The CW Corner – Adding Custom Shortcodes to WordPress

I wanted to create a custom HTML code function, so made one that will generate a line feed. I tested it to neaten up the output from my favorite WordPress statistics plugin: WP-Statistics by Verona Labs.

This shortcode gives the ability to add line feeds to WordPress page, post or report outputs to improve their readability. The function can easily be modified to generate any HTML output by doing this:

  • rename “newline” in the “add_shortcode” line to whatever you’d like the shortcode to be named
  • adjust the HTML code inside the quotes in the “return” line

In this example, we’ll create the line break shortcode.

Creating the Line Break Shortcode

Adding shortcodes in WordPress is easily accomplished by simply inserting the appropriate coding for the shortcode into your child theme’s functions.php file.

Note: Child themes should always be used. Changes made directly to the parent theme’s files are usually overwritten each time the parent theme is updated.

To add the code, first back up your site and then do the following:

  • Log into the WordPress Dashboard as an administrator
  • Navigate to Appearance > Theme Editor
  • Select Theme Functions (functions.php) under Theme Files in the right column
  • Add the short function code lines below
/* -- Start of line breaks shortcode --*/
function line_break_shortcode() {
return '<br />';
}
add_shortcode( 'newline', 'line_break_shortcode' );
/* -- End of line break shortcode --*/

Adding Line Breaks

Once the code has been added to your functions.php file, all you have to do is add the
shortcode in your text to generate a line feed at that point. The beauty of doing this as a shortcode is that it can be inserted in places that do not normally allow you to add them – like in the email output of the WP-Statistics plugin.

Note: When testing your output from the WP-Statistics plugin, there is a convenient feature that allows you to send output every minute to see what you will be sending. As a rule I normally have the report set to send daily.

A Working Example

There were a couple of WP-Statistics report items that were of particular interest to me. One is the last post date. This is handy as a reminder when one should add one or more posts to a site – especially a blog – so the site content doesn’t appear stale (or as an alternative, simply do not show blog post creation dates). Even if you are not displaying the post dates on the site, it is good to know when you last posted something.

An example of the report pattern I used was this (note that in some WordPress themes the “[” and “]” characters in the example below display as repeated – there should only be one “[” opening shortcode character and one “]” closing shortcode character surrounding the shortcode itself when you use it):

WP Statistics report for https://CWCorner.com WordPress site:
[newline]
_______________________________________________
[newline]
[newline]
Last post date: [wpstatistics stat=lpd]
[newline]
Total Site Posts: [wpstatistics stat=postcount]
[newline]
Total Site Pages: [wpstatistics stat=pagecount]
[newline]
Total Site Users: [wpstatistics stat=usercount]
[newline]
Online Users at Report Time: [wpstatistics stat=usersonline]
[newline]
_______________________________________________
[newline]
[newline]
Today's Visitors so far: [wpstatistics stat=visitors time=today]
[newline]
Today's Visits so far: [wpstatistics stat=visits time=today]
[newline]
Yesterday's Visitors: [wpstatistics stat=visitors time=yesterday]
[newline]
Yesterday's Visits: [wpstatistics stat=visits time=yesterday]
[newline]
_______________________________________________
[newline]
[newline]
Total Visitors: [wpstatistics stat=visitors time=total]
[newline]
Total Visits: [wpstatistics stat=visits time=total]
[newline]
_______________________________________________
[newline]
[newline]
End of WP Statistics Report.
[newline]

I used the underline characters to separate various parts of the output for clarity. This report pattern generated a nicer, more readable report that even looked great when viewing it on my cell phone.

While I initially added this function as a way to neaten up the output of the WP-Statistics email report – the function should work just about anyplace in WordPress except in the PHP coding itself.

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The CW Corner – Adding Akismet comment spam protection

Akismet provides a convenient and free way to protect your personal WordPress site or blog from spam.

Many times we’d like to allow comments to be left on our WordPress site. The hassle with this can be the tremendous amounts of spam that come through the forms on websites.

Akismet is a compact WordPress plugin that filters the incoming comments. It is pretty straightforward to use and pretty easy to set up as well.

Install the Akismet plugin

The first step in this process is to ensure that the Akismet plugin is installed in your WordPress website:

      • Log into your WordPress website’s dashboard as an administrator
      • Click on Plugins in the left dashboard navigation column
      • Look and see if Akismet is listed – if it is – and it is not activated you can proceed to the Akismet Setup step below – otherwise
      • Click on Add New under Plugins in the dashboard navigation column
      • If you don’t see Akismet in the plugins, then in the text box to the right of the work Keyword in the row starting with Featured type in Akismet – then click on its Install Now button. Do not activate it yet.

Perform the Akismet Setup

To set up Akismet in your website, you will need an API code from the Akismet site. The first step in that process is to navigate to:
https://akismet.com/plans

This (as of the time of this writing) brings you to a page that should look similar to the screenshot below.

Akismet offering pricing page

Akismet offering pricing page

To get the free version of Akismet comment spam protection, you will need to click on the Get Personal button on the above page.

Once you’ve done that, you should see a page similar to the one below. Before attempting to fill out anything on this page, we need to set that $36 / YEAR to $0 / YEAR. Click on the $36 / YEAR box and drag it to the left.

Akismet Default $36 per year page

Akismet Default $36 per year page

Dragging that $36 / YEAR box to the left should change the page to display something like the one below showing 0$ / YEAR. You can also see that the information to fill in has changed.

Akismet $0 per year page

Akismet $0 per year page

Akismet $0 per year page

Now fill in the information completely. Note that you need to be able to check all three checkboxes indicating the following:

      • you don’t have ads on your site
      • you don’t sell products/services on your site
      • you don’t promote a business on your site

If these are the case, then you will qualify for a free, personal plan.

All you have to do once you have gotten this far is follow the directions on the page below.

Akismet signup complete page

Akismet signup complete page

Finally, it is suggested that while on that settings page in Akismet, you can choose to show the number of approved comments beside each comment author and choose whether to show a privacy notice or not. Then just click the Save Changes button and you are on your way!

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The CW Corner – WordPress loading images – blank thumbnail issue

Sometimes in a WordPress website an issue develops where when loading images into media library, only a blank thumbnail shows. It appears a space is created in the database for the picture but there is no content in it.

After testing compatibility of plugins, themes, php, etc., the problem persisted.

To resolve this, one can navigate here logged into WordPress as an administrator:
Go to Dashboard > Settings > Media

Make sure the correct default file path is showing there. When troubleshooting this issue on a site that was unable to upload media files, the file path was shown as:

/home/username/domains/thedomainname.com/private_html/wp-content/uploads

Note that the “username” and “thedomainname.com” in the above and below path examples will be the Linux username and the actual site domain name respectively that you are troubleshooting.

The fix

When this path was removed, the image file upload worked normally again and the problem appeared to be solved.

Possible Reasoning or Causes

In the DirectAdmin path structure, there are two places the website’s servable coding (like WordPress or HTML sites or Joomla, etc.) might be stored:

/home/username/domains/thedomainname.com/public_html

or

/home/username/domains/thedomainname.com/private_html

The “public_html” folder is where DirectAdmin normally places the website’s code (again, referring to all the files and programs that make up the actual WordPress or HTML or Joomla site’s coding, etc.).

The “private_html” folder is where DirectAdmin normally tries to place the website’s code when its content is encrypted. That’s why there is an option in DirectAdmin’s site control panel that allows one to “Use a symbolic link from private_html to public_html”. This option allows for using the same data in http and https.

The suspicion here is that a setting got changed or an update occurred causing the WordPress system to use the private_html setting when the site resides in public_html. Removing the file path from the settings forced WordPress to use where the system actually defaulted to – which cleared the problem.

We may never know how the setting actually got bunged up, but it is an easy fix once it is.

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The CW Corner – Checking Your Site

Something many folks overlook is occasionally checking their website’s functionality. I recommend doing this every couple weeks, but at minimum once a month.

Most websites and the servers they are on are subjected to ongoing software updates. Unless you are paying an additional fee for maintenance checks, it’s normal for things to occasionally break due to updates.

Most website owners are not paying additional fees for such maintenance. This means you really need to take the time to check:

– that the site appears to work properly
– that your hours of operation are correct
– that any website forms are working
– that email addresses are correct

The site operation and forms are most susceptible to software updates. If you have a good web developer, the fixes will happen quickly and it will not cost you too much.

Website maintenance should be thought of like automotive maintenance. We get oil changes. We get inspections. We even make modifications and do repairs to keep our vehicle operating the way we want. And our older vehicles can cost more to upkeep – just like older websites. As websites age, more work needs to be done to keep them secure and working as originally intended.

So check your site every now and then to keep things working and have the correct information out there!

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The CW Corner – Engagement

Engagement, in military terms, is described as a fight or battle between armed forces. In web terms, engagement could be thought of as the process of getting an idea across to accomplish a goal.

There are a couple major goals with websites, as I see it. One is to simply share information. Another is to sell products. Make no mistake about it – whether you are selling widgets or ice-cream or trying to increase your congregation – the goal is the essentially the same – getting people engaged.

The first, sharing information, definitely is a precursor to the second. I’d like to focus on the second here.

Websites that are more engaging with their visitors will encourage more sales. With that in mind, it follows that engagement is a result of information and aesthetics.

Aesthetics costs for a website can vary greatly. Graphic design can be time consuming. This equates to higher labor costs. Information in written form, however, is usually the least expensive part of website development. Text can usually be pasted into web pages. This is not usually as labor intensive. Having more information in text format on a website usually equates to more exposure to the public. This is because website visitors can arrive using search engines. And the search engines find your site based upon pertinent content – mostly text.

In a nutshell, if you want an engaging website – which will increase your probability of success on the web – make sure there is plenty of information in text form on it. Search engines will help get folks there and your aesthetics can do the rest.

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The CW Corner – Blogging

A popular website sales pitch over the past ten or so years has been about blogging. Many web developers believe that blogging is an absolute must to get found on the web. However, believing doesn’t necessarily make it a fact.

Whether blogging will be a benefit your particular web presence is complicated. There are a number of factors to consider.

A major factor is that blogging requires time to be effective. The time has to be spent by someone entering blog material pertinent to your business or topic into your website. Otherwise you have to pay someone to keep up with it.

Keeping blogs interesting to keep site visitors engaged is another ongoing endeavor. Site visitors won’t return if the material doesn’t hold their interests.

The real power of blogging lies with search engine placement. Search engines rank websites on how pertinent they are to a particular topic or search terms. Search terms are generally words or phrases people type into search engines when they are looking for something. The more pertinent – the higher the ranking. Having more pertinent material on a site increases ranking.

So when considering whether a blog is right for your web presence or not, bear in mind that a blog must be an ongoing, continuing effort. It may be just as effective to simply have a lot of static material on your site explaining details about all your offerings.

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