Three Site Monitoring Services

One of the first pieces of advice we give clients are to host their sites on WP Engine if they want to have nearly zero down time.

But if you don’t have the budget to be on WP Engine, you’ll need to make sure you’re running an external site monitor to keep checking your site and alert you via email or SMS text when it does go down. We recently looked at two of them closely and have a third one we’re going to signup for soon. Here’s a recap so far.

Pros: Easy and simple to use. Free up to three sites scanned at 30 minutes. Free plan can also check for keywords to make sure the page is (mostly) loading. $5 gets you 15 sites to monitor. RSS feed available.
Cons: Interface from the late 90s. No SMS options.
Pros: Free service level for 5+ sites. Sophisticated modern dashboard. Flexible rules for notifications to team members.

Our suggestion is use at least two different site monitoring systems to make sure you have good “coverage” from multiple access points around the world to help make sure you know if your site(s) is down.

Cons: Free only covers 2 locations (Germany and US) and 30 minute intervals. UI might be too busy.

We haven’t tried this one yet but it looks good and includes up to 10 SMS/calls for a reasonable $5/month along with DNS monitoring.

Quick Tip: The foundation for a great WordPress theme: HTML5

We recently had one of our readers ask “what are the best practices for cross browser design coding?” It seems almost like an uphill battle when we run into problems when our web pages look differently in various versions of Internet Explorer versus Firefox versus Chrome.

We think if you’re going to code a WordPress theme from scratch and not use an existing framework like Genesis, Headway, WP Mosaic, or Pagelines, you should start with a robust and well supported HTML5 framework and insert the necessary WordPress hooks. WP Mayor has an excellent roundup on HTML5 frameworks and how to get them to work with WordPress. There are at least three WP themes specifically built around HTML5 (Toolbox, Roots, and Twentyten Five) that you’ll want to take a look there.

Take “posts” to the next level with four WordPress plugins

One of the most confusing things for new WordPress users is understanding the difference between posts and pages. We won’t attempt to re-hash this subject as there are plenty of good references but here’s our take to tee up the purpose of this article.

We like to think of “posts” as a chronological stream of content a.k.a. a blog. You could also think of posts as “chunks” of content and you could relate or “tie” them together when you use the taxonomy features of WordPress by selecting categories, tags, and now “post types” in WordPress v3.1 for posts that you create.

We would then define “pages” as a way to have a static web page of content, for example an “About” or “Contact” pages. Pages are usually not updated as often as a posts. Technically, behind the scenes in WordPress there’s very little difference between posts and pages.

Finding flexible ways to show posts
So what if you want to have a “page” on the navigation bar to pull in blog posts within a certain category or tag? You could build a new page template by editing and creating some PHP but that’s a headache when you could use WordPress plugins to the same thing, right?

We found three indispensable plugins that will make your life easier if you want to create “pages” by pulling in and controlling content from your posts.

A real life scenario
Here’s an example, say you wanted to create a WordPress site with job listings. You could enter in the various open job positions into the posts editor and add tags and/or categorize them. Then you could setup pages on the navigation bar with labels like “mobile” or “PHP”. Then you could use a plugin that would pull in only job posts matching that taxonomy.

Both of these plugins, once you activate them, all you have to do is create your new page and then paste in the shortcode with some parameters like the ID number of the category or tags. We haven’t tried using them both at the same time but they definitely work on their own on some of our real life sites.

So the first plugin is called Posts by Tags for use when you want to create a page filled with posts from tags. All you do simply is paste in shortcode like this into your page editor:

[posts-by-tag tags = "tag1, tag2"][/posts-by-tag]

Simply replace 1 (and 2) with your tag ID number(s) to have that page show only posts matching those tags. We’ve noticed on certain templates you don’t have to put in the ending tag because it will show up on the published site.

On a side note, so how do you know what your tag ID numbers are? When you’re editing the tags in WordPress admin, look for the ID number in the URL string at the top of the page like in the screenshot:


And yes, there is also an plugin to show your ID numbers (newer more recently) updated plugin to show that info in the WP admin pages showing all your pages, posts, tags, categories, etc.

Publishing posts by Categories
So what if you want to show posts based on categories instead of tags? Give List Category Posts a try. This one was recently updated so it works with WordPress 3.1. It works in a similar way to the tag plugin but lets you use category names as well as ID numbers. In fact List Category will also support tags so if you’re looking for an all-in-one solution, give this one a try first.

The other way to publish “pages” of posts
Yes, there is another way to reproduce this type of site structure by simply using WordPress 3x’s navigation bar menu builder to create URL based queries for the tags or categories (example: /category/name-of-cateogry/). However using this method, you wouldn’t have the ability to add (type out) content around the posts either at the top or the bottom of the page.

Hide posts without a need for password
And the final plugin that you’ll want to try out is WP Hide Posts. This one might be helpful even if you don’t need to pull in posts into pages. With WP Hide Posts, you can hide certain posts from appearing on the home page or other post pages.

It’s useful if you want to write a “test” post that you didn’t want the general public to see yet on the home page. For example you had an announcement that you were working on with a copy writer but didn’t want to give them access to WordPress admin but wanted them to look at it first without the public seeing it.

Wp hide posts

Think of it as a way to have a “quasi-hidden” posts category that doesn’t require a password for anyone to see that posts. You can email people the URL of that post without a password required. We’ve used WP Hide Posts on our P2 reloaded site to hide posts related to revision history that don’t need to appear on the home page.

Note that users may still be able to find your post if they are using a tag/category cloud widget, so that’s what we mean by “quasi-hidden” so if it’s something top secret, password protect it.

So we’ve talked a bit about four very powerful posts tools for WordPress that will let you expand the way you think posts normally work in WordPress. You can use these tools to write, organize, and publish information in WordPress that you normally wouldn’t think of.

Get it: Posts by Tags | Show IDs | List Category Posts | WP Hide Posts

Four options for copy editing & proof reading

I’ve been writing for almost 20+ years now and I still have some embarrassing typos or grammatical errors pop up here and there. It’s not a big deal when it’s in your personal email but yikes (!) do you want that happening on your blog when the general public is reading it?

What to? You first step is an almost no brainer, install “After the Deadline” plugin for WordPress, it expands on WP’s built-in spell checker with a grammar checker. It works right inside of your WordPress post/page editor in the toolbar. It’s probably not going to fix and solve everything for you but it will catch things you miss.

The next step is to subscribe to a paid service called “Wordy.” It’s basically a service where you out source your editing to a virtual editing team. Their “Wordy” plugin lets you submit posts and pages to them for review. They claim very fast turnaround time. The workflow is integrated into WordPress so you shouldn’t have to leave your WordPress interface. Their WordPress plugin differs slightly from their pre-paid plans as you get an instant quote as to how much it would cost you to copy-edit this. For example, this post would cost us approximately $10.

If you want more of an all you can eat model, check out Grammarly. For $20/month you can copy/paste as much into their web app window. Unfortunately there is no WordPress integration but it maybe the best bang for the buck for now.

And if you’re on tight budget, PaperRater is similar to Grammarly but free, works quickly and efficiently. Just like Grammarly, you’ll have to copy and paste into a web browser but heck it’s free.

Get it: After the DeadlineWordyGrammarlyPaperRate

Use WordPress to track projects and communicate better

Originally published at our sister site:

We’re big fans of Basecamp (a relatively minimalist project management web app) around here but it can get pricey if you start adding a lot of projects. We also use Twitter a lot around here.

That’s why when we ran across Automattic’s P2 theme we were thrilled. It’s a WordPress theme that includes extra functionality to combine the fast communication of Twitter and threaded messaging of Basecamp. There’s a main column where you can post your latest activity or start a message thread. Below that update area are previous conversations in a threaded view.

We were even more thrilled when we found Templatmatic’s GTD theme which adds more features like tagging posts and ability to add file attachments. This theme also adds an option to hide all the messages if a user is not logged in so it’s not exposed to the public.

These two themes aren’t going to replace Basecamp or compete with in terms of features but if you’re tired of having to search your emails for status reports and “what’s next”, then give either system a try. The only thing missing is that you can’t title your posts right now but you can filter by parent posts. You’ll need a self hosted WordPress blog site so unfortunately this won’t work if you have a hosted blog.

If you want to get some more mileage from your new “intranet”, I recommend adding these sidebar widgets to either theme to make them go further: first add the Login with Ajax plugin – so you can quickly login from the sidebar. The Tag Cloud widget is also great so users can filter messages by tags.

Also consider adding the default calendar widget to see a quick visual calendar. And finally you can add important URLs (example: logins to other systems) via the text widget or blogroll to the sidebar.

Get it: Templatmatic’s GTD theme | Original P2theme

Update: We’ve released our own special remix of GTD/P2 called P2 Reloaded

Plugin of the week: Autoptimize to speed up your WP site

One of the best ways to get new visitors to your website and to keep them coming back is to make sure your site loads up quickly. Most experts recommend having your home page load in about 2-3 seconds. If your site is taking more than 5 seconds for the average user, then you have a problem. One of the first steps is to get educated with Yahoo’s Y!Slow tutorials.

Next you can take advantage of some WordPress plugins to help speed up your page. We did a quick review of the popular W3 Total Cache a few weeks ago and overall we liked it. It seemed to have shaved off 1-2 seconds from our home page. The problem with W3 Total Cache is that  there are a ton of options and some of the “on” or “off” switches are labeled in a confusing way.

So if you’re looking for something simpler but possibly as effective give Autoptimize a try. Autoptimize’s features are not as extensive as seen by their control panel but nevertheless it has the important features like HTML code, CSS, and Javascript optimization and compression.

We’ve been using it for the past few weeks and think it works really well. We recently did some performance testing with a clone copy of this site on a fresh WordPress installation and noticed that Autoptimizer does make a difference and shaved off 1 second versus not having it installed.

Autoptimize also supports off loading content to a CDN but we haven’t tried it yet but we are going to jump into that water very soon to help speed up our own sites.

Neither Autoptimize nor W3 Total Cache are a magic bullet to solve your WordPress performance problems – especially if your web hosting company has server capacity and/or slow connection issues. But installing the Autoptimize plugin is an almost no-brainer way to squeeze some speed out of your WordPress server.

Get it: Autoptimize

Google to fight webspam and improve search engine results

One of the toughest challenges running a web site is to get traffic and attention to your site. As we keep emphasizing, relevant content is the way to get visitors to your site. But what if other people are cheating at using important keywords and sending visitors to low quality spam farm websites? You know the ones with that lead visitors on an endless click spree with pop up windows and signup prompts.

Once Google was the king of clean and relevant results but now these days, Google search results are filled with spam sites which are designed to trick the user into looking counterfeit goods or other nefarious activities. These sites trick Google into thinking they’re relevant with various methods. Fortunately, in a recent official blog posting, Google’s anti-spam team is responding and employing un-disclosed changes to turn back the tide to show relevant content, spam free websites.

So while Google is doing their job, you should keep writing relevant content for your website as much as possible. Use a combination of creating relevant content, Scribe wordpress plugin, and sending out Twitter tweets will drive traffic to your website. You can use tools like PixelPipe to speed things up but there is no substitution for hard work.

Further reading:
How Organized Spam is Taking Control of Google’s Search Results
This article has detailed examples and analysis of spam sites results as of January 2011.

Via: Google Changes Algorithm To Penalize Site Scrapers

Reprinted from

Quick Tip: Cross Browser Test for free with Adobe Browser Labs

When you’re building a site, make sure you check out  your site in multiple web browsers other than the one you use regularly.

The ones you want to pay attention to (other than Internet Explorer and Firefox) are Chrome, Safari, and Opera.

If you’re on a Mac, unless you have a virtualized Windows installation, then IE is easily not available. So a great way to QA your site is with Adobe’s Browser Labs web app that will let you see how different web browsers render your site. They also have multiple versions of IE available. Sometimes the different versions of Internet Explorer renders pages very different from each other.  Adobe Browser Labs is free and easy to use.

Remember that your site’s not going to always look perfect in all the browsers so if you’re 95% “good to go” with most of the browsers especially if it’s IE and Firefox, then launch your site and make post launch fixes.

Get it: Adobe’s Browser Labs

Setup a project discussion site in minutes

There are a lot of choices out there when you want to use a web application instead of emails to discuss a project. Our favorite full feature app is Basecamp but it maybe too complicated for some users and it’s limited to one project for free accounts.

A more simpler solution might be to use a new web app called Brizzly which was designed to be simple and easy to set up.

It shows the whole discussion on a single web page. If you hate tracking down the latest message thread in your email box, something like Brizzly could work well for you. I took a quick look at it over at my other site Read the mini review…

What’s in my Plugins folder?

A friend of mine asked me about “must-have” WordPress plugins and I thought what a great way to start a post.

For the quick and dirty answer, here’s a screenshot (click it for a full size). It’s quite amazing that these 20 or so plugins work together  without clobbering each other but that’s a testament to the WordPress development  team and product.

I’ll do a write up about each one later but for now enjoy…