Tag: resources



WordPress Visual Page Builders

Visual page builders for WordPress sites have gotten some attention lately because they can make building a site out very easy–especially for those who don’t know code. You still need a developer to get certain functionality working, but a page builder can definitely get you up and running with a semi-custom site.

The following is a list of WordPress page builders that I’ve encountered.

Visual Composer
Massive following for WP Bakery’s Visual Composer and a favorite of mine for sites where a client wants to be able to update and adjust the design themselves. If you’re just someone looking for a drag and drop page builder, VC has a lot of powerful features and options to chose from. If you’re a developer looking to allow clients the ability to edit their own pages, and want something that will work well with or without a framework, VC is a good option. It’s not a free solution, but at $34, you are getting your money’s worth.

VelocityPage
A rapidly increasing user base around VelocityPage and for good reason. It’s a feature-rich page builder that offers even more user friendliness than Visual Composer. It’s also highly compatible with existing, pre-made themes and runs out of the box on a blank theme just fine. VelocityPage starts at $97 for a single site. I’m looking into using VelocityPage as an alternative to Visual Composer for some clients because its workflow is a bit more simple.

Page Builder
One of the free options for a page builder is, simply named, Page Builder by Site Origins. It has a nice feature set with a good sized following. It might not be as feature rich as VC or Velocity Page, but it has good community support and if you’re a dev looking for a page builder for your client that doesn’t have bulky extra bells and whistles, Page Builder is worth looking into.

Divi Builder
Another free option (you need an account to get it) is the Divi Builder, used by Elegant Themes and featuring some nice options to get your site up and running quickly and easily. It isn’t as powerful as VC or VelocityPages, but it handles simple sites like a champ. One of the nice features in Divi is the ability to save segments or components that you’ve built to quickly insert into other pages. Then edit those saved segments and have the changes reflected on all pages that they appear on. It’s a major time saver.

Themify Builder
A premium page builder with a lot of nice features, on par with VC and VelocityPage when it comes to extras and support for things such as WooCommerce. Clocks in at $39 and has some really nice parallax options built in. If you don’t see it, there’s always the add ons which has some useful features to extend your vanilla Themify Builder.

I’m still of the opinion that you need a designer to lay out a good, presentable design with optimized content and architecture whether you’re using a page builder or not. And you still need a developer to create a fully customized option that the page builders can never automate. Things like optimal user flow, accessibility and dependencies are still very much in the human domain and can’t be replaced by page builders. What page builders excel at is allowing a non-coding user to create something quick out-of-the-box. When your business grows beyond its first stepping stones, or if you want to start off a business with a good foundation, call in the designer and developer.



Resources for Checking Accessibility

Making websites and apps that work for everyone should be something every web designer thinks about. It’s been on my mind a lot lately because I’m working on a project that must be Section 508 compliant. I’ve found the following resources useful.

Easy Checks for Accessibility
Gives some generalized tips and tricks for ensuring accessibility for websites. This isn’t a tool, but a great resources to brush up on some of the simpler things about making sites that can be forgotten as our development and design processes become more involved.

Check My Colors
Pretty cool site where you can plug in any live URL and get an analysis back on how your site does when it comes to color-related contrast.

Readability Test Tool
Tests the readability of your text as it relates to your diction, sentences and so on. The more readable something is, the more people will be able to understand it. FYI, this website’s readability is around Grade 7. I’m not writing the next greatest novel of our time, so I’m pretty happy with that.

Contrast Ratio
Way cool tool to check color codes against contrast. It gives you a live score of how your color choice will perform.

Colorblind Filter
Tests your website against color blindness filters. Renders an “as close as possible” version of your site as someone colorblind might see it. Very useful for making sure no one misses out on critical information that you may have chosen to color code.

While these tools are useful and kind of neat to play around with, keep in mind that if you’re working with something that must be accessible, a human should be the final point of reference for all accessibility evaluations. Software, at the moment, can’t catch it all, but it can help us out a little here and there.

Resources

Usability Geek, 10 Free Web-Based Accessibility Tools
Web Field Manual



Great Places to Get Free Images

Stock photography can make or break a design–whether it’s a website, app or print piece that you’re working on. Good stock photography often comes with a hefty price tag. But, when you’re a design student, buying thousands of dollars worth of stock photos might not be a realistic expectation. So any time you can get some nice free images, is a good time. I would have loved to have had access to some of these sites in college. Check out some of my favorite free image resources and save some money.

The British Library on Flickr
Tons and tons of old school illustrations and photos from the British Library. I can imagine having a hard time figuring out what to do with some of these images, but the collection is no doubt extremely impressive. And if you’re working on a vintage project, this might very well be an invaluable resource.

Pixabay
A giant collection of stock photos, and a decent collection of photos featuring people in them. One of the more difficult parts of sourcing free stock photography is finding images containing people. Pixabay’s taken the legwork out of that and sourced a few good quality images so you don’t have to worry about finding an image of a–oh, I don’t know–woman biting into a doughnut while a small green arm comes out of her nostril. Look, I just find these things. I can’t explain them.

Unsplash
My favorite place on the internet–when it comes to free photography anyway. Unsplash’s images are gorgeous, well-curated and new photos are added every ten days. They have a simple licensing structure too, it’s literally: Do whatever. Some of the images on Pixabay come from this fabulous site.

StockSnap.io
Tons of beautiful copyright-free photos here and they’re all very searchable and of good quality. Stocksnap borrows from UnSplash and KaboomPics, but consolidating those two resources makes things a little bit easier for stock photo searchers. I’ve found they have a rather impressive array of really nice food-related photos.

KaboomPics
Excellent photos, lots of good quality images and you can use them personally and commercially, with some very reasonable restrictions (you can’t resell them, you can redistribute them without asking first, etc). I’ve used some of these images myself when building generic themes to fill out photo galleries, blog posts and other dummy content.

FancyCrave
Beautiful, free stock photos. Lots of artistic shots with a lot of very usable content. Bonus points to FancyCrave for updating their library daily!

Gratisography
One can thank Ryan McGuire for curating this fantastic website full of free photography. Beautifully shot, some with a bit of photo manipulation applied. It would be super awesome to donate a few bucks for the work McGuire does. And you know that green arm doughnut picture? It came from here.

New Old Stock
Need some pictures, but you need them to be vintage? Old New Stock has you covered. No attribution or worries about copyright, just a lot of really fascinating imagery for free. If you’re a Shorpy fan, definitely check this one out.

Startup Stock Photos
If you ever needed photos of people in an office, working on laptops, sitting in meetings, contemplating UX, and just generally doing their jobs during a workday in the office–Startup Stock Photos is probably your place. They also have some great shots of equipment and devices.

Made in Moments, Freebies
I’ve always wished my husband and I could travel the world, freelancing wherever we land–maybe some day. In the mean time, living vicariously through Tomy & Marina’s collection of free pictures will have to do for now. They do have paid photo packs, but check out the freebies section I linked, plenty of good content there.

Albumarium
Another collection of stock photos from various sources. Presented nicely, and with a search function which is always appreciated.

ISO Republic
Some of the nicest architectural photos I’ve seen from a free stock site. I love the repeating patterns that they’ve captured and there’s a very unique perspective to each of the shots on this site.

With so many great stock photo resources, you should be able to find what you need without spending too much. Some of these photos work fantastically for dummy content in a theme as well. Or as blog post images too. Enjoy!



The Benefits of Managed WordPress Hosting

If you don’t plan on digging too deep into server management and all you need to do is host a WordPress site, you can’t go wrong with either of these fine folks.

WPEngine
Starts at $29/month. WPEngine is a solid hosting solution that at least two of my clients have used in the past. They have an excellent reputation as being one of the fastest and most reliable WP dedicated hosts out there. And well worth the monthly fee for the peace of mind, expertise and speed that they deliver.

Flywheel
Starts at $15/month. Flywheel is speedy, has great up times and also offers peace of mind backups and security. All of it backed up with a friendly small team of professionals.

I know some clients have balked at the prices they see  attached to these hosts compared to their features. After all, a standard shared host can offer them unlimited space, unlimited bandwidth, and all for $5 or less a month in many cases. Why on earth shell out $15 or more a month for hosting? Is WordPress hosting really that much different than a regular website? So let’s look at this from the start.

Is Hosting a WordPress Website Different Than a Regular Website?

In some ways, yes. WordPress is a Content Management System (CMS) built with PHP and using a MySQL Database. While most small websites do perfectly fine running WordPress on a shared host, many people interested in running WordPress rarely have a 5 page site to only use the backend to update text once in a while. Chances are pretty good that the reason most clients who went with WordPress do it for its blogging capabilities, social media extensions, eCommerce options, scheduling, database, and on and on. What I’m getting at is, the vast majority of people running WordPress websites aren’t content with five static pages.

If they’re updating a blog often, running an eCommerce store or really anything that sends data and retrieves data from the MySQL database on a regular basis, you are relying on the server to receive those messages and send back the necessary data. The more calls you make to the server, the slower your website is to load and perform functions because it has to send the message to the server and wait for the server to get back to it.

Now, we all know that the more people sitting on the same server, the slower the website tends to be. After all, those people are all running sites too. Some of them static HTML/CSS, but with more and more businesses running WordPress sites, server loads are going up as more websites send and receive data using server resources.

This is where a dedicated WordPress host such as Flywheel and WPEngine come into play. They’ve optimized for these types of scenarios, server messages get received faster and are sent back faster as a result. This means your site loads quickly, freakishly quick. The kind of quick massive companies spend tens of thousands a year to accomplish with much more expensive and expansive server architecture.

So bottom line, is hosting a WordPress site different from a regular site? Yes, especially if you’re using the Database a lot. How much faster is WPEngine or Flywheel than a regular host? Oliver Nielson from WebMatros.com did a comparison between the major WordPress Hosts versus a very well-respected general host–MediaTemple. And the results are pretty telling. Check them out.

 Is WordPress Security Really That Much of a Problem?

No, but that’s if you know what you’re doing. Hire a developer who knows what they’re doing. And you consistently follow the developer’s recommendations and advice regarding security of your own site. That’s a lot of “ifs” and what I encounter is that clients often drop their website maintenance shortly after deployment. They can hardly be blamed, clients should be focusing on their business not worrying over their website. There are the basics of keeping a WordPress site safe:

1) Keep your WordPress Core up to date.
2) Keep your plugins up to date.
3) Don’t use a theme or plugin that you’re unsure of in terms of quality.
4) Uninstall and replace all outdated or unsupported plugins.
5) Keep strong passwords and,
6) Avoid being compromised at the local machine level.

It seems like a lot to think about, and I’m not even getting into the what-ifs of spammers or brute force attacks that hammer the login pages in an attempt to suss out your password–and that’s just the predictable stuff. This is really where a dedicated WordPress host comes in handy. They track the security issues for you, they do the backups, they monitor the server, and if something does happen the majority of them can mitigate the damage, stop it before it goes too far and restore your site back to the way it should be. If you’re running eCommerce, or doing anything that handles customer data, it’s worth it to shell out for the peace of mind, in my opinion.

What About Unlimited Space and Bandwidth?

I addressed the unlimited space and bandwidth myth in an earlier post: Choosing a Good Web Host. Chances are pretty good that shared hosts don’t actually mean unlimited space and bandwidth and they’re just using those features to draw in customers, betting that the vast majority of their customers won’t even come close to the limits they actually have in mind. What you get is an upper limit they won’t tell you about, and if you cross over that limit the host might throttle your usage, send you messages about your resource consumption or strongly insist that you upgrade your account.

I rest more easily going with hosts who are upfront about what you’ll get over the ones who either won’t tell you or offer you misleading features and then throttle you back when you actually take advantage of those features. So yes, the two dedicated WP hosts I listed above (and there are other great ones, these are just the two I have experience with) do have limits on what resources you can eat up, but they are disclosing it and not selling pie-in-the-sky unlimited space and bandwidth. You will get exactly what you pay for, you know what you’re paying for, and you know you are guaranteed to be allocated those resources.

Now the capacities are pretty low, and if you want more, you need to be prepared to pay more for it. If the capacity is going to be a problem, I generally bump up to recommending a managed VPS. Everything costs something, unfortunately.

Ultimately, what hosting you or your clients end up on is dependent upon the website, what’s being run on it, and how much the client will expect to pay for hosting. There’s definitely a lot of benefits to going with a dedicated, optimized WordPress server. Peace of mind, simplicity and security features are some of the most attractive reasons.

Resources

Flywheel, Managed WordPress Hosting
WPEngine / Managed WordPress Hosting
Managed WordPress Hosting Pros and Cons, Sitepoint