Control Which Images Facebook Chooses with Links

controls

Tell Facebook Who’s Boss!

Two clients asked me recently about how to control which images are displayed when posting links on Facebook. With the ever changing rules of Facebook, it’s been a bit of a moving target. Now they have their own standard code for interpreting your links and info called Facebook Open Graph.

If you always want the same image to display no matter what, you can actually put in a link in the head code telling Open Graph which image to pick. But most of us prefer Facebook to pick a featured image and as backup a default image when there isn’t a featured image available.

The Secret Sauce – And It’s Low Fat!

For WordPress SEO fans, you probably have been utilizing the Social tab and telling Facebook and other services which image to pick. But not everyone has WordPress SEO plugin installed, or they have a Facebook plugin with a bunch of bloated features. Trust me – you probably don’t want a Facebook plugin anyway, many of them slow your website speed with extra scripts. It’s the main reason I mentioned it’s time to retire your Facebook Like Box.

Hat tip to my friend Nadine in NYC who shared this awesome plugin WP Facebook Open Graph protocol. (FYI if you are a Pug owner, Nadine creates pug gifts.) The plugin is lightweight, pulls the featured image and allows you to specify a default image fall back. It also works with GooglePlus and LinkedIn!

How To Set It Up

Once you install WP Facebook Open Graph protocol do the following.

  • In the WordPress Dashboard, go to Settings > Facebook OGP.
  • You will need to retrieve your Facebook User ID, you can find it with the link and putting in your name after the last slash http://graph.facebook.com/yourusername
  • If you prefer to use the App ID instead (FYI no instructions there on the plugin but probably you can google it) for business pages. I use the personal ID since it’s fast.
  • Create a default image 200 by 200 pixels. Upload to your Media library, grab the URL and paste it in the "Default Image URL to use" input box.
  • If you want the same image every time, you can check the last box "use this if you want to use the Default Image for everything…" but don’t if you want your featured images to be picked up first!
  • Click save and you are set! Now don’t you feel empowered?
Posted in Social Media Graphics, WordPress Plugins

New Fav – Best Social Sharing Plugin for WordPress

Beautiful Share Buttons Without the Extra Pounds

Thumbs up in a latte

I used to adore the Flare plugin share buttons. However, once I became aware of the extra download time it took for my favorite plugin, I pulled it from my website. With only 3 seconds to engage site visitors before abandonment kicks in, Flare was adding too much overhead and sadly I had to let it go. It’s like eating cake all the time and expecting never to have to pay the price on the scale. Not planet reality.

However, Flare wasn’t totally at fault, share counters certainly added to the download lag. Having count totals for each time your post is shared means your website has to check in each social media service to find out what the latest count is. Cue in Jepardy music. That means your share plugin is going to Facebook, Twitter, GoogePlus and perhaps LinkedIn, to get those totals. That is a lot of extra time and they aren’t necessarily quick. It’s best to simply turn them off – remember 3 seconds is all you have before people will start giving up and leave your website.

Simple Share Buttons Adder

I read about this plugin on BlogAid last summer and at the time, I thought this was referring to a similar plugin that was asethically challenged. Fortunately, that isn’t the case.

Since the proof is in the testing, my first speed test showed 1.66 seconds. After setting up the plugin, the second test was 1.65 seconds (no total counts for shares). I’m assuming the time difference has to do with being on a shared webhosting server (lots of websites on one computer box) which will have some fluctuations on download speeds if the server is busy.

So what makes Simple Share Buttons Adder plugin special? It looks good AND is not download heavy. Eurkea, we can eat cake and not have to squeeze into jeans! You can see what it looks like in action on my site.

Installation Tips

  • If you decide to use your own custom icons, be sure to put in the full URL. If it is in the media library – you can find the URL path there.
  • Also on the Stylings tab, make sure the Button Size matches your image size otherwise it will override it with less than stellar results.
  • Also be sure to drag and drop which social media sites you want for sharing icons. I would recommend keeping it 4 max, less overwhelming that way.
  • Don’t use the counters, those totals will cost you download time. Just say no!
  • BlogAid made a nice tutorial on setting up the plugin.

However, I want to stress you might not need social share icons. There are already indications people share blog posts and other links on their own if they are excited about it. Those lovely icons could be competiting for attention, so keep that in mind with your marketing efforts and maybe limit it to just blog posts or not at all.

FYI – there is a pro version of Simple Share Buttons which uses sprites, that alone makes it worth consideration!

Posted in Web Design, WordPress Plugins

ShellShock Bug: Ask, Update & Carry On

Unauthorized ecurity key

So anyone worn out by yet another security issue to come down the pike? Raising hand here! There will be a flurry of updates coming your way for your electronic everything, but for your website, just some checking up.

ShellShock What?

Okay first it was login attacks on servers everywhere, then it was Heartbleed, now we have the bash bug called ShellShock. It has been a year of security challenges.

ShellShock is the bug nick name for the Bash Shell used by well, nearly everything, from online servers, computers to smartphones (and probably your other internet electronics). Windows perhaps not so much since it isn’t Unix/Linux based, I’m seeing conflicting info about that, but if you see an update from Windows – yes install!

Is Your Webhost A Safe Neighborhood?

Your webhost is going to be the main issue for WordPress sites (physical location of your website online). Bash shell technology is used by cPanel for example, a standard control panel used by a lot of webhosts. Note, it is not limited to cPanel for this bug.

Your webhost will need to install a security patch for Shellshock to make your website "neighborhood" safer. So how do you know if they applied the patch?

  • Check with ManageWP Shellshock Check plugin. It is still waiting for approval from WordPress to be listed (it is very new).
  • Server gurus – you can try this test yourself to see if your server is vulnerable.
  • Or you can ask your webhost directly if they installed the patch.

Your webhost response should indicate the patch is either applied or planned on within a couple of days. If by Monday no change – this is a red flag they don’t have the resources to properly address real threats. Time to move.

How to Ask?

  • Best way is to simply fill out your support ticket with your webhost. They will confirm whether or not they have applied the Shellshock patch. It might also bring your server "ahead of the cue" if they haven’t patched it. Be the squeaky wheel!
  • Keep your ticket open until they have done the patch. It’s okay if they are snarky – they’re probably hearing from everyone. Be understanding but don’t close that ticket until they confirm the patch is applied.
  • Why keep it open? Open tickets get escalated, they are motivated to close them. Your website is essential to your business – don’t feel guilty for asking.
  • Once it is patched, close the ticket and say thanks!

Feel like you want to go up a level – maybe you should consider a WAF – web application firewall (yes I’m thinking about that but haven’t made the plunge.)

Summary – Ask, Update and Carry On

Give yourself peace of mind and proactively go ask your webhost if they have applied the Shellshock patch to your server. There will be a second patch in the near future, but they are still working on it.

There will be a lot of fear mongering in the media about this one. Will you need to change your passwords? Probably not, but if you don’t have a password manager – now is the time!

Oh, and if your computer or smartphone (or any device) has a security update – install, stay calm and carry on.

Tagged with:
Posted in Website Threat, WordPress Maintenance

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 Facebook, 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

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