WPMU DEV's Blog - Everything WordPressTom Ewer | WPMU DEV http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog The WPMU DEV WordPress blog provides tutorials, tips, resources and reviews to help out any WP user Sat, 01 Nov 2014 11:28:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 WordPress Comments: Picking the Right System for You http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/wordpress-comments-picking-right-system/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/wordpress-comments-picking-right-system/#comments Fri, 30 Nov 2012 16:36:47 +0000 http://wpmu.org/?p=104557 Speech bubbleIn a way, comments define blogging and the whole web 2.0 “movement”. From a personal perspective they represented my first victories in blogging. As a beginner blogger, each new comment I received was like a little thumbs up for my amateurish efforts.

So it’s fair to say that I have a soft spot for comments — although my blog tends to get quite a few these days, I still appreciate the input of my readers as much as I ever did and reply to the vast majority of them.

For many months I tried to figure out what was the best comments system for me — I even switched to from one system to another then back again. But these days I have my comments system nicely attuned to my needs — from the front end interface to the backend moderation. With that in mind, today I’d like to share the various options available to you so that you are appropriately equipped to make the right decision.

The Front End

What readers see is most important, and given the myriad options out there, you will need to give some thought to what suits your readers best.

In broad terms you have two options — the default WordPress comments system or a third party application. It is all too easy to get tangled up in the pros and cons between the two options and even easier to get tangled up between the various third party options. Let’s take a look at the most important factors.

Default WordPress Comments System

WordPress comes complete with a very capable comments system. It is basic, fast and intuitive — and for a lot of people is all they’ll ever want. Not only that but it is highly customizable via plugins such as Comment Reply Notification and Newsletter Sign-Up.

On the other hand it is vulnerable to spamming (there is no foolproof spam solution) and some consider it rather uninspiring. You can of course spice it up in whatever way you see fit with CSS, but some people don’t want to get their hands dirty (which is fair enough).

Third Party Options

LivefyreAlthough there are a number of third party comments systems available for WordPress I am primarily talking about Livefyre, Disqus, Facebook Comments, and WPMU DEV’s own Comments Plus.

These systems are characterized by flashy user interfaces and advanced features. Further, social media integration is a great selling point, especially in the case of Facebook Comments (where readers’ comments are displayed on their own profiles for great exposure).

The cons are that these systems are typically more resource intensive, less customizable, and don’t offer the easy moderation options available in the default system.

Ultimately there is no “best” system — it a case of finding the right fit for you. Personally, the default system suits me down to a tee. I did move to the Livefyre system for a while but found its additional features to be more of a nuisance than a benefit.

The Back End

One genuine consideration when choosing a plugin system is the ease with which you can moderate comments. Trust me — once you start getting more than a handful of comments you will find an intuitive backend experience of huge benefit.

If you do decide to go with a third party system then you’ll have to rely upon the documentation made available to you, but if you have decided to stick with the default system, I have included an overview of the essentials below.

Notifications and Settings

A number of settings are available to you via Settings > Discussion in your WordPress dashboard’s sidebar:

Discussion Settings

Most of them are pretty self-explanatory but you do get an idea of the wealth of options you have from the screenshot above. A few key pointers:

  • One easy way of preventing spam is to require people to register in order to post comments (but that will reduce the number of comments you receive).
  • Email notifications will get old pretty quickly — instead, I keep an eye on my comments via the meta box on my dashboard.
  • Holding comments for moderation is a real pet hate of mine — you’ll get fed up of it soon enough and commenters will be put off by it.

Moderation

After you have selected your comments system you’ll spent the vast majority of your time reading and responding to them. This is where the default comments system really comes into its own:

Comments moderation

By clicking on the Comments link in your dashboard’s sidebar you will gain access to the comments moderation screen on which all comments are displayed in reverse chronological order (just like the blog posts on your home page). Each comment can be easily read, edited and replied to via a contextual menu that appears when you hover over a specific comment:

Comment

If you want to get really clever you can use keyboard shortcuts to quickly flit between and edit posts. It really is a piece of cake to handle.

Make the Right Decision for Your Blog

The WordPress platform affords you a great deal of choice when it comes to comments. For me the default system is a no brainer but I can certainly see the allure of third party systems — especially if you are running a highly social site.

The key is to fully understand the options available to you and make the best choice for your blog. I hope I have helped you in doing just that with this post. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask them in the comments section below!

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What I Would Do to Improve WordPress http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/what-i-would-do-to-improve-wordpress/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/what-i-would-do-to-improve-wordpress/#comments Fri, 23 Nov 2012 11:09:19 +0000 http://wpmu.org/?p=103998 WordPressEarlier this month the lovely Sarah Gooding published a post about the now infamous “Ghost” project. For those of you who have been hiding under a WordPress-shaped rock for the past few weeks, Ghost is a re-imagining of WordPress with a focus on pure blogging.

The brainchild of this concept is John O’Nolan, a digital nomad/designer/entrepreneur. Personally, I love what he’s done with Ghost. I don’t like all of the concepts, but I do like the energy and enthusiasm he has put into his pet project. If I were half as talented as him in terms of graphical design, I might do something similar.

But I’m not. However, I can write, and Ghost planted a little seed in my head. I often ponder on what I would like WordPress to do, and I tend to voice my thoughts sporadically (and often at random) in various posts around the web. It’s about time I brought them all together.

The Problem with WordPress

I am a blogger, I use WordPress almost exclusively for blogging, and I have my own ideas as to how WordPress should be (don’t we all?). My vision is not nearly as dramatic (or exciting) as Nolan’s, but for many months I have noted new WordPress updates with some frustration — why are argubly superfluous new features being produced whilst fundamental issues and bugs are not being resolved?

I am going to explore a bunch of ideas relating to how I think WordPress should be below, but they are all based around one central concept — the most heavily used aspects of WordPress should be 100% reliable and intuitive. Get the fundamentals right, then you can go around building theme customizers and embedded tweets.

I’m not a WordPress hater — on the contrary, I absolutely love WordPress. I make a living out of it, one way or another. But that does not detract from its many foibles, and I for one would love to see the following issues addressed.

Note: I’m not going to pretend that these ideas are cutting-edge — some of them are in fact proposed in the Ghost concept. This isn’t about me trying to break the mould; it’s simply about how I would like WordPress to be.

Interface

Let’s start by getting rid of a bunch of the meta boxes on the dashboard:

  • Right Now
  • QuickPress
  • WordPress Blog
  • Other WordPress News

I like the concept of Incoming Links, but in reality it’s completely useless:

Incoming Links
One of the links in this list is to a post that is over 12 months old.

Unless it can be improved, that should go too. In reality, the Dashboard is almost redundant and should perhaps be replaced by a launch screen, a la Google Chrome:

Google Chrome

By default this screen would present options based upon your most frequented backend destinations (e.g. Add New Post, Plugins), but you would also have the option to set it manually.

The Hello Dolly plugin should be removed for obvious reasons — it has no purpose. And no, I am not buying the argument that it somehow explains what a plugin is to new users. A brief introductory screen explaining what a plugin is would be more useful (if you want to go down that route).

As for Akismet, it needs to go to. It is not the definitive spam solution — there are alternative options used by many — and as such, it should not be present by default. Let’s not forget that this is a freemium plugin, and as such really has no right to be so closely attached to an open source application.

Finally, the WordPress community needs to initiate a drive to normalize 3rd party application usability. When plugins settings screens can be found in four different places on the backend, you know that something aint quite right. And if themes are to have their own settings screens, there should be some sort of agreed standard that can be developed to.

More Inbuilt Functionality

The WordPress core is getting bloated, so you might think it unusual that I am proposing we add more functionality. But for the most part I am referring to functionality that is (a) arguably integral to the ongoing running of most websites, and (b) already used by the vast majority of WordPress users.

I suggest that the following should be added to the core:

  • Analytics: integration with the most popular services accessible via a settings screen.
  • SEO: let’s get one of the popular SEO plugins integrated with WordPress already, shall we?
  • Redirects: to include redirects created by WordPress when slugs are changed.
  • Code Snippets: you should be able to create your own mini-plugins inside of WordPress.
  • Search: WordPress search is astonishingly bad — at the least, Relevanssi’s functionality should be built into the core.
  • Basic Security: limit login attempts, IP logging, no more default “admin” profile…
  • WYSIWYG Text Widget: why should non-programmer types be hamstrung by a featureless text widget?
  • Widget Logic: ’nuff said.
  • Tables: we should be able to build tables in WordPress without relying upon a third party plugin.
  • Image Optimization: why not optimize images losslessly by default if it is possible to do so?
  • Comment Reply Notification: should be included as an option within Settings > Discussion.

Less Inbuilt Functionality

Now what about all the crap in WordPress that most people will never touch? Let’s start with a particular passage from the Ghost concept that I agree with wholeheartedly:

…admin color schemes, quickpress, post-via-email, remote publishing, inline theme editing, media editing and multi-everything.

I have no idea how these features can be justified as deserving inclusion in the core — they can’t be utilized by more than a fraction of WordPress users. Since we have such an active plugin community, there is no reason why these can’t be available in plugin form to the minority.

Whilst we’re at it, let’s get rid of all those widgets you’ll never need too — the Calendars, Tag Clouds and Recent Comments of this world. Again — they can be made available in plugin form to the minority who want them.

Content Creation

This is the big one for me. I spend far more time writing in WordPress than doing anything else, and yet my work is often interrupted by frustrating bugs and limitations.

Whilst Ghost’s idea is sexy…

Ghost…it would never be implemented in the core — the average WordPress user is going to be intimidated by Markdown syntax. Having said that, I would love to see the above in plugin form (I’d certainly give it a go).

What I would like to see happen in the core is the fixing of the myriad bugs in the text editor. I’m talking about random <div>s being inserted after lists, PHP code being obliterated, images behaving strangely, and so on.

And don’t get me started on the distraction free editor. Don’t get me wrong — I love it, and I’m using it right now, but it is chock full of of bugs and issues (here are ten).

When it comes to making sure something works as perfectly as possible, nothing in WordPress should be more important than the text editor. Nothing is more integral to a blog than its content, so the same should go for the platform on which it is built.

Making this a Reality

I expect plenty of people to tell me that a lot of the above would be difficult to do, and I am not doubting that. I am no programmer/designer – I certainly couldn’t do any of the above myself. But just because something is difficult does not mean that it shouldn’t be done.

The above issues are most pressing to me as a full time WordPress blogger. If the above improvements were implemented my life would be a lot easier. I am sure that the same could be said for many other WordPress bloggers.

Which brings me neatly to you, and your opinion. What is your take on my suggestions for a much-improved WordPress? What would you do if you had the opportunity to make an instant difference to the core? Let us know in the comments section.

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WooThemes Canvas Framework: How to Easily Include Calls to Action on Every Page http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/woothemes-canvas-call-to-actions/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/woothemes-canvas-call-to-actions/#comments Fri, 16 Nov 2012 14:00:13 +0000 http://wpmu.org/?p=102739 WooThemesI am a huge fan of WooThemes.

When I was just getting into WordPress they were the first premium theme developers I came across. And when I decided to launch my own blog in June 2011, my theme decision was a shootout between Thesis, StudioPress and Canvas — Woothemes’ “flagship” theme.

In reality, it’s been adapted by many (myself included) as more of a framework than a plug-and-play theme. Whilst my blog’s original design was somewhat vanilla, I was able (with the help of a tame coder) to mould it into something a little more unique over time.

And in all that time, the most common design question I have received from visitors to my blog has revolved around the calls to action that I include on just about every page on the blog. Namely, how do I put them there? With that in mind, I thought I’d take the opportunity to show you exactly how.

What Are You Talking About?

First of all, I have a big colorful feature box that dominates my home page:

Leaving Work Behind Feature Box

And then at the bottom of every post I have a direct call to action:

Call to Action

These both do a pretty good job of netting me subscribers, as they are prominently placed (and in the case of the colorful feature box, pretty hard to ignore).

Although getting these into your theme may seem like a complicated endeavor for experienced PHP programmers and the like only, the process is in fact remarkably simple.

Hooks and Filters

Canvas (and WordPress) runs on a system of hooks and filters. Put simply, you can instruct the theme to insert specified code (and edit existing content) at particular points within every page on your site by utilizing said hooks and filters.

Rather handily, WooThemes published a reference for all of the hooks and filters available in the Canvas framework:

Canvas Hooks & Filters

If that’s a little small for your liking you can view a larger image (as well as a complete list of all hooks and filters) here.

So using my post footer call to action as an example, all you need to do is instruct Canvas to insert your HTML code at the “woo_post_inside_after” filter. But how do you do that in practical terms?

The Science Part

First of all, I recommend that you download the Code Snippets plugin. Whilst you can insert the code for your content directly into your functions.php file, Code Snippets enables you to keep things well organized and easily accessible, like this:

Code Snippets

Basically, each code snippet that you create can be treated like a plugin. You can add, edit and deactivate as you see fit. Very cool beans.

Let’s start with the feature box first. All you need to do is create a new snippet and add the following:

add_action( 'woo_main_before', 'feature_box_home_only' );

function feature_box_home_only() {
if ( is_front_page() ) {?>

YOUR HTML CODE HERE

}}

That's it! The code is pretty self-explanatory, even for non-programmer types. The first line essentially says, "At the hook location 'woo_main_before', insert the function 'feature_box_home_only'. Below that is the function itself -- as you can see, it is set to only appear if the visitor is on the front page (i.e. the home page). If you wanted your feature box to appear on every page, you could just remove the if statement.

Then it is just a case of adding the HTML code for your feature box, the design of which is entirely up to you.

The code for the post footer call to action is just as simple:


add_action( 'woo_post_inside_after', 'add_after_post' );

function add_after_post() {
if ( is_single() ) {?>

YOUR HTML CODE HERE

}}

The only differences are (1) the hook and (2) the if statement, which in this situation checks that the visitor is looking at a single post page.

The Sky is the Limit

There you have it folks -- a quick and easy way of including calls to action on every page on your blog. But in reality I'm just scratching the surface of what is possible with Canvas' powerful hooks and filters system -- you can achieve any number of things, and mould your site into just about any shape or form you would like.

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Beginner WordPress Bloggers: 10 Things You Shouldn’t Do http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/beginner-wordpress-bloggers-10-things-you-shouldnt-do/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/beginner-wordpress-bloggers-10-things-you-shouldnt-do/#comments Fri, 09 Nov 2012 14:00:42 +0000 http://wpmu.org/?p=102512 Beginner WordPress Bloggers: 10 Things You Shouldn't DoThere are plenty of posts out there with tips for WordPress newbies, which is pretty damned handy, it has to be said.

After all, we were all beginners once. When you first fire it up, WordPress can be pretty overwhelming — such a depth of functionality is not easily presented in an immediately intuitive manner. Having said that, it only takes a few nudges in the right direction to get on your way. Install a theme here, a plugin there, have a fiddle with the visual editor, and you’re on your way.

But what about all those things you shouldn’t do? In this post I want to focus on some of the most basic mistakes that WordPress newbies should endeavor to avoid when starting out.

10. Don’t Moderate Comments

If I submit a comment on a blog and am subsequently informed that it is being held for moderation, I don’t feel good about the experience. This practice is commonplace amongst new bloggers, until they start getting more than a few comments per day and lose interest in moderating each and every one.

So please, do yourself a favor and skip the process altogether. People won’t like having their comments held for moderation, it will discourage future interaction, and besides, spam protection is pretty good these days.

To turn off comment moderation, click on Settings > Discussion in your sidebar and make sure that the following two boxes aren’t checked:

Comment Moderation

9. Don’t Get Carried Away with Widgets

Let’s indulge ourselves for a moment — WordPress is pretty awesome. However, this can be both a blessing and a curse. Even before you dive into the huge number of plugins available on WordPress.org (just for starters), there are a number of widgets available by default:

Widgets

It is all too easy to load up your sidebar with a whole load of crap that isn’t necessary. In an ideal world, your sidebar should be sparsely populated with only the most essential widgets. Less is more.

8. Don’t Abuse Categories and Tags

When utilized well, both categories and tags can be extremely useful navigational elements. When poorly utilized, they become all but useless.

There is no better time to educate yourself on the correct usage of categories and tags than at the outset. After all, poor practice can be put into effect immediately, so why not get it right to begin with? Getting categories and tags “right” isn’t that difficult — just check this out.

7. Don’t Use Weird Permalinks

As far as just about everyone is concerned, permalinks should be keyword-rich. They should be somewhat useful to the visitor in understanding what the page is about, and useful to the search engines as they attempt to determine the relevance of your page.

As such, one of your first port of calls when installing WordPress should be to make sure that permalinks are set correctly:

Permalink Structure

Above are two examples of “correct” permalink structures. The one applicable to 95% of blogs is simply “Post name”, but you can also define your own custom structure as I have done above, using tags (don’t worry, it’s simple enough).

6. Don’t Define Generic Settings within Themes

In a perfect world, themes would not contain any sort of plugin-style functionality. There are many reasons why this isn’t done (or possible), but for the most part, you should look to achieve a separation between design and function.

Why? Because when it comes to switching themes (which as a beginner is inevitable), all of the functionality contained within the theme will travel with it. You don’t want a theme switch to affect the functionality of your site.

Theme Settings
Look out for fields such as this.

The same principle applies to any general settings that your theme may encourage you to define from within its interface. Popular examples are SEO settings and analytics tracking codes. The last thing you want to do is switch a theme and discover that your onsite SEO has been mangled.

As such, when it comes to such settings, either define the settings manually or find a plugin that can replace the theme’s functionality (such as All In One SEO Pack).

5. Don’t Edit PHP from the Theme/Plugin Editor

Once you have been using WordPress for a while, you may be tempted to start fiddling with PHP. After all, you certainly don’t need to be a programming expert to make simple changes to theme and plugins files.

However, any fiddling you do decide to do should not be carried out via the theme/plugin editors contained within the WordPress dashboard. To put it bluntly, if you cock it up, you risk breaking your site. Your site will literally break, and show nothing more than an error screen to would-be visitors. And because the site is broken, you can no longer gain access to the editor to amend your error.

So if you’re going to be doing anything risky, make sure that you access the relevant files via an FTP client. This way, if the site does break, you can quickly restore the original file via FTP to get things back to normal.

4. Don’t Alter “Parent” Theme Files

You should view theme files as untouchable. The main reason why is updates — if you make a change to a file within a theme, and that file is subsequently overwritten by an update, you will lose your changes.

There is however an easy way to edit themes to your liking whilst retaining any changes through updates — you need to install a “child theme”. A child theme essentially copies key files within the “parent theme” which you can then edit to your heart’s content without actually touching the original files.

This may sound complicated but it is in fact pretty straightforward. I wrote a step by step guide here.

3. Don’t Use “admin” As Your Username

There are a whole bunch of WordPress security tips out there that you should dig into when you find the time, but let’s start with something absolutely basic. By default, WordPress will set up a user called “admin” on your site. Because the name is so common, it is often the first port of call for hackers when looking for weaknesses.

As such, you should make sure that you create a non-obvious username and delete your default admin username (you can do this by accessing Users > All Users in your sidebar).

2. Don’t Go Overboard With Plugins

Whilst having a large number of plugins installed on your site isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is generally a good idea to keep the number as low as practically possible.

Although using plugins is often convenient, you can achieve many simple functions just by inserting a snippet of code into your functions.php file. Again, this may sound complicated, but it really isn’t. In fact, I recommend that you utilize a plugin called Code Snippets, which allows you to treat code snippets as plugins. Click here for more information, plus a bunch of code snippets to get you started.

1. Don’t Install Suspect Themes and Plugins

WordPress’ enormous popularity brings with it an unfortunate side effect — the proliferation of unscrupulous types who attempt to take advantage. Security breaches can take many forms, but maliciously-coded themes and plugins are a common example. For an expose on the depth of the issue, check out our post on free themes.

As such, you should only download themes and plugins from trusted sources. For the most part this means WordPress.org or reputable developers like WPMU Dev. If in doubt, stay away.

What Tips Do You Have?

If you’ve been around the WordPress block a few times, I’d love to know what “not to do” tips you have for WordPress newbies in addition to the ten featured above. Open fire in the comments section!

Creative Commons image courtesy of flatworldsedge

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Freelancer Widgets Bundle for WordPress Users http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/wordpress-freelancer-widgets-bundle/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/wordpress-freelancer-widgets-bundle/#comments Wed, 07 Nov 2012 14:00:00 +0000 http://wpmu.org/?p=102423 Freelancers Widgets BundleWhenever Rémi Corson brings out a new plugin I tend to sit up and take note. Apart from being an all-round nice guy, he also develops pretty cool WordPress themes and plugins, like the WordPress donation plugin I reviewed back in July.

So when he told me about a new plugin he has developed for freelancers, I jumped at the chance to take a look. After all — I am one!

Freelancer Widgets Bundle

The concept behind Rémi’s latest plugin is pretty simple — he wanted to create a bunch of plugins that would be useful to freelancers running their sites/blogs on WordPress. The end result is an assortment of widgets that could in fact be utilized by any number of people.

The seven widgets included in Freelancer Widgets Bundle are:

  1. Advertisment
  2. Biography
  3. Buy me a beer/coffee (i.e. donation)
  4. Contact
  5. Contact form
  6. Opening hours
  7. Social links

One thing is immediately apparent – this plugin doesn’t offer anything revolutionary. We’re looking at convenience here rather than groundbreaking features.

Because let’s be honest — the standard WordPress text widget isn’t much help unless you have decent HTML and CSS skills. And even if you do, it’s still a pain to get things to your liking. For most WordPress users, good WYSIWYG functionality is preferable to manual coding. With that in mind, this set of widgets is useful for web design virgins and experienced coders alike.

What You Can Expect

Upon installing the plugin you will be presented with the available options in your widgets screen:

Widgets List

Let’s take a look at the “buy me a beer/coffee” widget as an example:

Buy Me a Beer/Coffee

Fill in the information as you see fit — the “Action” you select determines the image that the visitor will see. Once you’ve saved the widget it will display as such in your sidebar:

Buy Me a Beer

Clicking on the image will take visitors straight through to PayPal where they can make a donation directly to the PayPal account specified in the widget’s settings. Pretty nifty, no?

WYSIWYG Features and Customization

Other widgets, such as Biography, allow you to insert images using WordPress’ media uploader:

Biography

Although the image looks a little funky in preview format, as long as you set the dimensions correctly, it will look fine on the front end:

Biography

Each widget comes with a CSS field, so if the formatting and placement of any element isn’t quite to your liking, you can make manual changes. The plugin’s documentation comes complete with lists of all CSS elements utilized by the plugin, so making changes is a piece of cake.

Here’s the same widget as above with a little CSS styling applied:

Biography

A Convenience Purchase

At the time of writing, Freelancer Widgets Bundle will set you back $11. If you are in need of a few of the included widgets, it’s well worth the purchase price. Like I said above, this plugin is certainly not treading any new ground, but offers an easy and convenient way of specific content and functions to your sidebar.

Purchase Freelancer Widgets Bundle here.

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WordPress Gets Its Second Ever iOS App Courtesy of ManageWP http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/managewp-ios-app/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/managewp-ios-app/#comments Fri, 02 Nov 2012 11:12:41 +0000 http://wpmu.org/?p=102117 The ManageWP iOS AppBack in August a major new version of the WordPress iOS app was released. I was pretty excited to check it out and wasn’t disappointed — it offers a genuinely usable way of adding and editing content on your WordPress site(s) on your mobile devices.

At the time I remarked on the fact that there were no other WordPress iOS apps available. Could it be that mobile devices don’t warrant their own dedicated apps for WordPress beyond the official offering? I hardly believed that could be the case.

Well now I know that it can’t be the case, as ManageWP have released their own iOS app. Not only that, but they have really outdone themselves.

ManageWho?

Vladimir Prelovac
Vladimir Prelovac

If you are not yet familiar with the ManageWP service, it offers an easy and efficient way for managing multiple WordPress sites. Its main selling points are one click updates of themes and plugins, scheduled backups and site cloning, but it offers a whole lot more.

We have covered ManageWP here on the blog before. If you want to learn more about the service check out our interview with its founder, Vladimir Prelovac.

On the other hand, if you just want to jump in and check it out, you can sign up for a free trial here.

ManageWP, but Mobile

Every now and then I come across an iOS app that offers such an intuitive experience that using the app actually becomes my preference (as opposed to any equivalent desktop solution). ManageWP’s iOS app is an example of exactly that.

Opening the app presents you with an immediate overview of all your WordPress sites managed by ManageWP — namely whether or not there are any available updates:

Updates

Pretty cool, right? And that’s just for starters. As you can see from the above screenshot, access to notifications (i.e. backups/downtime/spam) are also available with one poke of the finger. Furthermore, you get access to an overview of your sites’ analytics:

Analytics

Since Google Analytics doesn’t have an official app, this is rather handy to say the least.

Push Notifications

Whilst email notifications are pretty handy, wouldn’t it be great if you could be instantly and unavoidably notified of major issues with your sites?

Well, one of the great things about the ManageWP app is that it takes advantage of your mobile device’s ability to instantly update you. You can enable push notifications for both failed backups and downtime. If one of your sites goes down you can find out about it almost immediately. And if your precious data is not successfully backed up, you can decide whether or not something needs to be done about it.

For those of us who depend on our websites to pay the bills, this kind of peace of mind is priceless.

And There’s More…

I’m just scratching the surface here. If you’re familiar with the ManageWP service then you will know that there is an enormous depth of functionality on offer, and the app offers up as much as is practically possible in a mobile format.

Here’s the full list of features:

  • Themes/Plugins/WordPress updates overview with changelog info for each item
  • Remote updates
  • Analytics
  • Backups information
  • Uptime information/notifications
  • Overhead management
  • Spam management
  • List of recent posts/comments per post status (e.g. published/draft/scheduled)
  • Category management
  • Direct support contact (send ticket/idea/feedback)
  • User management
  • ManageWP plan details
  • Links to ManageWP forum/blog/user guide
  • Latest posts from the ManageWP blog

I for one will be spending a lot less time managing my sites via the ManageWP desktop dashboard and a lot more time on my iPhone and iPad.

Have you checked out the ManageWP iOS app? I’d be interested to know what you think. Let us know in the comments section!

Download the ManageWP iOS app here.

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Improving Plugin Coding Standards in WordPress Plugins http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/improving-plugin-coding-standards-in-wordpress-plugins/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/improving-plugin-coding-standards-in-wordpress-plugins/#comments Fri, 26 Oct 2012 11:23:35 +0000 http://wpmu.org/?p=101479 Improving Plugin Coding Standards in WordPress PluginsIf you are a regular WPMU reader you may have read my rant on plugin usability back in May. Whist I am no developer, I think it is safe to say that the kind of inconsistencies we see with in certain plugins’ user interfaces often walk hand in hand with poor coding standards.

Not only that, but poor coding standards can lead to a raft of even greater issues such as resource intensive processes, incompatibilities, and security vulnerabilities.

For some reason I have been stumbling across quite a few articles relating to coding practices recently, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to bring the best together as a list of resources. And for keen plugin developers out there, I’d love for you to share other articles/guides relating to plugin coding standards that you refer to, as well as your own advice, in the comments section at the bottom of the post.

Plugin Coding Standards Resources

Any plugin developer should start with the Codex’s own WordPress Coding Standards. Accomplished developer Tom McFarlin refers to these standards as “the foundation of writing professional-grade code for WordPress”.

You can typically rely upon Smashing Magazine to provide in-depth articles but they really outdid themselves with their Guide to WordPress Coding Standards. Although there is some overlap between this and the aforementioned Codex coding standards document, Smashing’s effort goes into far more depth on many elements of plugin development (and WordPress/web development in general).

Tom McFarlin put together some great tips in his recent article on Going Above and Beyond The WordPress Coding Standards. This is a list of what he does personally to make his code more efficient and readable. Even non-developer types can take some great tips from this (such as including a table of contents in your functions.php file).

In terms of more general directions, you should check out The Ten Commandments of WordPress Development. Much of the information contained within the links above is more focused on specific coding practices, but this article offers more in the way of general WordPress-specific coding advice rather than actionable tips.

Finally, prolific plugin developer Pippin Williamson published WordPress Plugin Development Strategies over at WP Roots. This is relatively brief resource with advice on keeping complicated plugins manageable.

What Do You Have to Offer?

So there you have it folks — a collection of resources I have recently come across relating to plugin coding standards. For the developers out there, please take a moment to share your own recommended resources in the comments section!

Creative Commons image courtesy of pvera

Related WordPress Plugin articles:

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The No-Tricks Approach to Increasing User Engagement on Your WordPress Blog http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/increasing-user-engagement/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/increasing-user-engagement/#comments Wed, 24 Oct 2012 13:59:17 +0000 http://wpmu.org/?p=101067 The No-Tricks Approach to Increasing User Engagement on Your WordPress BlogForgive me for my cynicism, but if something seems too good to good to be true, it usually is.

The blogosphere is littered with silver bullets for everything from boosting traffic to making money from your blog. But for the most part it comes back to a simple process of learning and persistence.

More often than not, the most simple and practical advice is the best. Whilst the kind of tips that don’t come packaged in a “this will change your blog forever” box won’t necessarily set your world on fire, they are the kind of things that will make a genuine difference in the long run.

With that in mind, today I want to focus on some practical steps you should take in order to increase user engagement on your WordPress blog, in addition to my explanation as to why they are effective. The following is based upon my own personal experience with my blog as well as other blogs that I have worked on and observed.

Why is User Engagement So Important?

Before we begin, let’s actually approach the question of why we are concerned with improvement user engagement.

Your blog should have one primary objective. For many this will be getting people to subscribe to a newsletter, for others it might be to purchase an information product or click on an affiliate link. The details of the objective are unimportant for the purposes of this post, because whatever it is, increased engagement will give you a greater chance of seeing that objective being met more often.

The logic is simple — the longer someone is on your site, the greater chance they have of taking fulfilling your primary objective. If you are nudging your reader in the right direction and they can’t help but stay on your site, it should only be a matter of time before they do what you would like them to.

Beyond that, you should consider the fact that user engagement is perhaps the best qualitative indicator you have of the quality of your product (i.e. your blog). If people are bouncing off left right and center, you clearly have cause for concern. On the other hand, if people are spending an average of a couple of minutes (or even longer) on your site, you know you’re doing something right.

My User Engagement Tips

I approach increasing user engagement from a rather logical point of view – in order to keep people on your site, you must give them a reason to stay. This means that you must do two things:

  1. Produce great content
  2. Make that content easily accessible

For the purposes of this post I am going to assume that your content is awesome, but please do not take that to mean that I do not particularly value great content. On the contrary — I would argue that the biggest causative factor of increased user engagement is great content. Even if it is a pain in the ass to navigate around your site, people will find a way if they really want to read your content.

So start with awesome content, then concern yourself with making it easily accessible. Here’s how.

Optimize Your Posts

Your post pages (as a group) will attract by far the most visits to your blog, and as such, it is vitally important that they are well-optimized to keep the reader engaged with your content. You don’t want people reading just one post and leaving — you want them to take an interest in what you have to offer and ultimately perform your desired action.

The key is to litter each of your posts with opportunities to discover more of your blog without it seeming overbearing or overwhelming. One of the best ways to do this is by interlinking. This is no doubt something you have heard of and already do — the simple act of linking from one blog post to another. But you are probably not doing it as much as you should.

I would recommend that you interlink at least twice on each of your blog posts, and ideally more. And don’t just link to other posts — feel free to link to category and tag pages too (on the assumption that you have curated these appropriately). Each link should be contextually relevant — in a perfect world, readers won’t be able to help but open up additional tabs in order to read more of your content.

For easy interlinking I would recommend that you install Better Internal Link Search. It’s awesome.

Another great option is to provide a related posts section at the bottom of each post. The key with this is to provide posts that are actually relevant. I cannot understate the importance of this enough — you’re only likely to see user engagement increase if the posts that are advertised are actually relevant. For that reason I only have one suggestion — Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP). Whilst there are alternatives, I consider YARPP the best option by a distance. I wrote a little guide on how to make the most of it here.

Once you have implemented the above two tactics, each post you write should offer a number of well-placed opportunities for the reader to engage with your content further.

Reduce Options

If you want to understand what makes people tick when making decisions, you should grab yourself a copy of The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar. I first read about a fascinating experiment that formed the basis of that book over at Social Triggers, in a post where Derek Halpern summarized it perfectly:

Sheena Iyengar, a professor at Columbia University, set up a free tasting booth in Draeger’s supermarket—an up scale grocery store, known for an extensive product selection—on two consecutive Saturdays.

One Saturday, 24 flavors of jam were available, and on the other, 6 were available.

Now take a guess. Which display sold more jam?

Given the “more is better” mindset, you’d think the larger display sold more. But that’s not what happened.

When 24 jams were available, 60% of the customers stopped for a taste test and 3% of those bought some. When 6 jams were available, 40% of the customers stopped for a taste test, but 30% bought some.

Huge results. While the larger display attracted more people, the smaller display sold more jam. About 6 times more. A 600% increase in sales.

It would seem that less is more, and we can channel this understanding through our blog design. If you want people to remain on your site and engaged with your content, make sure that they have a limited number of options, and that most of (if not all) of those options are internal links.

You can take this as far as you would like — for instance, some people exclude social media buttons because they take the user away from their site. This is not a move I disapprove of (but have yet to make myself).

The aforementioned Social Triggers is an excellent example of how a completely sparse design can work. Here’s a screenshot of the aforementioned post:

Social Triggers

Above the fold, the only external link is a small “Follow Him on Twitter” call to action underneath the post title. Everything else you see keeps you onsite. Furthermore, the sidebar offers just three options:

  • Sign up to the newsletter
  • Key resources
  • Popular articles

I’m all for a sidebar that offers up limited options, as I covered recently. Remember — the less choice a visitor has, the more likely they are to make a choice (other than leaving).

Optimize Key Pages

There are certain pages that will attract a great deal of traffic and act as “pivot points” where a new reader will either stay onsite or lose interest and move on.

Beyond your home page, the two other pages that are perhaps most integral are “About” and “Start Here”. If you don’t yet have a “Start Here” page, I would recommend that you strongly consider it — on my own blog, it attracts only a few less visits than my “About” page.

If you want to learn how you should best optimize these pages for better engagement, check out these two posts:

Are You Optimized?

Having read through this post, do you feel that your blog is currently well-optimized for user engagement, or is there room for improvement? Or do you perhaps have a different approach to engaging with your readers? Let us know in the comments section!

Creative Commons image courtesy of marksweb

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What You Should Put In Your WordPress Blog’s Sidebar (and Why) http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/wordpress-blog-sidebar/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/wordpress-blog-sidebar/#comments Fri, 19 Oct 2012 11:29:12 +0000 http://wpmu.org/?p=100764 What You Should Put In Your WordPress Blog's Sidebar (and Why)The ubiquitous sidebar.

It is a staple of the blogosphere. Assuming that you are reading this post on WPMU (and not in an RSS reader), the tiniest of glances to your right will reveal our sidebar, complete with various widgets and graphics.

Sidebars are perhaps so popular for their flexibility. You can put just about anything in a sidebar — the world is your oyster. The problem is that far too many blogs abuse this freedom too willingly and end up with a mile-long monstrosity nestled alongside their content.

With that in mind, today I want to explore all of the most popular sidebar elements that we commonly see when browsing through blogs, and pass judgment on the practical value of each one. I have featured the seven widgets that I think you should consider, and the six that I think you should disregard.

Let’s get started!

The Mini Bio

This is one of the first things you should have on your sidebar. Why? Because when it comes to blogging, identity is everything.

Mini Bio
The mini bio on my blog.

Producing great content and having an awesome design are of course extremely important, but if you want to thrive as a blogger, people must know who you are. And since your About Me page will consistently be one of the most visited pages on your blog, you can be pretty certain that a little mini bio in your sidebar will be a popular addition.

Creating a mini bio is as easy as adding a text widget to your sidebar and adding content as you see fit. If you want to spice it up with an image or other formatting, you can use HTML or install a plugin like Black Studio TinyMCE Widget.

Newsletter Signup

If you have been blogging for any length of time you will understand the importance of collecting the email addresses of your visitors. Being able to reach out to people via that most intimate of online communication mediums can make all the difference (not to mention a lot of money).

Therefore, a prominent newsletter signup widget is a must for your sidebar. I recommend that you make it stand out from the other widgets, as I have done on my blog:

Newsletter Signup
It's pretty tough to miss.

Popular email list service providers like AWeber and MailChimp offer WYSIWYG designers for creating signup forms which you can then paste into a text widget on your WordPress dashboard. Alternatively you could install the Newsletter Sign-Up plugin, which comes with a bunch of great related features.

Popular/Recommended Posts

Displaying a list of your most popular posts in the sidebar is seen by some as a no-brainer. And in theory they are right, but I think there are good and bad ways of doing it.

Recommended PostsPersonally I go down the ‘Recommended Posts’ route, which is a manually selected list of posts that I think will resonate with people most and/or are for the benefit of the blog.

To the right you can see a partial selection of the current recommended posts on my blog. Four of the posts are ‘pillar’ articles (i.e. in-depth and evergreen content) targeting different topics, and one is a post that shows people how they can connect with me.

When people see a list like this and click through to the content, they are presented with the best of what I have to offer (plus an opportunity to remain engaged by subscribing via various means). What a way to make a great impression, right?

On the other hand, we have the far more common ‘Popular Posts’ widget, which is typically a dynamic list of posts sorted by the number of comments or visits.

The problem with such widgets is that the most commented and/or most visited posts on your blog aren’t necessarily the best. They might be the most controversial, or they may have been the lucky victim of a StumbleUpon power user, but that does not necessarily make them the posts that you should lead with.

It is up to you to decide which format to go with, but you should definitely have one or the other. Here are a few plugin options for you to check out:

Categories/Resource Pages

Keeping a relatively succinct and intuitive list of categories on your blog is tough, but absolutely necessary if you are going to display them in the sidebar. The alternative is to create a few “resource” links, which group some of your best posts by topic and present them prominently on a standalone page with some introductory text.

Resource Links
Links to resource pages on Social Triggers.

I think that resource pages are an excellent tool for increasing user engagement on your site, but they are a pain to maintain. On the other hand, categories pages are dynamic and require no upkeep. It is up to you to choose which option to take.

Alternatively you may choose not to display categories or resource pages at all, instead relying upon your recommended posts widget, comprehensive interlinking, and search.

Search

In my opinion, search is a necessity for any blog with more than a handful of posts. People expect to be able to search — it is the most common form of web navigation.

Google
Thanks to these guys.

The standard WordPress search functionality is spectacularly bad, so you should take a moment to install the Relevanssi plugin, which brings Google-style search to your blog (at no cost). Just add the normal WordPress search widget to your sidebar, and Relevanssi will take care of the rest.

Social Media Buttons

There is an interesting argument for not displaying links to your social media profiles on your blog — it drives traffic off your site. Sure — it drives people to your profiles, but do they then follow you? Or do they lose interest and wander off?

For me, the primary function of social media is to bring people to your blog who had not previously heard of it — not to get readers to follow you (hopefully they will subscribe by email).

Having said that, I appreciate that it is really tough to take that leap and not include social media buttons on your site. I have aspirations to one day carry out a study to study the effects of removing social media links from your blog, but until then, they stay.

Social Media Buttons
I still have them on my blog.

There are a huge number of social media widgets available, and which one you choose is largely down to personal preference. I featured the cream of the crop in a post here.

Testimonials

This is more for the business bloggers, but personal bloggers and brands can use testimonials too.

They are an extremely effective form of social proof and can make the difference between converting a lead into a customer, or a reader into a subscriber. As such, you may be of a mind to display a testimonials widget prominently on your sidebar.

Testimonials Widget
The Sales Lion's testimonials widget in action.

When it comes to plugins, I have only found one that really ticks all the boxes for me — Testimonials Widget.

Widgets You Shouldn’t Use

You’ll find no complaint from me if I browse a blog and find any of the above widgets being used (in the right context). Each of them has a proven purpose.

However, there are few more popular widgets that (in my humble opinion) should never see the light of day. There are exceptions to the rule (and I will mention them), but for the most part, you should avoid using the widgets below at all costs.

Recent Posts

I can guarantee that your homepage is by a distance the most visited page on your blog, and it probably displays a reverse-chronological list of your posts. In that case, why do you need a ‘Recent Posts’ widget? You’re just duplicating what is already available.

People understand blogs — they know that the most recent content is available via the home page. One could argue that a blog that doesn’t display the most recent posts on the home page is defeating user expectation, which is never a good thing.

So unless you have a particularly unique reason to include recent posts in your sidebar, don’t.

Tag Cloud

Once upon a time, tag clouds were all the rage. They’re not anymore. Let me ask you one simple question — when was the last time you actually clicked on a link within a tag cloud? They are an unintuitive and jumbled mess of links.

When it comes to creating a positive navigation experience for your readers there are far better options, so resist the temptation to include a tag cloud within your sidebar.

Comments

I can’t think of any circumstances under which it is useful to the reader to display a list of recent comments in the sidebar.

Here’s what I would consider fact — for the most part, only the person who wrote the comment has an interest in it, and even they don’t at times. So why include a widget that no one wants to see?

Advertisements

I’m not against advertising on blogs (as long as it doesn’t have too detrimental an impact on the design and content). However, I also think that many people place advertising banners on their sidebars and generate little to no money from them.

The simple fact is that sidebars just aren’t that great a location to include advertising. Whilst I am not saying that you must not include advertising in your sidebar, I am saying that you should actually analyze whether or not it would make you any money.

Blogroll

These have for the most part gone the way of the tag cloud, but I still see them occasionally.

I don’t think anyone cares about or takes an interest in blogrolls any more. Interlinking is the way forward, and offers a far more beneficial experience for the reader. Not only that, but site-wide links are heavily frowned upon by Google and should be avoided when possible.

Social Media Feeds

If people would like to see what you have to say for yourself on Twitter or Facebook, they will follow you. But otherwise, what interest is it to them?

Often, social media feeds display completely banal and/or meaningless status updates such as “@tomewer Thanks!” or “@tomewer I know what you mean…” How does that benefit the user experience?

Value Your Available Space

The simple fact is that space is at a premium in your sidebar. Therefore, you need to be ruthless with what you include — the less, the better. Less choice means more action, and if you can concentrate the options down into actions that best benefit your reader and your blog, everyone is happy.

Although some of the widgets I recommend against above are fairly harmless on their own, one must understand the value of the available space and question their worth to the reader.

So what’s in your sidebar? Do you include elements that I am against, and if so, why? Let us know in the comments section!

Creative Commons image courtesy of Patrick Hoesly

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Automate Your Social Media Automation with WP to Buffer http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/social-media-automation-wp-to-buffer/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/social-media-automation-wp-to-buffer/#comments Thu, 18 Oct 2012 14:00:56 +0000 http://wpmu.org/?p=100304 Automate Your Social Media Automation with WP to BufferLast month I got all warm and fuzzy about the social media sharing app Buffer.

And with good reason — in my humble opinion, it is the best of its kind. Not only does it offer awesome functionality, but it is constantly being developed and improved upon. And the guys at Buffer love WordPress. They purchased the popular social sharing plugin Digg Digg and have been updating it regularly ever since.

But they’re not the only ones at it. A chap called Tim Carr has gone to the trouble of developing a free WordPress plugin that goes a long way towards integrating Buffer with WordPress.

Let’s take a closer look!

WP to Buffer

There’s nothing quite like automation — the concept of setting something up once, and it doing its job perpetually with no further input required. You have to be careful with automation when it comes to social media though, as it can come across as a bit ‘lifeless’ or even spammy.

Buffer has managed to circumvent that by offering up a tool that benefits the user (in terms of allowing them to publish social media updates at optimum times) and the follower (as the updates are presented to them at optimum times). WP to Buffer has sought to capitalize upon that by offering a means of automating the ‘buffering’ of new WordPress posts.

The concept is simple — you finish a post, hit publish, and WP to Buffer pushes the post to your Buffer account, where it will be published at the optimum time:

WP to Buffer

As you can see from the above screenshot, you can also set WP to Buffer to re-buffer a post whenever you update it.

Settings

The plugin’s settings screen is unnecessarily accessible via its own sidebar menu (dear plugin developers — single page settings screens do not deserve their own top-level menu).

The authentication process is pretty simple — whilst you do have to set up an app within Buffer (this will be familiar if you’ve ever connected Facebook to your WordPress site), the plugin offers all the instructions you need.

Once connected, WP to Buffer’s full functionality will be revealed. The first thing you will want to make note of is the different fields you can display in your tweets:

WP to Buffer

As you can see, just about every piece of information you would want to include is made available. You can also add any custom text as you see fit. Here’s the template I use for my blog:

WP to Buffer

Simple! I publish my post, and its promotion via Twitter is taken care of for me.

Potential Improvements

There is a good argument that you should keep a plugin like this as simple as possible, but I do have a few thoughts on how this plugin could be improved:

  1. The ability to create different templates for your different social media accounts
  2. The ability to buffer a post multiple times, with different messages
  3. The ability customize the template on a per-post/page basis

Having said that, for people who are looking to streamline their post promotion process even more, WP to Buffer is a great option.

Download WP to Buffer here.

 

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