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Is Your WordPress Site Ready For NanoWriMo?

Is Your WordPress Site Ready For NanoWriMo?


Content MarketingEvery November, aspiring novelists come together online to write 50,000 words of a novel. National Novel Writing Month — which attracts participants from around the world — helps writers put aside their trepidation and focus on getting the words out. 2016 will be NanoWriMo’s 17th year, and it’s expected to be just as popular as ever.

Writers are preparing for the month-long sprint, including a brave contingent who will publish as they write. NanoWriMo is all about overcoming procrastination and one of the best ways to do that is to write in public.

That might seem counter-intuitive, but making a public declaration of intent, and letting your readers see how well you’re keeping up is a powerful motivator. And, even if you don’t want to publish as you write, WordPress makes a great publishing platform after you’ve edited and tweaked your magnum opus.

WordPress offers a solid writing environment, but out-of-the-box it’s better suited to writing and publishing articles than novels. Let’s look at few tweaks you can make to turn WordPress into the perfect NanoWriMo platform.

Chapter For Authors

Chapter for Authors is a new plugin with a number of excellent features for novelists. The headline feature is a new chapter custom post type. It’s possible to organize your chapters using WordPress’s built-in post types, but Chapter for Authors’ chapter posts are enhanced with per chapter character lists, introductory quotes, and other features.

One benefit of using this plugin is that you can publish non-book blog articles alongside your novel while keeping a clear separation.

WP Word Count

Words are the aim of the game in NanoWriMo, so you need to be able to keep track of how much you’ve written each day and in total. WP Word Count is the most flexible word count tool for WordPress. With a shortcode, writers can insert a word count into any piece of content on their site. The plugin also allows writers to keep track of the total words published, both across the whole site and for specific post types.

WP Markdown Editor

I’m a big fan of Markdown. After all, writing is about getting the words onto the page, not futzing with formating. Markdown is a simple markup language that lets writers quickly indicate headings, quotes, links, and images without having to take their hands off the keyboard.

WP Markdown Editor is the most sophisticated Markdown integration for WordPress. It includes an excellent minimal fullscreen mode with a side-by-side editor and preview.

If you prefer to work in the default editor interface, Jetpack includes a Markdown module.

While we’re on the subject of Jetpack, the plugin’s built-in grammar and spell-checking are well worth taking a look at.

Writing Outside Of WordPress

Many writers prefer to use a dedicated text editor, publishing to WordPress after they’re comfortable with what they’ve written. There are any number of excellent text editors that integrate with with WordPress so content can be quickly uploaded without any copy-pasting.

First off, I have to mention the official WordPress apps. The desktop app in particular deserves attention.

For Mac and iOS users, I recommend Ulysses which is a powerful Markdown(ish) text editor with excellent WordPress integration.

I’m less familiar with writing tools for Windows, but feel free to suggest your favorite WordPress-friendly Windows text editor in the comments.

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What WordPress Does (And Doesn’t Do) To Optimize Images

What WordPress Does (And Doesn’t Do) To Optimize Images


Image OptimizationImages make up a large chunk of the bandwidth used by most websites. That makes them an obvious target for optimization. Any reduction in the size of images can have a positive impact on the performance of a website.

Over the last couple of releases, WordPress has introduced several new image optimizations that happen by default. I’ve found that some WordPress users don’t quite understand what is being optimized and what isn’t. An understanding of how WordPress optimizes images is important if site owners are to maximize the opportunity for performance gains, so let’s take a look at what WordPress does with the images you upload to your site.

Responsive Images

Responsive images were introduced in WordPress 4.4. They allow WordPress to serve images that are the right size for the screen on which they will be viewed. There’s no need to send an image 2000px across if it will be displayed on the screen of a 4-inch phone.

WordPress has always generated multiple copies of uploaded images in various sizes, but they were only used when the theme called for smaller images — thumbnails are the obvious example. WordPress now uses the images to provide a responsive experience for visitors.

The main limitation of WordPress’ responsive image implementation is that the image sizes generated by WordPress may not be ideal. WordPress’ developers added an extra size — medium — when they implemented responsive images, but the range of sizes may not be appropriate for every design. It’s up to theme developers to make sure that the right image sizes are being generated.

Image Compression And Optimization

WordPress has always carried out some optimizations on the images it generates, but there were changes in WordPress 4.5 that users should be aware of.

Increased Compression

By default, images are created with a quality of 82 rather than the previous 90. The numbers are given to the underlying image processing library and indicate how high the quality of the image should be, with 100 being the best.

The reduction in quality is largely theoretical. The images look almost identical to the untrained eye. However, images produced at the lower quality use much less storage space and bandwidth.

Metadata Stripping

Most images contain metadata that isn’t useful to a person looking at the image in a blog article or page. The metadata carries information about the image that is useful in various ways — copyright information, color information, data generated by the camera — that don’t benefit the casual website visitor.

WordPress will now strip out much of that data by default.

What WordPress Doesn’t Do To Optimize Images

In addition to understanding what WordPress does to images, it’s useful to know what it doesn’t do.

Plenty Of Metadata Left

Some of the metadata in images is useful to some people — photographers, for example, aren’t happy if EXIF data is removed. In fact, WordPress doesn’t strip all the metadata from the images it creates. The following data is left alone: EXIF, xmp, and iptc data, and icc and icm color profiles.

If you want to stop WordPress stripping any metadata, you can use the image_strip_meta hook, as explained here.

Your Original Image Is Not Altered

When you upload an image, WordPress creates several versions of that image with different sizes, depending on defaults and theme settings. The increased compression and metadata stripping happen when the new images are being generated. They’re not applied to the original image, which remains the same. If you want the original image, which may well be sent to users, to be optimized, you’ll have to do it yourself with a tool like ImageOptim or a WordPress plugin like EWWW Image Optimizer.

Over the last few years, WordPress has become much better at image optimization, and for the most part, users can just go with the defaults.

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Which Links Should You Nofollow On Your WordPress Site?

Which Links Should You Nofollow On Your WordPress Site?


NofollowGoogle uses incoming links as a signal of the quality of a web page. Working under the assumption that links to a page are a vote in its favor, Google uses links to determine where pages should appear in the search engine results. Links are only one of the signals Google uses for ranking, but they’re an important one.

The ideal link for determining the quality of a web page is one freely given by the writer or publisher because they found something useful in the content they are linking to.

In reality, many of the links on the web are not of that sort. People link to sites for many different reasons — because they want to promote a business, because they’ve been paid, or because the link appears in an advert.

Google doesn’t want to consider that type of link when it’s deciding where a site should appear in the search engine results, so it asks site owners to “nofollow” them. Nofollowed links include a property in the HTML link that tells Google’s crawlers not to follow the links to their target.

Nofollowed links look like this:

Don't follow me!

Google asks site owners to nofollow various categories of links.

  • All links that were paid for. It doesn’t have to be a direct handover of cash. If the linker gains some concrete advantage — especially financial — the link should be nofollowed.
  • Links in press releases. Press releases are promotional content; they’re often distributed specifically to generate links in the publications that syndicate them.
  • Advertorials and native advertising. This one should be fairly straightforward: both are promotional content published only because they’ve been paid for.
  • Affiliate links. Again, affiliate links stand to financially benefit the linker, which means they’re unlikely to be a freely given sign of approval of the linked-to page.

You don’t have to mark links nofollow. Google doesn’t own the web and individual site owners can do as they please. However, Google does own the biggest search engine in the world, and it can rank pages according to its own standards. If you sell links, Google is likely to express its displeasure by imposing a penalty that will restrict your site’s potential to rank well.

Nofollowing In WordPress

There are any number of WordPress plugins to help you nofollow links that fall into the category that we’ve discussed below. I find Ultimate Nofollow to be among the best.

Are Nofollowed Links Worthless

Nofollowed links to your site will not positively influence its search ranking, but that’s not the only benefit links have. A link on a prominent site will drive plenty of traffic, even if it’s nofollowed. And it’s more than likely that some of that traffic will create genuine editorial links if the content justifies it.

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What Happens When A WordPress Site Outgrows Its Hosting Environment?

What Happens When A WordPress Site Outgrows Its Hosting Environment?


Hosting EnvironmentSuccessful WordPress sites follow a fairly predictable path. They begin with an idea, which — because no one has a clue it will be successful — is built on a small shared hosting plan. Shared hosting plans are perfect for moderately trafficked sites, but as the sites grow, they need something more.

A WordPress site is a combination of many different pieces of software and hardware. It includes the WordPress application itself, the PHP interpreter that runs the WordPress code, a database to store the site’s content and other data, a web server to serve the pages WordPress generates, an operating system that manages the filesystem, network interface, and dozens of other components — and that’s the simplified list. Each of those components consumes some of the server’s resources. As a site grows and gains more traffic, the resources it uses will eventually grow beyond that which an individual hosting account can cope with. At that point, it’s time to think about scaling.

Let’s start with the simplest WordPress scaling scenario, and then progress to more advanced configurations.

Shared WordPress Hosting

Shared WordPress hosting is perfectly capable of supporting moderate traffic sites, but if your WordPress site grows beyond a certain level, you are likely to experience performance degradations as the server attempts to keep up with the load.

If your hosting account is only just consuming its available resources, it may be possible to squeeze a bit of extra performance out it with aggressive caching and a CDN, but the best option is to plan for the future and scale up to a larger shared hosting plan.

Once your site has grown to the point at which no shared hosting plan can support it, it’s time to think about moving away from shared hosting altogether.

Dedicated WordPress Hosting

With a shared hosting plan, your site shares a physical server and its resources with other sites. With a dedicated WordPress server, your site has access to all the resources of the physical machine. It doesn’t compete with other sites. Dedicated servers are available in a huge range of specifications that range from less powerful than your laptop to enormously powerful servers with many processor cores and dozens of gigabytes of memory.

But what if that isn’t enough to support your site’s traffic?

Here we’ll take a digression to discuss two fundamental types of scaling: horizontal scaling and vertical scaling. With vertical scaling, a server’s resources are scaled up — in essence, you keep moving to a more powerful server when the site outgrows its current home. Obviously, there’s a limit to how far one can go with vertical scaling. A server can only get so powerful, and the more powerful they get, the more expensive they are.

Which brings us to horizontal scaling. Horizontal scaling adds more resources by increasing the number of servers. A group of dedicated servers is called a cluster.

WordPress Clusters

Earlier I said that a WordPress site is built from many different components. When scaling to a cluster, instead of all those components occupying a single physical machine, they are spread across several. The web server might live on one machine, the database on another (or several others), the fileserver on yet another, and so on. The nice thing about WordPress server clusters is that they can, in theory, be scaled indefinitely. There is no absolute limit on how large a cluster can grow (in theory at least, there are practical limitations.)

Clusters have another benefit: they’re great for redundancy and load balancing. If your site grew to epic proportions, it might need ten web servers, in front of which would be placed a load balancer that decides which web server to send each request to. If one of the web servers fails, the load balancer can just send requests to the other web servers until it’s fixed. Clusters are scalable, resilient, and and capable of growing to meet the needs of even the largest WordPress websites.

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WordPress Security: What Is A Patch?

WordPress Security: What Is A Patch?


WordPress SecurityWordPress is a complex piece of software comprising many thousands of lines of code — a mixture of PHP, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. It’s under constant development, which means that all those files are subject to change. Often, those changes will address security issues; that is, they are edits to code that caused a vulnerability.
These changes are often referred to as security patches or simply patches. Have you ever wondered exactly what a patch is and how it got its name? You might think it’s an analogy to patching your clothes when they get a hole in them, but that’s not quite right.

Imagine you have a chunk of code — let’s take a snippet of text from a randomly chosen WordPress PHP file as an example.

WordPress Security Patch

You want to change the function name and various other parts of the file and then have it included in the source code that lives in the main WordPress source repository. You could just make your changes and send the whole file to the repository, but that’s not typically how it’s done. We’re really only interested in what’s changed between the file currently in the repository and the new file.

Security Patch

Often, the process of applying changes is handled by a version control system like Git, which takes care of the sticky details for us, but in the old days, we’d probably have used a program called “diff”. Diff will take a pair of files and spit out another file that contains the differences between the two files. Diff outputs the following for our two files.

Wordpress Patch

The output of diff (or whichever tool is used) is sometimes called a diff, but it’s often just called a patch. As you can see, only the changes are included; all the lines that didn’t change aren’t relevant.

If our developer wanted to send the changes he made to his friend, he would only send the patch. The second developer would take look at the patch, and if she decided that she wanted the changes in her own source code, she’d use a tool called — can you guess? — “patch” to apply the differences to her own file.

All of which is interesting, but it doesn’t explain why patches are called patches. To understand that, we have to look back to the early days of computing. Back then, instructions to computers were stored on cards with holes in them that the computer was able to read. You’d “program” a computer by feeding it a stack of punch cards. If you wanted to change the instructions on the card, instead of making a new punch card, you could just stick a small piece of cardboard with different holes in it onto the larger punch card — you would literally patch the punch card.

WordPress updates typically don’t contain patches as we’ve discussed — they contain replacement files. But those replacement files were made by patching the files in the WordPress version control repository. If you don’t update a WordPress site regularly, its source code doesn’t get the changes that were in the patches. If those patches fixed a security vulnerability, your site will remain vulnerable to exploitation because the source code hasn’t been fixed.

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August 2016’s Best Magento, WordPress, and ExpressionEngine Content

August 2016’s Best Magento, WordPress, and ExpressionEngine Content


Monthly RoundupSince our last roundup, we were very honored to cut the ribbon on our new data center expansion in Southfield, Michigan. If you were unable to attend, check out the video of the ribbon cutting ceremony at the end of the post. In other news, Nexcess Magento Developer Miguel is well into Magento conference travel season, already having spoken at Meet Magento Indonesia and Mage Titans USA. Follow along with him on Twitter as he heads to Meet Magento Poland this month. And coming up next month, don’t forget to join us in Detroit for ExpressionEngine Conference 2016. Without further ado, get into our August roundup below, and if you’re looking for the same great articles the rest of the year, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Enjoy and let us know if we missed anything important in the comment section.

WordPress and Blogging

  • NPR Website To Get Rid Of Comments – NPR is making an announcement today that is sure to upset a loyal core of its audience, those who comment online at NPR.org (including those who comment on this blog). As of Aug. 23, online comments, a feature of the site since 2008, will be disabled.
  • Company Behind WordPress Opens .blog Domain to the Public – The company whose software helps to run a massive number of mainstream media sites and personal blogs alike, Automattic (the organization behind WordPress.com), has announced the rollout of its .blog domain.
  • How to Implement Google AMP on Your WordPress Site as Easily as Possible – With the news that Google will be rolling out its accelerated mobile pages (AMP) to all organic listings beyond the ‘Top Stories’ you’ll be forgiven for getting a little bit anxious. Don’t worry. There are five solid reasons why you don’t need to panic….
  • WordPress Maintenance: How To Handle Downtime The Smart Way – The last thing that anyone wants is for their site to be inaccessible to visitors, but sometimes it’s necessary. Taking a site offline is a serious step, but it’s often better than leaving it available while work is ongoing.
  • Yoast: Your Complete WordPress SEO Toolkit – Driving your WordPress website toward a higher Google ranking involves constant tweaking, which can mean hours of detailed work. Enter Yoast SEO: the one WordPress plugin that can optimise your entire site.

ExpressionEngine

  • 8 Reasons Anabliss is an ExpressionEngine Advocate – When it comes to delivering in the world of digital, how do you decide on the right solution in a such a dynamic marketplace? We make our choice by empathizing with our clients’ unique challenges.
  • Performance Optimization: A Tale of Two EE Sites – Performance matters. Tune in to hear real-world examples on how Lea and Emily tackle their client site speed issues! From fixing emergencies to thoughtful rebuilds, we discuss the specific ways we manage client expectations, budgets and resources while isolating bottlenecks.
  • SEO Case Study: Moving Keb’ Mo’s website from WordPress to ExpressionEngine – In late July we migrated Keb’ Mo’s website from WordPress to ExpressionEngine. This was not a redesign, but instead a mirror of the WordPress site. Aside from the mobile menu (which used a WordPress plugin), the only difference is the responsive framework which went from Skeleton to Bootstrap. Skeleton is actually a lighter weight (albeit outdated) framework.
  • ExpressionEngine 3.4.2 Released – ExpressionEngine 3.4.2 is available today. This is a patch release with 21 bug fixes and a handful of small improvements: you can now squelch developer log alerts in production environments and your titles.
  • ExpressionEngine Conference 2016 – We’re proud to be the presenting sponsor for this year’s ExpressionEngine Conference in Detroit. Check out the conference website for the speaker schedule and profiles.

Magento and eCommerce

  • Getting Started with AMP for E-commerce – When the AMP Project first launched, the initial use cases and feature development focused on building AMP to support news and blog content. However, the AMP Project’s ambition has always been making the consumption of any type of mobile content vastly better and faster than we had seen before.
  • Choosing a Hosting Company for Magento Store – One of the key elements of building a store on Magento is the right choice of the hosting company. No doubt, stable hosting plays a significant role in a store functioning. In most cases, hosting resources have a direct effect on a Magento web store performance, therefore it is critically important to choose a trusted Magento optimized solution when reviewing hosting offers for the website.
  • Five Ways eCommerce Retailers Can Improve Product Page Conversions – Product pages are at the sharp end of the eCommerce sales funnel, and they should be lovingly crafted to reflect your brand and your customers needs.
  • Magento eCommerce: History and Features of the Most Popular Online Store Platform – In this article we are going to review how Magento eCommerce was born, why it became popular so fast, when the different versions appeared and what functions the system has, following its path all the way until today, until the most modern developments.
  • Magento 1 vs. Magento 2: Should I Stay or Should I Go – Back in November of the last year, when Magento 2 was launched, it garnered a lot of excitement. And, in the next couple of months, the popularity and awareness of it increased manifold.
  • The Definitive Guide to Launching a Magento Website – This guide is designed for merchants of all sizes who are launching a Magento store, either as a new project, or as part of a replatforming effort. We will cover all considerations around the platform and will help you to get the most out of Magento’s out of the box feature set, as well as extending it further.

If you were unable to attend the ribbon cutting for the Nexcess data center expansion last month, don’t despair, we got video!

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The WordPress Authentication Broker Is An Important Move Forward For The REST API

The WordPress Authentication Broker Is An Important Move Forward For The REST API


Authentication BrokerOne of the major motivations for the creation of the WordPress REST API is that it allows developers to easily — or more easily — build WordPress client applications. With the API, developers can build applications that can control most aspects of a WordPress site. However, great though the API is, authentication has been a perennial problem for developers. Until recently, the REST APIs authentication systems were “difficult and incomplete,” making it hard for developers to create applications that offered a compelling user experience. Applications would have to be individually registered with each site before they could be authenticated, putting a significant burden on the app’s users.

If a developer made an iOS app for WordPress that allowed for the easy uploading of photos — a sort of personal Instagram — that application would have to be registered on each site to which it would be authenticated to upload images. Ideally, a user should be able to install the app and then authenticate with their site and account, regardless of whether the app had previously been registered on the site.

For services like Facebook, this is not so much of a problem — an application that needs to authenticate with Facebook to access a user’s account need only register in one place — with Facebook.

There are millions of WordPress sites that an application may want to authenticate with, and registering on each of those sites is next to impossible — not to mention the terrible user experience it creates. That developers would have had to make such demands on their users was probably holding back the development of applications that made full use of the REST API.

The Authentication Broker — recently announced by WordPress — was created to make the process more straightforward. It is a central system with which individual WordPress sites register using a broker client.

Under this system, when a user wants to connect an application to their site or a site on which they have an account, the application communicates with the broker, which then asks the site to register the application and issue credentials, which are passed back to the application via the broker. Once that’s done, the application is able to authenticate with the WordPress site using the usual authentication process (OAuth 1 in this case).

Both the authentication server and client are open source, and it’s possible for an organization to use the broker application to set up an internal authentication broker, allowing companies to register their own sites and only allow specific applications to authenticate.

Authentication is a difficult problem, especially distributed authentication. The WordPress Authentication Broker is an excellent step towards the creation of a truly secure and distributed WordPress ecosystem.

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Can WordPress Be Used For Enterprise Resource Planning?

Can WordPress Be Used For Enterprise Resource Planning?


Enterprise Resource PlanningWhen most of us think of content management systems, we have in mind a tool that can be used for building websites and blogs. But content management systems — including WordPress — can be used for much more than web publishing. The ability to categorize, process, filter, display, and control access to information are the fundamental building blocks of many different types of software, including enterprise resource planning systems.

Enterprise resource planning tools are used to manage information about the business processes of a company and make that information available to the people who need it. In large corporations, ERP tools are used to manage complex processes that involve thousands of people in logistics, manufacturing, sales, marketing, human resource management, and dozens of other processes essential to business continuity and productivity. ERP is a billion dollar business, and dedicated ERP platforms come with a big price ticket, but many businesses don’t need the full spectrum of features that those platforms provide.

I’m not suggesting that a WordPress-based platform would be useful for the largest companies, but WordPress has everything many SMEs need for a enterprise resource planning.
Having the raw qualities required by ERP isn’t useful in itself, of course. Someone needs to build the tools on top of those capabilities.

For WordPress, there are any number of such tools; it’s possible to build a well-featured ERP system by bringing together the functionality offered by WordPress plugins, but it’d be much nicer to have all that functionality bundled together into one product.

WP ERP attempts to do just that. WP ERP is an open source modular enterprise resource planning tool for WordPress. The core plugin and its human resources and customer relationship management modules are free, and there’s a powerful project management plugin, WP Project Manager, that integrates well with the rest of the modules.

WP ERP is a well-designed system for small and medium companies. To take a closer look at just one of the modules, WP ERP’s human resource module includes features for managing the information of individual employees, employee performance evaluations, department management, employee performance evaluations, leave policy and request management, holiday management, and messaging tools for individual employees and groups. Additionally, the module makes a number of useful graphical reports available for human resources professionals.

Asset management is a key capability of enterprise resource management, and at the moment WP ERP hasn’t quite got that covered, but its asset management module is currently being developed, and with its release, WP ERP will be able to fulfil many of the functions of much more expensive proprietary enterprise resource management tools.

While I wouldn’t suggest that WordPress and WP ERP are the ideal solution for the largest companies, many smaller businesses are likely to find the capabilities they need in WP ERP.

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