus-discoveryFor about a month, I used Disqus on another blog, Microblogger, and it’s been a bit of a learning experience for me. I eventually abandoned it, because it was getting in the way of commenting, but here’s a little bit of knowledge in case you’re still running it.

One thing I noticed recently was that there were links to other sites appearing below the comments in a box Disqus labeled “Around the Web.” It reminded me a lot of the Outbrain modules boxes you see on mainstream news sites, but I didn’t want them on Microblogger.

It’s part of Disqus’ “Discovery” platform and they call it a Discovery box. By default, the left column contains links to your site, headlined “ALSO ON YOUR SITE.” The right column contains links to other sites, headlined “RECOMMENDED FOR YOU.” and it’s a potential stream of revenue for bloggers, though it’s not clear how much it could be (I wouldn’t think it’s much).
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Setup & Check Your Webmaster Tools Account!

by jim on November 29th, 2012

I was recently talking to my friend Cap at StopBuyingCrap.com and he shared a harrowing tale with me about what happens when you stop monitoring your Webmaster Tools account. Apparently his site had been hacked, Webmaster Tools warned him about it, but since he never logged into to check… he never knew. It didn’t help that his focus was on another project and so that message, along with a decrease in traffic and revenue, sat in his Webmaster Tools inbox for an entire month!

What is Webmaster Tools?

If you aren’t familiar with Google’s Webmaster Tools, get familiar with it. It’s one of the many ways you can check the health of your site based on what Google thinks. By adding your site, Google will be able to tell you if it’s experiencing any problems crawling the site, what pages it has difficulty with (duplicate META data, server errors like 404s and Not Founds, etc), and any recommendations they have to improve performance (such as upgrading to the latest version of WordPress).

It was in one of these messages that my friend Cap was told that his site was hacked – “potentially compromised.” It was a pain to clean up the hack but it was necessary. He only knew about it because of Webmaster Tools.

How to Set Up Webmaster Tools

It’s almost trivial. All you do is log into Webmaster Tools and click on Add a Site, it’s a red button. Then, you need to verify ownership of the domain. You can do this up uploading a file or an alternate method (adding an HTML tag, via Google Analytics, or Domain name registrar). If you don’t have your FTP credentials handy, the easiest way is probably via Google Analytics or updating your theme to include the META tag.

Once you verify, you get can start getting data for your site and clean up any minor issues you have. It’s hard to say whether something has an impact but I figure that if Google is bothering to tell you, you might as well fix it if you can.

Now that you have it set up, be sure to check it!

How to Find Your WordPress Version Number

by jim on February 24th, 2012

Back in the days of old, you could look for your WordPress version number by looking at the source HTML of any page – it was a meta tag named “generator.” Then someone realized you could look for vulnerable WordPress blogs using older versions just by searching so they took that away.

Then, the next way to find out which WordPress version you had was by looking at the footer on the admin pages… until they took that away (not sure when, or why, but now it just tells you to get the latest version).

So, if you want to find your exact version number, look in your version.php file, located in the /wp-includes/ directory. That file has a bunch of other version related information, like the DB version, but usually the WordPress version is all you need.

When I went to renew some expiring domains on my account, I noticed several had Private Registration, a service I no longer needed for those domains (a relic from a more paranoid time). The problem is you can’t simply “uncheck” Private Registration when you renew your domains on GoDaddy. If you try to do that, it simply ignores your choice. GoDaddy is pretty sly like that!

Instead, you’ll have to go to the Domains By Proxy site, log in, and cancel private registration from that side. If you don’t have your login credentials you can request it but it will add a few more steps, and headache to the process. I think it’s a little ridiculous that you are forced to manage private registration through another interface, especially since the two companies are owned by GoDaddy, but I suppose they do get a few customers each year willing to pay for private registration instead of figuring out how to turn it off.

Now wait… eventually it’ll percolate to GoDaddy and you won’t have to pay for Private Registration when you renew.

If you have a bunch of domains and want to do a “poor man’s” private registration, open up a PO Box and use that as your physical address. Depending on how many domains you may have, a PO Box could be a more economic solution… plus you get use of a PO Box.

If you’ve linked your Google Adsense to your Google Analytics account, you’re probably enjoying the wealth of information you can now see in your Analytics account. By linking the two together, you get a lot of actionable information that can help you earn more from your sites. One great way to earn more is to find the pages that earn a higher than average CPC, versus your other pages, and finding ways of driving more traffic to that page either through link building, social media, or some other means. Analytics and Adsense have been boons to small publishers, but what if you made a mistake in the linking process?

If you’re like me, you have several Adsense accounts, with different EINs, for your various sites because should something happen to an account (I’ve heard of people being victims of nefarious click fraud schemes and losing their entire account), you don’t want to lose Adsense on all of your sites. What if you link up the wrong one? Unfortunately, unlinking them is not as simple a process as linking them in the first place. Fortunately, in the last few years, the process for unlinking them has gotten much easier.

First, get your Adsense login email and Publisher ID, you’ll need both. Visit this page, enter in the details, and wait. It’s not clear how long it takes to unlink an account but this is the one way to do it.

Hotlinking is the practice of loading a image on your site that resides on a different server. Back in the days when hosting companies metered your bandwidth, which is much rarer these days (or at least the caps are much higher), people would “steal bandwidth” by hotlinking to images. Rather than download them to your own server, you’d simply load the image from the remote server and thereby having them pay for the bandwidth.

These days, the bandwidth cost is less of an issue and it’s more about processing. While it’s often better to load the image from your own site, you trade bandwidth for a DNS lookup, it still happens. Most often it’ll be a content scraper but every so often you get a naive blogger or site owner who just doesn’t know any better. The easiest way to prevent this is to modify your .htaccess file. The server will know if someone else is trying to load an image from your server, so you can tell it to load another image or return a 403 Forbidden error.

Stop Hotlinking Entirely

These directives tell your server to only load images on your server if your site requests it, replace “mysite” with your domain. This code will return a 403 Forbidden error anytime another domain tries to load an image from your server.

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(.+\.)?mysite\.com/ [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteRule .*\.(jpe?g|gif|bmp|png)$ - [F]

The directives instruct the server to do this for JPE, JPEG, GIF, BMP, and PNG files. If you want to extend this to other filetyles, simply add a pipe “|” (it’s the shift-letter above the backslash underneath the backspace key) and the extension. If you want to return an image, rather than a 403, replace the dash in the final line with the path to an image.

Stop Hotlinking from Specific Domains

If you want to allow some hotlinking but not others, you can specifically pick them out:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://(.+\.)?blogspot\.com/ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http://(.+\.)?myspace\.com/ [NC]
RewriteRule .*\.(jpe?g|gif|bmp|png)$ - [F]

This prevents hotlinking from blogspot and myspace domains. The NC tells .htaccess to ignore case sensitivity (so MySpace is the same as myspace) and the OR tells it to prevent blogspot OR myspace. If you want to add another line, make sure it has an OR in the arguments (unless it’s the last one in the list).

Finally, don’t hotlink to other people’s images. I think it’s OK if it’s a huge site like Flickr or Imgur, which is designed for and expects it, but not if it’s an individual’s own site.

About two years ago I changed the name of my personal finance blog from Blueprint for Financial Prosperity to Bargaineering. Don’t ask me why it was named Blueprint for Financial Prosperity but I really felt that having the name match the domain was better than having such a descriptive title. In the last two years, pretty much everything has been changed to reflect the name change… except one thing – my PayPal account.

I don’t accept any payments related to Bargaineering/Blueprint anymore but the Paypal account still retained that name. I wanted to change it but despite my best efforts to find the menu option, I was out of luck. Fortunately, through the power of the internet, I learned that I only needed to load up this url:
https://www.paypal.com/us/wf/f=ap_namechg

Copy and paste that into your browser, log in, and you will be presented with a series of screens that will help you change your business name. Be sure to select “Business Name Change (business name)”, then enter the new one, click “Continue,” and you’re done. There’s no verification or any other confirmation needed, the change is instant.

How do I find my IP address?

by jim on April 27th, 2010

Well, your IP address is:
107.20.120.65

(Don’t worry, I’m not spying on you, it’s information passed from your browser to my site’s server)

You can bookmark this page next time you want to find your IP or you can use some tools available on your computer to find out.

Windows

On any Windows machine, click the Start Menu and choose Run. Type “cmd” into the prompt, that will open up the command prompt. Type “ipconfig” and it’ll show you your computer’s internet details including IP Address, Subnet Mask, and Default Gateway. The IP address is what you’ll want. If you want more details, like your Physical Address, DNS Servers, etc, you can type “ipconfig /all” to show all the information available.

Mac

Use the Finder to locate the application folders, then locate the Utilities folder. Inside Utilities you’ll see the Terminal application, load that. In that prompt, type “ipconfig” and it’ll display a whole bunch of information, including the X.X.X.X number that is your IP address.

There you go, your IP address in a jiffy.

If you’ve played with Yahoo! YSlow’s Smush.it tool, you’ll probably notice that it will often convert .GIF files into .PNG files. Ever wonder why they do that? It’s because PNG files are patent-free (though the underlying GIF patent, the LZW algorithm, expired in 2003), contain alpha channels, gamma correction, and two dimensional interlacing. All that gibberish means translates into a better version of a GIF file that also compresses better, about 5% to 25% according to the W3.org.

For you trivia enthusiasts out there, GIF stands for graphics interchange format and was introduced in 1987. It uses the Lempel-Ziv-Welch (LZW) lossless data compression technique that was patented in 1985. CompuServe got into a tiff (haha, get it? TIFF?) Unisys, which held the patent, and the PNG standard was developed.

PNG stands for portable network graphics and nowadays it’s widely accepted as an image format by all major browsers. As a result, it’s becoming more popular as it is generally smaller than GIFs by 5-25%.

You may be wondering where the JPEG, joint photographic experts group, fits in all this. It differs from GIF and PNG in that it’s a lossy compression algorithm (whereas GIF/PNG are lossless) designed for photos.

There you have it, the differences between GIF and PNG (and JPEG!).

How to Make a Favicon

by jim on February 22nd, 2010

What is a favicon? It’s short for favorites icon and it’s an icon that represents your site in places like your bookmarks, in shortcuts, etc. It’s a chance for you to distinguish yourself in your reader’s list of favorites sites and they’re ridiculously easy to make.

Is a favicon important?It’s not crucial to the success of your site but it’s always good to differentiate yourself from everyone else as much as possible. A favicon will appear in bookmarks, it will appear in aggregators, and in the end it really doesn’t take much time… so you mighta s well make it.

How do you make a favicon? If you have a site logo, you can use that, or try to find something distinguishable. A favicon is usually 16×16, 32×32, or 64×64 pixel image in the .ico format. You can use other formats but the .ico format is the most supported filetype.

After you’ve created the file, simply upload the favicon.ico (use that filename just to make it easy on yourself) to your root directory and many browsers will automatically pick it up. Internet Explorer will automatically load it.

Then, add this in the header of your website (this lets all the other browsers, the ones who don’t automatically load it, know where your favicon is):

<link rel="SHORTCUT ICON" href="http://www.website.com/myicon.ico"/>

That’s it, as easy as pie.