WordPress 4.5 Released

WordPress 4.5 is now live! For a full recap of the changes in 4.5 visit this link.

The biggest changes you will notice when working in your site is the linking functionality in the editor. It is now an inline interface instead of the tradition popup:

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 5.20.19 PM

Besides this change, most of the updates are behind the scenes and will not be noticeable to most users. Please be aware that this update has caused a lot of incompatibility issues. jQuery is breaking on many sites that were coded poorly. You will see this by noticing that your sliders are no longer working, dropdowns don’t show and parallax sections are not functioning correctly.

Remember to make a good backup before updating!!

Is GoDaddy Extorting Customers Into Upgrading Their Hosting?

Have you received the email from GoDaddy with the subject: Alert: hosting account approaching resource limits?
If so, you may be a victim of GoDaddy’s scheme to get more money out of their customers without any real reason. At wpONcall, we are in the unique position of seeing the performance and support from a lot of different hosting providers. One common thread that keeps popping up is with our clients who use GoDaddy hosting. Almost every single one has received the following email:

Godaddy extorting customers

The curious thing about this email is that it is coming to clients who have very simple websites and/or very low traffic. There is no reason they are using abnormal resources. Calling GoDaddy does not help either. They will simply say: It’s a WordPress site with plugins. There must be a plugin that is causing the spike in server usage.

Using GoDaddy’s own P3 plugin, you will be able to see what plugins are using the most resources, although it is not helpful in seeing the actual amount of server resources a particular plugin uses.

It is just our opinion, but it really does seem like this is a scheme to get more money out of customers by scaring them into thinking their site will not work with the limited resources. This conclusion comes as a combination of:

  • The sites getting the warning are not resource or traffic intensive websites. They do not actually use many server resources at all.
  • The close proximity in timing of all of these alert emails makes me think this is a marketing/strategic push by GoDaddy to make all of their customers upgrade their hosting for no valid reason.
  • The ubiquitous nature of the warning; almost every client on GoDaddy has received this email.

All of these points make me think that there is something more going on than meets the eye. So what do you do if you get this email from GoDaddy? You have two choices: either upgrade your server resources at GoDaddy or change your host. Along with many other reasons, we recommend you change your host to one that will not extort money from you.

WordPress Formatting Shortcuts: Cheat Sheet

With WordPress version 4.3, a new feature called “Formatting Shortcuts” was introduced. WordPress formatting shortcuts works a lot like a markdown editor where you can add formatting as you type without having to add from the toolbar later. We have created a cheat sheet infographic to make it easier for you to take advantage of this feature. A few notes to help you out:

  • Remember to put a space after each shortcode to make it activate. For example: *(space)content
  • Heading 1 is not available as a shortcut. Only H2-H6
  • The formatting happens as you type. Once you hit the space bar, the visual editor will show the correct formatting.
  • There are other WordPress formatting shortcuts you can use, but the ones used below seem to work the best are the easiest to use.

WordPress Formatting Shortcuts Cheat Sheet

Please share this guide if you think it might help someone you know!

WordPress Maintenance vs Managed WordPress

There has been huge growth in the number of hosts offering “managed WordPress” hosting in the past year. Just about every major host now offers managed WordPress hosting. So why would you need WordPress maintenance (from a company like us) when your host can take care of the same WordPress upkeep? Because these are vastly different services. Today we will look at what each service offers and the pros and cons of each.

Managed WordPress Hosting

What do you get?

For the purpose of this post, we will use WPEngine as our managed WordPress provider. Of course, there are many other managed WordPress providers, but WPEngine seems to be the most well known in the space.

At its most basic form, managed hosting is the same as other website hosting. The main difference is a managed host will make updates to your WordPress core for you. They also claim to be setup better for WordPress performance and security. Managed hosting includes:

  • Hosting space for your website.
  • Automatic updates to WordPress core.
  • Daily backups of your site.
  • A staging environment to test new site features.
  • Phone or email support for issues related to your hosting account.

Why would you need it?

Well, you need some type of host, right!? Might as well be a WordPress specific host that knows the ins-and outs of WordPress and is configured for the best security and performance. WPEngine is a great host, but there are other much cheaper options that perform even better (ie. SiteGround).

Managed hosting’s biggest selling point is updating WordPress for you. Unfortunately, this is a bit overrated. They will force you to update WordPress, whether or not your site is ready and they will not ensure that your site is functioning properly after the update. Their update is the equivalent of you or I logging into WordPress, hitting update, and leaving without checking anything. This is not worth the premium they are putting on their hosting package.

Pros

For all the bashing of WPEngine I have done, they are still a decent host, although overpriced. The pros of going with WPEngine are:

  • Fast and secure hosting.
  • Good backup system with restore points.
  • Easy use of a staging site.
  • Good support for hosting related issues.

Cons

There are a few quirky things you have to deal with when using WPEngine:

  • Core WordPress updates made without permission or function checking.
  • WPEngine deletes and disables all revision history for what they say is “performance issues”. Some people like having past revisions they can revert to on a page-by-page basis.
  • Some plugins are banned from being used because they effect WPEngine’s “environment”.
  • Lack of control of your database and file structure. You cannot simply go to phpMyAdmin to make database changes.
  • They use a proprietary WordPress install that is difficult to migrate to another hosting provider (see our guide on migrating away from WPEngine here).
WordPress Support Services

What do you get?

I am going to be biased here and talk about our own company, wpONcall. We will discuss our primary product, which includes unlimited support.  This package is $149 per month. You get:

  • Unlimited support tasks
  • Hourly website backups
  • Daily updates to website plugins
  • Updates to WordPress core with functionality check
  • Security Scanning

Why would you need it?

Unlike managed hosts like WPEngine, you can use wpONcall for any website task. This includes making content updates, adding plugins, fixing issues and making improvements to the site. The unlimited support is like having a web designer on your team to make your site better. This is in contrast to a manage host who will not help with any request except those directly related to hosting (ie. the site is down and I need to see if it is a server issue). You need a WordPress maintenance company to improve your site over time.

WordPress maintenance is also important to keep the health of the site in top shape. Keeping plugins up to date is extremely important for security and backups that can easily be restored are imperative, even if your host also makes a backup.

Pros

  • Support on demand for any website issue or improvement.
  • A person keeping an eye on things in case anything goes wrong.
  • The peace of mind knowing someone is there is something goes wrong with the site.
  • A more secure, better functioning site.

Cons

  • More expensive because of the actual service time involved
  • A lot of provider choices without a lot of differentiation.
Conclusion

Although they may seem similar, WordPress maintenance companies have a completely different product than managed hosting providers. Hosting providers are just that – hosting companies with an emphasis or marketing spin to sound better to WordPress site owners. WordPress maintenance providers fill the need of site owners who need ongoing help with their site and want to know things are safe and functioning properly.  One cannot replace the other, it all depends on the level of your needs and how much help you need on a consistent basis with your site.

Incremental Backups: The Future of WordPress Backups

Backups have always been a pain for WordPress site owners.

Backups stall, error codes come up, it’s hard to restore your site, you use up all of your storage; the list goes on and on. In this post, we will look at what is wrong with the current state of WordPress backups and then look at the new generation of backup options: incremental backups.

Current backup plugin options (like BackupBuddy) have flaws including:

  1. Not incremental backups - BackupBuddyTheir reliability. To this point, all backup options worked by either backing up the entire website (files and database) or only the entire database. When you have a larger website, the backup often fails because the server timeouts or there is a lack of PHP memory. Both of these things are hard to fix when you are hosted on a shared hosting plan. The problem comes directly from the large file size of the backup.
  2. Ease of Restoration. What do you do when something goes wrong with your site and you need to restore from a backup? You need to copy over all of your site files, which can take a long time with a large backup. During that time your site is down until the backup completes. There is no need restore an entire website if there are only minor updates that need restoration. You also need FTP access and knowledge of the file structure to successfully restore a site. There is no “restore button.”
  3. Storage Space. Every backup that is made creates a new zip file that is stored on your server (or sometimes cloud server). This adds up over time, with some sites creating a backup of over 1GB for each backup! You will learn that your “unlimited” hosting package is really not unlimited. Shared hosts do not like you using a backup plugin to store your zip backups and will often tell you to stop. Many of the major hosts will actually tell you to stop using BackupBuddy because it is too resource intensive and taking too much space.

 

Enough about the old way that doesn’t work well. Let’s dive into incremental backups.

 

What are Incremental Backups?

Incremental Backups work in the same way as Apple’s TimeMachine. Every change you make is automatically stored, so you can revert back if needed. Instead of backing up your entire website file structure and database every time you make a backup, these plugins will only backup the change that you have made. This is very similar to how Dropbox and GitHub work, with file versioning. Some of these new incremental backups are even using Dropbox to power the file versioning.

What are the Benefits?

You will no longer have issues with backups timing out because only small updates are being saved each time. This makes your backups more reliable and less resource intensive on your server. Another benefit is the ability to make restores of the site if anything breaks or needs to be reverted. Instead of restoring the entire website, only the files that have changed will be reverted.

Here is a real world example: You go an update a plugin on your site. After you made the update, you notice that all of your site styling is off. Instead of reverting your site to a full backup (which you probably did not make to do a plugin update), you can simply revert your site back to where it was before you made the plugin update. This will take a lot of stress out of making plugin updates!

What Are The Options?

BlogVault has been around for awhile and offers a unique incremental backup solution that does not add excess strain on your server (therefore being more successful with each backup. They also have other useful tools such as WordPress migration, staging and a white label version.

Incremental Backups Plugin - WP Time CapsuleFrom the guys behind InfiniteWP, WP Time Capsule is one of the first standalone plugins to offer incremental backups. It is a free plugin with a Pro version coming soon. This plugin works with Dropbox’s revision history to create and restore versions of your site. You hookup your DropBox account and the backups are made behind the scenes. The pro version will include:

  • Auto backup, which saves every change on your site automatically
  • Roll Back, which reverts your site automatically if anything breaks
  • and Staging, which allows you to create a separate staging site.

If InfiniteWP rolled this new plugin into their existing platform, they would have a game-changing product.

ManageWP - OrionManageWP is releasing a new version of their software, called Orion, in the (hopefully) not too distant future. Part of their new platform is incremental backup functionality. They are addressing the problems mentioned above such as using less server resources and having a more reliable backup solution.

The downside is this will only be part of their ManageWP platform once it is released to the public. There will be no standalone plugin you can use like WP Time Capsule.

VersionPress - Not Exactly Incremental BackupsVersionPress is a plugin that uses Git to record each change you make to your site. Positioned more as a developer product (rather than consumer friendly), VersionPress will require a bit more setup and knowledge of Git to be used. This is a premium plugin starting at $50, but does incorporate a lot of the functionality that makes incremental backups great.

Conclusion

I love that more companies are focusing on incremental backups and the many advantages they possess. Backups on WordPress have always been unreliable and difficult to restore. Incremental backups solve these issues and make WordPress an even better option for businesses that rely on their website. The best option to start trying right now is WP Time Capsule as it is a free plugin and easy to setup to get your feet wet with incremental backups.  Do you have any experiences with incremental backups or do you plan on switching from a traditional backup solution like BackupBuddy?