Blogging from China

I am running my blog from China and it is not an easy task. My friend, a blogger as well, posted a question on Facebook asking what she should use to run a blog from China. After we had some conversation, I decided to write a small review of all the tools I am using. My tips are not all China-specific; some of them will be useful to any blogger. I will mention WordPress themes, plugins, online marketing tools, VPN, mac apps, etc. I have spent years working on my workflow and I am still working on it. I love new tools and I love to try new stuff. I also update my website very often, not only the content but also I do design tweaks all the time. Many of these links are affiliate, but that doesn’t mean that I recommend these tools just to recommend something. I use all of them daily and I wouldn’t be able to work without them. If you decide to give them a try, you will be a great help to me if you do it by clicking on my links instead of googling it. Thank you.

Creating your website

VPN, hosting, platform

First of all, when working from China you have to use VPN. There is no other option if your target audience is not Chinese people. If you do not want to use VPN and still want to run a blog, your only reliable option is to run it on a Chinese blogging platform. But all them I know about are in Chinese and target only China. I do not write my blog in the Chinese language (even though I should to improve my writing), so I don’t use this solution. There is one more choice and that is to host your website in China. If it is only a personal website or blog, you can host it in China (only be careful what you write). If you want to present your products and services as well, you have to have a company registered in China to host a website. For both ways you have to be registered as a content provider in China. Another way is to host your websites outside of mainland China. It still can be reliable if your servers are in Asia. My Chinese site is in Hong Kong. Even though it is a great solution, you will probably still use VPN in some cases. Let say you will install WordPress. To operate it you have to disable Google fonts. For this you will need VPN, otherwise it will not be possible to install a specific plugin. If your website is targeting a foreign audience but it is hosted in China, you have to change targeting in Google webmaster tools and you will also need a VPN for that. So, simply put, you need a VPN!

I use VyprVPN. You can read my full review here. It is the most reliable VPN I have encountered so far. There is also Astrill, which works for many very well. It wasn’t really working for me. And another great one is ExpressVPN as well. They do not offer as much as VyprVPN does and they are also more expensive, but they have a China hosted website so it is much easier to register. And they have 30 day no questions asked money back guarantee, which is great. Also it seems that the difference in speed of the VPN depends on where you are. Try all three (VyprVPN also has 3 day trial) and see which one works for you.

I have three websites. English and Slovak are on the same domain and I use a Slovak hosting company called Websupport. They are by far the best. I love their service called ‘The hosting’. You can have various websites, but just one hosting for all of them. I personally have problems with doing things too quickly. Before, when I had some ideas, I just went for it and purchased hosting. After that I soon stopped using that hosting, because many of my ideas were not that smart :) I don’t mind having various domains; you can find use for them when they are good. But I still had to pay for those hostings. Now I don’t have to. When my other crazy idea doesn’t work, I will just have one more domain and still have that same hosting. Websupport also has great support and they helped me a lot with my China-specific problems.

My second website is in Chinese. It is not finished yet; right now it is just my portfolio online. I am definitely going to work on it more this year. Since it is targeting China, I have Hong Kong based hosting. I have done some research and Kowloon hosting offers the most data for the least money. Best deal I have found. They also respond and solve problems very quickly and they can help you register a .cn domain. For that you also have to be registered as a content provider in China.

My go-to platform is WordPress, as I have mentioned before. I love tweaking my website, so I do not use Tumblr or anything else. You can do anything with the WordPress website. There are so many plugins and themes out there that your possibilities are never-ending. Of course it can be little bit overwhelming and it has its problems as well. You have to update regularly and sometimes updates can mess up your website. Be sure to secure your WordPress website with some plugins and to back up regularly.

Running your website

Themes, plugins

I was using free themes before. But after some time I realized that if I am serious about my blog, I cannot use free themes anymore. My first premium theme was called ‘Awesome’ and it was not awesome. But one day I noticed an advertisement for Vellum and I clicked. The designs and possibilities I could do with it amazed me and I bought it right away. And I do not regret it. They also offer great support. You don’t have to buy this exact theme, but you should buy a theme from Theme forest and look for good themes that work with popular plugins. Sometimes I like to browse new themes and these caught my attention:

I have a bunch of plugins on my website, and I love all of them. Some are free and some are premium. Today I do not hesitate to pay some extra money for a well-developed premium plugin because free plugins have messed up my site a few times already. It is the same as with themes; if you are serious, you will have to pay some extra cash for quality.

iThemes Security – Free – iThemes Security and All in one SEO are by far the two most popular plugins for every WordPress website. You just have to install it, no questions asked. Protect your website! The plugin is free, so you have no reason not to use it.

All In One SEO Pack – Free – All in One SEO, the name tells it. It is one of the most popular plugins in the whole WordPress directory and it is free. It’s a must have if you want to be found.

WPBakery Visual Composer – When you hit the limits of your WordPress theme, then that’s where the Visual composer comes in. After installing this plugin, your possibilities are limitless again. It comes for free with many themes. That is actually the best way to buy it because then you will be sure they work great together. I got it for free with my vellum theme.

WPML Multilingual CMS – The best multilingual plugin out there. If you want to have a professional multilingual website, there is no other option. Nothing more to say.

Ninja Popups for WordPress – I am not using it right now, but I was using it for a long time. And I am planning to use it again very soon. Get new Facebook fans or email subscribers with eye catching popups.

Easy Digital Downloads – Free – I didn’t want eshop, but I wanted my website to have some ecommerce capabilities. This plugin is the best for that. It is not as complex as Woo-commerce, for example, but it works great. It also works seamlessly with the multilingual WPML plugin and it will not slow your website down. Someday you may need some more capabilities; then you can buy various premium extensions. Basic plugin is for free!

Revolution Slider – Sometimes just the simple image slider is not enough. Then you have to buy Revolution slider. You can create slides with various layers, put text and links on the layers, make them full screen … there are so many possibilities. I bought it with my Vellum theme for free.

Media Grid – I like simple things. And this plugin makes simple, beautiful image galleries with the possibility to write text, html and WordPress shotcodes into light-boxes. Exactly what I was looking for. You can take a look at my galleries.

SocialFans Counter – Small, nifty plugin that counts all of your social followers and displays it on your website. When I first saw it on somebody else’s website, I knew that I had to have it.

Social Locker for WordPress – Give something for free to your audience in exchange for social share. After they click like or share, content automatically unlocks. Great plugin for spreading the word.

UpdraftPlus – Backup/Restore – Free – Back up! Back up! Back up! Since connection is not so reliable in China, I chose this plugin. It backs up to my Google Docs account without any intervention from my side. I do not have to care, connect, download or upload anything. It is just working seamlessly in the background.

Add From Server – Free – It was almost impossible to work with images before I had this plugin. I could spend hours uploading a few pictures. Now it is super easy. I put the FTP address into my bar and when I need to upload some pictures, I just drag and drop (read about the Dropzone app below), then I go to this plugin and I import images from the server. No more struggling with uploading pictures.

BJ Lazy Load – Free – I upload a lot of pictures to my blog posts. And since I live in China, I know what a problem it can be when you are opening a blog with many pictures and you have a slow connection. This plugin simply downloads images only when somebody is looking at them. You can speed up the loading of your website a lot.

Disable Google Fonts – Free – One more must have in China. Sometimes I want to do something without VPN. Then you have to have this plugin because WordPress uses Google fonts and they are blocked in China.

Disqus Comment System – Free – I hate SPAM. And so does Disqus. And it is also super social. Best solution for article discussions. I am sure you have seen it on many websites; it is very popular today.

Upgrading your website

Web-based services

Running a website is not just about themes and plugins. There are many services out there which can help make your job easier. These are my favorite and I use them all the time.

Shareaholic – Be social! Put follow and share buttons on your website. It comes with a great plugin for WordPress and I also use it for read more recommendations. If you want to know how it works, just click on the icons and share this article. :)

Mailchimp – If you want to send newsletters, there are various solutions. One of the most popular is definitely Mailchimp. They have flexible payment options and for a small website it is free. I love that you start paying only when you start earning. That is super smart. By the way, why don’t you subscribe? :)

IFTTT – I run various social profiles, but I do not want to spend all day just updating them. That is why I use IFTTT. The name literally means “If this then that”. How does it work? Simple: When this happens, then that happens as well. For example, if I post an article on my website, then my Facebook and Twitter will be updated automatically.

Feedpress – After Google killed its RSS solution, I was looking around and I found Feedpress. I was lucky that I registered quite early. That time it was for free. Now there is only one feed for free and I would have to pay for the other one. They offer great management and statistics for your RSS feeds. It comes with a WordPress plugin. By the way, why don’t you subscribe to my RSS feed? :) – This one is not really a web-based service, but a platform for freelancers. Sometimes I need a job done and I cannot do it by myself. Then I use this website to look for help. I usually hire freelancers (I recommend klboots) to do my proofreading, since English is not my native language, and I want my website to be professional.

Google Analytics – There is not much to say about this one. If you want statistics about your website, you have to use it. And there are various plugins that work with Google Analytics. I use Google Analytics for WordPress dashboard.

Writing your website

Mac apps

I love many apps. They are so many, I could write an article just about them. This list includes only those which are directly connected to my blog.

MacJournal – I write every article in MacJournal. I’ve been writing a blog since 2009, so I have written many articles already. This way I have them organized and backed up. I can also upload directly to my blog without opening the browser. MacJournal has many more features, but I do not use them a lot. For me it is all about organizing my content, flagging it, labeling it, etc.

Dropzone – This application is a Mac solution for drag and drop while using fullscreen modes. The majority of Mac is based on drag and drop, but when you put your app on fullscreen, you can lose this feature. So I use Dropzone. You just drag a file and drop it into Dropzone. After that you drag it from there and drop it on your desired app. Super simple. But that is not the only functionality. Among others you can drag and drop directly to mail, airdrop and FTP. I use it a lot for FTP with specific paths. When I need to upload something to my website, I just drag and drop it into my toolbar. I don’t have to open any FTP clients or web browsers. I use it mostly for images. I upload them to FTP using Dropzone and then import them to Gallery using the import from server plugin.

Imagebot and Namechanger – I use Lightroom, Photoshop, iPhoto and NIK collection for post-processing and organizing my images. But sometimes I already have exported some images and I need to batch resize them or rename them. Then I use one of these apps because they are much simpler to use than doing it with Photoshop or importing and exporting them again with Lightroom.

Transmit – When I want just to upload something, I use Dropzone. When I just want to take a look at my FTP directory, I use Finder. But when I need to do something more, I have to use Transmit, a great FTP client. My favorite feature is definitely synchronizing your FTP and local folders. That is my second local backup.

iStat – When I am not sure if my connection is working, I just take a look at my toolbar. iStat offers me great insights into what my Mac is doing and I always know when I have to restart my VPN. :)