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18 Tools for WordPress Hosting, Maintenance and Management

18 Tools for WordPress Hosting, Maintenance and Management

When hosting, maintaining and managing hundreds of WordPress websites for our customers on a daily basis, you’ll need to guarantee stability for all these websites. To have them operate smoothly and safely you can use of a variety of tools. In this article we will go over the most important techniques and explain how we keep everything in-sync.

Note: Some of the provided links have an affiliate code.

WordPress hosting and maintenance: the ultimate worry-free solution

Our goal is to completely unburden our customers when it comes to WordPress. Practically, this means we take care of all the technical hassle so our clients only have to focus on the content of their website. This way, they don’t have to worry about WordPress hosting, updates, security or speed, because we got it all covered. Now, what tools do we use to accomplish all this?

Hosting

Managed WordPress hosting

We buy our hosting from the best Premium WordPress hosting parties, and continually and carefully look at the safety, stability and speed of their servers, and the quality of their support. Should we be able to guarantee a better speed on a different server, we may transfer websites between hosting parties.

Currently, we buy Premium WordPress hosting from WpEngine (starting at $29 pm) and Kinsta (starting at $100 pm for 1 website), among other hosting parties. In any case, we make sure we get the best match, which will depend on the specific requirements and requests of our clients.
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Managing

Making Sites Maintenance ready

Many clients that want us to maintain their website, have modified their WordPress theme. This often results in an inability on our side to update their theme without loosing the modifications they have made. This is why the first important step to prepare websites for our maintenance program, is to split the modifications into a parent theme (the original theme) and a child theme (the modifications made to the theme). This makes it safer and easier to update the parent theme without losing the modifications set in the child theme.

Once new clients are added to our program, we thoroughly verify whether or not hackers have had access to the installation. We also double-check if all users make use of complex passwords. Thirdly, we check if the installed plugins are malware free, non-conflicting and up-to-date. At times we may advise our clients to give up a certain plugin in exchange for a more solid solution.

InfiniteWP

Our update policy is an important aspect of our service. By virtue of performing controlled, daily updates, we guarantee the safety of our WordPress websites. All safety updates of plugins, themes and WordPress itself, are directly executed by us. For this daily taks we make use of  InfiniteWP (free, with add-ons at extra cost), enabling us to access and manage all of our WordPress websites within one interface, regardless where a website is hosted at that time.

In this central control system we can see how many updates are ready to be installed per website, and can perform these updates directly from a central admin panel without having to log into each separate website. We also check the impact of each update, and whether changes have an effect on the performance of the corresponding website. This way we resolve any issue that a new update may cause. All this is part of our service.

Other than that, InfiniteWP gives us the ability to clone a website, make backups, login directly, perform malware scans, install and activate multiple plugins at once, and much more. To cut a long story short: InfiniteWP is the linchpin in our centralized WordPress management system.

Plugins

Kraken.io

Images on a website are prone to take up a lot of loading time. By making use of image optimisation, we aim to limit file sizes to a minimum. For this we use Kraken.io (starting at $ 5 pm), a service that optimizes GIF, JPG, PNG and SVG files without any visible loss of quality. We use the Kraken Image Optimizer (free) plugin on every website, which automatically compresses every uploaded image, causing images of our clients to load over 50% faster.

Gravity Forms

Contact, sign up or request forms are indispensable for virtually every website we manage. There are but few WordPress form plugins that offer as many options as Gravity Forms (starting at $ 99 per year for multiple sites). Our clients use this plugin for many purposes. This is why we have a Developer License for Gravity Forms, enabling all of our clients to make use of this versatile plugin.

Akismet

Akismet (starting at $ 50 pm for multiple sites) is a spamfilter for WordPress websites that checks responses and form submissions. For this plugin we also have an Enterprise license, automatically filtering all comments, responses, requests and form submissions of all our clients.

Yoast SEO

We also install the Yoast SEO plugin (free) plugin for all websites of our clients. Another vital plugin to improve the findability of your website. With this plugin you can indicate each page’s title and a summery, and then immediately view how this would show up in Googles search results.

Monitoring

Uptime Robot

Uptime Robot (starting at $ 5,50 p/m) is an online service set up to verify whether a website is still up. Every website we host is being monitored via Uptime Robot. As soon as a website shows downtime, we are notified and can immediately investigate what is causing the site to be down.

Uptime Robot enables us to swiftly take action in case a site causes trouble. This way, the actual time a website is unavailable is significantly minimised. Uptime Robot also builds its own history, enabling us to compare the amount of downtime of multiple WordPress hosting providers over an extended period of time. Added to this, we are given insight into which websites are downtime prone. This, then, helps us to zoom in on specific problems so we can solve them.

Broken Link Checker

Once a website is transferred or going life, we double-check the links used on the site by virtue of Broken Link Checker (free). In some cases, we keep this plugin activated to be able to perform routine checks. Whenever links on a website are troublesome or no longer active, this WordPress plugin will notify us instantly via email.

Visual Monitor

Sometimes a website may be available and operative, but certain elements cease to operate as they should, like a slider that doesn’t function or a widget that suddenly disappeared. Logically, Uptime Robot won’t pick up on such inconsistencies. For this reason we have an additional monitoring system set up, that makes multiple screenshot per day of each website we host. This system then compares each screenshot with the previous one, and notifies us promptly when it detects any visual discrepancies. As a result, we can investigate what is going on as soon as part of a site changes or disappears.

Maintenance Mode Monitor

‘Maintenance-mode’ is selected by default when WordPress is updated. During such an update, visitors are shown a white background with a notice that the website is currently under maintenance. This notification only last seconds, for as soon as the update is completed, maintenance mode is deactivated. However, once in a while, it may occur that an update cannot be completed, which then results in WordPress staying in ‘maintenance-mode’.

To counter this we have developed a ‘maintenance-mode-detection’ in our visual detection system, which alerts us as soon as unusual quantities of ‘white’ are found in a screenshot. This detection also traces other issues (like a website that refuses to load completely), making it a valuable addition to the visual monitor mentioned before.

Robots.txt monitor

Search engines look for a file called ‘robots.txt’ on every website. For example https://www.wpupgrader.com/robots.txt. The ‘robots.txt’ file dictates which pages of your site may or may not be indexed by search engines. WordPress automatically generates this file for you. This, however, also causes you to have little of no influence on changes made within this file. Should this file store the wrong kind of information, then search engines may by default ignore you when indexing the internet. This is, of course, fatal when you want people to find you easily and swiftly. Our ‘robots.txt monitor’ checks whether each websites is configured correctly and alerts us as soon as it detects changes in this file.

PageSpeed monitor

For search engine optimalization (SEO) Google measures speed and optimisation by virtue of a so-called PageSpeed score. For this reason a fourth monitor is installed for all websites: the Google PageSpeed monitor.

Several times a day we verify the Google PageSpeed score of a website. As soon as major shifts are detected, we are alerted so we can investigate the reason behind an irregular score. Particularly when the PageSpeed score drops drastically all of a sudden, it is crucial that we find out why as soon as possible. The PageSpeed monitor helps us to inform our clients promptly when the alterations they make to their site negatively affect their score.

Dashing.io

Dashing (free). With Dashing multiple widgets can be projected onto a dashboard. Such a dashboard gives us a clean-cut overview of up and downtime monitors, pending updates, and much more. Instant alerts are given when one of our sites is down, or when there is an outage.

Dashing is open-source, but definitely a must for programmers. Dashboard is written in Ruby, Coffeescript, HTML and CSS. Additionally, you will find quite an extensive list of widgets for Dashing on GitHub, many of which can be installed as is.

Optimisation

CDN

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a server network that stores and delivers static content. By saving static content (images, scripts) in a CDN, visitors are able to load your website much faster because different segments of your site are delivered simultaneously from multiple servers. We make use of several CDNs, in accordance with the demands of our customer. Widely used CDNs are MaxCDN (starting at $9 p/m) and CloudFlare (free with paid add-ons). MaxCDN can be easily installed with an optimalisation plugin (read below), while CloudFlare is a bit more complicated in set up.

Optimisation Plugins

To improve the speed of a WordPress website a proper optimisation plugin is indispensable. Such a plugin first of all offers proper caching; a technique that memorizes frequently visited pages in order to prevent them from having to be rebuilt by the server every single time, thereby cutting loading time short. There are Premium Hosting companies that will handle caching themselves.
An optimisation plugin can equally help to combine and compress HTML, JavaScript en CSS, causing a webpage to load faster as it then consists of fewer files.

Lastly, linking a CDN is another option. In doing so, the plugin automatically loads images and other static content (like scripts) via the CDN.

Generally, we use two different optimisation plugins: WP Rocket (starting at $99 p/y for multiple websites) or W3 Total Cache. WP Rocket is conveniently simple to manage, works out-of-the-box, and automates many things. For more complexer websites we use W3 Total Cache, as it has more configuration options, like for instance specific script handling.

WordPress Theme Review: Enfold

WordPress Theme Review: Enfold

On april 2013, Vienna based Kriesi produced a new WordPress theme: Enfold, which proved to be quite profitable to the renowned developer. With over 100,000 sales already, it has grown to be one of the best selling WordPress themes available today.

What is it, that makes Enfold such a  powerful theme? And would it be interesting for your WordPress website to switch to Enfold? We decided to do a thorough analysis on this populair theme for you.

Looks

Watching the Enfold-demoyou wouldn’t label this a winning theme right off the bat. Although the overall design and photography used in the demo may be okay, the layout isn’t much of an eye-catcher. It is actually quite traditional, having a logo on the left side, followed by the menu next to it, and placing the header underneath. Nevertheless, this may just be one of those strengths that sets this WordPress theme apart as a multi-purpose one.

The theme itself is crisp and minimalistic, fully in line with webdesign trends of today. The chosen font seems a bit too delicate though. In one way this makes it possible to use a relatively large body of text without it optically looking cluttered. Then again, you may at times want to use less words to say more, in which case you would want a bulkier font. We’ll come back on how well you can adjust this feature later on.

Added to that, it is also retina-ready. This will, for instance, cause your icons and other graphic elements to come out crystal clear on high resolution monitors.

Enfold theme installation in WordPress

Once you have purchased Enfold, you can immediately download the installation file. A simple procedure that works as follows: Within your WordPress environment, go to Appearance > Themes. Then click on ‘Add New’ and then ‘Upload Theme’. Search on your computer for the proper installation file, then click ‘Install Now’. Once you have done so, click ‘Activate’ and your installation of the Enfold theme is complete. In our experience, anyone can complete this process within any standard WordPress website without much difficulty.

At ‘Theme Options’ you can make sure your theme is automatically updated. We recommend you to do so, as Enfold regularly adds new and interesting features.

With the installation of Enfold, the LayerSlider WP is added as a bonus: an advanced slider plugin for WordPress that enables you to make beautiful visual slideshows.

Adaptability of WordPress theme Enfold

After having installed Enfold, you have direct access to the page via ‘Theme Options’. This option page consists of nine tabs, each showing multiple settings. The ’General Styling’ tab provides you with 18 predefined color schemes. These generally consist of matching pastel colors that compliment the crisp, minimalistic look. There are also some predefined settings that offer a brighter use of colors for your Enfold theme.

It is also possible to adjust the type of font on this tab. Standard fonts are provided, but a selection of Google fonts are available too. Surprisingly, it is not possible to change the default font size, which is a drawback for websites with little written content.

Other than this, Enfold offers its users to choose either a stretched or a boxed lay-out. The stretched lay-out provides an increased space for wide, panoramic photographs. Alternately, a boxed lay-out makes it easier to build your website in full-length, which will have a more traditional feel to it. Despite the fact that these two settings are the only lay-out options, each one does give your website a radically different look.

And that pretty much sums up Enfold’s adjustment options. Users that like to really have a go at their WordPress site so as to drastically revamp it, will quickly be done with Enfold. Those wanting to style their site to the point of giving it a distinct look and feel, will have to resort to add their own CSS coding within the Enfold theme.

Page Editor of WordPress theme Enfold

Editing pages is a delight within Enfold. The theme offers an built-in ‘Advanced Layout Editor’, allowing you to build pages by simply and intuitively dragging-and-dropping elements.

And so you can start out by simply arranging a page into one or more columns. You can vary the column-width from full width to 1/5th of your website. And then you have the option to alternate columns, creating all sorts of optional layouts. In the example on the right, the page layout starts off with a row divided up into columns sizes 1/5th, 3/5th, and again 1/5th, followed by a section divided into columns sized 1/3rd and 2/3rd. At the bottom there’s a full-width column.

Each column can then be filled with content and media elements. You can add title sections, paragraphs, icons, information boxes, buttons, forms, tables, images, slideshows and much more. Each element can be tweaked and adjusted as you see fit. And when altering text content, you’ll notice the old, familiar text editor of WordPress reappearing. Since this page builder is personally developed by Kriesi, the simple drag-and-drop mechanics operates flawlessly with the theme, giving all elements an immediate, stylish look on your actual website. The benefit of this is that you’ll be able to get a fancier result faster than by building your pages with a separate page builder plugin, like Visual Composer. The latter does offer a more elaborate range of content and media elements. Still, content elements you will mostly use, are provided by Enfold, so the additional features of Visual Composer will hardly be missed. Enfold’s page builder simply does work a lot faster than Visual Composer.

The fact that Enfold’s layout editor is only available for pages and portfolio items, is somewhat of a surprising set back. The inability to use the page builder is an immediate restriction when writing and editing blogs and/or news postings. From Kriesi’s forum we learn that the page builder can be can be activated for Posts by simply making a few code alterations. And yet, we feel the Austrian theme builder did miss an opportunity here to make Enfold a true all-star.

Portfolio

Enfold offers various ways to present your personal portfolios. As each portfolio-item is appointed its own page, you’ll have the advantage of being able to refer to separate portfolio items and share these on social media for instance. It is obvious that Enfold’s portfolio is developed for graphic purposes, since the divers portfolio set ups will primarily stand out when presenting high quality imagery. Audio or text portfolio seem less suitable within Enfold.

Compatibility

Enfold offers display support from Internet Explorer 8. This means that this theme works equally well with older browsers. Additionally, Enfold allows for the implementation and display of common WordPress plugins, among like WooCommerce (WordPress web shop), Gravity Forms (forms builder) and WPML (for multilingual websites). So in essence you can start a multilingual webshop with WordPress, Enfold, WPML and WooCommerce without having to type any code. Naturally, this sounds a bit easier than it is. Of course, installing all these packages requires quite some time. Also keep in mind that it will slow down your website, so make sure you make use of quality WordPress hosting.

SEO

From the base up, Enfold is geared for search engine optimization (SEO). By virtue of a proper implementation of guidelines as provided by  Schema.org, the theme’s coding clearly indicates the purpose of each content element. And such implementation is highly favored by search engines. Other than that, the code is also clean and tidy, using breadcrumbs to clearly point out where you find yourself on the website. Naturally, the effect of this kind of SEO support by Enfold will stand or fall by the way you progressively style your website from there.

Enfold as a framework

Sowmedia uses Enfold in both smaller and bigger projects. When working on bigger projects, the basic styling is abandoned and the css will be customized in line with our clients preferences. With the smaller projects we aim to work within Enfold’s own styling options as best as we can, adapting the css as little as possible.

What follows are a few projects wherein we used Enfold as a framework and then abandoned the basic styling.

Bata Industrials Veiligheidsschoenen

Bata Industrials is the market leader of industrial shoes within the Benelux and a division of the world’s biggest shoe manufacturer (Bata Shoe Organisation). Bata Industrials is based in 35 countries world wide. Sowmedia was assigned to develop websites for each country one-by-one.

ICT Automatisering

ICT Automatisering is a stock market listed company that offers software solutions within the information and communication
 technology. ICT Automatisering operates in a wide ranch of branches, varying from healthcare to the high tech industry. Sowmedia developed the WordPress website for ICT Automatisering, taking Enfold for a framework.

Portbase

Portbase connects multiple companies in the both the Rotterdam and the Amsterdam
harbor by virtue of overarching company ICT services. Via the Port Community System, Portbase offers over 40 different services to approximately 3,600 clients in all sectors of the Dutch harbor industry.

Conclusion

With Enfold, Kriesi built an extensive and solid WordPress theme that rightfully won many WordPress users over. Besides, the theme is being actively developed, so users are habitually presented with new functionalities.

The biggest strength of Enfold, however, is the user-friendly and extremely fast layout builder. This makes building and filling pages a breeze. The only disadvantage being, that it cannot be utilized in the Post section. Other than that, Enfold’s Theme Options are sufficient, be it not overly elaborate. Customization is rather limited since you cannot adjust font sizes, making custom CSS the only way to give the layout a good spin. When accepting the theme as-is, you’ll probably still working with one of the best tools out there to build your own professional website.

Enfold can be purchased at ThemeForest.

Google penalizes pop-ups: Here are 3 WordPress alternatives

Google penalizes popups: Here are 3 WordPress alternatives

Are you used to grabbing visitors’ attention on your WordPress website through pop-ups? Well, you may want to take note of the fact that Google will penalise these so-called ‘intrusive popups‘ in its search results as from january the 10th, 2017. Especially when you set up intrusive pop-ups that are almost screen filling on mobile devices, you’d better find alternative ways to attract your visitors’ attention before January 10, 2017. Read more