5 Tech Things Every Blogger Should Know

Filed as Guides on June 22, 2009 8:42 pm

Where 15 years ago, having a Web site was something of a badge of nerdiness, today having a site doesn’t require much technical knowledge at all. Someone with almost no technical expertise can set up an account on WordPress.com or Blogger and be blogging within minutes.

However, this doesn’t mean that a blogger can get away with being a technical dunce. Though getting words on the Internet is pretty simple, building and growing a blog does require one to know a bit more than how to flip on a PC. Social networking sites make it easy to get online, but blogging, especially over the long haul, takes something more.

So what are those things that every blogger should know? There are many, definitely more than what is on this list, but here are five things every would-be blogger should know before, or at least shortly after, getting started.

1. The Basics of the Web

The Internet is a pretty amazing thing. Data travels all across the world on the back of a system that, when explained correctly, seems like it should never work. It’s both breathtakingly complicated and brilliantly simple at the same time.

Though a blogger doesn’t need to understand every technical detail about how the Web does its thing, a basic understanding of how a browser goes from a “.com” and then loads a site is probably a good idea. This should include at least a basic understanding of how domains are registered, how DNS works and how data gets from A to B on the Web.

One doesn’t need to know how the TCP handshake works, but a fundamental understanding of the “big picture” when it comes to Web infrastructure is pretty useful.

Why it is Important

Even a basic understanding of the workings of the Web can help you be a better blogger. First, if you go to set up your own hosting, you’re going to need some of that understanding to make everything work and understand the process of setting up your own domain.

However, even if you host with a free site, it can help you understand site outages, how to speed up your blog and why visitors often have very different experiences based upon their location.

Where to Learn It

How Stuff Works has a very thorough article about the basics of the Web, including DNS, IP addresses and more.

2. How a Web Server Works

Similar to the Web itself, a server is a thing of beauty. How a machine receives contact from the Web at large, processes the data and then returns a response is both a simple and an amazing thing. On most blogs this process involves the use of several different programs, operating in several different layers and working in tandem to pull together the information requested and present it in a human-readable format.

To make matters even more complicated, one physical server can, and often does, run hundreds, even thousands of different Web sites. It is even common for one physical machine to house several different virtual machines within it.

Though one doesn’t have to be ready to manage their own server to run a blog, understanding the basics of how it works can prove infinitely useful.

Why it is Important

First and foremost, a basic understanding of a server will help you set up your blog so that it works with the hardware, not against it. It helps you understand how WP Super Cache can improve the performance of a site and what you can do to keep your site running quickly.

However, perhaps more importantly, it helps you understand communications from your host. Knowing the basics of how a server works will help you better grasp what went wrong when your site goes down, how bad it is and also enable you to ask smarter questions of your support team.

Where to Learn It

Nebraska Wesleyan University has a simple, effective and visual guide to how a server processes a request.

3. Basic HTML (And Maybe PHP)

If you’re used to using nothing but a word processor, HTML code can look very intimidating as it comes with strange symbols and syntax that can look like an alien language. Many understandably confuse markup language for programming language and do everything they can to avoid even looking at it. Some, thanks to WYSIWYG editors, can avoid it for a very long time.

Fortunately though, HTML is not nearly as complicated as it looks at first glance and most of the code one would need for blogging is very basic. However, not knowing it can be very costly.

Why it is Important

Though WYSIWYG editors are much better now than they were just a few years ago, they are still not perfect. At some point, if you are going to get something to look how you want it to, you’re going to need to get your hands dirty at least a little bit.

Also, if you’re using a self-hosted WordPress installation you may want to have at least enough understanding of PHP so that you aren’t intimidated if you have to make a few changes, as it is a part of updating and customizing many themes.

However, even if you don’t customize your theme at all, the first time your table isn’t aligned exactly right or the text doesn’t wrap correctly around an image correctly, you’re going to want to have that basic knowledge to fall back on.

Where to Learn It

W3Schools has a great basic overview of HTML and is also a great reference for those who know (but sometimes forget). Likewise, Tizag has a good overview of PHP.

4. Image Compression/Sizing

Image compression is something of a black art and even those who are veterans will argue over the finer points about it. What file type to use (GIF, JPG or PNG), how much to compress and the size of an image are often areas of intense debate among the Web-savvy.

However, there are still some things one should never do as they can cause problems and knowing how to avoid the pitfalls is critical when running a blog.

Why it is Important

If you don’t compress your images correctly, you can wind up with a Web page that is many times the size it should be. A logo that is 100 K will slow even broadband visitors down. Couple that with a poorly-compressed background and some heavy inline images and your visitors may be leaving before reading a single word.

It is important to keep your site as lean as practical and a big part of that is keeping your images down to a reasonable size.

Where to Learn It

JISC has a good guide on what image type to choose. However, every application has a different set of instructions for image compression, you should look up a guide for your preferred image editor. MyJanee.com has a great guide for creating Web-friendly images in Photoshop and the official Gimp documents have a similar one for the Gimp image editor.

5. Online Security

The Web can be a very dangerous place and keeping yourself safe on it is vitally important for everyone, not just bloggers.

Online security can involve everything from not posting your personal information to making sure your operating system is patched. It is about keeping you, your data and the information of those close to you as safe as reasonably possible.

Though there is no way one can be completely secure on the Web, there are definitely things one can do to ensure that they are as protected as possible.

Why it is Important

Online security is important for everyone, whether they blog or not. However, bloggers face additional challenges in this area. Having a site not only gives attackers a new target, but also new openings. Blogging systems can be hacked, servers can be broken into and sites can be shut down.

Online security for bloggers includes everything from keeping software up to date, backing up data, not putting critical information your server and choosing good passwords. It’s a wide swath of items to cover but all of it is vitally important.

Where to Learn It

Realistically, there is too much to learn in just one guide but CCL has a good overview of the basics of computer security, much of it which applies to bloggers.

Bottom Line

In the end, you don’t have to be a geek in order to run a blog, but a little bit of technical knowledge will go a very long way. A basic understanding of some critical technology will help make you a better blogger and make it easier for you to grow your site and expand on the Web.

If you don’t have this knowledge now, taking the time to develop a basic understanding will serve you well, especially in the long run.

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  1. By Kate J posted on June 22, 2009 at 9:57 pm
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    Great points, and I think a lot of bloggers don’t realize how such knowledge can really enrich their websites despite being irrelevant to written content. I mean, just the example of image resizing and html — in blogger, occasionally uploaded pictures spill through the margins even when toggled. The only way to fix it is to go into the html code and manually fix the parameters. Or, open up photoshop and crop it. That’s the difference right there between a professional looking blog and a sloppy one.

    Web security, too. Knowing how essential technology like extended validation ssl works is helpful not only for consumers but bloggers; you’ll get better at spotting phishing attempts with the green url bar as a guide, and eventually you’ll be able to detect even the most subtle spam. Again, it all points to heightened professionalism.

    Reply

  2. By Jonathan Bailey posted on June 23, 2009 at 1:02 am
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    Kate: Thanks for the support. It really is amazing how just a little technical knowledge can help you grow your blog. You can probably learn all of this in a day or two if you wanted.

    If nothing else, I think the security is the most important thing for everyone, but doubly so for bloggers…

    Thanks again!

    Reply

  3. By Steven Finch posted on June 23, 2009 at 3:17 am
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    This is a great list. Totally agree with everything you have on here, especially the Html and PHP learning.

    Reply

  4. By Leon Paternoster posted on June 23, 2009 at 9:09 pm
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    Some knowledge of markup will go a long way. HTML Dog is a very good primer/reference.

    Some CSS is also pretty handy, probably more so than PHP.

    What about some basic accessibility/usability knowledge?

    Reply

  5. By Jonathan Bailey posted on June 24, 2009 at 1:40 am
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    Steven: Thanks for the support!

    Leon: Good point on CSS. Definitely at least as useful, if not more so than PHP. Then again, since CSS looks more like HTMl, one who learns HTML probably won’t be too scared of CSS, which is the big fear that they’ll see it and run away rather than at least attempt to poke around.

    Regarding accessibility, I agree it is important, but many bloggers, through the basis of where and how they blog, are limited in what they can do along those lines. Still, some basics are definitely a good idea, I agree. Even if it is just as basic as no image navigation and using alt tags with images.

    Good points all around.

    Reply

  6. By Jamie Allsop posted on June 26, 2009 at 2:42 pm
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    This is a really good list. Just knowing the things you have mentioned in this blog would really help people. The layout and structure of your blog would also be important so making it easy for the user to navigate round your blog.

    Reply

  7. By Masters Thesis posted on September 25, 2009 at 7:49 pm
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    Thanks for sharing. The tips are really useful for beginners and not only. In my opinion, there are more things every blogger should know. People should never stop learning, because knowledge is a way to out success and knowledge can never be too much. Good luck in blogging and not only.

    Reply

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