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WordPress Training. Who needs it?

Dear Reader,

[DISCLOSURE: I work with php|architect. php|architect has a WordPress Essentials class]

I’ve been using WordPress since 2005 when I started blogging. I used to write plugins for it back in the 1.5/1.6 days and just recently stepped back into that role and wrote a plugin that should be announced soon. (Super secret, can’t talk about it yet, etc.) As a side note, writing a plugin has come a long way! the new way hooks and options page stuff is pretty cool and once you understand it, makes simple plugins real easy.

Is training on WordPress necessary?

Has WordPress become so simple that it requires no training? Honestly, if you are a PHP developer already, yes, it is that simple. Ok, so the code isn’t OO and that drives a lot of purists up the wall but at the end of the day, it’s functional and that’s what is important. Like PHP itself, WordPress is a tool that lets you get the job done.

In 5 years of blogging I can’t remember not being able to bend WordPress to my will. The problem I have as a developer these days is that there are so many plugins for it that it’s hard to come up with an idea that has not been done and done well. (Again, I just finished one that I’m real proud of but can’t talk about it yet…squeeeeeeeeee)

However, I do have a lot of friends who blog but are not PHP programmers. Answering for those people, I would say, yes, it does require a bit of training and assistance to really get the most out of WordPress. As I mentioned before there are a lot of extensions to choose from. Currently wordpress.org lists 8,792 plugins available and not all authors put their plugins in that repository. For any given idea, a developer should be able to easily flip through the available plugins, select one or two, review the code and make sure it’s well written and get the best extension for the job up and running. Non-developers however, don’t always have the knowledge to select the best. WordPress.org tries to help with ratings and telling you what version it was developed for and tested on but those don’t always ensure a smooth install.

So where do you get help with WordPress?

Even though I’ve had my hands deep insides the bowels of WordPress many times in the past five years, even so, there are times I still have to turn to people for help. There are also times when people I know turn to me for help and I just don’t have the bandwidth to help. In both of these situations, I usually end up turning to a short list of friends.

Mitch Canter
Mitch “studionashvegas” Canter has been my WordPress go-to guy for a few years now for non-coding issues. He’s a wealth of knowledge on things like the best plugins to use, themeing issues and jsut about anything WordPress related.
Aaron Brazell
I will admit that Aaron and I only know each other online and have only recently met. However, his depth of technical knowledge on WordPress is fast making him one of my regulars to bug with questions. He is also the author of WordPress Bible, an essential tome if you are serious about programming for WordPress.

What about WordPress training courses?

Honestly, there are only two places I can recommend for training. Which one you choose depends largely on how you learn.

If you learn best by watching videos, you will want to check out lynda.com. I’ve never used them but the lovely and talented Kathy has had an account there for a while and likes their content. Their courses are well put together and informative.

If you learn best by live instruction, php|architect has a course, “WordPress Essentials” taught by Steve Fisher. I helped design this course so I am partial to it. It’s for non-PHP developers who want to squeeze the most out of their blogs.

Wrapping it up

So to answer the question I started with, is training on WordPress really necessary, the answer has to be “It depends”. WordPress is a great platform and for the most part, a forgiving platform. So if you have the time and are willing to make the mistakes and recover, no training is not necessary. However, if your passion is your blog and not tinkering with your blog then yes, a training course will help you get going quickly, avoid the potholes and spend more time on what is important to you.

Until next time,
I <3 |<

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Upgrading WordPress

Dear Reader,

This is really a note for me because I keep forgetting things.

  1. Unpack latest copy of wordpress in a work directory
  2. Rename wordpress directory to blog
  3. Rename blog directory to blog.original
  4. Move work/blog to main directory
  5. Copy blog.original/wp-content/plugins to blog/wp-content/plugins
  6. Copy blog.original/wp-content/themes to blog/wp-content/themes
  7. Copy blog.original/wp-content/uploads to blog/wp-content/uploads
  8. Copy blog.original/wp-config.php to blog/wp-config.php
  9. Copy blog.original/.htaccess to blog/.htaccess (this is the step I keep forgetting
  10. Go to blog admin page and check for database upgrade
  11. Check site for working theme and internal links

Until next time,
(l)(k)(bunny)
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Join me on Small Business Trends Radio

Dear Reader,

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008 at 12:30 CT, I will be the guest on Small Business Trends Radio. You can listen live or download the episode for later listening.

I’ll be discussion all things WordPress.

It should be a rocking good time and I’d love to see both of my readers tune in. So drop by and give us a listen.

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Complicated WordPress Upgrade

Dear Reader,

Ok, I took the plunge and moved “Postcards From My Life” to WordPress 2.5. I was hesitant because over the years I’ve hacked plug ins and themes so I was worried that something would break along the way. This has really grown to a pretty complex WordPress install; but then again, I like pushing the envelop.

I know I’ve said it before but huge props to the WordPress development team. Upgrading the core went exactly as they said it would.

Most of the plug ins I use worked fine because I usually keep them up to date anyhow.

Here are the exceptions:

  • aLinks 1.0rc1
    Throws a fatal error on activation. No automatic upgrade. Have not checked the site for a manual upgrade.
  • Extended Comment Options 2.0
    Throws a fatal error on activation. No automatic upgrade. Have not checked the site for a manual upgrade.
  • Popularity Contest 1.3b3
    Throws a fatal error on activation. No automatic upgrade. Have not checked the site for a manual upgrade.
  • NAVT 1.0.16
    I have a love/hate relationship with this plug in. On the one hand, it gives me control over the order of my menu items and some other cool features. The downside is the admin is so ajax heavy that it’s almost impossible to work with. It has gotten better, the previous version used to throw a dialog box in FF telling me the script was taking to long to load. The new version is nicer but there is no “Save”, “Publish” or “Commit”. I guess changes are immediate which I don’t really like but I’ll put up with. Oh and when I upgraded to the current version, it forgot all my menus I had built. Lucky for me, I only had 1 but that could be a pain if you have a lot.

That’s all I have to report. Everything went smoothly, which is why I’m constantly recommending WordPress to anyone who needs a quick but powerful Website. If you are waiting to see if there are problems, I’d say the water is fine, come on in.

Until next time,
(l)(k)(bunny)
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The 2 Hours After the WordPress 5 Minute Install

Dear Reader,

I now run WordPress on 4 of my web properties. So let me first say a big thank you to the entire WordPress development community for all their work. It’s an excellent platform for the types of projects I’ve been working on lately. More importantly, it allows me to get going quickly and move on to working on my main idea.

In the process of installing and managing these properties, I’ve learned just a little bit about WordPress and decided that I had better document some of it before it falls out the back of my head. So while I was spending time yesterday installing and configuring WordPress for autobiographicalfiction.com, I decided to document my steps. I’m putting them down here, mainly for me but if you find it useful as well, I’m glad.

These are the steps I take in installing a basic WordPress site. If you are not sure why you would want to use WordPress, check out “The Secret to Cheap and Easy Websites” over at my podcast, Sixty Second Tech.

Pre-Install Preparation

  • The night before you want to do the install, make sure you make any DNS changes that need to be made. If you have the site parked, go ahead and move it. Yes, I know change are distributed in 5 minutes these days but it takes a while for some people to see the change, especially Google. (That’s important when we get to the sitemap section.)
  • Pick a theme. There are some good, free, WordPress theme sites out there. There are also some very talented designers who are happy to build you a site from scratch. Which ever way you decide to go, do it before you start your install.

Installing and configuring WordPress

  1. Install WordPress
    There are several good options for doing this. On my hosting service, we have Installatron that will walk you through it. You host may have another installer but the thing you want to ask yourself is do you want to bother with the nuts and bolts of the install or do you want to trust the installer? If you trust your installer, it will be quicker overall but you have to make sure that they upgrade on a regular basis. Otherwise you may be stuck unable to upgrade your installation later. Your other option is of course, WordPress’ famous 5 Minute Install.

    No matter which way you go, you need to follow the instructions to get a working installation.

  2. Change the Admin password
    The last step in your install gives you a randomly generated password for the admin account. Log in right now and change it. Go ahead and setup the entire admin account while you are there. WordPress 2.5 has a great new feature that helps you decide whether the password you have chosen is secure or not. This is the key to the kingdom so you will want to make sure it’s secure but memorable.
  3. Delete default post
    Go ahead and get rid of it. The thing you don’t want is for your new feed to start with the default “This is a new WordPress” message, it just looks amateurish.
  4. Delete About Page
    Same reasoning as above. Unless you have content to go into it immediately, go ahead and get rid of it. Worst case scenario, you will have to add it back in later when you have content to put in it.
  5. Change the settings in Settings->General
    Go ahead and change the name of your blog, the tagline and browse the other options while you are there. As with the default post, the idea here is not to look like an amature by leaving “Just another WordPress blog” in the tagline. You can always revisit this section after you are up and running and fine tune the settings.
  6. Activate Permalinks
    If you are going to activate Permalinks (and I always do) then do it now. In a couple of steps we are going to be building our sitemap and we want the URLs to be correct for that. Click on Settings and then Permalinks check everything over and then save changes.
  7. Install Your Theme
    Hopefully you took my advice and have already selected your theme or had one designed for you. If not, stop now, go get you one, we’ll wait. Now, once you have it, fire up your FTP program and upload it into wp-content/themes. Then in the Admin control panel, select Design and activate the theme you just uploaded.
  8. Activate Akismet (optional)
    If you are going to allow comments on your blog (and that’s not a given, it’s a choice) then you will want Akismet installed and activated. If you are not familiar with Akismet, it helps control spam comments. It’s free and it comes with WordPress so all you do is have to install and configure. If you don’t have one already, you need a WordPress API Key for Akismet to work. They are free, you just need to go to wordpress.com and register. If you already have an account with wordpress.com and an API key, you can use it on multiple blogs.
  9. Setup Feedburner feed
    I run all my feeds through feedburner because it gives me the stats I want on my feed reader. FeedBurner (Google) has a FeedBurner plugin for WordPress that makes everything simple. It’s a multi-step process though so I’ll list them.
    1. Create a FeedBurner account.
    2. Register your feed with feedburner
    3. Install the plugin.
    4. Activate the plugin
    5. Configure the plugin
    6. In a browser, visit http://yourblog/feed/ and make sure it’s working. If it’s not, backtrack and make sure you’ve got everything configured correctly.
  10. Register with Friend Feed
    Ok, you’ve got a feed, let’s use it. If you have a friendfeed.com account, go ahead and register your feed with it. If you don’t have one, friendfeed.com is a great tool for aggregating all of your content into a single feed that people can follow. Of course your new feed won’t have any content in it because we deleted the default post earlier. Registering now will ensure that when you do post for the first time on your new blog, it will be listed.
  11. Install Google Sitemap XML Plugin
    Sitemaps are an important way to get your site spidered. Since it’s an off-site service like Akismet and FeedBurner, installing and configuring is a multi-step process.
    1. Register with Google.com/webmastertools
    2. Install the plugin.
    3. Configure the plugin. You may have some trouble at this point. Some systems are finicky about permissions. If, after configuring everything, you still can’t generate a sitemap because of permissions issues, here’s a tip. Create a file on your local computer called sitemap.xml, just an empty text file. Now, upload that file into the root of your blog. Now you should be able to create your sitemap. You will probably need to do the same thing with sitemap.xml.gz and possibly robots.txt.
    4. Go to google.com/webmastertools and register your site and then your new sitemap. This can be tricky and it’s really beyond the scope of this article to describe. The only advice I have is what I gave in the pre-install instructions, make sure you make any DNS changes the night before. Google caches DNS entires for about eight hours. Any changes you make just before installing may slow things down a bit.
  12. Install wp-db-backup
    If your blog is important to you then make sure you have nightly backups. Code is easy to reinstall, the hear of your blog is the database. I use wp-db-backup to do this on a daily basis for all my blogs.
  13. Install SimpleTags
    Tagging is an important part of blogging. To help me tag my posts I install SimpleTags. It allows me to use TagTheNet to analyze my post and suggest tags. It also takes care of “related posts” and even has a TagCloud widget. It will also place your tags in your header if you don’t have the following plugin installed.
  14. Install All in one SEO Plugin
    This is going to surprise a lot of you that know me and know my feelings about SEO but yes I use All in one SEO plugin. No, I don’t think it helps my page-rank one bit, my content does that and I preach this message every chance I get. However All in one SEO gives me a degree of control over keywords and the title field that I occasionally want. I always install this plugin because it’s simple to install, requires very little configuration and when I want to tinker with things I can. Don’t take this as an endorsement of anything revolving around SEO though.
  15. Write something!
    If you don’t have a blog post ready to go, why did you go through the last 2 hours of work? Seriously, the point of all of this is to give you a place to blog. Don’t skip the most important part, Write something and write something relevant.

I hope you’ve learned something. Feel free to post any additions to the process that you normally go through. I’ve done this countless times now but I’m still learning new tricks.

Until next time,
(l)(k)(bunny)
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