Category Archives: Blog

WordPress as World Wide Press

WordPress powers more than 25% of the world wide web, with good reasons for that:

  • Worldwide Community of Contributors
  • Free WordPress Blogs for anyone
  • Free Open Source Software for everyone
  • Moderate Learning Curve
  • 3rd Party Markets

WordPress may have started as a simple effective blogging solution, while over the years it has blossomed into a powerful Content Management System (CMS) platform. While there are reasons to choose other platforms for website projects, we’ve reached a point where now professionals on web projects have to first ask:

Could we do that in WordPress?

The big question about computing technology used to be: BUY or BUILD? Now the choice is Buy or Build or CONNECT? Proprietary software still dominates some markets with giants like Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, and Oracle. But the Internet Age has brought new ways of building and sharing computing solutions.  Rather than buy pricey licensed software and support, rather than hire staff or an agency to build a custom project, the best new solutions are Freemium offerings. Freemium means that the basics are free to use, like Gmail or MailChimp—then when you need advanced features or an organizational system, you upgrade to a Premium level that meets your needs.

Connect

Connecting to freemium offerings and integrating online services using common standards has become the most cost-effective route for most computing solutions. On the web WordPress has become the most common platform for sharing both free and freemium solutions for websites. Why buy or build, when you can connect to basic solutions for free and complex productions for affordable fees?

Why not ask: Could we do that in WordPress?

Here’s a small example: Word & Image recently performed a pro bono project for a neighborhood Art Crawl with no budget for web development. The group had over 100 artists, dozens of business sponsors, and excellent print graphics—but just a little placeholder WordPress site with a few static pages and PDF files of their printed materials.

At Word & Image we knew that WordPress could do much more for them. But without a budget, how could they achieve a complex website to accommodate the growing needs of artists, sponsors, and art patrons?

We surveyed the field of premium WordPress directory solutions, found an excellent theme choice Listable by PixelGrade based upon the popular WP Job Manager stack of WordPress plugins. It combined a slick UX with customizable listings and mapping. It was easily affordable, and best of all, the developers at PixeGrade provide excellent documentation and support.

Listable by PixelGrade
Listable by PixelGrade

While the solution needed some customization for the particular needs of this project, the theme/plugin stack provided about 90% of what we needed, including responsive mobile views and complex interactive mapping for all the artist and business sites. It’s amazing what WordPress solutions can provide out of the box. Add the extensibility of Open Source Software and the expertise of the WordPress community, and the results are amazing.

LoLa Art Crawl Web App
LoLa Art Crawl Web App

That’s the power of WordPress.  It can quickly, effectively and affordably give a little neighborhood art crawl a big boost; and now WordPress has become the World Wide Press that powers more and more small communities as well as giant global projects around the world.

Lola Art Crawl

LoLa Art Crawl
LoLa Art Crawl

Managed WordPress or Shared Hosting?

How to Choose?

Years ago when people asked me about the differences between Drupal and WordPress, I used to say:

Drupal needs managed hosting, usually set up by the developer, since it’s tricky to configure and maintain. WordPress, on the other hand, can be hosted just about anywhere!

Now I say: Please don’t host WordPress just anywhere! You’ll either get hacked or have a slow website or some other problem. With WordPress running a quarter of websites on the Internet, it’s both a commodity platform and a target for hacking. A lot can go wrong.

For professional WordPress websites we recommend Managed WordPress hosting, which eliminates most risks, offers high performance and scalability, along with professional tools for designers and developers. The WordPress hosting industry has matured over the years, and there are many options and pricepoints to choose from.

Here’s the slide deck for a talk on Managed WordPress or Shared Hosting? presented at the Minneapolis – St. Paul WordPress User Group on March 24, 2016. The takeaway is that while there are a plethora of tools, services, and practices for managing WordPress websites, Shared Hosting leaves all responsibility for web hosting concerns on the account user. Managed WordPress hosting handles responsibility for critical factors for running professional websites, along with offering options and controls for precise management.

Here’s our list of Resources for Managed WordPress.

You Oughta Audit

Content Audits are a Key Stage for Web Projects

When you think of website planning, you might envision site maps, flowcharts, wireframes, and pictures showing a home page design in all its graphic detail. There are many tools of the trade, but one key step is paramount for the success of a web design process: the Content Audit.

PHOTO: Some Rights Reserved CC BY-NC 2.0 Beanbag Amerika https://www.flickr.com/photos/bean/322616749/
PHOTO: Some Rights Reserved CC BY-NC 2.0 Beanbag Amerika

Too often, website owners and designers want to jump to the new thing—a redesign of the graphic identity along with adding bells and whistles like sliders, scrolling parallax effects, video backgrounds, opt-in pop-ups, and more. The problem with stressing design elements is the risk of losing sight of your content and how visitors find and use content that’s of value to them.  If you ignore your legacy of content and don’t plan for future content, you might wind up with a big bowl of content soup that drown users trying to swim through it.

The beginning stage of a content strategy project is the evaluation of the existing state of content, users, and other factors. Content audits are a key step at this stage and can provide a preliminary analysis to determine how to proceed with a project. They help answer questions like: How does our content relate to our goals? How are users accessing our content? How is our content structured? What channels are we using?

But, not all content audits are the same. There are quantitative and qualitative approaches, there are online and offline tools, and the metadata about the content is just as important as the content itself. Collecting, reviewing, and analyzing all this data about content can be quite a challenge, especially with legacy websites lacking good documentation and support systems.

Luckily we have best practices for content strategy processes along with new tools to help. This presentation on You Oughta Audit—And How was delivered by David Skarjune for Word & Image at the Content Strategy – Minneapolis/St. Paul Meetup on January 19, 2016.  Skarjune reviews the elements of the content audit stage for content strategy, looks at several approaches for performing content inventories, and considers a business case using online tools to automate the process.

See our Content Strategy Resources & News

Digital First NOW

It’s time to go Digital First. Right Now!

Not that your company should simply shutter the office and dive headfirst today into Slack, Trello, and Google Hangouts. Those are handy online collaborative tools for a distributed workforce. I use them daily for WordPress projects, as they’ve become the defacto online office for indie consultants, like me, and for startup companies that take a lean approach to their organization.

Digital is not just an add-on option, it’s the First consideration for getting work done.

By Digital First I mean that it’s time to audit your human workflows and technology processes to determine where there’s legacy, lag, and loss that should be trimmed, fixed, and rebooted. According to Capgemini only 7% of organizations have digitized operations at company-scale, while 16% are stalling, without any significant digital capability. It’s hard to believe that in 2016 so many companies are still shuffling paper, playing phone tag, and are not able to update content on their own website. Digital is not just an add-on option, it’s the First consideration for getting work done.

smartphone-593345_1920The other side of the coin is that millennial consumers are already shifting customer experience to a digital-centric mode of accessing personalized information via mobile devices.  They don’t go to your desktop website and try to navigate your menus. They don’t dial the call center and sit on hold. They don’t wait for a coupon in the mail or newspaper to go shopping. They are already on the cusp of the Internet of Things where a smart phone becomes an agent for managing not just things, but one’s entire life.

So going Digital First means asking: Is there a way to manage our projects, products, and campaigns with digital tools and workflows? And can we integrate those digital tools and flows to make work easier, more efficient, and most important: more responsive for our constituents?

The answers should be Yes, as the web app industry is at a mature stage with best practices to guide you and arrays of choices to meet your needs.  If a startup company with little experience can succeed in the Digital workplace, what’s stopping anyone else? Of course, old is easy, new is hard. But if the sustainability of your company or mission is at stake, it’s time to let go of the false comfort of legacy systems and methods. Digital First methods expand dexterity for success, and that leaves more time for fun and creativity.

Learn More

Organizing for Digital: Why Digital Dexterity Matters” by Capgemini 

Author Experience in WordPress

WordPress has achieved its mission to democratize publishing, so any blogger, writer, editor, or content manager has access to a powerful publishing platform on the Web. So, how do you put all of the awesome capabilities of WordPress to best use?

ax-wp-wcwpg-skarjune
David Skarjune presented on the topic “Author Experience in WordPress” at WordCamp Winnipeg 2015.

It’s a myth that a CMS is a silver bullet for online publishing. While incredible strides have been made for content management and user experience, the Author Experience has lagged in comparison.

AX ≠ UX. How did this Happen?

With the paradigm clash of digital publishing, authors can fall through virtual cracks, and online logjams can stymie editors. Let’s fix this. The WordPress interface is easily improved for authors, and editorial workflow can be customized for content managers.

Author Experience in WordPress Slide Deck

Authoring Plugins

JetPack After the Deadline Proofreading
JetPack Markdown
TinyMCE Spellcheck
TinyMCE Advanced
Toolbar Publish Button
Front-end Editor
WP Editor

Authoring Experience Resources

 

This post was updated July 25, 2015 for WordCamp Milwaukee.

Managing WordPress

WordPress is one of the easiest Content Management Systems to set up and run, but what happens after a web developer finishes their work and hands off a WordPress website to a site owner?

Designing and developing in WordPress are beginning stages in the lifecycle of a website. There are additional stages for content development, training and support, administration and maintenance, statistical feedback, and software upgrades.

What happens after a web developer finishes their work and hands off a WordPress website to a site owner?

Fortunately, there are best practices for WordPress configuration, backups, security, performance, and other aspects of website management. And, just as with witches, there are good hosts and bad hosts that will affect how well or how terribly WordPress performs.

In recent years a new industry has emerged for Managed WordPress Hosting that handles many of these details, making the job much easier. This presentation for WordUp Minneapolis reviews the key areas of WordPress website management from the basic setup on the frontend to complexities on the backend plus supporting users throughout their content lifecycle.

See our Managed WordPress Resources

WordPress Images

WordPress media processing just moved up a notch with the release of version 3.9, called “Smith” for the famed jazz pianist Jimmy Smith.  WordPress has long had powerful image functionality built into it’s core, but it was neither obvious that it existed nor how to employ the features. Now that has all changed.

When you want to create a visual portfolio in WordPress, you might think that needs a special theme or plugin or both to add the functionality for working with images.  Indeed, there are a plethora of portfolio themes for photographers and artists to use, and there are plugins like the popular NextGEN Gallery for managing and presenting image collections.

However, we’ve long had a smart gallery function built into WordPress. When you upload images into a post (or page), they become an attachment of it. A group of images attached to a post become a gallery by default. Who knew? Few knew or cared because it was a hidden feature, and even if you noticed or learned that you could insert a gallery of images into a post, the mere result in the edit view was an icon of a camera and snapshot—not the images:

wp-gal-wid

Not cool, or inviting, or very useful to most. The results on the viewing end were nice, as you could arrange the grid layout of the gallery with shortcodes or launch a slideshow or lightbox with simple jQuery plugins. For WordPress geeks, this worked fine, for everybody else used to WYSIWYG editing, it didn’t work much at all.

All that has changed with WordPress 3.9. Now when you add a group of images to a post, you can see the gallery of images in the edit view just as you’d expect, such as with this group of photographs shown below. By default, WordPress displays a caption with a user hover, and clicking an image goes to an attachment page displaying just the image. Plugins could launch a lightbox experience.

There are a host of new features for working with images in WordPress:

  • Drag and drop images into posts
  • Scale image size directly in the edit view
  • Jump to the Edit Image window from post edit view
  • Toggle from a gallery layout to a slideshow

WordPress 3.9 also includes new features for working with and previewing audio, video, and widgets. This is a definite move towards a more seamless visual editing experience in WordPress, and there’s more to come in upcoming releases.

These What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) features may seem trivial or even pathetic to hard-core web geeks. Really? WordPress wants to be more like Wix or Weebly or SquareSpace in the Content Management System (CMS) space for automated generation of websites? Is that a good or bad thing?

Joomla was the first popular CMS that worked easily out of the box and offered basic visual editing of web content. Joomla is no longer in the lead with WordPress ahead of everyone and Drupal offering more extensive backend power than Joomla. Still, Joomla proved that having a smooth frontend experience for authors and an extensible. programmable backend engine for geeks was the holy grail for CMS user experience at both ends of the spectrum.

This new release elevates WordPress to a higher balance of frontend and backend capabilities for CMS users at all levels.  Besides, it honors Jimmy Smith, one of the jazz/blues  greats!

People Marketing

People Marketing Is …

the backbone of all Direct Marketing.  These days, one might think that social media had become the primary means for direct marketing with people sharing tweets, posts, and links of companies on Facebook, Twitter, and the rest. But as any social media marketer knows, social connections can be fleeting, frivolous, and challenging to convert to active B2C sales relationships.

It’s easy to confuse the media with the marketplace. Sure, it’s all online today, on Facebook or Amazon or just a click away. We do have a universal marketplace on the Internet, and it seems that the degrees of separation are decreasing as we network online more and more. Yet, we still have real people as marketers and customers in a real-world marketplace, beyond all the digital interactions that media provides. How does this affect direct marketing?

A century ago traveling salespeople went from town to town and door to door peddling goods out of a suitcase. That’s quite direct when someone knocks on your door. Today, you probably wouldn’t answer a door knock for such solicitations, unless it was a neighbor kid hawking cookies or candy bars for scouts or sports.  Still, do you favor a certain coffee shop or store where the staff treat you well? Convenience and pricing are strong factors in today’s marketplace and economy, but sometimes we want a nicer experience than that of the self checkout line at a big box store.

Direct Marketing can be defined as any systematic method of selling products with direct communications and transactions between companies and customers. It’s tried and true from direct (junk) mail to telemarketing to direct response advertising on late-night television.  Long before the web and social media, direct marketing had leveraged metrics and ROI with predictive results. Direct mail response rates average 3.4% and telemarketing response rates range from 8% to nearly 13%, although the costs are higher. (The Average Success Rate of Direct Marketing)

An issue with direct marketing (or any marketing today) is that the media and technology that deliver results can become an end-all, trumping the roles of both seller and buyer at the outer ends of the process. And, when the traditional methods don’t deliver as well over time, as media, technology, and user behaviors continue to evolve, how can we adapt better engagement strategies?

We might try getting back to the notion of People Marketing. I don’t mean knocking on doors in the real world—but I do mean that when we knock on digital doors, we act as real people.  For example, sometimes when I engage with someone as mutual followers on Twitter, I quickly receive an automated Direct Message saying:

“Thanks for following. I will surprise you with interesting tweets!”

Really? It’s interesting that you have robotic software that churns out a canned tweet on your behalf? You knock on a door that is normally reserved for friends and associates to exchange text messages in real time, but you as a person aren’t involved?

In your B2C communications, don’t let 1-to-1 become a 0-to-1 formula. Remember that as marketers and customers, we’re real people who can have real digital interactions.


Do you have Digital Content and Direct Marketing needs? Contact Word & Image to find our how our services can help.