Categories
WordPress

This Post Was Composed with LocalWP

On my “to try” list for a while now is LocalWP, an application to streamline the process of working with WordPress locally. Put another way, you can build a WordPress website on your local computer and then use WPLocal to push that site online. Why would you do this you ask? There are several reasons, chief amongst them being speed. Here’s why I like LocalWP and will consider working it into my normal workflow.:

  1. It’s fast. While WPEngine is fast, the speed of interacting with any website that isn’t hosted locally is a result of many factors including your Internet connection speed and daily traffic levels. WPLocal is operating on your local computer which for the most part bypasses any reliance on your Internet connection.
  2. Good for travel. For those that travel and rely on cellular Internet access, closely managing your bandwidth usage is key to survival. Because WPLocal works mostly offline, this reduces the amount of bandwidth used and is of course much faster than working online if your connection is poor.
  3. Another staging environment. While WPEngine features a robust and easy-to-use staging environment system, working locally gives you another staging environment, to queue your updates and protect you (from yourself) from screwing up a live website.
  4. Tight integration with WPEngine. LocalWP will connect directly to WPEngine using their API, which is easily enabled. You can then view all of your sites, and “pull” any of them locally, to be edited and then pushed back live.
  5. It’s free. The Community version is free, and LocalWP claims it will stay that way. Pro adds a few features, and priority support which makes sense if you’re going to make LocalWP an integral part of your team’s process.

While I’ve only scratched the surface of what LocalWP can offer, I’m pleased to find the toolset to be simple and powerful.

**Update**

Upon pushing my local changes live, I had an issue. The local domain: josiahcole.local did not update to the live domain: josiahcole.com – A quick chat with WPEngine support solved the issue, however the root cause is still unkown. I will udpate this post the next time I attempt to publish vis LocalWP.

Categories
WordPress WPEngine

How to Clear the WP Engine Cache

WP Engine built-in caching is a breath of fresh air if you’re used to managing caching plugins, and their finicky settings and tendency to break.  Built into the WordPress dashboard, the WP Engine cache control is just two clicks away, which makes theme changes easy to see immediately.

This action can also be accomplished via the WP User Customer Portal which is a nice feature addition, allowing an administrator or network technician to clear the website cache, without having direct WordPress access.

WPEngine Cache Control User Portal
Categories
WordPress WPEngine

How to Access phpMyAdmin at WP Engine

WPEngine phpMyAdminIf you’ve run WordPress for any length of time, you’re no doubt familiar with phpMyAdmin.  Access to phpMyAdmin can often be critical to your WordPress debugging needs, and thankfully WP Engine makes this very easy.

Unlike some web hosts which hide phpMyAdmin, or put it behind an additional (and unknown) password – phpMyAdmin at WPEngine is accessible via one-click inside their User Portal.

Steps to Access phpMyAdmin at WP Engine

  1. Login to the WPEngine User Portal.
  2. Click PHPMyAdmin in the sidebar menu.
  3. That’s it!

phpMyAdmin will launch in a new tab, and you’ll have direct access to both the staging, and live databases.

Make sure to run a full backup before making any direct changes to your database.

Categories
WordPress

Choosing the Best WordPress Plugin

WordPress plugins offer a quick and easy way to expand the function of your WordPress website. When searching the WordPress.org plugin directory, or web for a suitable plugin, one has to factor in several criteria to ultimately decide which plugin to utilize.

By day I build WordPress powered websites for small business clients throughout the United States.  These clients have real budgets, and average tech abilities, making plugin selection important for long term client happiness.  Below are some of the factors I use when selecting a plugin for a project:

  1. Is this feature really needed? By far the most fundamental and important question when determining whether or not to install a WordPress plugin is this. If the client isn’t going to use the feature, or the feature isn’t essential for the site to operate, than it should be considered “extra” and only installed if there are limited existing plugins.
  2. Is the plugin popular? Thankfully WordPress does a great job of showing how popular a specific plugin is by showing “Active Installs” within the directory search.  A popular plugin is popular for a reason, and is more likely to do what is advertised.  A popular plugin also has a large user base useful for finding bugs, and testing the plugin in many diverse environments.

    WordPress Directory listing for BuddyPress showing number of Active Installs, total number of reviews and average star rating.

     

  3. Is the plugin well maintained? A popular (or not), plugin that is poorly maintained is a cause for concern. With quarterly WP core updates, changing browser specifications and evolving web standards, assuring the plugin you choose is well maintained is key.  I review the integrated support forum on WordPress.org, and see if the author responds to bug reports, and generally how well they handle support.

    You’ll want to see lots of these on the Support tab of the WordPress.org Plugin Directory.

     

  4. When was the plugin last updated?  Another key metric, again well highlighted by the folks at WordPress is the “Last Updated” report.  A plugin that hasn’t been updated in months, or even years should be avoided, or at least used with great caution.  Some legendary plugins last for years unchanged, but you shouldn’t base a website or critical feature on an abandoned plugin.

    WordPress Directory Listing for BuddyPress showing the Last Updated time frame.

     

  5. Who created the plugin? The team (or guy/gal) behind the plugin is going to be the resource to provide updates, and tech support if needed. A company with an actual business model and staff is preferable to an independent developer who is just creating a plugin for fun. That being said, a sole engineer with multiple WordPress plugins under his/her belt, and a passion for making them better can be as good, or better than a company sourced plugin.
  6. Is the plugin compatible?.  Low on the list but certainly important is the compatibility report.  WordPress does a great job here as usual, however often times the plugin will not have enough data to make this metric very useful.  WordPress updates so often, and the base of users who report compatibility so small, that you’ll find this hard to gauge for all but the most popular plugins.
  7. How usable is the plugin?  Often times you need to actually install and use a plugin before determining this.  However, sometimes the author does a great job with the “marketing” and instructional content to enable you to get an idea of how a plugin works and looks before installing.  Often I’ll install a plugin, attempt to configure and use it and find myself frustrated or turned off by the user interface or overall experience.
  8. Is there a paid version?  This ties into #3 and a little of #5 but a paid version, or license to entitle you to updates is a good sign that the plugin authors will stick around to support their product.  Often the price is low enough, that it makes more sense to pay for the plugin, just to get priority support.
  9. How heavy is the plugin?  Everyone loves a lean plugin but not all plugins stick to the core thing they do well.  Feature-creep is real, and a plugin that does one thing, and only one thing very well is always preferable.

Other lesser and/or more obscure criteria:

  1. Is there an alternative made by Automattic?  Automattic (the company behind WordPress) offers an entire suite of plugins (foremost being Jetpack) that might offer the features you’re looking for.  Check out their entire list by viewing their author page within the plugin directory.
  2. Could the plugin features be served by a third party?  A good example of this would be videos.  Yes you can host your own videos (HTML5 makes this super easy), and yes there exists many plugins that offer video players and more for your WordPress website.  However, with no plugins, and no additional maintenance you can host your videos on YouTube (for freee), AND get the benefit of having your videos discover-able on YouTube!
  3. Can the features of the plugin be replicated with theme functionality?  We all know that cramming PHP into functions.php is a bad idea (right?!?) but sometimes a plugin’s functionality can be duplicated using some creative theme work (you’re using a child theme right?!?) and/or HTML/JS/CSS.  Instead of a plugin brush up on your PHP and head on over to the theme codex to make a custom theme template with the features you want.
  4. Does the plugin get good reviews?  I don’t read individual reviews, but the “star” rating offered by the WordPress plugin directory is useful if the number of reviews is high enough.  We all know that reviews on the web are easily gamed, however in aggregate they can be useful for gauging overall customer/user happiness.

    WordPress Plugin Directory ratings overview for BuddyPress.
Categories
Analytics WordPress

Should You Use a Google Analytics WordPress Plugin

Many times I come across a website powered by WordPress rife with unused, out of date and abandoned plugins.  The first step in remedying this common situation is to review the plugins installed and identify candidates to eliminate.  Often I attempt to remove plugins that provide simple, easy to replicate features.  One example is Google Analytics.  Beginner web folks, and tech averse clients don’t feel comfortable editing a theme by hand, and this is why you typically find a plugin that merely inserts code into a theme – a task quite easy for even the most green web developer.

For a websites with existing performance or stability problems, removing a Google Analytics plugin, or similar is low hanging fruit.  However for websites without issues, WordPress plugins that offer connections to the Google Analytics system can provide added features, not easily available when using manual code.

Pros and Cons

Let’s explore the pros and cons of each.  First manual code:

Manual Code Pros

Simple to implement (copy+paste into your theme)

No plugin overhead

Manual Code Cons

Not simple to implement for those tech-averse or unfamiliar with WordPress themes.

Expanded features need to be coded manually.

You need to manually update code if Google Analytics changes.

Without picking a specific Google Analytics plugin, I’m going to highlight the overall pros and cons of this approach.

Plugin Pros

Simple setup process, usually aided by a graphical interface.

Added features such as outbound link tracking, traffic exclusions for logged in users, integrated reports & graphics.

Assuming the plugin is actively managed, changes to Google Analytics should be accommodated automatically.

Plugin Cons

Possible added performance overhead from running a plugin.

Plugin bugs could cause issues with the site in general.

Added maintenance related to updating plugin.

Most if not all of the cons associated with running a Google Analytics plugin are applicable to running any WordPress plugin.  You run the risk of the plugin wreaking havoc on your site, whether it be from WP core updates, plugin updates, or conflicts with other plugins.  As WordPress plugins go however, these are typically lightweight, having to only create necessary JavaScript.

Google Analytics WordPress Plugins

I’ll spare you a review of each service, as I’m sure that’s been done before.  For what it’s worth I’m trying out Yoast’s solution*.

Google Analytics by Yoast

Google Analytics Dashboard for WP

Google Analytics +

Conclusion

As I stated above, GA plugins are lightweight enough that you can consider running them without much maintenance or performance fear.  They keys to keep in mind are to choose a plugin that is actively managed, stay clear of plugin bloat (make sure this isn’t your one millionth plugin) and actually use the additional data enabled by this plugin.  If you’re not going to use the outbound link tracking, or if you’re not concerned with tracking logged in users, then manual code might be the way to go.

*Currently the Google Analytics by Yoast plugin is having troubles authenticating. It appears to authenticate, but when I return to the WP dashboard, the plugin warns me that I need to re-authenticate. This of course highlights one of the cons of using a plugin – with manual code I would not have to authenticate.