Blogging and Branding, and Learning about MX Records

Where to host your blog? Do it yourself? Let your blog provider (like WordPress) do it? Use a hosting company? I was struggling with these ideas last week, and ultimately came up with a very simple model. If this is not of interest to you, stop reading now. It’s just a little personal tale.

My business model is very simple: I’m a sole proprietor, consult to (mostly) IT vendors and use my blog as a vehicle to comment on the industry as a way to sustain my brand. I don’t transact here, and the only interaction is around content. I work diligently to respond to comments, but that’s it as far as two-way needs are concerned. I’m not collecting people’s emails for marketing in broad campaigns, or taking payments. So for me, letting WordPress host my blog is the simplest option. I shudder when I see that people are tweeting about patching the system on the server they keep at home, adding new MySQL patches or fixing java because some widget stopped working. I have successfully avoided all that so far. All I do is create content and respond.

Still, I saw a thread among some friends about “who’s good at hosting your WordPress site” and thought, “maybe I could spruce it up, have more widgets, get into design more…” and so I followed the conversation for a while. Ultimately, I concluded things were fine right where they were. But the thought process did trigger a few changes I’ve made. If you are trying to do something like what I do, you may find these tips interesting – or you may want to tell me I got it wrong. I welcome the input.

Unifying the Email

I have a Gmail account, but when I acquired the itmarketstrategy.com domain (from GoDaddy) it occurred to me that my brand would be reinforced if I used an email account there, so my business email is merv@itmarketstrategy.com. I wanted to reinforce the company name. I learned that I could use the Gmail client to manage my email in both mailboxes, so that’s how I do my email, and it works fine. Although I’m thinking about going back to Outlook – it is part of Office, which I have and use, and I’m not sure, a year and a half later, that I really like the way Gmail’s approach to managing the email works. I may still experiment with that. In any case, the principle is clear: my name is my brand – people know me as Merv. Putting the company name in the address lets me continue to promote the company name too – so I get to do both at once. Check.

Branding the Blog and Mapping Domains

After 15 months and over 60,000 hits, it has become apparent that my blog is working – people come here, they interact with me and (sometimes) engage me to work for them at least in part based on what they see here. But its name was not doing everything it could: the address was a WordPress one, and that’s not me, it’s someone else. Even though my name preceded it, I felt that I wasn’t getting enough out of the naming. So I decided to take advantage of WordPress support for using your own domain name instead of theirs, for a small fee. I can hardly begrudge then the fee – all this is free otherwise, and I get great value out of it.

The process was remarkably simple, and WordPress’ support forum gave me instructions for doing to my provider and changing the name servers. It’s easy and I did it in literally a few minutes. I change the name servers on GoDaddy inside my account management tools, gave that a little time to take, and then came back to WordPress and told it the domain to use for my blog. Everything worked great. And now, my blog is my home page. I’ve stopped using a separate site, and moved content about my services, publications, appearances, etc. here. Feels like a more unified brand to me.

Oops – Email Broke. What’s an MX Record?

First thing the next morning, I noticed email seemed to be a bit light – and then I noticed that I had a note from LinkedIn saying my address bounced. I went to merv@itmarketstrategy.com and found an empty mailbox. Uh-oh. A quick call to the GoDaddy support number – which has always been quick and clear – was a satisfying an experience as all my others have been. I was on with a knowledgeable person in moments (literally) who explained that I had to fix the MX records over on the WordPress site. If you want to know details, follow the link, but in brief, MX records tell DNS what your mail host is so SMTP can handle mail delivery.

Back to WordPress, select the domain name, enter the X records and save. And voila, it’s all working again. Couldn’t have been easier. Now, in a perfect world, I would have seen the info in the original instructions more easily and avoided this entirely, but I assumed there might be a minor issue or two – that’s why I made the change at 10 PM and checked first thing in the morning. Little damage done, and a more unified presence later, I’m a happy camper. Maybe this interweb thing isn’t so hard after all.

About Merv Adrian
Gartner Research VP, technology analyst and consultant, 30 years of industry experience, covering software mostly, hardware sometimes.

6 Responses to Blogging and Branding, and Learning about MX Records

  1. Hi Merv,

    Went through the same thing for the IIAR website (analystrelations.org) and the whole story about the MX records was not well documented if your web hosting company (we have to have one as we need different email accounts) is different from your domain name host.

    But all now works: we also use WordPress and Gmail, all is fine 🙂

    My advice: get help before you make the switch, it can be debilitating.

  2. Merv Adrian says:

    Good advice. I’m a very fortunate person – my needs are simple. No doubt your model made things more complex for you.
    The forums on WordPress contain a lot of useful information, but unless you’re willing to spend some time understanding things, it’s challenging to “do it yourself” because most people have some special needs that are only addressed in a footnote, or another post – and may not be easily found with searches. But I have to say that WP’s own tech support folks have been responsive when I have had questions for them. And the GoDaddy people are spectacularly good.

  3. Rob Paller says:

    Merv,

    I’ve been wondering since our conversation a while back where things were going. I’m glad to see that you have found a solution that fits your needs and promotes your brand at the same time. In the grand scheme of things it’s the content that is most important. With the recent changes to your blog layout you have found a great balance that makes it easy to navigate for content while keeping a minimalist approach that focuses on the content.

    It is too easy to get caught up in the widgets and plug-ins available for for WordPress. Then your blog becomes the Web 2.0 version of Pimp My Ride.

  4. Merv Adrian says:

    Thanks, Rob, and great to hear from you. My needs, as I said, are simple, and having a separate web site, with another name, and links back and forth, was just too much complexity. Wasn’t hard to maintain, but it wasn’t clean and clear. Now everything is at one site, and I’ve kept a great domain name, which simply sends folks here. My name is my brand, and unless I change that, this makes the most sense.

  5. Alan Berkson says:

    Merv,
    I like your “less is more” approach. My only question is how well WordPress.com hosted sites fare in SEO. Did that rate anywhere in your process?

    -Alan

  6. Merv Adrian says:

    Thanks. Less has been more for me there, too. I got some fantastic basic guidance about getting important things into the first sentence or two, using links, etc. from my friend Shawn Rogers. I’m not using any of the “tricks” with invisible words, etc and I’m not following the state of the art on SEO. I seem to be reaching many of the people I want to, and more all the time. I’m content to let the content do the talking. (So far it seems to be working.)

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