WordPress Tips 2009

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WordPress Tips 2009

I was looking through one of my old posts, Hardcore WordPress Tips, and realized just how outdated it is. It’s just one year old this week and already 5 of the 10 tips I would consider bad information.

Most of the bad tips are simply because WordPress evolves so rapidly that there are better solutions now. A couple of tips I need to revise because I’ve learned a lot more since last year and have better advice.

So, on with the show: WordPress Tips 2009

10. Use the Yahoo! User Interface Library

For theme developers, creating a theme that is flexible is a must-do today. WordPress has been around long enough that crappy themes shouldn’t even be made anymore (unfortunately they still are). One step to ensure that your theme isn’t crappy is to take advantage of some incredible resources Yahoo! provides.

The YUI Library is hosted code: Javascript and CSS. I just use the CSS. Using their grid system, creating a theme is easy, flexible, and much more easily browser compliant. Check out more details in my Easy Workflow for Site Creation post.

9. Interlink!

spider-webThe more you link to other content on your site the more bots access it. The more bots access, the more impressive you may be in search engines.

Link to Similar Posts

You can certainly do this manually in your post by referencing old blog posts…and you should. But you should also use an automatic method as well. Linking to related posts helps search engines categorize your page better. The more you can zero in on what your page is about the better you rank.

Similar Posts, by Rob Marsh, will do just that. Similar Posts not only does a great job with what it’s supposed to do (retrieving relevant posts) but it’s part of a plugin family that all use the same library for configuring functions. Read on…

Link to Popular Posts

Popular Posts is another member of the family of plugins written by Rob Marsh. So rather than use several methods of retrieving posts, stick with one to keep your life easier and things streamlined.

8. Lockdown

With every release WordPress becomes more secure. On the other hand, everyday hackers become increasingly smarter and more malicious. Out of the box, WordPress can’t be as secure as it’d like to be, so they even give us some tips.

WordPress’ site already has an article on on Hardening WordPress.

One of the quick things you can do is restrict access to the WordPress administration side. Create the file, “.htaccess” in /wp-admin/ and paste the following into it, replacing the IP address with your own. Find your IP.

AuthUserFile /dev/null
AuthGroupFile /dev/null
AuthName "Access Control"
AuthType Basic
order deny,allow
deny from all
# whitelist this IP address
allow from 55.555.555.55

Secondly, create an empty index.html file in your /wp-content/plugins/ directory. This will prevent the listing of your plugins for the world to see, making it a bit harder for hackers to find exploits.

Next, delete the username “admin” (obviously make a new username for yourself first), and use a strong password for your login.

Finally, install WP Security Scan to make sure everything checks out.

7. Boost Your Site’s Speed

You can optimize your site all you want, but if you’re not on a good host then you’re going nowhere. So first, switch over to HostGator because they’re the best host I’ve ever used.

After you’ve setup on HostGator, hardcode some things in your theme.

WordPress themes work by including functions that make calls to the database that give it the correct paths to files, etc. This is great for making a theme portable, but it ends up slowing the site down by taxing your database more than necessary.

Anywhere you see…


…you can replace it with your root level URL (ex. http://www.example.com/)

You can change…


…to the path of your stylesheet.

I could go on. But all you really need to know is to look for functions that you could replace with absolute paths and reduce the amount of database calls.

WP Super Cache

WP Super Cache is an awesome plugin that caches your pages and serves them up more quickly. It comes with lots of options which is really nice. It can be a bit difficult to install sometimes, but it may really pay off. It’s especially nice when you have a load of extra, unexpected traffic.

6. Give Some Flow to the Bots

robotOf course we know that bots (spiders) crawl the Internet checking out pages in order to provide results in search engines. These bots need some direction when they’re crawling — basically they crawl link to link. Obviously we need to give them some links. We need to give bots the right links. In addition to links, there is some meta information bots will pay attention.

The best solution for directing bots where you want them to go (and don’t want them to go) is by using the Robots Meta plugin.

For example, you probably don’t need bots to waste their time on the following pages (especially if you’re a one-author blog):

  • The login and register pages
  • All admin pages
  • Author pages
  • Date-based archives
  • Tag archives

Using this plugin you can prevent bots from accessing these pages and really create a well defined path for spiders.

5. Setup Shop With Google

google-analyticsGoogle Analtyics

Google Analytics is the leader in website stat tracking. Create an account and paste their code in the footer.php file of your current theme.

If you’re not comfortable with editing code, don’t know where your footer.php file is, or you change themes frequently then a plugin is your best option.

Google Analytics for WordPress makes the tracking script easy to install and also has a few extra goodies for making tracking your site usage even better.

google-webmaster-toolsGoogle Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools is an awesome resource that gives you a behind the scenes look at how Google is interacting with your site. There’s too much valuable information here for me to even begin to describe, so just create your account already!

Well, there is one thing you should know about. You’ll need to submit a sitemap to the Webmaster Tools site and there’s no better WordPress sitemap generator than the Google Sitemaps Generator for WordPress.

4. Use Header Tags Correctly

A theme that is well made will have already taken this into consideration. Search engines pay special attention to how a site’s code is written. Certain tags like Header tags can give text more importance as well as define how a page’s content is organized.

Make sure your WordPress theme knows How To Use Header Tags Correctly. This particularly applies to your sidebar. It’s full of incorrect header tag usage by default, so make sure to correct those issues.

3. Meta Information – Title, Description, Keywords

Go grab Head Space 2, a robust plugin for customizing page titles, descriptions, and keywords. This will make your website much more SEO friendly…as long as you know what you’re doing.

Once installed, you can use the following as a guide for how to configure the plugin:

  • Posts / Pages: %%title%% - Blog Title
  • Categories: %%category%% Archives %%page%% - Blog Title
  • Tags: %%tag%% Archives %%page%% - Blog Title
  • Archives: Blog Archives %%page%% - Blog Title

Courtesy of yoast.com.

2. Permalinks

chainPermalinks, or the URLs to pages on your WP site, are part of what makes WordPress the best choice for a blog or CMS. WP allows you to customize your URL structure very easily.

By default, however, WordPress URLs aren’t optimized for search engines. Recently it’s been pointed out that your URL structure can slow your site down as well, so let’s take a look at building the best permalink.

Permalinks for Speed

WordPress needs to know what page to display when given a URL. For example, http://example.com/2009/01/22/hello-world/ is obviously going to take us to the “Hello Word!” post. How does WordPress know that though? Through several attempts of trying to figure out what the URL is trying to get to WP will finally figure it out. It’s in that time, though, that your user is waiting for WP to figure things out.

Basically, it’s easier for WordPress to retrieve the page/post if a numerical value is the first thing in the URL (i.e. %post_id%, %year%, etc.).

Don’t look to my site as an example because I’ve just recently learned this and haven’t gotten around to changing things up yet. Also, this method isn’t necessary. You won’t notice any difference in speed until you’ve got hundreds or even thousands of posts/pages, but it’s always good to build a scalable site from the start.

Read more details on efficient permalink strategies.

Bad:

/%postname%/%post_id%/
/%category%/%postname%/

Better:

/%post_id%/%postname%/
/%year%/%category%/%postname%/

Permalinks for SEO

So if we want a speedy site (by using the method above) AND we want to ensure that our URLs are the best for search engines, then the following method is the choice.

Having your keywords in the URL is always a plus. Search engines can use it as further evidence for what your page is about. Google also places the URL below each search result and bolds keywords — just another way that might help improve your chances of being clicked.

So we need to make sure to include %postname%. This will render the post/page slug (ex. hello-world). If your site is heavily reliant upon categories you may want to include your category name as well. So here’s our options:

/%post_id%/%postname%/

or

/%post_id%/%category%/%postname%/

We can even take this one step further. Your URL doesn’t need to contain every word from your post/page title, just the significant ones. Instead of hand editing every permalink you can use SEO Slugs to automatically strip your permalinks of stop words, like ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘in’, etc. SEO is all about the details!

1. Prepare for Disaster

alarmBackups are often an afterthought (like after you lost the data!). The truth is, the world is fallible and for one reason or another your site may get royally screwed up someday and you’ll either be back up and running within an hour or your heart will still be fluttering as you look blankly at your missing files and database.

We make mistakes, servers make mistakes, web hosts make mistakes, so just count on it. Be prepared!

Backup the Database

Get yourself the WordPress Database Backup plugin. You can schedule DB backups or get on-demand backups. I have my backups emailed to me weekly (with Gmail that’s no biggie). I’ll always have an archive…as long as Gmail doesn’t blow up.

Backup the Files

Secondly, backup your server files. If for some reason everything goes wrong, you’ll need the database and your theme (especially if you’ve done any customization). Plus, the image paths stored in the DB won’t have anything to show for themselves without files on the server.

Some hosts will allow you schedule file backups and this is the ideal situation. If they don’t have a solution to do this, then you’ll just need to be well disciplined and do this yourself via FTP every once in a while.

WordPress provides great detail on database and file backups.

Conclusion

I hope this guide has been a great help. Please add your own advice or questions in the comments.

You can also subscribe for regular WordPress, SEO, and web design tips.

Good luck with WordPress in 2009!

Switch to HostGator Proves They're Awesome

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Ten days ago I announced my switch from MediaTemple to HostGator hosting because things were very slow.

So check this out. Google Webmaster Tools fills you in on some metrics related to Google’s crawling of your site. Here’s what I found:

Time spent downloading a page (in milliseconds)

crawl-statsNotice that huge drop off towards the end. That means that HostGator was able to serve the pages at least twice as fast as MediaTemple was.

Now here’s where it really matters. So what if it took Google longer to download my pages – as long as they’re all there, then they accomplished what I wanted. Right?

Number of kilobytes downloaded per day

crawl-stats-kilobytesCrazy! So here I found out that Google may have been downloading all of my pages, but may not have been indexing everything on those pages – or maybe they were just taking a long time to do it. Now, it seems they must be getting everything, and probably getting it faster and making my pages appear in search engines quicker.

Moral of the Story: Find a Good Host

I’ve been with several hosts now and all have their ups and downs. For instance, MT was great when I first started with them and they have good support and a really well designed control panel. They obviosuly lost it when it came to speed though (at least on their grid servers).

So, I’m now impartial to HostGator and suggest that everyone else host through them. The difference is clear.

Site Updated & Why You Should Be Using Thesis

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thesis-300x250First things first, the site has a refreshed look. It’s the same basic design it was before, but I’ve changed several things.

Before I get to the site changes, the other big news is that my site is now being hosted by HostGator. Previously I was on MediaTemple. Lots of great things to say about them, but the 1 thing that matters the most to any site owner is the availability and speed of the site.

All was great when I first started with MT, but things have been on the decline for a while….to the point that the site was taking 5-10 seconds to START loading. Crazy.

So I’ve heard great things about HostGator and things are MUCH faster. Good move Patrick.

Site Changes

Like I said, the basics are still here, but there were lots of kinks. Previously I meant to work in some fairly important features like, say subscribing to the blog and searching the site. Doh! Well, I wanted them in the design badly, but got stuck on how to actually make it work. I built the site upon the Thesis theme and because I was a newbie with it I failed to achieve everything I wanted.

Now, I’m no newbie.

That’s why I can comfortably tell you to download the Thesis theme for yourself (like right now!).

After playing with Thesis enough I was easily able to accomplish everything I wanted. Now I think the site is beautiful. Thesis takes care of so much and really makes my job easier.

So the actual changes include a sidebar with all the cool sidebar stuff. There’s better formatting in the blog, a subscribe button, and a smarter home page.