Checklist to Get Ready for WordPress 4.0 Upgrade

rocket launch

You heard the new version of WordPress is hot off the press. You login to your dashboard and get ready to push the big button. But wait? Can your website handle the latest WordPress upgrade?

Here are a few tips to ensure your WordPress update is smooth sailing.

WordPress Readiness Checklist

  1. Do you meet the requirements for 4.0? Server (your webhost) requirements are PHP 5.2.4 (or greater), MySQL 5.0 or greater and mod_rewrite Apache module (makes it possible for permalinks so you don’t have ID numbers for a URL). You can do this quickly with Sucuri’s malware scanner online. Click on the Website Details tab.
  2. Theme compatibility. Is your theme compatible with WordPress 4.0? Check your vendor to be sure.
  3. Plugin compatibility. Are your plugins up to date? Plugins are 3rd party software and not produced by WordPress. Check to make sure they are compatible. I use Better Plugin Compatibility Control which adds to the plugin version info to the plugins dashboard. If it isn’t listed for 4.0, has it has been tested with your version? Plugins are the main reason for update problems.
  4. Backup Your Website. Your webhost may or may not be doing nightly backups (many don’t). Backup your website first before you upgrade to WordPress 4.0. If you encounter problems, this is a lifesaver so you can revert back! My favs are VaultPress and Backup Buddy (affiliate link).

If you followed all of those steps – you are probably ready! Go push that big shiny button!

Posted in WordPress Maintenance

Will the Fastest Search Plugin Please Stand Up

Racing snails

If you saw my post about the Facebook Like Box – you might recall I gave it up because it loaded slowly on my website. Given visitors will give up on you rather than wait 3 or more seconds for your site to load – a slow loading plugin can be costly. Dear Facebook Like Box – it’s been fun but now you are a drag… ciao baby!

During the last series of tests when preparing the Facebook Like Box article – I noticed another plugin was also looking a bit slow. So I have been running tests weekly to see how it is doing – no improvement. Darn – time for a change.

Sometimes You Need to Pay for Plugins

I know, we are spoiled with WordPress – it is simply a wonderful piece of software we don’t pay for! But sometimes we need to pony up. Results matter and I am always on the lookout for plugins that will improve my client’s website engagement.

Once again my website is the guinea pig and decided to try out a plugin several of my colleagues like – SearchWP (affiliate link). My previous plugin was an earlier darling child fav – SwiftType Search which has a no-cost version.

Rev Up Your Engines…

I did a site speed test so I can have a "before" result. Unfortunately it looks like I lost some ground and the site is up to 3.44 seconds. Not ideal since my site is no longer under 3 seconds.

During the test – I noticed a lingering Facebook script, deleted that shaved off a little time. Uninstalled SwiftType Search and installed SearchWP (after having ponied up $29).

Back over to Pingdom for another speed test. Now the site speed is back down – 2.48 seconds – WAHOO, happy dance!

Do You Need Improved Searches?

Not everyone will need to improve their website searches. Base that decision on your Google Analytics results. If people are searching for things frequently and not finding them, that’s your sign.

I’m not by any means done – I saw some other areas for improvement and also have been researching for the best CDN (Content Delivery Network) service. Oooh goosebumps, I can hardly wait to finish the research and get started!

Do you enhance your WordPress search with a plugin?

Posted in WordPress Plugins

3 Habits to Give Up in Web Copy

Sleepy dog working with laptop

Print and Old Web Trends

We live in the age of web smarties. Yes smarties because people have been using a web browser, a smart phone and even tablets for a while now. I have this delightful client who loves to tell me she is computer stupid. Yet she floors me with how savvy she is with social media, she rocks it! People simply don’t realize how sophisticated they are at using the web.

Most of us use Microsoft Word or Pages quite a bit. We are used to that style of writing but there are a couple of little things you need to let go. Why, because your readers are used to using the web and will appear as if you are treating them like a toddler. Web folks are grown ups now.

  1. Click here. "To find out more click here" is dated. Your readers know what a link is and that it will take them to information they need. Use actionable words like "View Demo," "Read More" etc. Instead of focusing on the mechanics of clicking a mouse button (or tapping the phone) tell them where they are going or what they get instead. Also try putting the linked phrase at the end of a sentence if it is a call to action. (Want more? UX Movement provides examples.)
  2. Spelling out the URL and linking it. This is a hard habit to break, in a print document this is helpful information since they can’t click on it. On the web this is wasted space. Describe the location it is going to or information a URL is going to provide the reader and link to it. They don’t want or need the URL spelled out – they are just going to click.
  3. Spelling out your email address. Did you know automated bots troll the web looking for your email address? "But I’m using obfuscation to hide it" (name [at] domain [dot] com). Nope, they break those techniques too. Preferably use a good contact form (Gravity forms rocks, affiliate link). If you must post your email address, then use on your WordPress site Email Address Encoder plugin.

Did you see tips on formatting? Read some of the web design insider tips for formatting your page or post.

Posted in Formatting Posts and Pages

WordPress Has Your Back – Time to Update

Baby with pirate hat

Baby with pirate hat

Serious Security Vulnerability – Update Now

Yesterday, WordPress released an important security update. A serious vulnerability was discovered with PHP’s XML processing that can result in denial of service attacks. This is a new vulnerability and can bring down your website down in seconds. Fortunately it was reported quietly to WordPress and Drupal that both use this and they have both released fixes to this problem.

If your WordPress software was already up to version 3.9 and you left it in default mode, your WordPress software will update automatically (minor versions only). Given the seriousness of the security vulnerability (this is considered a biggie FYI) you should check if you have the update .

Recommendation – make sure your WordPress website is updated immediately to version 3.9.2.

How to Check?

  • Login to your WordPress dashboard at http://www.yourdomain.com/wp-login.php (or /login or /admin)
  • On the left under “Dashboard” click the “Updates” tab.
  • In the lower right hand corner, bottom of the screen – it should display “Version 3.9.2.”
  • Does it show 3.9.2? Pat yourself on the back and wow, it did it for you automatically – cool right?

If your version of WordPress is out of date, you should have a yellow stripe across the top telling you an update is available. But wait, if you haven’t updated lately, first you need to BACK UP YOUR WEBSITE before you update.

Speaking of Backups…

Remember the saving your bacon comment above? Don’t rely on your web host for backups, many don’t perform backups to your website (or keep it only for 24 hours) and you can lose it if something happens to your site. Even something totally unrelated to you – a shared web host server has 100s of fellow web sites on the same server as yours and one bad apple can infect the rest.

My advice – VaultPress is completely worth it for non-techs, it automatically backs up your site in the cloud securely. Five bucks a month is cheap peace of mind and simply smart. FYI and it isn’t just non-techs, some of the biggest sites on the web use VaultPress – they are rock solid. If you are techie and don’t mind the occasional hand holding, backup buddy is fine also.

Want more? Check out “Some Basic Security Plugins to Keep the Baddies at Bay.

Posted in WordPress Maintenance, WordPress security

Time to Retire the Facebook Like Box?

3 snails on the highway

3 snails on the highway

Download Speed Buzz Kill

I’ll let you in on a secret – I killed (removed) my Facebook Like box from my business website. That was painful – the Arts Assistance FaceBook page has over 1,000 likes. Why? Darn thing was adding more than 2 seconds to the download page speed. Since we only have 3 seconds before supposed site abandonment kicks in (people give up and leave), that’s a lot!

Result? Google analytics bounce rates went from over 80% down to 2.38% – yeah! Of course that wasn’t the only thing I changed but I could tell that a big dip occurred after the change.

Is Download Speed Really That Important?

It is a tough sell to be concerned with download speeds, it sounds silly right? I wish it were but web designers and developers sweat this stuff a lot. Article after article and web design conferences pontificate ad nauseum the importance of speedy sites. The data proves this out – website visitors are impatient and they aren’t going to wait around for a slow website to load. If your site is taking longer than say 4 seconds it is hasta la vista, baby.

Part of SEO with Google ranking is page download time. I didn’t want to sacrifice that kind of time to what I felt was a poorly coded plugin from Facebook. I’m not alone, many of my web developer colleagues have also taken off their Facebook Like boxes.

But They Improved the Speed!

Facebook claims they improved the speed. Down from 2+ seconds to .5 seconds. Okay – let’s test, did they really improve the speed?

I tested this on my blog post "Finding the Right Images" which is a bit heavy and left the Like Box up.

  • Before results: 2.8 seconds load time, 99 requests and a 74% performance grade

Before test results

  • After results: 2.9 seconds load time, 113 requests (14 additional HTTP calls) and 75% performance grade

After test results

Not too shabby on adding to the time, although 14 additional http calls isn’t so wonderful just for one little box. Also, Facebook requires not only code for the sidebar Like Box, but a script to be included on the page.

I had the script load with the footer so most of the page will load first. But still – the script will be included with all pages! Ugh.

Conclusion – Give it a Pass

I am going to leave up the Like Box for just a few days in case you want to go check it out and then pull it.

My advice – it’s a significant trend right now not to have the Facebook Like Box, especially for business centric sites. It’s one of the ways I know immediately a website is a bit dated and probably your visitors unconsciously know this as well.

Although my test did well today, there is no guarantee Facebook’s API will always have "fair weather" speedy results in delivering your like box. Use at your own page ranking risk.

Posted in Website speed, Website tips

Formatting Your Web Page or Post

Journalist getting ready to type

Journalist getting ready to type

Make Your Readers Uber Happy

A bit of a snoozer – formatting pages and posts right? But did you know there are some established tricks to make them easier to read and increase comprehension? Zzz – what did I just lose you?

Let’s try that again – how about "pages that get read" and "awesome posts". Here are a few tips.

Dos

  1. Honor thy theme stylings. Use the theme styling set for paragraphs, titles, block quotes and colors. Consistency is key with keeping an organized easy to read layout.
  2. Do left align the text – it is the easiest to read alignment.
  3. Paragraphs should be relatively short and one topic.
  4. Use bulleted lists to impart lists and info – users love love love them. Your theme hopefully is putting a line between lists otherwise it’s a giant paragraph.
  5. Use titles to announce new subjects, this will guide the eye down the page more effectively than paragraphs. It’s easier to read than a "sea of text".
  6. Quotes look great with the blockquote function in WordPress and help break up the text. A lot of themes will be pre-styled for quotes.
  7. Use restraint with bolding and italics, it should be the exception not the rule.

Don’ts

  1. Underlines on websites are a no-no. Underlines mean one thing – links.
  2. Link your URLs using a word or pic, not www.anywhere.com. Your site visitors know what a link is and this is not a print document.
  3. For adding pictures inside bulleted lists – align right. Left aligned pictures with bulleted lists look messy and many themes have no margin established for that format.
  4. "Click here" is out. People are more sophisticated these days, they get what a highlighted linked word is.
  5. Avoid red text emphasis – unless it’s part of the theme palette. Ignore marketing gurus on this, they are not usability experts. A high contrast color that matches your theme palette is sufficient.
  6. Don’t override alignment with centering, it’s rarely needed and will be tough to read.
  7. Don’t justify the text. It will look like a sea of spaces and studies show it slows reading comprehension. The web is not quite there yet with justification – but soon.
  8. If centering a picture, make sure it’s more than 1/3 width of the content box area. But normally, resist the urge to center.
  9. Keep it readable. Don’t reduce the font size below 16 pixels (not points). This is the standard size now for the multiple devices your site will be viewed on.

And of course – use an AWESOME picture with your post to emotionally engage your readers. Not sure about images? I wrote some tips for that.

Posted in Formatting Posts and Pages

Finding the Right Images

Searching image

I’m going to assume you all know you can’t just google for pictures and grab them off websites right? Images are creative works and even if no copyright is displayed, it does not mean it is public domain and available for use. Permission is always required. So be sure to always check the licensing on any image you use.

Most of you most likely are using stock images and illustrations and already are careful about licensing or able to figure out Flickr licenses on what is allowed. Excellent.

One of the free sources that was talked a lot about recently was Getty Images. There are some downsides to using the Getty’s embed free images, I did a blog post about it if you want to check it out.

Choosing the Right Image

Before we move along to where to get images, first, how about choosing the right images?

  1. Make sure they match the style of the page.
  2. The image or illustration should relate to the subject of the page. If your blog post is about coffee, showing a picture of a rubber duck would obviously confuse the reader.
  3. Avoid overused stock images – this is B O R I N G. Look for less used images or illustrations. We get lectured about this a lot at web design conferences – avoid overused stock and consider using illustrations.
  4. Look for emotionally engaging photos/illustrations that help the point of your blog post or page. It need only be one idea or emotion.
  5. Use photos that are empathetic to the reader when appropriate.
  6. Use quality images. Even if they aren’t free, some are only a buck. Looking for free images that don’t meet the criteria mentioned usually short changes your marketing message.
  7. Images should engage but not overwhelm. Content first – most of us are not photographers showing our portfolio.

A good blog post about picking images is on Noupe "Ten Golden Rules for Choosing the Right Website Images."

Favorite Image Resources

For editorial images (usually involves a popular persona) for a news article.

There you have it – nice little list of fav image resources for your posts and pages. ENJOY!

Posted in Formatting Posts and Pages, Web Design, Website tips

Easy Peesy Heatmaps with Crazy Egg

Scroll Map example

Scroll Map example

One of my friends recently stated I knew all those web design insider secrets. Secrets? Well no it isn’t a secret, most things I share are often standard stuff to the typical web designer. Like any industry, we have best practices and popular tools but I do read a lot of industry publications to keep abreast of the latest.

Today I’ll share one of those possible so called secrets. Heatmaps!

Sidekick for Google Analytics

I know, yawn, Google Analytics. Hardly the most interesting of reports to delve through so I won’t bore you on how they are useful. Hopefully you already know stats about bounce rates, traffic and page views are useful info for marketing decisions.

However, sometimes it just isn’t enough to give you the whole picture. This is where heatmaps are pretty nifty. Lately I have incorporated it into my web design process so I know how well a current layout is doing.

See Clicks in a Heatmap

What is a heatmap? A heatmap shows what is popular visually with colors ranging from red for hot to blue for cold. Heatmaps track the clicks on a page on a website (snapshots).

CrazyEgg.com is one of the leading services for heatmaps. With Crazy Egg, you install a tracking script (or WordPress plugin) on your website. The script once installed will track the clicks on the pages you picked out for snapshots. Over time you will see visually where your site visitors are clicking.

I gotta tell you – nothing like a picture to say a thousand words. Sometimes stats just aren’t enough, a picture shows you exactly at a glance how effective layout items are. For example:

  • Are the menu items working? You can tell exactly what they find interesting.
  • How about your sidebar, are they clicking on your promoted items or shared info?
  • How far are they scrolling down the page? You can see that visually too with a scroll map.
  • Where are the clicks coming from? Confetti view can show you.

So how useful is this information? Instead of just reading about numbers of page views and page links, you get a view of how well the layout is working. Is it working, does it need a few tweaks, do they find your call to action box interesting?

I wouldn’t recommend it as a replacement to Google Analytics, but presentation of the information is very useful. If you need to know how well your website marketing items or layout is doing, this designer gives it 2 thumbs up.

Posted in Website tips

Websites Are Not “Set It and Forget It”

Model-T car repair

Do you never change the oil in your car? Ignore the check engine light or never fill it with gas? I’m guessing no, cars get a bit fussy if you ignore them right?

One of the topics I see come up a lot with my colleagues are ignored sites that crash – and they do. Anything can happen from outdated software that no longer works to a malware infested site. If you ignore your website it is a matter of when, not if, it will fail.

I’m going to give you some tips to prevent those costly website recoveries. Being a smart business owner – I bet you are doing at least 1 of these steps.

Where is the Check Engine Light for Websites?

Sorry, but there isn’t an all encompassing alert your website needs servicing. Just like a car, they do require regular ongoing maintenance to stay operational. There are a lot of working parts to a website including software, databases, servers, third party plugins and files. Many of these are changed often and are outside your control. A good comparison – how often do you need to update your smartphone software and update your apps?

Your Website Needs the "Oil Changed"

Your website isn’t going to go out of its way to let you know maintenance is required. There are only a few notifications available in your dashboard. For example, "worn down parts" aren’t obvious they need attention or replacing. Here’s some tips to avoid a publicly displayed server error in place of your site, or the "white screen of death."

  • Renew your domain name URL. All domain name providers send out a renewal notice annually by email. Did you save it as a contact so it doesn’t go into the junk folder? How about your account contact info so they can email you, or your auto renew billing info? Is it up to date?
  • Update your WordPress software. Letting this slide is one of the top reasons a website is hacked or fails. Many of the software updates for WordPress are security and maintenance releases to keep up with changing technology. WordPress is up to 3.9.1 – check your version.
  • Update Plugins. If you are using WordPress, those third party plugins also need to be updated. Think phone apps, plugins also receive regular updates.
  • Automated offsite backups. Don’t rely on your webhost, many don’t maintain backup copies of your website. Use Vaultpress or Backup Buddy (affiliate link) to keep a full backup – peace of mind for $60-80 annually.
  • Security Maintenance. Use services like Sucuri (affiliate link) and/or WordFence to keep the worst of the worst from compromising your site. Be patient, if you have WordFence or other security programs, they can lock you out for failed login attempts. Trust me – once you see those scary logs of the many attempts to break into your website daily – you will be patting yourself on the back for being a savvy business owner.
  • Your Website has "Expired." Once you get past 3 years, things can get iffy (remember your smartphone). Get past 5 years, and oh boy, we are talking eminent website drama. Many server companies are updating to PHP 5.4 this year and most older sites top out at PHP 5.3 (psst – most don’t give much or any heads up). Check your website on Sucuri, under "Website Details" tab look for Powered by:PHP/ which will display your version.

My advice, 3 years is an eternity on the web. Expect to update your website theme design, at maximum every 3 years to be accessible. After that your web design will look outdated. If you are past 3 years, for example, right now you are most likely providing a squinty view on those phones and what do site visitors do – leave. A three year run is about the most you can reasonably expect.

There you go – web design insider secrets to keeping your site humming along and staying strong.

If this all seems to much – we do offer security maintenance for the overwhelmed, the techno phobic, or the “get er done” folks. No matter your reason – keep your website safe and online.

Posted in WordPress Maintenance

Googling for Fonts – Hidden Traps and Land Mines

avalanche

avalanche

That Free Font May Not Be Licensed

You googled for a font, it looks like it is exactly what you need. You download it from a website you found it from and install. The website doesn’t mention anything about restrictions and licensing so it must be okay to use, right?

Unfortunately many of these free font collection websites have little to no license verification and some even accept uploads from users. They may scan for malware, etc, but even then there is no guarantee.

Find Out If You Can Use the Font

Staying on the right side of copyright requires just a little homework. If the license isn’t displayed including the name of the font creator (or foundry) and the usage terms, this is a red flag. It is up to you to verify it truly is licensed to use commercially.

Here are some steps to help you find if your font is available to use.

  • Find the name of the artist of the font or foundry (font companies are foundries). Find the artist or foundry website, licensing usage for their fonts are usually stated in the End-User License Agreement (EULA).
  • Most free fonts are only for personal usage. In order for a font artist to gain exposure they will release a font publicly. Many of these are not licensed for commercial use.
  • Check established websites like fonts.com, myfonts.com, or fontshop.com to see if they are for sale. If they are – that free font was pirated.
  • Check safe free sites like Google Fonts and Font Squirrel. Their fonts are public domain or display licensing. Font Squirrel provides desktop and web fonts – I highly recommend them.

Fonts from Your Desktop Computer

Typically, commercial fonts have up to 5 users allowed but many lower budget fonts specify just 1 user. Licensing as to the use of the font for artwork, websites, ePubs and software vary. Fortunately most allow for embedding in print artwork. But always check, don’t assume, just because you have it installed doesn’t mean it can be shared elsewhere.

My Fav Places to Find Fonts

I prefer to stay on the safe side of licensing and more importantly, using really good quality fonts. Sifting through public domain font sites can be a bit of a crap shoot. Sure there are some great ones, but there are some fonts that shouldn’t have made the grade.

Most individual fonts cost about $29 and are terribly cheap, so this is not the area to get all price conscious.

Commercial:

  • TypeKit. For $50 a year (the full portfolio) you get access to their quality list of fonts for websites.
  • FontSpring. Individually purchase fonts from $15 – $70 (or in packages). Beautiful listings of web fonts, I go there frequently for inspiration when I need to find just the right font.
  • MyFonts. Large resource of desktop and web fonts with category tags are a big help.

Public Domain or Free:

  • FontSquirrel. Commercial usage terms are spelled out clearly. They have web fonts and desktop fonts. Nice list of their most popular fonts.
  • The League of Moveable Type. Just a few displayed but they are good ones you will probably recognize.
  • Google Fonts. Created for making fonts available for everyone. There are good ones here – these are just web fonts. Most themes you get will be using Google Fonts due to the friendly licensing.
Posted in fonts

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