On the topic of that pesky widget…

When I go to WordCamps, I get this question a lot: “Why do you have the PHP Code Widget still in the directory?”

There’s a good answer for that, but first let me explain why I made the thing in the first place.

If you examine the history of that plugin, you’ll find that it was submitted almost 10 years ago. Back then, widgets were new. Most people using WordPress had hardcoded sidebars in their themes. Changing the sidebar meant changing the theme. Widgets aimed to replace that with draggable objects. The Widget plugin was still a plugin, and not in core, but headed there.

The PHP Code Widget was created to make it easy and simple and fast to migrate from a hardcoded sidebar to a widget based one. You could take your existing code in the sidebar file, paste it into the widget, and then you had a movable widget that you could easily use.

Obviously, this was not meant for long term usage. The goal was to get widget support rapidly in your theme, with the expectation that as new widgets came out, you could replace your old code with newer, shinier, well supported, widgets.

The reason the plugin is still in the directory is because it still fills a need for some people. If I removed it, then they would fulfill that need in worse ways. It does not take much searching to find snippets of code, with bad advice saying to just pop it into your theme’s functions.php file, and voila, now all your Text Widgets run PHP code. That snippet actually exists. It’s a terrible idea, for obvious reasons.

The PHP Code Widget is less terrible than the alternatives.

But it’s still terrible.

And yes, it bothers me that it is one of the top 150 plugins. Storing PHP code in your database and then running it is just dumb. Don’t do that. Code should live in the right place, and that place is not the database.

So, in an effort to reduce the usage of the PHP Code Widget, here’s one way to stop using it, if you still are.

Getting rid of the PHP Code Widget

Step 1:

Get the PHP Code that you are using from the Widget, copy it into a text editor, save it somewhere for safe keeping.

Step 2:

You’re going to make a new plugin. You can call it whatever you like, but I recommend naming it specific to the site you’re making it for. If I was making a plugin for this site to hold widgets, then I’d call it “Ottopress Widgets” or something to that effect.

How to make a new plugin:

(Note: You can use Pluginception for this instead, if you like. That one I’m not ashamed of, it’s a very handy tool.)

a. Make a directory in /wp-content/plugins named after your plugin, like /wp-content/plugins/ottopress-widgets

b. Make a PHP file in there named the same. Like ottopress-widgets.php.

c. Edit that file, and add this header to the top of it:

<?php
/* Plugin Name: Ottopress Widgets*/

Lovely. We’ve made a new plugin. It doesn’t do anything, yet, but here’s some more code to add to the plugin. This is largely copy-paste, and then you edit it to fit your specific circumstances

Step 3:

add_action( 'widgets_init', 'ottopress_widget_register' );
function ottopress_widget_register() {
	register_widget( 'Ottopress_Widget' );
}
class Ottopress_Widget extends WP_Widget {
	function __construct() {

		$class = 'widget_ottopress';
		$name = 'Ottopress Widget';

		$widget_ops = array('classname' => $class, 'description' => $name);
		$control_ops = array('width' => 400, 'height' => 350);
		parent::__construct('', $name, $widget_ops, $control_ops);
	}

	function widget( $args, $instance ) {
		extract($args);
		echo $before_widget;

		echo '<h2 class="widget-title">Ottopress Widget</h2>';
		echo "<div>Here's my custom stuff.</div>";

		echo $after_widget;
	}
}

I named this widget “Ottopress Widget” by way of example. In the first few lines of code, you’ll want to change these to your own naming scheme. It’s important that names be unique, which is why I recommend naming things using your site’s name. Unlikely for there to be interference that way.

The $class and $name variables you should also change. The class is used in the HTML that the widget produces, so you can refer to it via CSS. The name is simply used for display purposes on the widgets editing screens.

Step 4:

Finally, the meat of the code you want to edit is here. I’ll point it out specifically.

function widget( $args, $instance ) {
	extract($args);
	echo $before_widget;

	echo '<h2 class="widget-title">Ottopress Widget</h2>';
	echo "<div>Here's my custom stuff.</div>";

	echo $after_widget;
}

This is the code that shows the widget on your site itself. Now, this one is just hardcoded to show the normal before and after code (these are set by the theme, so these should always be there), and then it has a little hardcoded bit there where it echo’s out a title and a div that says “Here’s my Custom Stuff”.

If you’re migrating from the PHP code widget, well, here’s where you migrate it to. You can drop your code from the PHP Code widget here and, you know, do whatever you were doing in the widget before, just now in an actual custom widget, in your own custom plugin. No more storing the code in the database. Just activate the plugin and replace the PHP Code widget with this one.

If you need more widgets because you were using it in multiple places, then simply repeat the process. Paste that whole class in there, only give it a different class name and other info, then put in your other code. You can have as many widgets as you like, they just have to all be named differently. Simple.

Note that this widget has no settings screen of any kind. Why would it? You’re controlling the code directly, no need for settings, presumably. If you want to go on and make your widget smarter and more complex and have settings, well, there’s other tutorials for that.

If this reduces the usage of the PHP Code Widget, well, I’ll be a happier person.

Favicons and your online brand

Those used to tabbed browsing know why favicons are important. Your site will stand out from the rest if your favicon is recognizable. After all, a picture says more than a thousand words. Personally, I often find myself pinning websites in Google Chrome, still my browser of choice. As a to-do list, or simply because I want Gmail at hand anytime. Or that specific spreadsheet in Sheets. Or Facebook. That little favicon is the only reference to what site is hidden in that tab. You simply need a good favicon for your website.

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Make your favicon stand out

You should make sure your favicon stands out from that long list of tabs. Check if it matches your logo and website well. Especially when you are not one of the big brands, you want people to recognize your favicon. Two tips directly related to that are:

  • avoid too many details in your favicon,
  • and please use the right colors, so the favicon doesn’t blend in with the gray of your browser tab.

Both are closely related to branding. Your brand should be recognizable in your favicon. Although we’re able to use more colors and more depth in our favicons nowadays, the fact is that the space available on that browser still hasn’t improved from the small 16×16 pixels it used to be in the early days. It doesn’t look like 16×16 pixels anymore, but that’s because we have better screens, not because that space increased. The main improvement is that lines are sharper and you can use all the colors you want.

Proper branding is making sure people will relate your favicon to your website immediately. I listed a number of favicons for you to test. Drop me a line in the comments about what favicon belongs to what brand:

favicons quiz

Too easy? In that case, these brands did a good job on translating their brand to their favicon.

SEO benefits of favicons

Are there real SEO benefits to favicons? Tough one. Besides branding, probably not, though opinions may differ on this a bit. One might argue that you can now add an image of 1MB as a favicon and that this will slow down loading times. You could say that a proper favicon highlights a bookmark and might increase return visitors. I have even found a story where someone stated that some browsers automatically look for a favicon and return a 404 if it’s not there.

My 2 cents? If there is an SEO benefit, it’s so small that all other optimization, like proper site structure or great copy, should always have priority. Does that mean you don’t need that favicon? Hey, didn’t you read that part about browser tabs? You do need it, even if it’s just to stand out.

WordPress just made your day: favicons in the Customizer

If you use WordPress, you might already know that there’s been a favicon functionality in WordPress core since version 4.3. So you can use this default functionality, without hassle. It’s located in the Customizer and is called Site Icon. In fact, WordPress recommends using this option to add a favicon. You don’t even need to create a favicon.ico file, like you used to, years ago. Just use a square image, preferably at least 512 pixels wide and tall. That seems to contradict with the recommendation to keep it as small as possible. But if you optimize your image, it won’t slow down your site :)

More information on how to go about this in WordPress is in the WordPress Codex. Go read and add a nice favicon to your own site!

Read more: ‘5 tips on branding’ »

What are breadcrumbs and why are they important for SEO?

Breadcrumbs are an important part of almost any good website. These little navigational aides not just help people visualize where they are on your site, but also help Google determine how your site is structured. That’s why it makes a lot of sense to add these helpful little pointers. Let’s see how breadcrumbs work.

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What are breadcrumbs?

When Hansel and Gretel went into the woods, Hansel dropped pieces of bread on the ground so they could find their way home if the two of them ever got lost. These breadcrumbs eventually became the model for the breadcrumbs we see on websites nowadays. A breadcrumb is a small text path, often located at the top of a page. On yoast.com, for instance, the path to our Yoast SEO plugin page is Home > Software > WordPress Plugins > Yoast SEO for WordPress. This breadcrumb immediately shows you where you are. Every part of that path is clickable, all the way to the homepage.

Breadcrumbs also appear in Google. If you use Yoast SEO or add the correct form of structured data to your site, search engines can pick up this data and could show your breadcrumbs in the search results. These provide users an easy to understand overview of where the page sits on your site.

Different kinds

Looking closely, we can distinguish different types of breadcrumbs. These are the three most common types of breadcrumbs you will find on sites:

Hierarchy based breadcrumbs

These will pop up most often. We use them on our site as well. Breadcrumbs like this will tell you where you are in a site structure and how many steps you can take to get back to the homepage. Something like Home > Blog > Category > Post name.

breadcrumbs hierarchy

Attribute based breadcrumbs

Attribute based breadcrumbs appear after a certain selection has been made, for instance, while searching for a product on an e-commerce site. Maybe, Home > Product category > Gender > Size > Color.

breadcrumbs attribute

History based breadcrumbs

History based breadcrumbs do what it says on the tin; they are ordered according to what you have been doing on the site. Think of these as a replacement for your internet history bar. These would appear like this: Home >  Previous page > Previous page > Previous page > Current page. It’s also possible to combine these like Macy’s does in the screenshot below.

breadcrumbs history

Advantages to using breadcrumbs

There are a couple of advantages to using breadcrumbs on your site. Let’s go over them quickly:

1. Google loves them

Your visitors like breadcrumbs, but Google likes them as well. Breadcrumbs give Google another way of figuring out how your website is structured. In addition to that, Google might use your breadcrumbs to show these in the search results. This way, your search result will at one become much more enticing to users. To increase the chance to get these breadcrumbs in Google, you need to add structured data or use Yoast SEO.

2. They enhance the user experience

People hate to get lost. When confronted with a new location, people often look around in search of recognizable objects or landmarks. The same goes for websites. You need to keep visitors happy and reduce as much friction as possible. Breadcrumbs can help your user experience since it is a well-known interface element that instantly shows people a way out. No need to click the back button!

3. They lower bounce rates

Hardly anyone comes in via the homepage anymore. It’s all organic search nowadays. That means every part of your site could be an entry point. You must come up with a way to guide these visitors to other parts of your site if the selected page does not meet their expectations. Breadcrumbs can lower bounce rates because you’re offering visitors an alternative means of browsing your site. Don’t you think it’s better to send a visitor to your homepage than back to Google?

How to add breadcrumbs

There are several ways of adding breadcrumbs to your site. Firstly, if you use a WordPress site, you can use one of the many breadcrumb plugins or just use Yoast SEO. If you use a different CMS the process might be different. It is also possible to add them by hand. If you want them to appear in Google as well, you need to use structured data in a way that Google understands. You can find more information on this in Google’s developer documentation on breadcrumbs.

Yoast SEO offers an easy way to add breadcrumbs to your WordPress site. It will add everything necessary to add them not just visible on your site, but get them ready for Google as well. To add breadcrumbs to your site, you need to add the following piece of code to your theme where you want them to appear:

<?php
if ( function_exists('yoast_breadcrumb') ) {
yoast_breadcrumb('


','

');
}
?>

This code can often be placed inside the single.php or page.php files, just above the title of the page. Some themes want it at the end of the header.php file. Try not to add it to functions.php since this could create problems.

After adding the code, you can go to the advanced settings of Yoast SEO and switch on breadcrumb support. Here, you can also determine how the breadcrumb structure will look and what prefixes will be used. Find out more on our Knowledge Base page on implementing breadcrumbs with Yoast SEO.

Conclusion

While using breadcrumbs, Hansel and Gretel still got lost in the woods. Don’t let that happen to your visitor. Breadcrumbs provide an easy to grasp way of navigating for users. Visitors instantly understand how the site structure works. For the same reason, Google loves them as well. Use Yoast SEO to add breadcrumbs to your site easily.

Read more: ‘Site structure: the ultimate guide’ »

Ask Yoast: Meta descriptions and excerpts

When you’re running a large and busy website, it’s practical and time-saving if you can reuse some of your material. Both meta descriptions and excerpts use a brief passage to summarize the content of a web page. So, it could be handy to use the same text for both. But how do you do that? In this video, Joost explains the easiest way to reuse your text for both meta descriptions and excerpts, and whether Google approves of this reuse.

Renee Lodens sent us an email with the following question:

“Is there a way to bulk copy the Yoast SEO meta descriptions to the excerpt field? Also, is this considered duplicate content?”

Watch the video or read the transcript further down the page! 

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Meta descriptions and excerpts

So, what to do if you want to save time and use the same passages for meta descriptions and excerpts?

“Well, let’s start with the first thing. It’s probably easier to do it the other way around. If you put the description that you want in the excerpt field, and then in the back end, in the Yoast SEO Titles & Meta section, you can use the excerpt short code for meta descriptions. We will automatically put your excerpt in your meta description. That’s easier. You can do it the other way around too, but then you’d have to code a bit.

Is this considered duplicate content? No, it’s not. Because they are different things used for different purposes. Your meta description will only show up in the metadata, which will not be shown on the page. And Google considers these two separate things.

So this might actually work well for you if you write really good short excerpts that fit well into your meta description.

Good luck!”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we answer SEO questions from followers. Need some advice about SEO? Let us help you out! Send your question to ask@yoast.com.

Read on: ‘How to create the right meta descriptions’ »

Why there’s only one model: the open source model

WordPress was built by the community. In just a few incredibly productive years, it grew to become the most popular CMS in the world, and all of us in the WordPress Community played a role in the evolution and development of WordPress. Together, we made it into the popular powerhouse it is today. If there was one thing that made it possible, it was the open source philosophy. Just like WordPress, Yoast was born from an open source world. In this interview, Joost de Valk shares his views on a topic dear to his heart.

Joost began his journey into the open source world many moons ago. As a contributor to the WebKit project, which built a layout engine for web browsers, he saw how a group of like-minded people could go up against mainstream, rich companies. WebKit’s small team made waves with their product. Different browsers adopted it and it helped them to hold their own against the incredible power of Internet Explorer. Joost says: “We were unbelievably efficient. I discovered very early on that it was better to build something together than on your own.” 

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A passion for open source

Talk to Joost about open source and his eyes light up. Open source formed him – it shaped his thoughts and visions. Even now, as CEO of a successful company, he’d still choose open source as the business model every time. Joost: “If I had to start over, I’d do a million things differently. But I would choose open source again in a heartbeat. I actually do think it’s better to create together. Take those design agencies that develop bespoke CMS’s. Why? It’s nonsense. It leads to vendor lock-in and that is horrible. There’s only one model: the open source model.”

‘‘If I had to start over, I would choose open source again in a heartbeat ’’

Running a business with an open source mindset is better than keeping everything behind closed doors. Joost: “Why should a school build their own site when there are hundreds of schools with the same requirements and questions? Join hands to make it manageable and cheaper. Just think how much the government could save if they used open source everywhere.”

“To me,” says Joost, “open source is a combination of community, not just friends, and a shared responsibility to find solutions to problems together. Take WordPress for example, collectively we are fixing the problem of publishing to the web. Other projects tackle different problems in the same way, together. This is how society should function; when we set our minds to it, we can achieve anything if we combine our efforts.”

David vs. Goliath

Joost sees open source as a David vs. Goliath struggle: “It’s money versus community. A lot of money versus no money. As a community-driven CMS, WordPress continuously has to figure out how to go up against large-scale commercial efforts. But, in spite of all that money, WordPress continues to grow like wildfire. We’ve reached critical mass and it will only go up from here.”

While WordPress grows, its community continues to expand. According to Joost, the community is diversifying at a rapid rate: “It’s not just developers anymore – the project attracts a wide range of people, from designers to writers. People are willing to invest loads of time into it. Just look at all those WordCamps around the world; all of them are organized by people from all walks of life.”

Open source politics

In theory, open source may sound like the perfect way to get something done, but oftentimes, good-old politics can cause everything to grind to a halt. “The political games are no fun,” Joost says. “It’s a community and therefore pretty diffuse. It takes time to reach a consensus. It’s hard to navigate the waters when there’s no one actually in charge. You have to figure out where decisions are being made and try to be there to influence them. That’s when you find out that not having anyone in charge can make it harder.”

‘‘It takes a lot of time and effort to develop a tool like Yoast SEO’’

Yoast now and in the future

Yoast as a company was built on open source and this philosophy continues to play a big part in its future plans. The Yoast SEO plugin is now spreading its wings, moving to other open source platforms like Drupal, TYPO3 and Magento. But Yoast has to sell something to make money, so in our case it’s a Premium version and other products, like services and education – aspects Joost wants to expand: “In the future, I’d love to be able to give away my plugins for free and generate enough income from our services and education platform. But, that moment is not yet in sight.”

Making money on open source seems strange and contradictory to the openness of open source. Yet, to pay nothing towards the development of products you use every day feels wrong as well. Joost: “It’s almost as if people think it’s rather easy to develop something for WordPress and that it doesn’t cost anything. That’s not true of course. It takes a lot of time and effort to develop a tool like Yoast SEO. Think about it, the readability analysis in Yoast SEO took about six man-years to develop. We could have put it in the Premium version, but we thought about the impact it would have if we gave it away for free. So we did. Come to think of it, I’ve never thought about taking something out of the free version of Yoast SEO to make people pay for it.”

Read more: ‘Yoast WordPress core contributions ’ »

How to start a blog

If you’re thinking about starting a blog, the most important thing I have to say to you is: go for it! Start your blog! Just do it! Blogging is a great SEO strategy, it’s a wonderful marketing tool and blogging is lots of fun! A new blog will allow you to make smart and strategic choices. Just take a little time to think about how to set up your blog before you begin, so you’ll have less work later on. Let me share some tips with you on how to start a blog.

Choose your niche

You should always write about what you know. But you should not write about everything you know. Pick a niche. Decide upon a main topic and write posts related to that topic. It’s more likely that your audience will come back and read your other posts if you’re writing about similar topics. People will know what to expect. Starting a mom blog implies that you write about all things concerning your children and family life. Starting a travel blog implies you write about traveling. You can write about something slightly off topic once in a while of course, but try to stick to your niche. An audience of a travel blog doesn’t expect a blog post about gardening. 

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Do your keyword research

Once you’ve chosen your niche, you should do some solid keyword research. Try to find out what people are searching for. What words are they using when they want to read about your niche and your topic? You should really get inside the heads of your potential audience. If you do your keyword research properly, you should end up with a long lists of keywords you would like to be found for. Try to come up with competitive, head keywords as well as with less competitive long-tail keywords.

Read more: ‘How to start your keyword research’ »

Think about site structure

This is the best time to think about site structure. What categories are popular in your niche? What are the most important head keywords you’d like to rank for? You should write a long, kick-ass article about each of these keywords. Those will be your most essential articles, or in other words, your cornerstone content. You should give those articles a prominent place on your site.

After you’ve written those beautiful cornerstone articles, write lots of blog posts on sub topics of that main topic and always link to your cornerstones. That way, you’ll be telling Google exactly what the most important articles on your website are.

Keep reading: ‘What is cornerstone content?’ »

Write that first post

Take some time to do keyword research and to think about site structure. But don’t take too much time. Just write that first post! Put pen to paper and just do it. Your blog starts with the very first post. That post doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be published. Need some help to get started? Check out our 10 tips on how to make your post awesome.

Pictures and videos

Writing blog post is more than writing a nice story; a successful blog has pictures and videos as well. Every post should show at least one image. Taking nice photos yourself is a great way of creating images and making short videos is a really good blogging strategy as well. Especially if you’re blogging about (aspects) of your own life, photos of it are a necessity.

Read on: ‘Images for blogs’ »

Optimize for the search engines

Before publishing your post, optimize it using Yoast SEO (on WordPress of course, but on Magento and TYPO3 now too!). Don’t forget to create an awesome SEO title and a decent snippet. Finetune your text. Make sure your text is both readable as well as SEO-friendly.

Read more: ‘How to use the content & SEO analysis of Yoast SEO’ »

Promote your blog

Using social media is the best way to reach and grow the audience of your blog. That’s why your blog should have a Facebook page. Sharing your posts on Facebook is a good marketing strategy. Don’t forget Instagram and Twitter either!

In addition to the use of social media to promote your blog, we advise you send out a digital newsletter. Let people sign up for it and send out emails with your latest blog posts and some other fun facts.

Keep reading: ‘Marketing your blog’ »

Stick with it!

The most important thing to start a blog – besides setting up your new blog – is to write that very first blog post. Once you’ve written that first post, your blog has started. You should keep on writing blog posts to make it successful, so try to determine a frequency to publish new posts. You don’t have to blog every day, once a week or maybe even once in every two weeks would be a nice frequency to start with. Find a frequency you can stick with! Your audience will know what to expect, if your blogging frequency is stable.

Read on: ‘Blog SEO: make people stay and read your post’ »

Contributing to WordPress as a designer

A few weeks ago, I went to my first proper WordCamp, in London. I went as a designer, and I wasn’t expecting to learn very much, but spoiler warning: I was wrong. In this post, I will explain why going to a WordCamp is worthwhile as a designer, why WordPress needs more designers, and how designers reading this can start applying their skills to the WordPress design right now.

Wordcamps are not just for programmers and bloggers

You may have noticed I said ‘proper WordCamp’ in the opening, because technically my first one was WordCamp NL last year, but I’m not counting that one since I only went because Yoast had a booth there. And back in 2016, I didn’t think I had much business being at a WordCamp neither. Not because I thought I knew everything, but precisely the opposite; I hardly used WordPress. I wasn’t writing content, I just used it to upload comics I had drawn. Terms like conversion rate and cornerstone content didn’t mean much to me. It all seemed very technical. And especially the thought of contributing to the core of WordPress seemed very daunting (even writing my own theme took me ages). But WCLDN17 proved that I was wrong about all these things. 

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There has never been a better time for design to shine

Almost a year after WCNL16, I became the UX designer at Yoast. I still didn’t know all the intricacies of WordPress, but I was using it a lot more, making sure our stuff integrated well and looked good. So maybe I could get some value out of a WordCamp this time around? I wasn’t sure yet. But off I went to WCLDN17.

Looking at the schedule, there were a lot more talks about design and UX than I had expected; Crispin Read talked about the value of testing and hard data over opinions; Sarah Semark talked about how modern web design all looks the same (and why); Graham Armfield talked about how some simple design measures can make sure your site is accessible to almost everyone; and Dave Walker‘s talk was especially interesting to me, because he’s also an illustrator using WordPress. It was clear that design was coming to the forefront, and rightly so.

This was all good info for me to apply at Yoast, but that I could be of value to WordPress was an unexpected discovery during Contributor Day.

WordPress needs designers too

Contributor Day is meant to focus the attention of everyone at a Wordcamp towards improving WordPress in some way. Naturally, I sat down at the Design table, and there I met Tammie Lister. She is a UX designer at Automattic – that’s the company behind WordPress.com, Akismet, Gravatar, WooCommerce, and Simplenote (which I drafted this in!). She was easy to talk to, and very enthusiastic about design. But more importantly, she had prepared a few simple tasks for us to tackle that day. It made my entrance into the whole WordPress ecosystem pretty smooth.

My chosen task was to make a mockup for the mobile image editor; Something had gone really wrong in there, lots of overlapping panels and redundant buttons. By simply designing a fix in Photoshop, I helped move this problem closer towards being solved.

In doing so, I started to understand why Tammie kept wishing that more designers would start to look at WordPress itself. There are many design issues like this hanging around, waiting for a designer to solve them. Doing so may not seem like a big contribution, but WordPress is used by nearly 80 million sites – that’s almost 30% of the web. So whatever you end up doing, it’s guaranteed that at least a few people are going to be happy with it.

And I can understand why designers maybe don’t flock to this calling. Getting started can seem daunting – I was a prime example of this mindset. If that’s you too, then read on, I’ve outlined three simple steps to get you started.

Ways a designer can start improving WordPress

If you use WordPress and like designing interfaces, these are some quick ways to combine those two passions:

1. Go to a Contributor Day.

This may seem like a big first step, but I promise you it’s not. You’ll get set up way faster than you would at home by yourself, there are tons of people who can help, and everyone is super nice. I would have never known where to begin if it wasn’t for Tammy’s guidance. There are tons of WordCamps all around the world, so guaranteed that there is one near you and within your budget. If not, perhaps you’re lucky like me and your company works with WordPress, get them to send you out to one!

2. Join the design channel in the WordPress Slack.

I could tell you to go to make.wordpress.org/design, but to be honest that site could use a UX update itself. No, I feel like it’s better just to get in touch with the people on the frontlines of WordPress design on Slack. Slack is a chat app, and you can join the WordPress team on there by going to this page. And when you’re in, simply introduce yourself in the design channel and ask how you can help, and somebody will get you started.

3. If you’re not a designer…

…show a passionate designer some of the issues on this list. Hopefully, there’s a good chance they’ll get triggered to fix these little design problems. Sometimes even just posting feedback is enough to get the ball rolling again. Together with this article, I’m sure they can take it from there.

Bonus: Submit design tickets

If your own projects are keeping you busy enough (and I can relate), here’s a really simple way you can still help out: for every weird design issue you encounter, just make a ticket on the site I linked above. Leave the work to others, but at least let them know what they should fix. You’re helping them out, and when they fix it they’re helping you out. Everybody’s happy.

So if all this has motivated you to contribute your design expertise to WordPress: great! I hope to see you at a WordCamp or on Slack someday. Together, we can make WordPress even better, for everyone.

Photo by the talented Pradeep Singh.

Read more: ‘WordPress Core Contributions’ »

Ask Yoast: Impact of host location on SEO?

Do you want to set up a brand new website or move your website to a new host? Choosing a web host can be hard, because there are thousands of hosting companies out there. So it’s a tough decision to make, but a very important one too. When you’re comparing various hosting aspects, should you consider the location of the web host too? Is the geographic location of their web server important for SEO? Hear what we have to say about this, in this Ask Yoast.

Gerardo Garcia emailed us, asking:

“Do you consider the location of the web server as something important for SEO?”

Check out the video or read the answer below!

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Impact of server location on SEO

“Gerardo Garcia is from Spain and he has found web servers in Germany and England that are cheaper than the ones in Spain. He’s wondering if the location of a web server is important for SEO.

First of all, no, not really. But that’s not the entire truth. Because for your visitors you want the most speed, and you’ll get the most speed by hosting as close as possible to them. And you can achieve that by hosting your site in the country where your visitors are coming from.

We’re Dutch, but our main servers are in the US. Why? Well, because the majority of our visitors are from the US. We also have a server in Europe, because we get many visitors from Europe too. So think about that. Of course, we are on a slightly more expensive set up than you would probably be, and need to be. So focus on the country you think is the most valuable.

To be honest, if you’re looking at price too much for you hosting, you probably not doing yourself any service anyway. Don’t go for the cheapest hosting, go for the best hosting. Paying a couple of bucks more per month, really is worth it, When your site is down otherwise, stuff is just not working.

So, I would suggest going with a host that has servers in Spain or at the very least have people that can service you in Spanish in Spain. And then, whether these servers are located in Barcelona or in London, the technical existence of these servers doesn’t make too much of a difference.

Good luck!”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we answer SEO questions from followers. Need some advice about SEO? Let us help you out! Send your question to ask@yoast.com.

Read more: ‘Yoast’s WordPress hosting list’ »

Yoast SEO 4.5: update your PHP version

This is a rather special release, as it’s a project that’s close to my heart. It’s not a full-featured release, however, it is just necessary as a regular release. In Yoast SEO 4.5, we are urging site owners whose sites run on servers with an outdated version of PHP to update to a more recent version. To move the web forward, we need to take a stand against old, slow and unsafe software. Updating to PHP 7 will give your site an enormous speed boost. In this post, you’ll find out why we’re showing this notice in WordPress and what you can do to upgrade PHP.

Please read this post to get the complete picture of this move »

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Why this move?

WordPress is built on PHP. This programming language takes care of the heavy lifting for the CMS. WordPress was always built with backward compatibility in mind, but we’ve reached a point where that’s just not feasible anymore. WordPress needs a minimum of PHP5.2 to function, but that version will not get updates, fixes or patches. This makes it inherently insecure. If you are on an old version, Yoast SEO 4.5 will show you a message in the backend. Please update to at least 5.6, but rather PHP 7 to take advantage of all the awesomeness of this new version. Not just for you as a user, but for developers as well.

The why is three-pronged: security, speed, and future-proofing. PHP 5.2 hasn’t been updated for years and has serious issues. PHP 7 is lightning fast, up to 400% faster than 5.2. You might even regard this as a green move; you can use 50% fewer servers to get the same results from PHP 7. Last but not least, developers can finally use all the modern technologies to bring WordPress to the next level.

We understand this move might be annoying for some, but it is necessary to speed up the development of the web and to bring it some must needed security. That being said, updating your PHP version is rather easy.

How can I update my PHP version?

How to update your PHP version depends on your host. Most hosts have an article on their site explaining how to update PHP yourself. Here’s the one from SiteGround, or WP Engine. Go to your hosts’ website to find out more on how to go about this. If you can’t find the information you need, please contact your web host. We have made an example email that you can edit and send to your hosting company.

Don’t forget to backup your site before doing any major changes!

And how do I choose a different hosting company?

It might be entirely possible that your host is not willing to work with you. Maybe you just don’t feel valued at your current host or it could be that their future plans don’t fit yours. If so, think about moving web hosts. A web host provides the engine your site runs on and that better be a damn good engine. To help you with your quest for a well-regarded and forward-thinking web host, we’ve compiled a list of hosting services that got the Yoast stamp of approval.

Read more: ‘Whipping your hosting into shape’ »

How to find the perfect WordPress theme

We’ve seen it happen so often. You have a great blog, and at some point, you decide to go for a new look and feel. There are a couple of things you’ll look at, usually in the order: layout / look and feel, usability, and optionally, room for advertising. If the theme meets your needs in all two or three of these points, you might download and install it. If that sounds familiar, this post describes how to find the perfect WordPress theme!

A theme has quite a few things to take care of, and a lot of themes miss out on these. This overview should help to keep you out of trouble when you’re looking for a new theme. If you’re thinking of installing a new theme, please give the following points a thought. Keep in mind; your new theme should be accessible, compatible, customizable, integrable and standards compliant.

Define your needs

Whether you are in the market for a free theme, a premium theme or want to hire a developer to build one especially for you, the first step is always the same: define your needs. Write down what the theme should do, now and in the future. You might not need an eCommerce shop at this time, but what about in a year from now? What should your site look like? Which pages do you need? What types of content are you planning to publish? Once you have a clear picture of the requirements, you have a better chance of finding your dream theme.

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Find a trusted reseller or developer. How’s the support?

Should you build a theme yourself? Or will a general free theme do? The discussion on whether a premium theme is better than a free theme continues to rage on. Both sides have their merits. There are loads of crappy free themes, but there are just as many crappy premium themes. What you should do is find a reseller or developer that you trust. Look for social proof; how many reviews does a theme get? Is there an active message board? When did it receive its last update?

In general, every theme on WordPress.org underwent scrutiny, so they are safe to use. But that doesn’t mean they’re awesome. Theme resellers offer loads of premium themes in varying degrees of awesomeness. But just because you pay for them, doesn’t necessarily make them better than free themes. In addition to that, since you only receive the files when you pay for a theme, there’s no way to check the quality upfront. Despite social proof, it’s still a leap in the dark.

How flexible is the theme?

A static theme won’t do you any good when you want to change the page layout in a couple of months. Make sure to choose a theme that is flexible in its appearance as well as its functionality. Don’t choose a design that screams for full-width images when you only need a well-presented place to write your poetry. Check what happens to a theme when you turn off all massive images; does it still function? And is it possible to change colors, fonts and other visual elements?

Your theme should have ample room for widgets, plus it should support featured images and offer multi-language support. Lots of themes have a page builder on board; these help you construct your bespoke layout. But, this is something you should be careful with because these could generate less than stellar code that hinders your SEO.

Which post and page templates does the theme support?

Another way to keep things flexible is for a theme to offer multiple posts and page templates. That way, you could start off using a basic template with a main content area and a left sidebar, but have the flexibility to change to a full-width content area or one of the many other options. If a theme has only two choices, that might become problematic in the future. Pick a theme with enough sensible templates.

Does it function as a parent/child theme?

Parent and child themes are a great combo. If you use any of the theme frameworks like heavy hitter Genesis, you know how powerful these are compared to regular themes. A child theme gets its functionality from a parent theme. So if you’re making changes to your child theme, the parent won’t see these. You won’t break the parent theme if you make a mistake. The same goes for updates; if you update your parent theme, which happens often, it won’t wipe the changes you’ve made to your theme because it’s a child and doesn’t contain the functionality.

Whether you need a theme framework depends on your needs. Almost all WordPress projects will benefit from a theme framework, but it might be overkill if you only need a tiny amount of its functionality and you know exactly what kind of theme you need.

Watch out for theme bloat

Many themes are bloated, and this will increase loading time. If the developer of a particular theme included everything but the kitchen sink, you might get a feature-complete product but an insanely complicated one as well. Try to find a theme that offers everything you need, instead of everything there is. Your theme should be lean and mean. See the next point.

Check site speed and mobile-readiness

In this day and age, mobile-friendliness is imperative. In addition to that, your site and its theme should load as fast as possible. Choosing a lean and mean theme will certainly help in this regard. Check the responsiveness of a theme and run a Google mobile-friendliness test. You could also enter the address of the theme’s demo site in Google’s PageSpeed tool to see if there are particular loading issues. However, this is just an indication, since you can only judge the real loading speed of your theme when it’s running on your server.

Is the theme’s SEO in order?

While Yoast SEO fixes a lot of WordPress’ SEO issues, a good theme helps a lot. Most WordPress themes will claim SEO-friendliness, but make sure to check it. Find out if the theme’s code is nice and clean or an intangible mess. Has it been updated recently? And will it be supported in the future? How many JavaScript libraries does the theme depend on? Does it support Schema.org structured data? If you’re eyeing a free theme, make sure there are no hidden links to the developer’s website, as this can hurt your SEO efforts. In general, keep Google’s Webmaster Guidelines in mind when hunting for SEO-friendly themes.

Is the theme’s code valid?

Many a theme author is more of a designer than a coder, and thus they sometimes hack around until it finally looks the way they want, without bothering to check whether the code they’ve written is valid HTML. If it’s not, current or future browsers might have issues rendering the content correctly. You can check whether the code is valid by using the W3C’s validator.

Test, test, and test again

Once you’ve chosen your favorite new theme, it’s time to kick it into gear. Start with a development setup to test your new theme through and through. Run every type of test you can think of. This might be a security check with the Sucuri plugin or a theme check with the Theme Check plugin. Load your site with dummy data from wptest.io to see if every element is represented and functioning. Run pagespeed and mobile-friendliness tests to see if problems arise. Fix the issues, or find a new theme.

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Bonus checks

That’s just to get you going. There’s a lot of stuff you can check before you install your brand-new theme. Start with these three checks, if you will:

Hooks

WordPress plugins use so-called “hooks” to be able to perform their designated tasks. These hooks allow for instance to add extra output, tracking codes, etc. A lot of issues with plugins will arise for you when a theme author forgets to add these hooks. This is how to check for them:

1. In header.php, it should have a small piece of PHP code that looks exactly like this wp_head(); or this do_action('wp_head');, usually just before a piece of HTML that looks like this: </head>.

2. In footer.php, it should have another small piece of PHP like this wp_footer();, or this do_action('wp_footer');

3. In comments.php and/or comments-popup.php, it should have a piece of code like this: <?php do_action('comment_form', $post->ID); ?>, just before the </form> HTML tag.

Template files

Another wise thing to do when you’re changing themes is to compare theme files. If for instance, your current theme has an author.php file, which contains the template for your author profiles, and your new one doesn’t have that, that might be an unpleasant surprise when you install the theme. The files you should be checking for in your old and new theme:

  • home.php: the homepage template.
  • single.php: the template for single posts.
  • page.php: the template for pages.
  • category.php: the template for category indexes.
  • author.php: the author template, used when someone wants to find all posts by a certain author.
  • date.php: the date template, used when someone tries to look at for instance a certain month of posts on your blog.
  • archive.php: this template is used when either category.php, author.php or date.php isn’t there.
  • search.php: used when someone searches on your blog, a very important template to look at if you’re concerned about usability, and whether people can find posts on your blog.
  • 404.php: used when WordPress can’t find a certain post or page, this is a very important template file to have!

How is your theme handling titles?

You should check how your current theme is handling page titles in the file header.php. You can find it within the <title> HTML tags. If the title tag differs, you might want to check out why and what happens when you enable your new theme. Sometimes it’s for the better (for instance, because it turns around blog description and page / post title), but you have to make sure up front!

It will probably look something like this:

<title><?php bloginfo(‘name’); ?> <?php wp_title(); ?></title>
If it does, you’ll be a lot better to change it to:

< ?php wp_title(); ?>

Now Yoast SEO can take care of all the titles. We have a great article that you can read if want to know more about crafting good titles.

If your theme does all of this correctly, you should be quite ok. Good luck with your new theme, and if you have any tips on other things to check, please share in the comments!

Read more: ‘Why every website needs Yoast SEO’ »