You can make a pretty good case that an engaged community ultimately forms the basis of any healthy business. At The Theme Foundry, we have several levels of community. We have our premium support forums here, where we give help and think through solutions with our users. We have our community support forums that we maintain on WordPress.org — which anyone can access to get help with Make. And we have specialized communities — like our Slack channel for Make Plus Professional members.
For the most part, due to the sensitive nature of the topics posted in our forums, we’ve chosen to keep our communities closed. Our members overwhelmingly prefer this for privacy and security reasons. Our Slack communities are more akin to “masterminds” and we try to foster collaboration and share in one another’s successes. So far, we’ve chosen to embrace the closed model for our communities, but lately, we’ve also been considering a more open community for Make users to jam on their site ideas and needs.
In last week’s episode of #CMGRHangout, I had the opportunity to chat with other community managers on the subject of open vs. closed communities. Watch the replay here:
If you’re ever interested in the pain points associated with WordPress, you should ask someone in the trenches of providing technical or customer support. We’ve heard it all, over and over again. One recurring theme I’ve noted since my tenure in the support forums is this: users are afraid of installing plugins.
The original tickets are usually about some feature they need on their website. I’ll pick a common example we’ve dealt with — a mailing list subscription form. A user, we’ll call her Jane — asks her theme authors, “How do I add a mailing list subscription form to my website?” and we explain, “The theme doesn’t include this kind of functionality. But you can install a plugin to do this for you.”
Jane balks, “I’m trying to avoid plugins.”
I’m sure the first time Jane installed WordPress, she was giddy with power. She instantly sought out a new theme to change the look and feel of the front page. Because the more modern-looking and featured themes on WordPress.org are typically well-maintained, this experience likely went pretty well for her. Change theme = success.
Next, Jane learns about plugins. Understanding that plugins add all kinds of cool things, Jane searches for a social sharing plugin. “This plugin hasn’t been updated in two years…” Well, it’s here in the search! “This plugin hasn’t been tested with your version of WordPress.” What does that even mean? Install, activate. Best case scenario? Sidebars look wonky. Worst is the white screen. What kind of experience has Jane had now? Plugins = things breaking.
Then something magical happens. Jane notices a theme that includes social sharing functions. A lightbulb goes off in her head. It will just work, and that’s all that matters to her.
It turns out, the WordPress plugin directory is not the greatest resource for people seeking out well-maintained plugins. Developers might initially have altruistic intentions when they added their plugin, but it’s all too easy to get overwhelmed by the demands of support and maintenance, so abandoned plugins abound. It’s one thing for WordPress folks to understand this is essentially a volunteer gig — but it’s not easily communicated to the other sixty million users out there who expect things to just work by virtue of it being listed on the website.
On the other hand, there are also so many brilliant and useful plugins out there — built by passionate, professional, and generous community members. It’s just harder for new WordPressers to sort those out in the search results.
We shouldn’t be avoiding plugins at all. In fact, I wholly advocate going plugin crazy. Just be smarter and more responsible about it. Look for plugins that have been updated in the last year (at least!). Check out the developer’s other work and suss out whether they’re valued members of the community. And…
Don’t avoid plugins, review them
Most of all, I think we all should be writing useful and insightful reviews for the plugins we’re using — when they work well, and when they don’t. Keep in mind that a review is not the appropriate place to request support. If something is broken, it’s really important to open a thread on the appropriate support forum — even if you end up moving on and using a different plugin.
If the WordPress community would be better about those two items, users would have an easier time sorting through the results for well-supported and updated plugins. I recently went through my own website plugin list and left a review of each one I’d activated and used. I even wrote a review for one I activated and liked, but ended up going with another I liked better. I explained the feature difference in my review, and I hope it’s useful to the next person whose looking for a fancy Instagram integration. ?
Here’s a template you can use for your own plugin reviews:
I installed[plugin name] on my blog/business site/portfolio.
The plugin has these features which I really like:
I wish these features could be improved upon:
These features didn’t work for me, even after I tried to get support in the forum:
Overall I would recommend/not recommend this plugin if you’re trying to accomplish __________.
I get that reviews and open threads in the WordPress.org forums alone won’t solve the problem of abandoned or poorly coded plugins. I know that we’ll still see unfortunate conflicts between plugins and themes. But I think as a community, we could do a lot better about flagging what we notice. Who knows, your review or your open ticket just may save some new WordPresser from the panic that goes along with their very first white screen of death. It could even save someone from getting so frustrated with WordPress that they jump ship altogether.
Maira Martins is a Brazillian photographer living in Stockholm, Sweden. She specializes in wedding and portrait photography, defining her style as natural, honest and emotional. On her about page, she explains, “I don’t want to be yet another photographer, shooting yet another wedding… that’s just boring. I am looking for meaningful stories and evocative images.”
Martins recently redesigned her website using Make, and despite not having a background in development or design, managed to capture both her style and purpose with effortless perfection. Her website and blog are full of small touches that convey her personality and philosophy to potential clients.
“I am totally in love with what I crafted for my business using Make,” Martins told us. “I have used other [themes and frameworks] before but was tired of them being so heavy, you know? Everything takes hundreds of clicks to achieve and the website was slow.”
Part of what makes Martins website so wonderful is how she’s leveraged different aspects of the page builder, along with the content features of Make and Make Plus. Martins explains, “I upgraded to Make Plus because I wanted the Post List section, but I ended up finding lots of other things I love and had no idea I needed!”
Her homepage and portfolio galleries use the Posts List section, along with different taxonomy tags to filter her favorite posts and categorize the types of photography she specializes in. She brilliantly uses the Gallery Slider on her photobooth page, and she makes liberal use of the Format Builder. “The Icons! I love them! I’m always using the hearts on my blog posts and have little diamonds on my pricing list”
Using Make and Make Plus, Martins also plans for expanding the current site. “One thing I’m planning to do is to create a one page ‘mini site’ with info about my commercial and editorial work! It will be just a page on my normal site, but I’m planning to try some Parallax and use the Banner, Columns, and Posts Lists sections. I have already drafted on paper how I want this page to be and it shouldn’t take me more than 3 minutes to create it with Make Plus.”
Martins enthusiasm for Make and Make Plus lies in its ease of use and efficiency. “I think Make is brilliant! First off, it’s easy to use. Anybody can customize a website and actually understand what they are doing. Secondly, I discovered there is something liberating about Make’s minimalism. I love that I don’t need to struggle with millions of options. All the options are actually linked to my own creativity.” Not only has the redesign impacted the way she showcases her work, it’s also rekindled her love of blogging.
“The simple but powerful approach of Make has taken me off that bad habit of constantly tweaking my website instead of writing. I now blog more often, because I’m finally free to focus on my content! And my wedding inquiries kinda doubled now that my website is looking amaaazing!”
If you’re looking for a photographer in Europe, check out Maira Martin’s services or follow her on Instagram.
How do you use Make? If you’d like to be featured on our blog or in our #iusemake showcase, reach out via email, Facebook, or Twitter.
Since I’m the community manager at The Theme Foundry and I can get to Philly in just a few hours and on one tank of gas, it made sense for me to attend the inaugural WordCamp event earlier this month.
The view from my Instagram at #WCUS. That’s a lot of WordCampers!
Make friends with at least one person who knows everyone else.
While I’ve been involved with WordPress on the ancillary (as a writer, blogger, user, etc.) for years, I’m newer to the WordCamp scene. It’s awkward to go to an event alone and not know anyone though! What I’ve discovered about WordCamps in particular, is that there are always a few people there who actually make a concerted effort to notice those loners and reach out. Inspired by those connections I’ve made, I’ve decided to make a special effort in 2016 to introduce myself to anyone who seems to be struggling to find their footing at WordCamps.
So if you find yourself at a WordCamp I happen to be at, and you look lonely and lost, I’m going to find you. And I’m going to introduce you to that one person I know who knows everyone else.
Attend the talks that interest you, but don’t panic if you miss one (or six).
While at WordCamp US I attended a handful of really fabulous talks — and missed more than a handful because I was having fabulous conversations with other folks in the hall, dining room, and around town.
Just a few of the amazing talks I watched included:
Open Source and Museums – My inner super-nerd was fascinated by the challenges Mel Choyce and Courtney OCallaghan overcame by embracing open-source culture, technology, and practices when faced with the task of digitizing the Freer and Sackler Galleries entire collection.
Teaching the next generation of WordPress bloggers and hackers – Charlie Reisinger shared an amazing talk about how he and his IT department at Penn Manor School District in Pennsylvania gave students a voice and a platform by choosing WordPress and other open-source technology. The results were nothing short of inspiring.
All the talks that I missed were recorded anyway, and I was able to catch up later (I’m still catching up). I get the FOMO that introverts sometimes struggle with — especially if you just need a quiet break. But it doesn’t have to be that way at WordCamp. While it’s awesome to support the amazing speakers who are innovating in WordPress, you shouldn’t pressure yourself to do ALL the things.
Approach the speakers (and developers, designers, community organizers, etc.) that you admire. Say thanks!
I tried to personally thank the speakers of all the talks I watched, though I missed a few. I also made sure to reach out to WordPress community members that I’ve interacted with on Twitter, in Slack, etc. People go to WordCamp to network, after all. I’ve learned through experience that a simple hello at a WordCamp can lead to business ideas, partnerships, brainstorming sessions, and professional development. Introducing yourself to strangers is hard! Make it easier by just saying, “I saw your talk and thought it was great! Thanks so much for that!”
Use this break from the confines of the desk to move your body! In fact, move all over Philly…
Sometimes reaching out and making friends leads to wacky misadventures. Like walking six miles across Philadelphia at night, experiencing falafel fail, and crashing sponsor after parties with fellow geeky developers (you know who you are! Let’s do it again next year!).
Come ready for surprises. And bring extra bags for the surprises.
Almost every time I introduced myself as a member of The Theme Foundry team, I heard, “Oh! You guys built Make! I love that theme!” Which was super encouraging and exciting. The fact that The Theme Foundry is now synonymous with Make means we’re doing our jobs here. I’m going to work on getting more Makers at WordCamps and meetups in 2016 and if you end up going, I hope you’ll find me and say hello!
One of the differences between WordCamp US and the smaller WordCamps I’ve attended is how busy and crowded the sponsor hallway was. The sponsors really came all out, showing off their enthusiasm and knowledge of WordPress and really engaging the community. I learned a ton — especially about hosting, security, and the Automattic suite of products.
The swag haul alone could have filled another bag and I came home with nearly an entire wardrobe — shirts, hats, socks, and gloves. I’d like to challenge the 2016 sponsors to print up pants of some variety — leggings (my vote!) or sweats? — so I can be fully clothed in swag when I leave.
Notable promotions included the SiteGround Christmas socks and GoDaddy Pro commemorative coins that Michelle Schulp designed. I happened to pull a special black coin from the bag — for which I was rewarded a new Blue Yeti Microphone (was hoping to snag a GoPro to attach to my motorcycle! I’ll console myself by starting a podcast).
And finally, I was surprised by how much I ended up enjoying myself. It’s always difficult for me to venture outside my bubble. One reason I love our distributed team is that I don’t have to interact with the outside world. While the idea of attending a conference with a thousand other people, in a city I don’t know very well is scary, I was surprised by how quickly it is to find a rich and diverse community at WordCamp.
Ahead of exciting new features and improvements on deck for 2016, we’ve been busy this fall, brainstorming, planning, and visioning the future of the theme. Today we’re launching a fully redesigned home for the project. Check out the new Make site.
We’ve spent a lot of time chatting with community members, talking with other developers, and getting to know our users and their projects. A multi-purpose theme like Make can be a lot of things to a lot of different people. Make powers the websites of big corporations, local shops, educational institutions, startups, consultants, coaches, artists, writers, and even hobby bloggers. But even with all that variance among our users, we started to notice certain trends emerge. Uncovering those patterns has helped us refocus the future of Make around what matters most:
To that end, we spent some time remodelling our branding, retooling our copy, and reimagining our product showcase and documentation in ways that help you find the most important information first. We also chose to redesign the site using cutting-edge Flexbox — a nod to the future of Make.
Last year we started using Twitter hashtags to connect with Make users and we’ve been blown away by the response! We wanted to feature the #iusemake community more prominently in our redesign, so we’ve created a dedicated page to the amazing sites you’ve been building with Make and Make Plus.
And finally, based on feedback, we’ve changed the name of our Make Plus Developer plan to Make Plus Professional — because we know that there are others in the WordPress ecosphere — marketers, designers, coaches, and implementers putting together client sites. Make Plus Professional has the same features and benefits, access to our Slack channel and partner discounts as Make Plus Developer did, it’s just a new name to better reflect the diversity of our users.
Make is the most exciting project our team has had the pleasure to work on, and looking ahead we only see good things — for both the theme and for the businesses that rely on it to market their work and connect with their communities.
Check out the new Make site and let us know if you have any questions, feedback, or feature requests for an upcoming release!
We’ve packed Make & Make Plusfull of great features. The builder. The 100+ Customizer options. The eCommerce capabilities. But we’re also proud of the details. Here are ten details we think you ought to know about.:
Typekit offers over 130 fonts for free, and if you’re an Adobe CC member, a Portfolio Typekit account is probably included in your subscription. With Make Plus installed, you can add a kit to your site and control the fonts through the Customizer.
We know you want the flexibility to add widgets to your page builder pages, so we made the Columns section columns widgetizable (is that a word? It is now!). Click, name your widget section, and then add your widgets in the Customizer (or the Widgets screen). Stumped for what kinds of widgets would go on your page? Maybe a Twitter or Instagram feed? Or perhaps…
4. Post Lists widget
Make Plus includes a Post Lists widget that you can add to a widgetized Column. Why would you want to do this? To replicate a posts-page style list with sidebar on your home/front builder page, of course!
5. Remove padding from bottom of each section
With Make Plus, you can choose to remove the padding below each section in the builder. How is this useful? If you want to stack Banner sections on top of each other, or hide the site background color between elements with different backgrounds, you’ll want this handy check option (the alternative is to do it via custom CSS in your child theme).
Speaking of custom CSS, Make Plus gives you the ability to add a custom HTML ID or class to each builder section. If writing code is your fancy, you can use this to easily style up similar elements or easily add internal page links (to build a one-page site).
7. Page and section duplication
Does your site use duplicate sections throughout? Perhaps a common banner element unites your pages? With Make Plus you can easily make a copy of any builder page or section and then edit it before you republish.
Using icons as part of your site design can help your visitors scan for and find key information on your pages. We made it easy. You can insert any of the 585 icons in Font Awesome’s collection right from the content editor. Bonus: This is actually a feature in Make, you don’t need Make Plus to get your icon on.
The Format Builder lets you select text in the visual editor and create stylized notice boxes, lists, and buttons. Choose the background and border color, font size, and add an icon — without adding any special coding or touching a line of CSS. Use this feature to add button-style Call To Actions on sales pages and in Banner sections — simple!
We’ve included documentation on Make’s action and filter hooks, so dev savvy Make & Make Plus users can customize and modify the theme to their heart’s content. How far can you push the limits of Make & Make Plus?
Do you have a favorite feature in Make or Make Plus? Any features you’d like to see in a new version? Let us know on twitter with the hashtag #iusemake.
We’ve featured nonprofit organizations that put Make to use for the greater good in this #iusemake series on the blog before. Today we’re excited to have the folks at Studio 164a — a design and development studio out of Australia. They recently released Charitable, a WordPress plugin designed to help nonprofits achieve even greater success online — and they built their own site using Make & Make Plus.
From the Charitable website:
Thousands of non-profits choose WordPress because it’s free, easy to use and boasts an unparalleled collection of plugins that extend its capabilities.
Charitable is a fundraising plugin that helps non-profits build awareness, empower ambassadors, and raise more money – all with their own website.
Tell us a little bit about your business and what you do?
Studio 164a is a 2-man team in Darwin, Australia. Wes is our Director of Design and helps our clients (a mix of non-profits, startups and social entrepreneurs) create unique brand identities and goal-driven websites. Eric is the Director of Code, and most of his time goes towards building Charitable, a donation plugin.
We launched Charitable just a few months ago, after many discussions with non-profits who were frustrated with traditional fundraising software. We created Charitable so that non-profits have a powerful fundraising solution that plugs directly into WordPress, without any transaction fees.
Even though there are a few other donation options out there for WordPress, we feel like there is still a lot of room to help people solve problems that other plugins aren’t solving. For example, we have a peer-to-peer fundraising extension, which offers a really powerful way for non-profits to grow their fundraising efforts.
Why did you pick Make & Make Plus for the website? Were you looking for specific features?
We needed a website to show off Charitable’s features and sell extensions. We wanted to speed up the development process, so rather than building a site from scratch we decided to look at a few of the page builder themes. Make caught our eye because of its combination of simplicity, flexibility, and ease of use.
Once we started using Make, we realised we could really use the features of Make Plus, so upgrading was a no-brainer.
Make’s integration with Easy Digital Downloads made the process of setting up an eCommerce store quick and easy.
When it came time to relaunching the Studio 164a website, we didn’t think twice about using Make again.
How long did it take you to put a site together? What was the process like? Any favorite plugins?
It took us about three weeks to put the Charitable site together, although it is constantly evolving.
We put together some initial ideas of how we wanted each page to look, and then the process of implementing them was fast and enjoyable. It allowed Eric, our Director of Code, to spend most of his time building Charitable, rather than being held up with website development.
Do you remember, before WordPress, how long it used to take to put a website together? To code out, from scratch, each page, hardcode each link and image, duplicating your menus and footers across your site (and then editing each page if you needed to update one thing!). Through the #iusemake series on the blog, we’ve seen how people are launching faster and more efficiently than ever. We’ve heard everything from 24 hours to 30 days to put a site together, which is astounding really, when you consider what kind of impact a professionally built web presence can have on a business.
If you need to launch tomorrow, we’ve prepared a helpful checklist of items to go over before you send that announcement email or tweet.
1. Edit copy
It should go without saying that misspellings and typos are going to impact the professional veneer of your website. But not only should you edit for small mistakes, now’s a good time to take a fine tooth to your website copy for style consistency.
Headers that have the same format (first letter capitalization, etc.)
Consistent use of text header tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.)
Brand and industry specific word consistency
After you’ve finished with your site copy, now’s a great time to recheck your social media also — just to make sure your profiles match the new site.
2. Check for broken links (and also on social media icons)
Click every link. Yes. Every link. Even click links you’re certain work. That one dead link could mean the difference between a purchase and a bounce, so take the time to tidy up your menus, site copy, and social icons.
3. Make sure images/banners look good on all devices
In case you haven’t looked at your site on a mobile device before, make sure you get in one good round of testing before you launch. Your images might not be cropping and scaling how you imagined they would, and your content might not be breaking across the screen sizes in a way that makes the most sense to your visitors — and better to fix those tiny details before you go live.
Tip: Start with your mobile design when you begin putting together your site. If it looks good on mobile, tweak it for larger screens, instead of vice versa. Learn more about optimizing images for WordPress.
4. Double check your contact form and optin form
Join your own mailing list to see what the confirmation emails look like. Make sure your optin gifts are downloading correctly. Send yourself a test message from each and every form on your site, using different email addresses to test your spam filters.
And finally, if you moved your site from a development site to the live site, David Sutoyo, a Make Plus Developer in our Slack channel mentioned, “One point that I’ve learned to always check: make sure the live site isn’t blocking search engines, since sometimes the staging environment might be set to block them.”
What do you check for when you launch a site? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter. I’ll be collecting your ideas in a tutorial for our Make docs.
Registered Creative is a design shop in Durham, North Carolina. When their web designer and developer, Mark Branly, shared the site they had recently put together for local political candidate, Brian Farkas, we were impressed by the team’s ability to organize a lot of information in a very readable, accessible, and elegant way. The one-page site is simple, straight-forward, but remarkably effective. Better yet, this site has the foundation to scale when ready, which is why we love one-pagers.
Mark was kind enough to share a bit of their process for building the site, including why they chose Make & Make Plus for the groundwork.
Tell us a little bit about your websites/brand/business?
We’re a design shop. We build brands, develop content, craft print pieces, and construct websites. We problem-solve for a variety of clients, including local political candidates like Brian Farkas. Our website projects are team-driven. So we bring our full set of skills including design, content, and code to each site to deliver the best value for our clients. Brian’s site is a great example of how that teamwork and client collaboration comes to fruition.
Why did you pick Make & Make Plus for the website? Were you looking for specific features?
We had a lot of features in mind during framework shopping, for this particular client and for others. We wanted something that would make it easy for our designers and developers to collaborate, that provided good support, that would be easy for clients to get a handle on if they require any editing control, and something that could handle a variety of modern designs from simple to complex. That’s just the tip of the iceberg in a list of qualities we sought out. It was a major strong suit that Make & Make Plus had informative documentation and reviews available. We found that similar products were too marketing-driven and left out a lot of detail. We felt confident based on our research that Make would give us a lot of what we were looking for.
How long did it take you to put a site together? What was the process like?
All in all, the build process took about a day. We had already developed and finalized content with the client. So from there, we made a plan about what would work best stylistically for the content in context of Brian’s professional field. This site was our first experience using Make, and we were very pleased with both how quickly we were able to execute on that plan and, of course, the results.
Has the new site made an impact on the web presence/business/brand?
Since this is a fairly new branding position for Brian Farkas and he has a while to go in the political race, it’s hard to analyze the impact just yet. We’re keeping track of feedback and data, and what we’ve seen so far leads us to be very optimistic.
Make has passed another milestone — earlier this week we surpassed 400,000 downloads! We really appreciate each and every one of you who has downloaded, tested, built a site with Make & Make Plus and is sticking with us through the long haul. We have exciting ideas for the future of Make and are looking forward to doubling that number of users in the coming months.
As Make matures and gets better, so do sites built with it — and to illustrate that point, here are just a few of the amazing site’s we’ve stumbled upon in the last few weeks using Make.
Shannon at WP-BFF is on a mission to teach solopreneurs how to wrangle WordPress (and use Make!).
Hannah Dormido is a part-time journalist, part-time mermaid.
Content & SEO is the speciality of freelance WordPress specialist Susanne Lund Mikkelsen.
East of Memphis is the solo project of Nashville singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Rinehart.
Pacific Asset Management is a registered investment advisor in Washington.
Thanks again for all your support, encouragement, and enthusiasm around Make & Make Plus! Neither would be nearly as exciting if not for the amazing community of WordPress users and developers surrounding the project. Here’s to another 400,00 downloads!
Do you use Make? If you’d like your site to be featured on our blog, use the hashtag #iusemake and let us know on Twitter!