Making WordPress Searchable

How many times have you visited a site, only to become frustrated with the navigation system, trawling from page to page in an effort to find what you need? These days, we expect to find exactly what we’re looking for in a couple of mouse clicks, and our attention spans are shortening in line with enhanced search functions and improved site navigation. If we can’t locate exactly what we need almost instantly, we’re short enough on time and demanding enough with our expectations to leave a site in order to find what we are looking for elsewhere.

InternetWorldStats.com statistics suggest that there are over 190 million sites online, so the chances are that you have hundreds of competitors focusing upon your industry, prepared to scoop up your customers if they decide to look elsewhere for what they need. This means that it is more important than ever before to ensure that you have a great search facility on your business site, so that people can find what they need and stick around. The longer your customers stay browsing your site, the greater the likelihood that you’ll receive repeat visits, and brand loyalty will encourage them to part with their money as you become a trusted source of information.

If you haven’t already implemented a sound search strategy for your site, it’s time to take a step back and evaluate your blog with the eyes of your customers. What do they predominantly come to your business to find? Can they find it? Web “best practice” advocates that no information should take more than two or three clicks to reach; does this apply to your site, or do people have to hunt around aimlessly in an attempt to find something useful? Take some time to consider your site with a fresh viewpoint, working out how it functions from your customer’s perspective. If it’s not really giving them what they need quickly, it’s time to revamp the site and make it more accessible and easily navigable.

Basic Searchability

Blogs that make customers have to think too hard are not good websites. Your customers need to be able to browse your site effortlessly, without having to battle an invasive or obtrusive layout that detracts from their visitor experience. The following tips provide an overview of search best practice for your site:

• Every page on your site needs to have at least basic navigation aids.
• Your navigation needs to indicate the current page that your visitors are on.
• Each link needs to be clearly marked as to where it leads.
• Each link should be unique and, if it is repeated, make this clear to the customer.
• Link categories need to relate to products and services, rather than your business information.

Including a comprehensive sitemap is great practice as it allows your visitors to easily locate a single page that has everything they need to access the pages they’re looking for.

Enhanced Searchability

The majority of WordPress themes already have an integral search bar as part of the basic setup, but if your blog doesn’t already have one, you can put a search widget into your side bar pretty easily. If you know PHP, just key in the following:

<?php get_search_form(); ?>

Although this works, the functionality is fairly limited, and there are a number of things you can do to enhance it to make things easier for your customers.

The Search Everything plugin works to improve your default search by also searching tags, categories, pages, comments, and much more that the default WordPress search doesn’t. The best thing about it is that it doesn’t require anything else other than just activating it, and then choosing what you would like to be included in the search.

You could also try the Search Meter plugin. This records what people are searching for, and can provide invaluable insights into the topics people are trying to find on your site, allowing you to appropriately tailor your site content.

The Google Custom Search also adds additional functionality to your blog. You can add it in manually (www.google.com/cse/) or via a plugin. The Google plugin doesn’t override the WordPress search, but you can replace it easily enough to make the Google application the primary tool. This allows you to use the power of Google to make your site searchable and also allows you to monetize the search results page by adding your Adsense ID to the adverts that Google automatically includes.

Finally, consider adding the Lijit search plugin to your site; it takes over the default WordPress search box, so requires no additional coding. It allows you to monetize search results and adds great features such as image thumbnails in your search results, and searching of your social networks. This means that you can bring back relevant tweets, YouTube videos, photos from Flickr and more.

How To Add Related Posts To WordPress

There are many related posts plugins for WordPress. These are plugins that automatically add a list of other posts that you’ve written to the end of a single post page, before the comment box.

My old favorite used to be Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP) which outputted a list of highly related posts under each post. I then moved onto LinkWithin that added thumbnail images of the posts but it had very few options.

I was recently emailed about nRelate who have a new related posts WordPress plugin. Initially I wasn’t that interested, as how different could it be? But I was wrong, it’s a cracker of a free plugin.

You can see how it looks at the bottom of this post where it says

You may also like –

It’s easy to set up:

  1. Go to Plugins > Add new and search for nrelate. Install and active the nRelate Related Content plugin.
  2. Once active you will have a new menu on the left of your dashboard called nRelate with two sub-menus, Dashboard and Related Content.
  3. Under Dashboard you can see how the indexing is going (it takes about two hours to get your posts and thumbnails) and also any categories you wish to exclude from being indexed.
  4. Under Related Content there are two tabs, General and Thumbnails Gallery.
  5. General allows you to choose all your options, pages they get displayed on, the image size, number of related posts etc.
  6. Thumbnails Gallery allows you to choose the style of the related posts, or make your own if you know how (see image below).

That’s it. All the hard work is done on their servers so it won’t slow your site down, though means it takes a brief moment to appear on your site.

It has a completely optional advertising network if you want to make any money. I don’t use it so I don’t know how good it is, but it’s there if you want it.

Some other benefits of the plugin are

Analytics reporting is included, so you’ll see which pages your readers are interested in most on your site, as well as the pageviews generated from the internal linking via the plugin.

– Using the WordPress Links/Blogroll feature you can actually choose to not only share related posts from within your website, but you can also include to share related posts from other websites. This is great for cross promoting with other sites you might own or any blogger friends where you could do a reciprocal exchange if you both use the plugin.

No re-directs. Unlike some other plugins (like LinkWithin) when a link is clicked nRelate does not redirect your traffic through anyone’s site but your own. You get all the internal traffic ‘link juice’ with no middleman getting in your way.

So far I really like it. It provides relevant results, allows me to choose a default image for posts without an image, a variety of designs, and works in the background without slowing my site down.

Plus it’s free – get it here.

Why You Should Buy Headway Today

Headway is the WordPress theme that this site runs on. I’ve talked before about why I think it’s great, but the current version is not for everyone.

At this moment it means designing the site yourself, learning the interface, graphics added and so on. But this is all about to change. 40 seconds into the video below introduces the new Child Themes that will be available for use with the next version of Headway.

The next version is out on November 25th, so why am I saying to buy it now? When the new version is released they are moving to a subscription model with a recurring fee, and not only that, but the price will be higher. So if you buy BEFORE the 25th and get the current version of Headway:

You will get the Headway 3.0 upgrade for no extra cost, and no ongoing/recurring fees.

If you’ve been on the fence about getting Headway, then now is the time to do it as current members get the best deal. Of course there are many other changes in the new version, it’s been built from scratch, has a new blocks system and many other changes. But the child themes is something I know a lot of my clients are excited about, and while these will be an additional cost they save you the time and effort of designing complicated layouts yourself. I may even be releasing some child themes for sale myself….

Watch the video below to learn more about the new theme.

I will be upgrading this site to run on the new theme once I get time to play around with and see what new features I can use and what it can do. If you already own the theme then don’t worry, you’ll be seeing version 3.0 very soon!

The Story of a Plugin – Part 4: The FAQ

You may wish to read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 first where I talk about the idea for the plugin, early proofs of concept, and getting to the current release version.

There have been quite a few questions about the plugin, so I’ll try to answer some of them here.

What is Pro Blog Stats?

It’s a WordPress plugin that pulls in publicly and privately available statistics about your website(s) / blog(s) and pulls them into your WordPress dashboard.

What version of WordPress is required?

Version 3.1 and above is preferred. It may work on lower versions but that’s up to you!

Any other requirements?

You must have PHP5 or above. PHP 4 will not work, any decent webhost should either easily upgrade you or already be on PHP 5.

How much is it?

There are free and paid versions of the plugin. See our plans/pricing page for more details.

What isn’t it all free?

Gathering the statistics data from tens of sources and storing all that data is quite resource intensive and there is a cost associated with this. It costs us for you to use the plugin, even for the free version, so we have to recoup some of that cost with more intensive plans.

Will this plugin add tracking code for different services into my blog automatically? (Google Analytics, etc)

No, the plugin does not add any tracking code to your site. While it does not require any other plugins to run, you may wish to use plugins for services such as Google Analytics, Clicky, Postrank etc in order to add the tracking code and make the stats available to Pro Blog Stats (if your version supports those stats). Pro Blog Stats will not interfere with any of these plugins as it gets the stats directly from the services themselves and not the plugins.

Why isn’t AWeber included?
This is a common question! We did at one stage have AWeber stats in but their API does not provide a simple count of subscribers by list. To avoid storing any private data we had to do a one-time on-demand calculation that got this statistic. Due to the limits of the API this often failed and brought back incorrect numbers. Rather than provide incorrect numbers we have removed it from the plugin for now.

Do you store any passwords?
No, we avoid asking for any usernames or passwords. Where required we use authentication, like for Google Analytics.

Any other questions please let us know!

Is Collaboration The Answer?

I work with a lot of clients in a lot of different fields. For the most part they are individuals and/or small businesses trying to make their place in the world. Whether it’s business services, life coaching, physical products, or just talking about subjects to show their expertise, often they’re doing it alone.

I have (what I like to think) a very successful collaboration with Andrew Rondeau of We Build Your Blog. We run several things together including the successful all-in-one blogging and website course Income Blogging Guide, and the upcoming WordPress plugin to see all your stats in one place, Pro Blog Stats. We each bring our own unique skills and experiences to make things better than if we did them alone.

However I don’t see many others collaborating or joining together. A lot of people seem to be struggling on their own, setting up a site, producing content, driving traffic, getting business, and so on.
ampersand symbol
I often think why don’t more people find others that do what they do online and join up? I guess there are a few barriers:

– Trust. If you haven’t met this person before, and perhaps may not meet in person for a long time, how do you trust them?
I say look around their site, look on their social media profiles and see what kind of person they are. Contact other people who may have dealt with them, and see what kind of experiences they have had. Gut feeling is also often a good sign, however you have to be careful, see below.

– Relationship. How do you know you’re going to get along with this person and they will do what they say they will do?
You don’t. You can try it and see. Start small, perhaps write a guest blog for each other. Perhaps collaborate on an eBook, or a webinar or a small product that doesn’t take much time and see how that goes.

– Money. How can you trust this person will pay you money that is owed to you?
Well if you’re currently earning $0 then half of nothing is still zero. However there are safe guards you can put in place. You can alternate payments, perhaps someone pays for the domain name, the other for hosting. Income can be split at certain levels, so when you reach your first $100 then it is split. Don’t wait until it’s $1,000. Keep a spreadsheet or online Google Document that both have access to and can see income and expenditure on.

I have a problem letting go and sharing things and (when it comes to outsourcing) delegating, but I don’t believe I would be anywhere near where I am today without collaboration. What has been your experience?

The Story of a Plugin – Part 3: The WordPress Years

You may wish to read Part 1 and Part 2 first where I talk about the idea for the plugin and early proofs of concept.

So the first thing to decide on creating a plugin (after, of course, deciding to make one at all!) is whether to do it yourself or hire someone to do it. Not having the skills or time (or really desire) to learn to do it myself I set about hiring someone to do it.

Finding a developer should have been relatively easy, but it’s actually very difficult. PHP programming skills are in high demand which means the best are either very busy or very expensive, or both. I don’t want to go cheap so I found a medium level US company to develop the first version of the plugin.

The Third Version

To be honest, this relationship didn’t go well. I won’t name the company as they’re still big in the WordPress world and it was really both our fault and a fault of timing. Neither of us understood the time and complexity that would evolve and the proposed 6 weeks turned into about 7 months.

The plugin worked, and produced a simple report as shown below. However it quickly became apparent that gathering the data on-demand like it did was taking too much time and causing problems with loading time and lots of zeroes – as you can see below.

So at this point I was speaking to Andrew Rondeau of We Build Your Blog about the plugin and the issues. He had some great suggestions, as well as providing validation of the idea and what I was trying to achieve. So it became our plugin rather than my plugin.

We did a lot of research and hired another company to do the next stage of development.

The Fourth Version

We needed to make the plugin more robust and not time out and cause problems. So the company we hired built a website that gathers the data for you. So when you run the plugin the data is pulled down from our server which already holds the data, rather than querying 50+ different statistics.

They also built the login system and everything that you still see on the site at this moment.

After a few months this version was complete. However (how many times have I said that in this series of articles?!) it became clear they didn’t really understand WordPress that well (the website is not built on WordPress, something we will be moving to eventually) and we wanted to deal with a company with more expertise in WordPress.

Another issue was that the plugin still required some user names and passwords, however we wanted (and have achieved) to remove the need for any user names and passwords to be stored on our server for security reasons.

The Current Version

So the company we have hired (and still used) cleared up a LOT of outstanding issues with the plugin, the website, and the (almost ready) affiliate system. A few weeks ago the plugin was released into the WordPress.org repository and there is a completely free version available.

In part 4 I’ll answer some of the commonly asked questions about Pro Blog Stats. In the meantime, why not download it and give it a try, it’s free!

The Story of a Plugin – Part 2: Proofs Of Concept

In Part 1 I quickly talked about the problem I have had in the past with gathering data and the thought there must be a solution to the problem of too many data sources.

When I started blogging in 1999 (I think, it might have been 1998) measuring traffic was pretty important but a fairly simple process of measuring unique hits. These days it has all changed with bounce rates, comments, click through rates, RSS subscribers…

When I started working with paying clients for BTG back in early 2008 it became apparent a better way of getting all this data in one place was required. Yes, it’s taken three years to get to this point!

The First Version

Initially I started keeping track of things in Excel. Partly because I was very familiar with Excel and could write macros to produce reports from the data I gathered. However in the only screenshot I could find of it, you can see it looks a bit rough and ready.

However it did what it was supposed to do, but it was still taking me too much time to gather the data. At this time it was still an idea for me to produce reports for clients, so a matter of saving them and me time. So I decided to automate getting the data into Excel in a format then I could automatically create the report.

The Second Version

I hired a developer on RentACoder (now Vworker) to develop a piece of desktop software that when given the URLs will go out and gather the stats and save that as a .csv which I could then import into Excel and use to automatically generate my report.

The good news is that it worked brilliantly! The screenshot below shows how it looked in it’s basic format. Click for a larger version.

It didn’t take much for me to enter the URLs (it saved them) and bring down the data, then a few minutes later I had a report. However there were a few problems, with the main one being that a lot of services required the username and password of many sites in order to get access (just for the record the Pro Blog Stats plugin doesn’t require any usernames or passwords!). This became a pain and was a barrier to getting the information quickly.

Then I began thinking about making this a WordPress plugin. The two previous versions were really just proof of concepts. We could get the data directly into WordPress and the user could run reports themselves and pay for the plugin. Well that idea would take a years to come to fruition! I’ll talk more about that in part three.

The Story of a Plugin – Part 1: Stop Messing Around

Those of you read my site and emails regularly will probably have heard of Pro Blog Stats, a WordPress plugin created by myself and Andrew Rondeau that pulls in stats from multiple sources and reports them into your WordPress dashboard. It’s a massive time saver and allows you to easily and quickly see actionable data about your site performance without all the associated hassle.

Pro Blog Stats gives you over 50 different statistics about your blog or WordPress website – all on one page, within your WordPress dashboard. With Pro Blog Stats, you no longer have to log in to all your different accounts (like Google Analytics, Twitter, Facebook) to see your statistics. Enough of the sales pitch though, this is the story of how this came to be….

The Genesis of an idea

I used to work in the corporate world, for a couple of very large companies, which employed thousands (and even hundreds of thousands) of people. A lot of my job involved numbers and statistics. George Bernard Shaw once said:

It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.

Who am I to argue with him? I spent a lot of time analyzing those statistics and creating recommendations from them and implementing them. However I spent 10x that amount of time gathering the data.

Organizations large and small often have huge volumes of data. In one case I dealt with it came in on reams of dot matrix printer paper. This isn’t 30 years ago, less than 10.

Volume of data is not so much an issue with powerful computers and database tools, however what the biggest issue was, and still is, is the large number of different locations this data is held. In the blogging world you can have your traffic stats in Google Analytics, real-time stats in Clicky, RSS subscribers in Feedburner, Facebook and Twitter followers on their sites, StumbleUpon shares in your SU account, AWeber subscribers in your AWeber account, and so on for seemingly forever.

One day in my job, my boss asked me for a report. Several hours later he came over to ask whether the report was ready, and I replied that I was still working on it. His response? “Stop messing around and get me the report!”.

However I haven’t been messing around (in fact he didn’t say messing, it began with an F…), I had been trying to put together a report from 12 different sources with about 30 different pieces of data. It was actually 27 pieces of data. I remember because later on I had to do it two or three times a week.

The idea of a dashboard to report sales or display statistics is nothing new, however achieving this goal can be extremely difficult. We worked for weeks to produce a report that saved a large amount of time and hassle, not only for me, but my boss could not request report and have it in a few minutes instead of a few hours.

Pro Blog Stats was born of a similar frustration with the amount of effort and time it was taking me and my clients to monitor performance and progress of our WordPress websites and blogs.

The initial idea for the plugin came over three years ago now, and in the next part I’ll go through the process we’ve experienced with it.

Premium Series: Woo Themes Will Make Your Visitors Say Wooooo!

In my Premium Series I’m taking a look at Premium WordPress plugins and WordPress themes that I personally use, either for myself and for others. All opinions are my own and not influenced by affiliate commissions or anyone connected to the product.

Premium (or paid-for) themes have really taken off in the past year or two, with many seeing them as a viable alternative to a complete custom design. In fact, even with complete custom designs, these are often done on the top of a premium theme to provide the best of both worlds – the great backend features, and the unique design.

One company that provides a lot of WordPress themes is Woo Themes.

Who Are Woo?

Started by three guys, Adii, Mark and Magnus, Woo now has a large number of collaborative designers who contribute code and designs to Woo. They’re also behind the new menu system in WordPress 3.0 that I absolutely love.

They offer over 60 different themes, each with different in-built color schemes, there are themes for almost every conceivable type of blog. They also release at least 2 new themes per month, each with new features.

Not all are paid for, in fact there are over 10 free themes available, so it can be worth downloading one of those to see the quality.

What’s Great?

There are a lot of things that Woo do really well:

WooThemes - Quality Themes, Great Support
  • The themes look wonderful. It’s all a matter of opinion of course, but generally their themes look great.
  • Price.They have a permanent 3-for-1 offer for $70, but more about that later.
  • Updates. One thing that has always impressed me is the constant updating of even pretty old themes. Whether it will be bug fixes or adding functionality that other themes have, often you will find a new and improved version of a theme you already have.
  • Support. Like most premium theme providers, Woo give a lot of forum support and each theme has it’s own support if you’re having any problems.
  • Theme framework. Without getting too technical, Woo have a great menu system for all of their themes that work in a similar way for each theme so even if you change which of their themes you’re using, the admin options and template functions work in the same way. The admin options work smoothly and provide various levels of configurability so you don’t have to touch the code. You can also now automatically update this framework through the admin panel, so you get the latest features and fixes.
  • Demo system. The website has a great demo system where you can not only demo any of their themes, and their color style choices, you can also get your own WordPress login and play with the theme options panel for each theme. Very nice!

What’s Not Great

While there are a wonderful number of styles for each theme that can be changed with one click, the themes are not as easy to customize as, say, Headway is. HTML and CSS skills are required to customize some parts of the theme, and PHP experience is often a bonus.

Some people prefer to start from a blank canvas, and here themes like Thesis and Headway are better for that.

The styles also often require a reasonable number of graphics, so if the in-built color styles are not quite to your taste, it takes some graphic work on all the elements to change. This can be time consuming and needs a little experience, though is no different to most other themes but the number of graphics can be frustrating. However a Photoshop of the file helps a lot, but this is only available in the Developer packages. This leads us to the pricing plans…

Pricing

There are four options overall, two single purchase and two monthly subscription.

The license for any option is awesome, use on as many WordPress blogs as you want! Very refreshing compared to more common stricter one or two site licenses.

The monthly options allow you get the new themes as soon as they come out, PLUS access to all the previous themes (yes all of them!) that have been released. You have to remain a member to get the new themes and updates however you get to keep any themes you have already downloaded if you do quit.

The single purchase options are very well priced. The Standard package now offers their permanent 3-for-1 deal, so three top quality premium themes for $70 is a great deal. The Developer package varies only by providing 4-for-1 and the Photoshop file for each themes. As I have previously mentioned, the themes are quite graphic intensive so the Developer theme is a must if you, or your tech person, are going to be changing the graphics.

What Type Of Sites Are Woo Themes For?

Woo provide a great number of types of themes. They broadly categorize them into six groups: Magazine/News; Personal Blog; Portfolio; CMS; Business; and Multimedia. Most of the free themes are in the Personal Blog category but with the 3-for-1 offer you can pick up a theme from different categories if you’re unsure of what type of site you have, or use them on multiple sites.

Which Are The Best Themes?

Theme choice is a very personal decision, the same as what clothes you like to wear. It also depends on the purpose of your blog, a business site is going to require a very different theme to a video blog or a site promoting your latest paintings. The Woo Theme Playground demo system really is the best way to take a look at the choices available.

They do have a Theme Leaderboard which is ranked by sales, but I really urge you to make up your own mind and see the choices that are available. There really is something for almost everyone!

BTG logo Summary

Where I use this: On many sites, such as Theme Vids.

Pros: Great variety; Excellent Value; Nice designs with different color options

Cons: Can be relatively complex to alter structure or graphic design if needed.

Cost: $70 for three themes

From: Woo Themes (affiliate link)

Adding a Forum to Your WordPress Site

Most people associate WordPress (WP) with blogs, whether free or self-hosted. It’s easy to understand why this is so: WP is the most robust and user-friendly free blogging platform online. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that WP also offers an effective forum solution as well.

Continue reading Adding a Forum to Your WordPress Site