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Five Tips To Build A Sustainable WordPress Agency

Five Tips To Build A Sustainable WordPress Agency

Success and income posturing are a constant throughout social media. Across the Internet, freelancers and agency owners tout their high-dollar contracts and big money months. The hustle, grind, and slay lifestyle is glorified through staged luxury lifestyle photos. But eventually, these same people making a big splash, and even bigger claims, slowly fade away or disappear. Their tactics, while initially impressive, aren’t sustainable.

To build a sustainable WordPress agency, you need to dispense with the gimmicks and posturing and take aim at developing a strategy that maintains your agency’s momentum. Success isn’t built overnight, but it’s also not an impossible climb when you know what to pay attention to. 

By realigning your agency processes, you’ll be able to build on your core objectives to turn your WordPress agency into a business that is both sustainable, profitable, and that drives growth.

Constant And Consistent Marketing

When you become a business owner, you also become a marketer whether you like it or not. 

For a services business to thrive, it needs a pipeline full of qualified clients. That means you need to be investing in lead generation and marketing efforts — and it can’t be sporadic.

Marketing efforts can – and should – begin as soon as your business and its brand have been established. The right marketing techniques place you front-of-mind and help to bring you long term business.

Consider this:

  • The best time to market your WordPress services is when you’re booked solid because those efforts create leads that will become future clients. This is the key to ending the feast or famine roller coaster.
  • Clients decide to hire you when they are ready, not when you’re ready. You need constant and consistent marketing to stay top of mind.

Dependable Baseline Income

Earning a dependable base income every month eliminates the tremendous stress that comes from living project to project. 

A stable base income also provides more flexibility and opportunity in future projects, growth planning, and hiring. It is critical for your budding agency to not only offer single website builds and one-off projects, but services that provide reliable recurring revenue. 

Consider offering monthly website support, ongoing retainers, and other long-term services. WordPress is used by 35% of global websites. These site owners know the value of upkeep and you’re in the perfect position to deliver on that. 

Consider this:

  • To get started, set a goal to earn enough recurring revenue to cover 50% of all business expenses. When achieved, extend your goal to cover 100% of all business expenses.
  • If you’re building an agency, aim to secure enough recurring revenue to cover all of your team salaries.

Documented Systems And Processes

Systems and processes are the keys to sustainable business growth. 

When you’re freelancing and working solo, it’s okay to have all of your business systems and processes in your head. If you want to grow an agency, however, you need to document each and every system and process step-by-step. 

Process documentation can start with just a simple spreadsheet. As your agency grows and your client base expands, you can start to build this out, covering each area of your business in more detail. 

As you build out your processes, keep future goals top of mind. What are your plans for 6 months from now? What does your forecast look like in 12 months? Having insight into how your processes may have to change in the future is key to being able to provide clients with the right expectations.

Consider this:

  • Process documentation creates clear instructions that enable delegation and set new employees up for success. Without it, you become a bottleneck that prevents forward progress.
  • Documenting systems allows you to leverage software automation for repetitive tasks to save time, reduce resources, and increase profits.

Crystal Clear Communication

Ambiguity leads to confusion and uncertainty, which in turn, leads to doubt and procrastination, which in turn leads to inaction and delays. 

When it comes to communication, there can’t be too much and you can never be too clear. Whether you’re guiding your internal team, working with paying clients, or engaged in sales conversations with prospects, clear communication is critical to your success.

Consider this:

  • No matter what you’re doing, all stakeholders need to be on the same page, understand the goals, and know the expectations—and they must be aware of their role, what needs to be done, and when it must be done by.
  • When providing instructions of any kind, provide them in writing, review them verbally, and ask them to be repeated back to you so there is zero confusion.

Strong Administrative Practices

You’re great at what you do—you wouldn’t have started a business if you weren’t—but as a business owner, you now also have to be great at managing your business.

Without a foundational understanding of critical business concepts and the tactical ability to execute on them, your business will suffer and you will struggle to stay afloat. As the owner, you need to learn about bookkeeping, payroll, and taxes, estimating and invoicing, project management, client management, marketing, and sales. 

Consider this:

  • Business owners must create responsible, consistent administrative habits. Without them, it becomes easy to ignore the “paperwork” side of the business when swamped with client work. The problem with this, however, is that the unsexy administrative side of the business is what makes sure you get paid.

Grow Your Agency With Managed WordPress

Focusing on the development of your agency is a time-intensive task. Besides the everyday hustle and bustle of client requests, you’re also dealing with the continued management of existing projects. Very quickly, this can cause growth goals to fall to the wayside as maintenance tasks take over. 

By following the five tips above, you’ll be able to better align your business practices with those growth goals and strategies. Instead of finding yourself on the receiving end of an impossible workflow or uncertain project, you’ll be able to proceed quickly and efficiently; optimizing both you and your client’s time. 

At Hostdedi, we’ve created a solution designed to help you build a sustainable WordPress agency without worrying about the basics. Managed WordPress solutions from Hostdedi take care of the infrastructure, plugin updates, image compression, and more, leaving you with the time you need to develop a winning business strategy and focus on finding new clients. Get started with Managed WordPress today. 

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What are PHP Workers and Why You Should Care

What are PHP Workers and Why You Should Care

Have you ever browsed through your favorite coffee shop’s website and as you check out with that new order of coffee, you end up getting a 504 error after a delay?

Or maybe you were browsing your favorite sports website and as you try to load the next page, it takes a while to load and comes back with a timeout error?

These situations are frustrating, and not what we expect when we look at a site. In both cases, the cause may be not having enough PHP workers allocated to a site. Without enough PHP workers, a site can’t process all site requests that come in if there are a higher number of them. It’s not a good situation, as site speed is incredibly important for converting visitors to sales leads and customers.

What is a PHP Worker?

A PHP worker is essentially a mechanism that handles requests for a website that require back-end processing. Generally, any non-static or cached files that require processing are handled by PHP workers.

This is usually active tasks like an inventory check on a specific item or it could be something as complex as viewing and listing all prior orders for a customer. When a PHP worker is started, it remains persistent until processes are completed or certain conditions are met.

Think of PHP workers as a check-out line at a grocery store where each item that is to be scanned is a PHP process.

If you only have one PHP worker (one checkout line) then everything must go through that single checkout lane, and the cashier can only work through one order at the time. PHP workers can limit the number of concurrent, or simultaneous, transactions on a site. As previously mentioned, if you have only four PHP workers (four checkout lines) the site can only process four transactions at once.

However, this does not mean that the fifth customer (PHP process) or beyond does not get processed. PHP processes are placed in a queue for the worker which means it processes the first request in line then moves onto the next PHP process in the queue. In other words, a long line forms and people start waiting.

Luckily, PHP workers process the information faster than grocery store cashiers. They work very quickly and can clear many and most processes within milliseconds. By having only a few additional PHP workers, you are able to have many more concurrent processes that can be run at one time, meaning more customer orders can be processed at once.

What Happens When You Have Too Few PHP Workers

Let’s say you have only two PHP workers on a site and you have several plugins and a heavy theme. Those two PHP workers will constantly be used only to process plugins and theme processes leaving a queue to build up immediately for new page requests from visitors to your site.

If you are running an ecommerce site on top of this, it will only increase the queue amount. Much like customers waiting in line, some PHP processes will abandon the line. Processes that are not written to abandon the line, or time out, and will sit and wait. Then, they will begin to put a much higher load on server resources. It’s like the checkout line is now wrapping around the block!

PHP processes on a WordPress website can be as simple as the submission of a contact form or a request to geolocate a visitor based upon their IP or zip code.

For eCommerce websites, this can look a little different. Items such as new orders being processed, carts, and customer logins would all utilize PHP workers. The products or descriptions will usually be cached so that generally would not require a PHP process for viewing. Having only three to five PHP workers means that you can only have that many simultaneous transactions on the website and that the PHP workers will process requests in the order they were triggered (just like a shopping line).

How To Lighten The Load For Your PHP Workers

A common problem area to start with for PHP workers is having too many plugins and heavy themes. You can generally help alleviate issues caused by a bloated website with these tips:

  1. Add site caching with a plugin
  2. Reduce external calls to remote sites
  3. General site optimization

Site optimization can get complicated, especially with sites that experience heavier traffic which requires more attention to detail. Generally, the larger the site, the more efficient the site must be in the way it requests its styles, products, orders, and customers. This way, you utilize the PHP workers for general site functionality less and PHP workers can process what matters – your traffic – effectively.

Hostdedi plans come with enough concurrent users for even the largest of sites to manage traffic.

With Hostdedi, you already have 20 concurrent users as part of an XS plan. This increases in increments of 20 as you move up to the XXL plan (which has 120).

Other managed application platforms offer anywhere from two to four PHP workers in introductory offerings. Hostdedi Managed WordPress and WooCommerce also have server-side caching built-in which helps minimize the use of PHP workers to process static content, allowing the PHP workers to process requests from the people who matter most: your customers.

Maintain a Faster Site with More PHP Workers

PHP workers can manage thousands of processes each, however; many factors come into play, including:

  • How many exterior calls are they making?
  • How many plugins are competing with inquiries to the database?

Additionally, adding PHP workers to a site will also increase the resource allocation being used from the server. The more PHP processes running, the more RAM and CPU allocations will be needed, thus creating heavier loads on the server and having as much optimization as possible can reduce that server load. PHP workers are key, but they are not magic, one-size-fits-all solution.

The more plugins (even inactive ones), the more PHP workers are utilized to process non-static requests. The same applies to heavily featured themes. For this reason, it is always a good idea to use caching and a CDN to help reduce the task load for PHP workers. This will optimize your site to process customer requests in the fastest manner possible.

  Start your WooCommerce store knowing that it’s ready to handle traffic requirements. Learn more.

The post What are PHP Workers and Why You Should Care appeared first on Hostdedi Blog.

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WordCamp US 2019 Roundup from Hostdedi & Liquid Web

WordCamp US 2019 Roundup from Hostdedi & Liquid Web

Liquid Web is a proud sponsor of the WordPress community. This year was our first year as a global sponsor, which means we sponsored every WordCamp in North and Central America. That also included WordCamp US 2019 in St. Louis at the platinum level. This is part of our ongoing commitment to support the WordPress open-source community that supports us.

WordCamp US 2019 is the largest WordCamp in North America each year. Not only did we sponsor the event, but also two of our colleagues, Chris Lema and Steve Grunwell, volunteered their time to prepare and give presentations to the conference attendees on their active areas of expertise. In total, about 20 of our Liquid Web teammates went to WordCamp US. Below is a roundup of how it went, what we thought and what we learned.

The Liquid Web Booth at WordCamp US

State of the Word

One of the highlights of WordCamp US every year is the keynote speech given by one of the co-creators of WordPress, and CEO of Automattic (makers of WordPress.com), Matt Mullenweg. During the State Of The Word, over 1500 conference attendees gather for an update on this year’s latest developments in WordPress. After this, Matt Mullenweg opens the floor for an open Q&A session with any attendee. It is a very unique event. 

Among some of the more interesting developments in WordPress during 2019 was the release of the Open film, a film about the WordPress open-source community, ongoing developments with the Gutenberg block editor, and other items. Additionally, Matt Mullenweg referenced the 9 goals set for WordPress at the State Of The Word last year in 2018 in this blog post. Most have been accomplished!

Alex Denning, owner of Ellipsis Marketing Agency, gathered a live Twitter thread of the rest of the updates delivered at the State Of The World.

The Talks

Of course, the main attraction during WordCamp US is the community-presented talks. WordCamp US consisted of two days of talks, and each day had three tracks. The last day was a Contributor Day event. At WordCamp, no speakers are paid–the whole conference, in fact, is volunteer-driven. Our teammates Steve Grunwell and Chris Lema presented. Steve spoke to us about testing in WordPress, and Chris spoke on business and strategy. 

In addition, Nathan Ingram from our sister company over at iThemes hosted a panel called “How The WordPress Community Can Embrace The Next Generation.” In this panel, we watched younger WordCamp speakers present on what they’re excited about and what gets them interested in the community. It was an excellent reading and inspiring session.

How The WordPress Community Can Embrace The Next Generation

We also attended the highly anticipated workshop by Rebecca Gill. Rebecca walked attendees through a holistic understanding of what it means to have a solid SEO strategy. As we know for both ourselves and the merchants that we serve, having a solid understanding of SEO is key to success as a web professional in 2019.

All WordCamp US events end with a Contributor Day. Contributor Day is a collaborative effort among the attendees of WordCamps to give back to the WordPress project. Attendees gather in a large room and learn how to make the WordPress open-source project better through their contributions. Contrary to what some think, you don’t need to code to contribute to WordPress. Many teams focused on improving open source marketing, providing support for the open source project, and more. Our team sat in on the development, hosting and marketing contribution teams. 

The People & Their Feedback

Of course, for our teams at Liquid Web and Hostdedi, one of the most exciting parts of going to a large event like this is getting to talk to new and existing customers. This was a great opportunity for us: at our final count, we talked to over 110 people over the weekend! We also met some of our favorite customers such as DC-based Knucklepuck and the fully-remote Beacon Agency. In addition, some of the other sponsors were also people we were excited to meet. We were pleased to see AWS Lightsail and Google sponsoring WordCamp US. Opportunities for technology and collaboration that make the life of a web professional easier and better are apparent at WordCamp US.

The people & their feedback

We also use this opportunity to listen deeply. Our partner team representatives consistently asked one of two questions to prospects depending on if they were technically minded or business minded. Either “Tell me about your business strategy for the coming year” or “What hosting and business processes have you changed to make your life easier?”

We learned about what’s making the web better, and we contributed information about our highly profitable affiliate and partner programs, as well as the time and cost-saving benefits of our Managed WordPress and Managed WooCommerce plans. 

The Activities

Of course, no event is complete without a host of activities to keep everyone entertained and engaged. At the Liquid Web booth we had a photo booth that both employees and attendees used to take photos of themselves, share them with friends, and learn more about our offerings. It was a fun opportunity to kickstart conversations and share in the fun.

We believe that our Managed WordPress and Managed WooCommerce offerings allow web professionals the flexibility and freedom to focus on what really matters: growing your business and staying happy and healthy. For this reason, we decided that one of our swag items would be Liquid Web-branded hammocks. These hammocks were a huge hit! Our key agency partners and affiliates were invited to receive a Liquid Web hammock, and in addition, we gave them to potential new partners and affiliates to enjoy after the event.

 

Finally, the Liquid Web booth served as the recording location over the weekend for theWomen in WP podcast. They interviewed attendees who identify as women about their experiences. At Liquid Web, we have an ongoing commitment to increasing diversity in technology and it shows. Check out the Women in WP podcast recorded episode at our booth on their home page, as well as our own Liquid Web Women In Technology series. 

 

Wrapping It Up

Our team contributed and gained a lot from attending WordCamp US 2019. But you don’t have to travel all the way to St. Louis in 2020 to do the same thing. By checking out the WordCamp Central page, you can find a local WordCamp event near you–and if it’s in North or Central America, we’ll see you there! In addition, 2020 will also bring us WordCamp Europe and WordCamp Asia, in Porto, Portugal and Bangkok, Thailand respectively, for our international WordPress fans. We’re excited to go into 2020 energized for more success with WordPress and WooCommerce. When it comes to your next choice in hosting and managed services for your WordPress and WooCommerce site, consider our Liquid Web application hosting on our Hostdedi platform.

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Carrie Wheeler Talks Innovative Solutions with WIWP at WCUS

Carrie Wheeler Talks Innovative Solutions with WIWP at WCUS



Another year of WordCamp US has come and gone, and we hope everyone who attended – and didn’t attend – found the best hosting solution for their business. This year, our partner Liquid Web was in attendance. Not only did they offer some incredible booth experiences (recap article to come!), but team members also hosted sessions and talked community.

Carrie Wheeler, executive vice president and COO of Liquid Web, talked with the Women in WordPress, discussing her journey to where she is now and how Liquid Web and Hostdedi are offering innovative solutions that help both merchants and content creators to do more. Below are some of our highlights. 

 

On her journey to where she is now

“It’s been a “three decade journey. Started in consulting. I started in software development. Spent a couple of decades in telecommunications […] and along that path got super passionate about cloud hosting.” 

 

On why she has such a passion for cloud hosting

 “I’ve just seen the entire explosion of technology […] and it is just such a huge enabler for businesses.”

 

On creating innovative solutions for the community

“We could not be happier to be a big part of this community. We love the fact that it is the democratization of publishing. [And] we’re putting together the best platform you could possibly have for both content and commerce.” 

 

To hear the full podcast, watch the video below or visit womeninwp.com.

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How the Success of WordPress is Due to its Plugin Ecosystem

How the Success of WordPress is Due to its Plugin Ecosystem



WordPress’s plugin ecosystem is one of its greatest strengths. As we write, there are over 50,000 plugins in the official repository, a number that doesn’t include premium plugins and custom plugins created for individual WordPress sites. Plugins range in functionality from tiny interface tweaks to full-featured ecommerce applications, all taking advantage of the hooks and frameworks built into WordPress by its developers.
About a third of the web runs on WordPress — tens of millions of sites — so we’re used to statistics about WordPress involving big numbers. However, it’s worth taking a moment to think about what a staggering achievement the WordPress plugin ecosystem is and how many thousands of hours of developer time have been dedicated to creating plugins, the vast majority of which are free and open source.
When Matt Mullenweg started work on WordPress in 2003, it was by no means a certainty that there would be a plugin ecosystem. Many early blogging engines were not designed with a modular architecture. Towards the end of 2003, Ryan Boren joined the nascent WordPress project and his work led to the creation of the plugin system we know today.
Mullenweg created Blogtimes, one of the first useful plugins which is still in the plugin repository, although it was last updated 14 years ago. He also created Hello Dolly, which was bundled with WordPress installations to demonstrate how to build plugins.

What Makes Plugins So Powerful?

Plugins are powerful because they allow anyone to create a feature for WordPress without it having to be included in every WordPress site. WordPress’s history would be very different if every possible feature had to be included in WordPress Core. It would be bloated beyond recognition if even a tiny fraction of the features available as plugins were installed as part of the application, not least because it would lead to a horrendously complex interface.
Plugins serve a purpose beyond allowing WordPress to maintain a slimline application and a manageable user experience. The WordPress 5.0 release lists 12 lead developers and 423 contributors. That’s a lot for an open source project, and it’s challenging to organize so many people, especially when most contribute for free. However, a conservative estimate for the number of people working on plugins is hundreds of times the number working on WordPress itself.
For all practical purposes, it’s impossible to organize that many people to work on a monolithic application while hitting deadlines, maintaining security, and adhering to quality standards. Plugins can be developed independently of the core application, by organizations and individuals that manage themselves, that aren’t tied to the needs and release schedules of the main application, and that can create features that are useful to thousands but that aren’t a good use of the core developer’s time.
Without the plugin system, WordPress as we know it wouldn’t exist. It may not have existed at all in 2019, perhaps being remembered only by historians of content management systems. How many WordPress users are familiar with b2/cafelog, the CMS that WordPress replaced?
Thanks to its modularity and the dedication of thousands of developers, WordPress went from strength to strength and is today one of the most important pieces of software in the world.

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Debunking WordPress Hosting Security Myths

Debunking WordPress Hosting Security Myths

Debunking WordPress Hosting Security MythsWordPress hosting is complex. Every WordPress site depends on a stack of software and hardware created by companies and communities with standards and values that are difficult to understand from the outside. This gives rise to misunderstandings and myths, especially where security is concerned.

In this article, we look at some of the most pernicious WordPress hosting myths, with a particular focus on myths that lead to security mistakes.

Small Sites Don’t Get Hacked

The media often reports on significant security breaches where the attacker’s goal seems obvious. The victims store gigabytes of personal data that can be used for identity theft. Many store credit card numbers, which are stolen for obvious reasons. Some attackers are engaged in industrial espionage.

None of that applies to smaller websites with a handful of user accounts: not much useful personal data there. They rarely store credit card numbers, wisely opting to use a payment processor. So why would a criminal invest the effort to hack a small site?

First, it isn’t much of an effort. Most hacking is automated: bots trawl the web for vulnerable sites, compromising them with pre-programmed attacks. The attacker sets his bots loose and waits for the IP addresses to come rolling in.

Second, even a small site is valuable. It has an audience, who can be infected with malware. It can be dragooned into the attacker’s botnet and used to compromise other sites or to take part in DDoS attacks. It can be used for SEO spam. Every website represents a package of bandwidth, storage, and processing power — all of which are useful to criminals.

If It Works, Why Upgrade?

People who don’t spend their lives staring at code on a screen are quite satisfied when technology does what it’s supposed to. They may feel that updates, which bring changes, are an unwelcome disruption. WordPress isn’t hard to learn, but it’s hard enough that the thought of change worries some of its millions of users.

People who use WordPress every day become accustomed to it. They prefer to avoid change for the sake of change, and so they are often reluctant to update. After all, why alter what works.

The developer’s answer to this is two-fold. Software never stands still and has to change to keep up with changes in the world. And, more importantly, updates fix bugs that cause security vulnerabilities. A site that has not been updated for a few months is almost certainly vulnerable. In the previous section, we talked about botnets and automated hacking. It is unpatched content management systems that those bots seek. Eventually, they will find an unpatched site, and it will be hacked.

I’d Know If There Was A Problem

What does a hacked website look like? For the most part, it looks like a website that hasn’t been hacked — especially to its owner. As we have discussed, bad actors breach a website because they want its data, resources, visitors, or SEO potential. If the site owner finds out they have been hacked, the bad actor loses access to those resources. So, they’re sneaky. They try to hide.

If you’re looking closely, you might notice spikes in bandwidth or memory use. If you regularly scan for malware, you might find their malicious code. But if you use the site normally, you’re unlikely to see anything is amiss.

Take SEO spam as an example. When a site is compromised, links to sites the attacker wants to promote are injected into its content. Those links are visible to Google, and they might be visible to ordinary visitors, but they are hidden from people logged in to the site.

That’s why it’s a good idea to regularly scan your site with a tool like Sucuri or Wordfence. They spot malicious code and let you know about it. If you don’t scan, then you are most likely to find out about an attack when Google starts warning your audience that your site is unsafe.

SSL Keeps Your Site Secure

SSL certificates have two jobs. They encrypt data traveling over the network from a server to a browser and back again. And they are used by browsers to verify that they are connected to the host they expect. That’s all SSL certificates do. They are an essential security and privacy tool, but they don’t protect data stored on the site’s server. Nor do they protect a site from attackers seeking to exploit vulnerabilities.

Every WordPress Plugin Is Free

This is a pernicious myth that causes people to download malware-infected plugins. Most WordPress plugins are open sourced under the GPL license. When the developer distributes the plugin, they also distribute the source code. They are required to do so by the license.

Often, open source software is free. It doesn’t cost any money to use. WordPress itself is open source and free. But some open source software is not free to use. Premium WordPress plugins are in this category: they are open source, but the developer expects users to pay a license fee to use the plugin.

When users pay the fee, they get the source code, as required. But open source doesn’t mean the developer has to give everyone the source code — just the people to whom the plugin is distributed, the people who have paid. This is commonly misunderstood. It is perfectly legal to take the code of a premium theme and give it away for free once you have paid for it, but this is discouraged in the WordPress community, for obvious reasons.

You might be wondering what this has to do with security. Bad actors know that people want to use premium plugins without paying for them. So, they take the plugin, add a sprinkling of malware, and give it away for free. These “nulled” or “pirate” plugins contain backdoors and other malicious code. When an unsuspecting WordPress user installs the nulled plugin, they give control of their site to an attacker. Installing pirate plugins on your site is a bad idea.

We’ve covered five common WordPress hosting myths in this post, and there are many more that we might have included. If you’d like to see a follow up post that dives into more WordPress hosting myths, let us know in the comments.

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WordPress Terms New WordPress Users Need To Know

WordPress Terms New WordPress Users Need To Know

WordPress Glossary- WordPress Terms New WordPress Users Need To KnowIt’s easier to get started with WordPress than any other leading content management system, deliberately so because WordPress was designed to make publishing on the web as intuitive as possible. However, your introduction to WordPress will go more smoothly if you understand a handful of key concepts. In this short glossary, we’re going to look at nine concepts that are important to understanding how WordPress works, concepts that will prove useful to you as you write, publish, and manage your WordPress site.

Posts And Pages

WordPress organizes web pages into two groups: posts and pages. Posts are, essentially, blog posts, although they might be used to publish videos, podcasts, or other media. The most important thing to know about Posts is that they are displayed in reverse chronological order on the posts page, which is often the homepage of the site.

A page is any other webpage on your site: the About page, or a landing page, for instance. Pages are not displayed in blog listings, but they typically appear in navigation menus.

Open Source

WordPress is open source software. That means WordPress is distributed with its source code, which can be modified by anyone. WordPress development is a collaborative effort between developers working in the open. Because WordPress is open source, it is also free, and it will remain free forever.

User Roles

Each WordPress user has a user role. User roles control what the user has permission to do on the site. The site owner and perhaps other trusted accounts are assigned the Administrator user role. They have permission to change settings, publish and unpublish content, install plugins and themes, and more. Other roles include Editor, Author, and Contributor. An account assigned the Author user role can publish and manage their posts, but they can’t manage other people’s posts or install plugins.

User roles are a key security feature: account holders should be given a user role that grants only the permissions they require. A writer shouldn’t be given admin privileges, and the number of administrator accounts should be as small as possible.

Taxonomies

Taxonomies organize the content on a WordPress site. There are two types of taxonomy, categories, and tags. Categories organize content into groups, often by subject matter. A post can belong to one category. A food blog might have categories for recipes, tool reviews, and tutorials. Categories are frequently used in a WordPress site’s navigation menu, and each category has an associated category page that displays all posts in that category. You can see the categories for this blog in the sidebar, or beneath the article list on mobile browsers.

Tags are a little different. There is no limit to the number of tags a post can have. They are more flexible than categories and are often used to group posts with similar topics. Our example food blog has a “recipes” category, but a recipe for guacamole might also have tags for avocado, dip, salad, and Mexican.

The way a site uses taxonomies affects its information architecture, search engine optimization, and user experience, so it is worth taking the time to devise a logical and coherent category and tag structure.

Database

WordPress is a dynamic content management system. Rather than storing web pages ready-made on a hard drive, WordPress generates them on the fly, running code that gathers data to construct an HTML page the browser understands. The data is stored in a database, a program that organizes and indexes data so that it can be retrieved efficiently. On your Hostdedi WordPress hosting account, the database is a performance-optimized variant of MySQL, the most popular open source database on the web.

As a WordPress site owner, you rarely interact with the database directly, but it is useful to know that content, plugin and theme data, configuration data, and information about users are stored in the database. When you backup a WordPress site, both the files and the database should be copied; it is a common mistake to copy only the files, and that is only a fraction of what makes a WordPress site.

Static Front Page

WordPress started life as a blogging engine, and, although it has since developed into a full-featured content management system, it retains some of the qualities of a platform intended primarily for publishing blog posts. This can be seen in the default configuration for the homepage, which displays a reverse chronological list of posts. That’s good for a blog, but not for a business site, where a landing page or traditional homepage is more appropriate.

The Static Front Page setting, which can be found in the Reading Settings section of the Admin menu, replaces the blog listing with a page of the site owner’s choice. In WordPress parlance, a Static Front Page is just a homepage that doesn’t display the blog listing.

Plugins and Themes

WordPress is a modular system: it has a central core that can be augmented with the addition of software packages. These come in two varieties, plugins and themes. Plugins add extra features and enhancements to WordPress. A plugin may make a small tweak to an existing feature; it may introduce a set of related features, such as with a caching or security plugin; or it might transform a large swath of WordPress’ functionality and user experience, as with a plugin like WooCommerce. There are tens of thousands of free plugins to choose from as well as premium plugins with advanced features and support.

Themes govern how WordPress looks and features related to its appearance. Every WordPress site has a theme that determines its front-end color schemes, typography, and page layouts. Basic themes provide a simple set of appearance configurations whereas more complex themes are packed with features such as sliders and drag-and-drop page builders. As with plugins, there are thousands of free themes and a large market for premium themes.

Caching

As we discussed in the database entry, WordPress is a dynamic content management system: it generates pages as they are requested. Dynamic content generation is key to WordPress’ ability to show different content to users, but it is slower than serving pre-generated content. Caching allows content that was generated in response to a previous request to be served more than once; if the content doesn’t change, it is a waste of resources to generate it for every request. Caching can make WordPress site much faster while consuming fewer server resources.

Caching can occur at many points during the process of serving pages. At Hostdedi, we equip WordPress sites with the W3 Total Cache plugin and install Memcached on all WordPress hosting plans.

WordPress Hosting

Hosting puts a WordPress site on the web. It provides the server that runs WordPress’ code and that supports the database. It also provides a network connection to the internet. There are many different types of WordPress hosting, from shared hosting to dedicated server hosting and cloud hosting.

WordPress hosting providers offer the same basic service, but they are not the same where performance, reliability, and security are concerned. To learn more about what makes a great WordPress host, take a look at how we optimize our WordPress hosting platform.

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Three Tools That Test WordPress Themes For Code Quality and Accessibility

Three Tools That Test WordPress Themes For Code Quality and Accessibility

Three Tools That Test WordPress Themes For Code Quality and AccessibilityWordPress contributor teams recently released Theme Sniffer and WP Theme Auditor, tools that help developers to create themes that adhere to coding and accessibility best practices.

There are thousands of free WordPress themes and thousands more premium themes. Some are excellent, and some are terrible, but most are somewhere in-between on the quality scale. Installing a theme that isn’t coded correctly can cause security or user experience problems, which is why the WordPress project is careful what it lets onto the theme repository.

However, the most diligent theme checkers can’t catch every problematic theme, so lower-quality themes sometimes make it through, especially on premium theme marketplaces that may not be as careful as the WordPress Repository team.

Developers don’t set out to make themes that cause problems. Most want to create a theme that is useful, beautiful, and secure. Problem themes are the result of less experienced developers who don’t understand what is required of a WordPress theme or don’t have the WordPress and PHP skills to create a theme that ticks all the boxes.

Poor-quality themes create a negative user experience, and that’s not good for the WordPress project, which wants interactions with WordPress to be as pleasant as possible. One way to achieve the goal of theme excellence is to provide high-quality documentation for developers. Another is to create tools to help developers spot issues and fix them before they become a problem to users.

Theme Sniffer was recently released by the Theme Review Team. It analyzes a theme’s code to see whether it adheres to WordPress coding conventions, a set of rules the WordPress project believes should be followed by anyone who develops a WordPress theme.

Image: https://ps.w.org/theme-sniffer/assets/screenshot–1.png?rev=2045224

The rules say how PHP files should be indented, whether single or double quotes should be used, how database queries should be formatted, and more. This might seem trivial, but coding standards help developers to maintain consistency throughout their projects, provide guidance about how to handle certain coding dilemmas, and make it easier for developers to collaborate — something that is particularly important for open source projects.

Accessibility is a particular problem for WordPress themes. Many themes that appear to be well-made pose problems for users with accessibility issues because the developer doesn’t follow accessibility best practices.

WP Theme Auditor is an NPM tool that examines WordPress themes with the aXe API, which includes tests to make sure a theme doesn’t provide a negative experience to people who have accessibility issues, including people who use WordPress via the keyboard or a screen reader.

Theme Check is a plugin that automatically tests themes for compliance with the official theme review standards. This one is particularly important because theme reviewers use it before allowing themes onto the official WordPress theme repository. If your theme doesn’t pass these tests, it may be rejected.

We’ve discussed the Theme Check plugin before, so take a look at our earlier post for a more in-depth discussion.

Automated testing helps developers to find coding and design mistakes before they’re released into the wild. The tools we’ve discussed make it easier for developers to create themes that are delightful to use.

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Which WordPress News Plugin Is Right for You?

Which WordPress News Plugin Is Right for You?

Which WordPress News Plugin Is Right for You?If you’re a news publisher, a news section is your bread and butter. If you’re a business, a news section provides a place to publish recent successes and upcoming events. If you’re an independent developer, a news section lets you keep your followers up to date on recent changes.

Regardless of who you are, a news section can add value to your site. The question is, how can you integrate it into your site in the best way possible.

WordPress offers a number of plugins to help improve click-through and reduce bounce rate on news items. Most of these come in the form of sliders, grids, carousels, and tickers.

We checked several different news plugins from the WordPress plugin directory to find out which work best. Keep reading to see a narrowed down list of the top six.

The first plugin on our list, WP News and Scrolling Widgets, is one of the more powerful and well known WordPress news plugins. It allows sites to create, manage, and display news content through widgets, sliders, and grids, in addition to being a news management tool separate from WordPress pages and posts.

Once installed, the plugin adds a News tab to the WordPress admin panel. In this tab, users can easily add, edit, and manage news content. The news editor itself is very similar to the standard editing interface you’ll find with WordPress posts and pages. It allows you to create content, set an excerpt and feature image, and select what categories and tags should apply.

The News tab in the WP News plugin

Once you’ve created content, a range of shortcodes are available for site owners to make customized news widgets. The news widgets can filter content based on category, date, and type. Customizations can also be made to how content is displayed. A guide on managing this process can be found in the How It Works subheading.

By default, WP News does not offer a huge number of features, and its only real benefit is the management section. For customization, you’ll find just four shortcodes for displaying content in either grid or list views. If you pay and upgrade to pro, your options increase significantly.

How WP News Shortcode works

Pro offers over 120 designs, along with 6 shortcodes, Visual Composer page builder support, a recent news display type, 100% multi language support, the ability to add custom CSS, and drag and drop ordering for content organization.

Pricing for pro starts at $149 for a personal, lifetime license. If news is a big part of your site, it may be worth paying for the added functionality. If you don’t want to spend anything, it’s probably better to stick with something else on this list.

Pros

  • Incredible customization options
  • 120+ different layouts and the ability to use Google Fonts
  • Integration with social media
  • Custom CSS

Cons

  • Requires premium to get the most out of it

Fancy News is a simple and easy to use news slider plugin. Instead of adding a complex series of steps to the process of selecting what news is show, Fancy news provides a single, easy to use shortcode generator in the Tools section of the WordPress admin interface.

Unfortunately, this provides only a limited number of options for customization, as well as content curation. For example, recent news cannot be featured without the aid of an RSS feed to pull from. Design-wise, typical customizations can be made, including size, excerpts, speed, color, and links.

Fancy News Customization options

Fancy News is a great free editor, but doesn’t offer some of the functionality you’ll find with WP News and Scrolling Widgets.

Pros

  • Allows for automatic filtering of news content based on your preferences
  • Offers a shortcode builder to maximize the plugin’s capabilities
  • Supports auto sliding

Cons

  • Lacks some of the powerful features found in other News slider plugins
  • Relatively basic customization options

WP News is a stable, easy to use news plugin that allows for news sites to create and display customizable sliders, carousels, and news tabs.

As far as news plugins go, WP News offers a no-frills, easy to manage news curation experience. By default, you’ll find six different WordPress widgets included, with each including its own style options. The customization here is limited, as can be seen by one of the features being “Unlimited Color Variation”.

Despite this lack of customization, the plugin itself is very lightweight and requires fewer server resources when compared with alternatives. Moreover, WP News comes with a unique feature you won’t find elsewhere on this list: it is an Elementor Addon.

Elementor is a custom WordPress page builder. Used by over 2 million sites, it provides users with a drag and drop interface for creating new content and optimizing old.

The WP News addon for Elementor means improved integration, so site builders can create complex user experiences more easily, while also implementing a lightweight news plugin for news curation.

WP News is available for free from the WordPress plugin directory.

Pros

  • Simple, easy to use news plugin
  • Support for sliders, carousels, and tabs
  • Is an Elementor addon

Cons

  • Lacks some of the functionality of alternatives
  • Limited support
  • Requires Elementor to work

Simple News is another lightweight news plugin designed to allow content creators to output unordered lists. It does this by adding a new post type called “News”.

In terms of customization, Simple News offers four image sizes, and a single style for the widget itself. It is possible, however,  to remove the default and insert your own CSS. Unfortunately, this isn’t as easy as some of the point and click customization interfaces offered by alternatives.

Simple News customizer is incredibly simple

Overall, Simple News is great if you’re looking for something simple. Otherwise, it may be better to create your own custom news feeds with the coding knowledge you would put into custom CSS here.

Pros

  • Adds a new post type “NEWS” to the WordPress editor
  • Easy to use Shortcodes
  • Easy to add widget
  • Ability to filter results by Category ID

Cons

  • Advanced Customization requires CSS knowledge
  • Lacks functionality compared with alternatives

One of the best news tickers available, Ditty News Ticker lets site owners create customized news tickers across their site. An unlimited number of ticks can be added, with the ability to edit content, links, and destination (new or same tab).

From a design perspective, Ditty News Ticker also allows you to edit how the ticker appears in pages. You can change dimensions, speed, display type, and more. Once you decide on the ticker settings, you can easily insert into pages, posts, and widgets with either shortcode or a direct php function.

Ditty News Ticker editing interface

 

The ability to add unique ticker content is something you don’t find with several other news tickers, and means you can optimize content based around your goals, instead of just settling on the default.

Pros

  • Great customization options compared with other tickers
  • Ability to add custom shortcode easily

Cons

  • Somewhat difficult to navigate

More lightweight than Ditty, PJ is a news ticker that does what it says on the package and little else.

Edits to the look and feel of the PJ News Ticker must be performed through the settings section of the WordPress interface. From here, it’s possible to edit the header, color scheme, speed, font size, and content.

PJ News Ticker Settings

Once you’ve decided on what you want the ticker to look like, you can easily insert it into your site with shortcode. This allows you to select custom post types, categories, or the 5 most recent posts.

PJ won’t give you the same level of customization as Ditty, but it does provide a solid, easy to manage news ticker capable of automatically delivering your most recent content.

Pros

  • Easy to use interface
  • Lightweight plugin that requires few resources

Cons

  • Shortcode customization can be troublesome
  • Lacks the customization options of other news tickers

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What Happens When A Link To Your WordPress Site Is Clicked?

What Happens When A Link To Your WordPress Site Is Clicked?

What Happens When A Link To Your WordPress Site Is Clicked?You’re reading this article, which means you clicked a link, a string of characters that uniquely identifies this document, one of the billions on the web. You might have clicked a link on the Hostdedi blog’s index page, or a page of Google search results, or a Facebook page. But wherever you came from, you got here in the same way, and that process is what we’re going to talk about.

The Domain Name System

When you click a link in a hypertext document, you ask the browser to download and display the associated content. Before the browser can download anything, it needs to know which of the millions of servers on the web has that page. The human-readable web address (URL) doesn’t encode that information in a way that is useful to machines. The web address must be translated into an IP address that can be used to route information around the web. That’s the job of the Domain Name System (DNS).

There are two types of DNS server: recursive and authoritative. Recursive DNS servers are responsible for finding out the IP address associated with a URL. They’re usually managed by the ISP that provides the internet connection a browser is using, although not always. An authoritative DNS server knows the IP addresses for a chunk of the web. Recursive servers ask authoritative servers for the relevant IP address.

Recursive DNS servers are like librarians: they know a lot, but not everything. Often they need to consult authoritative external resources to answer a question, and in the DNS system, that’s the authoritative DNS server.

The browser sends a request to the recursive DNS server. If it knows the IP address of the site, it sends it to the browser immediately. If it doesn’t, it has to ask authoritative DNS servers. Authoritative DNS servers are organized in a hierarchy, an upside-down tree. At the top are root servers that know which authoritative DNS servers are responsible for .com, .net, and so on.

If the host’s web address is blog.nexcess.net, the authoritative DNS server that knows about .net addresses is asked which server knows about nexcess.net addresses. Then the DNS server that knows about nexcess.net is asked about blog.nexcess.net.

Our authoritative DNS servers know which IP is associated with blog.nexcess.net, so it tells the recursive DNS server the browser queried, which then tells the browser. At this point, the browser has the information it needs to send a request to the server hosting our blog.

A Note On Simplification

In this article, we’re focusing on DNS, HTTP, and TCP. These protocols and systems are the top of a deep stack of technologies, so our description is partial — we’re missing a lot out because it’s not relevant to most WordPress clients.

The HTTP Request

The browser knows the IP address of the server hosting our blog, so it sends the server a message announcing that it would like to open a connection. There is a bit of back and forth chatter between the browser and the server, following which a TCP connection is established between the two. TCP/IP is the network protocol one layer down from HTTP, the protocol of the web.

The server and the browser are talking to each other, so it’s time for the browser to get to the point. It sends the server a message that looks something like this:

GET /a-blog-article HTTP/1.1
Host: blog.nexcess.net

This asks the server to retrieve the resource /a-blog-article on the server at blog.nexcess.net. Assuming that such a resource exists, the server sends a response, which includes headers with details about what is being sent and a response body — the HTML of the article itself.

Now the browser has the HTML, but before we talk about the rendering process, let’s loop back to look at what happened on the server before the HTML was sent.

WordPress

WordPress doesn’t send the browser pre-made HTML. When the browser sends a request for a page on a WordPress site, the HTML is built on-the-fly in the milliseconds between request and response. WordPress is composed of dozens of files in the PHP programming language and its these files that build the page. When they run, the PHP files combine data from the database with templates to create a complete page of HTML.

It is this ability to generate HTML dynamically that makes WordPress so flexible and powerful. Each request can be answered with different content, providing a unique experience to each user. HTTP itself is stateless: it remembers nothing between requests, which would make a complex session-based web application impossible. But with session cookies and dynamic page generation, WordPress can provide an app-like experience from the server.

If you want to know more about how WordPress generates pages, take a look at What Is The WordPress Loop?

The Browser

The browser has the HTML document, but there is more to be done before it can render the page. A web page is made of more than just HTML. HTML controls the structure of the document and its textual content, but its appearance is determined by CSS. Many pages also include JavaScript for interactive or dynamic features.

CSS and JavaScript files are linked to in the <head> section of an HTML page. The browser sees those links, downloads the resources, and uses them to shape the final page. Once this initial data is downloaded, the JavaScript is executed, and it may want to download more resources from third-party servers. Each resource included in an HTML page kicks off a response-request cycle similar to the one we have already described: DNS, TCP connection setup, HTTP request, and so on. You can see why including lots of third-party resources makes for slow page-loads.

Once everything is fetched, the browser has what it needs to render the document and display it to the user.

Small Delays, Large Latencies

As you can see, a lot happens between a click and a rendered web page. Small delays at each stage add up to substantial latencies. The browser can’t do anything until the DNS server sends it the right IP address. If the web hosting server is slow to respond, the browser is left waiting. If WordPress doesn’t have the resources it needs to quickly execute PHP files and query the database, page rendering is delayed. Web pages that fire off a lot of additional requests and include multiple large JavaScript files introduce numerous delays. Geographic distance between the server and browser slows everything down.

Responsibility for optimizing each of these steps is split between the web hosting provider and the site owner. We take care of DNS performance, network optimization, server resources, and more, ensuring that we can deliver data as quickly as possible. But as a site owner, you are responsible for optimizing page sizes and the number of external resources each page loads.

Together, our performance-optimized hosting and a well-optimized front-end experience make for a fast and responsive user experience.

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