“It’s best to have your tools with you. If you don’t, you’re apt to find something you didn’t expect and get discouraged.” ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
The best way for physicians (or anyone) to control their online voice is to create their own content, and the best way for this content to be published is to have their own blog.
I am often surprised at how few physicians have what I would consider a bare minimum online presence: a simple webpage with their name and contact information. At the very least, this is necessary to take your place among the numerous physician rating websites that will show up in a search for your name.
While this may appear at first to be a more technical post, I hope that curating tips I have found helpful on running WordPress will encourage others who may be reluctant to starting their own blog.
While there are certainly more simple blogging platforms available, such as Blogger, Tumblr, or Squarespace, I specifically use WordPress given the power and flexibility of the platform, much of which comes from your choice in the additional plugins that are used.
Two ways to run WordPress
- Free from WordPress.com. There are a number of limitations to this, such as being given a domain name (e.g. yourblog.wordpress.com) and having ads (although you can upgrade to your own domain name and to get rid of ads). The biggest downside in my opinion are the restrictions on plugins.
- Hosting the free software available at WordPress.org on your own domain. This is the more powerful way to run WordPress, and the one I suggest. The easiest way to do this is to chose a host that supports automatic installation of WordPress (I use Dreamhost, which has been great).
This comparison chart between WordPress.com and a hosted WordPress.org site also helps explain many of the differences. If you’re worried that WordPress can get technical, keep in mind that it is the most used blogging platform, so if questions arise, finding answers is fairly easy, and the documentation is well organized.
Your WordPress theme is your template for the overall design of your page. There are a number of free options, or else you can pay for a premium theme, which is typically developed and updated by professional web designers, and will often have additional features. I use The Thesis Theme for WordPress, which has a number of simple tools for editing/managing content, and has built-in options for Google Analytics and SEO. This list of some of the most popular themes (both free and premium) can also provide some ideas.
As mentioned above, plugins are the tools to add various functions to your blog, and there are currently thousands available. The plugins that I currently use, broken into various categories are:
- Google Authenticator – adds two-factor authentication to your site, which is an extra level of login security protecting your site.
- Limit Login Attempts – prevents someone from hacking into your site by brute force.
- Akismet – automatically protects your blog comments from spammers.
Speeding up WordPress
- WP Super Cache – Generates static html files that are sent to users, which speeds up loading by reducing load on your host server (otherwise, WordPress generates a new html file each time a user accesses your site, which can be slow). I previously used W3 Total Cache, but it never seemed fast enough and has some occasional problems.
- WordPress SEO by Yoast – despite some Search engine optimization (SEO) being built into my Thesis Theme, I find that this plugin does a better job at optimizing searches for my name (which as a physician, is the result that I care most about). An alternative to consider (with overall easier setup) is All in One SEO Pack. While I haven’t compared my results with these two plugins directly, Yoast’s package seems to be more successful. [Update 11/4/2014: Since updating from Thesis version 1 to version 2, I have disabled WordPress SEO by Yoast owing to some compatibility issues, and am using the SEO built into Thesis. It appears these issues have been addressed, but I currently haven’t done any of the fixes].
- Google XML sitemaps – XML sitemaps are files listing your sites URLs with important information about each to search engines. Yoast’s WordPress SEO has this built in, which is likely adequate, but this plugin gives you more control.
- Jetpack – this is a must-have plugin that includes numerous features, but the one that I use most frequently are the site statistics.
- Google Analytics – though not technically a plugin (Analytics is added by adding a tracking code to your site, which I do through my Thesis Theme, but could also be done through WordPress SEO), Google provides piles of free data about who is accessing your site.
- WordPress Backup to Dropbox – automatically backs up your entire site to your Dropbox account.
- Contact Form 7 – provides a simple but highly customizable contact form, which I like better than the one included in Jetpack.
It can also be useful to look at what plugins your favorite blogs are using with the WPThemeDetector website (although it cannot detect every plugin), or else browse the most popular plugins in the WordPress directory.
While you could write blog posts directly in WordPress, it can be a bit clumsy to do so. I use MarsEdit, which connects directly to your blog and allows you to write and upload posts with multiple editing options (it even supports Markdown). By connecting to your site, it actually downloads a copy of all of your posts which acts as an additional backup. Of note, if you use Google Authenticator, you’ll have to use an application specific password, since two-factor authentication is not currently supported.
For longer or more complex writing (such as my post on Decision Fatigue), I first write everything in Markdown using Scrivener, which is an incredibly powerful writing program that local author Patrick Rhone convinced me to purchase after this tweet:
It’s like an operating system for words. Everything one would need to turn words from concept to finished product is there.
This is the hard part. I like WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg’s post suggesting that you “write for only two people”: yourself and “a single person who you have in mind as the perfect person to read what you write”. As such, this post was inspired by Dr. Rebecca Grainger looking for tips on starting a blog via Twitter. [Update 12/07/2014: Dr. Grainger (along with Dr. Eimear Savage) recently started a blog: 2xrheum: A rheumatology blog is born.]
Have suggestions regarding your own WordPress setup, especially plugins? Post them in the comments.