Vocation: Get to Know Your Blog's Guts and Take Control of Your Blogging Destiny



Adrian Nyland

Andrew Wilder

Rajashree Karwa

This session was intended as a true beginner's guide to the main technical components of blogs on a variety of platforms, based on the idea that it's empowering to understand how your blog works, and to learn how to manage it yourself if you want to do that (or at least know how to communicate with others who can do that for you).

The session began with a human demonstration of "the big picture" of how a website functions, using volunteers from the audience and the presenters to physically represent the browser, web server, database/MySQL, HTML, images, CSS and Javascript. Participants (with signs saying "JavaScript", "Images," etc.) moved physically around on stage, to show how all of these components communicate with each other to design, present, synthesize, and transmit the final product of a website via the browser.

This is a summary of the action:

The browser communicates with the internet, to the web server that works with the database/MySQL. The database is a big filing cabinet, and HTML moves back and forth between the web server and the database. Images come from the database. CSS comes to the browser, for help with appearance and pictures to pull everything together.


Adrian says that in order to understand your blog and control it, it helps you to understand its inner workings, from this big picture down to the details. When you call tech support and they ask if you backed up a database, now at least you know you have one.


Rajashree -- began by explaining the basics of HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) and CSS. HTML is like the blueprint of a house. She showed some sample code, such as: html, body, h1,/h1 (headers, important because it does tie into SEO and search engines), p, /p (paragraph), img src="big-blueberries.jpg" (image files)

Adrian -- says that HTML is a framework that the browser interprets.

Photo Credit: Danielle Tsi.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)

Rajashree explained that this gives you a lot of control over the look and feel of your web site. If you have control over the backend of your site, you can go in and with a small amount of CSS make changes to colors, sizing, site layout and more.


Andrew says you don't need to know it (of his own usage of it, he says "he knows enough to be dangerous", but doesn't use it regularly. It's just good to be aware of what it is and what it can do.

Rajashree explains that it is a programming language that your browser runs, that typically adds interaction to your website, with features like Twitter and Facebook widgets, Google analytics, and slide shows. It's what makes any web page dynamic. She recommends getting a handle on HTML and CSS before you jump into Javascript, because that will help you understand it better. Adrian says Javascript "is really powerful, so you can use it to do some slick things."

People in the audience had questions about scripts slowing down and plug-ins.


Their main speed slide said: "There are two speeds online: fast or moving on to the next website." Andrew says If your site loads in more than ten seconds, odds are you're losing readers, and if attendees got nothing out of today's session, they should know that it will help you in many ways to make your site move a little faster. If your page loads in 2-4 seconds, you're doing really well.

Andrew spoke about the affect of images on speed of page loading. He says that you want to pay close attention to size and resolution, and compress the image to a point that it looks great but speed is optimized. He sticks between 50-100 KB, as much larger than that will cause much longer loading time. Rather than uploading the photo at multiple sizes, resize it and then upload the image at the size you want to use it, so you don't add all of these images to the hard drive. He encourages being selective about pictures, to make sure you're focused on quality, not quantity.

Rajashree says that speed affects Google's ranking as well. Adrian says the internet is getting fast, and Google is pushing it to be faster. You need to be competitive in this area. He encourages having someone else check out your site for speed. If you're constantly on it, writing, editing, uploading, it's going to load much faster for you than it will for someone who doesn't have it stored in their computer cache.

Andrew encourages decluttering your website. Manage your sidebar, and keep it current and streamlined. When you get home from BlogHer Food, take down that badge, and put up the BlogHer 2012 Conference badge, if you're going. By default a lot of platforms will show your ten most recent posts, which will also affect your speed of loading your home page. You can cut that number in half, and increase speed, useability, and SEO.

Blogging platforms

They explained that they keep defaulting to WordPress, because that is what they use and the one they consider the most accessible and easy to use. Adrian says that in their opinion, WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger and Movable Type are the top four platforms in the food blogging world.

Hosting options

Adrian says that if you keep your site on their servers, they take care of all backend management, and you have to pay for extras and you can't run ads. The other option is to run your site on your server, via a hosting service, that then devotes a chunk of their server to your blog. They use and recommend Mediatemple (Andrew), Zippykid (Rajashree), and Host Gator (Adrian). They explained price points and personal reasons to use each.

Rajashree says a key point is that if you're paying for hosting, get comfortable with being demanding and assertive if you run into problems. The company is the only one that can help you, so don't be afraid to ask.

There was a question from audience about how hard it is to switch hosts. Adrian says when he moved Guilty Kitchen to Host Gator, they did it, and Rajashree said the same about Zippykid.

Andrew says you should definitely buy your own domain and keep track of it, so moving hosting and keeping track of your information for transfers goes more smoothly.


Adrian says there are a number of browsers that you should be aware of, including IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc. You also need to think about mobile and devices like iPads, iPhones, Droids -- all of the ways that people can possibly view your website. Make sure it looks at least respectable in all of them.

Rajashree says to use Google Analytics to see what browsers people are using to observe your site.

RSS readers

RajashreeK says that RSS readers like Google Reader, VelvetAroma, and Feed Demon are another way that people access your content and you should be aware of how they function and look. The RSS feed will look nothing like your website. She also discussed search engine results, such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing, and the necessity of drawing users in with descriptive and engaging titles that will pop up in search and encourage people to click through.


The whole panel discussed the importance of backing up data constantly and with care. The average life span of a hard drive (external or internal) is 3-5 years. They stressed the importance of backing up data, both blog and database. Their resource guide includes several options for backup services, and to definitely take the time and effort to do this, because your data and your blog are too important to lose.

Their summary slide includes these key points:

We heart WordPress -- hosted or self-hosted!
Speed is key! Keep your images lean and mean!
3 out of 3 techies recommend backing up your awesome content. BACKUP!
Keep your blog platform up to date
Remember: if we can understand this, so can you.

The presenters' resource guide for this presentation includes the slides, plugin recommendations, online tools, web hosting and backup recommendations. It is located at: www.blogtutor.com/blogherfood (And also attached below.)


View more presentations from BlogHer.

BHF12_Get_To_know_Your_Blog_Guts.pdf972.81 KB