Category Archives: WordPress

Reimagine your future digital skills

Reimagine your future digital skills

 

It has maybe been awhile since you heard from me but I’m very happy to announce the launch of Content Academy.

We’re building a one-of-a-kind learning center because we believe in learning by doing with help from experienced instructors.

Over the last year, I’ve spent a lot of time reimagining how we teach our WordPress workshops because I realized how important these skills have become to the modern marketer and entrepreneur. Your future depends on the ability to publish your work and ideas to the web with WordPress.

Since I began using WordPress in 2007, the demand for content creators and website managers has grown exponentially. This demand changed the needs of our typical student, therefore, we updated our offerings to best reflect your needs.

New WordPress Workshops

Today, I’m happy to announce to you the relaunch of our WordPress workshops, which are now part of a larger series aimed at helping you gain digital marketing competence.

Learn more about our new Blogging, Digital Marketing and Applied Content Strategy Class, taught by experienced instructors.

Beta Testing Community Sharing

We’re also in the midst of launching a user community for sharing ideas and collaborating. If you’re interested in beta testing with us, please signup on our join page.

There is nothing more attractive to a future employer, client or team than confidence about your skills and knowledge of current trends. I hope you can join us at an upcoming event.

Class sizes are limited so please consider signing up now to reserve your seat.

Connect with me if you have any questions.

Scott Winterroth
Co-Founder & Instructor
PS: Get $50 off your first workshop

Use code at checkout: neverstoplearning

Class size is limited to give you personal attention. Register now otherwise you may have to wait until the next session.

WordPress Page Builder Plugins on a $100 Budget

WordPress Page Builder Plugins on a $100 Budget

wordpress-page-builder-plugins-review

The fundamental concept behind WordPress is to enable users to publish web content without knowing code.  Which, in my opinion, it does just that in exceptionally well.

The core WordPress interface provides a simple way to login and add a new page or post to a website. Simply select Add New then add a title, images and write a long chunk of content within the post content editor.  Hit publish and post added to website.

By default WordPress standards, you can layout your post content however you want so long as it fits within the post content rectangle.  

Sort of reminds me of the famous quote from Henry Ford. “They can have it in any color, so long as it’s black.”

henry-ford-quote

Breaking out of the mold.

WordPress launched as a blogging platform but it has evolved into what we call content management system or CMS for short. Therefore, most WordPress themes follow the blog format and come with only one default page and post layout.

The default layout typically includes a header, footer a content block area and a sidebar with widgets.  This is often referred to the two-column layout.  Pretty nifty for blogging (Circa 2009) and simple about page.

sample-2-column-wordpress
An example of a two-column layout.

As more non-coders begin using the project, the demand for easy to manipulate templates is also on the rise.  What if you want to create a service page or something that showcases a lot of fascinating information and you don’t want to hack into your theme’s code files?   Welcome to page builders.  

What are page builders for WordPress?

Since about 2011, page builders have gained momentum as a codeless way to style up your page and post content visually.  Either from the backend or even with special tools that appear on the front end when logged in.  

Page builders do exactly that, they allow to manipulate the page or post content area within WordPress. Not the entire theme.  Although they’re becoming more flexible and powerful, you might not use a page builder to design an entire website but rather work in conjunction with a WordPress theme.   

The active theme provides the heavy lifting in terms of logo placement in the header, the footer, and the overall style.  The page builder is used to layout content within a post or pages in a drag-and-drop fashion.  Meaning, literally, you can select and drag blocks of content from one column and row to another.

Page Builders allow for laying out all types of pages and posts, providing more flexibility for the content creator to visualize how a reader should consume their content.  

Comment elements of page builders plugins that I reviewed:

column-rowsColumns

The default WordPress format for posts is 2-columns.  Meaning, your post content is one column and your widget area is the other.  With page builders, you can throw away the two-column format for practically any number of columns you need.  

For example, you might want 3 columns because you’re looking to list a pricing table for your services.  Or, you might want to nest columns within a larger column to create a grid of photos or text boxes.  

Rows

With page builders, you can create rows for your content, making layers within the page or post.  This allows for fancy ways to display content with sidebars and content alternating to the left and right to make it visually engaging.  

 

MotoPress provides some default page templates which then can be manipulated.

 

visualcomposer
Visual Composer provides lots of elements that can be dragged and dropped into rows and columns.

Related:  A thing or two about WordPress Widgets 

Downside of Page Builders:

Destroys WordPress’ default editor

The default WYSIWYG Editor within WordPress is a beautiful thing. Over the years, I’ve become more and more comfortable writing within the editor and using it as my main ways to write content. Most page builders remove or destroy the standard editor by replacing it with their layout interface.   

If they don’t remove the editor, they typically fill it up with plenty of shortcodes which make it hard to navigate without using the page builder’s editor.  

divi-screen
The Divi Editor replaces the default WordPress WYSIWYG content editor

Function vs. Performance:  

Adding page builders and their add-ons provides non-code-savvy users with fantastic ways to manipulate content within the WordPress editor.  Like any plugin, the more plugins you add to your WordPress, site the greater chance of it loading slower.   While I didn’t specifically test for speed degradation within any of the plugins, there were sometimes noticeably longer loading times as most of these plugins add many lines of code to the browser load.   I recommend using a page builder with a caching plugin such as WP Super Cache or WP Rocket.  

Forward thinking

Page builders are sometimes a great shot term solution to laying out pages and posts but there is one long term problem that most users don’t consider.  Let’s say a few years from now you decide to use a new theme on your website. For whatever reason, that theme is not compatible or you no longer want to use a page builder.   You would then have to go back and reassemble all of your content back to either the default WordPress editor or into a new page builder or theme. 

Incompatible with Yoast SEO

Many WordPress bloggers use plugins to help optimize content.  Yoast SEO, for example, will not be able to provide an appropriate score with a page builder since the content is placed outside of the standard post content area.

Final thought on Page Builders

Page Builders provide flexible solutions for the non-coder but they have their complexities of their own. I recommend not diving into a page builder until you have a solid understanding of how WordPress and your active theme works. It’s likely you will need to spend some time understanding all of the new features to make a decision on how you will use it.

Page Builder Reviews:  

In the spring of 2016, I found myself looking to purchase a page builder for a couple of projects I was working on.  I didn’t want to spend more than $100 on any given plugin and I wanted to something that was relatively stable and would not take a ton of hours to learn.

Here are the results of my research, I hope it will assist you with deciding on which page builder is best for you.

Some of the following links may contain affiliate links where we get a small commission in exchange for your purchase. We only recommend products we would use and your purchase will help the community grow!

Review: Visual Composer for WordPress
8.5 Reviewer
0 Users (0 votes)
Pros
Low entrance cost
for core plugin
One of the first
mature code
BuddyPress Addon
Gravity Forms support
Cons
Too many addons and
fragmented
some free some not
WooCommerce Addon $17!
Easily blow by $100 budget
Summary
Visual Composer by WP Bakery comes packaged with many themes on ThemeForest, a WorPress theme marketplace, and is widely one of the most popular visual page builders within the WordPress community. It is also one of the oldest since it's been around since 2011. Visual Composer is sold on CodeCanyon.net, which is part of the Envato marketplace, therefore, a community of developers have build "add-ons" and have made their plugins compatible offering a very robust offering of features to fit almost any need.
Useability
Active Development
Cost

Repond and read full review here:  Visual Composer for WordPress

Review: Beaver Builder Page Builder for WordPress
7 Reviewer
0 Users (0 votes)
Pros
Helpful for columns,
images, widgets
and sidebars within
content blocks
One of the simplest
Cons
Lacks fancy styling
such as block quotes; testimonials
Lacking features
Costly compared to competitors
but total price is clear
Summary
Beaver Builder came to me highly recommended but I just don't see the value in it compared to the other page builders. It's more expensive yet lacking some of the core features that make other page builders great. Will keep my eye on this plugin to see how to progresses but I'm not quite sold at this point.
Useability
Active Development
Cost

Respond and read the full review here:  Beaver Builder for WordPress

Review: MotoPress Page Builder for WordPress
8.3 Reviewer
0 Users (0 votes)
Pros
Easy, layer like, interface
Members content area,
only logged in users
Tables
WooCommerce support
Cons
Shortcode Mania
Limited BuddyPress features
Slider extra plugin $8
No clone, duplicate or export.
Summary
Starting at just $29 for a single site license, MotoPress is our recommended Page Builder plugin for getting started. It's relatively easy to understand and it comes with may core features that are useful.
Useability
Active Development
Cost

Respond and read the full review here:  MotoPress Page Builder for WordPress

Review: Divi Builder for WordPress
7.7 Reviewer
0 Users (0 votes)
Pros
Nice user interface
Relatively easy to understand
Well documented
Global styles
Cons
Limited functions, no addons
Completely blows up the visual editor
Felt like some features are missing
like a testimonial slider
No access to basic WP editor
Summary
Divi is a powerful page builder by Elegant Themes. Probably works best with their themes but overall I had a pleasant experience using it on a client's website. I'm not a huge fan but would consider Divi for future projects. My main dislike is the fact it completely deletes the core visual editor within WorddPress.
Useability
Active Development
Cost

Respond and read the full review here: Divi Builder for WordPress

Review: SiteOrigin Page Builder and Widgets
9.2 Reviewer
0 Users (0 votes)
Pros
Prebuilt layouts
cool button editor with font icons
pretty awesome for being free
Column resizing eazy
Spent none of my budget! Lean.
Easy to implement, no loss
if I change my mind.
Cons
Layers of plugins
Feels limited compared
to others
Summary
SiteOrigin Page Builder is pretty nifty, especially since it's free! Might want to give this one a try first as it provides a great introduction to how page builders work. Also, make sure to install their widget bundle for more features. If you're just looking to make one or two page-layouts here and there, this is a good one to check out.
Useability
Active Development
Cost

Respond and read the full review here: SiteOrigin Page Builder and Widgets

Did I miss anything?

Is there a Page Builder I should try? Let me know in the comments below.

A thing or two about WordPress Widgets

A thing or two about WordPress Widgets

wordpress-widgets-explained

Does anyone care to explain a WordPress Widget?

When I ask students to explain WordPress widgets, I often get either a blank stare. If anyone is daring enough to answer it’s typically along the lines of well they’re these things.

And, that’s not a bad answer.

A widget in general terms describes something that’s name is unknown. It is often also used to describe something in a broad general sense, a placeholder of sorts. We kind of know what it does, but we haven’t got a good name for it. Thus, widget joins the ranks of similar nouns such as doodads, gizmos, and thingamajigs.   

Trying to explain a “thing” to someone who is new to WordPress is the tricky part.  Now, if I only had something to help me explain it.   

WordPress Widgets live in sidebar areas

Widgets reference the fact that users can select features of their liking and drop them into a sidebar area to add functionally to their theme.  Sidebars are flexible columns commonly found to the right side of a blog post. They contain widgets including subscription signup forms, advertisements, and social media buttons.

website-widget-mockup

Sidebars have been a part of the WordPress since its initial release. How users interacted with sidebars changed with the launch of widgets in 2007. Prior, it would require hacking into the code directly within the theme or stick with the default.WordPress Classic Theme

With the introduction of widgets in version 2.2, this whole process became easy. Site admins could now add and rearrange widgets in the sidebar without knowing code and in a nondestructive way.  Now, when a theme updated or switched, the widgets were stored for safekeeping and not washed away with the updates.

With the launch of widgets, a user interface within the WordPress Dashboard was also added to allow for moving and adding widgets.  While the interface has changed a bit over the years, the concept behind it stays relatively the same.

Adding a widget to a sidebar area:

To add and change widgets on self-hosted WordPress site, the widget control panel located within the appearance menu. It is only accessible if you have administrative access to the site.

For WordPress.com users, widgets are located in the “Customizer”  within in the “Personalize” section.

It’s important to note, not all WordPress themes provide a sidebar areas to add widgets. On the other end of the spectrum, some themes can overly depend on widgets with many sidebars and theme specific widget options.

Refer to your theme’s documentation for where the sidebars are located and how they work. If you are new to WordPress looking to grasp the concept of widgets, activate a default theme to test out widgets. 

 

WordPress widget control panel screenshot
WordPress widget control panel screenshot

Within the Widget control panel, WordPress will display the available sidebars to the right for which widgets can be added.  For most themes, this typically includes at least one sidebar labeled Primary Sidebar.  On the front end, or visitor facing side of the website, this primary sidebar area is often located to the right of the post or page content area.  Or at least this is true when viewing on a desktop computer. The primary sidebar on mobile devices will typically fall below the page or post content area. The viewing area has become too small to display both the content and the sidebar on a mobile screen.

To add an available widget to a sidebar with the widget control panel, click the widget then drag and drop into the sidebar area. Once in the sidebar, clicking on the widget titles will display any available options for that widget. Sort order of the widgets will autosave but be sure to click save if you may any widget option changes.  

Now head over to the front end of your site to see the new widget in the sidebar.  

Self-Hosted WordPress Default Widgets

widgets in sidebar

By default, WordPress enables the following widgets within the primary sidebar upon install:

  • Search
  • Recent Posts
  • Recent Comments
  • Archives – Show your posts in archives by month.
  • Categories – Show a list of your blog’s categories.
  • Meta – Displays a login, logout link.

You can remove these widgets by hovering over them and selecting delete, or you can keep them and move the order by click and dragging them up or down. There are also a couple of default widgets to note that are available but not active.

Text Widget

One of the most popular default widgets is the Text widget which allows users to add HTML.   For example, you could add a simple image or copy and paste the code into this area.  Just remember, the text widget only accepts plain text and HTML code.  

Calendar Widget

The calendar widget displays a nice month view calendar in the sidebar, but it is not to be confused with an event calendar.  The calendar widget displays links to blog posts by the date posted.  It allows readers to see what you posted on a particular day in the past.  

Custom Menu

Custom Menu allows for a  page or post menu to appear in the sidebar as opposed to the theme’s menu areas.  

Tag Cloud

The tag cloud shows a list of your post tags in a density format to highlight which tags are used more than others.   

Extending Widgets

Alright folks, a quick note.  Pretty much the rest of this article will focus on the self-hosted version of WordPress. AKA the .org version.  

Now, if the default widgets don’t meet your fancy, there are several ways to add different widgets to meet your needs.  

Widgets from themes

When active, some themes will install their own widgets to be used with the active theme.  For example, they might provide users with a different way to display recent posts or provide a simple way to show the author profile.  

It is almost impossible to know what themes will create certain widgets. I recommend reading your the theme’s documentation to determine if it will install helpful widgets.    

It can be ideal when a theme provides its own widgets as they typically come styled to match the rest of the theme’s design making it appear more seamless.

Widgets from plugins

If you can’t seem to find a default or theme widget to meet your needs, then you can search the WordPress.org plugin directory for additional widgets.

A plugin is a way to insert new code to your website in a nondestructive way and it can be easily turned on and off.

This process can be a bit tricky if you don’t know what you’re looking for. There are thousands of plugins within the directory to search.  I recommend starting with a few search terms surrounding the functionally you’re looking to achieve.  Examine the plugins that come up within your searches and determine if they will meet your requirements. If yes, then install and test.

This process will become easier as you become more familiar with WordPress and start to build your knowledge of what plugins work for different needs. If you get stuck or don’t know what to do, you can always ask me!

To get started, here’s a link to the plugins within the WordPress Directory tagged with widget.

Jetpack Widgets

JetPack is a suite of plugins and functionality provided by WordPress.com and made available to self-hosted users. Within Jetpack, there are several widgets including many social media integrations such as Facebook Like Box and a Twitter Timeline. They also provide a simple and free email subscription widget where if users enter their email address they will get an email with your recent post after you hit publish.  It’s called Blog Subscriptions.

Related: Useful Jetpack WordPress Plugin Features

I recommend Jetpack widgets as they are well maintained.  Since the Jetpack plugin overall provides a host of many great features, you might as well take advantage of the widgets made available by this plugin rather than install more plugins that are maybe not necessary.

Notable JetPack Widgets:

  • Social media icons
  • Facebook Like Box
  • Twitter timeline
  • Blog Subscriptions
  • Contact Info – Display your location, hours, and contact information.
  • Display WordPress Posts
  • Top Post and Pages
  • Gravatar – Show your gravatar profile
  • Image Widget – Use to display an image in the sidebar

JetPack also provides a cool little feature called Widget Visibility. Let say you only wanted to show certain widgets on select pages of your site.  This module provides a conditional logic functionally to say IF this page, THEN show or hide this widget.

Popular Plugins that create widgets

Here are some popular plugins that create widgets. Plugins are available on self-hosted WordPress sites.

Going beyond the traditional post sidebar usage.

Footer widgets

Many themes use widgets in what are called widgetized footers.  The sidebar is displayed horizontally rather than traditionally in a vertical rectangle.  Most themes will indicate footer widgets in the admin panel with sidebars labeled Footer Widget Left, Footer Widget Center, and Footer Widget Right.  The widget column is broken up into three small widget areas rather than one long.

TIP: Show me the sidebars!

When there are many sidebars, I recommend orienting yourself with each by dragging a text widget into each sidebar with something like I’m here! Then, it makes it easy to see visually and map out where each sidebar is from the front end.  Once you’re good, delete the text widget.   

Genesis Theme

Some theme frameworks use Widgets as a way to customize the home page.  One notable framework is the Genesis Theme by StudioPress. Most of their child themes rely heavily on widgets and custom theme widgets to position content within the theme.  For example, a recent post widget is used to create a blog layout on the homepage while the user can define how many posts to show.   

Visual Page Builders

Page builders allow users to design visually are become more and more popular. Don’t like the default sidebars? A page builder plugin can let you add and move sidebars.  Popular page builders include Visual Composer, Divi, PageBuilder, and MotoPress.  They allow for almost unlimited flexibility for where your sidebars (and widgets) will show. Plus, it allows for users to create multiple sidebars to display on different pages or categories within the blog.  Useful if you want to show different ads for certain types of content.  I recommend mastering your current theme first before you dive into a page builder. Consider this option only if you’re not happy with the default formats.

The future of WordPress Widgets

There is conversation and speculation the future of sidebars as being a thing of the past.  There might be some truth to it as responsive design often removes or pushes sidebars down the page when readers log on via mobile devices.

If no one is going to see the sidebar and widgets, then why have them?

Clutter is distracting. When a reader visits your blog post, the ideal course of action would be for them to read your content.  Ads and other obtrusive widgets vie for their attention and make it harder to read. Determine if that is something you want them to experience.

On the other hand, widgets can provide value to the reader by offering simple ways sign up for more updates from their new favorite author. Recommend more posts and resources or showcase supplemental information to the story.

Widgets provide ways to visitors to interact with your WordPress site.

They can enhance your content marketing efforts by providing ways to drive engagement, enhance user experience and when used wisely can set your blog up for growth.

Your turn, tell us your Widget story!

Do you have any creative ways you use WordPress widgets on your site or can you recommend a widget or plugin? Let us know in the comments below and link back to your site to showcase your work on Content Academy!

The Built in SEO Juice of WordPress

The Built in SEO Juice of WordPress

The SEO Juice of WordPress

Out of the box, WordPress is a Content Management System that plays well with Google in terms of SEO best practices. Our last article shared some of the built-in tools that help with SEO. In this article, we’ll share additional features on WordPress that help bloggers rank high on search. As these specific WordPress features show, it’s not just about keywords, but proper website structure.

Permalinks

WordPress offers the ability to customize permalinks, which is the URL structure of blog posts. It’s possible to edit specifics by going to Settings > Permalinks when logged into the WordPress dashboard.

Your options will look something like this:

The first option (“Plain”) is the worst bet for SEO – it uses an arbitrary numbering system, not keywords, to name the URL of a post.

You may be tempted to embellish your URL structure by appending categories or dates, but beware – these URL additions are bad for SEO. One of the main tenets of SEO is speeding up your website so that Google can quickly search it and suggest it as a top result. By adding unnecessary extras to your URL structure, you’re creating one more thing to slow down your website.

The best option is the simple “Post Name” – which should be rich in the keywords you’re optimizing for!

Interested in learning more? A2 Hosting shares an in-depth guide to how WordPress permalinks affect SEO

Breadcrumbs and Related Posts

Depending on your theme and it’s implementation, there are a lot of built-in internal linking opportunities. Internal linking helps with SEO by showing Google the relationship between pages on your website, and how they connect with each other. The more (relevant) connections you create, the more positive effect on SEO.

Breadcrumbs are a standard implementation on most WordPress themes, and are basically navigational elements that help visitors understand where they are on your website, and where they came from.

To give an example, say you initially landed on a blog’s home page, then clicked on a post about tacos in the food category. The breadcrumb structure displayed near the top of the page would look something like this:

Home > Food > Tacos

Breadcrumbs help from a user experience standpoint, but also create more internal links between pages on your website.

Another easy way to create internal links on WordPress is by using a related posts plugin. Related posts plugins show search engines additional similarities between pages, and also suggest relevant content that keeps visitors on your website for longer. More time on your blog and more pages visited results in positive feedback to Google that assists with SEO.

Pingbacks

If internal links are bronze for SEO, then external links from other relevant blogs are gold (or platinum, if that counts as being higher than gold).

If you’ve turned on pingbacks, you’ll be able to see what websites are linking to your blog content, and approve that link. Being able to approve pingbacks is a control you shouldn’t give up (don’t just automatically allow pingbacks), because spammy links from unrelated websites and blogs can actually hurt SEO.

Besides being good for SEO, pingbacks also represent a great way to start a relationship with a high-quality fan. If someone is willing to link to your blog, that person deserves your thanks and will hopefully continue the practice!

Automatic 302 Direct

Most of the time, the http://yoursite.com and www.yoursite.com.
look like the same thing, but if someone is linking to your site using one prefix over another (http vs www), it’s unevenly distributing the weight of those external links on different “versions” of your website.

Luckily in cases like these, WordPress applies an automatic 302 direct, which consolidates the weight of the links to benefit your blog as a whole. This, however, is only “temporary” and should be changed into a permanent redirect for optimal results. Viperchill has a tutorial on exactly how to do that.

WordPress has plenty of built-in SEO benefits that start with the software itself, and are expanded by the ability to use different plugins to detect and fix mistakes. Are you ready to take your blog to the next level?

The Built-In SEO Tools of WordPress

The Built-In SEO Tools of WordPress

wordpress-seo-tools

Over 2 million blog posts are published each day, which represents an unreal amount of content for a search engine to sift through and recommend to those searching for answers to their questions. As a blogger, in order to even get to the point where Google begins recommend your posts, your site must first be optimized properly. 

The process of optimizing a website for search is called Search Engine Optimization or SEO for short. The process is often technical and strategic in nature but, at the very minimum, SEO includes techniques to guide a user to your website through various forms of content such as blog posts. One of the most popular ways to get your name out on the web is with blogging and WordPress is both a service and a tool that can help you accomplish that with a lot of built-in functionality that conducive to better SEO.

Here are the built-in SEO tools on WordPress.

WordPress Makes it Easy to Submit to Search Engines

WordPress.com’s relatively new SEO Settings Panel takes care of a number of technical SEO needs, including:

  •       Front page meta description
  •       Site Verification Services
  •       XML Sitemap

Self-hosted WordPress users can also find this type of functionality with many great SEO plugins including Yoast SEO but it’s not technically needed. WordPress will automatically use to use your website’s tagline as the meta description for a blog. This front page meta description update makes it possible to use more keyword-rich text.

Site verification services make it easy to manage third party webmaster tools, including:

  •       Google Search Console
  •       Bing Webmaster Tools
  •       Pinterest Site Verification
  •       Yandex Webmaster

The XML Sitemap feature automatically generates a list of the pages on your site and tells Google how they’re connected. Combined with WordPress’s ability to automatically generate a robots.txt file, these technical elements are necessary for strong SEO.

If you’re self-hosting WordPress, you can still access these features by installing Jetpack.

Mobile Responsiveness

One of the main contributing factors to SEO is the ability to view and use a blog on a mobile device. Google has a tool that shows you how it interprets your blog and gives advice on how to improve the user’s mobile experience. For the technologically unsavvy, most themes offered for WordPress include mobile responsive options. Make sure to test out your theme of choice for this functionality before marrying yourself to it!

Page Load Time

Page load time is another extremely important factor when trying to rank on search engines. This has to do with the fact that people who grow impatient waiting for a page to load may leave before seeing your content or advancing to another page. By not visiting another page (a signal of interest), Google records a high bounce rate. A high bounce rate is interpreted by Google as a mismatch as the ideal search result.

Quicksprout also points out that WordPress code is without bloat (unnecessary white space, elements, etc.), which means it supports fast page load time. Of course, any WordPress blog can be slowed down with excessive use of plugins, images, and bad choices in general – so be careful what you’re adding to your WordPress blog.

Yoast SEO

Perhaps the single most useful plugin for self-hosted WordPress sites (at least as far as SEO is concerned) is the Yoast SEO plugin. Yoast provides a stoplight style list of to-dos regarding implementing keywords: green means go, red means you have some work to do. Yoast SEO takes what could be considered a complicated process of implementing on-page SEO and makes ranking for specific keywords accessible for everyone.

There are certainly other nuances and specifications that lend the WordPress software to being an easy way to win at SEO, but this list can help you understand the most important factors for ranking.

To learn more about WordPress and it’s powerful features for bloggers, check out our article about Jetpack, or plugin roundup posts, and of course, our step-by-step courses on learning how to use the WordPress software.

What are you most excited about regarding the built-in SEO tools on WordPress? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

WordPress Theme recommendations for the serious beginner

WordPress Theme recommendations for the serious beginner

theme-recommendations

Themes play a very important part in learning how to use WordPress as they control the appearance and feel of the public-facing side of the website.  Getting to know a theme is critical for new users as it will be where they will likely need to place their logos and select configurations to work towards making each one uniquely theirs.

Themes can also be a major pain point for new users as there isn’t a uniform standard as to how they work and how-to documentation can be somewhat cryptic for a newbie.

Fortunately, you can only use one theme at a time, so I recommend starting with a theme that is simple.  I recommend gravitating towards a theme with more options when you have a better grasp of how WordPress ticks.  The best thing about WordPress is that you can change your theme relatively easily as your content will, for the most part, stay in the same place.

Here are some ideas for selecting your first starter WordPress theme:

Simplicity

Look for a theme that is simplistic and maybe not rich in features.  We, as consumers, love extra features, but whenever we are learning something new, those extras can just become a big burden.  Work toward sharpening your basics WordPress skills, and then building up to a fully-featured theme will become a lot easier and feel much more manageable.   Maybe even stick with the default showcase themes to get started; these are always a sure bet as they use the most current features of WordPress and are updated pretty much every year.

Be Careful of Themes with Page Builders

Page builders are WordPress plugins that allow users to layout pages and posts in ways that rely much less on knowledge of code and more on visual composition.  For some intermediate WordPress users, these can be a very enabling as they allow for more of a custom look and feel without a touch of code.

This growing popularity for content builders, such as Visual Composer, Divi Builder, MotoPress, and SiteOrigin are brilliant, but the problem I have is these content builders traditionally “break” the standard WordPress user experience and can add layers of extra complications that could be discouraging for  new users.  Before a new user begins to think about a page-builder plugin, know that this can require significant time learning nuances, and if you’re not experienced with the standard WordPress terminology, you have doubled the work ahead.

Support

In the world of WordPress themes, there are essentially two categories: free themes, mainly found on WordPress.org/themes, and premium themes that cost money to download and use.  Premium themes, or paid themes, can be found on sites like ThemeForest.net and from companies such as StudioPress and Elegant Themes.

When you purchase a theme, the owner is much more likely to provide support should you need help getting started.  If you’re new to WordPress or a theme framework, this added support from the theme company can be a lifesaver for getting started and is well worth the investment.

Become a theme investigator

Before you buy into any theme, free or paid, be sure to investigate the following:

  • When was the last time it was updated?
  • How many support items have been submitted (and resolved)?
  • How well documented are the help files?
  • Where do I need to go to ask for help?
  • Does it support the standard WordPress appearance customizer or something else?
  • Up to what version of WordPress is it compatible?
  • How does it work on mobile devices and other screens?
  • Does it provide support for popular plugins such as WooCommerce?

Most importantly, be careful of free themes that are not free but upsell to expensive premium features.

Style

I am often asked, what theme should I use for my blog or website?  I typically say I can tell you what I look for in a theme, but it’s ultimately up to your style.  You probably wouldn’t want me to pick out your clothes for you; themes are also a matter of personal taste.

Here are some items I suggest avoiding when looking for a beginner WordPress theme:

  • Huge images on the home page
  • Image Sliders and Post Carousels
  • Lots of content on the homepage, a.k.a. “Magazine” themes
  • Blog vs. Website themes

Just remember, theme developers are looking to do one thing – sell themes – so make sure that the demo theme is similar to what you envision your website might look like as if were to swap out their demo content for yours.

Savvy

Great bloggers and website owners know how to market themselves on the web.  A theme help users do this in a straightforward and savvy way.  Look for eye-catching call-to-action buttons, prominent social media icons, and easy newsletter subscription boxes that integrate with popular programs such MailChimp or Aweber.

Have an experience you want to share?

Post and comment and help others find great starter WordPress themes.

Useful Jetpack WordPress Plugin Features

Useful Jetpack WordPress Plugin Features

useful-jetpack-features

Jetpack is a multifunctional WordPress plugin that every blogger really ought to have installed on their WordPress site. Jetpack allows you to do many things, including: grow your traffic, manage your WordPress site, secure and boost performance, assist with appearance, help with writing, and so much more. Best of all – it’s free.

Publicize

Publicize is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a feature of Jetpack that allows you to easily promote your new WordPress posts on your social channels automatically! Just connect your accounts and select which ones to push updates to.

There’s also a social sharing feature (called “Sharing”) that you can turn on to make it easy for visitors to help share your content.

Subscriptions

Jetpack’s subscriptions feature allows users to subscribe to new posts and comments by email. You may later want to build your own email newsletter opt-in form, but this is a great way to build a returning audience when you’re just getting started, especially if you’re not super technologically-inclined.

Protect

Protect was previously known as BruteProtect, but the gist is that by setting it up, your WordPress is protected from malicious threats. At one point in time or another, you’ll likely find your blog on the receiving end of a bot attack. Make sure you have the right infrastructure in place so your blog doesn’t go down temporarily, or worse.

VaultPress

Assuming the worst happens and your WordPress gets hacked or deleted by spammers, you should have a backup in place. VaultPress allows you to do just this. No need to fear spammer attacks when all your content and media is safely backed up!

Photon

One important but often-overlooked element of a blog is loading time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten excited to try a new recipe I found on Pinterest… only to give up after waiting 5 minutes for the page to load. Photon helps decrease load times by serving up faster images for readers. There’s some talk online about whether this plugin is SEO friendly, so do your research to see if it’s right for you before hitting install.

Site Stats

I’m pretty stuck on Google Analytics, but what I love about Site Stats is that it’s so easy to use and it updates in real time. It gives you actionable data, like…
How many views are each of my posts getting today?
Where is traffic coming from?
What links from my posts did visitors click?

A lot of this traffic can also be found on Google Analytics, but for the beginner blogger, Jetpack’s Site Stats are a lot easier to understand. The best part? You don’t have to leave your dashboard to access the data!

Related Posts

The Related Posts feature of Jetpack suggests similar posts after each blog entry to keep people engaged and moving through your website. This is a great tool for lowering your bounce rate!

JetPack really is a powerhouse for a free plugin. They keep acquiring other plugins to increase their functionality, so stay tuned for further updates.

Which of these JetPack features have the most use for you? Do you have some already installed? Share your thoughts in the comments!

How to Organize Your Blog Workflow

How to Organize Your Blog Workflow

organize-blog-workflow

Are you the type of blogger who’s full of ideas but they never quite make it to (online) print? Without a proper blog workflow, it’s easy to lose focus and make your work harder than necessary. With the proper tools, you can create a constant flow of ideas that results in a full calendar of wonderful blog posts.

The best part about the tools Content Academy recommends is that they all (for the most part) have a desktop app so you can multitask, and a mobile app so that you can easily stay organized on the go!

How to Organize Your Blog Workflow

Evernote

…Or your favorite note taking app. I use both Evernote and Apple Notes, depending on how fast I want to get my ideas down. It’s nice to flesh out ideas upfront, but sometimes you’re in a hurry or don’t want to forget when inspiration hits.

Note-taking apps are great for taking down ideas when you’re inspired in real time. Don’t bother with complete thoughts – try headlines and bullet points. Later on in this blog workflow process, you’ll organize them into actionable items.

Note taking apps are also great for writing notes when you’re talking to someone on the phone, or during an interview. You can use Evernote’s notebook feature to organize by different topics or projects, add tags to group similar notes, and easily search through past notes to quickly find the information you need.

Trello

Periodically go through the ideas you wrote down on your note taking app and add them to boards you create on Trello.

 

trello

 

Trello is awesome for organizing your thoughts, especially as they relate to your various blog themes. You can use it for your own post planning, as well as guest posts you plan to submit to other blogs (which should be a part of your blog promotion strategy, anyways). Each card corresponds to a specific theme, and each card entry corresponds to a specific post to write. You can add notes and attachments to cards with information you’ll use to write your posts.

Trello is also great for visualizing a complex theme or project and planning through the little details in a manageable format that doesn’t overwhelm.

Editorial Calendar

editorialcalendar

There’s an excellent and free Editorial Calendar Plugin for WordPress that allows you to tentatively schedule any unpublished drafts. It’s great for visualizing your blog calendar a week, a month, or even several months into the future. CoSchedule is a feature-packed paid subscription editorial calendar that also integrates with WordPress.

ToDoist

…Or your favorite task management app.

Some swear by Wunderlist, Apple’s to dos, or Asana (which is also great for collaboration if you’re part of a team of bloggers).

Use a task management app like Todoist for blogging tasks that aren’t specific posts. Maybe you want to change the content of a page, or work on your email newsletter, and this is the perfect place to keep track of those desired changes.

 

todoist

 

Most of these apps and plugins will not only help you organize your blog, but your life as a whole. It’s nice to keep everything together as you work through your process.

Creating an organized process will make your blogging more consistent and better overall. Is there another part of your process that helps organize your blog workflow? Share your best practices in the comments!

Need help setting blogging goals?  Download our free WordPress Blog Coach Plugin! ==>  Blog Coach

New & Notable WordPress Plugins – Week 2.16

New & Notable WordPress Plugins – Week 2.16

new-wp-pluginsMade it through my 33rd birthday this week!  What a week. Lots of amazing plugins released this week and a couple of stellar blog posts on our very own blog.  I’m proud that we’ve been able to publish such amazing stuff to share with the world!

Blog Posts:

P.S.  We’re about to release a brand new plugin to the world of WordPress! Stay tuned, maybe by next week we can share!

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How to Startup Your Blog: The Mindset & Finances Required

How to Startup Your Blog: The Mindset & Finances Required

Is it your goal this year to FINALLY jump head-first into the world of blogging?

Admitting that you want to is a huge first step! The next ones aren’t quite as easy, but also aren’t as hard as you think.

The main things to keep in mind when you startup your blog is to set aside some money for inevitable blog startup costs, and also to get in the right mindset to start off strong. Let’s talk more in-depth about the finances and mindset required to startup your blog.

Finances Required to Startup Your Blog

The money you put into blogging can range from none to several thousand dollars, depending on your experience level with digital marketing and basic web design.

Hosting

There are both free and paid options to consider.

The free option is to set up an account on WordPress.com. The URL will look like this:

YOURBLOGNAME.wordpress.com

This is an excellent option for someone looking to get their feet wet with blogging, but isn’t fully committed yet. Someone trying to monetize a blog will want a customized URL, which will require some kind of hosting plan.

Hosting plans usually range from $5-10/month. You can set it up through WordPress.com or self-host on your own provider. We recommend SiteGround, it’s affordable and powerful.  Learn more about this in our WordPress Pre-Flight Course.

Web Design

WordPress templates are becoming more and more easy to edit for non-techy people. There are plenty of nice free templates, but you can buy premium ones with additional functionality and customization options from $40-100.

You don’t necessarily need a web designer to have a nice-looking blog, but it also doesn’t hurt to be acquainted with someone you can call to make small changes when you can’t figure out what to do.

On the other hand, a professionally customized WordPress website is an invaluable branding tool for a blogger looking to monetize. A blog design can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on who you choose to work with and what functionality you require.

Plugins

Most good plugins are free. At this point in your blogging journey, you probably don’t need to be budgeting for them. However, some plugins give your blog additional functionality – all without having to hire a web designer.

Equipment

Once you’re starting to hit your stride, you’ll want to start thinking about the technology that can help take your blog to the next level. A good laptop/desktop computer for a blogger will be fast and easy to use. You don’t need anything super fancy, but you should invest in something that helps you work smarter and doesn’t get in your way.

Furthermore, a good camera is a solid investment for a blogger. Visuals are very important in blogging, and people can tell the difference between a picture you took with your phone and another you took on a DSLR.

The Mindset Required to Startup Your Blog

Finances aren’t the most important thing when trying to startup your blog. What’s more important is being in the right mindset. Here are a couple ways to do that:

Define Your Niche

The more specific, the better. For example, you don’t want to just write a Fashion blog, you want to write about the street style of Chicago, with an emphasis on budget pieces. Some people are scared to push themselves in a corner, but it’s good to define yourself for your audience – you’re likely to get better followers!

Brainstorm Topics

As a way to test your passion for and knowledge of your niche, aim to brainstorm anywhere from 20-50 article ideas before ever trying to write them. This will give you a good base to start from and fall back on when you have writer’s block.

Figure out Your Name

Once you know what you want to write about, and you have some ideas for topics, you need to start thinking about your name! Once you’ve got this figured out, you can look through your hosting options.

Make a Commitment to Your Blog

Get in the mindset that you’re going to post a certain amount of times each week, month, etc. It doesn’t matter what you commit to, just that you follow through! In general, the more blog updates, the better.

Hold Yourself Accountable

Find another blogger, or a blogging group in your city, and make a pledge to update your blog in accordance with the goals you set in the previous step. Frequently check in with your blog buddy to keep each other on track!

After finishing these steps, the hard part is over and the fun is about to begin. How do you personally get in the right mindset to give your blog your best shot? Let us know in the comments!

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