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 26, 2021No Comments

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.

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 and Crazy Egg, but there are many 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.

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 or not. It also helps determine what content is engaging enough for users to click on and if what you're displaying is interesting enough to keep people 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 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 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

June 7, 2021Comments are off for this post.

Using Cart66, Gravity Forms & Zapier integration to ease complicated WordPress online ordering

Created 2014, updated June 2021.

One of the joys - and sometimes pains - of WordPress is API integration. And e-commerce. WordPress online ordering has grown and become very intuitive - but sometimes the client wants more than what just one plugin does. 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

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

April 27, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Big & small steps to improve your website accessibility

Website accessibility is a huge topic these days, and the sheer amount of information out there can be overwhelming.

Here, I've assembled some steps, big and small, to make your site more accessible incrementally. 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.

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