Combatting the WordPress spam monster

WordPress spam has been worsening lately for everyone: It’s an easy in for hackers, especially on dormant sites or unmonitored sites. I’ve cleaned tens of thousands of spam comments out of clients’ sites before, and those comments not only show an a doorway for more spammers, but also bloat your site’s database and ultimately slow you down. Which Google doesn’t like. It’s a chain reaction.

Lisa GhisolfCombatting the WordPress spam monster

Wordcamp Milwaukee

I’ve been to a few cities’ WordCamps now, and every city has its own flavor — but every one has great info and a community of WordPress pros who are passionate about the platform. And, they’re always willing to share tips, tricks and even the basics to newbies and professionals alike.

Milwaukee, though only in its second year, is definitely at the top of my list for a few reasons: Friendly folks, a relaxed vibe, and a great location, Bucketworks.

I’ll be talking about freelance work and how I’ve found it, lost it, and found a good business rhythm for myself. And I hope you’ll be there too!

The schedule is still being finalized, but it’s going to be a great lineup! Sign up today using the code “Ghisolf” for a discount.

And be sure to follow the hashtag #WCMKE and the Twitter feed @WordCampMKE for updates.

Lisa GhisolfWordcamp Milwaukee

BuddyPress for building your social network

A few months back I talked about a client’s success in moving a Ning community to WordPress and, inevitably, BuddyPress.

But what’s the big deal about BuddyPress? It is a plugin, but it 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]

The “famous” add-on to BP is bbPress, which is essentially forum enhancement.

Keep in mind, BuddyPress is not multisite. Multisite WP [and certainly a topic for a future blog!] 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:

  • For developers: When editing your themes, don’t edit bp-sn-parent, the parent theme. Copy it to bp-default, and create a child theme.
  • Right now, you can’t use any WP theme out of the box. There are some rather limited options, which are notably different because they include the “special” BP pieces: login, registration, forums, groups, etc.
  • Only some regular WP plugins will work with BP, but usually, multisite ones will work. It takes some testing to see which are compatible [but isn’t that always the way?]

There are specific BuddyPress plugins, adding functionality for users and admins alike:

  • bbpress: forum enhancement
  • BP my home: allow users to move their own widgets & set up their “dashboard”
  • Pending activations: not on multisite
  • Ad manager
  • Activity refresh: you set timing
  • Registration options: attach to particular groups or blogs [multisite]
  • Ultimate Facebook
  • Private community
  • Welcome pack
  • Groupblog: associate blog w/group
  • Bookmarklet
  • Group Documents: doc storage
  • S2member: membership by restricting URLs by user

BuddyPress spam beware

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

  • Bad Behavior, Wangguard plugins (July 2017 note: WangGuard is now no longer supported by its author, and I’ve found WPMU’s Anti-Splog is quite effective but pricey.)
  • Remove Buddypress & WP credit lines
  • Rename your registration slug to block “insite:register” searches

What’s next for BuddyPress?

Coming down the line for BP 1.7  is compatibility with all WordPress theme. This is simply huge! We’ve been waiting on this for a while, so not sure when it’ll hit.

BuddyPress Resources

Some of my go-to resources on BP:


Lisa GhisolfBuddyPress for building your social network

Case study: Migrating from Ning to WordPress & BuddyPress

Definitely watch this space: One of my favorite clients, Chicago acupuncturist Mitch Harris, already runs a WordPress site and knows its ins and outs. But, he also had a Ning site with 300+ members for a growing Eastern nutrition and recipe site, Food From East, fed by his Pacific College students. As Ning kept increasing their hosting rates for an undoubtedly useful set of tools, it also became unwieldy and didn’t really fit Mitch’s needs. Too, he wanted to make it more of a resource on Eastern nutrition, for both practitioners and the public alike.

The Ning migration

Enter WordPress, BuddyPress and the awesome WPMU Ning to BuddyPress Importer plugin. BuddyPress, for the uninitiated, is all about making your WordPress site social. It can make it a sort of Facebook “lite,” and is ideal for education, your private or public niche membership site, or really, anything you might have thrown on Ning before.

Image representing BuddyPress as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

Now, this won’t solve all your problems: The taxonomies between Ning and WordPress are different, and everyone posts things in different areas depending on how they originally set up Ning. Though the migration was pretty painless, we are still cleaning up comments and posts that ended up in the wrong places, and are tagging and categorizing everything [which is no small task on some sites]. But, it also gave me a chance to create a better user experience: With just a “quick edit” of categories & tags, and with better labels for the user—there now are sections for disorders, symptoms, ingredients, and practictioner-speak. It’s a much better experience. With plugins like Mass Categorization, we can even create these en masse.

BuddyPress aftermath

This migration really gives you a chance to review where data is, where it will be imported, and how you want it displayed. Comments, for example, cannot have categories or tags, but if they’re correctly placed under a relevant post with the right tags and categories, they’re still findable.

I’ve written quick WordPress guides for members moving over to this new site, focusing on images, as Zemanta and PhotoDropper are instrumental and not obvious to new users. As easy as WordPress is, plugins are not always intuitive.

Now we haven’t set up forums or groups, as he doesn’t need them yet, but this again is a quick import over from Ning, and preserving your members’ conversations is incredibly important for a growing membership site, especially in terms of SEO. The best thing, IMHO, is every user and his or her avatar moved over to the new site with all of their information, and Mitch can send everyone a personalized email telling them where to find their new member site, and log in using their old login and password, or get new credentials. The connections between their posts and comments stay correct. This is what migration should be. And, as each user can create a full-fledged profile, instant message each other and generally have a much better experience, and it’s a clear winner over Ning, especially without the monthly fees.

Support & what they don’t tell you

Boone Gorges of Teleogistic has been incredibly helpful in answering questions and an ongoing discussion with other users of this plugin—after all, no migration is perfect, so be prepared for flukes and figuring out data workarounds. But the data is intact, which is more than half the battle.

On the downside for BuddyPress: It’s incredibly popular among spammers. They’ll create accounts, post spam and generally create headaches. I’ve vacillated between Bad Behavior and WangGuard (July 2017 note: WangGuard is now discontinued, but check out WPMU’s Anti-Splog. It’s pricey but works.) for blocking spammers, and I’ve a few more tips in my BuddyPress presentation from May.

Overall, it’s a win: Improved user experience and less expensive & better WordPress admin. Features can be turned on and off at will, and you can encourage better engagement with a suite of tools. Now, where’s that next BuddyPress project?

Lisa GhisolfCase study: Migrating from Ning to WordPress & BuddyPress

My favorite WordPress blogging plugins

WordPress has a lot of really cool plugins—but that wasn’t always the case. These days I can add in event tickets, membership systems, even community builders that mimic Facebook, all for free or a nominal cost.

But blogging still claims a god amount of WordPress sites, so the average user can improve their site fairly easily.

Here are a few WordPress blogging plugins I’ve found incredibly useful not only for myself but clients too:

Tweet old post: This one actually has tripled traffic to Thriftista at times, revitalizing old posts that might have languished in the archives. The newest version also has the ability to omit posts, which comes in handy when you want to leave out outdated ones.

PhotoDropper: Finding decent, relevant photography can be a pain for the average blog—this plugin takes care of that, and the copyright. Search Flickr for Creative Commons images [ie, you can use them with proper credit] and it even fills in the byline for you. Timesaver!

Yoast SEO: I’ve tried a number of SEO plugins and this one is simple, yet offers more tools for the advanced.

Akismet: This is a WordPress standard, and so many folks just don’t enable it. If you want to avoid the majority of spam comments, it’s an easy way to clear it out. It’s also free, though you need to go to the Akismet site to get an API key.

WordPress Editorial Calendar: We all say we’re gonna get out a post a week. Or two. And then six months go by, work gets crazy, you name it. This has an easy drag-and-drop interface to move schedule dates and set up reminders for future posts.

Anthologize: Is your blog ebook-worthy? Even if it’s not *grin*, you can easily export your posts to a readable format.

What are your favorites?

Lisa GhisolfMy favorite WordPress blogging plugins

Website plan: Questions to guide your website’s progress

WireframesOriginally written April 2004. Updated March 2011.

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 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 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 the content management system [CMS] becoming 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.

Lisa GhisolfWebsite plan: Questions to guide your website’s progress

What is Web 2.0 design? part 2

Back in July we reviewed the technology part of web 2.0 design. Today, more of the fun stuff: design in web 2.0.

You’ll probably notice most web 2.0 design coming across in blogs and newer next-generation sites that utilize the latest bells and whistles.

The designs are usually a bit more subtle but still remarkable: Gradients, patterns and rounded corners liven up the usual staid corporate feel. Reflections, or a “wet look” will often pop up as opposed to the usual flat boxes. Starbursts that “pop out” of a boxy layout call attention much as their direct mail counterparts do – but usually with more of an integrated style. And probably most notably, the illusion of depth with soft, realistic drop shadows brings some depth to the layout. Pastels and greens stand out among colors, a nod to the newly green environmental push.

As I’ve noticed these trends, I’ve tried to incorporate them more slickly into my work, offline and on: more innovative boxes with only one or two rounded corners, and real elements such as handmade paper or bamboo to express a warmer human touch to a site. That’s the true test of your site: Does it look and feel like everyone else’s, or is it unique enough to stand out from the masses?


Lisa GhisolfWhat is Web 2.0 design? part 2

Free and cheap website promotion

Last month I talked about SEO’s role in your web site and marketing plan. Now, how about some free ideas to push your site ahead?

Signature lines. The signature function of your email client is great for your contact information, but don’t forget to add lines to highlight your web site and links to new items you’ve added to the site. Highlight any deals you offer as well.

Forums. Find forums where folks request information on topics you’re an expert in, and offer your advice. Don’t forget to add your signature line! This can lead to new clients, but also establishes your expertise in your field. Ryze is one such forum source, as are Yahoo! and MSN groups. Visiting once a week will get your name recognized for minimum time outlay, but don’t overdo the sell tactics—your purpose is to give your name and some vital info., not a tired sales pitch.

Directories. Apart from search engines, directories are another way to share your company—think Yahoo! rather than Google. Google your category plus “directory” [as in, “law firm directory”] and you’ll find a directory that appeals most to you. Be careful with whom you share your company listing—some are little more than glorified spamming databases, but credible ones will list reputable companies and likely also give you statistics. Some charge fees, which is good and bad: Gizmo Design is listed in a directory that I pay for “premium” listing space in, and have found it profitable, though I’ve tested others to no avail. You will find out fairly quickly if your referrals come from these sources, and often pricing is set up so you can test for a few months and evaluate results.

Share it everywhere. Put your URL on everything you share with customers—advertising and marketing materials, letterhead, promotional items, uniforms and more, especially if it is not just It reduces confusion with other companies, and offers a place for people to get free information on your company. Offer a deal, discount, or contest, and you’ll gain even more hits.

Stuff your invoices. Ask for referrals and feedback with your invoices, and you’ll gain insight into your customers’ experience, plus some possible new business.

Have any ideas? Share them below or shoot me an email!

Lisa GhisolfFree and cheap website promotion