Staging Sites - What is it and do you need one?

Staging Sites – What is it? Do you need one?

Staging Sites - What is it and do you need one?

Should every business website have a staging site?

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You’re probably aware that once you have your website live, you’ll need to keep its software updated to the latest available. WordPress makes this easy by providing the user-friendly interface through which you can update all your themes, plugins and even the core in just one click.

Well, the process is as easy as it sounds, but nobody can predict what happens after an update is done. Themes and plugins are developed by good programmers all over the world, but they do not guarantee that their updates will work well with a particular plugin or theme. In all fairness, anything can go wrong even if you follow the best of programming practices available in the whole world. In addition, if you have done any customization to the plugins and themes that you use, those could be wiped out completely once you update. There is a good chance that after you finish your updates, your entire site can go down.

This has happened to the best of us. Any professional developer will agree to this. If you’ve been proactive and have backups, you may be able to restore your website quickly. But that will be a backdated version of your website, and you may lose any further changes or posts that you have done during that period. Besides, you still need to update your website.

Enter the Staging environment

A “Staging site” is a clone of your live website where you can try applying your updates and changes before applying them to the live website. This ensures that even if something goes wrong after the update, only the staging site is affected and you or your developer can fix the issues before applying the changes to the live website.

Some of the scenarios where a staging website is useful are given below:

In short, a staging site is a good move for any website whose business depends on it.

OK, I’m sold! How do I set up a staging site?

There are multiple ways to create a staging site.

1) Through your host

You may be able to set up a staging site through your host. Managed hosting solutions add a lot of features to your WordPress setup, and most of them (WPEngine, for example) include one-click staging site options. Your web host will have documentation on how to do this, and even the most non-technical users can easily create a staging site in a few clicks.

2) Using an external service

WPStagecoach is a hosting service which lets you create a staging site on their domain. The pricing starts at $20/month for businesses, and you can host up to 3 domains that you own. Once you create your staging site, you get FTP access to the site so that you can manage your files and make changes as needed.

To create a staging site, you have to create an account under WPStagecoach and get your API key. Then you need to install and activate their WPStagecoach plugin and enter the API key. Now you can easily create a clone of your site on WPStagecoach’s domain right from your website’s admin dashboard. You have the option of reverting back any changes if the site is not updated correctly.

3) Using a Plugin

There are a few plugins in the WordPress repository that facilitate the creation of a staging site. In fact, you can use ANY good backup and restore plugin that you can find in the WordPress repository to create a clone of your website. Some of the plugins that you can try are listed below:

  • Install Backup Guard on both the original and destination sites
  • Create a backup on the original site’s backup guard interface
  • Download the backup and import it to the destination’s backup guard interface
  • Select the imported backup and click on Restore to restore the site at the destination

4) The Manual Route

Without using any external software, you can create a staging site manually. WordPress is a combination of the files and the database it uses. The manual way to do this is to:

  • Zip all the files in your existing WordPress install.
  • Backup your database (you can see the database that your WordPress site uses in the wp-config.php file)
  • Open the database backup and make changes to it to reflect the new domain name or path
  • Copy and move the files to the new location, and extract them in the new location
  • Import the modified database file to the new database install
  • Configure the extracted wp-config.php file to use the new database

That’s how to do it the manual way in a nutshell. As you can see, this requires some technical skills, so if you aren’t comfortable with MySQL database operations, go ahead with one of the other options above.

To sum up,

  • Create a staging site to test any changes or updates before you apply them to the live site.
  • ALWAYS back up your live site before you apply any changes so that you can revert back to a working version quickly if something didn’t get caught by the staging site.

Do you need help creating a staging site and managing your changes? Contact Us today.

Feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Wordpress Plugins - What Should I Install?

WordPress Plugins – What Should I Install?

You’ve started off with your WordPress website and have added a good theme that you like.

Now you need to add plugins. You head over to the Plugins tab, and click on Add New. You see the 4 tabs – Featured, Popular, Recommended, Favorites. There are nearly 60,000 plugins in the WordPress repository, with more being added every day. Which tab do you click and what plugins do you install?

Wordpress Plugins - What Should I Install?

When you start off your website, aside from the capabilities that you want your website to have (for example, product sales, membership, forums, etc), there are a few things that your blog shouldn’t be without. These are –

Keeping these in mind, here are a few must-have plugins for your website:

(Type in the names in the Plugins search bar in your Dashboard, and they should show up for installation)

1) Vaultpress (Backups, Security, Spam Management)

VaultPress is a security-oriented plugin that can create optimized real-time automated backups of your website and can restore your website in a few seconds. If you have multiple websites, you can manage all of them through a single VaultPress dashboard.

VaultPress also manages your site’s security by scanning and detecting dangerous files on your installation, so that you or an administrator of your website can review and fix them. In addition, it links with the popular Akismet plugin to manage any measures of spam on your website with zero user involvement.

2) GDPR Cookie Consent (Compliance)

As of version 4.9.6, the WordPress software is compliant with the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements. But that does not mean that your site is automatically GDPR compliant even if you have the most recent version of WordPress installed. You can use the GDPR Cookie Consent plugin to add an EU cookie notice on your website.

If you’re new to this website, you can see this plugin in action at the bottom of this page.

3) WP AutoTerms (Compliance)

WP AutoTerms creates legal agreement pages for your website which you can modify and link to your website. This is a must-have for your site, especially if you are planning to sell digital products or membership access through your website.

By the way, WordPress includes a Privacy Policy template now by default, which you can modify and use according to your needs.

4) Really Simple SSL (SSL Certificate configuration)

Having an SSL certificate on a website indicates that you are browsing that website using a secure, encrypted connection. Any sensitive information that you type into that website, such as your credit card information while making a purchase, is encrypted and therefore, secure. If your website does not have an SSL certificate, Google Chrome will tag your website as “Not Secure”. Firefox will add a popup to every form text field on your website saying that it is not a secure channel.

Adding the “Really Simple SSL” plugin will NOT get you an SSL certificate along with it. You’ll need to get an SSL certificate from a third party such as Cloudflare or LetsEncrypt. The process is simple, and once you get the certificate, Really Simple SSL makes it easy for you to link your domain to the certificate and tag your website as secure.

5) JetPack (Social Sharing, Optimization, Analytics, and a lot more)

JetPack is an all-in-one solution for a bunch of essential stuff that you need for your website. While some of these goodies are paid options, the free options you get itself is worth it. JetPack provides you with multiple options such as website statistics, downtime monitoring, image speed optimization, spam protection (integrating with Akismet), etc. It also manages updates to your site by automatically updating your selected plugins and themes when new versions are available.

6) Yoast SEO (SEO)

Whatever your business is about, SEO is an important factor that will decide your website’s performance online. Search Engines like optimized and easy to read websites and this is definitely what Yoast SEO plugin is about. Yoast starts with a configuration wizard and tells you what the best SEO configurations for your websites, and beyond.

7) Contact Form 7 (Contact Form management)

Never put your e-mail address out in the open unless you want it to be picked up by e-mail harvesters and then riddled with spam. Create a contact form using Contact Form 7 and offer it to your customers. CF7 helps you create multiple contact forms with configurable fields which can be integrated easily with spam management plugins like Akismet. A little bit of HTML knowledge is preferable to create a contact form of your liking, but it provides a default form which will be enough for most websites.

An optional add-on plugin for CF7 is Flamingo, which will help you manage messages right from within your WordPress admin area.

If you do not want to use HTML, your best bet is the WP Forms plugin. This plugin features a drag and drop interface which can help you create contact forms easily. WP-Forms also provides additional paid add-ons if you want to integrate your forms with an autoresponder such as AWeber.

8) W3 Total Cache (Cache Management)

When a user loads your website, your server will pick up the page from the server, process all the dynamic parts, convert it into browser-readable HTML and sends it back to the user. A cache management plugin helps your website load faster by generating static HTML pages of your website and storing it on your server. This speeds up the loading time of your website tremendously.

W3 Total Cache is designed to optimize all practical hosting environments, and all provide the additional benefit of minifying your static content before sending it to the end users, resulting in further bandwidth savings.

9) WP-Optimize (Optimization)

Over time, your WordPress database gets filled with a lot of unnecessary data such as trashed/unapproved/spam comments, pingbacks, trackbacks, post, and page revisions, etc. that clogs up your database. WP-Optimize reduces this bloat by removing all the unnecessary data, thereby reducing the size of your database and increasing efficiency. You also have the option of scheduling and automating this process so that you can keep only what’s necessary.

10) Google Analytics (Analytics)

While JetPack takes care of site statistics, Google Analytics gives you extra data and offers additional insights into visitor behavior. If your website depends on users and wants to create better content for them, then you need this.

That’s a quick round-up of the essential plugins. This is by no means a definitive list but should work for most of the sites out there.

Feel free to let us know what you think in the comments.

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Why Should I Opt for WordPress? >> Pixel Media Press

Why Should I Opt for WordPress to Build my Website?

Why use WordPress when there are countless ways today to build a website?

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There are countless ways today to build a website. Many new technologies arise every year, and some are better than others. There is also talk of Javascript technologies like Vue, Angular, React, etc. to build better, faster websites. And it’s not hard to get a good developer to build one for you within your budget.

So why use WordPress?

If you type the question above into the all-knowing Google, you’ll have many blogs with countless reasons on why you should opt for WordPress. But you don’t need so many reasons, you just need a few that matters. Here are a few reasons that should help you make up your mind:

1) Build a site within your budget

As we saw earlier, there are many ways to build a website. And you can find a good developer with a little bit of research. But the cost of developing a website could vary from as low as $2,000 for a simple website to $20,000 or higher depending on the complexity that you need. This is the case of one-time costs. A good developer could charge anywhere from $25 to $75 or more per hour based on their experience. Of course you could bargain for lower prices, but you get what you pay for.

With WordPress, you get to set up a complete website prototype in under 5 minutes. You don’t have to worry about complexity because the admin area is pretty much laid out for you. All you need to look at is the functionality that you desire. And mostly, you won’t need a developer to set it up. WordPress is beginner-friendly and makes it so easy to install that you can do this part on your own. Or chances are that your web host’s cPanel that you get has it all ready to set up in under a few clicks.

2) A theme for every look

A theme for every look

The WordPress repository is teeming with themes of different styles and layouts. You can filter the themes using the built-in Feature Filter and choose a theme with a layout that you need. Choose a subject, the features and the type of layout you want, and you’ll get a number of free themes to choose from. Most of the themes support mobile devices, so you do not have to worry about device compatibility.

Of course, there might be customization that you need, but you can get a developer to do that now as a large part of the work is already done for you. Or you may find that some of the themes have a paid upgrade which includes the customizations that you require. You also have the option of Page Builders with drag-and-drop interfaces if you choose to do the layout on your own.

Alternatively, you could also choose to pick up a paid theme from a place like Themeforest, which comes with a license and full developer support.

3) A plugin for every need

A plugin for every need

You’ve now got the layout and design out of the way. Now you need the functionality added. Again, WordPress plugin repository has a plugin for practically everything that you can think of. Search by keyword (for example, SEO), and pick up one from the list of plugins that will suit your requirement.

Plugins have their statistics such as the number of active installations, user rating, compatibility with your WordPress version and the most recent update (which tells you if it is still being supported by the developer), which can help you drill down further. If you do not find one that you like, you can look for a paid plugin from places like CodeCanyon that may suit your needs.

4) Huge Community Support

Huge community support

WordPress is not the only “Content Management System” (CMS) around that can help you build a website. But it has a huge community of developers behind it contributing to the code every year. This includes code updates, security fixes, bug fixes, etc. Your WordPress installation will always be supported, and for free, and you have support from experts who will answer your questions. You will have to get support for your theme and plugins; but if you chose them wisely, then your support requirements will be minimal.

If you’re a business looking to expand your reach using a website, then you should definitely give WordPress a try.

Do you need help in evaluating your business requirements and deciding what you need for your website? Click here to contact us.

Have questions? Comment below.

WordPress Plugins – How Many is Too Many?

How do you know if you have too many plugins installed on your WordPress site?

To be exact – there is no exact answer to this question.

When you install a WordPress plugin, it enhances your site’s functionality in some way. But in addition, it does add a lot of bloat to your website in terms of additional script files, etc. which can affect the performance of your website. That said, the number of plugins that you use on your website is not a benchmark of your site’s performance. There are websites with a hundred plugins which loads very fast, while there are others with only a few plugins but runs at a snail’s pace.

So, how do you decide how many plugins you have to add to your WordPress website? The question that you should be asking is not “how many”. It should be “what”. Depending on what your website is about, this could vary. But here are some of the common things to consider:

Functionality of the plugin

Functionality of the plugin

A major factor in deciding which plugins you want to use is the functionality it offers. There are a some common functionalities such as SEO, social sharing, security etc. which almost every website out there will benefit from. Here’s a quick list of essential plugins for your WordPress website. If your website offers additional options for your visitors such as memberships, product purchase, etc., you might benefit from some additional plugins related to those.

Popularity

Next comes the popularity of the plugin. If you search in the WordPress repository for a plugin that can do a specific function, you’ll find that there are a number of choices to pick up from. The number of downloads and the rating shown will help you choose the best from the lot. You can further drill down by choosing a few top plugins from the list, and then checking them individually for user reviews, support etc.

Support availability

Support availability

When it comes to any software, support is a major factor. When you search for plugins, look for the “Last Updated” date and the Compatibility with your current WordPress version. WordPress keeps updating the core files and adds additional bug fixes and security plugs. The best plugin developers will keep abreast of these changes and will keep their plugins updated to comply with these version changes. They also respond to support queries and provide resolutions soon. These will help you make your own judgement and choose the plugin you want to use.

Pricing

Pricing

Many of the plugins that you find in the WordPress repository are free, with additional functions available if you buy their upgrade. While the free version does include community level support, the paid version would usually include direct professional support. You can make a comparison between the free and paid versions and choose between the two. There are also paid plugins which are available for purchase from websites like Envato.com that offer professional support based on the license.

Do I actually need a plugin? What if I don’t find what I need?

While there are numerous plugins available for most of the common things that a website would need, you might run into a situation where you won’t find a good plugin that can satisfy your requirement. Or, you may have found a plugin which comes close, but needs a little more adjustment or fine-tuning.

In such cases, it helps if you turn to a developer to help you with creating a plugin for you, or fine-tuning an existing plugin for your requirement. You can find a lot of good plugin developers online in places like Toptal, Upwork, etc.

Still have questions? Feel free to ask in the comments section below.

404 Errors on WordPress Pages and Posts in Localhost

404 Errors on WordPress Pages and Posts in Localhost

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On WordPress set up in your local machine, when you click on Pages and Posts, they take you to a 404 (Page not found) error page.

This is a common issue for most developers who set up WordPress on their local server.

The common answer that you’ll find online is to go to Settings > Permalinks and Save them again. This will rewrite your .htaccess and you should be good to go.

To solve this, make sure that you’ve got the following covered:

Enable mod_rewrite in Apache

To do this, on an Ubuntu Linux machine, open a terminal and run the following commands:

sudo a2enmod rewrite

If mod_rewrite is already enabled, this command will let you know. If that’s the case, then you can skip this section and go to the next. If not, go ahead and restart your apache server with the following command:

sudo service apache2 restart

Windows users? Here you go: https://tomelliott.com/php/mod_rewrite-windows-apache-url-rewriting

AllowOverride in Apache Configuration

In certain installations (Apache2 on an Ubuntu Linux install, for example), saving permalinks won’t work. Even your .htaccess file will be perfect. This is because Apache2 configuration would be set to override any changes to the structure by default.

To fix this, open up the terminal and go to your Apache configuration folder:

cd /etc/apache2

You’ll need to edit the apache2.conf file to make your changes. I’ll use nano to edit:

nano apache2.conf

Here, look for <Directory /var/www/>

Change “AllowOverride None” to “AllowOverride All

Save and exit the editor. Restart Apache with the following command:

sudo service apache2 restart

Once this is done, get back to your WordPress dashboard, save your permalink settings again to what you want it to be, and try accessing your URLs again.

Did this work for you? Did this not work for you? Let me know in the comments.