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Why Doesn’t My WordPress Theme Look Like The Demo Theme?

Why Doesn’t My WordPress Theme Look Like The Demo Theme?

WordPress ThemeWhen I first used WordPress, several years ago, I bought a premium theme from a well-known marketplace. I decided on that particular theme because I liked the way its demo site looked. Most theme developers and marketplaces provide a demonstration site so that potential buyers can take a theme for a spin before they buy it.

However, when I installed the theme, I was disappointed to discover that my site looked nothing like the demo site. The basic components were all there, but it looked nowhere near as impressive as the site that had influenced me to buy the theme in the first place.

After several years using WordPress, I understand why this happened. I was recently talking to a friend of mine who was trying to set up a new WordPress site — her first — and she encountered exactly the same disappointment. I’d like to explain why it happens and what new site owners can do about it.

Demo Sites Are Built To Sell

In the worst cases, demo sites are simply dishonest. The theme developers put a lot of time into perfecting the demo site, which can include adding plugins and features that don’t come with the theme. After all, these are web designers and developers — they know how to make a site look good with or without a theme.

But it’s not always, or even frequently, the case that a demo site misrepresents a theme. They represent the best possible end result, but it can be quite easy to achieve the same outcome. It all depends on the theme and the developer. Before you spend a cent, take a close look at the theme’s ratings and its support forum, both of which you’ll find on the theme marketplace. Satisfy yourself that there are happy users out there.

Install The Sample Content

A newly installed WordPress site has next to no content, so even the best themes will look underwhelming compared to the demo site, which is full of text and professional photography.

The best developers make sample content available to users, often the same sample content used on the demo site. If the developer makes sample content available, you should be able to find out how to install it in the theme’s documentation. If not, ask in the support channel.

Installing the sample content will give you a much better approximation of the theme’s appearance and capabilities as you work with it to add your own content.
If the developer doesn’t make sample content available, take a look at the WP Example Content plugin.

Keep in mind, you should not use the sample content on your live site — it may be an infringement of several people’s copyright.

Read The Documentation

Themes come in many different types, ranging from bare-bones theme frameworks to comprehensively designed layouts with almost no flexibility. If you’re a WordPress novice and want to get up and running quickly, I suggest choosing the latter — all you’ll need to do is fill in your content and you’ll be good to go.

Whichever type of theme you choose, make sure that you read the accompanying documentation. Any theme worth the money will come with a comprehensive set of instructions that explain how it’s supposed to be used.

Hire A WordPress Professional

If you don’t have the time or the patience to learn how to set your theme up properly, there are many WordPress professionals who would be happy to help. Most will be capable of installing and configuring a premium theme quite quickly, so it needn’t be an expensive step.

Don’t be discouraged because your site doesn’t look exactly the way you imagined it when you install your theme, with a few tweaks and some great content, it will come to life.

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Why Are WordPress Developers So Excited About The New Content API Endpoints?

Why Are WordPress Developers So Excited About The New Content API Endpoints?

EndpointsWordPress 4.7 introduced many new features and enhancements. Users are most likely to be interested in the Customizer enhancements or the ability to quickly activate starter content for new themes. But it’s the inclusion of new content API endpoints that has developers talking. While the new endpoints don’t directly change the experience of WordPress users, they will enrich WordPress ecosystem.

First, what’s an API? API stands for Application Program Interface. That sounds complex, but an API is just a way to interact with a piece of software from the outside. In this case, we’re talking about a REST API, which can thought of as a set of URLs. When you send a request to the API using a URL — which is basically a web address — you’re telling WordPress that you want it to do something.

When you or I visit a page on a WordPress site, we click on a web address and WordPress sends back a web page that our browser displays. The REST API works in the same way, but it exposes much more functionality than a standard web address. For example, the URL may instruct WordPress to create a new post.

Until recently, using the rich functionality of WordPress from an external application was difficult and inflexible. The API makes it simple to do almost anything that can be done in the admin interface from an external application. It’s possible to write an entirely new admin interface that isn’t tightly coupled to WordPress’s technology stack. Any application that can send an HTTP request (and has the right authentication) can interact with any WordPress site.

For developers, this is liberating. They can use their favorite programming languages and frameworks to create rich interactive experiences while benefiting from all the battle-tested content management functionality WordPress brings to the table.

I’ve been talking about how WordPress applications can use the API, but it’s important to understand that by application I mean any piece of software that interacts with WordPress, including plugins, themes, mobile apps, text editors, and much more.

A couple of years ago, when Matt Mullenweg said, “Learn JavaScript, deeply,” this is what he was getting at. JavaScript is the primary language of front-end web development. It’s the only programming language that runs natively in the browser, and the WordPress REST API allows developers to hook their JavaScript front-end applications directly into WordPress.

Until the merging of the REST API, theme developers had to build themes in PHP that were tightly coupled to the hooks and functions that WordPress exposes. It was the same for plugin developers. The REST API changes all that and heralds big things for the future of the WordPress ecosystem.

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WordPress.org Warns Plugin Developers Not To “Incentivize” Plugin Reviewers

WordPress.org Warns Plugin Developers Not To “Incentivize” Plugin Reviewers

Plugin ReviewersWordPress.org has warned plugin developers against paying or otherwise giving incentives to users for reviews, whether those reviews are positive or not. Until recently, there was no clear guideline about what was acceptable where review incentives were concerned, but a recently published blog post makes it clear that the WordPress.org team are strongly opposed to paid reviews.

“The WordPress.org plugin and theme directories are for users to write their experiences, not for companies to use market [sic] their products. A compensated or recruited review should be posted on someone’s own site, the reviewers own site, or the 3rd party site itself.”

User-generated reviews are a powerful mechanism for determining the quality of a plugin, but they put all the power in the hands of reviewers. A one-star review can negatively impact the perception of a plugin. That would be fine if every review was a good faith assessment of the plugin, but many are not. Reviewers may not understand the purpose of the plugin, and many negative reviews are simply the result of a desire to harm the plugin’s developer or to influence the developer to provide free support.

Malicious reviews are far from the only problem developers face. The majority of satisfied plugin users don’t leave reviews. A plugin can be excellent, but you wouldn’t know it because of the tiny amount of reviews it has attracted.

From the perspective of the user, that’s understandable — they gain nothing by leaving a review, which is why some developers have taken to offering inducements that may include direct payments or discounts on premium plugins.

Incentivized reviews can impact the reliability and trustworthiness of the review system as a whole. User reviews exist so that plugin users can share their experiences of plugins. If they’re being paid to do so, there’s a strong likelihood that their review doesn’t reflect their experience. The result is a review system that can’t be trusted — even if the majority of reviews are accurate, users can’t trust them because they have no way to determine which are given freely and which are paid for.

The WordPress team considers incentivized reviews a form of spam, in much the same way that Google considers paid-for links a form of spam. If reviews and links aren’t given freely, they’re not trustworthy.

It should be made clear the blog article explicitly states that WordPress.org is only concerned with reviews published on their platform. Incentivized reviews posted on the developer’s site and on third-party sites are not their concern.

What do you think? Is it OK to pay a reviewer for their time, or is the WordPress team justified in taking a hard line on the issue?

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What Do Facebook’s Newsfeed Changes Tell Us About Quality Content?

What Do Facebook’s Newsfeed Changes Tell Us About Quality Content?

Facebook NewsfeedFacebook is a vital source of traffic for many web publishers, but they are at the mercy of the social giant’s ever changing standards of what constitutes quality content. Those standards dictate the content that appears in users’ Newsfeeds, and the order in which it is ranked.

Clickbait works. Publishing empires have been built on it; some of which have honed the art of the clickable headline to fine edge. Clickbait is one of those “I know it when I see it” phenomena. It can be hard to define, but everyone knows it when they come across it in their feeds.

Facebook, which believes its users don’t want their Newsfeeds full of clickbait, has been working on an algorithmic definition it can use to filter out low-quality clickbait. For some publishers, that’s bad news. Many have seen their Facebook referrals plummet in recent months. Facebook is quite open about how they detect clickbait. All publishers who want to do well on Facebook should consider how their content would hold up under the algorithm’s scrutiny.

Bounce Rates

As I said, clickbait works, but after a user has clicked on the headline, they’re almost always disappointed by the content. Many will click, scan, and immediately go back to Facebook. Facebook can use this information to limit the appearance of low-quality content and misleading headlines in Newsfeeds.

Publishers should ensure headlines are relevant to the linked content. This should be obvious, but even big newspapers pick out a small detail in an article and make it the headline feature, particularly if that detail is titillating, has shock value, is likely to outrage, or otherwise produce an emotional reaction. The content rarely lives up to the promise of the headline, and users don’t stick around for long.

Of course, this isn’t the only way content produces high bounce rates. If the content is of a poor quality or is boring, users will bounce.

The lesson to be learned is this: if you’re going to publish content and share it on Facebook, make sure it’s content that a reasonable person would want to read.

You Won’t Believe What Facebook Did Next!

Facebook’s data scientists analyzed many thousands of headlines to discover the typical pattern of clickbait headlines and train algorithms to recognize them.

“First, we categorized tens of thousands of headlines as clickbait by considering two key points: (1) if the headline withholds information required to understand what the content of the article is; and (2) if the headline exaggerates the article to create misleading expectations for the reader.”

Facebook’s team identified phrases used in clickbait and will filter content that contains those phrases. If your Page consistently produces clickbait, it’s not just the clickbait content that will be penalized. Facebook will reduce the likelihood that any content produced by a Page or domain features prominently in Newsfeeds. Clickbaiting can negatively impact every piece of content your Page or site shares on Facebook.

The lesson here is obvious: try not to publish clickbait. Publish valuable content with headlines that accurately represent that content.

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Finding And Fixing Broken Links On Your WordPress Site

Finding And Fixing Broken Links On Your WordPress Site

Broken LinksLinks are an important part of the web, but they’re fragile. Every link is a pointer to a fixed location, and the web is constantly evolving, which means links break all the time — a process called link rot. When a user clicks on a broken link they see an error instead of the content they expect.

Why should you care about broken links on your WordPress site? One reason is that they cause a poor user experience. It’s no fun to be reading, click on a link, and get an error. That’s bad enough when it’s a link to an external resource, but it’s even worse when it’s an internal link that results in an error.

When you publish a blog article that contains calls-to-action with links to a product page, you want users to be able to click the links and reach the product page. If the link is broken, they’ll see a 404 error instead. Every visit to a website is a journey. Broken links are like collapsed bridges: they stop users getting where they want to go and where you want them to go.

There’s a lot of debate in the SEO world about whether broken links hurt a page’s ranking. The popular wisdom used to be that broken links are harmful, but Google has indicated that they have no impact on ranking. Even though broken links probably don’t hurt search engine ranking, they can limit the effectiveness of crawling. Google’s crawlers only know a page exists because of links that point to it. Without links, the crawler probably won’t find the page.

There’s also a more subtle SEO issue. Google carries out topic and relevance analysis of pages, and the anchor text and context of incoming links impact Google’s understanding of a page. The effect is probably small, but combined with the crawling problem and the user experience problem, there’s no reason not to spend a few minutes finding and fixing broken links every couple of months.

Find And Fix Broken Links On WordPress

The Broken Link Checker plugin is my preferred tool for winkling out broken links and fixing them. It will monitor your WordPress site for broken links, missing images, and redirects. Broken links can be edited from the plugin’s admin page, which makes it really easy to quickly get rid of all the broken links on your site.

While Broken Link Checker is sufficient for most link-fixing purposes, sometimes I want a more comprehensive view of the link structure and health of website. For that, I turn to Screaming Frog, a web crawler used by many SEO professionals. Screaming Frog will crawl a site and report any 404 errors and redirects, but it will also find duplicate content issues, problems with page titles and meta data, and it can create XML sitemaps.

My usual workflow is to use Screaming Frog when I begin work on a site, and then use Broken Link Checker every few weeks to catch any new 404 errors.

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How Does Premium Managed Hosting Improve Your WordPress Site’s Performance?

How Does Premium Managed Hosting Improve Your WordPress Site’s Performance?

WordPress PerformanceIf you have a WordPress website, you need web hosting built to support the WordPress application. A web host provides the server a WordPress application runs on and the network that connects it to the internet.

It’s not difficult to install WordPress onto a server. It’s not something that should be attempted by someone with no experience of servers and web applications, but if you know how to do it, a WordPress site can be installed and serving users in no time at all.

What’s more, WordPress is free and so is all the software it depends on. PHP is free. MySQL is free. The Linux operating system is free.

If all this software is free and it’s not rocket science to get a WordPress website up-and-running, does it really matter which web hosting company you choose?

I often come across WordPress users who ask this question. They want a WordPress site, and they want to spend as little as possible on the hosting. They don’t understand the difference between a $3-a-month WordPress host and a managed hosting provider like Hostdedi.

For the rest of this article, I’d like to discuss some of the reasons a premium managed WordPress host is worth paying for.

Scale

As I’ve said, it’s easy to throw WordPress onto any old server. It will even perform reasonably well if the site gets next to no traffic. However, if traffic levels peak — if the site publishes an article that gets a lot of attention — a low-powered server simply won’t cope with the load. Latency steadily increases until, eventually, the site stops responding altogether.

Installing WordPress is easy. Making WordPress consistently fast at scale is hard.

Hardware

Cheap hosts use cheap hardware. Enterprise-grade servers are more expensive because they’re more powerful, more reliable, and less likely to develop faults.

It’s possible to take a five-year-old server, cram hundreds of WordPress sites on it, and charge next to nothing, but performance is woeful.

We choose our hardware to maximize the performance of the sites that it hosts, but most importantly, for reliability. Our WordPress hosting servers offer consistently superior performance across the life of a site.

Fair Division Of Resources

If you have a few servers and want to make as much money as possible from them, you aim for volume — to squeeze as many WordPress installations on each server as possible.

Low-end web hosts go a step further: they deliberately overfill their servers. In essence, they sell the same server resources twice (or more). They gamble that most of the sites hosted on the server won’t use all the resources their owners paid for and that sites will have traffic peaks at different times, so it all evens out in the end.

Quite often though, it doesn’t work out and some sites take more than their “fair share” of resources, negatively impacting the performance of everyone else on the server.

We make sure that our shared WordPress hosting clients have the resources they need by limiting the number of sites we install on each server.

Network

A WordPress site’s connection to the network influences its performance. Lots of factors affect network performance: the network interface of the server, the switches and routers in the data center, the data center’s connections to its bandwidth providers, the reliability of those bandwidth providers, the efficiency with which packets are routed, and so on.

Getting all that right is both complex and expensive. We have invested time and money to build extremely reliable networks based on premium Cisco networking hardware connected to several of the best-regarded Tier 1 bandwidth providers in the world.

This is a fraction of the work we do to make WordPress fast and reliable at global scales. You can see more of our optimizations here. This effort makes our WordPress hosting slightly more expensive than the cheapest WordPress hosting on the market, but it’s a small price to pay if performance, reliability, and committed support matter to you.

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What Is Cloaking And Why Is It Harmful To A WordPress Site’s SEO?

What Is Cloaking And Why Is It Harmful To A WordPress Site’s SEO?

CloakingThis August, the company behind the WordPress security plugin WordFence published a blog post revealing that the popular 404 to 301 plugin injected advertising into pages of the WordPress sites on which it was installed. The advertising was for low-grade and potentially scammy services like payday loan companies and escort agencies.

But if you — or the site’s owners — had visited one of the 70,000 sites using the 301 to 404 plugin, you would have seen no trace of the injected ads. That’s because the plugin’s code was sneakily designed to only show the ads when a search engine crawler loaded the page. This technique is called cloaking and it’s seriously discouraged by Google.

The facts of the 404 To 301 plugin case are interesting and have generated considerable controversy, especially with regard to the way WordFence publicized the behavior before giving the developer a chance to respond — something I find understandable given the scope of the problem and the apparently deliberately malicious ad injection.

However, I’m more interested in the general case: I have come across several WordPress site owners who don’t see the problem with cloaking.

Cloaking works by detecting the user agent of a visitor and programmatically showing or hiding content depending on whether the user is a web browser or a search engine crawler. The idea is to influence search engines — either through links or copy – to rank a page for queries for which it would otherwise not rank. It’s an attempt to trick search engines and spam their indexes.

Needless to say, search engines hate this. They want to accurately understand the contents of a page. Cloaking makes that impossible, which is why it’s against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. If Google discovers a site engaged in cloaking, it will almost certainly be penalized.

Now, as with all of these SEO rules, site owners are free to ignore them and roll the dice on not getting caught. But if you care about Google traffic and your domain’s reputation over the long term, cloaking and related techniques are best avoided. That’s why site owners are so angry about the secretive cloaking by the 404 To 301 plugin.

What Doesn’t Count As Cloaking?

Many websites show different content to different users. They might change content based on location, audience segmentation for advertising, time of day, the user’s history and various other factors. Google does not consider this behavior cloaking. It’s important to understand that cloaking is a deliberate attempt to deceive search engines. Content personalization is not usually deceptive and almost every large site on the web does it to some degree. You shouldn’t worry that innocent personalization will have a negative impact on SEO.

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