Meetups, WPToronto North

WPToronto North: Let’s Fix Your WordPress Site!

Over the last year, the WPToronto North meetup has experimented with various types of meetings. We’ve done site reviews, plugin presentations and even walked through Lynda.com sessions. We assembled a nice core of 5-8 people who’d come out every third Wednesday of each month from 3-5pm to share in some WordPress camaraderie.

But over the past several months we started to choose a project and work through fixing it during the majority of the session. It was interesting to see that focusing on a real world problem that WordPress users experienced was not only of huge value for the person we were helping but everyone else learned a ton in the process. It is difficult to fix a complex issue, so we had to scale down the efforts, and we depended on the generosity of some of the more experienced WordPress gurus in the group. And yet everyone in the meetup had something to offer in terms of advice.  In October, we decided to take all 2 hours on fixing as many WordPress site issues as we could.

We were all surprised that we had a full registration of 25 people for the first time ever, and 15 actually showed up. The meetup collected $40 in donations that covered our snacks and coffee too! This by far was the largest, most fun and engaging meetup we have ever had since we started the North Edition almost 2 years ago. Below are the notes from the meetup (thanks Kristine!) highlighting the types of issues we encountered. If you want to continue the conversation, or were at the meetup and want to clarify or just have some notes to add please add them in the comments below.

In certain cases fixes were not technical in nature. The assembled users of all experiences provided guidance to “go another way” in a plugin choice or theme design.  Sometimes fixing a problem is really just approaching the solution in a completely different way.

The meeting started with a very short intro and a request to what problem you wanted fix and on what website. We took about 15 minutes quickly getting everyone’s issues on paper so we could triage what we would address. Then we proceeded to spend no more than 5-15 minutes on each issue.

Amine joined us because of his interest in WordPress. He came over  from Joomla, a system he described as a “gas plant” – very complicated. He is a recent immigrant to Canada from Tunisia, only having arrived 3 months ago, and offered his help with anyone needing French or Arabic translations.  Amine did not give us a website or issue to work on and participated with some great comments to help the others from his programming background. Welcome Amine!

Stefan has the WP site computrack.ca and is wondering if we can help him with slow loading speeds.  Unfortunately we were unable to tackle his question during this meetup. Slow websites happen for a huge variety of reasons. Hosting is one place to start, but caching plugins can help as well. Check out WPRocket to start.

Dave is a coder with an HTML/PHP background who has built some websites for clients.  His current initiative is working on no budget for a charity (UICAToronto.com) on WordPress.com.  His was the first issue tackled since his was the only WordPress.com question, and Alex wanted to start with an explanation of the .com vs. .org builds. We discussed membership plugins and how Dave can go about migrating his site to a reasonably inexpensive service. Kristine gave Dave a 4 month free WPEngine hosting account to try out that she got from WordCamp Toronto a few weeks back (2 months free available for all). Since Dave’s organization is very price sensitive hosting is a concern, thus why they are using WordPress.com and all the related limitations.

Igor has the site kimagic.com which displays his photographic gallery of postcards that he’s designed.  He and Alex exchanged emails before the meet-up to discuss his individual issues, so we did not delve into them at the meeting. Please come back to the next meetup Igor and we’ll tackle your issues first!

Sharon has her own as of yet unreleased site and she has been using Beaver Builder. We weren’t able to display it on our projector to work on her issue. She had the text editing drop down menu in the WYSIWYG post/page editor being displayed in-behind other text, but Dan stayed afterwards to help her work on it.  She also requested that we look at some interesting typewriter graphic effect she had found on other sites to see if we could identify how to do something similar on her site.  We put the sample sites through wpthemedetector.com and whatwpthemeisthat.com and finally determined that instead of trying to use a slider plugin such as Slider Revolution which undoubtedly has this feature, there could be a simpler way to present the text with a simpler text-decoration plug-in called CoolText for WordPress from Megalocode which offers 300 different text effects. Cool86 effect looks like the winner for Sharon!

Dan is one of our resident experts.  He’s been involved with WordPress for 9 years and has his own consulting company.  He was able to offer solutions and advice on every question and stayed behind to help people individually.  Thank you Dan!

Ozzie is a founding member of our group.  He runs a photography and graphics business.  He gave great advice to simply Photoshop a fade into the top of pictures when they happen to clash with the menu colour.  This is an easier fix than trying to write CSS into the theme because well it’s easier than figuring out a themes CSS method for coloring menu text.

During this same discussion, Alex introduced the concept of ‘inspecting’ the CSS of a component of your site before actually adjusting your site so you can see what the outcome is without consequence. It is critical that any CSS be added to the Additional CSS options in the Appearance/Customizer options for a theme.

David manages his site davidgilbertvoiceover.com and couldn’t make social media pick up the right featured image or description when posting a preview of a page or post.  Alex explained Open Graph (OG) tags which must be properly added to each page or post so that social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn can grab the correct info from your site.  We ran his site through the Facebook sharing debugger  and saw that David’s site was not properly populating the Open Graph meta tags with the information he wanted to display on Social Media previews. Twitter has a card validator that is used for validating Twitter cards. These a handy tools can check if the proper meta tags are available in your website. Open Graph tags are automatically inserted by the Yoast SEO plug-in so Dan told him to go to Yoast, turn on Advanced and go to Social to check the settings. Unfortunately that did not seem to fix the problem, so there is more to investigate here. Bummer!

Yas is a coach for internet marketing, has a click funnel certification (and is a fellow Tunisian with Amine).  He had a question about moving to site to a sub-domains  He was unable to make sub-domains point to the main site.  Alex explained that he had to set up an A record for his sub-site so that it points to his URL. Some hosting packages manage this process for you. See Managed WordPress from GoDaddy for one such platform that makes assigning custom domains super painless without having to dig in DNS records.

Nathan is a retired home inspector who has moved from Ottawa.  He had his own business website on WordPress but it is not active since he retired.  He is helping a charity with their WordPress site.  Their site got hacked and they’ve been warned by their host to change their administrative permissions. He also has a question about his picture gallery.  He hasn’t used any plug-in for the picture gallery and he’s happy with it but he wants to remove the tags on the pics like posted date and posted by.  We did not get to Nathan.  Nathan we promise you  will be one of the first next time!

Laura is a holistic nutritionist and has the site thehealthsprout.com.  She had the question answered by Ozzie on the menu bar font colours since her background was white and after you scroll down, the menu changes to a black bar behind the menu. She could not use black or white for the menu colour as a result of the themes preferences. We started to look at how menu colours can be modified using CSS, although the theme Laura was using probably has this as an option in the Customizer. We were running out of time here a bit to get deep into her theme configuration. She didn’t know Photoshop and Anton graciously offered to adjust the picture for her so that a gradient is applied so that the menu type is visible at all times.

She then played with her PHP on her own in the master theme she was using. Lo and behold she made a typo in the WordPress code editor and crashed her site. When we left at 5:30pm Alex was still looking at it. Shortly after we obtained her control panel and FTP credentials we fixed the theme back again and restored the site back to normal. Phew! The dreaded white screen of death foiled again. Dan says it will be hard to do this soon in WordPress 4.9 due to syntax checking in the Editor. (4.9 WordPress Goals) Hooray – less white screens of death for everyone!

After the site was back up Alex stayed after with Laura to show her how to use the SiteOrigin page builder that came with her theme to add more modules. Using the built-in page builder for a theme is a critical thing to learn when designing your site!

Darren is a futurist. He had a question about where the emails he collected on his home page got stored. He had his site redesigned and the home page was using the Jetpack “subscribe to this blog” function which gave him access to the emails who subscribed but not in a way he could use to send a newsletter.  The website already had Gravity Forms plug-in installed and there was a Newsletter form in use somewhere on the site, but not on the home page.  Interestingly, there were email subscriptions in the newsletter form under Gravity Forms, but the form was not  on the site. He did not build his site himself and there have been two revisions so the Gravity Forms newsletter widget was removed.

We navigated to his Gravity Forms and showed Darren how he can download his list of emails already collected through his newsletter form. Then we went into the Widgets in the Appearance menu to remove the Jetpack subscribe widget and add the Gravity Forms widget to the home page. It’s critical to know how the Appearance/Widgets system works especially with plugins. Very useful tutorial here!

We also discussed various email marketing system including MailChimp and MailPoet WordPress plug-in which can integrate with Gravity Forms.  

Fernne, of fernnekanedigitalcreative.com, another of our regular crew, was happy to report that her site was finally up and running.  Apparently it took a team of technologists!  We had looked at her site in-depth 2 meetings ago and found that the use of Slider Revolution in her theme was screwing up her fonts.  As much as we tried we could not fix that problem.  I’m glad someone figured it out.  Fernne needs three arrows on her site.  We’ll tackle her request next time.

Anton, a web designer, has a problem with the theme’s responsiveness – it’s not always working.  It goes through the motions of being responsive but sometimes it displays the header text off the side of the page.  He thinks it may have something to do with the Slider Revolution plug-in that he uses in the header.  Alex thinks that the theme may be conflicting with the plug-in, and Dan suggested that he dispense with the slider altogether for mobile versions because content beats style.  Anton must have removed the introduction altogether because it’s not there now. Simplicity for the win!

We didn’t get to everyone’s issues, but I am sure we can knock them off and many others next month for the November 20th meetup. See you there!

2 Comments

  1. Great meetup it was! Thanks for the summary, I’m sure it will help other users too!
    See you at the next meetup

  2. One of the participants asked if he should pay for a plugin that came to the end of the trial period and is no more updates. This can present serious security issues. I told him don’t pay if the plugin is more than $20 because there are certainly other plugins doing the same thing and free of charge. Just remove this one and put a new one.

    Well I was WRONG. $20 was arbitrary.

    I still think that it’s better to change the plugin. But before that you have to consider another parameter: your hourly rate.

    I am assuming that you have to look for a new plugin. You have to back up your site then deactivate the old plugin, install the new one … It may work. It may not…

    Let’s say it will take one hour depending on your experience. This is the real value of a plugin. One hour of your time. If you are a beginner then you may have to spend 2h on this if everything is fine.

    Let’s say you are payed $15/h. Then check the price of the plugin and if its more than double that don’t buy it. Even if the search for the plugin, install and all the work will give you an occasion to look in some tutorials and learn some new things.

    What I am saying is that your hourly rate is the real comparison for a plugin. This is a better evaluation that the arbitrary $20.

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