WordPress Upgrade … complete!

As I suspected, upgrading your site is easier said than done. The first order of business is to make sure that you don’t lose the content already on your site. This means that you either (a) manually make a backup of each and every post and comment or (b) use the tools at your disposal to make the upgrade as painless as possible. In the WordPress forum there are some handy tips from those who’ve had to undertake this same journey. The new versions of WordPress (like this one) comes with a handy “Upgrade” button and in the future it should be as “easy” as clicking the link. But, that’s another adventure.

Back-up and Export

Backing up your site is no mean feat. First you need access to your website’s database (MySQL) and use a tool such as PhpMyadmin to find and export your WordPress data. This backup (*.zip) you save somewhere on your PC. This step is not necessary if you are doing a “clean install”, in  other words, you intend starting from scratch by manually (Copy & Paste!) putting your posts back in, one by one. Unless you are immortal and thus have all the time in the world, this is not recommended.

Exporting is the option I used. Logging in as the site administrator to WordPress, there’s an “Export” function listed under “Site Management”. This tool allows you to export your users’ post into an XML file, complete with comments. To test how well this would work, the content was exported and then imported into a WordPress installation running on a mini LAMP server running on an old machine. Amazingly, all my posts and the comments with them were there!

The real thing

The next step was to “go live” and install the system on the website host provider. Checking (i) the database server settings (name of database & username) and (ii) the web path (where installed), you are ready to install WordPress. The forum’s packed with “how to’s” in this regard. The new WordPress version was installed and then the “test” , importing the posts and comments … and …. Viola!  .. it’s up and running. Luckily, this option worked just fine, otherwise there would have been an”import” to database and other issues to be dealt with.

Next, some configuration such as installing themes and linking the other bits and pieces (such as links) which were not part of the export, and the site was good to go. Over the next few days …err … maybe weeks,  the “fine-tuning” will take place. Your patience will be appreciated.

Upgrade WordPress … the journey begins

Upgrading your site is a daunting undertaking, fraught with many unexpected twists and turns. Reading forum posts on “how easy” and ‘straightforward” it is to update you site’s back-end to the latest version might be “simple” for website developers and webmasters who eat programming code for breakfast, but if you are just a mere blogger, this is no small task.

I’m ready to upgrade the WordPress version that is currently installed to the latest one (3.2.1). The main idea with this post is to document this undertaking and share “lessons learnt”. The main concern is to upgrade the back-end and have your site restored to its “former glory” – with posts, comments and other files all put- back-together-again. Considering what happened to poor Humpty-Dumpty, I’m thus attempting the “impossible”.

Why upgrade?

Since upgrading is so daunting, why upgrade at all? If your site works and you are comfortable with using the various tools to keep it running smoothly, why risk “breaking” it? There are two main reasons, in my book, why upgrading has become inevitable – new technological improvements and security.

Technological improvements such as mobile device used to access websites, the use of multimedia objects (e.g. videos) in your posts and the move towards an HTML 5 compliant web publishing system have made the move necessary. This version of WordPress, for example, is not “mobile aware” – the system does not detect and serve up a mobile version of the site when so accessed.

Security is the other main concern. Programming code, despite best efforts, is not perfect. There are those on the web who trawl through code, looking for loopholes to exploit and “hijack” your site. Fortunately, the team behind WordPress usually takes care not to release coding that’s easy to break into and are quick on the draw when such vulnerabilities are brought to their attention. From what I’ve been following in the forum posts, the current version is better at managing security issues than the older ones.

So, it’s time to take the plunge. I’ll keep you posted.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) … fact or fiction?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialists have been posting comments, promising an “increase in traffic” should I use this plug-in or that software solution. Following the links, you inevitably run into a page demanding “only $$!” for a chance to boost your blog’s rating – and of course your bank balance.

Promises of how my listing on Google (and other) search engines can be improved and “ranked higher” have been slipping into my comments moderation panel more and more. Ignoring such promises don’t seem to do the trick. Perhaps, these are the very visitors who’ll remove this blog from their RSS feed after this post. But … it prompted this question “Search Engine Optimization … fact or fiction?”

Hardly surprisingly, a “SEO” keyword search brings up nearly a million results, each one following the same pattern. First you get an explanation of what SEO is and how it works, and then they hit you … “Click here to sign up for our services” – of how you could increase your search engine ranking, your traffic and eventually earn your fortunes.

Two sides

Like most things in this reality, where there’s a good, there’s also a bad. Apparently, balance is one of the key elements of the universe – thus also of the internet. It turns out that there are two types of SEO “specialists” on the web – those who’ve taken on the dark side and those who live in the light. Sorry, that’s “Hollywood speak” for an ability (or skill) used to make this world either a better or more sinister one. An extensive article on Wikipedia points to “white” and “black hat” practitioners of the art of SEO. What “hat” has to do with the issue beats me …. but it basically means there are good guys (girls) and bad guys (girls) … err … sorry Hollywood, again.

White hat SEOs are the good guys who’ll explain what they are doing, why they are doing it and how you might (or not) reap the benefits of “thinking” like search engine algorithms (clever coding able to do some nifty things). Basically, the white hatters tell you what you should (not must) do to make your site more “attractive” and “friendly” to search engine software trawling the web, looking to “tag” (record) the content of your pages. If you don’t have the know-how or the time, you’ll pay them to do it for you. Nice, clean and “white”.

The “Black hatters”, being the “bad guys”, are those who will try all sorts of means to persuade you that without their expert knowledge and expertise, search engines don’t even know that your site exists. Claims such as “being listed under the top five” and “guaranteed” are sure signs that you are in rattle county (Hollywood!).

In the beginning …

In the early days of the web, when search engines were magical (Hollywood, again!) there were mostly text pages but as the number of pages on the web grew, so the tools to keep track of what’s where became smarter, making it easier to find relevant information faster. In fact, that was the original idea. Then came the commercialization of the web, spawning a new industry, web marketing … and Search Engine Optimization experts.

In my universe the jury is still out as to whether the magic wands SEO hats wield catapult you up the ladder of search rankings. In fact, some search engines have developed “potions” to protect themselves against “evildoers” – websites cluttered with keywords and phrases just so that their listing is high.

Another issue which prompted this post were comments made although the information is “good and interesting” yet Google does not list it as “up there”. Whether such comments came from SEO experts or not underscores the point that search engines have become more of a moneymaking tool than one meant to help you find what you’re looking for.

IE users fume at “less intelligent” claim

“Users of IE (Internet Explorer) have a lower IQ (Intelligence Quotient) than those using other web browsers” was one of those itches that needed to be scratched. As hard I tried, I could not resist a poke at this. The BCC recently reported that a survey has “unearthed” an indication IE users are, shall we say, “less intelligent” than those using Firefox, Opera, Chrome, etc. Of course it is somewhat of a stretch to claim such a thing to have merit, but it made me smile … and wonder.

IE has long been one of those things “best avoided” in my domain, ever since the security holes on the early versions of IE came to light during the crawling stage of the web. Perhaps, it was my “intelligence” which guided me in the direction of other browsers or the fact that whenever I use IE (even the latest ones), the fight is on – keeping popup ads from taking over my monitor or my home page from being “brow-jacked”. Over the years IE has “copied”… err improved by adding a number of features from other browsers to remain a contender in the “browser wars”.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no “browser war”. Firefox has its own quirks and is not perfect, but it won my heart. The customization options available make it worthwhile – not to mention its rock-solid performance. It does freeze up so now and then, but most of the time it is due to the “creativity” of a particular website.

So, make the “smart choice” and stay away from IE :-).