July 29, 2021No Comments

BuddyPress for building your social network

Updated July 2021.

Back in 2013 I talked about a client's success in moving a Ning community to WordPress and, inevitably, BuddyPress. It seems like BuddyPress never had its moment of glory with all social media platforms sprouting up left and right, but then again, it's still relevant for WordPress-powered websites.

BuddyPress is a great option for those who want to build a social network themselves. It's powerful, flexible and free software that makes creating a private social network easy.

It is just a plugin, but BuddyPress creates so many new features for your website, it's actually quite a bit more. I like to think of BuddyPress almost as a social networking application, in a plugin. Its features almost make it a Facebook clone. But it's not Facebook.

Buddypress features

A quick rundown of its features:

  • User groups
  • Friending, profiles
  • Discussion profiles
  • Private messaging
  • Blog tracking [for multisite networks]
  • Status updates
  • Activity streams [which are an aggregate of the above]
  • The wire [feedback wall, separate from the activity streams]

Keep in mind, BuddyPress is not the same thing as multisite. Multisite WP is for multiple blog sites in a single WordPress installation, and BuddyPress can be multisite or just one blog.

Forums v. groups

The confusion I found when starting a BP site is the difference between forums and groups. Groups can have forums and blogs, but forums can stand alone. And, groups can be made private — i.e, for membership or board members who need a private area.

Customizing BuddyPress also poses some new issues:

  • You can use any WP theme out of the box. But it's worth customizing member, login and registration pages so that they fit your design.
  • Most regular WP plugins work with BP, but as always, you need to check for compatibility.

Extending functionality with BuddyPress-specific plugins

There are specific BuddyPress plugins, adding functionality for users and admins alike. Here are some favorites:

BuddyPress spam beware

BP is a huge target for spammers, but there are some ways to combat, or at least cut it down:

  • It's almost required to use Bad Behavior and/or WPMU's Anti-Splog (quite effective but pricey) to shut down spammers
  • Remove the Buddypress & WP credit lines
  • Rename your registration slug to block “insite:register” searches

What's next for BuddyPress?

BuddyPress 9.0 was just released, with widget blocks!

BuddyPress resources

Some of my go-to resources on BP:

July 20, 2021Comments are off for this post.

8 ways to clean up and optimize your old WordPress site

Maybe your site is running slowly. Or you haven't looked at it in ages, so when you log in, you've got a slew of update notices.

It may seen innocuous, but ignoring your site can result in being hacked, slower load times, and functions disappearing. The good news is that cleaning up your site is easy, especially with my WordPress clean-up checklist:

1. Double-check your backups

Check if your scheduled backups have been running, and restart them if not. If you don't have a backup solution, consider Backup Buddy or Updraft. Once you've scheduled backups, you can almost forget about them—just check periodically that no errors have popped up! Best practice is also to save backups offsite, such as on Dropbox.

2. Update everything

After you've backed up the site, begin by updating your plugins, your themes, and WordPress itself. The backup is key in case you need to restore anything the updates have broken. It doesn't happen very often, but you'll want to go back to your previous backup if errors come up.

3. Delete unused themes, plugins

Even if a plugin or theme is not activated, hackers can exploit them and gain access to your site. So delete those unused ones! I personally keep one fallback theme (usually twentytwenty one) in case your theme has an error, for testing.

4. Delete old users

Especially ones who haven't logged in for years! Be sure you save their data to another user, as you won't be able to retrieve those pages or posts unless you have comprehensive backups. While you're at it, update your password.

5. Optimize your images

Large images can slow down your site, despite how great they look! I recommend 1000px wide for many images, though any image will benefit from being compressed by plugins including Smush or my new favorite, WP-Optimize's Image function. Also consider running your images through TinyJPG.com (which also compresses PNGs!) before uploading, as their compression methods are excellent and you'll save a lot of space before it even hits WP.

6. Check for any 404 errors

If you haven't reviewed your site's broken pages for a while, install the plugin Redirection. After a couple days, you can check it for any 404s you might have missed, and redirect them to the right pages.

7. Revive your evergreen posts

If you have evergreen posts that are as relevant as they were years ago, update and enhance them! Find popular keyword phrases by searching Google for your topic, and then use those same phrases in the content or titles of your evergreen posts.

Lengthen articles (1500 words is a great length these days), adding new insights and stories. Reshare on social media, using MissingLettr.com and Revive Old Posts, and get new visitors.

MissingLettr.com lets you set up a year's worth of posts to your social networks; you'd think it was overkill but it's not! My engagement on new and evergreen posts has gone up quite a bit since implementing it! I think part of the draw is that it can pull quotes into a graphic in your social posts, or images of your choosing. You can get 50% off any plan with my link; note it's an affiliate link, so I get a commission if you become a customer.

Revive Old Posts actually takes the posts you want to reshare and sets them up to reshare on a schedule of your choosing; say, every 48 hours. It's also a great way to keep those great posts from being ignored.

8. Optimize your WordPress database

You don't know how big your database is until you've saved a few MBs of data. Every time you update a blog post or change any information on the site, it's added to your database. Imagine if this website was years old and full of comments!

WP-Optimize clears out that pesky data while also saving space for new content in an efficient manner with one click (or three).

Hire a professional?

If you're not sure what to do next, or if your site is really slow and you don't know why, contact me about WordPress cleanups!

July 12, 2021Comments are off for this post.

6 hot web design trends you should know

When you think web design trends, what comes to mind? Flat design? (Super dated.) Animation? (Did you say 3D?) Whatever the case, it's important that your site stay current. In this blog post, we'll discuss 6 hot web design trends that have been seeing a lot of success lately and why they're so popular.

To be fair, most of these have been around for a while, but I think it shows they have staying power beyond the first flush of a trend.

Hero Typography

Big typography is characterized by using larger and more expressive fonts, which can be used to help express the mood or message of a site. It's usually found in headers, with large bold letters instead of a tired hero image.

I could use the site below for the next example too: Expressive illustration that complements your brand!

big typography

Hand-drawn illustrations

Hand-drawn illustrations can bring life to your project. They are great for adding personality or character to designs and they don't take up too many resources either—perfect if your site needs more interesting visuals without compromising the user experience.

Neumorphism

Neumorphism is kind of a weird web design trend, but it can be very effective if done right. Basically, neumorphism gives an artificial 3D appearance. This doesn't mean you need to add any polygons or anything like that—just using gradients and shadows in the right way.

neumorphism example

Glassmorphism

Wait, neumorphism is dead? Glassmorphism or glass web design is also a popular web design trend. Unlike neumorphism, this draws on' the use of polygons and glass-like materials to give your site an immersive feel. Glassmorphic web sites are great for product showcases or galleries since they make it easy for visitors to see all the details.

Glassmorphism

Parallax animation

Parallax animation is a fun trend that create a more interactive and engaging experience for web users. It's a trick of the eye that gives web pages depth and makes them feel more natural to interact with. These days, it has been transformed into an animation technique and is used on websites all over the place as a way to create an interactive experience. Web design art history is a great example of this.

Parallax animation

Dark mode

Dark mode can be a good way to make websites more eye-catching. When you think "dark web design," this doesn't necessarily mean that everything on the website needs to be black—it could just refer to having darker colors in order to create contrast with lighter ones. Plenty of apps and platforms are already giving you this option—it really makes content, especially photography, pop.

dark mode website

Trends come and go, so consider using them with a light hand. I find classic design speaks clearly to your audience and lasts longer than the typical trend, and can be brought in to emails and social to freshen your brand.

July 4, 2021Comments are off for this post.

Women in WordPress, new site launches

Yes, there are definitely Women in WordPress:

I'm excited to share a new podcast episode with the great ladies of Women in WordPress, who've put together a 54 episodes of amazing women who are toiling away in all aspects of WordPress. And I'm #55!

Check out the episode, where I discuss my WordPress journey and looked back on sites where I've built custom solutions for clients. Hope to bring those to life in future talks.

Website launch: Catherine Johns

And a more momentous occasion, I'm so happy to announce the launch of speaker and coach (and you may recall her as WLS radio host) Catherine Johns' new website!

A long time coming, it's now mobile responsive, has an updated brand identity and really hones in on her vivacious personality and her true skills: Making you shine on stage and in person.

Website launch: Evidence Video

And another site a long time in coming, here's the new Evidence Video website. They create documentaries and day in the life videos for attorneys and have been instrumental in large settlements in Illinois and across the country.

Their new site highlights their video work and their staff, along with those settlements. Partner attorneys have their own pages, with their particulars and their attached news stories.

June 13, 2021Comments are off for this post.

Protect your content copyright with WordPress

Updated June 2021.

Protecting one's images and text online is an important topic, and one I tackled at my Chicago Creative Expo WordPress talk.

Read more

May 7, 2021Comments are off for this post.

How to choose a WordPress theme

Updated May 2021.

We're already lucky to have 39.5% of the world's websites powered by WordPress. And WordPress themes are big business, with many developers and companies launching new themes every day. But what do you look for? Here's a checklist for how to choose a WordPress theme.

Read more

March 2, 2020Comments are off for this post.

Website planning: Questions to guide your website’s progress

Updated July 2020.

wireframes

You know you need a website. Or you want to redesign your current one. So, where do you begin? What's most important? There are several factors to ponder as you build—or rebuild—your company's internet presence. These questions and issues will help guide the process.

Who are your audiences? 

Whether you're a non-profit and need to speak to volunteers, donors and board members, or a spa that needs to address current customers, those who haven't found you yet, get even more specific. Are your volunteers in a particular community or demographic? Are your spa customers typically women in the Gold Coast over age 40, and do you want to attract a younger demographic for other services? It does pay to talk to your current clientele to learn how they view your brand, and what attracted them.

What is your website’s goal?

Is it to draw customers by establishing yourself as an expert in your field, the company with the best product selection and ordering system, or simply to give your contact information? The first two are great—they set you apart from your competition with value-added services. The last, however, stops far short of a strategic goal for your site. Once someone comes to your site, they want to know what you have to offer—and your address and a phone number simply aren't enough to effectively draw in a customer, and keep them coming back.

Focus on navigation, then content, then design. 

Navigation is key to allowing your site visitors to find your information easily. The best content in the world, plus the best design, won't fix unwieldy or unintelligible navigation.

Key stakeholders should write down what pages they feel are important, thinking of how your various audiences will look for the information they need in order to confidently purchase from you. This may require multiple navigations, which is not overkill but simply good practice with multiple audiences that all search differently. For instance, a donor will approach your site differently than a volunteer simply looking to help out; and a potential customer may not be sure what to look for, whereas a seasoned one will want to access their information quickly.

Testing various information-gathering and ordering scenarios with people unfamiliar with your business [your own focus groups] will better structure the site and likely provide hidden feedback.

Content is still king.

I started designing for the web back in 1996, and all these years later, copy still leads your site's findability on search engines, its perceived professionalism and your reputation.

Wireframes, a design-less "map" to each page on your site, also makes your site more intuitive [does your contact page need a email newsletter sign-up?] at every step.

When writing, focus on facts about your company's experience, skill base and product or service offering, but consider writing them to appeal to your audiences — it's about them, not you! What can you do for them?

Beyond this, consider writing expert articles on your field with which your customers will find value. Consider linking to partner sites and build reciprocal linking relationships.

In all things, make sure you keep your site up to date and relevant, and error-free.

Focus on credibility—in design. 

According to a 4-year study by Stanford University, almost half of those polled paid more attention to the design and layout of the site than its content.

So what does this mean to you? Work with an experienced web developer to build a well-designed, targeted site.

It's common to want to develop your own web site, but it's also a common mistake. You may be able to develop it quickly and cheaply, but does it reflect the sophistication, reliability and responsibility you want your clients to buy into? The old adage, "you get what you pay for," applies here—you'll see the payoff of a well-done site long before one you did in your spare time. You'll already be a step ahead of the game with a great web presence you'll eagerly want to share with the world.

And, with content management systems [CMS] like WordPress being so commonplace, you can indeed manage the site on your own and save money for the long-term.

Before you start [or restart] your website, ponder these issues, pick an experienced web developer, and soon you'll have a site worth seeing—again and again.

May 7, 2019Comments are off for this post.

How to reevaluate and improve site navigation

Updated May 2019.

Let’s be honest: Your site navigation hasn’t changed since before mobile happened. No one finds your content, and you really aren’t sure what to do about it. A fairly simple and critical review that can make impact is by reviewing and improving site navigation. Read more

April 23, 2019Comments are off for this post.

Free stock photos for your website

This comically bad stock photo is from a stunt to promote the movie Unfinished Business back in 2015. Photo via Adweek.

This comically bad stock photo is from a stunt to promote the movie Unfinished Business back in 2015. Photo via Adweek.

Updated April 2019.

Finding free stock photos for your blog posts is probably tougher than writing the actual post. Here's a list of go-to resources for free stock photos for use on your site.

Unsplash: Typically free to use under Creative Commons (as most of these are). Even has a plugin to make it easier.

Pexels: Free for commercial and personal use. There's even a plugin to simplify adding images.

Burst: Provided by Shopify, these feel a bit more staid.

Styled Stock: More "feminine" images—meaning lots of white backgrounds, flatlay images, and bright colors.

Negative Space: Interesting range of imagery.

January 20, 2019Comments are off for this post.

Why use WordPress?

WordPress stickers & badges

WordPress stickers & badges (Photo credit: thatcanadiangirl)

Updated June 2021.

It seems ubiquitous that so many websites are on WordPress — 40% of the web, by last count. WordPress powers the UPS site, CNN, the NFL site, the Dow Jones site, and many, many more.

Read more

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©2003-2021 Gizmo Creative Factory Inc. All rights reserved. Chicago area freelance designer & WordPress developer. Located in Long Grove.

Gizmo Creative Factory, Inc.