October 11, 2021Comments are off for this post.

Selecting the right host for your WordPress site: What you need to know

Choosing the right host for your WordPress site is not an easy task. There are many factors to take into consideration, and it can be really confusing. I want to help simplify the process and walk you through all of the different options available so that you can make a more informed decision about your WordPress hosting needs.

First, note that there are several types of hosting that WordPress does well on. Typically it's Linux (an open source operating system), though it can run on Windows, I find it to be a bit of a pain to keep WordPress running well on Windows servers.

Let's review the types of WordPress web hosting out there:

different types of hosting

Shared website hosting

Shared hosting is the simplest and least expensive, but it comes with tradeoffs. Your site will share resources like disk space, bandwidth and memory with (sometimes, hundreds of) other sites on that one server.

In other words, it's like sharing your computer with dozens or hundreds of other people at the same time: Inevitably it'll get very slow, and you have fewer resources to do anything.

I've seen some shared hosting that hosted torrents (sometimes illegal file sharing) and pornography sites, which ran the risk of others getting pinged as unsafe.

You can easily see how many other sites are hosted on your site with services like Domain Tool's Reverse IP Lookup.

On the up side, if you're just testing an idea, shared hosting can be a quick way to get a site up, often with one-click WordPress installation. I tend to recommend this sparingly, especially if your website is vital to your business.

Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting

I used VPS most often as I find it easy to spin up new sites quickly, and I find they're more nimble and quicker without major cost. VPS hosting is a virtualized hosting solution that is a bit more flexible than shared hosting because VPS provides the ability to run multiple isolated servers on a single physical machine.

VPS can also be less expensive, depending on which host you use and how much power/resources your site requires. It's perfect for folks who have limited budgets or want more control over their server. You can even choose a particular distribution or version of Linux if you want, and it's still cheaper than going with dedicated hosting.

Dedicated Server hosting

If your site is getting more serious traffic – 25,000 up through millions of hits per month – then a Dedicated Server might be the best solution for you. Dedicated servers provide the power and storage of a full machine all for you, so your site can run as fast as possible.

Most often these are used by businesses who have high traffic sites who want to minimize latency in their hosting environment. In a network, latency measures the time it takes for some data to get to its destination across the network. So, the lower latency, the better.

Dedicated Servers also provide more flexibility. Typically, dedicated hosting providers will give you full root access to the machine(s), which gives you complete control over your hosting environment. This is ideal if you're a developer who's very hands-on, and wants to control the whole environment.

Managed WordPress hosting

This is becoming more popular all the time as folks are moving away from shared solutions and wanting better performance while keeping costs down, and don't want to manage their own servers.

Managed WordPress hosting is exactly what it sounds like: Much of the server and site controls are handled by the host, so you have less controls to play with; on the flip side, they do handle issues like speed, security and backups, so there's less to worry about.

These tend to be a bit more expensive than shared solutions; however, they're optimized for WordPress, so you don't have to worry about security or performance issues.

There are several companies that offer Managed WordPress Hosting, but I'd stick with one of these top-rated providers:

WP Engine



What sort of WordPress hosting do I need?

You will need to consider factors such as:

How much traffic do you get on your website?

If you get less than 25,000 views to your site per month, you should consider managed WordPress hosting or a VPS. Each host has different levels of service and add-ons they provide, so compare carefully with your other considerations, such as:

What kind of support does your host provide?

Do they offer 24-hour customer service, or just email and phone support during business hours? I personally prefer to chat with customer service vs. phone calls, and email can sometimes take forever.

How fast is your website loading?

Test out your site with a service like GTMetrix. Though there are many factors that go into how slow a site is, cheap, slow shared hosting can certainly be fixed.

What kind of WordPress hosting features does this company offer?

Are they on the cutting-edge and always improving their platform, or do they just care about getting you signed up and earning money off of you? In the past I've checked out tiny local providers who didn't actually provide any server security, and they shrugged it off when I inquired about it.

Now, security is huge for WordPress sites and should be a major consideration, as it is for the hosts I've mentioned in this piece.

Also consider if they offer:

  • Website backups (a must, in my opinion, though not a dealbreaker),
  • Free SSL certificates (Godaddy does not offer this, and it's a major detractor for me),
  • Free CDNs (Content Delivery Networks, which offload your images to make your site load quicker; CloudFlare is a common one),
  • Free site migrations (again, not a dealbreaker, but a nice-to-have),
  • Staging sites (so you can test updates and changes to your site before taking them live),
  • Dedicated or priority support,
  • A money-back guarantee, and how long is it for?

Some hosting companies offer only a 30-day money-back period, which means that if your website isn't quickly loading or has downtime after this time span you won't get your money back. But it can be a great testing ground. Others have great guarantees such as SiteGround's 45 day risk-free trial with full money-back guarantee.

Personally, I've used WPEngine, Dreamhost, Siteground and WPX Hosting for years, and find them all to be above-board and reliable.

But what about email?

Email accounts are often provided with many shared hosts, and I've a couple clients who won't use anything else.

However, I'd advise against this and use a separately-hosted solution like Google Mail. Separately hosted email has several advantages:

  • Most, like Google, have superior spam controls. Often host-based email has manual spam controls, and I never found them to be adequate to keep out most spammers while keeping your good emails;
  • It's not that easy to move years of backlogs of emails off a server; it's definitely doable, but it can be a huge pain and costly. I'm a fan of BitTitan, which is pretty darn comprehensive on the various mail systems.
  • Some hosts are more focused on their website hosting and their email support is terrible.
  • Check out the hosting company's reputation.
  • This is a highly individualized thing, you will get a dozen answers from a dozen developers.

Why don't you recommend Bluehost, HostGator, GoDaddy…?

It's an open secret that many of these once-great hosting companies were purchased by EIG Hosting, who then came in and made many questionable changes. According to this great treatise on EIG, "some customers have noticed a significant reduction in the level of customer/technical support following the purchase of a hosting company by EIG."

Also of note: "Since the purchase of HostGator, some customers have become frustrated with the quality of service. Some have noticed a delay in response time when submitting tickets. Also with accounts being moved from SoftLayer to the EIG data center in Provo, UT there has been an increase in customer complaints."

So while there were some great hosting companies out there, I don't find them as compelling as they used to be. I've had terrible experiences with BlueHost and HostGator support, trying to fix issues that I'd normally be able to do easily on any other service without ever contacting support.

And as for Godaddy, I've had long waits on their customer service, again, for issues that would be easily solved on my own. And, I have found a lot of their products have less useful features than hoped for, for the price.

I also have clients who were on old Godaddy products who were not grandfathered in to updated product packages, and must upgrade to much more expensive products just to upgrade their PHP (the software that WordPress is based upon and needs to function). In short, it's a huge pain.

I still keep my domains with Godaddy because it's as good a solution as any these days, and I'm also part of an advisory panel that will hopefully guide future products. So, I'm hopeful they'll change, as it's an easy go-to for a lot of folks.

This doesn't mean that there aren't fabulous hosts out there, who will help your site run smoothly and with minimal fuss.

Hosting is an integral part of your website's health and well-being, and picking a great host will save you headaches down the line, so choose wisely!

Note: Some links are affiliate links; I may receive some compensation if you purchase from these providers.

July 26, 2021Comments are off for this post.

5 benefits of heatmaps: See how your users are navigating your site

Do you want to know how people are navigating your site? Are you curious if hero images or carousels on your homepage are useful? Do you want to see if visitors are clicking on ads, dead areas, and errors that you might not notice otherwise? If so, then heatmaps should be at the top of your list to review.

Above, a heatmap of a previous iteration of my website. The red colors are 'hot' and what people are clicking on most.

Heatmaps show where users have been clicking while they're browsing your site. They also tell you which parts of the page get clicked more often than others. This information can help improve user experience and conversion rates by highlighting high-value opportunities for optimization.

My favorite tools are HotJar, Crazy Egg and Microsoft Clarity, but there are many other options out there. And heatmaps are a major tool in my arsenal when I do a website audit.

So, let's discuss five benefits of using heatmaps for insights into your website visitors' behaviors!

Benefit #1: You can see how your visitors are navigating your site.

Heatmaps show you which parts of the page get clicked more often than others, so they're great for figuring out where people start to explore and what's engaging them most. It's actual data as opposed to our suppositions, so you know whatever improvements you make will be directly impacting your user experience.

You can highlight high-value opportunities for optimization, like rewording links to areas that people are not clicking on as often, to what may make more sense to them. You can also use heatmaps to measure the success of new content or design changes. This could be by signing up for an email newsletter or purchasing something from you store - anything that's valuable to you.

You'll be able to see how your visitors are using mobile vs desktop sites, since some people prefer one over the other.

Probably best of all, you can see if others are getting errors or not finding what you want them to find—so you can fix it.

Benefit #2: You can see if hero images or carousels work.

Hero images and carousels are often used on websites to highlight the most important information, like a product or service. They're not my favorite design feature, but they're still popular.

Heatmaps show you if more people click through those pages than other areas of your site which can help you decide whether they're worth keeping around, editing the content, or doing away with altogether. They also help determine what content is engaging enough for users to click on or if they keep scrolling.

Benefit #03: You can see how they use mobile vs desktop sites.

Mobile and desktop traffic can have different browsing patterns, so it's important to pay attention to how people are using your site in order to provide a better experience for the type of device they're on.

Many times when you see heatmaps, you'll notice that visitors are clicking more often on items like text links, images, and buttons on a mobile site. This could be because they're using their fingers to tap the screen instead of scrolling up/down with a mouse or trackpad.

Heatmaps also show you how visitors use desktop vs mobile sites which can help inform decisions about design and UX for users who visit through different platforms (like adding better navigation on a desktop site to make it easier for users who are browsing from their phone).

Benefit #04: You can see how users click on dead areas.

Dead space is the area of your page that's not being used (like blank white space or empty content) which might only be seen as wasted screen real estate.

Heatmaps show you which areas of your site visitors are clicking on the most, including dead space. You can then decide whether to remove those blank spaces or focus less attention on them by removing links from that area, for example. Dead space is still important because it's a good indicator of how people use certain parts of your website and might show you where people are getting stuck in menus or not being able to find the content they're looking for.

Benefit #05: You can see if visitors click on errors that you might have missed otherwise.

It's easy to miss things when you work on a website every day, which is why it's important to occasionally take a step back and look at the site from a visitor's perspective.

Heatmaps can show you if visitors are clicking on errors that might otherwise go unnoticed like broken links, missing page content, or not being able to submit form data, for example. These are high-value opportunities for optimization like fixing broken links, content errors, or form design (especially if the site is particularly large).

Heatmaps are a great way to get insight for how your users interact with the site and what they find most interesting. They can help you decide whether or not an ad is effective at grabbing user attention, which areas need more information so that visitors feel fulfilled in their shopping experience there, and if certain pages should be changed based on visitor feedback. Heat maps will give you insights as well into where people spend time looking around and clicking the mouse cursor - it's like someone has taken note of every single detail!

I'm happy to interpret your heatmap findings in a website audit. With other tools, you can optimize your site and make it even more successful than you'd imagine!

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.

May 7, 2021Comments are off for this post.

How to pick 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 so you can pick a theme that addresses your technical and design needs.

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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.

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January 29, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Case study: UX redesign of EDCNavigator.org career diversity site

EDCNavigator.org, or the Executive Diversity Career Navigator, is a subsite of ACHE (American College of Healthcare Executives). It had been worked on by a few developers, but it didn't feel like a true diversity site to me. For one thing, where were all the people?!

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April 26, 2017Comments are off for this post.

ChicagoWebSupport.com launches with levels of WordPress support and maintenance

WordPress support and maintenance is quite a bit of my ongoing business, whether it's "de-hacking" a compromised site or simply optimizing and protecting it. To be honest, WordPress maintenance is not the highest priority on some organizations' long list of to dos, and yet it's a popular target for hackers. So what's a website owner to do? Read more

August 1, 2014Comments are off for this post.

WordPress.TV: Creating A Site Structure for the Future

If you've not had a chance to learn about site structure or information architecture for your website, you've got no excuse now! My 2014 Chicago WordCamp talk on it, A House with No Walls: Creating A Site Structure for the Future is now live on Wordcamp.TV.

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