What a year! SSL, GDRP, and now Gutenberg

First it was the SSL crisis.
A little less than a year ago, I got the news that Chrome was soon going to humiliate anybody whose website wasn’t served via SSL by showing visitors a scary warning icon. There followed a big effort on my part to get all my websites being served via HTTPS. In retrospect, I wish I had waited a little, because my poor substandard host company, Hostgator, had apparently just started offering SSL certificates. They didn’t know how to do it, and made a giant mess out of it, over a period of weeks. And they were charging $25/year/site for this terrible service.

Now, with a new and much better host (KnownHost) I get free AutoSSL with 1 click, which is all I need and awesome!

Then it was the GDRP crisis. As of a specific recent date, it was possible, at least, that a web developer could be held legally liable for a website which didn’t conform to a brand-new and very complex European law. I panicked early and did make sure that my sites which needed GDRP measures got them, once I figured out what those measures needed to be. It was all very vague and a little scary.

A few weeks after the deadline, web developers who had been immobilized and done nothing were sneering about how it had all been just “another Y2K”, which is pretty dumb, since the GDRP law is quite real and could very well affect web admins in other parts of the world.

And now there’s Gutenberg, the new WordPress drag-and-drop block editor which the WordPress powers that be are speeding towards including in the WordPress core. I was an early panic-adopter for this as well, though it’s turning out that there should be a built-in way to complete avoid the Gutenberg Editor “for many years to come”, according to somebody quoted by my friend Mad Dog yesterday. So I’ll be fine, but again, all the people who just ignored the whole thing are throwing shade on responsible persons like myself for having spent any time worrying about it.

What’s next? And next time should I play it cool and maybe save a lot of work? Or will the imagined emails from my clients yelling at me for not taking care of these things spur me into early action again? Stay tuned and we’ll see.

Posted in Browsers, Design and coding tools, Technology

Creating and Publishing Posts and Pages

What is a post and what is a page?

Posts and pages are central parts of a WordPress site. First, let’s clarify some terminology.

WordPress posts are entries or articles which have these special characteristics:

  • They’re dated and usually presented in reverse chronological order on the website
  • They can be organized by applying categories and tags
  • They can include a comments section after the article, allowing readers to publish their reactions
  • They’re included in the site’s RSS feeds.

WordPress pages normally have none of the above characteristics. Instead, they’re entries/articles which are generally static information, for which the date isn’t important. Pages have some special attributes of their own: they can be assigned page templates, and they can be organized hierarchically.

Technically, a WordPress page is a type of WordPress post. Posts came first in WordPress, and are the basic unit of content. WordPress pages were added later as a special type of post for static information.

Posts may seem like a blog-specific feature, but they’re actually very useful and powerful on non-blog sites as well because they can be organized and displayed in lots of ways based on dates, categories and tags, author, and more.

Creating a New Post

Creating a new post is as simple as this set of steps:

  1. In the Admin, click Posts > Add New. This opens the Add New Post screen.
  2. Near the top, type a Title for the Post.
  3. In the Post Editing box, type or paste your content.
  4. On the right, click Publish.

That will create a simple post. But there are a number of other fields and settings which can be associated with the post.

The Add New Post screen

Like a lot of Administration screens, the Add New Post screen has Screen Options, which you get to by clicking the hanging tab in the upper right. There you can determine which fields and options are displayed for your use on the Add New Post screen. You may want to enable them all now so that you can familiarize yourself with them. Later, you can hide the ones you don’t have any current use for.

In addition to the Title and Post Content, these other settings and options are available:

  • Permalink: This field, which appears as soon as a post is saved, shows the permanent link that will be used as this post’s URL (web address). WordPress creates a slug — a simplified post name — based on the title you give the post. The slug can be edited by clicking the Edit button next to the Permalink. Whether the slug is used in your permalink is dependent upon the settings you’ve made on the main Settings > Permalinks screen. See Resources for more information about Permalinks.
  • A teaser is a short text excerpt or text summary of an article, designed to draw the reader in so that he clicks to read the whole article. WordPress sites often use text teasers on screens where several posts are displayed, such as the Home page or an Archive (collection of posts) page. An excerpt, a short piece of text from the article, is often used as a teaser.
  • Excerpt: Depending upon how a theme is coded, the website page which displays several of your most recent Posts may display them as teasers, short excerpts designed to draw in the reader. If your theme does that, you can fill in this Excerpt field in order to determine exactly what will appear as the post teaser. An added benefit is that HTML code can be used in the Excerpt field, if you like, whereas teasers are otherwise straight unformatted text. If you don’t fill in this field, WordPress will automatically take the first 55 words of the post and use that as a teaser, stripping out any formatting. A third possibility is to use the “More tag” to define a teaser; see below.
  • Send Trackbacks: Outdated and not recommended. This gives you the option to notify certain blog systems that you have linked to them, using the outdated trackbacks system. If you’re a regular blogger and this type of notification is important to you, use pingbacks instead.
  • Custom Fields: When a theme has set them up, this allows the post author to add fields to the post.
  • Discussion: This panel allows you to enable or disable comments for this post, and to enable or disable pingbacks and trackbacks for this post. These settings will override the global settings on the Settings > Discussion screen. Please see the Lesson on Blog Comments for detailed information.
  • Comments: This panel allows you to write a comment to be posted below the post on the website.
  • Slug: The post slug is a simplified name for the post, usually derived from the actual post title, consisting only of lowercase words and hyphens. When you’ve made a Custom Permalink setting under Settings > Permalinks, the post slug will be used as part of the post’s permanent, user-friendly URL.
  • Author: This panel allows you to set the post’s author.
  • Formats: When the theme supports the feature called Post Formats, this panel will offer the option of choosing among them.
  • Categories: Lets you assign categories to the post.
  • Tags: Lets you assign tags to the post.
  • Featured Image: Here you can choose an image to be used to represent this post, when the theme supports this. The image may be shown as a thumbnail or a much larger image, depending upon the theme.
  • Revisions: “A time machine for your posts”, as the WordPress Codex says. See below for more on the Revisions system.

The Edit Post screen

Once a post has been created and saved, the Add New Post screen becomes the Edit Post screen. The Edit Post screen is also what you’ll see if and when you return to edit this post in the future. The two screens are almost identical.

The Visual Editor

The Visual Editor is what we call the word-processor-like feature of the Add New Post and Edit Post screens, consisting of one or two rows of formatting buttons. It’s a bit rudimentary compared with an actual desktop word processor, but with a little practice you’ll be able to turn out nicely-formatted articles.

The Visual tab and the Text tab

The first thing to understand about the Visual Editor are its two tabs, located to the right of the formatting buttons: Visual and Text. Unless you’re comfortable with HTML, you’ll want to spend almost all of your time on the Visual tab.

On the Visual tab, you’ll see a rough approximation of the way your article will look on the website. Depending upon the content, you’ll see headings, paragraphs, bold, italic, lists, etc., as what they are. Images and embedded media will be represented there. But you won’t see what your post will really look like on the website itself until you preview or publish it. This is because the theme normally applies lots of its own styling.

So the Visual tab provides a rough view to help you see how you’re formatting your post. For most people starting out with WordPress, this is where you want to work.

The Text tab is a modified code view. If you you have a good understanding of HTML, it can be helpful to switch to the Text tab to fine-tune something. Sadly, it doesn’t show the actual HTML code in full either.

Be sure to check which tab you’re on when you’re working on a post.

The Visual tab’s formatting buttons

On the Visual tab, you should see at least one row of formatting buttons. If you only see one row, then click the Toolbar Toggle button, which reveals the second row of formatting buttons.

Most of the formatting buttons should be familiar to anyone who has used a word processor, and are used in the same way. The easiest way to apply formatting is to first select the text you want to format, and then click the button.

  • bold, italic, strikethrough and underline
  • lists
  • blockquotes
  • add horizontal line
  • align left, center or right
  • add or remove links
  • paragraphs and headings
  • full justification
  • text color
  • remove formatting
  • indent

A few formatting buttons deserve special explanation.

  • Insert More tag: The More tag provides a way to excerpt a portion of text from he beginning of a post as a teaser, that short chunk of text often displayed on a WordPress Home page or Archive (collection of posts) page. Use this button to insert the More tag into a post at the point where you’d like to end its teaser. All text before the More tag will be displayed, followed by a link inviting the reader to click and read the rest.
  • Distraction-free writing: This feature is just what it sounds like. Since WordPress 3.9, the button is located on the extreme far right in the button bar. Clicking it causes everything on the screen to fade out except for the bare necessities of writing. It’s easy to switch back and forth as needed. WordPress 4.1 improved the interface and functionality significantly.
  • Paste as Plain Text: As of WordPress 3.9, text copied from a word processor document can be simply pasted into the Editor, and will have all or most of its formatting code stripped out. Clicking the Paste as Plain Text button before you paste the text will definitely strip out all formatting other than paragraph breaks.

Adding images

As of WordPress 3.9, images and other attachments can be added to a post or page by simply dragging-and-dropping them into the editing area. Images can also still be added by clicking the Add Media button at the top of the Visual Editor. We go over this in detail in the Using Images lesson.

Featured Images

WordPress allows you to assign one particular image to represent the post overall, from the Featured Image panel which (if enabled in Screen Options) appears on the Add New Post and Edit Post screens. Themes usually display the Featured Image in some prominent position, either as small thumbnails or even much larger-size images. This is covered in detail in the Using Images lesson.

Publishing a post

As soon as you click the Publish button, your new post will be visible on the front-end website. After that, the button says Update.

But there are some other useful publishing options, all in the Publish panel.

Preview Changes gives you just that, a preview of the post.

Status: There are three “publication states” available here. By default, a post is in the Published state, and will be visible on the website as soon as the Publish button is clicked. Pending Review means that the post is waiting for approval by an Editor or Administrator. Draft means that the post is saved, but not published. Choose a Status, and then Save/Update.

Visibility provides three more options, which apply to the post once it is published. A Public post will be visible to everybody. A Password-protected post is visible to anybody who provides the password you create here. A Private post is visible only to you and other Editors and Admins.

TIP: Scheduling publication. You can schedule a post to “publish itself” on a future date at a specific time, using the Edit link next to Publish in the Publish panel.

Publish/ed: “immediately” is the default — when the Publish button is pressed, the post will be live and visible on the website, unless modified by the above Status and Visibility settings. Clicking Edit allows you to set a date for publication. You can use this to schedule a post; it will automatically be live at the exact time you’ve scheduled.

Revisions: If there are two or more post revisions saved, clicking Browse here will take you to the Compare Revisions screen.

Post Revisions

This WordPress feature has recently been greatly expanded, and can be a great help in editing complex text documents.

WordPress saves a record of each saved draft or published update, including its own every-15-second Autosaves.

There are several ways to get to the Compare Revisions screen:

  • In the Publish panel, click Browse
  • In the Revisions panel — enable it from Screen Options if necessary — click any revision’s link.

On the Compare Revisions screen, you can view all revisions for this post, scrolling through them using the slider or Previous/Next buttons. The revision you’re considering restoring is shown on the right.

Color highlighting shows what was changed, added or removed from one revision to another.

You can also compare any two or more revisions side-by-side by checking the appropriate checkbox near the top.

If you like, click Restore This Revision to make the version on the right into the current saved post.

If you don’t want to restore any revision, just click Return to Post Editor, or the post’s name, at the very top of the screen.

The Posts Screen

The Posts screen displays a list of all existing posts so that they can be viewed, edited, deleted.

Posts are listed in a table with columns of information for each post. Screen Options, accessed from the top-right hanging tab, allow you to choose which columns are shown.

At the top of the list, filters and a search field make it easy to find posts.

Beneath each post’s title are links for editing, viewing, or trashing the post. The Edit link takes you to the Edit Post screen. The Quick Edit link takes you to a panel of selected items to edit quickly. The Trash link moves the post to the Trash (where it is retained until deleted), and the View link opens the post in the front-end website.

Some post information can be bulk-edited. To bulk-edit, select the checkboxes for the posts and then choose Bulk Edit > Edit and click Apply. This opens the Bulk Edit panel, where you can make changes and click Update to save them.

So those are the essentials of creating and publishing WordPress posts.


Posted in WordPress Dashboard, WordPress resources

Customizing a Theme

Themes vary a lot in how they can be customized

It’s not possible for us to provide a straightforward set of procedures for customizing a theme, because themes vary a lot in this respect. We offer some general guidelines here; you’ll need to find out the specifics from the instructions provided for the theme you’ve chosen.

What do we mean by ‘customization’?

Separating content from presentation: In the world of website development, an important distinction is made between content and presentation. Content consists of the actual text, images, and other media. Presentation is the manner in which it is shown. This distinction is essential to the way the Web is designed to work and is a foundational concept to bear in mind. Read more ›

Posted in WordPress themes

Finding Information and Help

In working with WordPress — or any type of website — there are times when we run into problems. We present this lesson in order that you be equipped from the start to troubleshoot any issues that come up.

WordPress is a massive subject with a whole lot of details. Our goal in this Course has been to provide all of the basic, essential information on running a self-hosted WordPress website in concise lessons. It’s neither practical nor desirable for us to include information on absolutely every aspect of WordPress. So it’s crucial that you know how to locate additional information, particularly when you run into a problem.

The WordPress Codex

The WordPress Codex is, as they describe it, “the online manual for WordPress and a living repository for WordPress information and documentation.” It is “the horse’s mouth” for WordPress information, and every WordPress user should be familiar with this excellent resource.

The Codex has detailed information on just about every aspect of WordPress. But be aware: a typical Codex article includes sections for not-particularly-technical people as well as sections aimed directly at PHP developers. Don’t let the mysterious sections discourage you from utilizing all of the great information designed for users just like yourself.

For some strange reason, there’s no search function for the Codex specifically. Rather, the search box provided searches the entire wordpress.org site, which includes the Support Forums and the Plugin Directory. I don’t find the Support Forums useful for searching, since much of the information is years old and WordPress changes quickly. And when you’re looking for information, a list of plugins is not at all what you need. So, let’s say you want to read in the Codex about Post Formats. Try searching Google with a string like this:

post formats site:codex.wordpress.org

or even just:

post formats codex

for a list of search results including only or primarily Codex articles.

“Help” Tab on the Admin Screens

On most of the Administration Screens at the top right is a hanging tab labeled Help. Clicking on this tab shows one or more links to information directly related to that Admin screen.

General support forums

There are the WordPress.org Support Forums. You may get help by posting there, especially if you use your best forum ettiquette. However, when results from these forums show up in your searches for information, they will often be outdated, or questions which were never answered at all.

There is also Stack Overflow, “a question and answer site for professional and enthusiast programmers” which is free and doesn’t even require a login. Again, with some effort and showing a lot of courtesy, you may get good answers to your question there.

Googling for WordPress information

google_search-400x259For WordPress-specific problems, I find that judicious Googling is the most useful. There are thousands of blogs dedicated to discussing WordPress, and many of them provide very valuable free information. Start your search string with “wordpress”, and add the essential terms that define your issue. On Google, you can choose Search Terms > Any time > Past year to limit search results to only those published in the past year. This is a good idea when looking for specifically WordPress information, because WordPress changes so much in a year that older information is often not useful.

Then review the search results information carefully. Does a search result appear to address your exact question? Does the excerpt shown seem generally respectable? Does the URL show a domain which you already know and trust, or does it at least sound like a serious, relevant site? Click through to a search result site and see if it does address your problem, and if it seems like a smart, reputable site.

Googling for WordPress information may produce a solution for you within seconds, or it could take a lot longer, but the information is almost always out there somewhere. This is where your patience, determination and search skills can really make all the difference.

Be sure to maintain browser bookmarks (or “favorites”) for useful sites you’ve come upon. Using tags to organize your bookmarks makes it actually possibly to retrieve that article on an obscure WordPress subject you once located with great effort.

Product support forums

Often, the main avenue for support will be an official online forum for the theme or plugin. If you want any help, it’s crucial to use impeccable manners on these forums. Most forums post their rules, and you should read them before posting. But almost every support forum will want you to (1) search their forum for answers to your problem before you post, (2) in your post, provide full, detailed information about the problem, including a URL to the problem site if at all possible, (3) be extremely courteous, and (4) be patient – it may take a day or two to get a reply.

Product email support

If support is via email, again, courtesy is of the essence. Explain your problem succinctly and clearly, and provide all the relevant information they may need. Don’t show a lack of respect and professionalism by sending an email which has typos you didn’t bother to correct. Sign your real name, and thank them in advance.

If your issue is not with a theme or plugin, there are other good options.

Geeky colleagues

Wherever you can find geeks and make friends, do it! There’s nothing better than a friendly associate who does similar work and doesn’t mind looking at your problem and offering help if possible. Try to get out there in cyberspace and meet people who produce websites and work with WordPress. You can find them via blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Be nice to them and keep their contact information. And when they ask you for help, do your best.

Work around the problem

This is a true professional web developer’s secret: many times, the solution to a problem can be to do it a completely different way. Inexperienced web developers will often fall in love with an idea and spend huge amounts of time insisting on making it happen, when there’s no compelling reason for it in the first place. If you’re really stuck on something, give some thought to whether you could work around the problem and avoid it completely.

Paid WordPress support

If you are truly stuck with a problem you can’t solve or work around, you might consider paying a WordPress specialist to solve it for you.

Elto.com offers a system in which their stable of WordPress developers will perform “tweaks” on your website for specific prices.

Elance.com is a freelancer marketplace; a search for “wordpress” produces 101,056 results.

Googling “WordPress consultant” (or “developer” or “expert” or “specialist”) will produce a vast number of results. You might want to limit your search to your local area. In any case, you’ll need to check out each consultant’s website and contact the best-sounding ones directly.

For a person managing a WordPress website, knowing where and how to look for information and assistance is foundational skill. If and when something goes wrong, which is inevitable, you’ll be glad you learned to research and reach out for help.

Posted in WordPress resources

Staying current with the WordPress world

One of the challenges in working with WordPress is simply keeping up with the software, the themes, the plugins, the companies and the community. In other industries, there are certification or licensing processes that determine whether you’re staying current; in WordPress work, you have to display your knowledge and skills every day, and you have to acquire them yourself.

One tool I can highly recommend is wpmudev.org’s WordPress email newsletter, The WhiP.

As they describe it:

The most read WordPress resource on the web with more than 4,000 articles in our archives on every topic imaginable.

I subscribe to almost nothing else by email, and I read every single one. Sometimes a few build up in my inbox, but I always catch up and scroll through each one, opening links in separate tabs to check out.

Reading it the day it’s released is actually a good idea if possible, since they sometimes print time-sensitive offers or announcements of events.

And if you find you want to ask a question or comment, you’ll get a nice, friendly human response.

WPMU-Dev also offers a subscription service which provides WordPress support as well as access to a bunch of themes and plugins, definitely worth checking out.

Posted in WordPress resources