Local news publishers in New Jersey learn WordPress tips and tricks at training session

As many site owners and indie publishers will tell you, paying money to a developer to do things that you aren’t trained to do yourself can end up costing you a lot of money.

“It’s just like going into an auto repair shop to get your used card fixed,” instructor Martin Halo told a room full of local publishers and reporters on Tuesday during a WordPress training event hosted by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. “At the very least,” Halo continued, “you should have some understanding of the basics, otherwise you’re much more likely to get ripped off.”

Halo is an adjunct professor in the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University, where he teaches his students how to use WordPress plugins, widgets and more to get the most out of the world’s most popular content management system. Halo hosted a condensed version of his class at a training on Tuesday, where he led a room full of local publishers and independent journalists through a day-long workshop on the ins and outs of WordPress.

Tuesday’s training covered two main topics: plugins and widgets.

In the weeks leading up to the June 27 training, Halo posted a list of plugins, guides, and resources that, in his experience, typically accounts for the first $500 – $750 that startups and publishers usually spend after they launch their site (or after their site gets hacked).

The list included everything from site optimization, to automation, performance, data collection, security, and more:

Other topics covered during the training session included:

  • Responsive images and video in posts using simple CSS
  • ALT Tags for Images in the media library: Importance and result
  • Google indexing importance: Keywords for title on posts

Load times and website optimization

The sections below include expanded lists of some of the tools, services and topics discussed during the training session. One topic that generated a lot of interest – and questions – from the group was how to optimize websites and reduce loading time.

Halo demonstrated the website GTmetrix, which is a service that analyzes any URL and assigns it a grade based on a variety of factors and measurements such as page loading time, total page size, number of requests and more.

The Center for Cooperative Media‘s homepage, for example, received a GTmetrix PageSpeed Score of D (60%), meaning the site is faster than 60% of websites but could still be much faster. It also has a Fully Loaded Time of 32.0 seconds, which could obviously be much quicker.

SEO Quake Chrome extension

This free browser extension (Chrome and Firefox only) analyzes a website’s SEO strength and statistics, along with its search-engine rankings, in real time. It is also a useful tool for analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of competitors in order to figure out how to mimic best practices and fill in gaps where other publications fall short.

Yoast SEO WordPress plugin

This free WordPress plugin helps customize social sharing options, Google search result snippets, and other important metadata for posts and other pieces of content. This is especially useful when sharing content to social media platforms like Facebook, which can be particularly frustrating if the featured image in the CMS doesn’t match up with the featured image on the social card.

Organic search optimization

Another element of site optimization that has less to do with loading times and more to do with search queries and natural language processing is organic optimization. Organic optimization refers to a user’s ability to find something specific – namely content – by Googling or searching for something vague and nondescript.

Consider searching for the name of an actor who plays a character on television. Short of remembering the actor’s name, typing defining features or blockbuster titles associated with that actor into Google, such as “curly hair actor Transformers Holes,” is enough to help the search engine discern that the actor in this case is Shia LaBeouf.

These are the same kinds of indirect associations that publishers of all sizes should strive to create around the content on their websites. Giving Google and other search engines as much information as possible about a particular story increases the possibility that new, curious users will end up reading stories instead of giving up on searches prematurely.

Link-backs and Google page rankings

Google’s page rankings, called PageRank, are a fairly well-known metric for determining how trusted, successful and legitimate a particular website is, especially if a user is unfamiliar with your site’s brand or history. A top-tier Google ranking can often be a boon to a smaller site, while being bumped to the second page of the Google search results can often be a death sentence.

Google changes its algorithm all the time, and it’s proprietary, of course. The company has, however, identified certain factors that publishers and site owners can take advantage of to boost or improve a site’s Google PageRank. One such factor is the number of link-backs associated with the site. A link-back is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a link back to content from a different website.

But it’s not just the number of link-backs that affects PageRank. Link-backs from higher-ranking sites will improve a site’s PageRank. Think of it like being retweeted by a famous, verified Twitter account with millions of followers. Retweeting them all day won’t mean much. But if that star starts retweeting someone to their millions of followers, on the other hand, the benefit is proportionally much greater.

The same goes for link-backs from large, trusted sites like the New York Times. Once the New York Times links to a story in its coverage of a local issue, for instance, Google’s algorithm is forced to reconsider that site’s previous ranking.

Martin Halo can be reached via email at halom@montclair.edu.


About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. The Center is supported with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Democracy Fund. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.

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