Tech Tips | Web Development Articles from York web designers Semlyen IT

Archive for the ‘Tech Tips’ Category

Using WordPress as a content management system

Posted on Tuesday, April 12th, 2011 by Jamie

We have been finding ourselves turning more and more to WordPress to meet our Content Management needs. Over the past couple of years it has outgrown its ‘blogging software’ roots and become a fully fledged content management system in its own right, being awarded the Overall Best Open Source CMS Award in the 2009 Open Source CMS Awards.

We would like to showcase two of our most recent websites that make good use of WordPress: Golden Bough, Intellectual Property Solutions and Precious Cargo, a sub site of The Laurence Sterne Trust.


Handy WordPress plugins

Posted on Tuesday, June 29th, 2010 by Jamie

Anyone installing a WordPress blog should take note of these plugins. Some of them are essential, some of them are just handy. They have all been tested and found to be compatible with the new release WordPress 3.0. We will be constantly adding plugins and even removing them as they become superseded.

This one comes with WordPress ‘out of the box’, but it is well worth activating as it is basically an anti spam tool. It simply requires that you enter an API key, available by registering on the WordPress site or the Akismet site. The API keys are reusable across domains so you need only do it once for all your blogs.

All in one SEO pack
Pretty essential for any blog really, this adds meta description and meta keyword tags to your template (which seem to be missing from some themes) as well as canonical URLs. Title, Description and Keywords tags are automatically written, based on the plugin’s settings. All these can be overwritten individually for each post and there are a number of other useful settings, such as excluding pages and adding noindex for archives.

Google Analytics for WordPress
You may choose just to add your Analytics code to the footer in your template, but using this plugin gives you more control over what data is tracked – for example you can exclude admin visits. It also supports AdSense tracking and Urchin.

No 404 Errors
There is a bug that affects some shared hosting, whereby rather than displaying 404 Errors, raw html is sent to the browser. This clever plugin changes 404 errors to 301 errors and redirects to a custom WordPress page.

TinyMCE Advanced
This adds buttons to WordPress’s limited TinyMCE setup and also allows you to control what buttons are used with a drag-and-drop interface. It also has the option to import styles from the stylesheet and to stop WordPress’s annoying habit of stripping out <p> and <br> tags, making it easier for users to add spacing in a post.

Breadcrumb Trail
Some designs require a ‘breadcrumb’ navigation, showing you the route you took from the homepage to the current page. They can be very useful, since it’s easy to get lost when navigating a complex blog. WordPress doesn’t supply this feature out of the box, but this plugin gives you a breadcrumb trail function that you can add anywhere in your theme. It’s simple to customize via the plugins files.

Add Lightbox
This automatically adds rel=”lightbox” to all images linked to in your posts and pages, grouped by post ID. You have to add the javascript files manually. The code can easily be modified in order to use your preferred image pop up script, for example, colorbox.

Great for posts of a technical nature, this allows you to highlight code by wrapping it in ‘pre’ tags and specifying a language from the GeSHi library, for example, XML, PHP, CSS.

NextGEN Gallery
Wordpress already has a pretty useful gallery function, whereby each post or page can have a number of pictures associated and displayed in a simple Gallery layout. NextGEN gallery allows you to insert any Gallery, or a selection of Galleries (an Album) into any post or page. It also comes with a number of Javascript slide shows already set up (some of which require  you to install the javascript files manually) and the ability to add watermarks, arrange your pictures and albums, create RSS Feeds, add photos to the sidebar etc. For any blog where images are an essential part of their content, you should be using this. It is a little daunting when you first try to use it but you’ll soon get the hang of it.

Adds a button to the bottom of every post and/or page that generates a printable version of your content. You can choose whether to display comments, images and links or not.

Social Bookmarking
There are many social bookmarking plugins and it is an essential feature for blogs and indeed any website these days. There are the well known buttons such as AddThis and ShareThis that you will see all around the web, as well as the specific WordPress plugins. These add a clickable list of social networking icons to the bottom of each post. The ones we tend to use are Social Bookmarks, which you can see on this site, and Sociable, which I feel is the better choice as there are more sites to choose from and the icons are a little nicer, plus the user can manually disable it for individual posts. Another one which I rather like is Sexy Bookmarks, although this isn’t for all sites. At the end of the day there are many to choose from and its up to you to find one you like.

Lock Pages
Thanks to Mark for finding this one, “Lock Pages prevents specified pages (or all pages) from having their slug or parent edited, or from being deleted, by non-administrators.” Really handy when using WordPress as a CMS, as we all know what could happen if top level pages start being removed and renamed.

Excerpt and Content Word Limit
You can’t always rely on a client making use of either the ‘excerpt’ or the ‘more tag’ and as useful as the excerpt is, it relys on it being set up in the theme. I had played around with word limit plugins before but been unsatisfied, mostly due to the limits of the options. This plugin is great, you can use it anywhere you like, by swapping the usual ‘the_content()’ to ‘content(25)’ in your theme, where 25 is the number of words to limit the post by, this is handy because you can have different word limits in different places and can also limit the excerpt. The only downside of this plugin is that the word limit, is itself limited by 27, i.e. it wont go any higher than that.

Maintenance Mode
“Adds a splash page to your blog that lets visitors know your blog is down for maintenance. Logged in administrators get full access to the blog including the front-end.” Says it all really, very useful as without messing with the .htaccess file you can’t just add an index.html page to appear before the .php, and even then i’m not sure that will work. You can of course edit the standard template that comes with the plugin, it is also easy to switch on and off and includes other settings I haven’t needed to play with.

Pagination is a great way to navigate lots of pages of a ‘list’ kind of style, i.e. blog posts. WordPress page navigation out of the box is, in my opinion, a bit naff, simply going from previous to next page. This is easy to install and easy to style. Use this and the breadcrumb nav and you’re sorted.

Thats it for now
Although I will leave you with this: Although most of these plugins have settings to customize the look and functionality they can still be quite restricted. However remember that CSS can do some pretty clever things and in many cases the plugin’s code itself is quite straightforward, so it’s worth having a little play around to get things just as you like.

When something goes wrong: how to report a bug

Posted on Friday, May 21st, 2010 by Richard

We don’t really do much tech support here, but we always try to be helpful to our clients when they’re experiencing problems.

Whatever the problem is, and whether it’s with hardware, software or a website, there are a few things you can do to help the techies of this world help you.

The golden rule, of course, is: don’t panic! And before you turn-it-off-and-on-again -

1. Grab that error message!
When something goes wrong, make a note of what it says. That error report may not mean anything to you but it will to someone. If it’s on a web page, chances are you’ll be able to copy-and-paste it into an email. A half-remembered error report can confuse the issue no end.

2. What’s going on?
A clear, step-by-step description of what you were doing when you got the error helps enormously. If you got the error on a webpage, let us know exactly which one it was – copy the contents of the address bar into an email. If you were uploading a file, send us the file. If it was something on your computer, remember all the programs you had open at the time, and tell us the last thing you did before the error showed up.

3. Your machine
It’s vital to know what you’re using – which browser, which operating system. Is it Windows, Linux, or Mac? Are you using Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari or Opera? The first thing a techie will try to do is replicate the error. Chances are it’s not something that happened when they tested it, so what’s the difference between your machine and theirs?

Here’s a great resource to get all this info quickly: from Imulus, who earn serious brownie points for this site. It gives you all the details about your own system and lets you download them as a CSV or PDF, or just send it all in an email straight to your local techies.

4. Even better: show us!
The best you can do: as soon as anything goes wrong, grab that screen! On a Windows machine, pressing Print Screen (often labelled “PrtScn”) actually does just that – it grabs the current screen and puts it in the Windows clipboard. You can then paste it into an image file and save it using MS Paint (under ‘Accessories ‘) or – your favourite and mine – IrfanView, the free image viewer. In Mac OS X, I’m reliably informed, Command-Shift-3 will take a screenshot and save it as a file on your desktop.

Send this screenshot to your helpful techie friends and it’ll help them no end.

This has the added benefit of showing us what you’ve got open and what operating system you’re using. It’ll tell us – roughly – what version of what browser you’re using, and which operating system. They tell a thousand words, you know!

WordPress Blogs showcase

Posted on Tuesday, December 15th, 2009 by Jamie

WordPress is a powerful, yet simple, blog management system which runs online. Installation and customization is simple, it can be skinned to look like almost anything and if you don’t have a design in mind there are hundreds of themes available. The license allows us to modify the templates as much as we like and does not even require we credit WordPress… oh and its completely free!

This makes WordPress a great, highly fexible content management system, take a look at our post on using WordPress as a content management system here.

But WordPress is just as useful ‘out of the box’, it contains everything you need to set up and manage a successful blog and can be a great asset to your website, giving it an up-to-date feeling, while increasing repeat visits and improving SEO. There are thousands of plug-ins available for WordPress which do a range of things from running automatic backups and basic security, to automatically updating your Twitter account and turning your blog into a photo gallery.


Social Networking integration

Posted on Monday, September 14th, 2009 by Jamie

This article will demonstrate how to integrate Social Networking sites, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, together with WordPress, enabling you to update all sites from WordPress.

Lets begin with Facebook, you can do this on either your personal profile, or a Facebook ‘page’, you cannot currently do this on Groups. Go to your profile or page and look for ‘notes’ on the tabs at the top, if you can’t see notes you can add it by clicking the add button. Go into notes then look to the bottom left for a link titled ‘edit import settings’ click on this, then input your blogs RSS feed url and bobs yer uncle, each new post now appears on your wall! You can take a look at it in action here.

Import your blogs RSS feed into your Facebook Notes

Next, Twitter, for this we use a plugin called Twitter Tools. This enables you to automatically ‘tweet’ everytime you create a new blog post, you can also disable this for individual posts and it works the other way round too, i.e. everytime you tweet, a new blog post is created. It also gives you the option to update Twitter only, direct from WordPress. After following the plugins installation we then have to create an ‘application’ in Twitter.

Login to Twitter, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on ‘Twitter API’ click on register an app and fill in the required information. For application type, choose Browser, for default access type, choose read and write and use your blogs address for the callback url. Once you have submitted this information you will be given a Consumer Key, Consumer Secret, Access Token and Access Token Secret. Copy these details into Twitter tools and you are good to go.

You need to create a Twitter application, in order to get Twitter Tools working

Finally, LinkedIn. For this there are 2 methods, the first one simply displays a list of your latest posts on your profile, for this you simply need to add the WordPress application to your LinkedIn account and then input your blog details, you can do so here. That is all well and good, the only issue is that people need to be viewing your profile in order to see your latest posts. The second method, makes use of your Twitter account, login to LinkedIn and go to your update status box, click on the blue Twitter logo and you will see your Twitter settings, you can now add your Twitter account, follow the instructions and your ready to go.

Access your Twitter account settings and also send your status updates to Twitter

This is how we have set up Web Dev Blog, we always use WordPress to post and everything else follows. However, if you set Twitter Tools to create a new blog post from tweets you can then do everything from either Twitter or LinkedIn (take a look at the diagram below). Also please note that with regards to Twitter and LinkedIn, there are settings to control how the updates display, wether to use tinyURLs etc.

There are 3 ways to update all 4 websites

Home | Websites | E-Commerce | Consultancy | Blog | Contact