The following steps are optional and may not be needed at all. You will see why along the way. We will also clarify some commonly misunderstood terminology, though again it may not affect previous decisions so long as you are satisfied with what you have created for your site so far.
2.0 Responsive/Adaptive Template
For most free site host systems referenced previously, you will likely not have to worry about this for now. They often come with a basic alternative delivery for anyone visiting your site in a mobile device.
To be certain, use or borrow one or more devices of different screen sizes to visit your own site and check it. If using an installed browser “app” in a “tablet” device, you may still see the standard site template. Either way, the site still adapt and respond to device screen size and rotation.
2.1 What is “Responsive” and/or “Adaptive”?
Time to cut through the buzz and spin, as most of you are not web designers or coders. We will do so in an oversimplified manner. Those of you who know web languages and design take a breath and go with the flow.
- Responsive (Layout)
The site layout adapts fluidly to the device’s screen size and orientation (when rotated) while viewed live. Elements (areas) shift, resize, and/or reposition to accommodate both before visitor’s eyes.
- Adaptive (Design/Delivery)
The site template is predefined to (re)code at the server upon detection of the visitor’s device. The site is then delivered to the visitor in a device dependent format. Content injection may be suitably altered as well to fit the device used and/or the way it is used.
There, that was not so hard. Fortunately, for an author’s site with mostly pictures and text, the difference does not matter much. Adaptive is predominantly for commercial sites, and that does not include an author’s promotional site.
It might be worth noting that some free host systems using a default (alternative) mobile device template are using “adaptive” design in a very generic, one size fits all way. And that is still good enough for your site.
2.2 Alternative Site Template
This is an area of great difficulty. Most free host systems that include a paid upgrade option do not support manually installed site templates; almost none support an adaptive template (when the term is used correctly), as this requires the ability of the template to include server-side code. In some cases for paid upgrades, you may still be limited to a list of pre-select system templates.
Of site hosts mentioned so far, only Blogger.com freely allows full site code access to install a custom responsive (and somewhat adaptive) site template. NDAS uses one, and we have people on staff who can adjust it; this is not a step for those who have little experience in server-side (let alone site level) coding.
The template we use at present is a free one considerably adapted by staff. Many such are available for Blogger throughout the internet. More and more, they have considerable problems created (on purpose) by template designers.
As with CSS and styling, a custom installed template is an even deeper level of complication not for most authors. If you wish to consider such on your own, you will need to search “free template” for your particular host system. You will quickly find that most viable results are specific to (1) Blogger.com or (2) privately hosted Wordpress sites. The latter does not include Wordpress.com sites.
In other words, stick to the alternative responsive delivery built into your host’s system until you have the time (and money) to consider something custom. Eventually, you should do so, but not at the beginning.
ASIDE: Stop thinking about what you put on your blog site as “posts.” That mindset leads to laziness. You are writing “articles” or at least news that has permanence. Treat everything you write as much as you can like you would a manuscript to be published. For you are publishing to your site.
2.3 Site Check: Font Size
Look for basic problems such as size/face legibility. If you cannot read your own site comfortably, then neither can your visitors. What you can do about this will depend in part how you author articles. Changing the font face may be difficult, but not so for font size.
NOTE: Any decent blog authoring interface system should allow you to alter the latter, if not the former. If not, well, one more time… get different site host!
You may need to manually increase font size when authoring an article. Do not go too far or visitors using a notebook / desktop browser will see overblown text. A range between 12 to 13.5 point is usually good.
Use “pt” (point) vs. “px” (pixel) units where possible for text, if your current authoring interface allows. The former is more adaptable for the visitor’s browser while the latter may be incorrectly adjusted by some devices with HiRes screens and/or “retina” (enlarging) algorithms. Of course you can experiment, test, and revise for using either unit of measure.
The other option is to restyle the site’s textual elements globally in its CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) code, either as part of the template itself in a <style></style> section or in a linked separate style sheet file. Both go too far beyond the scope of this article series.
2.4 Site Check: Image size
There are two places you should check the display of images in your articles: the front page synopses for most recent articles and the article’s solo page when the visitor selects a “read more” or similar link.
Graphic dimensions should always be defined in pixels (px). In most browsers and devices, if you designate only the width, then the height will be adjust proportionally. Check this to be certain. Some site templates automatically resize a graphic in the article’s front synopsis version, so especially check the solo page display vs. that.
Unless you intend the graphic to span a text column’s full width, it should be no wider than half that column in both the front page and the solo page when viewed in a browser. If one is too wide, reduce width until it fits 50% or less of the narrower of the two. This of course refers to images and other graphics that are floated left or right and not ones that are centered alone between blocks of text above and below.
Use the determined width as the default for all images in all articles. Uniformity provides a visually clean and organized experience for visitors. Alter image sizes selectively, for this indicates an image (among others present) of greater or lesser importance.
In addition, your source images should have internal dimensions of at least twice the maximum size you designate in the article. This helps support clean display on HiRes screens that may be using “retina” (meaning algorithms) to enlarge site display (and loaded graphics). An image that is the same size as the dimensions in the article’s code will look fuzzy or jagged if enlarged for HiRes.
There are ways to change image dimensions through CSS (inline, in template, or in the site’s style sheet file) according to where / when / how displayed. Once again, these conditional considerations go beyond the scope of this article series. We mention such so that those who know how do not think we are ignoring this option.
2.5 Other Media (Video, Audio, etc.)
Avoid these. Visitors come to your site to learn about you and your published works as text. Those taken in by multimedia will never be your devoted (return/repeat) customers, and readers are the ones you should focus on first and foremost. Only they are your stable audience for your works and your site.
Exceptions do exist, such as perhaps an author’s interview in audio or video. Then again, they are called exceptions for a reason, and hence not a rule to govern your site’s primary content.
If you do one of these through an external outlet, you might link to that elsewhere from your site. Putting such external media into your site (directly or through embedding) may violate copyrights for the origin site/entity. Check this before embedding second or third party created media in your site.
2.6 About YouTube (and similar sites)
Research shows that video book promos are not effective unless you have (1) national to global author name recognition and/or (2) a commercial media tie-in to the presented publication. Visitors pulled to your site by such have multimedia (not text) as their immediate focus. In most cases, both name recognition and media tie-in on a large scale are needed before the time and money of this option is worthy.
Little known authors doing this look desperate. Those already on YouTube (until the fad fades) have produced a noise to signal ratio that is difficult to overcome. The garbage encountered turns off viewers from looking for legitimate content. The choice is yours either way, but if you do not know how to produce a quality video book promo, do not do this. A bad video will work against you; that is worse than it not having any effect upon sales.
Do not pay for such until your writing income can cover the cost and leave you worthwhile personal profit before any assumed sales benefits. There are other more important expenditures in promoting your next publication. The goal is to turn your writing and publishing into a vocation, which is the only criteria that qualifies as a “professional.”
If you spend as much as (or more than) you make directly from your writing, it is still just an avocation. That is the hard truth of the matter and inescapable if you wish to address authorship as a true career.
3.0 Cloud Storage for Site Media Support
Only Blogger.com of hosts mentioned supports direct media embedding to our knowledge in all situations. When you sign up for an account there, a linked account at Picasa (owned by Google) is created.
Posting images to your site through LiveWriter will automatically deliver (and embed) the needed image in your article. For other blog systems, or using an inline/online blog authoring interface, you may need another media hosting option.
NOTE: by “direct” we mean that the image (or other media) is displayed on your site. The visitor does not have to select a link or be taken to an external site to view the media.
There was a time when many cloud services gave you the option to create a “public” link to a stored image that would display directly on your site. Now, most simply create a link that reroutes the visitor to the cloud service; their way of using your site as free advertising for their service. Only one currently appears to still support direct media embedding.
3.1 DropBox for Site Media Support
While this service offers the lowest storage amount (2gig) of any cloud service for a free account, it is one of the few (perhaps the last) that still supports media embedding in an external site. The basic, free account is more than enough storage for an author’s site needs.
If you already have a DropBox account for other uses, we recommend a second one for exclusive site needs. This will require a second email address during sign up, as any one address can be associated to only one account.
Install the “app” in your primary writing device for the convenience of a “right-click” in your file manager to get a public link for media embed in your articles. You can also use this to place images in the site architecture itself, if the host system does not support upload of such for all areas of the site’s template.
If you already have the DropBox app linked to another account, you may have to choose one or the other, as rigging device access to two DropBox accounts is quite tricky. DropBox itself does not want you to do so, though it can be done by the savvy.
Choose whether the site based or other account is most important for device access. If you use one account for file backups (not recommended, see “Cover Your Ass(ets)” under “Advice”), then you must leave that as the locally connected account. Use your browser to access the site support account to create media links for your articles.
NOTE: If you use a cloud service for file backups, we suggest almost any other than DropBox. You will get more storage for free, and almost all have applications for local file syncing. This way, you need only one DropBox account (and its app) to serve your site needs. For some alternative cloud services, look at this “AlternativeTo.net” page.
3.2 About Google Drive
In the past, Google Drive allowed stored media to be directly embedded / displayed in an external site, including such as Blogger, one of its own systems. That appears to have changed according to our recent tests.
If you signed up for an account long ago, it may still support this option, though do not count on that into the future. Those who sign up as of now will not have this option, and all public links for files will lead to the Google Drive account.
If you have a GD account for a backup or other purpose, go with DropBox for your site support. But…
Warning: Google has become more and more notorious for privacy invasions. A recent web login to one of our Blogger.com accounts caused a never before seen warning from multiple security plugins used in all of our primary browsers.
The Blogger system (and then the Google Drive as well) attempt to determine (without permission) the accessing device’s physical location on the planet.
While we will still use the Blogger system for this site as the most viable one, there is no reason or excuse for this nonsense! Unless you must use Google Drive for business work with others, we recommend that you immediately abandon it for another cloud service.
If you use Blogger, and you have not installed appropriate security / privacy plugins in your browser, do so immediately. You can find some recommendations in our “Resources (for Authors)” section; look in the “Internet” subsection.
If you are using Chrome as your browser, these plugins may not give you warning of a privacy invasion because of how Google’s code injections supersede third party code. Get the unaltered version upon which Google builds Chrome; get “Chromium” instead and get all the benefits of Chrome without its deficits.
For the most part, this finishes off the basics for what you should consider for your author’s site. This does not mean that this will be the last entry in this series, but for now we will turn to other advice for authors.
Aside from “Cover Your Ass(ets),” watch for a new series starting within the next month. And thank you to those who stayed with us so far in this series. Questions of course are still welcome.