Get 25% off everything at StudioPress

Studiopress ThemesBlack Friday and Cyber Monday are slightly strange events in the UK, given their close association with the US holiday of Thanksgiving. But, still, who are we to pass up on some bargains?

If you’ve been looking for the opportunity to snazzy up your WordPress blog for a while, you couldn’t do much better than checking out this great deal from StudioPress. StudioPress are the makers of the Genesis theme framework and some gorgeous child themes. You’ll want to check out their site and see what’s on there… there are some really beautiful designs. Although I haven’t used Genesis on this site (I plan to, I just haven’t got round to actually making the switch) you can see a few of the designs in real-world situations on my photography and consultancy sites.

If you do choose to buy anything, use the coupon code THANKS at the checkout to get a 25% discount.

1. Get the Genesis Framework for only $45.

2. Snag most Genesis / design combos for a song and save close to $20.

3. Wipe the entire shop clean and get the StudioPress Pro Plus All-Theme Package. Get Genesis plus every design they’ve made, plus every design they make in the future, and save more than $74 off the regular price and over $875 off the retail price — and that’s just the existing 43 designs!

All you need to do is use the code THANKS when you check out and you’ll save 25% on anything and everything at StudioPress.com.

This deal ends promptly at 7:00 pm Pacific time on Monday, November 28, 2011. Hurry up and claim your new WordPress theme before the code expires!

Windows Live Spaces – now powered by WordPress

Well, this is interesting. Microsoft and WordPress.com have announced a partnership that replaces Windows Live Spaces blogs with WordPress ones instead. My first thought is “thank goodness”.

I’ve never liked Spaces (I was a little stunned to find while I was writing this article that I still have a space! I last used it in February 2006!), mostly because it felt very clunky and unintuitive. Apart from anything else, it was always a nightmare moderating votes on Blogshares because it was so hard to work out whether a Live blog was still active. Switching to a more streamlined blogging platform just makes sense.

If you do have a Live Space blog, and you log in, you’ll see an option to upgrade to WordPress.

For more information, see the entries on the WordPress.com and Windows Live blogs.

10 Essential WordPress Plugins

Post Image by Jake Mates

You’ve got your shiny new WordPress installation up and running… so what next? The first thing I usually do is install some plugins. While the exact list might vary depending on what I want to do with the site, there are some that are always included. So here are my top ten essential WordPress plugins to make your blog even better.

  1. Akismet [FREE] – Included with the default install, Akismet just requires an API key to get going. It’ll guide you through the setup and, once it’s up and running, you’ll enjoy excellent protection against spam comments. How good is it? Well, it’s identifying spam comments on Geek-Speak with an accuracy of 99.588%. Not bad, really.
  2. Contact Form 7 [FREE] – This plugin allows you to create contact forms that will be e-mailed to you whenever someone wants to send a message. The nifty thing is that you can define several different ones, with different fields and information. The main contact form here is built using Contact Form 7, but I’ve also used it to create the question/answer sections of competitions too. It’s a good, adaptable plugin, and you won’t pay a thing for it.
  3. Executable PHP Widget [FREE] – Want to include PHP code in your blog’s sidebar? If you want to use the built-in widget system there’s a bit of a problem, because the widgets only allow plain text or HTML. No problem – you can install the Executable PHP Widget and code away to your heart’s content.
  4. FeedBurner Feedsmith [FREE] – Despite FeedBurner’s subscriber stats being up the creek, there are enough cool features on this free RSS provider to make it worthwhile. If you decide to use it, though, you’ll want to direct your blog’s visitors to use the FeedBurner feed rather than the WordPress default. Feedsmith does that automatically, so you don’t need to worry about changing links or wondering whether upgrading your theme will break things.
  5. GoCodes [FREE] – GoCodes takes any address and shortens it… assuming it was a fairly long URL in the first place! :) They shorten to the form “http://www.geek-speak.co.uk/go/whatever”. This is really handy for creating memorable addresses from awfully long ones; great if you want to tell your friends about something or want to ensure you get commission on an affiliate sale.
  6. Popularity Contest [FREE] – If you were wondering how I had a list of my most popular posts in the sidebar, this is how. What else is there to say?
  7. Popup Domination [PAID] – Lightbox signup forms are a double-headed beast. Some people say they’re annoying, while others say they dramatically increase the number of people signing up for their mailing list. I think the lightbox on Geek-Speak looks really nice and, while I’d love to take credit for it, it’s the product of the Popup Domination plugin. Popup Domination lets you customise the lightbox, has some lovely designs, and there’s a new version coming out today.
    The link to Popup Domination is an affiliate link.
  8. Scribe SEO [PAID] – Search Engine Optimization is a bit of a mystery. I mean, I get what it’s all about but the actual mechanics are beyond me. Fortunately Scribe SEO helps me craft my posts to make the best impression on search engines. It tells you how the search engines will see what you’ve written and includes some great tools for researching keywords and finding approprate external, internal, and social media links. The nice thing is that Scribe is available on a free trial, so you can try it out and, if it’s not right for you, you don’t need to keep it.
    The link to Scribe SEO is an affiliate link.
  9. SexyBookmarks [FREE] –  SexyBookmarks allows users of a plethora of social media sites to share your material with their friends. It’s all packaged up in a nice AJAX interface that stays out of the way until you hover your mouse over it. It looks good, works well, and it’s free. Perfect.
  10. WordPress Editorial Calendar [FREE] – The editorial calendar makes it easy to schedule posts for future dates by placing them on a calendar interface. It’s a bit of a pain having to manually edit the date on new posts… I always find it hard to remember what the date will be on Tuesday of next week, so being able to just plonk the post in the right place is a bonus.

OK, so those are the ten plugins I always like to include on my WordPress sites. They enhance the basic functionality of WordPress, creating a better working environment for me and a better environment for my readers. What do you think? Is there a plugin you would add to the list? Perhaps one you can’t do without? As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments.

WordPress Easter Egg – how to find it

I love easter eggs… not just the chocolate treats (although they are yummy), but hidden features in DVD menus, software, websites and, it turns out, blogging software.

Antti Kokkonen has published a guide to finding a fun easter egg in WordPress. It’s pretty straightforward and there’s no sense in republishing exactly the same info here, so head on over to Antti’s site if you want to know more.

I can confirm that this isn’t a trick – I tried it and it didn’t delete my database or anything :) And the Easter Egg does have a lovely geeky element to it.

Enjoy.

Post image by adobemac.

Thesis 1.7 out now

I’ve previously written about how much I love the Thesis WordPress theme, and how it’s now my first choice of theme for any WordPress site I design. Well, version 1.7 was released last week and it’s even better than before.

What’s changed?

  • Easy 301 redirects – you can direct visitors to any post or page to any other location using built-in 301 redirection. Just enter the URL you want your visitors to end up on and away you go.
  • Built-in JavaScript libraries – if you need some JavaScript functionality you can now easily add a host of libraries from right in the composing screen.
  • Options Manager – export and import options from one site to another. This is an absolute godsend if you’re trying to set up a client’s site. Just set everything up on your test site and then import the options to the live one once you’re ready to go.
  • …and a load of other improvements that I haven’t personally used yet.

The upgrade to 1.7 is free for existing Thesis users. The process of upgrading is pretty simple, and the instructions on the DIY Themes site will walk you through it. I’m always a little nervous of upgrading my theme in case I’ve edited something I had forgotten about and will lose an important customisation. There were no such glitches this time, however, because I’d been sensible and confined my changes to the Custom folder… which I could just copy across to the new version.

Add to all those features above, and the easy upgrade Thesis’ flexibility, typography, and SEO options and I think this makes an already brilliant product even more of an essential buy.

Thesis is available to buy online from DIY Themes.

Links to DIY Themes in this post are affiliate links.
If you’re just starting out in blogging why not check out The Beginner’s Guide to Blogging?

Thesis: the best WP theme I’ve ever used

First impressions count, and when I visit a site the first thing that hits me is the general design. A site may have the best content there is on the Net, but if it looks like a dog’s dinner I’ll often move on before getting round to reading what it actually says.

If you’re a WordPress user there are loads of places where you can find themes. You can find a theme to fit pretty much and design you want… dark, light, magazine layout, or even themed to look like an iPhone. I’ve been blogging since 2003 and have done the tour of themes more than once but I can honestly say there’s only one I would use now: Thesis from DIY Themes.

What makes Thesis different?

Thesis‘ customisability is its strength. It’s fairly plain out of the box, but Geek-Speak hasn’t been customised too heavily other than adding a logo, advertising banner, and changing the background colour to blue. Adding the logo and ad required a little coding (I got loads of help from the DIYThemes.com community) but changing colours, fonts, adding columns, and constructing custom navigation is all done with the Thesis options pane… no coding required!

If you’re feeling particularly brave you can access several “hooks” that allow you to add custom code to various parts of the page. Basically, Thesis lets you customise your site and accommodates both people who are willing to delve into the techie code and those who just want to select options from a menu.

Is it good for SEO?

Search Engine Optimisation is key if you want to gain traffic from the search engines, and Thesis gives you powerful options to help with this: a custom title tag, meta description and tags, and the option to add a noindex instruction to a page if, for some reason, you don’t want that page included in the search engines’ indexes.

OK, how much?

Here’s the point where you have to decide whether you really want to go with Thesis or not. It costs $87 for a personal license and $164 for a developer’s license. The difference is that with the developer’s option you can deploy Thesis to any of your clients’ sites and remove the Thesis credit from your site’s footer, whereas the personal option can only be deployed to one site and keeps the credit in the footer. If you’re looking for a theme for your own blog I’d recommend going for the cheaper personal option, as you can upgrade to the developer one later if you want to.

Thesis is by no means cheap, but I believe you get what you pay for. I genuinely think it’s worth the money and would recommend that you at least consider it as your WordPress theme. The guys at DIY Themes say you’ll never change your theme again… and I believe them.

Visit DIY Themes to check Thesis out and buy if you think it’s right for you.

I am an affiliate for Thesis – if you purchase the theme via any links in this article I will earn a commission on your purchase.

“Missed Schedule” posts in WordPress 2.9, and a fix

Listen to the time

Creative commons licensed
Photo credit: lrargerich

I learned a lesson today – never take smooth software upgrades for granted. I’ve been using WordPress for over six years now (blimey, that’s actually quite scary) and have never had a hitch with it. This morning, though, after upgrading to WP 2.9 a post missed its scheduled post time.

It turns out this isn’t so much a problem with WordPress as a problem with a slow system. The process that publishes scheduled posts timed out and didn’t complete the job. The problem is, I guess, that WP 2.9 is a little slower than WP 2.8… at least on my server!

That’s very frustrating because, as I’ve written before, I always schedule my posts in advance. I just prefer to work ahead of myself rather than hitting publish as soon as I’ve finished writing something.

Fortunately, there’s a fix for this, worked out by some of the brilliant people at the WordPress.org forums. It’s a temporary workaround until a patched version of WordPress is released, but it will at least help you avoid missing the scheduled publish time again! You’ll have to be a bit techy to make the change, as it’s an alteration to some of WordPress’ code.

The file you are changing is /ROOT/wp-includes/cron.php, and the changed line can be found here.

I’ve made the change to Geek-Speak’s cron.php file, and am about to schedule this post to go live in a few minutes… if you’re reading it, the patch works :)

Using WordPress’ scheduling option

If you’re a WordPress user there’s a very handy option that will allow you to make better use of your time – the ability to schedule posts for publication at a future date.

wp-publishThe technique is simplicity itself… just write your post as normal but hold off before hitting the “Publish” button! In the Publish box you’ll see the usual options. Hitting “Publish” now would make your post public immediately, but you can click on the “Edit” link and enter a time and date that you’d like your post to go live. Hit “Ok” and you’ll notice that the “Publish” button has changed to “Schedule”. Press that and the job’s a good-un… your post will only appear on the site after its scheduled publish date and time.

Now, why would you want to do this? I use the schedule function every time I write… I write late at night, but want my posts to go live early in the morning. So when I’m finished writing I just schedule them for around 4am the following day. If I’m feeling particularly inspired and write several posts at the same time I can schedule them for a couple of days at a time and relax a bit!

The schedule function has been particularly valuable to me lately, though, because I’ve just moved house and haven’t had time to write in my regular time slots. So I worked to make sure I had a few posts in hand and scheduled them in advance. It’s actually very liberating to find that you’ve got the whole week covered on Monday morning! I’ll definitely be trying to do that more often from now on.

So whether you want to get ahead with your writing, have a press release you want to embargo until a certain time, or just want to give the impression that you’re up and writing at 4am, you’re bound to find a reason to use WordPress’ scheduler. Try it out, then take a little holiday :)

Using WordPress 2.7′s plugin installer

One of the features of WordPress 2.7 that pretty much passed me by was the ability to install plugins from within the WordPress interface. However, I’ve been installing a load of new ones recently and have finally realised that I don’t need to muck about with FTP to get them to work any more. WordPress 2.7′s plugin installer has made things much easier, so let’s have a look at it in case you’re installing plugins the hard way too!

Wordpress dashboard - plugin menu

First, finding the installer: Your WordPress dashboard has a number of sections down the left-hand side, one of which is labelled “Plugins”. Clicking on the little downward arrow that appears when you hover your mouse over the plugins label will expand the menu… you want the “Add New” option.

This takes you to a page that allows you to search for plugins using any terms you choose, popular tags, or you can opt to view a list of features, popular, new, or recently updated plugins. So far so good, but I should point out that not all plugins you may want to get hold of are in the database… so they won’t appear in the search results. We’ll come back to that later, though, because even that has been made easier.

Plugin install screen

Click image to enlarge

Anyway – once you’ve searched and found the plugin you want, click on its name or on “install” and you’ll get a screen giving you a brief overview of the plugin and the option to install it.

Clicking on “Install Now” downloads the plugin package and unpacks it in the WordPress plugins directory. That was always the annoying bit, really: having to fire up FTP and drop the files in the correct directory always took you outside the WordPress environment. Incidentally, when you install a new plugin it will not be activated by default. To activate it there and then, click on the “Activate Plugin” link on the installation confirmation page, or you can do it later as normal from your plugins page. This is definitely much simpler than searching the WordPress.org forums for a suitable plugin, visiting the site, downloading and unpacking the files, and uploading it again. But what about those plugins that aren’t in the database?

The process here is also slightly simplified. Rather than having to unpack a zip file and FTP the contents to your server, when you click on the “Add New” option under Plugins you can upload the zip file within the WordPress interface. You still have to find the zip file yourself (think Google) but at least you don’t have to play around with FTP any more.

Self-hosting WordPress has always been a little bit technical, but it’s great to see the effort the authors are putting into making it as user-friendly as possible. Simplifying plugin installation is a great step forward, and very much more convenient than before. Thank you WordPress guys!

Blogging on the move :: WordPress for iPhone

Well, the official WordPress iphone app is out; designed to make it easy to post to your WordPress-based blog from Apple’s new mobile gadget. Question is, does it actually live up to its own hype?

Well, I’m writing this post using it, so if this is a disaster I guess we’ll have our answer!

Set up is nice and easy: just install the app, open it up and enter your blog’s details (URL, username and password). The app then loads your last thirty posts and your categories. Writing a post is as simple as writing an email, with the only real problem being fat fingers on a small keyboard. There’s even the facility to add photos you’ve taken on them built in camera.

So this does actually make blogging about as easy as it can be given the limitations of using a mobile device… I wouldn’t want to try and write a huge post, but it’s certainly useful. Think I’ll keep it :)

Screenshots

Blog setup Pick your blog Post listing
Writing a post Adding photos Previewing your handiwork