Category Archives: Guest Writer

Mr. Gadon Visits WordCamp Chicago

Editors note: This is a guest post by Robert Gadon. Robert is a WordPress enthusiast who has used the platform since 2011. He aspires to improve his knowledge and skill using WordPress and enjoys sharing what he’s learned with others. Robert joined the St. Louis WordPress meetup in late 2013 and is a regular attendee at the monthly meetings. If you’d like to be a guest writer here on STL WP, let us know.

R Gadon head shot 05-14-11

WordCamps are community-organized conferences that bring WordPress enthusiasts together to share mutual knowledge, experience, and interest in the platform. St. Louis has hosted several day-long WordCamps in each of the last several years. Planning is underway to do so again in March 2015.

WordCamp-Chicago 2014 hosted 350 attendees, second only in attendance behind the WordCamp-San Francisco. It was recently held the weekend of June 13-14 at the University Center conference facility, located in the downtown Loop at 525 S. State Street.

To meet the needs of new and intermediate level users, WordCamp Chicago offered a 1-day intensive workshop the day prior to the formal conference called ‘Foundation Friday’. Four instructional tracks were offered to target a skill range from beginner through advanced. Corporate and community sponsorship of WordCamp Chicago kept the enrollment cost down to $20 per day, which encourages attendance.

Bus, train, and airline connections between St. Louis and Chicago are frequent and reasonably priced. While some may to prefer to drive the 300 miles between the two cities, parking in downtown Chicago is limited and expensive.

My travel between the two cities was just under $40 when I booked 2 months in advance. I arranged travel to Chicago via Megabus, and returned to St. Louis via Amtrak. Both trips are scheduled for 5-1/2 hours one-way. Passenger rail service usually takes longer due to competition with freight traffic around E. St. Louis and Chicago. Southwest Airlines’ one-hour direct flight to Chicago-Midway runs about $140 round trip. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Orange Line train connects Midway with the downtown Loop for $2.25 one way.

The WordCamp Chicago web site provided a list of housing options close to the event. They include the WordCamp meeting venue, the University Center conference facility (which serves as a dormitory for several nearby colleges and universities), Hostelling International-Chicago at 24 E. Congress Parkway (1 block north of University Center), and a link to Air B and B, the online housing rental service.

From previous visits to Chicago, I opted to stay at the hostel. For under $40/night, I shared a 2-bedroom suite designed to accommodate up to 4 people/room. The suite had a communal lounge, kitchen, and bath. The rooms included a personal luggage locker to secure belongings. Lodging also included breakfast, access to a commercial kitchen (handy for preparing and storing food), several public lounges, and free wi-fi. During my 4-night stay, I shared my room with travelers from Belgium, Turkey, and Slovakia.

Working as an independent free-lancer limits opportunities to regularly engage with people face-to-face about WordPress. Locally, I’m limited to monthly Meetups once or twice a month, and occasional interaction online through support forums. It was exciting to walk into the conference center and encounter hundreds of people from throughout the region and beyond gathered for 3 days to share their enthusiasm, knowledge and experience with WordPress.

WordCamp presentations were formally organized along 3 tracks: architect (design); foreman (design implementation); and engineer (development), with additional presentations offered around topics of a general interest, and business and project management. I was particularly interested is presentations about site design, work flow management, and business management and development.

The conference organizers recruited a superb set of speakers, whose video recordings can be found at ‘WordPress.tv’ (Here’s the complete list of WordCamp Chicago). The slides shown in most of the presentations are available on the WordCamp Chicago web site (June 16 post, ‘WordCamp Chicago Slides!’). As of this writing, the conference schedule is still posted on the WordCamp Chicago 2014 web site. Look it over for topics of interest. Chances are you can find a video recording of most of the presentations through WP.tv.

The Saturday lunch break offered several activities to socialize. I joined one of the networking lunches at a nearby restaurant. It offered a great opportunity to listen in on several conversations at once, ask questions, and glean valuable information on everything from plugins to working with clients. I was pleasantly surprised to meet two freelancers from Missouri; one from suburban St. Louis, and the other from the state’s southeast corner.

Several presentations particularly stood out;

  • Michelle Shulp – ‘A Web Site is Not a Poster’. She discussed the differences and challenges between designing for a static versus dynamic medium (print versus web). Michelle referred to useful design concepts (‘style tiles’), tools (Macaw.com), and bloggers (Brad Frost | Atomic Design) in her presentation.
  • Troy Dean – ‘101 Ways to Elevate Yourself and Demand Higher Fees’. Funny, provocative, bombastic, and occasionally profane, Australian Troy Dean offered a thought-provoking list of lessons learned on improving your business as a WordPress freelancer and consultant.
  • Rebecca Gill – ‘Solutions Before Development: Creating WordPress Products That Actually Sell’. Rebecca explained her transition from builder of custom themes to developing a theme shop targeted to classes of small business and institutional clients (e.g. lawyers, dentists, accountants, educators). She reexamined her approach to product development and marketing to redirect and build a successful small business.

After reviewing my conference notes, I estimate it will take me a year (!) to fully integrate all the new information I recorded. On balance, WordCamp Chicago was a transformative experience that helped me go deeper into the WordPress platform.

The many, many uses of Advanced Custom Fields

Editors note: This is a guest post by Brian Goldstein. Brian is a freelance WordPress developer in University City. He’s also nearly completely self-taught.  To see some of his work or to get in touch,  check out briankappgoldstein.comIf you’d like to be a guest writer here on STL WP, let us know.

brian-treehouse

There are a few plugins I tend to use on just about every WordPress install I do – for me or for a client.  I always use a back-up plugin, SEO by Yoast, and I’ll almost always use Advanced Custom Fields.

As a developer or a designer, it’s tempting to hide everything away from your clients, so they can’t break the site you’ve just built. ACF helps maintain the design and code integrity of the site while giving your client a way to update content without you. It uses the same logic as the WordPress Loop, so implementation and troubleshooting is simple.

In this article I’ll show 3 simple use cases from a few sites I’ve worked on recently.

Example 1

A common way to use ACF is with another popular plugin, Custom Post Types UI which makes creating custom post types a breeze. Once you create a custom post type, you then create the field groups you want to use and then make them available only for that post type. Once you enter in all the information, be it text, images, or video, you write a php loop calling in those custom post types. Here’s a more concrete example:

ACF_Example

Here, each of these boxes of content are custom post types. One advantage is that once your client “gets” how to make a new blog post, they also know how to change a custom post type. Here’s a screenshot of the editing view of one of these custom post types.

ACF_Editing

As you can see, instead of the standard WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) content editor, you can show the custom fields. ACFs documentation is a clear and an excellent resource.

After you enter the content for each custom post type, we’re ready to edit our theme files to dynamically loop in our custom post types.

On this project, because I also want to display that content elsewhere, it’s inside content-services.php, not the service.php template file. In this case, they are closely related, as we’ll see.

Here is the code for the query that calls in content-services.php on the service.php template :

https://gist.github.com/ckoerner/05e140a85c3e6817c817

We open a php block and define an array with the post type we want, then query that array in our loop. The loop pulls in our content-services.php file, where the code that pulls in our fields live. That code looks like this:

https://gist.github.com/ckoerner/817f3383e7c8322e2a92

Every time you see “the_field()”, that’s pulling in the information you entered in your custom post type. Because the loop ends in services.php and this is inside that loop, you only need to make sure you close each php block, not the loop itself.

Example 2

This example and the next require purchasing the repeater field add-on to ACF. It’s one of the few premium plugins I’d ever recommend buying.

Using the repeater add-on makes displaying a lot of the same kind of information super simple.

For instance, on a restaurant site I recently built, the client needs to be able to change their menu without calling me each time they want to update a menu item. So I built out the menus using ACF’s repeater function.

Each menu section was its’ own field group – so they could add or remove the groups at will. Then, using the repeater I created 2 or 3 sub fields depending on the menu section. Next, I entered in all the data for those menu items – the name of the item, the description, and the price. Finally, it was time to code it out. Here’s what that looked like. These are inside a container div, which has at least one row, and it’s broken into 2 columns in the bootstrap grid, for some context.

https://gist.github.com/ckoerner/09ea771030e765345314

Similar logic – you’re telling it to find the field group app here, and if there are rows, while there are rows, to display the sub fields Item, Price and Description.

Example 3

Using ACF repeater to dynamically insert images into a carousel.

https://gist.github.com/ckoerner/fbf575fbcfe42b493b08

Again, similar code: creating a loop that checks for the field, and then if there is data for the subfield, injects it into the source attribute of the img in the carousel. Because it’s just PHP, you can use it just like you use other WP tags. The client can use the photos they want to use without my involvement. You can see this example and the previous example live on plantershousestl.com.

Truth is, I haven’t even scratched the surface of what ACF can do. If you have an ingenious use for ACF, I’d love to hear from you. ACF’s simple code, easy integration on the WP dashboard, and versatility into any design you can imagine make it a go to plugin for me.

Brian Goldstein, freelance WordPress developer
briankappgoldstein.com
@briangoldstein

Using WordPress Basics to Get Your Best SEO

Editors note: This is a guest post by the wonderfully talented Tina Eaton from Integrity. If you’d like to be a guest writer here on STL WP, let us know.

Tina_Eaton

Originally a traditionally trained journalist, I naturally gravitated toward content strategy when I started working in the digital world. And where I work, content strategy includes learning about a wide variety of topics, including search engine optimization (SEO).

After writing countless WordPress user guides for clients, I became pretty familiar with the content management system and learned a lot about implementing SEO in a WordPress setting.

SEO is the practice of using keywords and/or phrases to increase the amount of traffic that a website receives from search engines. Search engines “crawl” a website and read the URLs, headlines, body copy, picture titles, author and social media links to determine what information this site is intending to share. From this crawl they gather popular and common keywords and recall these whenever a web search is performed.

The majority of traffic to a website comes from search engines, so the order in which search engines rank websites is very important. Google, the leading search engine, uses hundreds of algorithms to determine the order of websites on the search engine results page (SERP).

Here are a few basic guidelines for optimizing your content for SERPs using just the standard WordPress content fields.

Title and Body

Your title and main content area offer the most opportunity to use the keywords and keyword phrases that you have determined will produce the best SEO results. The title will appear on your website and should make sense in the context of the page or post. It should appeal to a human reader, not just to search engines crawling your site.

The content area should be human friendly while implementing strong keywords and keyword phrases. Organizing your content with headers and including outbound (send the user elsewhere) and inbound (keep the user within your site) links will aid your SEO.

Permalink

Edit your Permalink to be both SEO and human friendly. It should utilize keywords and be short and descriptive of the post or page. Click on the Permalink to write in what you’d like to change it to, when you click OK it will automatically format it.

Imagery

Search engines cannot read images, but they can read the text that is attached to them. When saving an image that you’re going to use on your website, use a common file type (JPEG, PNG, SVG, GIF, etc.) and a human-friendly name. Place the image within the text near the section that it is most relevant to. Use images and keywords that are relevant to the content.

When you upload your photo, choose to edit it. You can also visit the Media Library to edit pictures after they have been uploaded. Use a short, keyword-focused title. Enter a Caption if you would like to display a caption with your image. The Alternative Text, often referred to as “Alt Text,” should be straight forward and keyword heavy while avoiding “keyword stuffing.” The title and Alt Text are what search engines will use to read and identify your images, so if nothing else you should at least pay attention to the SEO value of these.

Enter a description if the person uploading the image might need to differentiate between similar images in the Media Library. Make sure to remove the Link URL so the image doesn’t open in its own page when clicked on, which can slow down your site and diminish SEO.

Categories and Tags

While Categories and Tags themselves aren’t especially powerful SEO tools, they aid in SEO in other ways. Think of categories as your website’s table of contents and tags as the index. When a search engine reads these, it helps it understand – and more effectively crawl – your website and indicates what topics your website is focused on. Categories and Tags also increase navigation and readability for users.

It’s important to remember there is no shortcut for creating quality SEO. Follow these guidelines and regularly post interesting, sharable content and you’ll be well on your way to increasing your SERP rank.

Tina Eaton, Project Lead and Content Strategist
Integrity
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