What to look for in appointment-scheduling plugins for WordPress

By David Innes, RealBasics.com | May 29, 2020
appointment photo

Photo by trendingtopics

On a WordPress-related Facebook group someone asked…

I’m looking for something similar to Schedulista that can do the following:
-Allow people to book appointments on a website
-Remove unavailable appointments in real-time
-Send SMS/Email reminders to people who book the appointments
-Create a calendar each employee can access from an app
-Open source to manipulate how it appears on a WordPress website
Any Suggestions?

I’ve had clients who use the cloud-based Acuity and Schedulicity appointment managers, and one client has had great success with the self-hosted BirchPress plugin. (No affiliate links, just tools clients have used.) I don’t have very strong opinions about which is best.

My advice is always to look for ones with a well-reviewed companion/connecting plugin for WordPress.

More important, no matter what you choose: look for two-way synchronization with your calendar apps whether it’s Google Calendar, Outlook, Cal, or whatever. It’s WAAAY easier to have the appointment scheduler that automatically blocks out time on your schedule when you have a doctor’s appointment or an unplanned day off.

Being able to enter an appointment once and having it automatically update to your schedule saves you from having to remember to enter those things in two places. Having new client appointments show up on your personal calendar makes sure you don’t overbook yourself with them!

This is all in keeping, by the way, with the internet-authoring goal to “Create Once, Publish Everywhere.” Something I spend a lot of time talking to clients about and really ought to spend more time blogging about as well.

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About WordPress and image compression

By David Innes, RealBasics.com | May 29, 2020

A contributor to a WordPress Facebook had a question about image compression:

 I have [an image-optimization] plugin installed to compress my images and I noticed while doing a bulk compression that there are multiples of the same image (in different sizes) that it compressed. I did not do this manually. It seems that something created multiple images in different sizes when I used one. Is that normal procedure or have I goofed royally?

Here’s how I answered

Yes, WordPress automatically generates multiple “thumbnail” images when you upload a photo. The defaults are 150×150 literal thumbnails for galleries, etc. But also 300px “medium” and (I think) 1024px “large” format. A few months ago it started generating hidden 1536px and 2048px thumbnails for… reasons?

Some themes (cough*themeforest*cough) will sometimes generate a dozen or more additional ones for very particular, often-little-used sizes.

it used to be a much better idea to limit the number of thumbnails generated (still is, actually, for those oddball 1900x75px banner liners a Themeforest theme might cook up.) But WordPress now sends lists of available image sizes to browsers so they can pick the smallest, most appropriate size for the user’s screen.

The result is more storage on your server, but sometimes very much faster page speeds for mobile devices.

The good news is that optimizing plugins like Optimole will process all the thumbnails as well as the originals. You might optimize the dickens out of your original uploads, but the server-based thumbnail generating routines WordPress has to rely on usually aren’t as efficient. So it’s a good thing when optimizing plugins do a pass on those as well.

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Case Study: Converting an old page-builder website

By David Innes (Admin) | December 21, 2019

On a Facebook group for the Beaver Builder page builder, someone asked “Maybe a crazy question… Would it be possible to take HTML from another page builder and import into BB?” Here’s how I answered the question.

I did this just the other day (Thursday!) It was a horribly slow site built with an expired version of the popular but old-school Enfold theme/builder. The site broke into a shower of colorful code errors if you bumped the PHP version past the obsolete version 5.6.

So based on my recent experience the short answer is that yes, it does speed things up a little since you don’t have to re-type the content and it’s fairly easy to delete the enormous shortcode blobs that Enfold (and Divi, WP Bakery, etc.) create.

Partial screen shot of the site before disabling the old-school page builder.
Here’s a snippet of the page before the old-school page builder was disabled

The first thing to do is replace the current theme and disable whatever page builder they were using. (Often they’re intertwined so it’s hard to turn one-off without turning off the other.) In my case when I switched to the Beaver Builder theme the client’s site reverted to a whole mess of shortcodes.

When you turn off the original page builder all that's left is a huge amount of text enclosed in [brackets], a.k.a. "shortcodes."
The site was full of shortcodes after turning off the old page builder.

The shortcodes usually have identifying info in them — e.g. column widths, image filenames, colors, etc. And of course I was able to use the original live version as a reference. Between that and the leftover bodies of text it was pretty easy to delete the leftover shortcode text and rebuild the pages.

One big advantage, of course, is that the page and menu/navigation structures are intact. If you’re going to use widgets in your new design instead of Beaver Builder modules and/or the Beaver Themer plugin then you can simply re-add those from the “unused widgets” section of the Appearances->Widgets page.

Another big advantage, sort of, maybe, is that all the images are in the Media Library so it’s a matter of finding them (you can search by the filename if nothing else) and placing them. The downside, though, is that with older sites (this one was from 2016) the images are often too small to look good in full-width situations so I still had to do a little fishing for larger versions.

All in all I’d say it saved me two or three hours on the project.

But there’s no way to do it automatically. (I’ve heard of plugins that will “re-interpret” shortcodes into simple WordPress elements but didn’t find one when I looked before starting the project.)

It’s actually pretty fun — good practice! But only slightly less work than rebuilding from scratch, copying and pasting content from the original site.

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Do we ever use “store bought” themes for websites?

By David Innes, RealBasics.com | December 11, 2019
"World's Worst Website" Photo by flickr user smoothgroover22
“World’s Worst Website” Photo by flickr user smoothgroover22

Here at RealBasics we build all new and rebuilt websites using the popular Beaver Builder page builder [non-affiliate link] products. On a Facebook group we follow someone asked:

How do people explain using BB plugin and theme to clients? When comparing to other agencies who buy [heavily-advertised commercial theme company] themes and use demo content…

I usually say “well, I’ve found that commercial themes seem to come with a lot of extras that tend to slow things down. A lot. In practice, though, when I use the popular, well-reviewed Beaver Builder plugin and a “blank slate” theme (also from Beaver Builder.) I can reproduce anything theme you care to show me.”

Then I say “A lot of times those themes only look good if you first import all their demo content. But then you have to go back through and replace it with your content. That’s often more time-consuming than adding your content to an empty page.

Next I’ll say “In the past I had years of experience working with graphic designers and building custom themes from their Photoshop or Illustrator files. Reproducing an existing theme with a modern page builder is child’s play compared to that.

And finally I’ll say “So if you’ll show me an example of a theme you like I can quickly match it, and give you better overall performance with less bloat, more security, and more long-term flexibility as well.”

Most of our clients seem to understand this explanation. It’s been years since we’ve used anything else.

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RealBasics Recommends Jennifer Boyle Photography for business photography

By David Innes, RealBasics.com | December 2, 2019

Reverse disclaimer: We don’t get money or brownie points for recommending JenniferBoylePhotography.com.  Instead we wholeheartedly recommend her work because we get awesome complements for client sites that use her photos.   We can take credit for sites running quickly, securely, responsively, and sustainably.  But what people really notice is design, the text, and especially photos.  Jenny’s portraits and “business documentary” photos make our work look great!  We can’t recommend her enough.

We particularly appreciate that she’s got plans specifically for businesses, including

  • Basic Session for $175, for a full-size, free-to-use studio portrait
  • Full Session for $395, for an hour-long session ($40 more for on-site) for three full-size, free-to-use photos
  • Branding Lifestyle for $535, for a 90-minute on-site, possibly multi-location session with 30 full-sized, free-to-use photos

If you’re in the market for spiffing up your website with new photos give Jenny a call at (206) 406-6835, email [email protected], or visit her website: Jennifer Boyle Photography

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If your website still says “Under Construction…”

By David Innes, RealBasics.com | December 1, 2019

It’s almost 2020 (already!) but according to a quick Google search there are up to several million websites that still have phrases like “this site is under construction” somewhere within their pages.

Now the good news is many of the top results are other people cataloging and making fun of sites that still use that 1990’s flair.  The bad news is that some of the results are from people who are still offering new ways to say it on your website!  Unfortunately plenty of other results are sites that… still say that.  In dead earnest.  Sometimes years after their site was built!

Not to beat our own horn here at RealBasics but if your site still says “under construction” somewhere we’ll be happy to fix it for you in one of these ways

  • Delete the page for you — if you haven’t “constructed” the page by now then you probably never will.  Let us take care of that for you.
  • Finish constructing the page — maybe you’ve always meant to finish constructing the page but haven’t had time.  We’ll be happy to do that for you!
  • Do a full-scale assessment of your website and make recommendations for building a new one — if your site is old enough that someone wrote “under construction” on the pages then it may be out of date in other ways.  We’ll be happy to help you with that too!

 

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RealBasics Recommends: Niamh Arthur’s 4-week Ignite Video Challenge online course

By David Innes, RealBasics.com | September 6, 2019

This is a plug for a paid-for online video blogging course.  This post includes a direct link and an affiliate link to the course (you can choose either.) I recommend it highly to clients who are interested in a safe, supportive environment for learning how to do video blogging.  If you’re not into that you can scroll down.

Earlier this summer I told quite a few clients about a great video-blogging course called the Ignite Video Challenge. It runs a few times a year on Facebook and she’s offering it again.

If I did mention it I probably also said that based on almost 10 years working with instructional designers at Microsoft it’s the best run and most useful online course I’ve ever seen.

The course is only $20 for four weeks. It’s all done on Facebook, in small, private groups where you get to see each other’s work, and where only positive and encouraging comments are welcome. Because everyone is nervous! I may also have mentioned how sorry I was it’s only offered a few times a year.

The good news is the course is back. Signup is this week.

Niamh (pronounced “Neve”) is unbelievably reassuring, supportive, and informative in her video instructions — her videos are usually about three minutes long with another minute or two where she practices what she’s just preached to give you an idea what she has in mind.

The main thing, though, is it’s actually really fun! And only takes maybe 10 or 15 minutes a day at the most! And you really do learn all the essentials for how to record a video, how to be yourself in front of a camera, and how to upload it to Facebook, YouTube or other video platforms.

If you’re interested you can sign up one of two ways:

You can sign up directly here

Or if you’re ok with me getting a very small commission (the price to you is the same regardless) you can use this link to signup instead

Here are the other details

  • Sign Up Week: Thursday, September 5th to Wednesday, September 11th
  • Closes at midnight Pacific on September 11th OR when they sell out all spots, whichever happens first.
  • Challenge begins: Monday, September 16th to Tuesday, October 8th.
  • Cost for the Challenge is only $20.

Let me know what you think!

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Website consultation

By David Innes, RealBasics.com | July 17, 2019

Of course we do office consultation for maintenance clients.  When we say you get one hour a month for standard site maintenance we mean it.  Sometimes that involves fixing something that wasn’t working quite right on the back end.  But sometimes it involves a one-hour strategy consultation on how to blog effectively.  No, we won’t wash your car or water your plants for an hour a month, but if it’s related to your website we’re more than happy to help.

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Arithmetic: would you spend $500 to save $10?

By David Innes, RealBasics.com | July 15, 2019

If you have really terrible hosting it can cost you

  • Lost leads
  • Lower search engine ranking
  • Abandoned site visits
  • Lost sales
  • Lost customer

If you have “Inexpensive,” but really terrible hosting it can also cost you…

  • Additional hours of development time

Because somebody’s got to spend time on the phone with your host’s tech support, doing extra profiling, cutting back out cool features that were added but then must be removed, lowering the quality of images so they’ll load faster, and…

Long emails explaining why your nice new site still takes forever to load on your $4.95/month hosting.

That’s going to cost you money. Up to an additional $500!

There are some very good hosting companies that cost $5 – $10 a month more… and are 5 and sometimes 10 times better than bad “cheap” hosting.

We don’t do hosting ourselves. But we recommend very good plans. We even use them ourselves.

We have to care what you choose though, because we’re likely to keep working with you and supporting you. Imagine how we’d feel having to apologize month after month… like the techs at really bad hosting companies must.

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Don’t tell anyone but we’re beta testing daily backups and WordPress software updates for all maintenance clients…

By David Innes, RealBasics.com | June 20, 2019

new feature photo

Photo by Flickr user Vs Heidelberg Photos

We’ve been making weekly backups and software updates for our maintenance clients for a very long time.  Since sometime back in 2012.  We started officially in late 2013 or early 2014.  We always watch for malware and software vulnerabilities and run updates as soon as developers release fixes.

When we upgrading our hardware and software earlier this year we started experimenting with doing daily off-site WordPress backups and daily WordPress plugin updates… well… daily!

We’re still doing our weekly backups, and we store those securely for at least three years.  We make our daily backups separately from the weekly ones.  We keep the daily backups for 14 days because, combined with our standard long-term backups, that gives us enough coverage.

We’re not yet ready to announce daily backups and updates as a guaranteed feature for our maintenance clients.  Promising it would mean having someone always on standby on weekends and holidays to run software updates and to troubleshoot or roll things back in the unlikely event problems come up.  If you’re one of our maintenance clients, though, or if you become one, you might like knowing that we’re taking even more care of your WordPress site… even if we’re not telling everybody about it.

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