Category Archives: Wordpress

Topics relating to Wordpress, plugins, themes, optimizing etc

Improving WordPress Performance: Everything You Need to Know

We want our websites to be fast, but we also want them to be easy to manage. Unfortunately, these two goals are frequently in tension. The fastest website is a static website, where pure HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are stored on the server and can be sent directly to users without any processing. When the web was new, that’s how things were done. As websites became more complex, the overhead of managing static sites became a significant burden. In the modern world, we need sites that can be managed by people without the training of a web developer, which is the motivation behind content management systems like WordPress and Joomla!. While these dynamic applications are significantly easier for the average person to manage, their dynamic nature requires the execution of PHP scripts and large numbers of database calls, which can make them much slower than a static site.

Out-of-the-box WordPress is not particularly slow in comparison to other dynamic platforms, but it is lower than a static site. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy-to-implement techniques for improving the speed of a WordPress site. In this article, we’re going to look at the main strategies for speeding up a WordPress site and show you some straightforward ways to implement them.

Caching

Every time a visitor requests a WordPress page, the site must execute several PHP scripts and make numerous database queries to build the page. Each step incurs a time penalty. By default, WordPress will generate a page on-the-fly for every visitor. However, in many cases, that’s not necessary. If the information on the page hasn’t changed recently, there’s no need to regenerate it. Caching is a process of storing previously generated pages in memory or on disk, so that they can be quickly served to the next visitor.

The two leading WordPress caching plugins are WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache.

WP Super Cache will serve static files to 99% of users, resulting in significantly faster page load times for almost everyone on your site. WP Super Cache is fairly straightforward to use, and if you don’t want to spend a lot of time tinkering with options, it is the best choice.

W3 Total Cache bills itself as a WordPress performance optimization framework and is highly configurable with many additional features such as code minification and HTTP compression. Which of these plugins you choose to use is dependent on the particular needs of your site, but this writer prefers W3 Total Cache because of its extensive set of performance enhancing functionality.

Content Distribution Network

Content distribution networks are similar in principle to caching. But, rather than storing static assets on the server they are distributed to a series of edge nodes around the world. Page requests are diverted these edge nodes, reducing round-trip time by ensuring that assets are served from a location near to the user and also reducing the load on the site server.

Many companies offer a CDN service including MaxCDN and CloudFlare. Once you have selected a CDN provider, the easiest way to hook your WordPress site up to the CDN is with the W3 Total Cache plugin, which includes options for most of the popular content distribution networks.

Lazy Loading Of Images

Usually when a webpage loads, all of its assets are loaded at the same time. For image heavy pages, users can be left waiting while every image on the page loads. Lazy loading loads only those images are currently visible in the browser window. Lazy loading doesn’t actually make a page load any more quickly, but it does decrease the perceived load time from the perspective of the user.

Many popular websites use lazy loading – you’ve probably seen it in action when you quickly scroll down a page and see images loading as they enter the browser window. One of the most popular lazy loading WordPress plugins is BJ Lazy Load, which replaces images with a placeholder until they are required. The plugin will also size optimize images, automatically serving scaled-down images for responsive designs and serving high-DPI images on retina displays.

Hosting

However much you tweak your WordPress site for performance, without the right foundations it will never be as quick as it could be. Hosting has an enormous impact on site performance. The performance impact of a badly optimized hosting platform will overshadow all other speed improvement measures. A good web hosting company will implement performance optimizations such as PHP acceleration, an optimized Web server using SSDs for storage, and an external caching mechanism like memcached, all of which can make a huge difference to WordPress performance.

If you’re going to make the most out of your WordPress hosting and provide users with the best possible experience, these simple additions to a WordPress installation will give you the biggest bang for your buck. All else being equal, improving site performance is an effective way of both improving conversion rates and giving your SEO a boost, so it should be at the top of the priority list for any business webmaster.

About Rachel Gillevet – Rachel is the technical writer for WiredTree, a leader in fully managed dedicated and vps hosting. Follow Rachel and WiredTree on Twitter, @wiredtree, Like them on Facebook and check out more of their articles on their web hosting blog,http://www.wiredtree.com/blog.

Sending Encrypted Email From WordPress

One of the primary functions of many business sites is gathering leads and inquiries using forms. There are many plugins available that make this possible, including the popular Contact Form 7, most themes provide contact forms of some sort, and WordPress has built-in email capability.

However, as anyone who keeps abreast of tech news knows, email is not a secure method of communication. In fact, email is insecure by design: it was never intended to be a secure and attempts to make it secure are largely bolted-on remedies that don’t work very well. Services like Gmail provide moderate levels of security by encrypting the connection between client and server, but, because most email servers around the world are incapable of handling encrypted email, everything sent outside of GMail is transmitted unencrypted, and, of course, emails are not encrypted when they are on Google’s servers.

For many businesses, secure communication is essential, both because of security and privacy concerns and for regulatory compliance. For such companies, the standard WordPress email system is not adequate, but fortunately there is a WordPress plugin that allows companies to integrate content forms that send emails that have been encrypted using OpenPGP.

Understanding OpenPGP

OpenPGP is a set of standards for public-key cryptography. Public-key cryptography is a method of encryption which relies on a key-pair which consists of a public and a private key. Information is encrypted using the public key, which, as the name suggests, is distributed publicly. That data can only be decrypted using the private key, which is kept secret. In this way, data can be sent securely from a sender to its recipients.

Encrypting Form Mail On WordPress

The snappily-named wp2pgpmail plugin integrates openPGP encryption with WordPress forms, allowing users to very easily send encrypted enquiries via email to the site’s owners. For the person filling in the form, the process is simply a matter of entering information into the form and hitting “encrypt”. The plugin uses a client-side JavaScript implementation of OpenPGP so information is encrypted on the user’s computer and no information is transmitted before encryption.

screenshot-wp2pgpmail-2-1

Site owners will need to already have a key pair, the public part of which is entered into the plugin’s configuration dialogue. They will also need an email client that is OpenPGP capable so that they can decrypt mail received from the site. There are many email clients that are natively able to deal with encryption or that have plugins that enable OpenPGP functionality, including Mail on OS X with GPGTools and Gpg4win on Windows.

About Graeme Caldwell
Graeme works as an inbound marketer forNexcess, a leading provider of Magento and WordPress hosting. Follow Nexcess on Twitter at @nexcess, Like them on Facebook and check out their tech/hosting blog, http://blog.nexcess.net/.

WordPress 3.7 Beta Released: Here’s What’s New

As ever, the busy beavers in the WordPress development community have been hard at work fixing bugs and adding features to the world’s most popular content management system. It looks like 3.7 is going to be something of a subdued release, with nothing to match the more showy features that saw the light of day in the 3.6 release, like a new default theme and changes to the post locking and autosave features that were welcomed by those who run multi-author blogs.

That’s not to say that there’s nothing to look forward to this time around, so were going to highlight some of the more significant new features. It’s always worth repeating that beta releases are not to be used on production sites unless you want to spend several hours tearing your hair out when something breaks. But, if you want to test the beta to see what’s coming down the pike check out this article we wrote a few months ago for details.

Automatic Updates

This one’s being greeted with both groans and cheers, depending on the perspective of the commenter. On the one hand, a major cause for the constant stream of stories revolving around hacked WordPress sites is site owners neglecting to update to recent versions. If WordPress can slip in security and minor feature updates without webmasters having to do anything, those damaging stories will become less frequent (once everyone has updated to 3.7, anyway).

On the other hand, developers and experienced site owners are loathe to give up control of their updates. Most of them will have experienced at least one sleepless night caused by WordPress updates that broke part of their site or plugin compatibility. Some just object in principle to the idea of a third party silently installing software on their servers.

It appears that there will be an option to disable the updates, which is probably wise: expert users will turn it off if they choose; novice users will probably never even know it’s there.

Password Meter

This is a small change, but it’s of a piece with automatic updates. Both are intended to make WordPress more secure and stem the tide of “OMFG my WordPress has been hacked” stories. Familiar to almost everyone from the many sites that implement similar functionality, the password strength meter will prominently display a weak password warning when users try to use their dog’s name or “pa55word” to secure their site.

Better Search Results

At the moment, search on WordPress is not very good — results are sorted by date, which is not useful for most people. In the coming release the search system will be updated so that results are ordered by relevance, which is much more sensible.

As I said, these are changes that aren’t likely to blow anyone’s socks off, but the automatic updating in particular is significant. Many of the major feature releases appear to have been reserved for the 3.8 release, which is being led by Matt Mullenweg, the creator of WordPress, and promises to include more radical changes.

The 3.7 beta is available now, with the final release expected some time this month. We should see 3.8 arrive some time before the New Year.

About Graeme Caldwell

Graeme works as an inbound marketer for Nexcess, a leading provider of Magento and WordPress hosting. Follow Nexcess on Twitter at @nexcess, Like them on Facebook and check out their tech/hosting blog http://blog.nexcess.net

Useful Security Modifications for WordPress

WordPress is pretty secure, especially when compared to our content management systems.  We’ve put together this handy infographic on WordPress security issues.  This post is an update with some tweaks and plugins that can help tighten security on your WordPress site, and (hopefully) prevent hacking.

1. Keep WordPress Updated!

This is not a hack or a plugin, just common sense.  The WordPress team is constantly working on updates that address security vulnerabilities first.  Everything else comes second.  So updating WordPress with every stable release is critical.

2. Deny Access to wp-content directories

Most of the critical files are kept in these directories, and mean people can execute harmful code by getting into these directories.  Lock them down by adding an .htaccess file within the wp-content directory.  In the file, include:

Order deny,allow
Deny from all
<Files ~ ".(xml|css|jpe?g|png|gif|js)$">
Allow from all
</Files>

3. Remove the WordPress version from your meta description

This will make it slightly harder for people to identify in which ways your site may be vulnerable based on the version of WordPress you are using.  Of course, since you followed tip #1, you have the latest version.

4. Change your database prefix

The default prefix is wp_ but you can choose anything during install.  This is a trickier process after install.  Change your database prefix to something only you know.  If you’ve already installed WordPress, and you most likely already have, check out this comprehensive tutorial on changing the wp_ database prefix over at WPBeginner.

5. Prevent all directory browsing

The WordPress file structure is so well known, it can be predicted and browsed, and the information found there can demonstrate certain vulnerabilities.  Add this to your .htaccess file:

# directory browsing
Options All -Indexes

6. Deny access to the wp-admin directory

You need access to this directory, but nobody else does.  Limit who can access this directory based on their IP.  If you have a dynamic IP, this is not a permanent fix.  Remember to always backup your .htaccess file before making any changes!

order deny,allow
allow from [enter your ip]
deny from all

7. Password protect the wp-admin directory

As an alternative, or complimentary step, you can password protect this directory through your hosting control panel.  If using cPanel, under the “security” category, choose “password protect directories” and follow the instructions from there.

8. Change your admin username

The default is admin.  For obvious reasons, it is more secure to set a new and secure username and password.  Choose something nobody would guess (not like mydomainadmin).  Along the same lines, choose a super-secure password, something randomly generated.

9. Prevent brute force attacks

Install the Login Security Solution WordPress plugin, compatable above version 3.3.  This plugin has a number of features that make it more difficult (but not impossible) to hack WordPress.  Most notably, the plugin will slow down the login response time if it appears someone is maliciously trying to log in.  It also adds a great deal of features related to password quality, including an option to require a new password every xx days.  Nice.

10. Move the wp-admin directory altogether

The easiest way to do this is with the Better WP Security plugin.  This plugin comes with all sorts of other security related features but it allows you to quickly change the login URL.  Why change it?  Two main reasons.  First, people can navigate to yourdomain.com/wp-login and get instant verification that you’re using WordPress.  And, because of #8, they may even have your username.  If you didn’t set up a strong password, you’ve essentially invited someone to break in.  The plugin also changes the wp-admin and other dashboard links so something with basic WordPress knowledge can’t stroll right in.

What have you done to protect your site?  Let us know in the comments or send us a message through our Facebook page.

Time Saving WordPress Shortcode Tricks

One of my favorite features of WordPress is the shortcode trick.  The name says it all, but for those not familiar yet with the magic of shortcodes, they allow you to insert a particular function automatically into a WordPress page or post.  This function can be virtually anything.  From inserting recent posts to displaying a widget to affecting formatting, shortcodes can do it all.  Most premium themes are coming bundled with some shortcodes and it is quickly becoming the hallmark of a quality theme, at least those that are sold in marketplaces like ThemeForest.

From a functional standpoint, shortcodes are located in the theme files or plugin files.  When a particular shortcode is used in the post or page content, it references a longer snippet of code that creates the desired function.  So rather than trying to insert raw PHP into post content, I could write [myshortcode] and it would insert whatever longer snippet is referenced by that shortcode.  Nifty huh?

shortcodesIf you don’t have shortcodes but would like to play around with them, consider the Elegant Shortcodes plugin from Elegant Themes.  It is a standard WordPress plugin that adds the functionality of shortcodes that come with all of Elegant Themes premium themes.  They include buttons, info boxes, toggle boxes, tabs, a slideshow, an image slider, password protected content, columns, social media buttons, tooltips, tables, dropcaps, quotes and more.  Really anything you could need to spice up your site.

But enough about that one plugin.  Because I’ve found shortcodes so useful since they were introduced in version 2.5 that I thought I would push the limits of what they can do and look for some tips, tricks and hacks that extend their usefulness even further.  Disclaimer: I haven’t tried all of these in a live WordPress installation.  As always, backup your site before messing with it.

 1. Add shortcodes to theme files

Shortcodes are so easy to insert in posts and pages.  But what if you want to modify your theme and add a shortcode to it?  I’ve wanted to do this when I’ve wanted shortcode results to be displayed in a sidebar or somewhere else outside of the content area.  Adding a shortcode to the theme is simple.  Just insert this code, obviously replacing [shortcode] with your shortcode name.

<?php echo do_shortcode("[shortcode]"); ?>

Want to use a shortcode within the loop?  Try this:

echo do_shortcode('[shortcode]');

2. The “bloginfo” shortcode

The bloginfo function can display all sorts of handy information about your site which could save you time.  In order to use this function, you can built a very quick shortcode by inserting the following code into your functions.php file.  Thanks to CSS-Tricks for this one.

function digwp_bloginfo_shortcode( $atts ) {
   extract(shortcode_atts(array(
       'key' => '',
   ), $atts));
   return get_bloginfo($key);
}
add_shortcode('bloginfo', 'digwp_bloginfo_shortcode');

Then you use a shortcode with a parameter to tell the function which data you are looking to display.  Like this:

[bloginfo key='name']

You can also use a shortcode in HTML which can prevent you from having to write long URL’s over and over.  Like this:

<img src="[bloginfo key='template_url']/images/logo.png" alt="[bloginfo key='name'] logo" />

See the full list of info you can grab here, but you can choose from some of these beauties: name, description, wpurl, admin_emai and rss_url.

Note: make sure to switch to the HTML editor when adding a shortcode.  The WordPress WYSIWYG will strip the brackets from your shortcode if you enter them in the visual editor.

3. Allow shortcodes to be used in widget text

If you’re not into coding shortcodes directly into your theme files, but want them in your widget text, you can use this code to add a filter to the widget_text() function which overrides WordPress’ tendency to disallow shortcodes in widget text.

add_filter('widget_text', 'do_shortcode');

What is your favorite technique, trick or tip when working with shortcodes?  How have you used them to make your life easier?  Let us know in the comments below.

WordPress Design Trends for June 2013

WordPress evolves at a steady and predictable pace.  This is a nice feature of the core WordPress.org project.  Since version 1.5, the theme system has allowed designers and WordPress admins to create cutting edge designs that are portable across almost any WordPress site.  With a virtually instantly available design, administrators can change the overall look in a heartbeat.  As WordPress evolved, the theme engine allowed people to install a framework and customize it quickly and easily without affecting the core code.

Even though modifications became easy to do, the theme system created enormous competition for designs.  With the ability to download a theme that is ready to go out of the box, designers were forced to get creative.  Now it seems as though there is a WordPress theme shop next to every Starbucks (that is to say, on every corner, ubiquitous).

With a vibrant theme community, designers have to adapt quickly to changing trends.  And boy do they change quickly.  Here are some of my favorite design trends that have emerged in this first half of 2013.  If the first have is any indication, the second half of 2013 will be incredible.

Responsive Designs (vs. mobile)

responsive

When mobile devices were first starting to be built with enough oomph to handle modern web applications, designers had to think quickly and incorporate mobile designs in good WordPress themes.  Initially, each standard theme came packaged with a corresponding mobile theme.  This mobile theme was compatible with the ipad and blackberry devices.  Then the iPad came out and changed everything.  Designs were faced with a decision to add a third layout to their themes (some chose this path) or develop a new way to handle different screen resolutions elegantly.  In 2013, responsive designs really came into their own.

Responsive designs (in case you’ve been living under a rock, trying to get Joomla to work for the last year) is concept that allows a design to scale in all sizes.  Although scaling and moving elements may change how the site looks, it won’t distort, squeez, squish or otherwise befuddle your design.

Specialized mobile navigation

mobile nav

In concert with the advent of responsive designs, WordPress custom menus allow designers to create a menu that is only to be used for mobile browsers.  This doesn’t matter if you only have 3 menu items.  But scrolling through 10 menu items and their 50 sub-items can be frustrating on a mobile device.  So frustrating you can easily lose visitors.  Developing a mobile menu can resolve this frustration.  A restaurant I recently worked with has a full menu for standard browsing, but the mobile menu only offers information on their story, location and menu.  The three critical pieces of information for the mobile user.

Media-centric designs

media-centric design

With more households having high speed internet, and mobile device load time improving for that matter, design limitations have decreased.  I remember using AOL as my browser, with a 14.4kpbs modem to browse the web.  When I came across a website with lots of images, I had to either go run an errand, or look elsewhere.  Not anymore.  2013 designs are riddled with high-resolution images.  Not just as content, but as design elements.  New media-centric designs focus on the media, not the structure.  Examples include sites with entire backgrounds taken up by high-res images.  Without the featured images, there wouldn’t be much to the design, in fact.

Single-page designs

single page design

Single-page designs have really taken off this year.  A couple of things make this possible.  First, the web design community as a whole is moving back toward simplicity.  Simple sites mean more focus on content.  Second, the evolution of infinite scrolling technology has made single-page designs more realistic since all of your content can eventually be displayed without navigating.  This is most effective with two types of websites: 1) those with minimal content (business or splash type pages) and 2) those with socially generated content or a steady flow of content (read: Facebook, Pinterest, traditional blogs).  A cool design element that I’m keeping my eye on is called Parallax Scrolling, see an example.  Parallax connects the scrolling action to other design elements.  Scroll in the example and watch the navigation menu.  Check out OnePageLove.com, a gallery dedicated to single page designs.

Custom fonts

custom fonts

Custom fonts are not new in 2013, but they are quickly becoming the standard.  It used to be there was one choice for font, then a few, then limited to your browser’s capabilities.  Now, due to evolving browsers and the beauty of CSS3, virtually any font can be packaged with a WordPress theme.  This has opened the floodgates for designers that were previously limited to Times New Roman and -GASP- Comic Sans.  I personally never realized how much of an impact a font could have on the overall design feel.  Then Google Fonts muscled into web design and my eyes opened in a totally different way.  Thanks to Theme.fm for the above image.

What is your favorite WordPress design trend for 2013?

 

 

10 Years of WordPress

I feel like WordPress has been a part of my life for more than 10 years.  But this past May, WordPress reached a 10 year milestone.  What began with a conversation between Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little about forking their favorite blogging software evolved into the most powerful, ubiquitous website platform in the world.  Currently powering 18% of all websites, WordPress has risen beyond fame and into legend.

This original post by Matt was the marker of inception of what would become WordPress.  As futurist as he may be, I would speculate even Matt couldn’t predict what that project would become.  But oh, are we thankful for what happened in the subsequent months.

Mike Little, the co-creator of WordPress recently wrote about the 10 years that have passed since the first release.  He highlighted some of the huge websites that run WordPress, near 70 million websites now.  Around half of the top 100 websites are using WordPress.  The underlying theme here is one of appreciation.  People across the globe have sent words of grattitude to Matt and others at Automattic for providing such a tool, for free.  What is perhaps more important here, is the community they have developed.  This has been possible, in part, because of a dedication to open source software.

WordPress started because Matt and Mike wanted a better “logging software” and the best at the time, TextPattern, was not GPL.  Because of Matt’s dedication to an open and free web, (specifically: open source software with a General Public License), WordPress was born out of necessity.

Because WordPress is open source and freely available, it was adopted by millions.  But a community is more than just an active forum.  A community surrounding a piece of software is about shared ownership and investment.  We all contribute to the vibrancy of the WordPress community and that’s what makes it unstoppable.  If you are skeptical of the global impact of WordPress, head on over to http://en.wordpress.com/stats/ to see a live look at the geographical spread of action on the WordPress.com servers.

live wordpress

If that’s not convincing, take a look at the growth in WordPress.com pageviews.  At press time, over 380 million people view 4.1 billion pages per month via WordPress.com.  Now that’s impressive.

wordpress pageviews

As I’ve already mentioned, the functionality, ease of use, simplicity and professionalism found with WordPress as a blogging tool was half the reason for it’s success.  But the other half is due to the commitment to freely available software under a GPL.  In honor of the 10th anniversary of WordPress, the in-process WordPress book “Freedom, Community and the Business of Open Source” added chapter 3 “On forking WordPress, Forks in General, Early WordPress and the Community”.  In this chapter the genesis of WordPress is outlined, including the prophetic blog post from 2003.

In WordPress Matt’s succinct outline of the major impacts of each version from the beginning, he highlights one key factor that is not unique to the WordPress community, but so critical to it’s success:

In WordPress 1.2 the new Plugin API made it easy for developers to extend WordPress. In the same release gettext() internationalization opened WordPress up to every language (hat tip: Ryan Boren for spending hours wrapping strings with gettext). In WordPress 1.5 our Theme system made it possible for WordPress users to quickly change their site’s design: there was huge resistance to the theme system from the wider community at the time, but can you imagine WordPress without it? Versions 2.7, 2.8, and 2.9 saw improvements that let users install and update their plugins and themes with one click. WordPress has seen a redesign by happycog (2.3) and gone under extensive user testing and redesign (Crazyhorse, Liz Danzico and Jen Mylo, WordPress 2.5). In WordPress 3.0 we merged WordPress MU with WordPress — a huge job but 100% worth it. And in WordPress 3.5 we revamped the media uploader to make it easier for people to get their images, video, and media online.

What Matt pointed out here is so very important.  A vibrant developer community is the key to software success.  Although at the time there was resistance, the healthy discussion made WordPress stronger.

If one thing is clear through this, it is the strength of the WordPress community over the last 10 years has grown at a steady clip.  Without the community, there would be no WordPress.  Without the vision of a couple pretty bright guys, there would be no WordPress.  To all of you that have contributed to WordPress over the  years, from Matt to Moe to Mary, THANK YOU.

Review: Manage WP

review of manage wp

If you’re like me, you are running multiple WordPress websites with different goals, content and readership.  In my experience, dedicated WordPress administrators keep coming back to WordPress as the foundation of most any type of website.  This leads to many different WordPress installations.

Although WordPress is so easy to use, so managing multiple sites is not a monumental task, it can be helpful to consolidate wherever possible.  I was recently looking for a way to manage several of my WordPress sites from one location.  I found Manage WP and gave it a good trial run.  I’m now sharing what I learned with the Pingable community.

It is important to note that with the deprecation of WordPress MU (woven into the standard WordPress.org), a stronger need for multi-site management became evident.  Manage WP seems to fit the bill and solve most of the multi-site management features that were appreciated in WordPress MU.

Note: This is an objective review.  Although Manage WP has an affiliate program, we do not participate so you can trust the opinions in this review are impartial.

The key benefits outlined by the company are pretty nice:

  1. One-click updates.  You can update the WordPress core as well as plugins on all of your websites with a single click.
  2. Completely secure.  I haven’t personally tested this claim, check out our WordPress security infographic for more on this.
  3. 24/7 Support with a 35 minute response time.  A nice feature, but you shouldn’t need emergency support with a premium solution, right?
  4. Automated backup and restoring capabilities.  A very nice feature.

Other benefits to note include:

  1. One-click access.  After everything has been set up, you have access to all of your WordPress dashboards without having to remember multiple passwords.
  2. Manage WP partners with Sucuri to ensure your WordPress site is as secure as possible.  Nothing is a guarantee, but Sucuri is very very good.
  3. Lots of backup/restore control.  You can choose to keep your backup files on Amazon S3, Dropbox, FTP or email.  Fancy.
  4. Uptime monitoring made easy.  Keep track of when your site goes down and be notified.
  5. Traffic monitoring.  Be notified when you receive a traffic bump.  Super helpful for those paying for cloud or scalable hosting.
  6. Integration with Google Analytics and SEO tools.  Extra helpful for admins that put the time into managing their SEO.  Monitoring all traffic from one location can be very fun and rewarding too.

The downsides:

  1. If your Manage WP service is hacked or password stolen, the jerk would have access to all of your sites.
  2. A bit pricey.  If your WordPress sites are paying for themselves, or even better, paying your bills, Manage WP is worth it.  If you are a part-time blogger that is only in it for fun, this may not be the tool for you.  The free plan offers the security feature, plus some of the optimization and monitoring features, but not all of them.  The cheapest fully-featured plan at press time is $4.00 month for up to 5 websites, that’s .80 cents per website per month.
  3. They have a self-hosted solution but it is not for the small operation.  The prices for self-hosted solutions are not listed and you’re asked to contact a sales representative which is not a sign of a small investment.

The summary

If you are a professional blogger or WordPress administrator, Manage WP has the potential to save you serious time and consequently, money.  If you are a weekend blogger, this solution is overkill.  Even if you’re just running a couple websites, I would stick to the standard dashboard.

The features are impressive, and the interface is smooth and functional.  I am impressed with the user-interface design and the thought that went into the flow.  As a professional WordPress administrator, I find Manage WP worth the money.

How to build a community with WordPress

WordPress is a blog platform.  But much more important than the blogging feature is the community that comes with WordPress.  From a vibrant developer community to an active support community, WordPress is buzzing.  From a bustling designer community to a dynamic content producing community, WordPress is alive.

In a recent post, I wrote about building a social network with WordPress as a foundation.  In this post, I describe what it takes to build a strong community of readers, stakeholders and contributors.  To build a strong community, it takes more than just an invitation to participate.  Big websites have people dedicated to cultivating and managing a community.  But your small WordPress site can have an equally impressive community if you grow it from the ground up.  Here’s how.

Set the stage

Many bloggers are timid about promoting social media or networking sites in order to promote their own.  Can you blame them?  At first glance, telling all of your readers to head over to your Facebook page is like saying “hey! ignore what you’re into on my website and go visit someone else’s”.  But the truth is establishing the right social networking and bookmarking accounts will compliment, not contrast your own efforts.

This post is not about leveraging social media so I won’t digress by describing what this entails.  But give full consideration to establishing a Facebook page, Linkedin group and Youtube Channel.  Not every option is for everyone so consider the type of media and content you are producing and how it would be best disseminated.

Get the right plugins

Comments

In order to create a vibrant community through comment discussions, you should consider building on the WordPress core commenting feature.  Disqus is the leader for premium and quasi-premium comment systems.  Disqus adds a great deal of functionality including common sign-in, better moderation control, social sharing options, subscription capability and the coolest part: the ability for users to track all of their comments on other websites from your website.  This is great because people don’t have to leave to be engaged elsewhere.

disqus comments

Login

If you’re like me, you don’t like managing multiple usernames and passwords.  When given the opportunity to log into a website with my Facebook account, I will do so.  As long as I can trust the website won’t abuse that privilege.  There is a free plugin available called Social Login that will allow your visitors to log in using Facebook, Yahoo, Google, LinkedIn, OpenID or some others.  Building a community on your WordPress site is as much about eliminating barriers to participation as it is about the content.

building community with wordpress

Related Content

Social marketing people have long suggested a “related content” plugin that displays similar content below or next to each post.  This is meant to keep people traveling through your site instead of leaving.  But I recommend this feature because it is inherently community-focused.  These plugins look at keywords within each post and recommend posts with similar content.  If I ever click through someone’s site, it is often through this feature.  Keeping people engaged is part of building a community.

Be human

Interactive Posts

Posts can be informational, they can be link bait, they can be junk.  But good posts are high quality, original and informative.  But one thing is missing: interactive.  Posts should include an engagement component in order to build a community.  You can do this by:

  • Asking your readers questions in your posts
  • Including surveys or polls
  • Asking them to continue the discussion in the comments
  • Creating an opportunity to expand on the post

One of the key parts of this strategy is the follow through.  When people email or comment that I missed a resource or should have included something else in my post, I usually include it.  Then I follow up with a comment or return email to thank them for the contribution.

Engage with commentators

When people comment on your content, engage with them.  It’s as simple as that.  If I think nobody is listening, I won’t comment.  An active discussion after a post is not only free, original content but it is interesting.  Half the time I Google something, I’m fed results from a comment discussion or forum.

Also important: be polite and respectful.  Nothing says amateur like a spiraling comment fight.  Keep it civil and thank people repeatedly for their discussion.  Do not engage with haters.

Be generous

Giveaways and contests

People like free things.  By organizing a giveaway or contest, you not only gain new readers but you reinforce the relationships with the ones you already have.  A content shows that the person behind the curtain is there and is attentive.  Organize an event that give your readers something they will really be interested in, related to your content focus.  Often this can be free as I described in this post about ways to promote your WordPress site.  Pingable recently organized a giveaway that was successful not just because we gained new readers and Facebook friends, but people realized we really care about our readers.

giveaways to build community with wordpress

Be consistent

Readers will come back if they have a positive experience, but also if they can expect that same quality experience every time they visit.  In order to be consistent, establish editorial guidelines and delegate someone to keep your site alive any time you have to step away.  Keep the discussion going, don’t respond one day and ignore everything the next.

Conclusion

Conclusion may not be the right word.  How about “next steps”. I would really like to hear from you, this post is just the beginning.  How have you built a community with your WordPress site?  How do you plan on engaging with your readers?

What’s new in WordPress 3.6

With an active development community, you can always count on regular releases as WordPress evolves.  WordPress 3.6 is currently in beta 3 with the option to download and test it.  There is also a plugin called WordPress Beta Tester you can use to test out the new stuff.  Even with this plugin, I would highly recommend setting up a dummy WordPress site to play with 3.6.  Do not use your production site.  So far, 150 contributors have made over 100 changes to WordPress.

Mark Jaquith, lead developer for the 3.6 release was quoted back in December regarding his intentions for the release:

I’d personally like the focus of the release to be about content editing (revisions, autosave, workflow, editing modes, etc)

Here are some of the nice new features you can expect:

Nicer post revision comparison

The current version of WordPress is difficult to use because the contrast between colors is weak.  Users are stuck trying to discern red on red and green on green which is not ideal.  WP 3.6 includes better contrast and an overall polished look.  Users now have access to Previous and Next buttons that allow for easy browsing of revisions.  This can be really helpful with multiple authors.

Also helpful for multiple authors, WordPress 3.6 improves on the feature of post locking.  With 3.6, blogs with multiple authors will be able to work on a post together without losing their modifications.  This is accomplished by locking posts during editing.  When a second author attempts to open a post that is being edited, they will receive a warning that it is locked.  The second author will have the ability to take control of the post, or abandon their attempt to edit.

Nicer Post Format Interface

Post formats were released in version 3.1, and have relied on some hand-coding to implement.  They are useful for changing how post content is displayed without changing the content itself.  The new post format interface will look something like this:

new post formats WP 3.6

Improved post auto-save

The underlying goal of this enhancement is to prevent authors from ever losing a post.  Historically, the WordPress auto-save feature was subject to an unbroken internet connection and server availability.  With WP 3.6, the auto-save will occur every 15 seconds with the remote server, or locally if that connection is unavailable.  The local copy will then be synced with the server.  This is made possible in part by modern browsers.

Bundled Theme Improvements

Personally, I have never used the TwentyThirteen or any of it’s predecessor themes on a production site.  But it is a handy foundation on which to build a the functionality of a WordPress site before looking at a design.  In WordPress 3.6, the bundled theme comes with some significant improvements.  Demo it here.  The developers have been pretty bold with the changes this go around.

twentythirteen

Custom Menus

Also a relatively new feature to the WordPress core, custom menus are being improved upon further.  The new menu UI will include a more polished checkbox select system, an accordion menu feature (wahoo!) and enhanced help text.

The new UI has a more defined workflow, forcing the user the select the necessary options such as adding menu items.  They do this by blocking all other options that are out of sequence.  The UI is further improved with a big “create new menu” button at the beginning.

Summary

WordPress 3.6 was set to release April 23rd of this year.  Mid-way through May, it seems like the developers have made a wise choice to not compromise quality and attention to detail in order to make a deadline.  I agree and wish them the best of luck.  Thanks for working tirelessly on this release.

Although nothing groundbreaking is found in this release, it addresses some significant bugs and polishes the overall functionality.  It’s better not to roll out a drastic change too often anyway.

See the full list of changes here.