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How to Build a Website, Part 4 — WordPress Design & Development
On this episode, we discuss my favorite website publishing platform for Small Business, WordPress. And, to do that, I had the pleasure of having on Web and BeyondCast with me WordPress developer Rene Morozowich, and Kevin W. Hoffman, WordPress Engineer at WordImpress, both of which I met through WordPress Pittsburgh.
(If you’re reading this in a podcast directory/app, please visit http://webandbeyondcast.com/005 for clickable links and the full show notes and transcript of this cast.)
Questions we discussed on this episode:
- What is WordPress?
- Why would a Small Business owner use WordPress over another CMS or website builder, or straight code?
- What is a WordPress theme? What are theme frameworks?
- What should business owners know about themes?
- How do you choose the best theme for your business?
- What is a WordPress plugin?
- What WordPress plugins do you typically recommend, in general, for business owners to have on their website? What’re your favorites for specific functionality? Why?
- What are some pitfalls business owners experience when using WordPress plugins?
If you’d like to discuss this episode, please click here to leave a comment down below (this jumps you to the bottom of the post), or contact us.
In this Cast | WordPress Design & Development
Ray Sidney-Smith, Host
Rene Morozowich is a freelance WordPress developer based in Pittsburgh, PA. A techie at heart, her passion lies in the database and code, but she loves the creativity and execution of the whole website lifecycle — from planning to launch.
She works with designers to craft amazing sites for entrepreneurs, small businesses and non-profits. Rene is also a part of the Pittsburgh WordPress community and enjoys learning and talking about all things WordPress.
Kevin W. Hoffman
Kevin W. Hoffman is a WordPress Engineer at WordImpress where he is part of the team behind plugins such as Give and WP Business Reviews. He is an active volunteer and speaker in the WordPress community where he co-organizes WordCamp Pittsburgh.
Show Notes | WordPress Design & Development
Resources we mention, including links to them will be provided here. Please listen to the episode for context.
WooThemes / WooCommerce / Storefront Theme (eCommerce / physical commerce)
Codex (WordPress Manual) on Child Themes
How to Create a WordPress Child Theme
UpdraftPlus (Backup Plugin)
Wordfence (Security Plugin)
Yoast SEO (Search Engine Optimization Plugin)
MonsterInsights (Google Analytics Plugin)
Digital eCommerce – Easy Digital Downloads
Nonprofit eCommerce – Give
Audit Logging – WP Security Audit Log
WP Business Reviews (Business Review Plugin)
Mailchimp Email Newsletter Plugin
MemberPress Membership Site Plugin
Raw Text Transcript | WordPress Design & Development
Raw, unedited and machine-produced text transcript so there may be errors, but you can search for specific points in the episode to jump to, or to reference back to at a later date and time, by keywords or key phrases.Read More
Voiceover Artists 0:00
Welcome to web and beyond cast were small business comes to learn about marketing and managing on the web and beyond with your hosts Tracy Smith Hello their
Ray Sidney-Smith 0:10
small business owners and entrepreneurs and economic development agents. Welcome to Episode 005 Episode Five which is part of our five part series of web and beyond cast. I’m Ray Sydney Smith and I am joined here today with Rene Marissa which who is a freelance WordPress developer based in pittsburgh pa a techie at heart. Her passion lies in the database and code but she loves the creativity and execution of the whole website lifecycle from planning to launch. So welcome to the show. Rene and I also have with me Kevin W. Hoffman. Kevin is a WordPress engineer at WordPress where he is part of the team behind plugins such as give and WP business reviews. But we’ll learn a little bit more about those plugins today. He is an active volunteer and speaker in the WordPress community where he co organizes word camp Pittsburgh. Welcome to web and beyond cast Kevin. Hi, Ray.
Kevin W. Hoffman 1:06
Thanks for having me. Great. I’m
Ray Sidney-Smith 1:07
glad to have both of you aboard for this expert panel. And what we’re going to be talking about regarding building a website today is actually something called WordPress, which many of you may have heard maybe you even have a website that’s based on WordPress, maybe you have thought about launching a WordPress website but you’re really not quite sure what WordPress is today. What I’d really like to do is to talk about some of the fundamentals around what WordPress is what are themes? What are plugins and and how do you hire someone to design or develop a WordPress website? So I wanted to start off the conversation with you both with with the very fundamental question of what is
Kevin W. Hoffman 1:48
WordPress, this big behemoth of an animal that runs a quarter of the world’s websites? What is WordPress? So WordPress is a content management system that allows you to manage your digital content, whether that is blog posts, articles, images, anything that you would normally host on a website WordPress gives you sort of a visual interface to manage that content. But one of the key concepts and when you first start to look at WordPress solutions is to understand this difference between WordPress dot org and wordpress. com. So WordPress dot org is an open source content management system which I worked in every day. And it’s a really flexible option for those of you who may be looking for e commerce solutions that want to extend their website with plugins and a large list of themes. wordpress. com is what we call a software as a service. So if you’re looking to just get a website up as quickly as possible and have your hosting and support all provided for you WordPress dot com can be a great solution, you need to understand that your options will be far more limited. The dot com side but as far as my day to day experience, it’s on the dark side
Rene Morozowich 3:05
WordPress started as a blogging platform. And I think that maybe some people think that it’s only still for blogging and maybe your business doesn’t have a blog or doesn’t need content like that. However, I think it has evolved greatly in the past few years. And now it’s fully customizable and you can really use it for almost anything now.
Kevin W. Hoffman 3:26
Yeah, absolutely. I started working with WordPress, you know, almost eight years ago when it really was focused on blog centric websites. And I’ve seen it sort of evolve into a more full fledged content management system. It started with the introduction of custom post types, which allowed you to add content outside of just blog articles and to really manage your content in an organized fashion that any small business owner would be looking for who needs something a bit beyond just a small collection of pages or blog posts so it’s a really full fledged content management system these days. Fantastic points. In our last episode, we discussed Squarespace and other website builders very similar to WordPress dot com. So for those of you who are listening and listen to the last episode, basically the sense of software as a service using Squarespace as both your website software and website host and all those other pieces in between WordPress dot com is kind of that for you. Whereas WordPress dot org is what you would consider what we typically call self hosted. Right, exactly. And I would say even though I love the WordPress community and love it as a tool, there are definitely times in places when some of those Software as a Service solutions make more sense. Like I alluded to earlier, if you’re trying to get a website up as quickly as possible and don’t need a whole lot of flexibility. Those are certainly options to look into that are really low budget provide a lot of the support and maintenance that you would need that kind of comes along with a WordPress site. So those are some of the concerns and we’ll look into today in addition to a lot of the benefits and the flexibility of WordPress and so
Ray Sidney-Smith 5:12
why would a small business owner use WordPress over another content management system or website builder or straight coding the website themselves? I know there are probably some industrious listeners out there who are thinking, well, I’ll just I’ll just write my own code and I’ll I’ll throw up a website. And that will just be good enough because it’ll be an informational or brochure type website. And I really don’t need something like WordPress or another content management system. And there are several other open source content management systems, correct? Yeah, definitely.
And WordPress is by far the largest and most popular content management solution when it comes to those open source options. But I would say that the fundamental reason to choose WordPress rather than coding your own site from scratch scratch is although it may be a short term time investment up front, it will save you so much time in the long term in terms of anytime you want to add a new article Edit page content, you’re not digging through HTML source code. To do that you’re simply logging into your website and a visual interface that you understand that you don’t need to know a lot of that code in order to manipulate editing and updating and adding new content over time becomes a much simpler process as a result.
Rene Morozowich 6:31
I think too, that because it’s such a popular solution, it’s very easy to find help in the form of another person, the WordPress community or even just online resources. There’s tons of blogs and other articles that you can search for any problem that you have with WordPress and find a solution relatively quickly.
Ray Sidney-Smith 6:50
There’s a huge community that supports WordPress, it’s very easy to find someone at a at a reasonable and affordable rate to come help you with WordPress, whereas with some other country content management systems, those that’s not so easy to find. Like, I guess the internet makes people closer. So you are able to find Sega Juma or another or Drupal developer other than some other open source content management systems. But if you need someone to help you with a WordPress website, it’s pretty easy to find. Do you find that to be the case? I think
Rene Morozowich 7:20
- I think that it’s easy to find someone at a meetup online. There are word camps all over almost every weekend. It’s definitely easy to find someone.
Kevin W. Hoffman 7:32
I think that WordPress is definitely your best bet in terms of finding help elsewhere. But I do I have seen that we are in kind of a transition period where small business owners especially are still a little bit hesitant to work with developers remotely. So even though you might be based in Pittsburgh, and you’re opening your shop and looking for a website developer, I would encourage you to open your possibilities to developers are across the country or around the world, even if they can prove that they they have what it takes to provide the type of solution you’re looking for. I will say that in my
Ray Sidney-Smith 8:10
three years, as a single developer freelancer, I worked almost exclusively with remote clients. So there are most certainly developers out there that can serve your needs without ever having to share the same office space with you or even be in the same city Agreed. Agreed. And I think it’s also really important to take heed to finding the right person and fit and we’ll talk about this a little bit later in terms of finding the right fit in terms of your work style. And and if you’re going to have someone who is going to be doing ongoing maintenance and improvement to your website that you know how they best work with you in that process. But for the most part, you can really find someone who can help you with WordPress pretty easily nowadays, I wanted to move us forward into something that I think confuses a lot of people more than just what is WordPress? I think most people can understand WordPress is software that helps you build a website. But then you decide to use WordPress and designers and developers tell you immediately. Okay, well, you’re going to have to decide on a theme and plugins so that we can get your website launched. And I wanted to dig in a little bit here to what is a theme? And more importantly, what is the differentiation between a theme and what’s called an at least in the industry of framework? Why do but small businesses need these what what what are the reasons for having themes and, and how are they separate from WordPress, the software itself,
the primary purpose of the theme is to determine the visual appearance of your website. So it’s actually separate from your content, which allows you as the business owner has the person managing your WordPress site to completely change the visual appearance of your website without actually affecting the underlying content. So you can have a series of blog posts and pages and click through the WordPress theme repository and activate different themes to see how your website might look if you were to install and activate that theme for the long term. So it’s an easy way to kind of preview what your website could look like, without actually changing the content that you put a lot of time and effort into developing.
Kevin W. Hoffman 10:28
Now we go from themes which you can think of as specific implementations of a of an aesthetic look on your website. And we also transition into the thought of the theme framework, which is not so much a specific implementation, but a methodology. So there are various theme frameworks. And WordPress, probably one of the most popular is called Genesis. And the important differentiator is that a theme framework can spawn an unlimited number of themes. It’s just a way of approaching that theme. And building it to a certain specification. One that I worked with for a long time was the roots Sage starter theme. And that is more of a developer heavy implementation of a theme within WordPress. And it kind of determines the entire approach you take when you’re developing and, and building out a theme. And that can limit the potential developers down the road that can help you with your website. So that’s I think the most important thing to consider when you’re when you’re looking at a theme framework is that as the business owner, it may not mean much to you up front, but it could determine who’s able to help you with your website down the road. And Rene,
Ray Sidney-Smith 11:45
I know that you’re more the database coder. And so what’s what’s going on under the hood of WordPress when it comes to themes. What’s what is what is the theme, fundamentally doing to the workplace code, because the WordPress code is is pushing PHP, right? It’s pushing this, this this web language and it’s it’s has to be rendered in HTML for our web browsers to be able to view and so the theme, as Kevin said, is giving us the visuals, what what’s what’s happening there, how do those to sort of connect in layman’s terms,
Rene Morozowich 12:24
so you can think about it in about three different layers. So you have the database where all of the data live. So all of your images, all of your menu options, your post your titles, your users, everything lives there, then you have that PHP code that goes into the database and pulls out the appropriate information. And combined with your HTML and CSS, it determines how your pages will look when they’re displayed on the screen. So basically, the theme is keeping your pages consistent. So each of your posts looks the same way. Each of your pages, you know, looks a similar way, your homepage looks a certain way. So all of these things are tied together to present consistent cohesive website. I was thinking that one way that you might understand a theme is if you’ve ever use PowerPoint before, so when you go into PowerPoint, you have the basic generic template. So you could think of that maybe like a theme framework. And under the options you can apply a styles and layouts and designs and that would be similar to a theme so for people have used PowerPoint before. And maybe that might make a little bit more sense
Ray Sidney-Smith 13:39
definitely, that’s a great analogy. it renders the front end of your website in the way in which you believe you wanted to look what what are the challenges that business owners face when it comes to themes? And and I want to talk a little bit here about what should business owners really know about the themes they’re attempting to choose them? How do they choose the best thing for their business and what should they know about it. For example, I frequently talk to clients about how much functionality should be present within a theme because many WordPress theme developers now try to put a lot of functionality into themes and there’s a there’s a debate over how much functionality that we’ll talk about when we get to plugins very shortly should be in the theme verses that which should be present in your WordPress plugins and and in the functionality of the WordPress core. How do you explain that to people in terms of, you know, what they should, what they should look for, and what they should avoid when it comes to themes. Yeah, Ray, what you’re referencing, in terms of what you need to look out for is becoming more and more important these days, especially because we’re seeing the rise of these all in one themes. I remember when I was starting out and WordPress, you could find themes from any number of developers all across the web, there wasn’t much of a concern as to how popular it was, or whether it would be around for a long time it was just that you found a great looking theme and you wanted to throw it on your blog and you are set for the time being
these days, I feel at least that the theme ecosystem is kind of shrinking in terms of the number of players involved we’re seeing themes like divvy technically plugins but page builders like Beaver Builder, these are really taking over what used to be kind of a niche driven theme ecosystem where you would seek out a theme that fit your business specifically. Whereas what we’re seeing nowadays is Multi Purpose themes, which can really become the website for any type of business. So the the risk that you run and going with those multipurpose teams is exactly what you mentioned, Ray, that you might get way more functionality that you need, which results in something we refer to as theme, boat bloat can slow down your website, if it’s not coded in the proper way, because it’s loading a lot of resources you may not even be using. But it could also just complicate the user experience unnecessarily.
one of the key points that I recommend to business owners when they’re looking for theme is to first define your content, I know that it’s really tempting to go to WordPress dot org and immediately start browsing the theme repository. But you need to know and understand what content is going to be on your website so that it can then fit into the right theme. and not vice versa. A lot of times, you may see a pretty layout or a theme or a color scheme that appeals to you, and you install that theme. And before you know it, you’re so far into the process that you realize, hey, this theme isn’t really right for the content that I need on my website. So content first approach would be my biggest tip to business owners.
Rene Morozowich 16:58
I think another thing to look for for is a theme that has been maintained, so one that the developer is still working on and continually making changes themes that have more than just a few users, kind of like road tested by other people. And instead of you just basically doing a bit of research, and I totally agree to with them, define your content first, and choosing a design that works for your content. So when
Ray Sidney-Smith 17:27
you go to the to the theme directory, or you find these marketplaces for themes, like involved, oh, has theme forest and there are several others out there, woo, themes, and I’ll have shows, I’ll have links to these in the show notes. The
there’s just so many choices. And it becomes a Paradox of Choice in terms of deciding on, you know, what kind of theme you want, do you have any just quick tips, tricks hacks that you have used in the past, and being able to narrow down the number of themes that are to be chosen either from the WordPress theme directory, which are the free themes that are available, or one of these private for purchase themes themselves, because
like you, I think it’s really important like you both I think it’s really important to define your content, figure out what your audience is going to need, and then have that drive the decision for what kinds of themes you would even want to choose. And then you go to the theme store, and it’s just pages upon pages upon pages of options,
what what do you do to narrow that down when you’re first looking for theme, and you’re kind of overwhelmed with those options. One of the great things about WordPress is that any of the free themes that are available in the directory can actually be installed and activated on your site. Without any long term commitment, you know, you don’t have to pay anything, you just click install an action eight, or even preview, and you can see what your site would look like without having to make a commitment that you feel locked into over a long period of time. And that can be great if you’re in the market for a free theme. And there are some great free themes out there, especially if you have a certain type of site in mind. For example, if you’re in the market for an e commerce site, using a plugin like woo commerce, there’s a great free theme called storefront that is sort of specifically developed to work with e commerce sites. So I know I said earlier, you know, don’t feel like you need to be locked into a theme that’s specifically for your niche industry, but do look for themes that are matching the functionality that you’re looking for in your site. So if its e commerce, there are certain themes that certainly play better with web shops. On the On the flip side, if it’s more of a magazine site, or a online journal, there are other themes that are more suitable for that purpose. So again, identify your content and your functionality, and then look into the aesthetic appearance of your theme. Most sites
Rene Morozowich 20:06
allow you to filter also on functionality features, other things like that. So you can go in and instead of just looking at all the WordPress themes at once, page after page after page, you can use the filter feature to determine things that you do care about or don’t care about. You could also rely on recommendations for other people. So it’s, you know, some other small business owners who are happy or not happy with the the theme that they’ve chosen. Or you could read reviews online, you can get some feedback that way also to try to narrow your choice down
Ray Sidney-Smith 20:42
great recommendations. I know that one of the issues that I frequently come across is that a client will be working with a website designer, they’ll choose a theme and then they’ll install the initial theme. And it looks nothing like the demo theme. Right?
I’m wondering if you’ve experienced this also. What Why, why is that? Why Why does it not look like the demo the demo and and how should people address the difference between the demo that they view of the theme and what it’s going to look like once they click activator preview to customize and set it up? Yeah, it
definitely requires some foresight and some imagination at this point in time. It’s the problem that you mentioned of seeing a great looking preview of a theme and then installing it on your website. And being underwhelmed is really one of the biggest issues that we’re kind of actively working on in the WordPress core development. And there are some open issues that are being developed that allow you to kind of install the preview content that you see on the directory into your website. So you do have that more one to one relationship between what you previewed and what you installed. But that’s very much in the world works right now. Currently, when you install a theme, and you may see sort of a blank slate that subtly reckon subtly references the team you’re looking for, but isn’t quite what you imagine, just just look and understand that the theme is really providing the blueprint for your site. And once you start to populate it with content, it may start to sort of resemble that vision you had in mind that you saw in the directory,
it’s sort of like Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come right.
Rene Morozowich 22:31
I think it can be difficult to to get all of the demo content in. Some people want to import the demo content. So that the looks exactly like the demo. But to get all of that content in, it doesn’t always come over or come over correctly. And to
Ray Sidney-Smith 22:48
some extent, I, I kind of think, look at themes. And again, this requires some bit of imagination and creativity. But I think about how the website is supposed to look from, for myself, business or my clients business, I never really think about it from the perspective that I want exactly that theme to look exactly that way. I guess it just really require some some imagination. So I would really invite listeners
Kevin W. Hoffman 23:12
to come to that theme discovery process with a sense of wonder, with a sense of imagination and build out from there, you know, you’re not gonna be able to do everything with themes as well. And this brings us to child themes, and what what our child themes and and why should, why should small business owners have child themes. So the primary purpose of a child theme is to extend the parent theme, which means if you install a theme from the directory, or maybe you purchase a theme from one of the marketplaces. And then maybe you want to change the size of the heading on your homepage, or you want to go a little bit more than just adding some custom CSS. And maybe you want to edit the page template, and all you might want to add a byline under each of your blog post articles. Maybe that’s not part of the theme itself. But it’s quite simple once you understand child themes to go in and edit the theme and add some layouts or some templates that may not be part of the theme out of the box once you understand the child Damien process. And the key key reason to create a child theme and not just go hacking away at the theme itself has to do with theme updates. So WordPress has a built in update system that allows developers to update themes and plugins over time. And one of the pitfalls that a lot of new business owners who just caught their WordPress site will fall into is they start to edit their themes and plugins as they were installed. And what that means is that the next time you get an update, all of those changes might disappear on you. Because all the theme knows is that my original developer has some changes the push to my website. So they go on, grab those changes, overriding anything that you might have done. And that’s where child things come into play. So a child theme is kind of like a theme that extends the parent theme that you have total ownership. So even if that parenting gets updated, you can rest easy knowing that any changes you made will persist on your website, even after those updates. So that’s the key reason is to keep your changes separate from any changes that parenting
Rene Morozowich 25:31
they sound a little bit scary, and maybe a little bit difficult. But a lot of pre purchase pre packaged themes nowadays come with a child theme. So when you install your theme, you will actually install two themes. The parent and the child and the child is the theme that you activate. And that’s the one where you’ll make all of your changes. If your theme doesn’t come with a child theme. There are resources online that will show you how to create a child theme. It’s not very complicated.
Ray Sidney-Smith 26:01
I remember doing my first child theme and getting flummoxed by, you know, all the various coding pieces, and so on, so forth. And it’s really become much easier today than it than it used to used to be, especially
when they include them. Now,
one thing I would add to the child theme conversation is a recent change to WordPress added a custom CSS box in the customizer of your website. So if you go into the customizer, you can actually add CSS on top of your parent theme and not be at risk of losing those changes when the theme updates. So historically, if you just wanted to change, you know, the size of one heading, you would have to make a child theme just to accomplish that small task. One of the nice changes that I just referenced was this custom CSS box, which allows you to paste you know, a small amount of CSS just to make some of those minor changes into your website without having to go through that entire Child Theme process if that seems overwhelming. And for those who might not know CSS is stands for Cascading Style Sheets. And it’s the language that controls the look of your website. It’s the actual code that’s rendered in your web browser to help structure the visual styling and the layout of the website. Just one quick story from our last meetup we had an attendee who was just getting into a wordpress. com site and wanted to explore some of the themes that were available. And that brings us back to that you know, opening distinction between WordPress dot org and WordPress dot com. You need to be aware of which of those platforms you’re on. Because if you sign up for a dot com site, you’re going to be limited to only themes that work through the dot com directory. So you may start googling for you know, best WordPress theme for a marketplace for an online journal. And you’ll see some really great themes but understand and based on which those platforms are on dot org or or dot com, you may be limited in your options. So generally speaking, there are a lot more things available if you go the self hosted route with dot org. Just be aware of that.
Ray Sidney-Smith 28:15
Yes, I believe that wordpress. com has about 300 themes available within its premium theme directory. I wanted to move us along in the conversation to our next segment on what our plugins and some of the recommendations for what plugins small business owners should really have, which ones they need and maybe they might want I frequently want more plugins that I need and and then some of the pitfalls that small business owners face when they have plugins such as updating or keeping them maintained in some way, shape or form Can you define for us what a WordPress plugin is in relative to WordPress core? The primary software we’re live now talked about the theme frameworks and child themes. What what’s a plugin so basically
Rene Morozowich 29:06
a plugin is a chunk of code that add some additional functionality to your site. So ideally, plugins are easy to install and should be quick to configure. So if you think of it like an app for your phone, if you want to track how much you weigh, or map the run that you’re going to take on Saturday, you can install an app for that. So a plug in very similar to an app so one popular example is Woot commerce. If you want to sell physical or digital items on your site, you can install woo commerce to do that.
Yeah, one of the really nice things about plugins is it allows you to keep WordPress core very slim in terms of the number of resources it needs to power a website so that it provides general functionality that everyone’s going to need, like posts and pages and content management. But not everyone needs an online shop. Not everyone needs to host a podcast on their website.
Ray Sidney-Smith 30:13
But if you do, that’s when plugins come into play. So they extend your core functionality of WordPress to do some of those more specialized things that you need for your business. Great explanation and I think it’s really important for people to take heed to the fact that WordPress plugins are super powerful. I mean, they’re very, very powerful to extend the abilities of WordPress but there are some things that it can and can do. I want to start off with what a WordPress plugin can do. I know you Rene said Woot commerce exists the plugin that allows you to create an e commerce or a store on your WordPress website. But let’s start off with maybe some of the more fundamentals what are the things that you believe every small business owner should really have installed as soon as they implement their WordPress installation. What are the first plugins that you always have small business owners install and why
Rene Morozowich 31:13
I always install a good backup plugin and a security plugin. So I like Updraft Plus for backups and word fence for security. So in updrafts, plus, you can set a schedule on when you want to backup your site. And you can also have the backups go off site, which I like. So you can connect to Dropbox or Google Drive so that your backups aren’t tied to and live where your WordPress site lives also, like word fence because it can be set up so that you can be notified when your plugins are out of date. So it’s a security vulnerability whenever your your plugins are out of date. So it will let you know hey, it’s time to update this plugin or that plugin again, so that you know to go in and make those changes. So those are the two that I always install on every site. I always try to think about the plugins I need based on the functionality that every website should address. And one of those other areas in addition to security and backups is Seo. So a plugin called Yoast SEO is kind of the industry standard. It’s by far the most robust SEO plugin for WordPress. And it gives you a lot of SEO benefits just out of the box just by
activating it. Some things that I know a lot of small business owners don’t quite think about until a post from their website lands and their social media feed is how a post looks when it’s shared by other people. So with something like Yoast SEO lets you customize the image that appears in Facebook when an article shared or the title that shows up with a description when you search for your website. On Google also those things if you were to custom code, your website would be things you would be changing on a page by page basis that WordPress and Yoast SEO allow you to sort of automate, and then allow you to go in one level deeper and customize on a post by post basis. So that it should really become part of your workflow that when you add a new page or a new blog post, you’re also adding the meta description. It’s going to appear in Facebook and Twitter when that article shared. And you really address the whole pipeline from start to finish.
And the the other one I would mention is to have an analytic solution. So the, you know, what your website is doing, how it’s performing, and you’re not just playing guessing games in terms of the popularity of what worked, what didn’t. And there’s a great plugin called monster insights that makes including Google Analytics on your website, an absolute breeze, you don’t have to get into your team files and tweet code, you just sign up for Google Analytics, copy and paste your account number into monster insights and basically injects the Analytics code for you. And you can begin to see your traffic, your most popular pages, things like that over time. I’ll make note here because I
Ray Sidney-Smith 34:15
think it’s pertinent that as many of you listening may or may not know, I’m the Google Small Business advisor for productivity. So I primarily talk about G Suite, Google My Business and the various other products that Google has Google Analytics and so and so forth. And one of the things that I frequently explain to new clients is that when they install WordPress, and they get set up that you really do want to install something like monster insights plugin first, and then get analytics connected. And then immediately thereafter setup Yoast SEO because it allows you to connect to the Google Search Console. So if you don’t know what the Google search console is, it’s the way in which Google crawls your website or looks at your website for purposes of feeding data into Google’s search engine. And it’s it just makes it a breeze to be able to use monster insights connected, have analytics running. And then once analytics is running on your website, then verifying with the Google search console is that much easier, because you can tell it to verify the website against your activation of Google Analytics. So just a little quick tip there in terms of being able to get all of that setup. And while I’m on my high horse, make sure you have a Google My Business listing and make sure that you have your you know, Google Analytics setup and your Google Search Console setup. I I can’t understand how many businesses don’t have those things set up and how important they are for it. While we’re on the topic of kind of favorite plugins. I
know that with a lot of small business owners listening, we should probably address the types of e commerce that you can accomplish with WordPress, because businesses are often looking to sell something to their website. So the three types that I identify our physical e commerce, which sounds kind of like,
you know, what physical and e commerce how did those two things go together? Well, it means that you’re selling physical goods through your website. And that’s a great a great solution for that problem is woo commerce. So that means that you go onto a website similar to kind of an Amazon. com experience place in order and then a piece of merchandise arrives at your door. Woo. Commerce is an excellent solution for that. But there are a lot of businesses that sell digital goods. So we have digital e commerce and there’s a plugin called easy digital downloads that really excels at selling those Digital Goods through your website. And it doesn’t include a lot of things like shipping and
calculations for inventory and a lot of that functionality that is inherent physical goods. Digital Goods don’t need that, but they may need things like software licensing or digital coupons that can only be redeemed a certain number of times easy digital downloads provides a lot of that functionality. And both of these plugins woo commerce and add as you might hear it called when you start looking into these options. They have an entire ecosystems around them so they have add ons that extend the plugins themselves right so we have woo commerce extending WordPress and then we have add ons extending Woot commerce if you want to do specific things like maybe calculate shipping rates to different parts of the country or different countries around the world. So those are two big ones physical and digital e commerce. And then just as a disclaimer, I’m a developer for this plugin. But give is another great option. If you do nonprofit e commerce meaning you accept online donations through your website. The important thing is to just recognize that
just selling something to your website can be accomplished in a lot of different ways. But there are specific plugins for specific reasons of why you’re selling that can make a lot of difference and reducing headaches down the road and really catering to your business and since you also commit to the WP business reviews what’s what’s that plugin all about and what’s its functionality? Sure, so that’s a new plugin that is in development and it kind of connects to your point earlier about making sure that you have your Google My Business account set up You also want to make sure that you have an ongoing flow of reviews coming into your business so what WP business reviews does is allows you to crab reviews from your various social networks you know Google Facebook Yelp hopefully your business is registered on at least those big three and you’re getting reviews on an ongoing basis from those platforms with WP business reviews does is allows you to take those reviews and display them on your website all in one central location so that you know someone might find you via Google clicking to your website and never see those great reviews that’s what this plugin is all about is showcasing those reviews directly on your site where your customers making a purchasing decision
Ray Sidney-Smith 39:18
and when you mean by in development does that mean that if a person’s listening right now and wants it they can they have to wait or so we have we have a landing page up right now at WP business interviews calm where you can start to see how that plugin is going to work and the types of reviewed galleries and the different display format to be able to present your reviews in fantastic fantastic and and I’ll have links to all of this in the show notes everybody. So you don’t have to be scribbling down URLs while you’re listening. Rene I wanted to close out the conversation on on plugins with one some of your other favorite more bespoke use case
and maybe some of the pitfalls that come into play when you start installing some of these plugins. So what are some of your favorites beyond the initial Updraft Plus and and word fence for security backup and security respectively. What are the things that you like for other other kinds of use cases I
Rene Morozowich 40:23
think it’s really important to communicate with your visitors so I really like MailChimp and the MailChimp plugin connects automatically with your MailChimp account so that you can let your users know whenever you have a new blog post. You can send them newsletters, and like I said everything connects automatically. So I use MailChimp a lot. And also I like ninja forms. I think it’s really easy to use. And you can collect a lot of good information from the visitors on your site. As I
Ray Sidney-Smith 40:55
said before you install all of these plugins. And at some point it’s too good to be true that you could just install all these plugins and then you know your websites going to work wonderfully well. What are some of the pitfalls that small business owners or business owners in general website publishers experience when they install plugins.
Rene Morozowich 41:13
There’s a couple of things that you want to check when deciding which plug into us and how many plugins to use. So you want to make sure that it does have users and good ratings. You also want to make sure that you’re getting it from a reputable developer and that the developer is continuing to update the plugin. You also want to make sure that it is compatible with the newest version of WordPress. So when WordPress is updated, or when you update WordPress, you want to check to make sure that your plugin still functions as you think it should. Yeah,
Kevin W. Hoffman 41:46
so one of the points I mentioned earlier with themes is that you can have bloat where you have more functionality than you need. and that in turn puts a bigger load on your website requiring users to download things that will never actually be seen results in a slower website, etc. You can have that same experience because of bloated plugins. And I would address one misconception is that a lot of times people will open a new WordPress website that maybe they’re maintaining and they’ll see a long list of plugins and say, Oh, no, what is this? What is this business owner doing? They have 40 plugins on their website. And I would say that it’s not so much the number of what number of plugins that is an issue. It’s what those plugins are doing and what kind of assets are required in order to power those plugins. So actually a lot of small single purpose plugins, it can be a good thing and that’s something I definitely did as it as a freelance developer as I would often develop custom plugins that did one thing and one thing only, and what that allows you to do was turn things off as you need them, whereas you don’t need them without affecting major parts of your website. So don’t just look at a large number of plugins as a bad thing. But really understand what are those plugins what those plugins are doing and how it’s affecting your website.
Ray Sidney-Smith 43:07
I know this wasn’t in our agenda, but I wanted to speak very briefly since you sort of brought up bloat about the about automatic which is the company that helps produce WordPress dot org and they own wordpress. com The hosted service they also produce the plugin jetpack. And I’m curious about both of your perspectives on bloat in that case, because jetpack is a huge plugin, and it does many, many things do you do you feel gravitated toward using jetpack or do you avoid it, I’ve used
Rene Morozowich 43:42
jetpack in a few cases and I’ve found more difficulties with it then benefits so I don’t install it unless the theme requires it or unless another plugin specifically says hey, I need jetpack to function. It does do a lot of great things. However, like I said, I’ve had some difficulties with it. So I try to stay away from it. If I can.
Kevin W. Hoffman 44:08
I would agree. I don’t use jetpack too often. But it’s not necessarily because of the bloat. Because I think it even though it does include a lot of kind of unrelated modules, it does a pretty good job of only activating what you’ve told it to. So if you need a contact form, you can kind of turn that module on. If it’s not on, those resources won’t be loaded. So I mean, the team behind jetpack are really some of the best WordPress developers. One of the reasons I don’t use it so much is because it requires a wordpress. com login, even if you’re on a dot org site. So that that sounds confusing just to say, right, imagine if you’re a client trying to configure jetpack and they’re thinking Oh, my developer Kevin just gave me this whole explanation about WordPress dot org versus calm but now I need calm to use it on dot org. So that whole login aspect just to activate a plugin is one of the reasons it kind of turns me off to using it. But as a product itself and the code underneath it’s it’s pretty impressive. So if the modules in jetpack or something you need it’s certainly worth looking into. There are
Ray Sidney-Smith 45:17
definitely pros and cons to all of this you know i i use jetpack actually in two of my larger multi site network WordPress installations, which is basically a WordPress installation that has many websites all inside the same database. Whereas I don’t use it in some of the smaller installations that I do purely because I don’t need it you know, it’s just not necessary to extend WordPress in that way. So I think it really comes down to is this is this plugin going to do what I needed to do, what can I do to limit the complications that can happen for example, I have a client right now who is installing a member press plugin into their WordPress core and is having problems with the with some kind of jetpack login loop that’s happening, right. So the member press team is working with her to be able to figure that out. And that’s a complication that we may have to decide against jetpack so that we can get this membership website up and running. So you know, when those things happen, it really is important for you to take heed. That one jetpack is not the end all be all of plugins, there are many of them out there, and that it’s a great plugin. It’s not necessarily something that will blow your system. Unless you activate all the features within jetpack, I would say you could even you could treat it as kind of a form of progressive enhancement. So even
Kevin W. Hoffman 46:36
if you started with jetpack because you needed a contact form or an easy gallery, you know, jetpack provides both those things out of the box, essentially. But maybe you start to get into more of a complex registration process like Ray mentioned, where you need something like member press, that would be a time where maybe you turn off your jetpack module for contact form, and you install a more complex and more feature rich plugin that can handle that for you. So it’s absolutely your website is a living being it evolves over time. And the plugins you install on day one aren’t locked in for life. That’s the great thing about a plugin.
Rene Morozowich 47:14
Some people think that you do a website and then it’s over. And you don’t ever have to pay attention to it. Again, it’s like a checkbox. So something that your business needs that you’ve checked the box. And now you can move on to the next thing. And I think that that is not a great way to look at it. I think that a website is something that needs time and care and attention, especially with a WordPress site, you should be updating you shouldn’t be adding new content, I liken websites to especially in the small business world to children, you know, people who who are parents who are aware of this, but you have children and they just get more and more needy as they get older.
Ray Sidney-Smith 47:59
They don’t become
they do grow up, but they do leave home eventually. Some of them and but they they still need care and concern. And you don’t ever lose that sense of wanting. And I first for some reason with small business owners. It’s a kind of set it and forget it, you walk away. And I really do believe that a website should be a website that a website that a small business launches should be a website that you want to come back to every day and use it should it should have that sense of draw for you as the business owner in the perspective of your audience. So how how would you want to be if you were your own audience to want to, to approach this tool every day, whether that be from an informational perspective or functionality perspective. But websites aren’t great, because you can set it and forget it and never fix anything with it, or keep it updated or, you know, secure or backed up or otherwise, you’re
sort of like a garden, you need to keep tending to the garden in order for it to keep blossoming. So I really appreciate that. That concept there. So one of the things you should really be asking yourself and any potential developer that you’re working with is what is the long term plan for your site? This is something I was certainly guilty of as a young Freelancer that would often spec out a project right up and write up a contract, feel really confident going into a project with a client, build the site and then think oh, no, what’s next, because as we know, WordPress, sites, themes, plugins, they all require updates to keep them secure, to keep them working and functioning together. So you need to ask your developer what is the long term plan and that can go I would say one of two ways. Either they are in the business of maintenance or they’re not. And personally, I was never a big fan of website and payments. To me, it’s a lot of tedious work, a lot of clicking updates multiple times a week to keep your website up to date. And some developers who really just want to focus on creating sites may not do that. And that’s okay. But they should have someone to turn you to once the hand off the website. So there are companies like WP site care, or I just met Joe from WP buffs at WordPress, Pittsburgh work camp Pittsburgh, and Joe’s company will take a site say after a developer like myself would finish one. And they would take it over and handle those updates on an ongoing basis for a small monthly fee. Whereas, you know, maybe paying a developer to do that every single month might become more costly. There are options that will keep your website up to date for a small amount of money per month. But you can rest easy knowing that someone is watching over your site. So that’s my, that’s my key takeaways. If it’s not the original developer, make sure they have someone there handing it off to who was kind of the gatekeeper that can take care of it over time.
Rene Morozowich 50:56
So I have a few questions to ask when hiring a designer or developer or a designer developer or a unicorn, as we call them? Do they come with a good recommendation from someone that you know and trust? Do they have a nice site themselves easy to find contact information? When you do send them an email or call them? Are they responsive? Do they get back to you in a timely fashion?
Or the courteous, authentic, straight forward? And after you have that conversation with them? Do you get a sense that you would work well together?
Do you like them? Did you connect? Do they have a contract, you want to protect yourself? They need to protect themselves? And what about their portfolio? How does it look, if a site doesn’t look good, because the design isn’t very good, I hesitate to use it because people are very visual. So I may have done a great job on the backups and the maintenance or the site migration. But I can’t really showcase that because I worried that people are going to judge me based on the design. And also
Ray Sidney-Smith 51:58
clients have a tendency sometimes move a site design in a direction that may not be in line with what the designer necessarily feels comfortable with. And that’s, that’s the collaborative sometimes the the double edged sword of collaboration is that you have someone who’s a professional, I always liken it to this, if you go, if you ever need heart surgery, do you wake up mid surgery and tell the doctor where to put the scalpel you know,
you have a heart surgeon for a reason, you know, you’re on the table, he, he or she does the job. And but it doesn’t quite work that way, when it comes to websites, you really do need to have a collaborative approach. And that means that a designer may have to compromise on some design element for function or otherwise, that they may not want to showcase on an in their portfolio. So totally understandable. Plus, you know, website publishers, you know, you have a small business owner who launches a website. And then right after they’re done with the designer developer, they go ahead and change the site, see this, on occasion, a website developer will come into an SPC for a counseling session about how to, you know, market their business or get things organized. And they will open up their portfolio and show it to me on their website. And then we’ll click on a link and it’ll go to a live site of their clients. And the site’s down or, you know, things of that nature. So if you happen to be a website, developer designer listening, just take screenshots,
what are what are some other things that small business owners should pay attention to, as it relates to WordPress, and sort of the design and development side of things, if there’s anything else that you both wanted to share. So one thing to be aware of, is that
Kevin W. Hoffman 53:44
developers are kind of a skeptical bunch when it comes to hiring them. And they’re very wary of what we call spec work, which is clients or business owners that may be looking for either a free website are really low budget website in return for free publicity or stock options down the road. The idea is that new business owners are understandably strapped for cash, and may not have everything they want to put into a great website up front.
And as a result, they can kind of look for developers to go all in on a project without having much commitment from the other side. And, and that can go the other way as well, as Rene was mentioning, it’s sometimes it’s difficult to showcase projects in your portfolio that really reflect the work that you do, you can also have not so great developers that showcase really great that aren’t necessarily indicative of the work that they put into it. So one thing that kind of addresses both sides of that equation is what’s called a paid trial period. And that was something I did with WordPress when they hired me, and I am a really big fan of it, because I think it just shows respect on both sides as a company that was looking to hire, they were willing to kind of go through a small kind of microcosm of a project that would reflect what my larger scale work would do, would would provide for them down the road. And
what is a common sort of agreement to come up with in website development is to pay half up front and half on completion. So that’s exactly what they did. And immediately, that can be a great sense of respect them for me and me for them is that they were willing to invest in me up front with the understanding that I would follow through on that. So if you have a if you come across a developer who’s looking for something like that, either a paid trial period, or what is sometimes called a paid discovery phase, which is when a developer sits down with you goes, you’re your plan your blueprint for your site, make sure they know exactly what you want. And sometimes they will charge for that. And that’s perfectly fine. Because their time is valuable and worth that. But just understand that that is so often worth it. Because you find out right up front, what it’s really like to work with them in the trenches, you’re not just looking at resumes and portfolios, but you’re actually working with them. So that’s something that would really look into as a business owner.
Rene Morozowich 56:26
Along those same lines, if a business doesn’t have a lot of money to start with, you can do what’s called an MVP, or a minimum viable product. So you can develop a site or work with someone to develop a site that is small, but it’s very basic, you know, what you need at this point. And then as your business grows, you can work with that developer designer, again, to add additional functionality, maybe you’re not ready to do a newsletter, you know, out of the gate. But in six months, you’ve built up enough
clients customers that you’re now ready to do that. So you can add that on at a later point, I do
Ray Sidney-Smith 57:06
really think that most small business owners do start with the ideal in mind, as opposed to what’s necessary at this point in my business. So I really take that to heart I think that’s important. One thing that I will add an end on note, a note is, especially when you come to this point in choosing a website platform like WordPress, and you get through all of this, make sure that you have what I call a TMP or a tweak maintenance plan. I talked about this in Episode Two with Ryan Cleveland of web design. And I think it’s something that I just really believe in. It’s whether whether it’s something that’s contractual with the person you’re working with, or you find someone like the services that Kevin had mentioned to keep your website backed up and secure and updated, you need to have some level of tweaking period where you get the site you know either in a staging perspective or live preferably live and see what’s going on so that you can then tweak it over time get it to a place where you’re comfortable and then it goes into kind of a maintenance mode where you are updating your security you’re updating your plugins you’re making sure that that things are doing what they should be doing and that you’re checking in on that or someone is being someone’s doing it for you so I think that’s really important to have so I wanted to thank you both for being on with me today This has been a fantastic conversation about WordPress and its fundamental parts Rene which who’s a freelance WordPress developer you can find her online at rename arose which calm and Kevin W. Hoffman who was the WordPress engineer at word impress. So thank you both for being here on the show with me. Thanks, Ray. Thanks. Since we talked about all of these variety of WordPress plugins and tools, we’re not going to talk about the best tool the week this week because all those plugins are our best tools of the week this week. That said, that’s the end of this episode of web and beyond cast. Thanks for listening to weapon beyond cast for small business comes to learn about marketing and managing on the web and beyond. I’m your host Teresa de Smith. Until next time, here’s to your small business success on the web and beyond.
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