In this series, we get a bit more technical. We would like to share a little insight into our world (a developers’ world), to showcase some of the tools and processes we use, and reveal how they help us solve some of our biggest problems.
WordPress is one of our favourite platforms. Plugins allow developers to focus energy on producing a fantastic result. Identifying what they are is important, knowing the reasons why is extremely valuable.
This post will outline 5 handpicked plugins we love and discuss the benefits that they bring.
During the web development cycle, we are faced with difficult decisions. Most tasks are completed quickly. However, the implementation is usually locked to the project at hand. Although it may seem counterintuitive, we believe that investing more resources into a solid, reusable solution enables us to improve continuously and focus our energy on a fantastic product.
Each WordPress plugin we use at CandidSky offers something unique. Plugins require a level of configuration, customisation and programming to ensure they compliment website development, without enforcing limits on what our team can achieve.
Below is a list of commonly used Plugins by the team:
- Yoast SEO
- Migrate DB Pro
- Advanced Custom Fields
- W3 Total Cache
Strong collaborative efforts of our marketing & development teams mean that success is accomplished across all fronts. To ensure our clients benefit from the vast knowledge our team possess both building and marketing on the web, we ensure that each team can focus on their areas of expertise. Yoast SEO allows us to do just that.
Breadcrumbs are great for SEO, so we always like to include them in our builds. Breadcrumbs are best to use as structured data markup to give Google and other search engines a helping hand in understanding the site’s page hierarchy. This also gives the site’s pages more data in Google’s search result pages – showing the breadcrumb trail to the page:
We have developed a custom script that we like to use with the built-in Yoast SEO internal linking, which enhances the overall breadcrumbs functionality. The purpose of our script is to output product categories across e-commerce builds. As you can see above, structured data markup allows Google search results to provide valuable information to the user, making a great first impression of the website. Another benefit is user experience – when navigating few layers deep through product categories, users can go up a level at any point. This compliments primary navigation very nicely!
As well as breadcrumbs, Yoast SEO is also effective when performing meta tags and page title changes. Our SEO team can perform tasks usually reserved for development requests. The perfect example of focusing a team’s area of expertise. Our clients benefit from this during marketing campaigns, and improvements are implemented without a bottleneck.
Having a list of compliances is a great way to remember routine tasks during each of our WordPress builds. The list is an outcome of many conversations between the dev team & marketing team. Understanding each of the items on the compliances list is vital to maximising the benefits and eliminating consequences of misunderstood development requests.
The openness of our office, friendly culture and shared passion for digital naturally sparks a conversation. Let’s not forget that verbal communication is essential to delivering high-quality websites, while ensuring SEO best practices. Yoast fills the gap as a great tool to implement these practices and outcomes of our conversations.
Migrate DB Pro
We employ a very useful import/export plugin. Aiding synchronisation of development environments, such as, staging environments and adding content to new sites in bulk. Content migration comes in handy when there are a lot of changes on a staging site – there is no need to copy manually or recreate content within the live environment!
Migrate DB Pro is great for syncing environments and has a useful connection feature that allows you to push and pull databases instead of timely exporting and importing of full database dumps. It opens a communication path between two endpoints.
If you do need a full export, there is a great ‘Find’ and ‘Replace’ option, enabling you to rewrite paths and to tailor the dump to the new environment.
Forms: Jetpack & Akismet
Online forms are one of the most important areas for clients, Typically, this is where they expect the majority of questions and enquiries to happen. For many businesses, this is the first point of contact with a potential customer. Therefore, it is essential that easy and quick access to form entries are present and spam is filtered accordingly.
One characteristic we seek when using WordPress form plugins is configurability. Our clients rely on the online submissions and often collect leads and convert users into customers. Jetpack Forms plugin allows our team to focus on important aspects of development: consistency across multiple forms, styling, conditional fields and security to name a few. We let Jetpack handle form markup generation, admin pages and storing submissions.
Akismet is a spam filtering plugin that we use with Jetpack Form. It acts as a middleman for the submitted data. Form submissions considered as malicious can be stopped before they reach our servers. Administrators can go through a queue of messages considered to be spam. If confirmed, Akismet will learn to stop such messages from being processed altogether. For these reasons, we consider Jetpack & Akismet as one “super-plugin”.
Advanced Custom Fields (ACF)
Many CMS platforms consider it their goal to provide users with a simple and effective way to create beautiful pages. WordPress has a built-in WYSIWYG editor and basic custom fields. We find that these alone do not meet our expectations.
Advanced Custom Fields is probably our favourite WordPress plugin. It’s comparable to the Bullet Bill power-up in Mario Kart. There’s a big leap at the start as a lot of work is automated and we can rely on it.
In hands of a good developer, there’s a countless number of creative ways to harvest ACF power. However, you need to consider scenarios when building admin functionality with ACF – creating hundreds of fields is an option, but complexity can be harmful.
One of our favourite uses of ACF is supporting administrators with the ability to create pages with flexibility and simplicity in mind. We usually override the default WYSIWYG editor, enabling us to create fields that allow authors to design pages rich in media, content and interactivity while offering great layout flexibility. We can use a text area that will output introductory text, add a lead generation form and then wrap up the page with a text snippet and a list of useful documents. Very hard to achieve with the WYSIWYG editor alone.
We have noticed that a lot of our WordPress builds include data that is repeated across the site. Creating a dedicated admin page for site-wide content allows us to handle site-wide data all in one place. Clients appreciate easy and simple access to information such as address, email, phone number or footer menus. Ability to edit this information quickly and without repetition is very important.
Performance & optimisation with W3 Total Cache
One of the plugins we use across most projects adds a layer to our performance optimisation process. W3 Total Cache further decreases the load times, crucial to good user experience. It also allows assets to be cached, reducing the bandwidth required to load a website.
Fast internet access allows users to navigate between many websites quickly. If one of the sites takes a while longer to load, a user can become frustrated. Our team ensures that any bottlenecks are dealt with prior to launching a website. We do this by running many tools and optimising our code and libraries.
Firstly, we ensure that any unused code is removed completely from the final product. Including libraries that were part of WordPress, or other frameworks, by default. There are two major benefits to this. Less data is transferred from server to the user, meaning that less bandwidth is used. Important to users with limited bandwidths, considering that a large chunk of them use mobile devices to browse websites. Secondly, is reduced load time, making the site more performant and improving the user experience.
Websites consist of media and text. In most cases, media requires optimisation to slice out the overhead. We have a good knowledge of the performance benefits and drawbacks to ensure the right format is used in the right context.
W3 Total Cache helps us by skipping an extra step when users request a web page. Pages are cached and served as static content, meaning that database is accessed less frequently, and only with cached queries. This extra layer has a noticeable performance boost, especially across rather static builds. E-commerce sites require careful configuration. However, we’ve experimented with multiple ways of dealing with the dynamic content (products) and are satisfied with our results. We can utilise the power of W3 Total Cache and serve newly added content well.
To summarise, collaboration, simplicity and reusability stand as pillars of our development cycle. We love creating websites that offer great user experience, performance and SEO benefits to all of our clients.