Websites, WordPress

Maintaining your WordPress Website

You’ve finished your WordPress website (or your webdev has handed it over to you, so now you can get on with writing and sharing your blog posts and updating the content now and again and that’s it, right?

Unfortunately, as with all your tech, a WordPress website is just like any other and regular maintenance is needed to keep it all running smoothly and, importantly, securely too.

But where to start?

Generally there are three main areas of your site that need to be kept up-to-date. These are:

  • WordPress software
  • Your theme
  • The plugins that are used

Those are the three building blocks, if you like, of your site. In order for the site to function all three need to be kept in sync, which is generally why there are always updates.

One of the main reasons for updates is to fix security flaws. These are usually issues that don’t affect the performance of your site (as it in it still works) but plugs any gaps – “vulnerabilities” – that would enable a hacker to access your site. If you don’t want to risk losing your site, these updates are on the critical list!

But many updates are a result of improvements to the software, trying to reduce “bloat” (which is tech talk for tidying up the code) or implement new features.

As an example, WordPress recently issued a major update, going from version 5.4.x to 5.5.0. In software terms a major update is a Big Deal, which is why there was a Mexican wave of screams on developer forums, because the update changed something quite significant in the way WordPress works and consequently loads of plugins stopped working! Obviously then the knock-on of this is that lots of plugin updates were rolled out. Actually, these are still coming out, because as the updates are released new bugs are found (they had to react fast to try and fit in with WP 5.0.x, which is never a good place for a software developer to be!)

Likewise the changes impacted themes, which are built around the WordPress “core” software. Furthermore, some themes are designed and tested to work with certain plugins, so you can see how the whole things is interconnected and faults in one will impact another.

The caveat with all this is that you have to have Admin level access to be able to keep on top of this, so if you have an account you use for site updates and another for full access to the Dashboard, you need to login as an Admin from time-to-time to see whether there’s anything do.


In my next post I’ll describe how to check your site so you can see whether updates are needed. Then we’ll look at doing the updates themselves.


Productivity Tools, Tools & Tips, Websites

SEO Tools: From Yoast to SEO Press

Since I first started working with WordPress I’ve been using the Yoast plugin for my SEO. It’s a great tool. I’ve been happy with it and have been happily recommending it to clients. But lately there’s been chatter in some groups where WordPress pros and others discuss their SEO tools of choice, and I’ve been hearing very good things about SEO Press. After reading many reviews to find out more, I’ve decided to give it a go.

As I type, I’m backing up my personal blog and will shortly be installing SEO Press. Once it’s installed I will then go through the configuration and setup procedure (if there is one) and then work on and publish my first post using it. According to the instructions I’ve read it’s simple to use and has some great features, such as tools to help with titles and metatags, the creation of XML and HTML sitemaps (the latter being somewhat overlooked these days but still very helpful), content analysis with unlimited keywords, and also making it easy to implement Schema – a form of metadata that is increasingly favoured by search engines, giving your content much greater visibility in searches.

There’s a comparison of the tool’s features on the SEO Press website. It sounds impressive, at least for a free plugin. As with anything the proof will be in the pudding. After using it for a while I’ll come back with a review – on usability and also whether it makes any discernible difference to my site’s SEO! Of course, there’s no plugin in the world that can actually boost your site’s SEO. Only good writing and constant review and improvement can do that! But what a good SEO plugin can do is guide you a little and make some of the technical side of SEO, such as adding Schema tags and maintaining your XML sitemaps, easier to manage. Wish me luck!


Do you need help with your website SEO or WordPress tools and plugins? If so, contact me to arrange a free consultation – no obligation.


Read more articles about WordPress

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Tools & Tips, Websites

Using Icons in Websites and Documents

If you’re building a website or working on a document and you want to use some icons, where do you find them? A well-placed and well-designed icon can really give your site and files a professional look and feel.

There are many places to find them but you can quickly search Bootstrap, Font Awesome and Google via the Icon Reference page on the W3S site. Other icon sets, along with Font Awesome, are available from this Bootsnipp page.

From here, as the URL suggests, you can search the main open-source font sets using keywords. Or you can select a particular font set, if you have a preference.

The instructions below are for using the icons on your website. I’ll describe how to use them in a document in another post.

Search for an icon to use.

Type a relevant word into the Search box and click Enter. Keep in mind that most labels have a US focus, so you should look for trash instead of bin. In the example below, I searched for “home”. Scroll down the page to see the available options.

Get the link text for your icon.

When you’ve found the icon you want to use, click on it. This opens up a window showing the code to use for the icon. Press Ctrl+C to copy the code then OK to close the window.

Paste the code into your file.

Because the code is HTML, you need to make sure you are working in a format that can read it. If you are working in a WordPress template file (.php) or an HTML file, then you can just paste it in. If you’re in a blog post or page you will need to make sure it is read as HTML. In Gutenberg, do this by choosing the Custom HTML block type, which is listed under Formatting. If you’re using the Classic Editor, you should change to the Text tab and paste it in position.

Add a link to the icon source to your website’s header file.

When a browser reads an icon file link, t needs to know where to get that information from, so you need to put the link information in your website. The best place to do this is somewhere that’s related on the every page. In most WordPress template, these links will be there by default. If you find that your icons aren’t showing, check the header file, and if it’s not there, paste it in.You can find all the links on the Links for Font Icons page of this site.

That’s it! Just upload the edited header file to your server and your icons will be displayed. Here’s how my home icon looks on this page, with the icon code inserted here –>

For reference, here’s a link to my page with the icon source links:
Links for Font Icons

Troubleshooting, Websites, WordPress

When WordPress Migrations Go Wrong

WordPress is a fantastic CMS with so many plugins and ways to extend the functionality, there’s not much bad to say about it – which goes some way to explain why so many of us are using it to build our own and other’s websites. That said, it’s a technology like any other and sometimes things go wrong. Of course, they only ever go wrong when you least want them to, so here’s a quick summary of the three most common errors that I come up against when moving WordPress sites.

Why would anyone be moving a WordPress site you ask? Well, you might be moving hosts (yes, that can be done!) or you might have been working on a local or development copy so you can test and verify a major update without disrupting the main site. For those of us working away on the backend, moving WordPress sites is just one of those day-to-day things.

But that doesn’t mean it’s foolproof! Three most common issues I see are:

  • Plugin issues causing conflicts, resulting in the illusive error: “The site is experiencing technical difficulties.”
  • Images not being displayed on pages, even when you can see they’re there in the media library and nothing has changed (except for the site having moved, of course.)
  • Redirect errors and stray URLs preventing the site from loading or displaying correctly.
  • Problems with the links in the database or connection info in the wp-config.php file resulting in the “Error Establishing a Database Connection” error.

Let’s address these one-by-one.

Fix the WordPress Error: “The site is experiencing technical difficulties.”

This one, while utterly terrifying (it literally says nothing useful about the issue you are facing) is actually one of the easiest to fix. If you get this error you will often find that you can login to the admin dashboard but not see any of the pages on the site. To test this, type /wp-admin after your domain and see if you can login. Usually you can – which is good because it means the fix I’m about to describe will work.

If you get this error, you need to be able to access the WordPress files on the server OR to be able to access the admin dashboard.

If you can access the dashboard, you need to deactivate all the plugins. Then reactivate them one at a time. Each time you reactivate one, test the site (I usually have this open in a separate tab and refresh the page to see) then continue, adding them one at a time until the site breaks. When you find the offending plugin(s), you can usually resolve the issue by uninstalling then reinstalling the plugin. It’s super easy to do.

Another way – and by far the fastest and easiest (given the number of plugins you could be facing) to deactivate all the plugins is to change the name of the plugins folder, which you can get to via cPanel file manager or via FTP. Just rename it – it doesn’t matter what, but logically “pluginsOFF” or “zplugins” works – then test the site, see if it works (see if you can login to the admin dashboard, if you couldn’t before) then rename it back to plain old “plugins”. Once this is done you do exactly as described above: activate them one at a time ’til you find the culprits, then remove and reinstall them.

Not so bad, eh?

Now for the next one.

Images Don’t Display After WordPress Site Migration

This is one of my favourites; Okay, it’s not, but whenever this happens it always takes me a few minutes to remember how easy and fast the fix is.

First, navigate to Settings and then Permalinks, then change the selection from whatever setting you have (usually Post name) to Plain.

Screenshot of the Permalinks settings page in the WordPress dashboard used to fix a broken wordpress migration
Fixing the Permalinks

Save this setting (scroll down and click the button to save) then change it back to Post name. Check your site (refresh the page or check in an Incognito browser, if you’re not sure it’s refreshing) and many times out of 10 this will have fixed the issue.

But sometimes it won’t! In this case you may well find the issue is some stray links in the database – so onto the next fix.

Fix Redirect Errors and Stray URLs that Stop Your Site Loading or Displaying Correctly

Now you’re into database editing territory, so you might want to call on tech support (via your host) or a friendly techie (like me) to get this part done. But it can be done and it needn’t be terrifying – just as long as you make a backup first.

With your backup in place, login to PhpMyAdmin and find the database you are using for your live website. Then just search EVERY table for the URL you used for your development site (or the old site name if you’ve changed the location of it) and the live site. There are some simple SQL queries to use for changing the URLs, but do remember to try every permutation of the URL you can think off. I once had a problem with a site and found a bunch of old URLs addressing my local installation (localhost), which had long since been deprecated! Work your way through these and you should find you’re on your way to a fully functioning site, unless…

Fix a WordPress “Error Establishing Database Connection” Issue

First up, don’t panic. Despite being monumentally unhelpful this message is also another relatively simple fix. You need to check that your database details in wp-config.php match the details of your actual database and with those two things syncronised, usually you’re good to go.

You’ll find the database name in PhpMyAdmin and the wp-config.php file in your site’s WordPress folder. If in doubt try changing the user password, which you can usually do through MySqlDatabases in cPanel. Make sure your user has full permissions too.

If you get this far and your site still isn’t loading, it’s definitely time to reach out for help, even if the “IT Guy (or Gal)” that comes online to fix it does just one of the four things above and they work (yes, this often happens!)

If you need more detailed explanations for any of the fixes above I can do more step-by-step description, but if you know your way around WordPress this should tell enough to get your site up and running again. I know it’ll be a useful reference for me the next time a site migration goes “pop”!

Websites

Why is Google Search Console saying there is no traffic to my site?

You’ve just set up Google Search Console and submitted a sitemap but you check back a few days later and there’s no traffic being logged?

In this case, check which URL you are using. With the introduction of HTTPS and the change to no longer requiring WWW in the website address, there are four possible addresses you can setup as properties in GSC. To find the one with the most traffic, try this search in Google:

https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3A[YOUR DOMAIN]

For example, I would type https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Alanguedoc121tech.fr.

This then shows me that the WWW version of my site is the one getting the most traffic, so this is the one I need to log and monitor in GSC.

Armed with this info, delete any other URL variations you have setup in GSC and then add the one that comes up in the search you just ran.

Bingo! Soon (there’s a delay of course) you’ll have traffic.

You can also resubmit the sitemap to speed things up.

Productivity Tools, Tools & Tips, Websites

From Yoast to SEO Press OLD

Since I first started working with WordPress I’ve been using the Yoast plugin for my SEO. It’s a great tool. I’ve been happy with it and have been happily recommending it to clients. But lately there’s been chatter in some groups where WordPress pros and others discuss their SEO tools of choice, and I’ve been hearing very good things about SEO Press. After reading many reviews to find out more, I’ve decided to give it a go.

As I type, I’m backing up my personal blog and will shortly be installing SEO Press. Once it’s installed I will then go through the configuration and setup procedure (if there is one) and then work on and publish my first post using it. According to the instructions I’ve read it’s simple to use and has some great features, such as tools to help with titles and metatags, the creation of XML and HTML sitemaps (the latter being somewhat overlooked these days but still very helpful), content analysis with unlimited keywords, and also making it easy to implement Schema – a form of metadata that is increasingly favoured by search engines, giving your content much greater visibility in searches.

There’s a comparison of the tool’s features on the SEO Press website. It sounds impressive, at least for a free plugin. As with anything the proof will be in the pudding. After using it for a while I’ll come back with a review – on usability and also whether it makes any discernible difference to my site’s SEO! Of course, there’s no plugin in the world that can actually boost your site’s SEO. Only good writing and constant review and improvement can do that! But what a good SEO plugin can do is guide you a little and make some of the technical side of SEO, such as adding Schema tags and maintaining your XML sitemaps, easier to manage. Wish me luck!

Do you need help with your website SEO or WordPress tools and plugins? If so, contact me to arrange a free consultation – no obligation.

Websites, Services

Do you need help to build a website for your business?

If you need to build a website but have never made one before, it can be a daunting task and easy to put off. Often you’ll get quotes back from web developers for high prices and still not really understand what is is you’re buying. Nowadays though, with new site builder tools like WordPress, unless you are looking for something totally bespoke, there’s really no need to be paying expensive developer fees. There are so many templates, free or for a small fee, and many add-ons, if you want to give the DIY route a go, you can do pretty much everything you need using standard designs and layouts.

Many of my clients have great design skills and a clear idea of what they want. However, they struggle with the technical side of building and managing their website or blog. That is where I come in.

If you want go DIY with your website but don’t know where to start, you need a one-to-one web builder session.

A starter package to get you off the ground

For 160 euros, you’ll get:

  • One year of website hosting (normal price 120 euros).
  • A full WordPress installation.
  • Four hours of one-to-one training and support. This can be can be onsite or remote – or a combination of both, however works best for you.

A typical web builder support session would cover:

  • Logging in.
  • Introduction to the WordPress interface.
  • Choosing an installing a template.
  • Customising your template with your business name, logo, and images.
  • Setting up menus
  • Adding a page
  • Creating a blog post
  • Understanding tags and categories
  • Managing your media files
  • Using plugins
  • Backing up your site

The only other cost to you is the domain registration, which is usually between 5 and 20 euros, depending on the type of domain you want (for example, a .coms is usually more expensive than .co.uk.)

At the end of all this you’ll have your business site online, with your first page or pages of content, a contact form, and a business email account (which is included in your hosting package) – ready to go.

You’ll know how to choose and customise a template, create new pages and blog posts, add and resize images, find and install new plugins, and keep your site backed up.

So, what are you waiting for? Get in touch and let’s start building!

Websites, Security, Tutorials

Install an SSL Certificate to change your website’s address from HTTP to HTTPS

Introduction

Google announced last year that they were prioritising sites that had a verified SSL Certificate over those that didn’t. This meant, in SEO terms, that those who made the move or who were already set up that way had a slight SEO advantage (all things being equal, which of course they never are.) They also devised a way to highlight this to the viewer: you may have noticed that some sites now have a website address that starts with HTTPS and also a little padlock that says “Secure” next to them, whereas others just have an exclamation mark in a circle. If you visit a site with the padlock, you can click on it and this message is displayed:The Connection is Secure Message in Google Chrome

Likewise, if you click on the exclamation mark (on an unsecured site) you get this less reassuring message:

Google Chrome message: the connection to this site is not secured

What is SSL?

SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer and is a security protocol that uses a certificate chain between the server that hosts your site and a third-party who is authorised to issue certificates to verify that you are who you say you are online. When you have set up your SSL certificate and followed the steps on your server to verify the certificate, your site’s URL changes from http://yoursitename.com to https://yoursitename.com – and the address shown in Chrome is displayed with the green padlock and is prefixed with Secure |, as shown above.

Do I need an SSL certificate for my site?

I had clients ask me whether this was an essential task and for a while I said that it should be on the to-do list but wasn’t something they needed to rush towards, given the nature of their websites. For anyone trading online, selling products, exchanging personal or sensitive date, the change has been more pressing and really, if that’s the purposes of your site, you should have done this by now. But if you’re not asking clients for their personal information via the web, why the need to change?

There are two main reasons for doing this now. First, as of today, the new version of the Chrome browser marks sites that do not have an SSL certificate as “Not Secure”. Essentially nothing has changed: the site is no less secure today than it was yesterday. The point really is that it’s not as secure as sites that do have an SSL certificate. As more and more sites make this change and we come to expect to see the word “Secure” up there in the address bar, there’s an element of reassurance, of professionalism, to a site that secure over one that isn’t. The second reason is that it can also help with identifying bogus sites and tells your customers that the site they’re on is the real deal. There are some common scams that rely on users not really understanding that the site they’re on is a convincing copy of the real one, and then the scammers use that fake front-end to abuse the trust you’ve placed in the company you think you’re dealing with in order to persuade you to hand over personal details that can then be used to access your bank accounts or cards. So there are definitely benefits to you as a consumer to only interacting with sites (especially for financial transactions) with SSL certificated sites. As a business, it means your customers can come to your site and be assured that they’re not on a copy site, and that it really is you that they’re dealing with, and that any data they send will not be falling into the wrong hands.

How do I make the change to HTTPS on my site?

The steps to create an SSL certificate and install it on your site are given below.

Once you’ve installed the certificate there are three more steps:

  • Fix the links on your site so they use the new https URL (the steps here are for WordPress users, since that’s what I use for my site);
  • Create a redirect to ensure that any searches for the HTTP versions of your site are automatically routed to the new HTTPS address; and,
  • Verify your site’s certificate;

With the optional fourth step of updating your Google Webaster Console.

As you can see, before adding the security certificate, my site’s URL looks like this:

Site URL with HTTP Address

By the time we’ve worked through these steps it will look like this:

Site URL with HTTPS Address


The instructions here assume you’re using a relatively current version of CPanel to administer your site. If you’re using a site builder like Wix or SquareSpace you’ll need to check their site-specific instructions. To help you out I’ve put some links to the most common platforms at the bottom of this page. If you’re not sure about this get in touch.


Step 1: Create and Install your SSL Certificate

1. Login to CPanel and scroll to the the Security section.

2. Click on SSL and then Install and Manage SSL for your site (HTTPS).

Menu Options in the CPanel SSL Security App

3. Click on Certificate Details.

4. Scroll down and click on Install an SSL Website.

5. Select your domain from the drop down and click Autofill by Domain.

You then get a message showing that the certificate field below is completed. That’s it!

When I did it I got a warning in Chrome that it was a self-signed certificate (as in one assigned by the same host as my server.)  Kaspersky decided to chip in too:

Kaspersky Error when clicking Self-Signed SSL Certifcate Site

This means that it has not been verified by a third-party and could, therefore, be a fake! Of course, I know it’s not but what about my customers? Let’s install it properly and verify the details. That will get rid of the warnings.

6. This time click Let’s Encrypt SSL in CPanel. 

Security Apps in CPanel

You can see from the list that I have an SSL certificate assigned to the site but that it is not installed.

List of Domains with LetsEncrypt SSL Certificates

7. Click Reinstall. You can see that the listing changes to show that the security certificate has been installed.

LetEncrypt List of Security Certificates Installed

Great. That’s the first part done. Now if you go to your browser and click refresh on your web page you should see the site listed as Secure.

Step 2: Change Site Links

On WordPress, which is what I use for my site, it’s really easy to do this.

1. Login to your Admin panel (yoursite.com/wp-admin), then click on Settings and General.

The SITE URL field in WP-ADMIN

  1. Change the WordPress Address (URL) and Site Address (URL) values to https.

  2. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click Save Changes.

That’s WordPress done.

Step 3: Redirect Search Engines to your HTTPS Site

If your site has been online for a while you will (hopefully) have other sites linking to you, links from social media, etc. Without a redirect in place the the browser will just assume any pages or posts with the web address starting HTTP have disappeared, which is very bad for your SEO and very bad for your business generally! Setting what’s called a “301 redirect” will ensure that anyone coming to your site from an old link will find your new HTTPS-addressed page. You do this by accessing your site’s htaccess file.

1. Access the server and navigate to your site’s files. You can either do this with FTP or directly via CPanel.

2. Create a local copy of your site’s htaccess file.

3. Add the following code at the top of the file:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^yoursite.com [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.yoursite.com [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://www.yoursite.com/$1 [L,R=301,NC]

4. In the code above, change yoursite.com to the name of your site. My htaccess file now looks like this:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^languedoc121tech.fr [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^wwwlanguedoc121tech.fr [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://www.languedoc121tech.fr/$1 [L,R=301,NC]

You can use any text editor, such as Notepad (installed with Windows) or something more sophisticated, like Notepad++ (freeware).

5. Save and copy the updated file back to your server.

That’s it: the redirect is in place. If you click on an old link to your site, say from a Facebook post, and it should find the right page.

Step 4. Check on your SSL Certificate

This is another non-essential step, but it’s nice to verify it’s all working so I recommend you visit the SSL Labs page to check your certificate. Click on the link below, enter your site’s URL and click Submit. All being well you’ll see the certificate details listed on the page below. 

https://www.ssllabs.com/ssltest/index.html

Now for one more step, which you can skip if you’re not using Google Webmaster Tools.

Step 5: Add your HTTPS site to Google Webmaster

It’s worth having all versions of your website’s address registered in Google Webmaster because Google likes verified sites – and we all want Google to like our sites! If you haven’t already set up your site with Google Webmaster, now is the time to do it. 

1. Sign in to your Google Webmaster account. You can see that there are already register versions of my site with and without the “www” – but nothing yet for HTTPS.

Overview of Sites Registered with Google Webmaster Console

2. Click ADD A PROPERTY.

3. Enter your site’s details, then click Add.

Add a New Site to Google Webmaster Console

4. Select the Alternate Methods tab and choose your method. I like the HTML file upload method, which involves downloading a file and putting in the /public_html file on your site’s server. If you’ve been through the verification process with other non-HTTPS versions of your site, you don’t need to copy the file again.

Verify Site with HTML File Upload in Google Webmaster Console

5. When the file is on your server, click I am Not a Robot and then Verify.

After you click Verify you’ll get a message confirming that your ownership of the site has been verified. Et voila!

6. Now do the same for the HTPPS version of your site but minus the “www” in the site address. For example, your site can be accessed using the URL www.languedoc121tech.fr or just languedoc121tech.fr so both need to be registered with the Search Console.

7. Next, click on Search Console to go back to the overview page (which lists all the domains you’ve registered using the Google Webmaster account) and check the listing. Mine looks like this, with HTTP and HTTPS versions for the variations of the domain name (with and without “www”).

Revised List with HTTPS Sites Added in Google Webmaster Console

That’s it: you’re done!

Conclusion

So there you have it. It’s a little bit of work, a little bit techy places, but not a major job and doesn’t cost a thing if you do it yourself. If a web developer tries to bill you for multiple hours or suggesting you pay for your SSL certificate, then you would be better to find another developer! Or you can contact me, of course.

If you do decide to do this yourself, please leave a comment below. Likewise, if you get stuck or have any problems.

Useful Links

Here are links to SSL installation instructions for some popular website builders.

SquareSpace

Wix

Weebly

Do you need help? Contact me now to arrange a personalised tech support or training session.