Automattic is changing everything WordPress, or not.

If you use WordPress to manage your content online, you’re smart and far from alone. Stats say that somewhere around 28% of the web we use is running on WordPress right now. The thing is, many of you have no idea you are looking at it when a master developer builds a site.

The secret sauce of WordPress is that the content, the stuff that brings visitors to your site, is in a database and separate from the presentation- the theme, the way it all displays. This is what makes things super easy to manage and maintain, and to format the output for any size screen and device. The part that makes Google search such a big fan is that the content is organized nicely using the four main tools: Posts, Pages, Categories and Tags. If you’ve taken our Websitetology seminar, you fully understand why most of your site should be using posts- in really well organized and thought out categories. If you haven’t taken our seminar- you should sign up.

However, there are a few big changes coming on the horizon to the World of WordPress- both from the top, the people who built and maintain this open source tour de force- Automattic (named for Matt Mullenweg, the guy who proved you can get rich giving something away that you don’t own).

First up is the subscription service JetPack, which builds upon a suite of plugin tools that were and still are free- but always required a wordpress.com account to tie you back to the “mothership.” In that form- JetPack did some cool stuff-

Keep any WordPress site secure, increase traffic, and engage your readers.

Traffic and SEO Tools

Traffic is the lifeblood of any website. Jetpack includes:

  • [free] Site stats and analytics
  • [free] Automatic sharing on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Reddit, and WhatsApp
  • [free] Related posts
  • [paid] Search engine optimization tools for Google, Bing, Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress.com
  • [paid] Advertising program that includes the best of AdSense, Facebook Ads, AOL, Amazon, Google AdX, and Yahoo

Security and Backup Services

Stop worrying about data loss, downtime, and hacking. Jetpack provides:

  • [free] Brute force attack protection
  • [free] Downtime and uptime monitoring
  • [free] Secured logins and two-factor authentication
  • [paid] Malware scanning, code scanning, and threat resolution
  • [paid] Site backups, restores, and migrations

Content Creation

Add rich, beautifully-presented media — no graphic design expertise necessary:

  • [free] A high-speed CDN for your images
  • [free] Carousels, slideshows, and tiled galleries
  • [free] Simple embeds from YouTube, Google Documents, Spotify and more
  • [free] Sidebar customization including Facebook, Twitter, and RSS feeds
  • [free] Extra sidebar widgets including blog stats, calendar, and author widgets
  • [paid] High-speed, ad-free, and high-definition video hosting

Discussion and Community

Create a connection with your readers and keep them coming back to your site with:

  • [free] Email subscriptions
  • [free] Comment login with Facebook, Twitter, and Google
  • [free] Fully-customizable contact forms
  • [free] Infinite scroll for your posts

So, you say- there are only a few pieces that are paid- I’ll jump in. However, that’s the beginning down the slippery slope to letting someone else control how your site works and see everything you do. We’ve avoided it for years- instead using tools from third parties.

The newest release of Jetpack gets its own site- Jetpack.com and looking at the business side (since we do WordPress for business as our bread and butter) you start seeing that it’s almost as if you are buying hosting from Automattic too- which isn’t a bad thing, until things go wrong in a big way, and the support just can’t deal with their scale. Automattic has been doing their VIP hosting for a long time, so they probably are pretty solid at this now, but, we’re still a little wary, and frankly, the price is pretty steep. You don’t need access to hundreds of premium themes- you just need one good one.

No matter what, the push into hosting smaller business sites and offering their own sets of tools, could be seen as direct competition with the entire ecosystem that has been built around WordPress. One of the key reasons WordPress has been so successful is the thousands of businesses that have been built on the platform- from theme and plugin developers to hosting firms and web developers.

And, as if that isn’t enough… here comes “Guttenberg

What? Moveable type presses? Nope, a new way of editing text outside the standard text block editor that is the default. In other words, a builder- much like many of the builders that come with premium themes. There are plenty out there- we’ve gravitated to using Divi from Elegant Themes– which is both plugin and visual site builder/theme- but there are plenty of others.

What does the coming of Guttenberg mean for some of us? We’re not entirely sure. The Customizer was the first Automattic attempt to provide an interim WYSWIG interface to WordPress- and it didn’t change anything. What we are seeing is Automattic reacting to competition like SquareSpace/WIX/Weebly – all  of which are WordPress with training wheels for those who can’t be bothered with doing a website right.

Guttenberg is still in beta and not ready for prime time. We’re waiting to see if it is in WP 4.9 or part of the major 5.0 release. In the meantime, you should be aware of the impending changes.

 

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WordPress 4.8- the Widget edition

Major WordPress version updates come a few times a year, and we now have version 4.8, named after Jazz Pianist Bill Evans. We call it the Widget edition.

For those of you who don’t know what widgets are, they started as the way to put stuff on the sidebar- the thing on the side of your blog, that’s there all the time…

wait? Does that sound a little foreign to you? It should. Because with the Theme Universe exploding, and responsive design (that resizes to any device size) widgets have become the way to put things anywhere on your site- from the front page to the sidebar, to the footer etc.

Other than stock widgets, many widgets are installed by Plugins, and some by themes and theme builders.

What used to require a bit of a hack, is now easy with these new widgets:

Image Widget

Adding an image to a widget is now a simple task that is achievable for any WordPress user without needing to know code. Simply insert your image right within the widget settings. Try adding something like a headshot or a photo of your latest weekend adventure — and see it appear automatically.

Video Widget

A welcome video is a great way to humanize the branding of your website. You can now add any video from the Media Library to a sidebar on your site with the new Video widget. Use this to showcase a welcome video to introduce visitors to your site or promote your latest and greatest content.

Audio Widget

Are you a podcaster, musician, or avid blogger? Adding a widget with your audio file has never been easier. Upload your audio file to the Media Library, go to the widget settings, select your file, and you’re ready for listeners. This would be a easy way to add a more personal welcome message, too!

Rich Text Widget

This feature deserves a parade down the center of town! Rich-text editing capabilities are now native for Text widgets. Add a widget anywhere and format away. Create lists, add emphasis, and quickly and easily insert links. Have fun with your newfound formatting powers, and watch what you can accomplish in a short amount of time.

Source: WordPress 4.8 “Evans”

And of course, with the customizer as the WordPress answer to SquareSpace, Wix and whatever other WYSIWG proprietary website solution- you can now do a drag and drop element in your site.

Just remember to always use a child theme to make your customizations. There are plugins that can help you set that up (right now, Child Theme Configurator  seems to be the most popular)

Some of our favorite Widgets are:

Ad inserter:

Ad management plugin with many advertising features to automatically insert adverts. Perfect for all kinds of ads including AdSense and Amazon. Great also for contextual Native Shopping Ads and rotating banners. Ad Inserter provides many options to insert any Javascript, HTML, PHP or advert code anywhere on the page.

Source: Ad Inserter — WordPress Plugins

Popular posts:

WordPress Popular Posts is a highly customizable widget that displays the most popular posts on your blog.

Source: WordPress Popular Posts — WordPress Plugins

And the SiteOrigin widget installer – which bundles a bunch of useful tools:

SiteOrigin Widgets bundle:

  • Google Maps Widget that’s going places.
  • Button Widget that you’ll love to click.
  • Image Widget that’ll let you add images everywhere.
  • Call To Action Widget that’ll get your users performing the actions you want.
  • Slider Widget that slides images and HTML5 videos.
  • Price Table Widget that’ll help you sell more.
  • Post Carousel Widget that displays your posts as a carousel.
  • Features Widget that lets you display a set of site or service features.
  • Video Widget to get your videos out there.
  • Headline Widget to get you noticed.
  • Social Links Widget to show you’re active.

Source: SiteOrigin Widgets Bundle — WordPress Plugins

The beauty of WordPress is that there is a complete selection of vetted tools on WordPress.org to extend and expand the capabilities of your site. Come to our next Websitetogy Seminar and learn about widgets, plugins, best posting practices and a whole bunch more.

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How to measure site load times (and how to make them shorter)

How quickly your web page loads is important. Actually, a site which loads quickly could be the most important thing in deciding whether or not a customer decides to buy. From Google (“Why Marketers Should Care About Mobile Page Speed“):

Consider this: Mobile sites lag behind desktop sites in key engagement metrics such as average time on site, pages per visit, and bounce rate. For retailers, this can be especially costly since 30% of all online shopping purchases now happen on mobile phones. The average U.S. retail mobile site loaded in 6.9 seconds in July 2016, but, according to the most recent data, 40% of consumers will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. And 79% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with site performance say they’re less likely to purchase from the same site again.

You could have invested in a great looking responsive layout for your site, but if the thing takes 10 seconds to load, people are already back on the search engine looking for something else.

It is understandable, then, that we have a lot of people who come to us concerned about how quickly (or not) their site is loading. Some will point out how slowly it loads on their machine. Some will show us scores generated from Google’s own “PageSpeed Tool,” which issues a score out of 100 on a variety of factors, the idea being that we can make that number higher as proof that the site is quicker.

A couple things with this:

  • Performance on your computer/phone/potato on your internet connection will not be a great indicator of site performance for other people. A old computer and/or slower internet connection could give you a false impression compared to those closer to an average speed. It’s better to use a third-party tool which will likely give you much more stable data to work with.
  • Google’s a smart group of folks, no doubt about it, but their PageSpeed tool leaves something to be desired. This article from GlückPress, “F*** Pagespeed” proves it’s possible to have a lightning-fast website completely loaded in half a second which also scores poorly on Google’s tool.

The above article gives a pretty good list of guidelines for judging if your site is loading quick enough. Here’s the skinny:

  • Go to Pingdom Tools.
  • Enter the URL of your front page.
  • Pick—this is important!—a location nearest to your most likely audience for “Test from”.
  • Run the test.
    Then run it again, from the same location.
    And again.
  • Look at the load time.
    Don’t look at the “Performance grade”, it’s generated via PageSpeed’s API, screw it.
    Look at load time only for now.

Easy right? We went ahead and ran a couple of our sites through:

PageSpeed Score

How Fast it Really Is

Great. We’re under the dreaded 3 second mark Google warned us about. With a bit of wiggle room even. Our new website for The Next Wave even comes close to getting under a second—it occasionally does when the test is repeated.

‘My site is slow even with this, what can I do to speed it up?’

A truly quick site that will stay quick is one which is designed from the beginning to be quick. This means it utilizes few images (this is also very helpful for responsiveness!). It minimizes the amount of scripts and plugins it needs (beware of premium themes which require a lot of plugins to function like it does in the demo). The Next Wave’s site, for instance, gets most of its visual flair from CSS and a single JavaScript file.

Some sites are image-heavy, however. Websitetology currently uses quite a few images in its design, so we’ve used a few tools to reduce the loadtimes, which I’ll outline below:

WP Super Cache (Free)

Caching is one of the two biggest things you can do to speed things up. We currently leverage WP Super Cache (find it in your “add new plugin” area in the dashboard) to take our dynamically generated pages and turn them into straight HTML. This means when someone visits the site, the server doesn’t need to grab information from the database every time to load, it simply grabs a saved completed version of the page.

CloudFlare CDN (Free w/ paid upgrades)

You could probably write an entire book about the benefits CloudFlare provides for a website host. It saves parts of your website (or if you’re clever, the entire thing) to its servers around the world, speeding things up considerably. It protects your website from hackers and cyberattacks. They can even give you a free SSL certificate for HTTPS browsing. It can be a little tricky to set up since you’ll need to change your domain to point to CloudFlare, and then back to your server, but if you aren’t already on CloudFlare or something like it, stop reading this and do it now.

WP Smush (Free w/ paid premium version)

This is the other big thing for making your site as fast as it can be. You’ve gotta get your image sizes down. For the most part I try to keep embedded images below 100kb, and limit images above 100kb to only 1 or 2 per page, if that. Sometimes you can achieve these file sizes without changing much to the image itself. WP Smush from the folks at WPMU DEV will automatically compress your images down with no visible decrease in image quality. The premium version supports further features like converting PNGs to JPEGs (a huge improvement if you aren’t using transparency in your images) and a “super smush” which does a second compression pass with a barely-if-at-all noticeable decrease in image quality. The premium version is definitely worth it.

CSS and Script Minification with Hummingbird (Premium plugin only)

Okay, things are getting a little deep here, we understand, but if you’re still struggling with site loads you may need to go down this rabbit hole. Hummingbird is another plugin from WPMU DEV which, well, takes care of all the loose threads related to site load speed. Most notably it “minifies” your CSS and Javascript files. The easiest way to explain it is this: it combines all those little files into one or a few and removes all the unnecessary spaces and line breaks in the code. That means it isn’t very easy for a person to read the code, but as this great scene in Silicon Valley puts it best: the machine reads it all the same anyways.

Still slow? Don’t throw your computer, we can walk you through it. Check out our monthly seminar.

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