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There is an overwhelming choice of web hosts these days and it can be hard to determine which would be a good fit. A Google search will reveal many blog posts on the subject which are really are just a roundup of that blog’s sub-par affiliates that haven’t been vetted for quality.

I’ve been running my own sites for over 14 years now, and have also had many years experience with client websites and all their various hosts.  So I have direct experience with many different hosts and have also interacted with the technical support departments of many of them.

My recommendations have changed over the years as the landscape has evolved – previously reliable hosts have gone downhill,  and a new segment of WordPress-specific hosts has developed and thrived.

There isn’t a host that is 100% trouble-free. You’ll always come across horror stories here and there, but with the reputable companies I work with, those stories are the exception and not the rule.

When choosing a host there are innumerable criteria you could use. In this short quiz I’ve distilled it to some key factors that should influence your selection. I have experience with all the hosts included either because, in most cases, I have my own sites hosted on them (this site is hosted on WP Engine) , or have worked with clients over a long period of time that have used their hosting. Some of the links are affiliate links and some are not. But I don’t include any host I haven’t or wouldn’t use myself.

WordPress Hosting Selection Quiz
  • What is your monthly budget?*
    • I want the cheapest possible ($15 or less)
    • I'm prepared to pay for the best solution
  • How many WordPress installs do you need?*
    • I use Multisite
    • 1 single WordPress install
    • Multiple WordPress installs
  • How technical are you?*
    • I'm a developer, I like Git and nerdy things
    • The less technical stuff I have to deal with , the better
  • How many visitors per month does your site get?*
    • 25K or less
    • More than 25K
  • Number
  • Recommended for you

    On a limited budget, Cloudways may be your best choice, or possibly Siteground's StartUp plan. But if your traffic grows, you'll need to increase your budget.

  • Recommended for you

    Cloudways is a good choice if you want technical features like Git, or the GoGeek plan from Siteground would be a solid choice as well.

  • Recommended for you

    If you need to run multiple sites you should consider increasing your budget. At this budget level Cloudways is probably your best best. Siteground's GrowBig plan could work but has fewer technical features.

  • Recommended for you:

    Pantheon and Cloudwayss offer the most technical features, although WP Engine would be a good choice as well.

  • Recommended for you:

    Siteground's GrowBig plan would be a good place to start.

  • Recommended for you:

    WP Engine or Flywheel are great choices for reliable hosting with lots of convenient features for a hands-off experience, and WordPress-specific support.

  • Recommended for you:

    With multiple sites and decent traffic you shouldn't expect to spend bottom dollar. The best deal is probably Siteground's GoGeek plan. Cloudways could be a fit too, but requires a little technical know-how. If you are willing to spend more money you could get more reliable hosting that scales with traffic, for example with WP Engine.

  • Recommended for you:

    My top choice would be WP Engine because their managed infrastructure will be able to handle the traffic and resources you'll need and you won't have to worry about the technical parts. Kinsta would be worth a look as well

  • Recommended for you:

    Siteground's GrowBig plan would be the cheapest plan, but with this type of traffic, you could grow out of this price range very quickly. I would strongly advise increasing your budget.

  • Recommended for you:

    WP Engine is always my top choice for reliable, scaleable hosting for non-technical users. But Flywheel and Kinsta would be worth looking at as well.

  • Recommended for you:

    Siteground's GrowBig plan will work for you. But be prepared to scale up and pay more if your traffic grows.

  • Recommended for you:

    The cheapest option would probably be Siteground, and that's a good choice. However if you can afford to pay a little more you can have a more specialized environment and WordPress-specific support with WP Engine or Kinsta.

  • Recommended for you:

    With multiple sites and this level of traffic, you really shouldn't be going for rock-bottom pricing, you should expect to pay a bit more. Cloudways and Siteground probably offer the best value for money.

  • Recommended for you:

    Pantheon or Cloudways will give you the most techy tools to play with and can scale with traffic. Pantheon won't be the cheapest, but it's rock solid.

  • Recommended for you:

    With a multisite install and this level of traffic, you really shouldn't be going for rock-bottom pricing - you should expect to pay a bit more to support the resources you'll need. Cloudways and Siteground probably offer the best value for money. But expect your costs to grow as traffic increases.

  • Recommended for you:

    If you're techy you may prefer the control of Cloudways. But WP Engine provides good scalability, and Siteground's GoGeek plan is appropriate for your needs too.

  • Recommended for you:

    Cloudways is a great option if you're technically proficient. Siteground's cheapest plan, StartUp, has less techy toys, but it's good hosting for small, low-budget sites.

  • Recommended for you:

    WP Engine and Pantheon would both be good choices. Pantheon is probably more developer-centric, but WP Engine does have dev features like Git integration.

  • Recommended for you:

    Siteground's StartUp plan, or Flywheel's "Tiny" plan would work to get started. But if your traffic increases, you may grow out of it fast and have to pay a bit more.

  • Recommended for you:

    WP Engine or Flywheel are good choices for a hands-off experience and WordPress-centric support and features.

  • Recommended for you:

    Siteground's GrowBig plan would work, or you could pay a little bit more for the benefits of a managed WordPress-specific host, like Flywheel or WP Engine.

  • Recommended for you:

    My top choice would be WP Engine for WordPress-specific hosting that handles traffic well, has features to make your life easier, and great WordPress-specific support. You could also check out Flywheel and Kinsta.

  • Recommended for you:

    Cloudways is probably your best bet here. It's generally cost-effective but depending on how much your traffic grows, or how resource-intensive your site is, you should expect your costs to grow over time. You can easily scale as needed.

  • Recommended for you:

    Pantheon and Cloudways offer the most technical tools, but Siteground's GoGeek plan is a good choice as well. If you're open to a managed environment WP Engine is good.

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Measuring the loading time of your WordPress site is obviously a critical step in optimizing for speed. You have to be able to find where the bottlenecks are and where you can achieve the easiest and biggest performance “wins”. There are numerous tools, such as Pingdom, GTmetrix etc,  available for measuring the performance of your site, each of them providing a different result, which is understandably confusing. Which one is “right” and which one should you use?

The answer depends on exactly what you want to measure and the level of detail that you want. They each provide different metrics which is why they provide different results, but it doesn’t mean that any of them is more “right” than the other.

However, no matter which tool(s) you use, what’s more important is understanding what information you’re actually getting, and being consistent with the tool you use. It’s not useful to compare results between tools – for example, between GTmetrix and Pingdom. It doesn’t matter if Pingdom says 2 seconds and GTmetrix says 5 seconds. You should only compare multiple results from the same tool, before and after you’ve made some changes.

Guidelines for Testing

Before you get started, a few ground rules for useful testing:

  • Run multiple tests every time to get an average and, if your site has any type of caching (plugin, server-side etc), discard the first result since it could be uncached and therefore misleading.
  • Geography matters – the further away the testing location from the location of your server, the longer the load time.
  • Choose a server location close to your host, which should also be close to your target audience
  • If there isn’t one, at least make sure to run all tests using the same server location for a consistent comparison
  • Loading time is the only metric you should be looking at, not the grade. Here’s an example of why that is. The grade does not correlate to speed:
  • The grade is great (88 and green) but it loads in 9+ seconds which is terrible!

OK, now let’s look at the top choices in free speed testing tools and see what the pros and cons are, to give some context to your decision.

Pingdom

 https://tools.pingdom.com

Pros

Of all the tools, I think this is the most visually appealing – it’s easy to read and comprehend.

  • The summary at the top gives you an at-a-glance overview of the important info – load time, page size and requests:

  • Pingdom’s  waterfall chart (the chart that breaks down each component of your site and how long it takes to load) is definitely the easiest to read of all the tools, and has some handy sorting features.
  • Tip: sort by Load Time to find any specific files causing a significant drain on load time:

  • The content type and domain breakdowns are very useful to easily spot bottlenecks in page size and external content, which are two of the biggest offenders for load time. In the screenshot below it’s easy to see that excessive images (4+MB and 60 requests) and excessive Javascript (1.52MB and 58 requests) are the biggest issues:

  • I’ve blurred out the domain being tested for privacy, but you can see in the screenshot below that less than 50% of the content on this site is actually coming from the site itself. Everything else is coming from an external source.

  • There’s a choice of a few server locations (no account required)
Cons
  • The server selection has been reduced over recent months and at times there’s a long wait to run a test.
  • There’s no option to test mobile speed.
  • Does not support HTTP/2, so if your site uses HTTP/2, real life results in most modern browsers should actually be a little faster than reported.
What does it measure?

Technically speaking it uses a metric called “onload”. This is the time at which the browser has processed the page and all assets have been downloaded. It is usually shorter than “fully loaded” which is used by GT Metrix and why Pingdom typically gives faster results. You could say that this is a closer result to how the page appears for the user, since the page will be usable by the visitor by the time “onload” is reached, even if it’s not yet “fully loaded”.

On a site with a lot of external content like ads or huge videos streamed from a 3rd party vendor, you tend to see fluctuating load times. That’s because some of this activity happens after the ‘onload’ marker.

Summary
  • Great for a quick and easy assessment of issues.
  • Not good for specific use cases like mobile or http/2
GTmetrix

 https://gtmetrix.com

What does it measure?

Gtmetrix defaults to the “fully loaded” time, which as described above will give a longer result than Pingdom.
Per their website :

” [Fully loaded] is the point after the Onload event fires and there has been no network activity for 2 seconds.”

Fully loaded can be considered more comprehensive since it waits for everything to download and execute. On a site with lots of ads etc you’ll really see a big difference in the load time. Now that could be misleading because if you site is developed well, it’s possible for the top part of your page to load quickly and be usable to the visitor, while the other stuff loads in the background, not interrupting the experience too much. But getting a comprehensive picture of the weight of the page and the impact of 3rd party content, is very useful. If your audience is in a place where mobile phone usage is prominent or where data is expensive, the total page weight could seriously affect them since they’re paying for all that data to download.

If you’re going to use GT Metrix, I strongly suggest signing up for a free account because that’s where this tool becomes really useful.

This list pertains to the free account:

Pros
  • Choice of several server locations
  • One mobile option available
  • Throttle network connection option – this allows you to test your site on slower internet connections
  • Ad block option – very handy to enable if you want to see the impact that ads have on the performance of your site
  • Saves a history of tests allowing for comparison – this makes it easy to track your site’s progress
  • Uses browsers that support HTTP/2
  • Timings tab gives you deeper metrics like Speed index, first contentful paint etc:
Cons
  • Tests are run using browsers that support HTTP/2, but the recommendations provided are not tailored for HTTP/2
  • Recommendations are bit outdated, and some of them are simply quite useless. “Remove query strings” is outdated and won’t have an impact on the load time of your site.
  • The waterfall is not as easy to read or sort as Pingdom’s:
Summary
  • A free account is a must-have
  • Provides a fair balance between ease-of-use and more advanced options
Webpagetest

 https://www.webpagetest.org

This is the grandaddy of all speed testing tools and it’s still the most comprehensive. It just looks like it’s right out of 1998. But if you can get past that, you can get a lot of great information from it. If you’re a hardcore performance junkie you’ll probably want to use this since it has the most technical and comprehensive set of details.

Pros
  • Largest choice of server location
  • Largest selection of mobile testing options
  • Most configurable – for power testers it has the most options
  • Very detailed reports showing multiple metrics such as time to first byte, start render, speed index etc:
Cons
  • Could be a little overwhelming for optimization novices
  • Look and feel is a little dated:
Google PageSpeed Insights

 https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights

This is a trick because this is not a speed testing tool.
Let me just say that again in case you weren’t listening. This is not a speed testing tool.

It does not measure the load time of your website so you cannot use it to see how fast your site is. It does have some uses, but speed testing is not one of them.

The score it gives you is not related to the speed of your site, it’s just based on some generic rules which may or may not impact loading time. the score does not affect your SEO or ranking – only the actual load time does that.

Based on some recent changes they’ve implemented, you may start to see some actual speed metrics, but so far these are only showing for larger sites with a lot of traffic. For the average site, the report is still heavily based on adherence to their ruleset and not actual speed.

In short, don’t use it to measure the speed of your site.

ThinkWithGoogle

 https://testmysite.thinkwithgoogle.com

This is a mobile-specific tool. Don’t be horrified by the long load times of your mobile page. It’s normal for your site to take longer to load on a mobile device than on a desktop.

Pros
  • Easy to use
  • Nicely designed interface and results summary
  • Very quick way to see how your mobile site performs
Cons
  • The analysis is a little bit limited. You can opt to receive a report via email which provides a few more details, but it’s not especially comprehensive.
  • Some of the recommendations are dubious. Since it’s a Google tool, they of course use it as a way to push AMP for example, which may not be a good solution for every site.
Summary
  • Good for a quick at-a-glance report on mobile performance
  • But if your site is not performing well in this test you would then need to use a more in-depth tool to find out why.

So now that you know a little about these tools you can try them out and see which one suits you best. It’s not necessary to use all of them to test your site. Pick one and use it consistently to benchmark the before and after results of changes you’re making on your site, and you’ll be in good shape. I personally use Pingdom and GTmetrix the most, with Webpagetest begin my go-to if I want to get really nerdy with the results.

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Now that you’re all set up with Search Console and Analytics, let’s look at a couple of easy ways to improve your SEO and traffic using the information these tools provide.

We’re going to be working with the information in the Acquisition > Search Console tabs. On each page you’ll see these table headings (there are others, but these are the important ones for this guide):

Impressions: The number of times the page has been included in a search result. That includes when it’s on a page deep in the results which may not actually be viewed by the searcher.

Clicks: The number of times the page was clicked on from the search results

CTR: Click through rate – the percentage of clicks compared to impressions

Average position: The ranking of the page in the search results.

Note that the information provided does not represent the totality of your traffic. Google is still restrictive with the data, so what you see represents a snapshot of the overall picture of your website traffic.

Monitor your SEO progress

In Google Analytics, go to Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages

By default you should be seeing a list of pages sorted by number of impressions, with the most impressions at the top of the table. The pages with the most impressions may not necessarily have the highest ranking, but if they are showing up in a lot of searches, it means there is a lot of interest around those pages.

Right off the bat, I recommend reviewing this list and assessing whether it’s what you would expect. Are the pages with the most impressions the ones you expect and want to see?

Are important pages on your site missing or too low down the list? That could be an indicator that you need to review how or if you’ve optimized those pages.

GET TARGETED TRAFFIC: The Beginner's Guide to SEO for Business ebook shows you how

The ones with the best average position are the ones that are seemingly the best optimized, or related to less competitive searches.

If you’re seeing pages listed which have decent impressions but are not getting high enough position, you can make efforts to help boost those specific pages, for example:

  • Implementing a link building strategy
  • Making sure the page has adequate internal links to it
  • Promoting it on social media

If you have important pages that are getting very few impressions, it could be that you have to adjust which keywords you’re targeting to make it more desirable, or optimize better for your chosen keywords.

Which keywords are working for you?

Go to the Acquisition > Search Console >Queries tab

This shows you the search terms that your site is showing up for. A quick scan of the list will be enough to tell you what topics are of most interest to Googlers. This could give you some ideas for additional blog content.

If you sort by CTR, this will let you know where you have well-optimized content around a certain phrase.

Look for opportunities

Sorting by impressions and looking at phrases that get decent impressions but a low CTR will let you know that you don’t have a good content match for that phrase, or that it’s not well-optimized. In those cases you’ll also want to look at the average position. Poor performance could be due to a low average position, in which case you’ll want to try and boost those pages. A high average position with a low CTR could indicate that the content showing up for that phrase isn’t a close enough match for it. So that will let you know where you need to create additional and more targeted content.

Pages that receive a good number of impressions, but have a low average position means that there is interest around this topic, but you need to improve the ranking of those pages to capitalize on it.

GET TARGETED TRAFFIC: The Beginner's Guide to SEO for Business ebook shows you how
Capitalize on your most clicked pages

In Analytics, go to Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages
Click on the Clicks heading to see which landing pages receive the most traffic.

For the pages that are performing well, make sure that you taking advantage of the traffic they’re getting. This could mean different things for your site and business model:

  • Monetize the post – are there relevant affiliate links or ads on the page?
  • Is it easily shareable on social media?
  • Is it engaging?
  • Is there an email sign-up? You could get more opt-ins by putting a content upgrade on these pages (that’s a special freebie related to the page’s content, provided to readers in exchange for their email address).
Create more content

In Analytics, go to Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages
Choose a specific page and click on it, then you will see some specific queries for that page.

Often you will see some queries show up which are related but perhaps not precisely addressed by the page itself. So you should make note of those and create more specific content to address them.

If you’re seeing queries you don’t think are particularly relevant you can review the content to better optimize it for what you do want it to rank for.

Improve CTR (click through rate)

In Analytics, go to Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages

Click on the impressions heading to see which pages get the most impressions. That means the ones that show up the most in results. Look for the pages that get a lot of impressions but few or no clicks. This means that something about the way it shows in the results is not enticing enough. Review the meta info – that is the title and description and tweak those to attract more clicks. Make sure the title and description are closely aligned with the content, and do a good job of “selling” the page to the reader.

You should pay special attention to those pages that show up on the first couple of pages of the search results. If a page gets an “impression” but the position is very low, it’s likely no one’s getting to that page in the search results.

By checking the Search Console information in your Analytics periodically, say every month, you should be able to track your progress over time and see the results of your SEO efforts.

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Google Search Console, formerly known as Webmaster Tools, is a must-have for your WordPress site. It is a free account which will give you a lot of useful information about the search health of your site. Additionally you’ll get valuable SEO data about keywords, click through rates etc, which you could not otherwise get in Google Analytics alone. There are other uses and features of Search Console, but in this and the next post, I’ll be focusing on the marketing uses of Search Console.

How to set up Google Search Console 1. Sign up

Go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools   and sign in with the same Google account you use for your Analytics etc.

2. Add your site

The next step is to “Add a property.” A property just means a website (or app).

You should use the primary version of your URL. Most sites are accessible whether you type in your domain with or without the www in front of it. But usually one version is primary meaning that, no matter which other version you type in, you get redirected to the primary version. If the www version of your domain is the primary one, it means that if you type in your domain without www, you will get redirected to the www version. You can simply visit your site and see at which version you end up. The same can be true of http and https. If you use https, but type in your website using http, you should be redirected to the https version.

If your site has separate versions which don’t redirect, you should add each of them separately, but tell Google what your preferred domain is.

GET TARGETED TRAFFIC: The Beginner's Guide to SEO for Business ebook shows you how
3. Verify ownership

Google needs to make sure you actually own the website you’re trying to set up. You’ll be presented with a few possible methods for this step. The easiest way is with Google Analytics, assuming you have that set up on your site (you should!):

If you can’t do it that way and you’re not tech-savvy, the easiest way is probably to choose the HTML tag method because you can use a plugin like Yoast SEO to help you do that.

After selecting the HTML tag option, copy the meta tag provided, it looks something like this:

<meta name="google-site-verification" content="3Gadfmbf934asfahefq83oghbuUbp3o3SyFa-044c" />

Then in the Yoast plugin, go to SEO > Dashboard > Webmaster tools
Paste in the meta tag (the plugin will remove any unneeded parts)…. and you’re done!

Now go back to Webmaster tools and click Verify and you should have a confirmation message of successful verification.

4. Submit your sitemap

You’ll have to make sure that your site has an XML sitemap. That’s easy to do with most SEO plugins, like Yoast SEO , or All in One SEO.

Whichever one you use will generate an XML sitemap for you and provide you the URL.

It will be something like example.com/sitemap.xml

Once you have that, go to Crawl > Sitemaps in Search Console

Integrate search console into Google Analytics

This is a very important step since it will provide you with a lot of valuable SEO information, such as which search terms your site ranks for, what the click through rate is etc. You can’t get this from Analytics alone.

Log into Analytics, go to Acquisition > Search Console, click on any sub menu and you will see the prompt for search console integration
Click on Set up Search Console data sharing

You can also get to it  by clicking the Settings icon at the bottom left and then clicking on Property Settings.

You don’t need to worry about most of the settings for now, you can always go back and activate advertising features, for example. For now, you have to click on “Adjust Search Console”:

  • Click Add, and  a new tab will open. Select your site from the list (if multiple are listed), then click Save at the bottom.
  • Your site will now be listed in your search console account.
  • Go back to the Analytics window you started in and click Done.
  • You won’t see any data immediately but after a period of time, you’ll start to get some valuable information.

By completing the integration with Analytics it allows you to see the search engine related info inside your Analytics account. If you don’t complete the integration you would have to log in to Search Console to see everything.

Additionally, by using search console info within Analytics, you can see it within the context of other factors like conversion rates, bounce rates and other metrics that you only get in Analytics.

In the next post we’ll get into the fun stuff of how to use the data search console gives you, to improve your SEO.

GET TARGETED TRAFFIC: The Beginner's Guide to SEO for Business ebook shows you how
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In the first post of this mini-series we looked at the basic lingo you have to understand to get going with MemberPress. Here are a couple more tweaks you shouldn’t neglect when setting up your membership site.

Don’t leave visitors stranded

When first setting up your membership site, you’ll likely put a lot of care and attention into your registration pages, realizing that they will do the heavy lifting of converting visitors. But don’t forget to think about how people are actually going to end up on them. You’ll probably have links in your navigation and other obvious places, but you also need to think about what happens when someone stumbles across a blog post on your site with some protected content on it – what do you do with them and how do you get them into the sign-up process?

This is an opportunity to entice visitors to sign up, so you don’t want to leave them hanging with nowhere to go.

In most cases you’ll probably want to show an excerpt of the protected content so people can see a preview of what they would be getting.

You can configure this as the default behaviour in:

MemberPress > Options > Unauthorized Access > Show an excerpt to unauthorized visitors.


As with all MemberPress options, it can also be specified per rule, to override the global setting.

In addition to the excerpt you’ll want to let interested visitors know where they can sign up to get access to all the content. You can do that by customizing the “unauthorized message” per rule.

MemberPress provides a couple of  useful shortcodes you could use here. You can find them by going to the membership page and clicking Membership Shortcodes, on the Registration tab of the Membership Options box:

You could include a shortcode for the membership level to send them to the sign-up page or to the groups comparison pricing page if you’re using groups.

This can be done on the page itself or on the rule. If you have multiple pages protected by one rule, it would be more efficient to do it per rule.

Your custom “unauthorized message” with shortcodes will look something like this:

If you want to make it stand out, you could do some custom CSS to style the message.

Integrate with MailChimp

MemberPress can integrate with several popular email marketing services. Currently supported are: Active Campaign, AWeber, Constanct Contact, ConvertKit, Campaign Monitor Drip, GetResponse, Mailchimp, Mad Mimi, Mail Poet, and Sendy. My preference has always been MailChimp.

Go to Add-Ons to select the integration you need. It will be installed as a separate plugin.
Then go to Options > Marketing to configure the integration with your API key etc

In your MailChimp account you should set up 2 types of merge tags for your membership site:
1. A global tag applied to every person that signs up on your site, that will be set to either 1 or 0 by MemberPress depending on whether they opted-in or not.
2. A tag for each membership on your site so that you can track which email subscribers are part of which membership and send custom content accordingly.

MemberPress provides really great instructions for setting this up, so there’s no need to duplicate them here. Make sure you follow their guide here.  Relevant and effective email marketing to your members will help you reduce membership churn rate.

*header image via https://flic.kr/p/fY9vXK

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Want to keep your WordPress site away from prying eyes?! It’s really easy to password protect your whole WordPress site.

Simplest method  – “Password Protected” plugin

You just need this plugin: https://wordpress.org/plugins/password-protected/

With a couple of clicks you can protect your whole site. The settings screen is below, it’s very simple to use:

You can allow admins to see the site if logged in, so that you can still work on your site while it’s blocked from the outside world, or you can allow access by IP address.

From the front end, a non-admin would see this:

Once the correct password is entered a cookies is set in the user’s browser that will keep them “logged in” until the cookie expires or they delete it.

Note that you may have issues using this with caching. But if your site is protected like this, it’s likely in development and therefore caching isn’t really necessary.

Htpasswd Authentication

If you’re looking for something slightly more robust, you could try the htpasswd method. You can usually do this really easily from your hosting control panel. Here’s how you do it using the Siteground cPanel, but the process should look very similar on other hosts.

  1. Login and look for the Password Protect Directories icon.

  2. Select the site you want to protect, by choosing its main folder:

  3. On the next screen fill out all the details to set up a user name and password:

  4. You’re done! This is what it will look like when someone tries to access your site:

The method described here is for simple protection, usually used when a site is in development. If you need fully-featured user access to paid-for content, you’ll need a membership plugin. My preferred one is MemberPress:


These posts may float your boat:
Read the guide on Getting Started with MemberPress
Creating password-protected areas in WordPressSee this guide
Would you like to show custom content on your password protected page? See this guide

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It’s easy to password protect an entire page or post in WordPress. But what if you would like to show part of the content on the page?

I did look for a plugin solution for this at first. I thought it would be easy to find a plugin that gave you a shortcode to wrap around content you wanted to keep protected. I was wrong (unless you want to utilize user roles, but I didn’t want people to have to log in). I came across Content Protector, but found it really unreliable.

But there’s a pretty easy solution if you’re OK with a little code. For this solution you will need:

  • A child theme (because we’re going to be editing template files)
  • An understanding of the WordPress template hierarchy
  • The confidence to edit some PHP code

If this all sounds a bit much for you, you may want to check out my post on Going Beyond WordPress Basics, to build your confidence.

First, a quick overview of what we’ll do. When using the built-in password protection in WordPress, it protects all content including the excerpt. The one exception is that any custom fields for that content will not be protected by default. So we will use these for our publicly available excerpt. There are two parts to making this work:

  1. Creating a custom field and content
  2. Displaying the content of the custom field in your theme

This method allows you to have custom content per page.

Creating a custom field

This is really easy because it’s already built-in. On your post or page edit screen, you should have the Custom Fields meta box:

If you don’t see this, click on Screen Options at the top right and enable that box:

Custom Fields have 2 parts – a name (or “key” in programming terms) and a “value” – that’s just the content. The name/key will be the same for every post/page you use it on, but the value will vary – since it’s your custom content per page.

If you click on Select you’ll see a list of existing custom field keys which have been registered by your theme or plugins. Don’t worry about those. Click Enter new and you will see an empty box to type in. Here you are going to give your custom field a name. To avoid any conflicts, choose something unique that another theme or plugin wouldn’t use. I prefix mine with wtw to avoid any issue. So here I have named my new field: “wtw_public_content” and I’ve entered some placeholder text in the Value, to demonstrate. This is going to be the publicly available text for this page:

Make sure to update your post after this.

So now we’ve saved the custom meta information for this page, the next step is displaying this new information because it won’t show up by default.

Displaying your custom field

It takes very little code to make this work. The important part is knowing which template file you need to place it in. For this you need to know about the WordPress template hierarchy. Depending on your theme, and if you’re setting this up for posts or pages, the appropriate file you need to edit will vary. It could be singular.php, single.php (posts), page.php (pages), or a more specific template part.

You can find out more easily by installing the plugin What The File.  This will tell you which template files are being used where. After activating the plugin, you will see the What The File item in your admin toolbar. Simply navigate to the page you want to analyze then mouseover “What The File” at the top right. You’ll see a dropdown of all the template files being used on the page:

When using Twenty Seventeen in this example, single.php is referenced, but since there are also template parts, those are usually where the real action is happening. Mousing over that reveals several template parts, but we can discount the ones that refer to header or footer, because that’s not the area of the page we’re interested in. In this case, the correct file is content.php, found in template-parts/post.

If we look at the code directly, what we’re looking for is the code that controls the Loop for the page we’re looking at. In Twenty Seventeen we can see the content.php template part clearly referenced within single.php:

Once you’ve located the correct file you’re then looking specifically for where the_content is displayed. In Twenty Seventeen, it’s line 55 of content.php:

We’re going to display our custom field when two conditions are true:

  • The content is password protected
  • And the user hasn’t already entered the correct password

This will mean that before the user has entered the password they will see our custom text followed by the WordPress password form.

After they enter the correct password, they will no longer see the intro text (because it won’t usually be relevant), they will see the normal page content.

Fortunately there is one WordPress function that checks these conditions for us: post_password_required().

To display the custom field, we will use get_post_meta().

Here is the original code:

the_content( sprintf(
			__( 'Continue reading<span > "%s"</span>', 'twentyseventeen' ),
			get_the_title()
		) );

I modified it to:

// Check if the post is password protected and if the password cookie exists yet
		if ( post_password_required() ) {
		
// if it requires a password which has not yet been entered, show the custom field	
		echo '<p>'. get_post_meta($post->ID, 'wtw_public_content', true) .'</p>';
		
//the_content is still required because it will display the password input form
		the_content( sprintf(
			__( 'Continue reading<span > "%s"</span>', 'twentyseventeen' ),
			get_the_title()
		) );
		} else {
		//once the password has been entered, display the content as normal, without the custom field	
		the_content( sprintf(
			__( 'Continue reading<span > "%s"</span>', 'twentyseventeen' ),
			get_the_title()
		) );

		}

In line 5 above, make sure to replace wtw_public_content with the name of your custom field.

If you don’t care about the conditions, it makes it even simpler because you don’t have to check for anything so just add this line above the_content:

echo '<p>'. get_post_meta($post->ID, 'wtw_public_content', true) .'</p>';

Here’s how it looks in action. When the user first encounters the page, they see my custom text (highlighted below), followed by the default content shown by WordPress for password protected content:

After they enter the password, they see the normal post content:

If you need a more robust membership solution with a full set of features for protecting content, you should check out MemberPress.

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There are many ways to password-protect content in WordPress. Basic password-protection is built-in and there are other free plugins to expand upon that. But if you want to generate revenue from protected content, you’ll need a fully-featured membership plugin. There are many to choose from and I can’t say I’ve tried them all, but of the ones I have tried, I really like MemberPress. It has a lot of features and capabilities, but it’s also pretty easy to get up and running with. That said, learning a new system will always present some hurdles. Here are a few basic concepts I needed to get my head around to get going with MemberPress. Hopefully this will be helpful for you, too.

What’s a membership plugin?

It’s a way to make the content on your site accessible only to certain people, typically those who have paid for access. This could be on a recurring basis, for example you may charge a monthly fee to access a frequently updated membership site, or it could be a one-time payment to an online course. You might have freely available content on your site, but want to supplement it with “premium” content that is paid-for.

There are a lot of plugins in this space, but MemberPress takes a different approach than most. WordPress itself has an in-built system of user roles, which many plugins rely on to restrict access to content. This has limitations so MemberPress rethinks and reworks this approach, to your benefit, which is one of the reasons I think it feels more intuitive to work with.

Understanding the MemberPress Lingo

With any powerful plugin or tool, you have to understand the terminology in order to make sense of things. If you’ve used any other membership plugin, you may have been trained into a certain way of approaching setting them up. Since MemberPress has re-conceptualized some things, you should get familiar with a couple of core concepts underpinning the plugin. The main ones are:

  • Memberships
  • Groups
  • Rules

Memberships are basically your courses. It’s the umbrella term for what the user is signing up for. If you have multiple levels, i.e. different prices with differing content/access/value propositions, you will create multiple memberships. You can also think of them as “plans”. So setting up a membership is a required step.

A lot of membership plugins are really designed to sell just one membership. That might have different tiers, but it’s still very restricive. Out of the box, MemberPress lets you create multiple memberships and lets your users be members of multiple memberships simultaneously. So that means you can have distinct offerings; think separate courses.

In this screenshot you can see an example – I’ve set up 3 different offerings. “Ebook” is a digital product (more on that in a following installment), “Premium Content” is a 3-tiered membership and “Video Course” is a separate, 2-tiered course.

Unless you’ve used some other membership plugins, this set up will seem kind of obvious, but in reality this is a unique feature of MemberPress since a lot of other plugins are based around a one-offering setup.

Groups are a way to relate different memberships with each other:

  1. to enable users to upgrade or downgrade between the groups within a membership
  2. to use the pricing table comparison that MemberPress can automatically generate for you:

Groups are optional because you may not need to do either of the above.

Rules are the way that you protect the content on your site, to allow those who’ve signed up to the appropriate membership, to access the content. So Rules are also required. They work a little differently than you may be used to. With other plugins you usually find a box on the edit screen for the content itself that you use to attach it to a particular membership level. With MemberPress, you don’t do it that way. You start with their Rules page and protect the content from there:

This will seem counter-intuitive to some of you, but when you do it this way, and then are forced to use a membership plugin that doesn’t do this, you realize that the MemberPress way actually works better.

In terms of the time it takes to set things up, if you only have a few pieces of content to protect, it’ll be about the same amount of time. But if you have a lot of content, you’ll find MemberPress faster because you can apply a few rules to many pieces of content. For example, all posts with a certain tag, can be protected and attached to a membership with just a few clicks.

Once you understand these simple concepts, you should find the process of setting up your membership site much easier. Expect another MemberPress installment to continue exploring some useful concepts when getting up and running with MemberPress.

Read the second part of the MemberPress series here

*header image via https://flic.kr/p/fY9vXK

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The Inner Beauty of Genesis

In the past, I’ve had mixed feelings about StudioPress’ Genesis framework. It was frequently recommended to beginners and non-developers, but the problem was that they would install it, and even with a nicely designed child theme, they would then complain, “but, where’s all the options?”

People immediately wanted to change things and when they didn’t see a massive options panel, they felt shortchanged. “I have to do CSS to customize this thing??”

But, herein lies the beauty of the Genesis framework. It’s not supposed to be Avada, Divi, X or any of the other “be everything to everyone” type of themes. When you purchase a Genesis child theme, you’re paying for the expertly-designed look and feel you see on the demo. They are not intended to be completely customizable by the user through an options panel. Of course, if you have the chops, you can certainly do anything you want with Genesis and its child themes, you just have to use their hooks system and know some CSS and PHP.

Some of you may be asking, “Well, where’s the beauty in that?”

Since working with WP Rocket (a premium caching plugin) I became painfully aware of just how badly some themes drag down a website’s load time.  While researching a blog post to showcase some of our customers’ fastest pages,  I found that most of the fastest sites I looked at ran on Genesis.

Because it doesn’t try to be everything to everyone, it’s really fast out of the box. And that’s the beauty.

“Yea, yea…..but…..customize! Fonts! Colors!” you may be grumbling at your screen.

Enter….Design Palette Pro

Ok, so if you must have those things, it is now possible to have the best of both worlds, courtesy of the nifty Genesis Design Palette Pro plugin. It is a premium plugin that’s well worth your pennies.

Design Palette Pro gives you a slew of options that you can use to customize your site’s design.

It’s lightweight and won’t slow you down. It’s really a dream for non-coders who want the benefits of Genesis’ stable codebase and performance, but also want to spruce things up a bit.

Let’s take a closer look at what you can do with Design Palette Pro.

On my test site I’m just running the basic Genesis child theme. If you are using a different child theme, check to make sure it’s supported in Design Palette Pro. This will ensure that you have control over features which may be specific to that particular child theme.

In essence, you can change the font, background colors and padding of each component of the theme, i.e. header, navigation, sidebar, footer, content area etc.

General Body

This is where you set up some defaults for your site that determine the overall color scheme/style you want – the background color of your site, default text and link color etc. There are more specific settings for different areas of your site where you can override these, but you should set these as a baseline.

Selecting your font stack here changes the site tagline in the header, the navigation font, footer  and the main body font. This helps you keep a consistent look throughout your site.

This is the font stack that you’ll have to choose from at the outset:

I know, you’re thinking it looks pretty stingy and limited, but there is an easy fix for that. There are several free add-ons available, including the Google Webfonts add-on which gives you a whole host of Google Fonts to choose from:

Using unique or well-paired fonts can really make your site stand out and create just the vibe you want. However, you do have to be careful. If you are not a designer, you’ll likely want to keep your font selections to a minimum. Don’t go crazy using different fonts in every section of your site otherwise it will end up looking like a ransom note. Adding too many Google fonts will also have an impact on performance. I wouldn’t recommend more than 2 fonts.

Header Area

Here you can control the color, typography and padding of the header elements including site title, description and widgets (if you have any in the header area).

Navigation

The navigation settings are pretty comprehensive; you can control everything from background color to fonts, active items, hover styles, dropdowns etc.

As an exercise, I decide to see if I could mimic a different navigation style from another site.

This is the default look/feel of the theme’s navigation right out of the box:

I’m not a designer, so I found something I wanted to copy. This is what I used as the model:


As you can see, I was able to get pretty dang near close:

Content Area

This refers to the main content in a post or page, basically this area:

You can control the padding and margins, i.e. the space in and outside of the content box, the typography & color for the title, entry content, meta info and post footer.

Content Extras & Comments

Content extras are those optional elements you may be using, like breadcrumbs, author boxes, pagination, and the “read more” link. Here you have control over the padding/margins, typography and colors of all those things.

Likewise, the comment options give you fine-grained control over every aspect of the display of comments.

All Things Widgets

In the Sidebar and Footer sections you can control the look of your widgets:

Go Even Further With Add Ons

There are a handful of free add-ons available:

The Google Webfonts add-on is very useful, as mentioned earlier. Entry Content is another good one since it lets you control very specific items within your page/post content, such as styling for headers 1 – 6, paragraphs, links, lists, image captions, blockquotes etc. If you use the eNews Widget for email sign-ups, you’ll want the add-on for that. Freeform Style lets you add your own custom CSS if you’re so inclined.

What you can’t do with Design Palette Pro

This is a style customizer, not a layout customizer. So you shouldn’t expect to be able to make structural changes to the theme. That would be like building a house and then trying to change the floorplan after the fact. But you can paint and design what’s there, any way you like  – this is what Design Palette Pro  is for.

There isn’t necessarily an option for every little thing you might think of to change. For example, if you want to put a border around your sidebar widgets you can’t yet do that with an option. But for those types of tweaks, you can use the Freeform CSS add-on. And if you ask Design Palette Pro’s support team very nicely, they will likely give you a simple CSS snippet to paste in there. They are also receptive to adding more options if customers express a need.

Design Palette Pro makes Genesis and their child themes infinitely more user-friendly :)

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