6 steps to a better WordPress user experience

I’m a big fan of things just working, and especially so when it comes to blogs and blogging platforms. One of the lovely things about WordPress is that you can set it up how you want it and get rid of all the stuff you don’t need, so that it empowers your blogging rather than just gets in the way.

In my attempts to be more efficient (also known as “being lazy”), I’ve picked up a couple of little tips to make running and using your WordPress install that bit easier. Let’s get to it!

1. Simplify to fit your needs

Ghost has been making a big stir recently with its “just a blogging platform” tagline, but WordPress has got that covered too. There’s been a surge in popularity for “admin themes” recently; plugins which “theme” the WordPress backend. Personally, I think some of the better ones are fantastic — on sites which are straight-up blogs, I now always install the DP Dashboard plugin. The Hunter skin is a particular favourite of mine; its one column design lets you focus on one thing at a time (hint — writing).

devpress

DevPress’ admin theming plugin in action

It’s amazing how much of a difference a simpler post-writing UI makes, but when you have nothing to distract you, it’s  so much easier to just get on with writing. DP Dashboard is available as part of the DevPress subscription for $40/year — I’d definitely recommend checking it out.

Some sites need a Dashboard that’s a little more powerful, though, and for sites like WPShout, where I want the extra flexibility of having menus at my disposal, I’ll virtually always hop into distraction free writing mode when I need to concentrate. It’s not quite the same, but it’s a reasonable compromise.

2. Editor style CSS

Introduced way back in WP3.0, post editor styling lets themes apply the same styling to the post editor as is found in the main theme. The idea is that it gives you a better idea of how your content is going to appear when you actually come to publish it, and it’s a very good one. I spend a lot of time wondering how readable the final post is going to be, and being able to have content ready-styled saves a lot of time flicking into preview tabs.

However, I’m always amazed to see the number of themes which don’t offer this simple functionality. It’s not viewed as an essential feature, and thus sadly it means it gets left out a lot. If you’re using a theme which doesn’t have post editor styling, it’s very straightforward to set it up — you’ll need the relevant content styles in an editor-style.css file, in your theme’s root folder. You then just need to add the line add_editor_style(); to functions.php and WordPress will handle the rest for you.

3. Worry-free backups; easy updates

With a bunch of low-traffic sites hosted on slightly unreliable shared hosting, having everything in my install up-to-date, and a series of reliable backups is an absolute necessity. I’ve used a lot of backup solutions over the years, including WP to Dropbox and BackupBuddy, but recently I’ve started using ManageWP and it makes everything vastly, vastly easier.

managewp

I’m using the professional plan, which gives me 10 sites, one-click updates to all my WP installs, themes and plugins and automatic daily backups sent to my Dropbox (or whichever cloud storage solution floats your boat). There are even mobile apps, although I can’t say I’ve ever felt the need to update my plugins whilst commuting…

As well as the core functionality, there’s also a bunch of genuinely helpful stuff, including one-click database optimisations, uptime monitoring, Google Analytics integration and Sucuri integration. I was sceptical about how useful ManageWP was going to be, but it’s a very well made product and I’ve been very impressed. The base plan is even free, so try it out!

4. Mobile-ready publishing

I publish a lot of the content on my blog from the WordPress Android app, and to make that experience easier, I’ve made a couple of tweaks so everything works as it should. The main problem I face when publishing from mobile is that Empty Spaces, the theme I use (and built!), likes to have big featured images, but from the Android app there’s no way to add featured images. It sucks, but one can make it workable.

This trick is slightly hack-ey and can be annoying at times, but it does the job. I get round not being able to set featured images by just inserting the image at the top of the post, using CSS to hide that image and then using a plugin to auto-set the first image in the post as featured. As I said, it’s not pretty, but it works. The CSS looks like this:

/* Hides the first image in a post for use in the feature area, unless it has a caption in which case display it */
.post .entry-content img:nth-of-type(1){ display:none; }
.post .entry-content .wp-caption img:nth-of-type(1){ display:block; }

I’m then using the auto featured image plugin to grab the image I’ve stuck in the post and set it as featured. The issue of resizing comes into play, but we’ll cover that in just a moment.

5. Auto-resized images

Resizing images is a pain. A big pain. It’s a hassle to have to load up Photoshop, save for web, resize, tweak quality to get a decent filesize, export and upload for every single image you want to use, and for that reason… I don’t!

Instead, I use the much-discussed plugin from Automattic, Jetpack and I let that handle everything for me. The Photon module delivers your images via WordPress.com’s CDNs, and auto-magically resizes images to fit your content-width along the way.

It’s by no means an ideal system; file sizes are bigger and things like custom post design — with different content-widths — aren’t handled very well, but that’s a reasonable compromise for the conveninece of just being able to upload images and not worry about everything else.

6. Re-categoirse “uncategorised”

And finally, getting rid of that blasted “uncategorised” default category. This one’s probably going to only apply if you’re publishing lots of content, but if that’s you — and especially if you publish a lot of stuff on mobile — then this is a must.

If you’ve got what you’d like your new default category to be already created, this is just a case of heading to Settings -> Writing and then just choose a category to be “Default Post Category”. Hit save, and you’re done. Simple, right?

Fitter, happier, more productive

Hopefully a lot of those are going to be helpful; I’ve certainly noticed a big difference in the amount of time I’ve cut down on general maintenance stuff, and with my blog, I’ve got the holy grail “be able to publish anything, quickly” that I wanted.
Something I missed? Hit the comments!

Many thanks to InfiteSkills for powering this post! InfiteSkills currently offer several WordPress and web design training video courses for beginners, including a WordPress eCommerce tutorial and one on Building Mobile WordPress Sites. Sponsorship like this keeps WPShout going; for more info, get in touch!


8 Responses

Comments

  • Alan Smith says:

    Nice article… as WordPress is very famous and widely used, these tools and plugins are very useful to make it more versatile. Thanks a ton for sharing.

  • Juuso Palander says:

    I thought I had figured it out but you proved me wrong, and I’m grateful 🙂 Very handy tools and tricks indeed! I couldn’t get the svbtle work with Thesis Theme Framework though. Maybe it was because of W3 total cache or something?

    • Juuso Palander says:

      Oh sorry, svbtle was in a different article I was reading at the same time!

  • The much discussed Jetpack indeed! Do you not find that Jetpack tries to do too much, and duplicates functionality provided by other plugins? I don’t use Jetpack on any sites any more, preferring single-use plugins for far greater control.

  • Zach Smith says:

    great post – subscribing to rss now 🙂

  • James says:

    Great article, thank you. have shared it on my blog! 🙂

  • Great bunch of tips Alex. These tips would really help beginners to enhance their website UI.