Tag Archives: wordpress

Tech Thursday: There’s a Plugin for That!

11 June

Ok, remember how a couple years ago everyone was saying “There’s an app for that!” (at least, Kassie is pretty convinced this happened)? Well, we thought we’d take some time this Thursday morning and appreciate the fact that when it comes to WordPress sites, there’s pretty much a plugin for everything. From simple display preferences to online booking systems, and functional things like security and back ups, if you have a problem, someone has (most likely) already created a solution in the form of a plugin.

We take a moment to appreciate some things that we’ve used plugins for and reflect on some of our favorites. Plugins for the win!

What Plugin Should I Use?

13 February

Building and maintaining websites is endlessly fascinating to me, because there are so many different routes to explore in terms of design and functionality. For the sake of narrowing down this topic (and because this blog post would be more like a collection otherwise), I’m going to share only things I’ve learned from a WordPress functionality standpoint. The tools in WordPress that allow for the extra stuff- online ticketing, robust form software, Instagram feed, and whatever else your heart may desire- are called Plugins. A plugin basically helps your WordPress site “do almost anything you can imagine.”

Pretty wild, right? Your website is capable of quite a bit thanks to plugins, but they can be a bit daunting. Oftentimes, if you have a specific task in mind- streaming your business Instagram account on the sidebar in your site, for instance- there are often several plugin options. Which one should you choose?

Finding a plugin doesn’t have to be an Indiana Jones-style ordeal. Here are some things you can look for:

1) Does it work with your theme? Different themes in WordPress play differently with plugins. BackUp Buddy works well on our site with its current theme, but if we were to switch to a new theme, it may not. The good news is that during your initial plugin search, you can actually see if the plugin is compatible:

Huzzah! A compatible plugin!

Huzzah! A compatible plugin!

This plugin "has not been tested" with our theme- this doesn't meant it definitely won't work, more like "proceed with caution."

This plugin “has not been tested” with our theme- this doesn’t meant it definitely won’t work, more like “proceed with caution.”

Theme isn’t the only important thing your plugin needs to play well with- if you’re using an old version of WordPress but want to use a newly developed plugin, the two may not communicate. The good news is that updating your version of WordPress probably isn’t a bad idea and it’s pretty easy (just remember to back up your site first)!

2) Does it have documentation? There’s nothing worse than getting a tool that has vague or useless information on how to operate it. When you’re shopping for plugins, make sure before committing that there’s a healthy amount of helpful information. Below is a screenshot of what appears when you select a plugin, and in terms of documentation, “Screenshots” and “FAQ” are often the best places to gauge how well a plugin is documented.

Plugin_Documentation

Screenshots show you what the plugin looks like in action-using real screenshots, they take you through operating the plugin (usually setup, troubleshooting, general how-to).

Plugin_screenshots

Checking out the documentation of a plugin before committing to it is a great way to assess the level of support available. People/companies who have taken the time to write up and share information about their product are more likely to care about customer service and a job well done. Ideally with a higher level of documentation, you’ll be able to install and solve any problems on your own, but if the developers are willing to document extensively, they’re likely willing to answer any additional questions you have along the way.

3) Does it have good reviews? Reviews are also good to look at- but some are best taken with a grain of salt. I like to look at the reviews to see if there’s consistent feedback, like “X works well if this setting is Y” or “Great support.” Every now and then, there’s an outlier review that doesn’t match up with what the others are saying. These are the reviews to be wary of- one time I saw a review that said something along the lines of “This plugin is the worst thing to have ever existed, doesn’t work” when all the other reviews said things like “Easy to use,” “Excellent support.” One of these things is not like the other…

When you’re looking for your next WordPress plugin, don’t just download the first one you see. It only takes 5 minutes to do a quick scan for compatibility, support, and reviews, and boom- you’ve got your dream plugin.

What I Learned At Wordcamp This Summer: Nicole’s Takeaways

26 August

2014-boston-wordcamp-logoThere is always something to know… and even though I’ve been working in WordPress since 2008, I am always blown away not only with the new technology coming out but new ways of using features that I’m already familiar with.

Wordcamp Boston took place at one of MIT’s state of the art buildings and there were about 300 of us on hand to drink coffee and learn what we could from each other. The fact they had 8 sessions (!) in one day I was a little worried about but 45 minutes each was somehow manageable and fun.

We not only attended the after party but also the after-after party where we got to hang out with cool ‘celebrities’ like Sam Hotchkiss, creator of BruteProtect and a rep from Sucuri, a service we’ve used and loved. (A rep from GoDaddy was there too, apparently his sister makes GREAT fondant, and he took the elephant shooting jokes we made about a former GoDaddy exec  in stride!)

Here’s what we learned:

Accessibility is key.
It was fun to meet Jordan Quintal who has a firm that specializes in accessible sites for the disabled. As one of the 1 billion people worldwide who has a disability, Jordan talked about features I just thought were pretty, like mouseover color changes, and how you can test your site’s accessibility level. Bonus is these tools give specific improvements you can make on your own website. You can see his presentation (from a previous conference) here: Jordan’s Presentation about Accessibility (Video)

Us as mad scientists at Wordcamp.Live tweeting is still awesome.
Because of Twitter, not only did we get some of the talking points and ideas of other talks going on at the same time (I literally can’t be in two places at the same time after all!) but it also connected us with some cool people, including Myrna, head of Good Egg Marketing who we hope to collaborate with on some future projects.

Seeing Matt Baya should happen more than once a year.
The fact that the picture with this blog post is the only picture of Kassie and I at this conference is a little sad. And super sad we didn’t get one with Matt. But as usual he blew our minds, this time introducing us to Yik Yack.

My favorite talk of the whole conference was David Hickox’s talk about Designing for Content. Really great overview and actually got me excited about sexy topics like line spacing and h5 tags!

Overall, great job Wordcamp organizers on a smooth conference with a nice range of presenters. Let’s do it again next year!

Why You Should Run Screaming When Someone Mentions A Custom CMS

29 November

buildinopensourceI am all for paying for a great product. But I am a big believer of using open source (free) content management systems (CMSes) to build websites.

I think this for a few good reasons. I thought of this analogy story to illustrate my point.

Once upon a time, there was a large group of builders who lived and worked in Dreamville. They used materials like plywood and sheet rock to build houses for homeowners.

The homeowners were, for the most part, satisfied. If they decided they didn’t like a particular builder, they could always use another. When builders got busy, they referred work to each other. 

Then came along The Flashy Company. The Flashy Company was also a contracting company but they built all their houses out of kwah, a material that has the toughness of quartz with the flexibility of plywood. They were the only ones who could use kwah and when the contractors tried to look up information about it, they could find very little about it, in Google or otherwise.

Soon people in Dreamville heard about kwah and how amazing The Flash Company was telling everyone it was. Many jumped on board and had kwah houses constructed. Soon there were twenty houses in the town all made of kwah.

One day, The Flashy Company left Dreamville. At first, this was no problem since the houses were so durable. But eventually, even kwah started to fail. Houseowner Hugo called up Contractor Carl to come fix his kwah roof.

The problem was threefold:

1) No one outside The Flashy Company knew how to make kwah so all Carl could do was rig a half-ass solution with his plywood and other materials.
2) It took the Carl a long time to figure out how the house was built. Since the material was so strange, regular solutions didn’t work. This time Carl spent trying to understand kwah meant money to Hugo and was frustrating to Carl since he couldn’t offer a fast efficient solution.
3) Since The Flashy Company hadn’t worked with any other contractors while in town, it was difficult for the homeowners with homes built in kwah to find contractors to be able to work on their house. Contractors had to figure it out quickly yet had no information they could look to to help them.

Carl had to tell Hugo the sad truth: eventually he’d have to rebuild his house. Yes, even though he paid a lot of money to The Flashy Company for kwah, and even though he just paid Carl to come up solution for the room, eventually it would start to completely fail and need to be built in other materials.

What can we learn from kwah (besides it’s an amazing fake building material that should exist elsewhere besides my brain)?

1) Custom CMSes mean only the company that built your site knows how it works. If you need someone else to work with you on your website, they are either going to have a steep learning curve and/or they are going to have to rebuild the whole thing for you.

2) Open source CMSes (like Joomla, WordPress, and Drupal, among others) have multiple people that can work on them. That means people can share work, find solutions, and otherwise tap into a collective intelligence. Custom CMSes are at the mercy of the relatively small team that built them. Would you rather have a product that 10 people worked to improve or 1 million people worked to improve? Exactly.

3) It’s nice to build in something that has been tested by others. While it is attractive to work in something that’s new and shiny, materials with a track record will stand the test of time, online and off. Joomla has existed since 2005, WordPress since 2003, and Drupal since 2001. By comparison, many proprietary CMSes haven’t existed that long, or have had millions of people use them in that time.

4) Proprietary CMSes are slower to innovate. Because their code isn’t open to developers around the world, these systems move much slower in terms of features. We had one client using a proprietary software but wanted a responsive site, which the software hadn’t yet started to offer. So they had to pick between keeping their current system or having something their customers were asking for (mobile friendliness).

Now what if you have a very specific kind of business (like you sell farm shares) and this one company has a system that just does that thing perfectly? Then you should do it… but you should do your homework first. Does that monthly fee include payment processing? Are you signing up for this for a certain period, like one year? Do you own the rights to the design, should you want to take it and move it into another platform later? What features does it have to address your concerns like mobile and social media users?

In other words, really look into it and make sure it’s a good fit. Because the kwah website you build may last as long as you need it to. But someday you will need to rebuild, like we all do, and picking a material you know people can work is a good step to ensuring what you build remains standing, long after any company you work with.

Wordcamp Boston 2013

08 November

wordcamp2013It’s not often I get to see my friend Matt in real life. We work together virtually on almost a daily basis and I consider him one of my best friends…  he just happens to live over six hours away.

So when he told me about Wordcamp and that it was 1) in Boston and pretty close for all of us and 2) that he was going, Alice and I went down to check it out.

There were around 400 people at the conference from all over the place so I didn’t expect to know anyone. Of course I am in line for sandwiches behind a guy I haven’t seen since college who now is working on a cool WordPress plugin and I run into Tracy who I’ve only seen online yet lives in Maine.

In other words, I actually knew people! I mean, we were in Boston (very closeby) not Istanbul but still, small world.

The biggest takeaway for me? The need for fast websites. My favorite talk of the conference was by Chris Ferdinandi called ‘Wicked Fast WordPress’ on this very topic.

As we try to make websites more interactive, interesting, and responsive to design, us website designers/developers have invariably slowed down how fast they load. If 70% of people will not wait more than 3 seconds for a website to load before moving on, that’s something we need to pay attention to. (I’ll do a whole blog post on this sometime soon I am sure.)

Year after year, website security is always a concern. No matter what the software, there is no such thing as a 100% safe website. But Sam Hotchkiss’ presentation about security was complete and a favorite of Matt and Alice (I was in another room watching a different presentation… the good news is that link goes to a video where you can watch his talk!)

And finally, there was more talk about responsive design: how to do it well, deal with issues unique to that process. If you want to know a bit more about it, click on this post we have about dealing with mobile users on your website. 

All and all, it was a great weekend where we not only got to learn new things from some very smart people but have lots of bonding time, mainly over food. We’ll be back next year I’m sure but hopefully be getting to see Matt before then.

How To Pick The Best WordPress Plugin Or Joomla Extension

11 October

The great thing about open source website building platforms like WordPress and Joomla? They come with a lot that works out of the box. In both these systems, you can create pages, menus, and manipulate the basic site template.

Most people, however, want their websites to do something with this software. They want to sell products, have a form that collects information, or display Flickr photo albums.

These ‘apps’ that work on websites and allow them to do more then the standard software allows are called plugins in WordPress and extensions in Joomla. Here’s where you can find them:

Joomla Extensions Directory (JED)

WordPress Plugins Directory

As you see, you have options. Want a Facebook like button that works with Joomla?

facebooklikebuttonOh I’m sorry. Were you not looking for 116 options but simply the best option for you? You are reading the right blog then!

Here’s how to find the best plugin or extension for your Joomla or WordPress site (I can’t speak for Drupal but I bet these same rules would work there as well):

1) Is it in the directory?

Both Joomla and WordPress review the listings of plugins/extensions in their directories. Now if I wanted, I could create a plugin and just put it on my website. But getting something that is listed in the directory means you are already more likely to be getting something that is peer tested and reviewed.

2) Is it compatible with your software?

When you log into your website, you should see the version of the software you are running. Let’s say you are running Joomla 2.5. You will need an extension that works with this software. (Not all extensions work with every software.) WordPress updates more frequently than Joomla so look in the directory and see when the plugin was updates and what versions of WordPress it’ll work with:

wordpressplugincompatibility

 

As you see, if you are running version 3.4 of WordPress, you can’t use this gallery… so you’ll have to find another gallery or upgrade your software (we recommend upgrading in general- prevents hacking and all kinds of other nonsense).

3) What else does it need to work with?

Let’s say you want people to be able to leave blog comments while logged into Facebook or Twitter. When you look for a commenting plugin, you know to look out for compatibility with Facebook and Twitter.

By understanding how you want something to work (and as importantly, how you don’t want it to work), that’ll eliminate some potential plugins.

4) Is your design responsive?

If so, you’ll find a lot of plugins/extensions are not responsive in nature so this will limit you. Like a lot. (Try finding a responsive business directory that doesn’t look like crap or cost a ton of money for example.) Tip: If it doesn’t say it’s responsive, it probably isn’t… but if you are in love, it’s worth installing and testing it out.

5) Are the reviews good?

Now granted, everyone has one to six haters out there but in general, I like something where at least a majority of the people are not completely angry in their reviews. A quick look at the star ratings and some forums will let you know what people really think of the plugin.

reviewsjed

6) Is this from a reputable developer?

Great companies tend to have great reputations. Checking into the company that has developed the plugin will give you a look into how (and if) the extension/plugin will be supported and how customer service will be handled. Trust me, as important as having an awesome piece of software? Having the service to back it up. (I recommend a Google search on this since this will turn up forum posts and other places off the beaten path people may have left feedback.)

7) Does it work on your site?

So you download the extension and install it… does it work? Sometimes, it is not as simple as find, install, and tada. (If it was, not sure if I’d have a job.) If the plugin doesn’t work, try disabling all other extensions/plugins and see if there is a conflict. If it still doesn’t work, try it with another theme or template. If you find it works elsewhere and just not on your website, you have to decide whether it is worth your time getting it to work, or trying something similar.

The great news is people are developing extensions all the time that’ll make our lives easier and our websites better… but we still need to develop the skills to find and use the best of them.