Dec 2015 Meetup Notes: Page Builders and Pet Peeves

To lay the groundwork for the main presentation about making WordPress easier to use, we asked attendees to share their WordPress pet peeves. Several people mentioned the need to learn JavaScript, while at least one looked forward to being able to work more with JavaScript and less with PHP. Others talked about the constant maintenance and updates and the way things can break after a major update. Those newer to WordPress addressed the massive amount of trial and error involved, even when following detailed tutorials like those produced by Tyler Moore. And several people talked about the way WordPress was sold as an easy solution, even though it’s really not that easy.

Robby McCullough talking to the East Bay WordPress Meetup

Robby McCullough from Beaver Builder joined us on December 20th to give a demo of his product and answer questions from skeptics and enthusiasts alike.

Meetup members wanted to know how Beaver Builder ($99 for personal license) differs from Visual Composer ($34 for single-site license), apart from the fact that you can use Beaver Builder on unlimited sites. Robby said that people who had used both had told him the Beaver Builder interface was nicer and easier to grasp, but that the biggest thing is that if you deactivate or uninstall the plugin, your page is not left full of meaningless shortcodes.

Instead, Beaver Builder converts your content into HTML within the WordPress editor, removing all divs and layout information but retaining heading tags, italics, lists, and media.

There was some discussion about whether it might be possible to export specific layouts for use in building themes, without requiring the plugin. (ACF does something like this.)

As there are several Genesis fans in the group, people wanted to know about using Beaver Builder with Genesis. Lots of people in fact do this, and some also use Beaver Builder with the Dynamik website builder for Genesis. (Beaver builder aims to modify the content within a post or a page, rather than your theme as a whole, which is what Dynamik tweaks.) There is a free plugin called Genesis Dambuster to make integration easier.

You will, however, have to use the Beaver Builder theme in order to take advantage of the pre-made templates.

Sallie found she was able to create a simple landing page for a client based on one of said pre-made templates after the 5-minute tour, though she needed help with turning off the sticky header. Fortunately there’s a helpful Beaver Builder community on Slack to answer questions like that.

Chris Burbridge is actually teaching classes on using Beaver Builder, for anyone interested.

Thanks to A2 Hosting for the pizza, Pagely for the hosting, and O’Reilly for their partner discounts.

Nov 2015: Getting Readers Engaged: WordPress Comments & Commenting Systems

At the November 2015 East Bay WordPress Meetup, we discussed comments on WordPress blogs, including when to enable comments, plugins to blog spam, third-party comment management systems, and plugins like Wheepl and Postmatic.

Prior to the commenting discussion, we introduced some of the features coming in WordPress 4.4, like responsive images and term meta.

When to Allow Comments

WordPress allows comments on posts by default, but you can turn them off in the Settings | Discussion page. That’s also where you choose whether comments will be moderated and whether people have to be logged in to comment, and what placeholders to use for commenters who don’t have Gravatars.

Turning off comments on pages by default was a smart move made in WordPress 4.3. There are not many pages suited to comments.

It’s possible that you don’t want comments on your site, not even on blog posts. But if you want to encourage interaction and engagement, comments can be a good thing. If people ask to be notified of follow-up comments, you have an opportunity to conduct longer discussions–and others who might find those conversations helpful can see them, which they can’t if you just exchange email with the person who comments.

Comments can also give you ideas for future blog posts (when readers have questions, or when they disagree with you) and give you an idea of what your readers want.

How to Encourage Comments

Some blogs seem to attract a lot of comments and some not so many. Controversial posts inevitably attract comments, but you don’t want to stir up controversy for its own sake. The Official BNI Podcast site encourages comments explicitly, asking listeners to post about their own experiences with the podcast topic.

Responding to comments (publicly, by replying to the comment) also encourages more people to comment, because they know you are reading the comments.

Establish a Comment Policy

Make it clear that you will not tolerate personal attacks, profanity, or pointless self-promotion—unless, of course, you actually want to encourage those things. There are plugins to allow you to display your comment policy above your comment form, or you can modify the comment form template (in a child theme).

Avoiding Comment Spam

Akismet is the 800-lb gorilla of spam-blocking, but you are supposed to pay for it on all sites but personal blogs. (Pricing is affordable.) Also, Akismet stores spam messages in your database for 30 days. Spambots are relentless and you can accumulate a lot of spam in that time, bloating your database.

Try the Anti-Spam plugin by Webvitaly as an alternative. It blocks all spam produced by bots, without Captcha, which Sallie believes is the instrument of the devil. (There have been lots of studies done to show why Captcha is more trouble than its worth, in case your own experience hasn’t shown you this.)  Sallie uses this plugin on nearly every site she builds.

Native WordPress Comments

There’s actually nothing wrong with the commenting system built into WordPress, at least if you get only a moderate number of comments. You can choose to require name and email to comment, to moderate all comments, to require a poster to have a previously approved comment before posting, or to require readers to be logged in to comment. (Unless you are already running a membership site, you probably don’t want people to register as users. Also, this requirement tends to deter commenters.)

WordPress displays a user’s gravatar next to their comment, if they have one. If not, you can choose to display a variety of placeholder images, or nothing.

Jetpack Comments

Jetpack Comments allow people to log in with Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or WordPress.com instead of filling out their name and email. People like the convenience of logging in with a social account.

The down side to Jetpack Comments is that you have to use Akismet to block spam–other anti-spam plugins won’t work. Jetpack comments are also difficult to style, because the Jetpack CSS wants to override everything else.

Social Comments

If you want to allow people to log in with their social networking accounts, you have more options than just Jetpack. Two we looked at are Social Comments and Facebook Comments. Social Comments lets you log in with Facebook, Google+, or WordPress.com.

Facebook Comments, naturally, requires a Facebook account, and uses Facebook’s styles to display comments. There are actually a few people left on the planet who don’t use Facebook, which is something to keep in mind when choosing a social commenting plugin.

Third-Party Systems

The two major third-party systems for comments are Livefyre and Disqus. (Disqus sponsored one of our past meetups.) If you have a blog that gets tons of visitors and tons of comments, one of these may be for you. (Livefyre especially is aimed at enterprises.)

These tools let you log in with social accounts and they help you keep track of posts you’ve commented on. They also help with managing spam and other problems, relieving you of the burden of moderation. Importing your comments back into WordPress if you stop using them is possible, but might be awkward.

Postmatic: Email Commenting

Postmatic arrived to considerable fanfare. It allows people to not only follow your comments by email, but respond to comments by email–and you as the blog owner can reply to comments without having to log in to WordPress. There are free and pro versions.

The developer of Postmatic kindly offered a premium license to give away. The winner of the drawing was Maggie Wu.

Wheepl: Comments Across the Web

Wheepl was supposed to be our sponsor for this meetup, and give a demo, but the developer got stuck in Canada because of visa issues.

Wheepl is a real-time commenting system which exists apart from WordPress to help you conduct and track conversations across platforms. It looks interesting, but it’s not clear where your comments live if you want to be able to keep them. We hope Mukul Sud will be able to come to the meetup at another time to provide his demo and answer questions.

TL;DR on WordPress Comments

Comments may not be appropriate for your site (or your client’s site). But for some sites, comments are a great way to engage readers and get ideas for new articles. WordPress and various third parties offer multiple ways to block spam and increase interaction.

Kim Doyal: Marketing & Measuring with WordPress.

WP ChickKim Doyal (have you listened to her podcast?) joins us in January to talk about site conversions and marketing with your site, including the use of Google Tag Manager. (More details as we get closer to the date.)

ABOUT THE SPEAKER

Kim Doyal, “The WordPress Chick,” is a leading expert on using WordPress to market businesses online. She teaches, blogs and creates with WordPress. A published author, movie producer and artist, her motto is “WordPress Happiness Made Easy.” Kim develops custom solutions to meet the needs for a variety of entrepreneurs and business models.

Getting Readers Engaged: WordPress Comments & Commenting Systems

Whether you’re blogging yourself or creating a site for a client, you need to make some decisions about how to handle comments. Blocking comment spam is important, of course, but there are also tools you might want to consider to increase user engagement.

Our sponsor for this meeting, Wheepl, offers a platform for live, social conversation across webpages based on hashtags.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYqmEA9E3vo

In addition to Wheepl, we’ll take a look at some other popular commenting solutions: Postmatic, Disqus (who sponsored a meetup many years ago), Livefyre, Jetpack Comments, etc. This is not a comprehensive tour of every comment system or plugin–that would take days. But it should give you an idea of the options that are out there for increasing engagement via comments.

In addition to our meeting sponsor, Wheepl, I would like to thank our regular sponsors; Pagely and A2 Hosting, as well as O’Reilly Media. Pagely hosts our EastBayWP.com website; A2 buys us pizza, and O’Reilly offers us hefty discounts.

Making WordPress Easier to Use

This is a variation on my WordCamp Sacramento talk, “Not Everyone Is a WordPress Expert.” 

In September 2014 I wrote an article called Have we been misleading people about WordPress? My main concern was the way that marketers imply, and consumers seem to believe, that Without knowing code is equivalent to Without knowing anything.

A lot of WordPress themes and plugins actually have a very steep learning curve and are overwhelming for new users. There is no such thing as an intuitive interface, only a familiar interface. We need to be honest about the learning curve, simplify the admin, and provide support and training.

We’ll review the things that clients (and other end-users) find most difficult about WordPress–which would be practically everything–and how we can have happier clients by setting expectations, offering training, and using plugins to help simulate a more familiar editing environment. 

(I’ll be going into more detail on the Editus plugin by Lasso since we have more time than I did at WCSAC.)

The December Meetup is sponsored by Beaver Builder, a tool that makes WordPress sites easier to create. Expect swag and giveaways along with the demo.

https://vimeo.com/122546221

And as always, we’d like to thank our regular sponsors: Pagely, host of the EastBayWP.com website; A2 Hosting, which pays for our pizza; and O’Reilly Media, which offers us discounts on their tech books and videos.