Gutenberg 6.4, WP Local Environment and WP Notify progress

Lots of noteworthy news from WordPress land over the last week. Gutenberg is back on our radar with a new version. I’ll also highlight a new project that’s underway that aims to find a better solution for all those notifications in your WordPress Dashboard. And, there are bonus links. Of course! Let’s dive straight in!

Gutenberg 6.4

The Cover Block saw two new significant functionalities in Gutenberg 6.4. You can now resize the Cover Block and it’s also possible to use a solid color as a background instead of a video or an image.

There are many more small improvements that made it into Gutenberg 6.4 and it’s good to know all of these delightful new features and options will be included in the upcoming WordPress 5.3 release.

WordPress Local Environment progress

At the beginning of August this year, the WordPress Local Environment was introduced. Gary Pendergast gives us an update on the progress of that project on the Make WordPress Core blog. The next step was to make this new development tool available for the Gutenberg development environment.

Go ahead and try out the new Gutenberg Local Environment, and if you come across any issues, please report them over on the Gutenberg repository.

WP Notify progress

One of the most exciting projects currently underway is the WP Notify project. Its aim is to provide much better handling of any and all notifications you can typically find in your WordPress Dashboard.

Jonathan Bossenger has taken the lead on this project and gives us frequent updates over on Make WordPress Core as well. If you haven’t checked out what the idea behind WP Notify is exactly, you should definitely check out his first recap post. You’ll get a good feel of where the project is headed.

New Prevent Search Engines setting

WordPress 5.3 will introduce a new and much better setting to prevent search engines from indexing sites. Our very own Jono Alderson was involved in making this happen. Read more in this introduction post on Make WordPress Core.

Bonus links

  • StudioPress released Genesis 3.1 and it has bumped the minimum requirements across the board. It will need WordPress 5.0, PHP 5.6 as a minimum, higher and up-to-date if obviously even better.
  • Carrie Dils wrote up a wonderful recap of the biggest changes in the Genesis Framework of late, and how to work with them.
  • The WooCommerce Admin plugin I mentioned in a previous roundup, was recently updated and is expected to be merged into the next major WooCommerce version. This would be WooCommerce 3.8.

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The Month in WordPress: August 2019

This has been a particularly busy month, with a number of interesting and ambitious proposals for the WordPress project along with active progress across the entire community.


Core Development and Schedule

The upcoming minor release of WordPress, v5.2.3, is currently in the release candidate phase and available for testing.

Following that, the next major release is v5.3 and the Core team has laid out a schedule and scope for development. In addition, a bug scrub schedule and an accessibility-focused schedule have been set out to provide dedicated times for contributors to work on ironing out the bugs in the release.

Want to get involved in building WordPress Core? Follow the Core team blog, and join the #core channel in the Making WordPress Slack group.

Proposal for User Privacy Improvements

The Core Privacy Team has proposed a feature plugin to build a consent and logging mechanism for user privacy. This project will focus on improving the user privacy controls in WordPress Core in order to protect site owners and users alike.

The proposal includes some useful information about building effective controls for users, how other projects have worked on similar efforts, and what kind of time and resources the project will need in order to be developed.

Want to get involved in this feature project? Follow the Core team blog, and join the #core-privacy channel in the Making WordPress Slack group where there are open office hours every Wednesday at 19:00 UTC.

Core Notification System Proposal

A proposal has been made for a new feature project to build a robust notification system for WordPress Core. The aim of the project is to build a system to handle notifications for site owners that can be extended by plugin and theme developers.

This proposal comes on the back of a Trac ticket opened 18 months ago. With weekly meetings to discuss the project, the team behind WP Notify are in the planning phase while they establish exactly how to develop the feature.

Want to get involved in this feature project? Follow the Core team blog, and join the #core channel in the Making WordPress Slack group – meetings for this project happen every Monday at 14:00 and 22:00 UTC.

Local WordPress Development Environment

Members of the Core Team have put together a local development environment for WordPress that runs on Docker. This environment provides an easy way for developers to get involved with WordPress core development. 

The work on this was inspired by the environment used for local Gutenberg development, which has since been improved based on the new work that has been done here.

The announcement post explains how to use the Docker environment. If you have any feedback or bug reports, please comment on the post directly.

Updates for Older Versions of WordPress

On July 30, the Security Team shared that security updates need to undergo the same testing and release process for every major version of WordPress. This means they have to provide long-term support for over fifteen major versions of WordPress. This requires a lot of time and effort, and the team has sought feedback on potential solutions for this challenge

Following this discussion, a proposal was made to auto-update old versions of WordPress to v4.7. This proposal garnered many responses and has since been updated to incorporate feedback from comments. The current recommendation is to secure the six latest versions and to eventually auto-update all older versions of WordPress to 4.7. Since this proposal was made, it has been discussed at Hosting Team meetings and Dev Chat meetings, and the conversation is still ongoing.

Want to provide feedback on this proposal? Comment on the original post with your thoughts.


Further Reading:

Have a story that we should include in the next “Month in WordPress” post? Please submit it here.

WordPress 5.3, Block Lab, and Members Block Permission add-on

A new week, a new WordPress Watch. We saw work for WordPress 5.3 getting properly underway. There was also news about some exciting integrations built to for the Block Editor. And, of course, we have a few bonus links for you as well again today. Let’s see what happened this week in the world of WordPress!

WordPress 5.3 work is underway

Francesca Marano, the release coordinator for WordPress 5.3, published the WordPress 5.3 Schedule and Scope on Make WordPress Core blog last week.

The focus of WordPress 5.3 is on polishing current interactions and making the UIs more user-friendly. And, as I’ve mentioned previously here, there will be a new default theme again; Twenty Twenty. The general idea is that Twenty Twenty will be based on an existing theme that already does cool stuff with the Block Editor and modifying it to fit with the 5.3 release.

If you’d like to see a list of tickets that are slated to be fixed for WordPress 5.3, have a look at this list on Trac.

Block Lab

When it comes to creating blocks for the Gutenberg block editor, I’ve mentioned ACF Blocks a couple of times before. It’s a wonderful solution that allows you to create blocks relatively easy. However, as of last week, I learned there to be another contender for best block creating facilitator. Namely, Block Lab.

A tweet by Steven Cronin alerted me of a talk Luke Carbis, the creator of Block Lab, was giving at WordCamp Brisbane:

To demonstrate the power of his Block Lab solution, Luke asked the audience what custom block he should build. Which he then created during the rest of his presentation. That’s a powerful solution if you ask me. Go check out Block Lab or go straight to the plugin repository and start playing around with it.

Block Permissions add-on for Members plugin

One of the earliest plugins I can remember – and I’ve been using WordPress since 2005 – that extends WordPress’ user management perfectly is Members by Justin Tadlock. Justin mentioned on Twitter that he’s working on an add-on for the plugin that will add block permissions based on the capabilities of the logged-in user.

Meaning, if you’d like to publish content but have certain paragraphs, images, or any block you like, really, only be visible for logged in users, you could do that with that add-on. You can read more about this add-on here.

Bonus links

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Free webinar: All about structured data!

It’s what’s hot in SEO right now – and it will be for years to come. We’re talking about structured data! How does it work? What does it do? More importantly: what can it do for you? On Thursday, September 5th, tune in from wherever you are to learn about structured data and its possibilities! Sit back, relax, and let us bring you up to speed on all things structured data, with special guest Jason Barnard.

What can you expect?

Basically: a fun-filled hour in which we talk you through all you need to know about structured data. And: the chance to ask questions! Marieke van de Rakt, CEO of Yoast, will host this webinar. She will be joined by Joost de Valk, founder of Yoast, and Omar Reiss, CTO of Yoast. Also, we’re very happy to welcome Jason Barnard as our special guest, a well-known SEO consultant and host of the #SEOisAEO digital marketing podcast! But that’s not all: what’s a discussion on structured data without our very own Jono Alderson? This time, he’ll have a special part to play!

What will you learn?

We’re kicking off this Yoast Academy webinar with a quick presentation by Jason Barnard. If you don’t know what structured data is, don’t worry, you’ll be all caught up! If you already know a thing or two, you’re still in for a treat. Jason will dive into the concept of blocks within blocks within blocks, by which he touches on different types of blocks. As we dig down, everything is a block. Intrigued? Be sure to tune in on time!

Next up is a round table discussion in which Marieke poses questions for Jason, Joost, and Omar to debate. Structured data can feel abstract sometimes, but not anymore! Topics up for discussion are the benefits of Schema blocks, what common mistakes people make, what is to be expected in the future of structured data, and more.

As you might recognize from our previous webinars, SEO in 2019, and the big “Is it a Ranking Factor?!” show, we will end the show with a Q&A! During the live show, you can ask your structured data questions through the live chat on the YouTube stream. We will do our best to answer as much as possible.

So, a full program that we are very excited about, and we’d love to have you join in. If you have questions in advance, feel welcome to share them in the comments. They just might pop up during the Q&A session.

How do you attend?

We’ll stream the live webinar on YouTube, so it is freely available to everyone. You’ll find the stream at https://yoa.st/webinar, or by subscribing to the Yoast channel on YouTube. Then, you’ll get a notification when the webinar starts. There will be no login or other requirements. Simply visit the page and enjoy!

You don’t want to miss this webinar, right? Click the link below to add it to your online calendar directly.

Add the Structured data webinar to your calendar!

(iCal event: click the link and download the ics file. Open the file, select your calendar and save the date. All the details (URL etc) are included in the event!).

What time should you tune in?

On Thursday, September 5th at 8 PM CEST. In the table below, you’ll see when the show starts for a number of common time zones.

PST (Pacific Time)11 AM
MT (Mountain Time)Noon
CT (Central Time)1 PM
ET (Eastern Time)2 PM
BST (British Summer Time)7 PM
CEST (Central European Summer Time)8 PM
IST (India Standard Time)11:30 PM
AET (Australia Eastern Time)6 AM (Sep 6th)

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How to become a better writer

Content is essential for SEO. As Google reads and understands content. And, reading and understanding content is easier when a text is well written. Both for humans and Google. Some people are blessed with great writing skills. Others are struggling a bit more. However, if you’re bad at writing now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get better! There are many aspects of a good blog post that you can learn to do well.

In this blog post, I’ll share 5 tips that’ll help you become a better writer. 

1. Preparation is everything

Especially if you’re not an experienced writer, you should always start with proper preparation. And, proper preparation means that you have to think a lot. Think about questions like: why am I writing this article? Who are my readers? What do I want my readers to know, understand, or do after they have read my article? What’s the topic of the article? What is the main message I want to send to your audience?

Read more: Preparing your blog post »

2. Structure, structure, structure

Always make sure your text has a good structure. That’ll make all the difference for your audience (and for Google for that matter). If paragraphs follow each other in a logical order, it will be much easier to grasp the main message. Think about the different things you want to discuss in an article. Think about what order you should address these issues. And, then write that down. Write a few words about every paragraph you’d like to write.

Structuring your text means helping your reader grasp what your text is about. Help your reading by adding subheadings and images. Make sure paragraphs aren’t too long. And, make sure that you use transition words.

Keep reading: Practical tips for setting up a clear text structure »

3. Write short sentences

Don’t write sentences that are longer than 20-25 words. If you’re not the best writer (yet!), make sure that you write short sentences. Longer sentences are just so much harder to read. People are capable of handling 20 to 25 words in their minds. If you write sentences longer than that, people need much more cognitive power to digest it. In order to truly understand, your audience will need to reread sentences or read at a much slower pace. Above that, writers tend to make more grammar mistakes as sentences become longer. For every writer that is starting, my advice would be: make those sentences short and sweet.

Short sentences are just one aspect of readability. There are some other things you can do in order to make a text easy to read. Try to limit your use of passive voice, write short paragraphs, and make sure to use transition words.

Read on: 5 tips to write readable blog posts »

4. Add examples and little stories

Adding examples, fun facts, and little stories to your article will make it much more appealing for your reader. Using stories in an article may sound daunting for many writers because it might seem like next-level writing. But adding examples is an excellent way to make an article nicer to read. If you’re writing about a product, make sure to add some user stories or give examples on how people use the product. Examples help people to understand what you mean and make your text more fun to read.

Keep on reading: What is storytelling and why should you use it? »

5. Round things up!

Try to get back to the main message of your text in your conclusion. That’s a way of rounding your text up. It’ll make it more probable that the message of your text will resonate with your audience.  If you use an example in your introduction, try to use that same example (slightly different is the best) in your conclusion. 

Read more: Obtain an attractive writing style! »

Conclusion

Everybody can learn how to write better. Everyone can improve their writing skills. You just need a little practice. Start with making sure to write readable texts. The Yoast SEO readability analysis will help you to achieve that. We’ll give feedback and make sure your sentences aren’t too long, that you’re using transition words and you’re not using too much passive voice. The feedback will improve your writing for sure! Combine our plugin with some effort on preparation and structuring your text and you’ll be drafting great content in no time. Good luck!

Keep reading: The ultimate guide to content SEO »

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Yoast SEO 11.9: More fixes and enhancements

Are you ready for another exciting release to round up the Yoast SEO 11 cycle? Because we are! In Yoast SEO 11.9, we have improvements for Schema and security, we have bug fixes and updates for Local and News SEO!

Improving Schema once again

With the closing of the Yoast SEO 11 releases we’ve yet again improved Schema in the plugins! The Yoast WooCommerce SEO plugin had a bug showing invalid Schema when a product used the placeholder image, so we fixed that. We’ve also improved Schema output in the News SEO plugin.

With Yoast SEO 12.0 around the corner, you might fear that we think we’re done with Schema output in the Yoast SEO plugins. Fortunately, this is not the case! We’ll continue to improve and work on Schema in future releases as well.

Curious for more Schema? Looking for a way to extend our Schema implementation? Why don’t you dive into our Schema documentation?

Tightening the security of the plugins

Somehow security is something people find not very interesting. But you do lock up your house when you leave it because you don’t want anyone to steal your tv, right? Updating to the latest version of a plugin is essentially locking your website to make sure no one can get in. A criminal does not need an open door, an open window or even thin glass won’t stop them. It’s the same with software: they don’t need a password to maybe do malicious things to your website. That’s why we always give high priority to possible security issues in our plugins. For this release, the incomparable Juliette Reinders -Folmer — helped us improve the security of the plugins to make sure there won’t be possible malicious data.

Local SEO improvements

We’ve updated our Local SEO plugin, because Google went from two different API keys to just one. New users of the Local SEO plugin will see a field in the API key tab where they can enter their API key. Existing users can add their API keys the regular way, but we encourage you to use the new API key.

Local SEO now also gives you notifications when you have set an API key in a constant in your wp-config.php file. In addition, we fixed a bug that caused the map settings tab to show an empty panel without an API key present. It now shows a notification.

News SEO improvements

We gave the News SEO plugin quite some love this release! The add-on now has its own tab in the Yoast SEO meta box.

We’ve also fixed a bug where the @type in the schema output would be NewsArticle instead of Article for articles which were excluded from the news sitemap. And we’ve fixed a bug where news article pages and custom post types included in the news sitemap, would not receive an author in the schema output.

Bug fixes in Yoast SEO 11.9

In Yoast SEO for WordPress, we’ve fixed a bug where the image from the configuration wizard notification was missing an empty alt attribute. No need to read that sentence again, we’ll explain what this means! In absence of an alt attribute, screen readers will try to announce something to you. This means in most cases the screen readers will try to announce a part of the image URL, which is far from ideal. Decorative images need an empty alt and that’s what this fixes!

Another bug we squashed concerned missing translations from the meta box, sidebar, configuration wizard and the help center. We love our translators and it’s much easier to read the information in your native language.

Bug fixes in Yoast SEO Premium

In Yoast SEO Premium, we’ve fixed a bug where multiple redirects would be created when editing taxonomies on a multisite environment. In addition, the social preview forms no longer appears on taxonomies twice. We love social media, but there’s no need to let you fill in those forms multiple times.

Update to Yoast SEO 11.9

That’s it! We’re very proud to deliver the last release of the Yoast SEO 11 cycle. Don’t forget to update!

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WooCommerce 3.7 and Gutenberg 6.3 updates

The past week was all about two big plugins releasing important updates. Both WooCommerce and Gutenberg got significant improvements. Gutenberg saw another accessibility improvement and WooCommerce now has even more integration with, well, Gutenberg 😄. Let’s dive in and see what’s what!

WooCommerce introduces more Block Editor integration

WooCommerce 3.7 was released last week and it brings deeper integration with our new Block Editor. While WooCommerce already provided the option to use a Featured Category, Featured Product, and Best Selling Category blocks, for instance, this version added three more blocks:

  • Product Categories List block; this block allows you to show product categories in a list or dropdown.
  • Featured Category block; this block lets you select one or multiple categories to feature on your site, and it displays the category and a link to its category archive page to customers.
  • Products by Tag(s) block; this block gives you the option to feature a selection of products linked to a specific tag or set of tags.

Of course, the rest of the plugin also saw overall refinements. You can now, for example, find all WooCommerce Blocks more easily when you click on the plus symbol to create a new block by typing “WooCommerce”.  Read up on what these integrations look like in the WooCommerce 3.7 introduction post.

Gutenberg version 6.3

One of the areas where the Block editor still needs improvement is the accessibility of the editor. The block user interface introduces navigation from within the block itself, as well as from one block to another, which can be complex. This makes it very challenging for screen reader users to navigate the content of their posts. Gutenberg 6.3 fixes this with what they call a Navigation Mode. Or in their words:

To address that issue, we’re introducing the Navigation Mode. By default the editor is loaded in this mode, it allows you to move from block to block using a single Tab press. You can also use the arrow keys to navigate between blocks. Once you reach the block you want to edit, you can enter the Edit Mode by hitting the Enter key. The Escape key allows you to move back to the Navigation Mode.

Riad Benguella

This is a great start to make the editor more accessible for many different types of users. You can read more about why accessibility matters here.

As with the WooCommerce update mentioned above, this new Gutenberg release also comes with smaller improvements. Things like support for text alignments in table block columns, and border color support for the separator block. As usual, you can find out more about what’s new in Gutenberg 6.3 in their release post.

Bonus links

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Google’s Knowledge Panel: What is it and how to get one?

Google’s Knowledge Panel is the block you’ll find on the right side of your screen in the search results. Nowadays, you’ll see it for a lot of queries. It presents the results of Google’s Knowledge Graph, which can be seen as an engine connecting all kinds of data Google finds on the web. If you have a local, branded or personal panel, you might be able to influence what Google shows in the panel. Here, we’ll explain how.

What is a Knowledge Panel?

Knowledge Panels are a type of rich results in Google’s search results pages. They can show information about all kinds of things: businesses, people, animals, countries or plants, for instance. Such a panel appears on the right side of your screen in the desktop search results. It shows details on the particular entity you’re searching for. What you see in this panel is powered by Google’s Knowledge Graph.

example knowledge graph panel
An example of a knowledge panel

Why should we care about Knowledge Panels?

If you want to be found for search terms like your name, brand or business name, a Knowledge Panel is really useful! If Google decides to show you or your business in this panel, you pretty much dominate the search results on the right side of the screen in desktop search. In mobile, the panel will appear between other results but is pretty dominant as well.

A Knowledge Panel will, therefore, make sure your company or brand will stand out in the search results when people are specifically searching for it. That’ll give you lots and lots of clicks. This does make sense: if people are searching for you or your brand name, they probably want to find your website. So Google’s providing them with the best result.

How do you get a Knowledge Panel for your business?

As with all types of search results, Google will decide whether or not it’ll show a knowledge panel in the search results. If you’re a local business, you can do some things to increase your chances to rank with a knowledge panel. For the branded and personal panels, it is much harder to obtain such a knowledge panel.

Local panels

If you want a chance of Google displaying a local panel for your business, the first step is to open a Google My Business account. You’ll then be able to verify that you are the owner of your business. After that, you can add or edit all relevant information about your business, such as address information, opening hours and photos.

What also helps, is to verify your site with Google Search Console and to add structured data markup for businesses, as our Local SEO plugin does.

In the end, Google will decide whether or not to show a Knowledge Panel. Relevance, distance, and the prominence of the business are all important aspects for Google in determining if it’ll show one Making sure your website is working well and on a high-authority domain could enhance your chances.

Read more: Improve your local SEO with Google My Business »

Branded/personal panels

It’s not possible to apply for a branded or personal panel. Google will decide whether you or your brand is worthy of a Knowledge Panel. If you or your brand have enough authority, a panel will appear. Brands and people who are well-known and have, for instance, Wikipedia pages, often have Knowledge Panels as well.

For Yoast, we do have a Knowledge Panel. Joost de Valk also has a personal panel and since a while, as you can see, I have one too!

My own personal knowledge panel!

There are ways to increase your chances of getting in, as discussed in this webinar with a.o. Jason Barnard, but it will take lots of time and effort and success isn’t guaranteed, unfortunately.

Yoast SEO and the Google Knowledge Panel

As of our 11.0 release, Yoast SEO outputs a complete Structured data graph for the pages on your website. Structured data offers Google information about you, your business and your website in a way that’s understandable for machines and therefore it’s a great help for Google’s Knowledge Graph.

By doing so, Yoast SEO’s structured data graph helps Google’s Knowledge Graph connect the dots. This doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get a panel, but you’ll offer the data for the panel in the best possible way.

In Yoast SEO, you can also add your social profile information. Yoast SEO will use this data to output the correct Schema markup. This means that, if you get a panel, the right social profiles are shown.

How to verify your panel?

If you have a personal Knowledge Panel, make sure to verify it. Verifying is not all that hard. Follow the steps Google has outlined for you in this article. You need to log in to your Google account and sign in to one of your official sites or profiles to get verification for your business. Once verified, you’ll be able to suggest changes in the panel to influence what it looks like.

Conclusion on Google’s Knowledge Panel

Knowledge Panels are a great asset to have in the search results. For local panels, you should make sure you’re doing everything you can to get one. For branded or personal panels, it is much harder to influence your chances of getting one. It all depends on your level of authority, and that’s something that probably won’t be fixed overnight.

Keep reading: What is Google’s Knowledge Graph »

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WordPress 5.3, Atomic Blocks and EditorsKit

You might think it would be quiet in the world of WordPress because of the summer holidays, but there are some interesting things beeping on my radar. What about the next major version of WordPress: the 5.3 release? Also, the developers of Atomic Blocks and EditorKits haven’t been loitering around; they’ve added some useful features to these Block editor plugins. Read on!

WordPress 5.3: Planning and scope

The WordPress Core team had a good discussion last week about the next major version of WordPress: 5.3. The general idea is that the 5.3 release will be planned for November 13, a week after WordCamp US. As for the scope of what will be in WordPress 5.3, this is the proposed list of items:

  • Grouping: Support for dividing your page into sections;
  • Motion: Support for visual motion when moving/arranging blocks;
  • Column patterns and widths: Support for fixed column widths, and predefined layouts;
  • PHP 7.4: Support for the new version coming end of November;
  • And also: Build/Test updates, better administration of emails, and a lot of under-the-hood improvements!

As you can see, most of these updates are focused on polishing current interactions in WordPress and are aiming to make the UIs more user-friendly.

In the Dev chat for WordPress 5.3 that followed, the new default theme (by the name of, you’ll never guess it, Twenty-Twenty) was mentioned.

Block Editor plugins: New powerful features

It’s been 9 months since we were all introduced to the new Block Editor in project Gutenberg, and it’s been amazing to see what clever integrations people have come up with to extend it. The new features of two existing plugins caught my eye last week: check out these great additions to Atomic Blocks and EditorKit.

Atomic Blocks

Atomic Blocks introduced a new Section and Layout block. It provides pre-designed section and layouts for your site. A very clever way to inject predefined designs to your content. You can check out this video to get an idea of how powerful this feature is.

EditorsKit

The other features that caught my eye are part of EditorKit. It’s a plugin that provides a set of block options to extend the way you are building content for WordPress Gutenberg Block Editor. And it, too, has a video showing its options:

As you can see, these two plugins allow for wonderful extensions of the Block Editor. Take them for a spin if you haven’t tried them yet.

Bonus links

  • We’ve talked about WPGraphQL before here, and for those interested, I discovered a WordPress source theme for Gatsby that uses WPGraphQL on the WordPress end on Github. Check it out if you want to play around with new technologies.
  • In need of a crash course on WordPress with WPGraphQL, ACF, and React? Reddit has got you covered.
  • Decided to throw in an SEO link as well as I stumbled upon a pretty awesome resource if you use Google Sheets. It’s called Sheets for Marketers and it features over 100 templates for everything: from on-page SEO to reporting and from scraping to project management.

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People of WordPress: Amanda Rush

You’ve probably heard that WordPress is open source software, and may know that it’s created and run by volunteers. WordPress enthusiasts share many examples of how WordPress changed people’s lives for the better. This monthly series shares some of those lesser-known, amazing stories.

Meet Amanda Rush from Augusta, Georgia, USA.

Amanda Rush is a WordPress advocate with a visual disability. She first started using computers in 1985, which enabled her to turn in homework to her sighted teachers. Screen reader technology for Windows was in its infancy then, so she worked in DOS almost exclusively.

After graduating high school, Amanda went to college to study computer science, programming with DOS-based tools since compilers for Windows were still inaccessible. As part of her computer science course of study, she learned HTML which began her career in web development.

How Amanda got started with WordPress

Amanda began maintaining a personal website, and eventually began publishing her own content using LiveJournal. However, controlling the way the page around her content looked was hard, and she soon outgrew the hosted solution.

So in 2005, Amanda bought customerservant.com, set up a very simple CMS for blogging, and started publishing there. She accepted the lack of design and content, and lack of easy customization because she wasn’t willing to code her own solution. Nor did she want to move to another hosted solution, as she liked being able to customize her own site, as well as publish content.

Hebrew dates led her to WordPress

At some point, Amanda was looking for an easy way to display the Hebrew dates alongside the Gregorian dates on her blog entries. Unfortunately, the blogging software she was using at the time, did not offer customization options at that level. She decided to research alternative solutions and came across a WordPress plugin that did just that. 

The fact that WordPress would not keep her locked into a visual editor, used themes to customize styling, and offered ways to mark up content, immediately appealed to Amanda. She decided to give it a go.

Accessibility caused her to dive deeper

When the software Amanda used at work became completely inaccessible, she started learning about WordPress. While she was learning about this new software, Web 2.0 was introduced. The lack of support for it in the screen reader she used meant that WordPress administration was completely inaccessible. To get anything done, Amanda needed to learn to find her way in WordPress’ file structure.

Eventually Amanda started working as an independent contractor for the largest screen reader developer in the market, Freedom Scientific. She worked from home every day and hacked on WordPress after hours.

Unfortunately Amanda hit a rough patch when her job at Freedom Scientific ended. Using her savings she undertook further studies for various Cisco and Red Hat certifications, only to discover that the required testing for these certifications were completely inaccessible. She could study all she wanted, but wasn’t able to receive grades to pass the courses.

She lost her financial aid, her health took a turn for the worse, she was diagnosed with Lupus, and lost her apartment. Amanda relocated to Augusta where she had supportive friends who offered her a couch and a roof over her head.

But Amanda refused to give up

Amanda continued to hack WordPress through all of this. It was the only stable part of her life. She wanted to help make WordPress accessible for people with disabilities, and in 2012 joined the  WordPress Accessibility Team. Shortly after that, she finally got her own place to live, and started thinking about what she was going to do with the rest of her working life.

Listening to podcasts led her to take part in WordSesh, which was delivered completely online and enabled Amanda to participate without needing to travel. She began to interact with WordPress people on Twitter, and continued to contribute to the community as part of the WordPress Accessibility Team. Things had finally started to pick up.

Starting her own business

In 2014, Amanda officially launched her own business, Customer Servant Consultancy. Since WordPress is open source, and becoming increasingly accessible, Amanda could modify WordPress to build whatever she wanted and not be at the mercy of web and application developers who know nothing about accessibility. And if she got stuck, she could tap into the community and its resources.

Improving her circumstances and becoming more self-sufficient means Amanda was able to take back some control over her life in general. She was able to gain independence and create her own business despite being part of the blind community, which has an 80% unemployment rate. 

In her own words:

We’re still fighting discrimination in the workplace, and we’re still fighting for equal access when it comes to the technology we use to do our jobs. But the beauty of WordPress and its community is that we can create opportunities for ourselves.

I urge my fellow blind community members to join me inside this wonderful thing called WordPress. Because it will change your lives if you let it.

Amanda Rush, entrepreneur

This post is based on an article originally published on HeroPress.com, a community initiative created by Topher DeRosia. HeroPress highlights people in the WordPress community who have overcome barriers and whose stories would otherwise go unheard.

Meet more WordPress community members over at HeroPress.com!