The world’s favorite website engine is WordPress. But hotels have specific needs. This webinar explains how to use WordPress for your website.
The world’s favorite website engine is WordPress. But hotels have specific needs. This webinar explains how to use WordPress for your website.
Brandon: Hi there ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this week’s Cloudbeds webinar on WordPress. Sorry for the late start. We are about three minutes late. That’s because my internet went out just as I was about to start the webinar. So my apologies but I made it back. We are live just in time to do this webinar on WordPress. Now, this particular topic is one that’s been a long time coming. And it’s one that we’re particularly well suited to do. One of the number one comments that we get from hoteliers, innkeepers, Bed and Breakfast owners, hostel owners, managers is they want to know about increasing their direct bookings. And they want to understand how to get a website online and they want to know a bit more about WordPress, because of course, WordPress is the world’s most popular content management system. The world’s most popular CMS used all over the world for a number of different industries. And the same is true for the hospitality industry. And so we feel like we are uniquely qualified to talk about this topic.
This company Cloudbeds was founded by former WordPress developers; Richard Castle and Adam Harris, the founders of the company, wrote plugins, created themes, created websites for WordPress. I myself have made a number of WordPress websites. So we’re all really comfortable with this platform. And we feel like we have a lot to offer. I can’t wait to get into the meat of this topic. I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Brandon Dennis I am the VP of Marketing here at Cloudbeds and I am joined today by Alex Gaggioli, our Marketing Coordinator here at Cloudbeds. And we’ve got a fantastic webinar lined up for you today. Sorry if you hear a background noise. My son just entered the room and I can’t contact his mama to come get him so, apologies if there are any interruptions. All right, so let’s dive on in. Just to set some expectations for this webinar. It’s pretty technical but what we’re wanting to do is, we’re hoping that we can explain the complicated details of this webinar as simply as possible.
Brandon: Anyways, so what we’ve done is, we’ve taken all of the different topics from themes, to plugins, to SEO, to WordPress security and we’ve tried to make them into highly digestible, packaged nuggets of information. So if you like to get your hands dirty, if you like to work with WordPress, if you like to code, if you like to be creative this is going to be a great webinar for you. And what we’ve done is we’ve created an eBook, a complimentary eBook, to go along with this webinar that we’re going to send out after the webinar finishes either later today or tomorrow that you can use for your future reference. So now we’ve settled all that, let’s dive on in. All right. This is all of the content that we are going to go through. We’ve got quite a lot, I’m not going to read everything on here. We’re going to be going from start to finish.
Starting with how to choose a host, getting into installing content management system, getting a theme, getting your plugins, all the way through it because there are quite a few steps necessary to setting up your WordPress website to make sure that it functions properly. One of the biggest differences between an amateur business website and one that is actually working really well on WordPress is it probably has a cashing system installed so that it’s not going to be extremely slow. It’s fully integrated with social media, so that your content can be shared on social media. It’s set up for search engine optimization so that Google can actually understand what your website is all about. There are quite a few differences between hoteliers who’ve got their website setup for success and those who don’t. WordPress is a great platform for setting your website up for success but it can be a little complicated. And I hope that we can alleviate that complication with this webinar.
So first up, let’s talk a little bit about hosts. So a web host is basically a series of computers or sometimes even one computer that you choose to install your WordPress website on. And when anybody in the world tries to access your website by typing in your domain name, it’s going to pull the information from your website hosted on some computer out there in the world or it could be a series of computers which would be called computing. It’s usually not a good idea to host your own website for reasons having to do with your internet access and the stability of your own website server. What if your hard drive fails? What if your computer gets stolen? What if there’s a flood in your house? What if your internet goes down when you’re right about to host a webinar? Or something like that? The computer has to be online powered up 24/7 365 days a year and most people can’t do that for themselves. So that is why you need to find a reliable trusted WordPress friendly web host.
There are two that I recommend, Bluehost and WPEngine. Now, WPEngine has been around for a long time. They have marketed themselves as the WordPress hosting provider for a very long time. And Bluehost has been around for even longer and they’d recently launched a WordPress friendly version. I prefer Bluehost personally between the two. I think it’s much more affordable. I think it’s much more user friendly, and I’ve had better personal experiences with their customer service but I’ve worked with both and both are really good options. Your first step is to choose a host and both of these hosts are good choices for your WordPress website. Next step, let’s talk a little bit about themes. So WordPress isn’t a theme.
WordPress is a content management system. It’s basically the software, the technology, the engine that’s used to publish content, to power your website. And some people get confused as to what all of these different things are. Plugins, themes, the content management system, WordPress itself. WordPress itself is just the software that you install a theme into, that you install a plugin into. The theme is what makes your website look pretty. It gives your website the user interface it needs so that people can interact with it. And the nice thing about WordPress is that you can shop for any number of themes, many of which are free, and you can usually just turn them on or turn them off. Plugin the ones you want, experiment with finding new ones, until you find the theme that you like best. So there are quite a few different themes that you can choose from but there are five different features of themes that we believe are really important when considering one for a hotel website.
Number one it needs to be responsive. Responsive is a type of mobile optimized design were the page on your website automatically scales itself to fit whatever screen resolution your viewer happens to be viewing from. And that it’s a great way to future proof your website. If I’m viewing your website from a huge monitor, a responsive website is going to automatically adjust itself to fit my huge monitor. Or if I pull out my smartphone and visit your website, a responsive website is going to shrink itself down to make all of the content fit perfectly on a smartphone. So we recommend using a responsive website to make sure that your website is mobile optimized and future proof.
Number two in flat design. Flat design is just a way to describe a modern type of web design that is straddling the line between minimalist and… What’s a good way to talk about that? It’s a great way of adding color to minimalism. So the opposite of flat design is going to be skeuomorphism, which tries to render user interface objects, digital objects as real things. So for example if you open up your notebook app on your phone, it’s going to look like a three ring binder with yellow paper and lines. That’s called skeuomorphism. They’re trying to replicate what things look like in real life using user interface. But we suggest you choose instead of skeuomorphism design, flat design. Flat design is more optimized for the web. It’s better for tapping with your fingers. It loads much more quickly. The information architecture is much more clear.
People have an easier time understanding it because it’s all about information delivery. It’s about making sure that the fonts that you choose are not huge fancy fonts that look like big scripts and the colors are kind of off. It’s not about that, it’s about making sure that the fonts are readable. It straddles the fine line between pleasant to look at and utilitarian, in my opinion. So flat design is a good one for choosing your website.
Number three is going to support big and beautiful images. A picture tells a thousand words and it’s going to be incredibly hard to sell your property to potential guests unless your images are really eye catching. And you can do that unless the theme that you choose packages your images in such a way that they are all over your website. So it needs to show off your images as well. Number four, it’s going to have room post types. Now, this isn’t absolutely necessary. Let me explain what this is. In WordPress, there are two primary types of content that you can publish, a page and a post. A post is a blog post, it’s tied to your RSS feed. Every time you publish a new blog post with WordPress you update your RSS feed and you send all of your subscribers a message saying, “Hey, I just updated a new post.” A page is different. It’s not tied to your RSS feed. It’s an independent static page that you can create about any kind of topic and use it as a primary navigation page. Now, many themes will also support a variety of different post types.
One example is portfolios. Photographers really love using WordPress because WordPress themes often come with portfolio post types. The reason that this is important is because a photographer can upload their photos, choose a portfolio post type and the theme will recognize that this content is distinct from the other types of content on the website and it will organize it in a way that a portfolio should be organized. Well, a good hospitality theme will have a room post type, that is, will have a section of the WordPress interface where you can create content that is specifically designed for selling rooms. And it’s going to have a link to your booking agent. It’s going to have a place for photographs. It’s going to have a place for contact information and for room descriptions and amenities. It’s going to have all of that architected RA for you so that all you have to do is log in and plug in some information and then you can publish.
That’s not essential because you can make a post or a page suit that purpose if necessary. But having room post types for your WordPress theme can make things a little easier for you. Now, finally the most important part of ensuring that your WordPress hotel or Bed and Breakfast website is suitable is that it has a commission free booking engine and we’re going to get into all of these things in a little bit. We’re going to show you exactly where you need to go to set this up. Here are some examples. Alex went and found these. He dug around in a variety of places to find some of these. These are four examples and I want you to know that each one of these uses photography differently but they all use photography. Notice that the navigation is really minimalist. They all have a navigation. It’s at the top of the page.
You can clearly and easily find it but the thing that’s been highlighted, the thing that is the most important where your eye focuses is on the photography that’s telling a story. Each of these photographs is telling a different story about this property’s brand. One is for adventure golfers. One is for people going to tropical locations. One is for people who are foodies. You’re getting a distinct idea about the brand of that property. Just by seeing one image, the first one that pops on the home page of that website and choosing a good theme that encapsulates your photographs in a good way that’s eye pleasing like this is important. So these are four examples of some paid, some free themes that you can choose for your WordPress website and you can make your WordPress website look completely different from any other website on the market.
Now, let’s talk a little bit about where you can go to find some of these themes. Here are three options. WordPress.org, which is where you go to download WordPress content management system anyway also, has a theme directory where you can browse through a variety of both, free and paid themes. You can pay a Theme Creator on WordPress to download the theme and install it on your website or you can go through a variety of free themes that are on wordpress.org. You might have seen the WordPress tutorial that I put together, in that example I actually chose a free hotel theme that I found on wordpress.org and it suited my purposes fine.
So you can get away with choosing really inexpensive cheap options if you don’t want to invest a lot of money up front. Or you can really go gung ho and find some really nice $50 or $100 themes. ThemeForest and MOJO Marketplace are two other theme market places where you can find high quality themes. And they both have themes that are dedicated to hotels. The examples that Alex showed you previously came from a number of these marketplaces. Now, I do want to put a little asterisk by this one because it’s important that if you do choose a free theme, that you download the theme from a reputable marketplace like one of the three that we’ve mentioned here. There are some of the market places out there like NetChillies is an example. And there are some others that are legitimate and even their free themes are fine but there are also a lot of other market places that are a little bit sketchy where you could download a theme and it’s got a whole bunch of viruses or malware and you could be infecting your website with some really nasty stuff.
So just to warn you, if you do go shopping for a theme for your new website, that’s fine but make sure that you choose a theme from a reputable online marketplace like one of the three that we’ve listed here. And by the way, I probably should have mentioned this at the beginning but as you recall I was a little distracted at the beginning of this webinar, but if you have any questions feel free to use the Q&A button to go ahead and ask. And Alex, as the moderator on this show is going to ask your questions for you to me as needed. So if you have any questions, if you need me to stop and explain something or you want me to slow down, just go ahead and ask away and he’ll hop on in and ask those questions for you.
Now, I want to touch a little bit about frameworks. This is not essential. This is sort of like extra credit, so to speak when it comes to WordPress themes but I just want to mention it because this is one of those things where if I had known this when I first started as a WordPress website builder. I would have saved myself a lot of time and energy. So in addition to themes there are things called frameworks. And basically what a framework is, it strips WordPress of all of the unnecessary things that come prepackaged with WordPress that kind of bogs it down. Now, WordPress is an amazing tool but the curse of a tool that is designed to be used by everybody is that often times it comes with a lot of bloat. It comes with a lot of stuff that you’re never going to use, that you don’t really need for your specific business type. In this case, hotels, B&Bs; or Inns. And that stuff just takes up space or it clouds things and makes things load slowly.
A framework strips all of that out and it’s basically another layer that you install on top of WordPress that you then install a theme into. So for example if you were to choose the Genesis Framework, then you could only choose themes that were created to be compatible with the Genesis Framework. Now, that does restricts you but the benefit is that you know that your theme is going to be snappy. It’s going to be loading very quickly. It’s going to be free from a lot of bloat and you don’t have to really worry about it functioning really well. You can sort of plug in and take out any Genesis theme to go along with your Genesis Framework and you know that it’s going to have very similar functionality.
So I just thought I would throw that out there. There are two major frameworks that I’ve worked with that I recommend, Genesis and Thesis. If you’re really want to get advanced what I would recommend is I would pick a framework whichever one you like best. My personal favorite is Genesis, but they’re both great. And then find some hotel or hospitality specific themes that are compatible with that framework. And then you’re setting yourself up for a long-term success with WordPress if you do that.
Alex: Hey Brandon, we have a couple questions. Caleb asked, “When you purchase a theme on WordPress, is it a one-time cost or a monthly fee?”
Brandon: It is a one-time cost. It also depends on the WordPress developer there. Some WordPress developers that actively support their themes and plugins and they have a number of different schemes. Sometimes it’s software as a service, where you’re paying a small monthly fee whether it’s $1 or $5. It’s really not expensive. Or sometimes you’re basically buying a yearlong license. You pay an upfront fee and you have complete access to the plugin or the theme and all of the updates and support that comes with it but only for a year.
But a vast majority of the cases are a one-time fee for everything. Almost every theme or plugin that I’ve ever purchased I’ve paid $30 or $50 once, and I’ve not only gotten the theme and the plugin as it was at that time, but I’ve gotten all of the future support and all of the future upgrades and updates as well. They are usually really generous about that kind of stuff and if you purchase from a reputable marketplace, they’re going to treat you right because they want to make sure that you’re going to stick around for your future websites as well. Any others?
Alex: Barrington [SP] asked, he’s saying he doesn’t have a lot of time to build a website and would like someone else to build it for him. Is there anywhere you recommend?
Brandon: That’s a great question and I’m glad that you’re here because one of the things that I wanted to do with this webinar is I wanted to demonstrate that, yes is completely and perfectly possible for you to create a WordPress website by yourself. I didn’t know anything about WordPress when I started. I managed to figure it out and I’m now teaching a webinar on it. You can totally do it. It’s totally intuitive. But also, you’ve got a business to run. You’re not in the business of making websites. You are in the business of running your amazing property. So you personally may not have the time necessary to dig in it, install your theme and tinker with the colors and upload images. Some of you might find that to be very rewarding and you might enjoy that and you might find time to do that but many of you just want to pay somebody to do it and that’s completely fine too.
And the answer to your question is that there are innumerable places where you can go online to find people to create a website for you. Now, you do have to be careful because the Internet is a deep dark scary place sometimes. So you want to make sure that you find someone that has an established history and whom is reputable. There are a number of great agencies out there, you can choose a web design agency to create a WordPress website for you. And if you do that, I suggest finding somebody local to you. That way you can have one on one conversations and you can hold them accountable and so on and so forth. Or if you’re really short on cash and you just want to get through the cheapest way possible, go onto a website like freelancer.com or fiverr.com and pay somebody is $30 or $40 to just set something up for you.
And you’re going to have a lot of less control over what happens and you might have to nickel and dime to get exactly what you want but there are ways to go about getting it done cheaply without doing so yourself. But the focus of this webinar is to give you the tools necessary to either do it yourself or to give this webinar and eBook that comes with it to your marketing manager or to your web developer or someone else on your team to kind of do it themselves, to do it for you. All right. And if you guys have any more questions feel free to use the Q&A button and we will make sure to answer them. So that is the end of themes, just a quick recap on themes. The theme is what gives your website its look and feel. It’s what gives your website its colors and images and branding. It gives your website the user interface that is a necessary for people to browse your content and it’s the most visual public-facing part of your website.
Now, we move on to plugins. Plugins simply give your website added functionality it didn’t have before. WordPress supports plugins and WordPress comes with a lot of wonderful features like the ability to publish a post. But it doesn’t come with the ability for a guest to book a room. That is a very specific hospitality focused need and in order to meet that need you’re going to need a plugin that you install into your WordPress website specifically designed to do that one thing to allow guest to book a room with you. Now, there are a slew of different plugins that are designed for specific purposes. And we’re going to cover a lot of them. And the way we broke this down is by topical need.
You need a booking engine for your website so we’re going to talk about booking engine plugins. You need to have an optimized search engine presence, so then we’ll talk about search engine optimization plugins. You need to be able to have your content optimized for social media networks, so we’re going to talk about social plugins. You need to have a secure website. You need to have a well-functioning website. So we are going to talk about security plugins and caching plugins. So as you can see there are all of these different spheres of need that you need to solve for your website and each of these can be achieved with a variety of different plugins. So one of the benefits of this, I’m hoping you’ll be able to take away, is to instantly know and to be able to refer to this in the future all the different plugins that you can use for your website instead of having to test them one by one over period of time and through trial and error.
All right, number one, WP Mybookings. This is our plugin. That’s right, Cloudbeds was founded by WordPress developers, WordPress plugin and theme developers and we actually created a free plugin for hoteliers and innkeepers to install into their WordPress website so that they can accept direct bookings. Now, it comes in two versions. You install one plugin but there are two options within the plugin once you install it. There’s the completely free option, where all you have to do is install it, turn it on, put in your property’s information, publish your booking page and you’re done. And it’s completely free and you’ll get an email every single time somebody books a room. And there you go. It’s completely self-supportive.
The paid option is for myfrontdesk, myallocator and mybooking’s customers. So our existing customers who are already using our software, you can integrate your existing set up within our software with your website, which it’s going to save you a lot of time. So if you’re an existing Cloudbeds customer, just install the plugin on your website contact support, get an API key. We’re going to send you the API key and then all of the work that you’ve already done in myfrontdesk to set up your rooms, to upload your photos, to upload your descriptions, all of that is going to port over to your WordPress website where the plugin, saving you a lot of time and energy. And that’s the paid version of the plugin. But it does come with a completely free forever-free version where it doesn’t do any of that advanced stuff but it is a free version that you can sort of do yourself. So just wanted to throw that out. That’s our recommendation for a booking engine plugin, is called WP Mybookings. You can find it on cloudbeds.com and is completely free.
Next up, let’s talk a little bit about SEO. One of the reasons that WordPress is the powerhouse Titan content management system that it is, is because it has an incredibly sophisticated way of going about dealing with search engine optimization. It makes search engine optimization very easy to do for your entire website or on a page-by-page basis. Or even on a content-by-content basis. Image by image for example. And this is achieved using plugins. I’m going to talk about few different plugins but the first and the most important is a free plugin called Yoast. Now, if you’ve already watched my tutorial video on how to install a plugin, you know that you just log into your WordPress dashboard, you hover over to plugins and then there’s going to be a search field from right within your website where you can start searching for the name of the plugin you want to install. It’s installed directly from wordpress.org’s own database of plugins, which is going to make things much more convenient for you.
But Yost WordPress SEO is my personal favorite SEO plugin because it gives you the most advanced features. And the reason that this plugin is important is because it allows you to create formulas for your website so that your SEO meta titles and meta descriptions are automatically generated and published as you create new content, which is going to save you a ton of time in the future. For example, you could create a formula like so. All right WordPress, I want every single post that I produce in the future to look like this in the meta title. Name of post dash, or some sort of separator like a colon my hotel’s name. And that’s going to be an SEO optimized title. And it’s going to be completely branded because it’s going to have the brand of your hotel or your Inn in it and it’s going to be keyword optimized because it’s going to have the title of your piece in it.
Now, the nice thing about Yoast is, you can not only set up these formulas to work for your entire website and for all future content that you publish, but you can overwrite them on a page by page basis. So let’s say that you’ve got this specific post and you want to write a completely new meta description for that post. You can actually open up that post in WordPress, scroll down to the Yoast SEO section, then type in your own 156-character meta description. And that will appear on Google if Google chooses to use it. Now, a lot of this stuff is invisible, and if you’re not already familiar with Search Engine Optimization, you may not understand exactly what I’m talking about. But what we’re talking about is we’re talking about invisible fields that people never really see but that Google’s robots see, and they look to these fields to try and understand what your website is all about.
And these tools give us, the web developers and the hotel business owners, the ability to tell Google in our own words what we want Google to think about our website. Which is going to help our website rank for the things that we wanted to rank for. It’s not guaranteed but it just packages our information in a much more friendly way to optimize our odds at being discovered by Google. And Yoast is my favorite plugin for that. We have an entire guide on how to completely get set up and in Yoast and the eBook that you can download later. Another great one is All in One SEO Pack. Another reason I list two instead of just going with Yoast and saying use it, is because there are some web hosts that restrict the use of certain plugins. And they do this for a number of reasons. Whether or not they have a corporate deal with that plugin developer or more likely because they think that that particular plugin is bad for system performance and if too many of their clients use it, it bogs down system resources. Whatever reason they have, some of them may say, “Okay, you can use this plugin but you can’t use this plugin.” Whatever.
So I’m giving you a couple of options. Another good option for an SEO is the All in One SEO Pack. It does many of the same things that Yoast does. It’s not quite as sophisticated but it works. Here are a couple of other ones that I want you to be aware of. Simple 301 Redirects, again, you look for these by just logging in to your WordPress website, going to the plugins section and then searching for them, typing them in by name. Simple 301 Redirects is a great plugin if you’re moving from an old domain to a new one. So if you’ve got an existing website and it’s currently at myhotela.com, but you just bought a brand new domain name and you think it has better key words in it, it’s keyword optimized, it looks better, it reads better or you’re going through a company rebrand right now and you now own myhotelwebsiteb.com.
If you want to move your contact from A to B, you need to use the Simple 301 Redirects plugin because the 301 Redirects tells Google, “Hey Google, my content has moved, but it’s still the same content so please keep it at the same rankings.” Otherwise, if you just move stuff over and don’t tell Google about it, you could lose your rankings. So it’s an important plugin for people who are concerned about SEO to use if you’re changing your domain name or your changing the URL structure of your website. And then the second one on the helpful plugin page WP Video SEO. This is made by the Yoast guy and what it does is it creates XML sitemaps for any videos that you embed on your website and it optimizes the markup on each video page so that your videos have the potential to show up in Google search results as a little video playbox which is great for click-throughs.
So if you happen to be a video person, if you love to pull out your iPhone and you quick videos of scenery at the hotel, or interviews with guests that come through, or you’re constantly producing a lot of video content this is great one for you to install on your website because it’s going to help your videos rank better on Google for specific keyword phrases. So just thought I would mention those two as good SEO plugins to install on your website. All right, we’ve gone through themes, we’ve gone through booking engine plugins, we’ve gone through SEO plugins. Let’s talk about security plugins. One of the drawbacks of using the world’s most favorite content management system is that it’s not only used by legitimate business people but it’s also used by less legitimate business people.
Alex: Hey Brandon, can I interrupt you really quick?
Alex: It’s about SEO. Can you install more than one SEO plugin at a time?
Brandon: Yes, you may. The vast majority of plugins are completely compatible with each other, which is good news. When it comes to the two plugins that I talked about, Yoast or All in One, I would choose one or the other. Those two have many similar functions so they don’t go together well. But you can have All in One and the 301 Redirect plugin. Each of those serve different functions so they can be installed at the same time. So I would just take a look at what function each of those SEO plugins performs, and if they don’t overlap a lot then yeah, install multiple.
Now, do bear in mind that every single plugin, every additional plugin you install on your website, it injects a new line of code onto your website, on every page of your website, into the header of every page of your website. And slowly over time as you keep installing more and more plugins your website is going to get bogged down and bogged down and bogged down and that’s why I prefer to use plugins that have an All in One feature which is why I mentioned All in One and Yoast. So just bear in mind you don’t want to install too many plugins. Just install enough plugins to get the functionality that you need. And then, that’s it. Just have a light touch. Okay, I hope I answered that question.
But I was getting into securities, so attention on the idea that WordPress is an extremely popular content management system but the dark side of that is that there are a lot of people out there are writing hacks and exploits to specifically take advantage of WordPress websites. And this is particularly bad when it comes to people who are not web developers trying to run their own websites because there are a lot of backdoor issues that you just might not know about because you’re not a web developer. You’re a hotelier, you run a hotel, you’re an innkeeper, you run an inn. You’re not a web developer and so you don’t have time to sit there and think about FTP access records and stuff like that.
So we need to find a way to automate the security of our WordPress websites. And you can do that using a security plugin called iThemes Security and it’s free. There is a paid version but the free version has all the functionality I need. Again, you just find it from the wordpress.org plugin directory and it has almost any future you could want when it comes to securing your website. It does things like it scrubs the version number from your WordPress public-facing files so that hackers have a harder time figuring out what version of WordPress you’re running. It locks down portions of your website that are not public facing so people can’t access them. It allows you to force change the username and passwords for people logging into your website. It allows you to force users to log in to your website from a different page than the vast majority of websites log into. It automatically backs up your website. It comes with a lot of features.
I went through and we did a blog post where we talked about all of the different security features that we recommend you turn on and that’s included in the eBook. So stay tuned for the eBook where we’re going to get into much more detail on how to use a security plugin like this. The next one is called Akismet and this is actually by the fellas at WordPress and it comes prepackaged with WordPress. So once you install WordPress you already have it installed. And this is for bloggers. This is for people who constantly get comments on their blog. If you do not plan to host a blog on your website then you may not need this plugin because you’re not going to be getting comments.
However if you do have a blog and you want people to comment on all your posts and pages then you want to prevent comment spam. And so you need this plugin. This plugin is not perfect but it is free and it’s far more superior than having no plugin at all. And what it does is it runs on number of automated test to judge a post comment as it comes in to decide whether or not it’s from a robot. If it decides it’s from a real person, it’ll publish it for you. If it decides it’s from a robot, it’ll put it in it spam section and then you can go through and you can manually approve or disapprove comments as needed. So Akismet is another great security plugin for your website.
All right, let’s talk a little bit about social media. There are so many social media plugins out there that it can be a little bit intimidating to choose the right ones for your website. So I want to focus on four right now. Four different social media plugins that each come with their own features but I want to mention them as potential candidates for your own website. Number one, it’s a plugin called Social Locker and this is good primarily if you run a blog. What it does is it allows you to hide a piece of content on your website underneath a box that requires your guests to like your website on Facebook before they can download or view your content. The purpose of this is to encourage more social media likes and shares to help your website spread more virally on social media.
And it supports Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. And this is great if you have a lot of original content. So let’s say for example, that you’ve published a PDF series of maps for hiking trails near your property. And it’s original research and you plot all of the hiking trails and it comes to photography and you are to put your heart and soul into it and you want to make sure that when people download it, they’re not just taking advantage of you. They’re actually giving something back but you don’t want to charge them money for. So what you do is you hide it beneath a Social Locker and you say, “Okay this guide, this PDF is completely free for you to use. We encourage you to download it and come to our property but just go ahead and like this page before you download it.” And oftentimes you’ll find that people are really happy to do so.
So again, this plugin is not really good for your home page or other portions of your website. It’s mainly good if you’re producing a lot of content and you’ve got a blog. Social Locker, as a paid and a free version. Click To Tweet. It also has a paid and a free version and what this does is it allows you to pull out quotes from some of your content to highlight it and then it’s got a nice little button that says Click To Tweet. This is useful for Twitter users who are browsing the internet and they happen upon your website and they’re already logged in to Twitter and they’re reading your article. And then they see this wonderful quote that you pulled out and you featured and it reads really nicely and they’re really inspired and they want to stay at your property.
And in that moment of inspiration, they see the Click To Tweet button and they press it. And then all of their followers get pinged that they’ve just retweeted your quote with a link back to your website, of course. That’s the kicker. So Click To Tweet has a similar functionality to Social Locker in that it’s trying to virally spread your website content on social media. Again, that plugin is probably good for blog post content, not necessarily for the homepage. Now, let’s talk about social media plugins that are a little bit more site wide. These are plugins that are going to have more versatility across your website.
Mashshare is a paid plugin, this is not a free plugin. But it’s a plugin that I really love. I used it on all of my websites. We used it on cloudbeds.com and what it does is, it creates a social media sharing functionality, it’s really elegant the way that they’ve got it and it comes with a lot of options. You can have a bar hover down over above your content. You can have big nice beautiful links to share content either above or below your content. And then what it does is, it aggregates the numbers of all of your social shares. So sometimes, you’ll have five shares from Google+ and two tweets from Twitter and then 30 Facebook likes.
And many plugins that try to feature these things on your website, it’s kind of glitchy and they don’t count the numbers right. What Mashshare does is it just collapses all of those into one aggregate number. And it says, “Okay, we’re not going to deal with that. You’ve got 300 shares.” And then it allows other people to share on their favorite network. You can choose what network you want. Sometimes you can share on RSS feeds. Sometimes you can share on Pinterest or Instagram or whatever, so it’s really versatile. It’s useful for people who just want to turn it on, and they’re good to do. And it has more advanced functionality for people who are more comfortable with coding and want to do some CSS tweaks to make it look more like a part of their website.
Alex: Do you know how much it costs, Brandon?
Brandon: It’s not expensive. I don’t recall the exact amount. I know that I’ve purchased it for my personal websites and at the time, it was no brainer. I’m like, “Oh, yeah that’s not expensive.” And this particular plugin, I believe, is on a yearly contract so one year after I purchased it, I got all of the updates. It’s also responsive, which is great. You install it, and it works on mobile devices so all of the wonderful sharing options that you’ve dedicated into putting up for your desktop version of your website, they work great on your mobile version of your website as well. I am sorry, I don’t recall the exact dollar amount, and I don’t want to misrepresent it because I’m not affiliated with them in any way. So just head on over to their website to find out the pricing. I recall that it was very reasonable.
And finally, let’s talk a little bit about Flare. Flare is similar to Mashshare, only it displays social stats in the sidebar instead of at the top of your website or at the top of your content. Some people simply prefer the way Flare looks compared to Mashshare and some people prefer the way Mashshare looks compared to Flare. Flare comes with a free version that is on the wordpress.org plugin directory. It’s a few years outdated. The paid version, which is only available from their website is up to date. Both versions look great. They both work great, so you can kind of just choose the one you want. So what it does is, it just has a little hover over menu that somebody that loads your website as they scroll down, this hover menu pops up to the side with a Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and print this page or email this page, all of these nice little handy utilitarian links. And you can change the colors. You can choose from a circle or square. It comes with a bunch of nifty features. So if you’re into social media and you really want to optimize your website for social media, WordPress is great because you can find a lot of wonderful plugins to help you with that.
Let’s talk a little bit about Jetpack. And just hop in if you have any questions just let us know. Alex will interrupt me and we’ll get to them. Now, Jetpack is a standalone plugin by Automatic, the company that created WordPress and it comes with a bunch of features that you can toggle on or off. Now, the reason I’m mentioning it, is because it comes with some pretty advanced features that are really easy to implement. For example, a sidebar email capture form. In order to do that you got to have a MailChimp account and then you got to create a form on MailChimp and then install the code in your sidebar. And some people might find it to be a little bit intimidating. With Jetpack all you have to do is flip the switch, drag a widget over and you’re done. And you can start to accept email contact request from your sidebar.
It comes with a bunch of other great features, they’ve got a built-in mobile-optimized thing. So let’s say that the theme that you chose for your website is not mobile responsive, but say that you did not go with Cloudbeds instructions and you chose a theme that was not mobile responsive. Ultimately that’s going to be okay because you can install Jetpack, turn on the mobile optimization link and then it’ll automatically generate a mobile optimized theme for your website content. So that’s a nice way to get around that. It comes with a content distribution network, a CDN called Photon. And what that does is they take all of the images that are on your website and they upload it to the automatic servers. And then when somebody goes and visits your website, instead of loading the images from your server, consuming your resources and your bandwidth and slowing down your website, they pull the images that are stored on Automatic’s server, which consumes their resources and their bandwidth and not yours. It ultimately leads to a faster loading web site.
So a ton of great little finicky things like that come with Jetpack. And in our eBook that accompanies this webinar we go through all of the major ones that we think that you should activate for your website and then we explain why. So Jetpack, another free plugin with a bunch of great functionality that’s going to work well with your hotel or Bed and Breakfast website.
All right, let’s talk about images. Everyone loves images. We’ve already talked a little bit about how important images are for your WordPress website as a hotelier and as an innkeeper. But one of the drawbacks to images is that they are incredibly large. And dealing with images has been the bogeyman of web developers since the dawn of the internet. How do we show off this beautiful image without breaking our users’ computers because the image is so large? Well, there are three different plugins that I’m going to recommend that you can use to help improve the way images are consumed on your website.
Number one, Unveil Lazy Load, a free plugin. Just log in to your dashboard and search for it. What this does is, typically the way normal websites work is you load a website and even though you’re at the top of the website and all you can see is the very top of it, all of the rest of the content on that very long page is loading slowly while you read the article. And that’s because when you load the page everything start to load all at once including all of the images. For a web page that has a ton of images this can take a very long time to load. Unveil Lazy Load does it completely differently. It only loads an image once that image reaches your viewport.
So for example, I’ve got an article and it’s this long, but I’m only looking at the top. That means that only the images that appear in the top are being loaded. And then as I scroll down the page these images start to load dynamically as I’m scrolling down. It saves a lot of bandwidth and it’s going to make your website load a lot faster. Number two, EWWW Image Optimizer, yes it’s a funny name. I don’t even know what the acronym stands for but what it does is, it compresses all of the images on your website saving you megs, even gigs of data, which is going to make it easier for people to navigate your website. It produces smaller files. The smaller files equal faster load times and they even give you the option to compress user interface images, images that are used all over your website, for every single page that’s been loaded whether it’s a navigational element, or a logo, or a language icon.
Sometimes those things can look inconsequential in terms of size but they’re loaded so frequently because you get so many visitors that can really add up. A plugin like EWWW Image Optimizer is going to find all of the parts of those images that are unnecessary, strip them out, compress them while maintaining image quality and then offer a smaller file to your visitors so that it doesn’t blow up their computer whenever they visit your image heavy website. So EWWW Image Optimizer, a great plugin, it’s free. I use it all the time on my websites.
And finally, Klix Image DimSum. They stopped developing this plugin. I don’t think they support it anymore but you can still download it and use it. And the reason I list it here is because it has a unique functionality that I haven’t seen in any other plugin. And in order to explain it I have to explain a scenario. So let’s say that you took this beautiful huge photograph. You went hiking with some buddies and you saw this mountain goat on a mountain and you went, “Well this has got to go on my hotel website.” So you took out your iPhone, snap, you’ve got this huge file. And then you just uploaded the file to your website, clicked Publish and then that was it. That’s great. You’ve got the photo up there but now it’s huge. The iPhone takes really large images. And what happens often times when you publish on WordPress is you only post a small thumbnail.
Let’s say the thumbnail’s only 300 pixels by 300 pixels. That’s a lot smaller than the full resolution of the image. But the problem is even though you’re only showing your visitors a 300 by 300 thumbnail, they still have to load the full huge image. What Klix Image DimSum does is, it searches your entire website for images, which only show a smaller version of the full file and it creates a new version of the image that’s already resized to the size that you’re already showing. That not only saves room on your server where you’re hosting all of these images but it makes the images on your website load a lot faster. So three options for image optimization. All three of these are completely free.
Caching and performance, this is by far and away the most complicated part of website development. For those of you who are a jack of all trades kind of individuals and you love doing this yourself, this is the thing that’s going to be even intimidating for you. I know that it was intimidating for me. Let me start by briefly explaining what cashing is and then we’ll move on to my recommendations for cashing and other database optimization plugins. So when somebody visits your website, their browser tells your host, “Hey I’ve got a person wanting to view this page. Please generate it for me.” And then your website goes, “Okay.” And then it goes from top to bottom and it generates the entire page, the logo, the language selector, the fonts, the colors and of course, all of the content. And that’s great.
But let’s say it’s really popular page and it doesn’t get viewed once a day. It gets viewed hundreds of times a day. That means that hundreds of times your website is having to generate from top to bottom the same page over and over and over again. That hogs a lot of the system resources. What a caching plugin does is, it loads it once. Okay. That page was called and I’m going to load the page from top to bottom. But I’m going to save a snapshot of it. Now that it’s already rendered I’m going to take that page and I’m going to put it over here as a snapshot so that the next time somebody comes to my website trying to access that the same page instead of generating a new one, I’m going to go, “Oh hey, guess what? I’ve got it over here.”
I’m going to show them the cached version of the page. And it significantly improves the performance of your website by reducing the amount of resources that your website is consuming on your server. So that’s the layman’s explanation of cashing. Now, there are three big plugins on WordPress that are used for cashing. My favorite, and I think the most popular one on WordPress is called W3 Total Cache. It’s really complicated and so before you dive into it, you need to read some guides online on how to use it. And we provide links to some of our favorite guides in both, the blog post we wrote on this issue and also the eBook that we’re publishing tomorrow.
Alex: I have a quick question for you. May [SP] asked if your website already has an image optimization plugin loaded, can you download and switch to another.
Brandon: It depends on the plugin. I’d have to know what one you’re talking about. But 9 times out of 10, if you’ve got a plugin installed already, you can turn it off at any time. And even if you want to switch to a different one that serves a similar purpose, you can swap them in and out. That’s actually the beauty of WordPress. That’s why WordPress is as revolutionary as it was, because before then if you wanted to make a change like that you would have to write a new line of code. You’d have to manually remove code from each and every page. It was a huge bummer. But with the entire plugin concept, you can turn them off or turn them on.
Alex: She’s using TinyPNG if your familiar.
Brandon: I’m not familiar. Something in the back of my mind is ringing a bell, but I haven’t used that before. It may be that the two of those are compatible. I’ll try and look up some documentation online about that one. It’s a little loud Alex. There we go. Perfect. But who knows. You may be able to use TinyPNG and EWWW Image Optimizer at the same time. All right. Thank you so much for that question by the way.
Back to caching. So W3 Total Cache is probably the most popular and most powerful caching plugin, and it’s completely free. It has a lot of wonderful options but it’s really complicated so you need to make sure that you’re reading a couple of guides from people who have set this up for their websites on your hosting provider before. So if you use Bluehost look for a Bluehost guide on how to set up W3 Total Cache. Now, as I said earlier some hosts don’t like you to use certain plugins and W3 Total Cache is an example of that. WPEngine doesn’t like W3 Total Cache because W3 Total Cache uses a lot of system resources to generate the cached pages. It prefers WP Super Cache. WP Super Cache is also an adequate cashing plugin. It doesn’t have quite the same functionality as W3 Total Cache in my opinion, but it’s a perfectly reasonable cash and plugin and if you have to use it because you can’t use the other one, feel free to do so.
Quick Cache is the little brother to both of those caching plugins. It’s great, it has a lot of great functionality. It’s not nearly as advanced as either of them but it’s much easier to use. You just install it, turn it on, click a few options and it takes care of stuff itself. Much easier to use, less prone to breaking things. So Quick Cache is definitely an option for people who don’t want to spend a lot of time on this. Finally, let’s talk a little bit about WP Optimize. This is not a caching plugin but what it does is it optimizes your databases. And this is important for websites that have been around for a long time and websites that have constantly been turning on and turning off plugins and themes. What happens is every single website has one database or a number of databases, but let’s just say there’s one database, for example.
Over time as you install a plugin, that adds one line of code to your database. And then if you delete that plugin, part of that code gets deleted but sometimes there are a few spaces left in there or boxes of empty content. To make a long story short, over the span of years your database can kind of get disjointed and filled with a bunch of spaces and the information isn’t nice and neatly stacked. And there are empty cells. It doesn’t quite perform as well as it once used to. Now, since every single time a visitor goes to your website, your website reads information from the database, your database is constantly beneath being pinged, which means that if it’s a slow loading database, your entire website is slow.
Now, what WP Optimize does is it goes through your database and just removes all of the unnecessary things, broken characters, too many spaces, empty cells, it punctuate things and makes things into a much more smaller compact file, which is going to improve the load speed of your website. This is a plugin where I would turn it on once a year, run it and then turn it off. You don’t have to leave it enabled on your website all year long. And you don’t have to do it every month or every quarter. Just maybe once a year, optimize your database and you’re good to go. So there you go. That’s WP Optimize, a very useful plugin.
And there we are ladies and gentlemen. This has been a bit of a sprint. I realized that we have been packing in a lot of data into this short hour long period of time but that is why we are publishing this along with an eBook, so stay tuned tomorrow, we’re going to be sending that to your email. We’ve covered hosting, we’ve covered themes, we’ve covered frameworks and then we covered a variety of different SEO solutions. I’m sorry plugin solutions including SEO, security, images and then caching and performance.
So that’s really everything you need to get your website up and running and humming along smoothly. If you nail all of those things then you are 10 steps ahead of every other innkeeper, Bed and Breakfast owner and hotelier that is trying to do this themselves with WordPress. So I hope that it was very useful and thank you so much for joining me today. Now, I want to open this up to Q&A. I hope some of you have some questions. Alex is going to be kind enough to answer them for you. So hover your mouse up to the top of your zoom presenter, see the little Q & A button, click on that and then type your question. Alex will be good enough to ask it here.
Alex: So Caleb has a question about starting a blog for a hostel. He’s asking do you recommend putting it in on your website or having it on a separate site that directs to your actual site?
Brandon: Have it on your website. Absolutely have it on your website. There is never ever any reason to ever put content that you own, that you created, on anyone else’s website unless you’re doing some sort of a marketing trick where your exchanging content or doing a guest post or whatever. And the reason I say that is because your blog content is going to be accruing reputation on search engines over the years. The longer it’s online the greater reputation it’s going to gain with Google and the more opportunities it’s going to have to snag viewers. Now, if they get to your blog and that’s not your hostel website, then that means that they’ve got to somehow find a link to your hostel website somewhere on your blog and then click that link to get to your hostel website, and then once there, find where to book.
And that just adds too many steps. And you need to avoid as many steps as possible. So the best way to go about it is to use the built in blogging functionality of WordPress for your hostel website. Create a beautiful public-facing website for your hostel using the pages functionality within WordPress, then publish a blog on WordPress and allow that one domain name myhostel.com to accrue all of that wonderful domain, I’m sorry, search engine juice that it’s going to be accruing over the years instead of splitting your online branded presence between two different domains and trying to get two different domains to rise on Google when there’s only one of you producing content. Instead, consolidate them into one domain, so you only have to put your time and effort into one domain, decreasing the amount of energy that you have to produce.
Alex: From Douglas, he’s asking, “Do you guys have a plugin for guestbook reviews that connects to my bookings?” We do not.
Brandon: No, we do not have a plugin for that. But what I would recommend is… So you’re hitting at a nugget of really good wisdom here, and that’s that people love seeing reviews before that book. Now, the thing is that they don’t necessarily trust reviews that are going to be on your website because those are invalidated. They don’t know how your website is built, they don’t understand the technology behind your website. So having an option on your website for somebody deliver a review is nice, but it’s often times not as trustworthy as just simply installing the TripAdvisor review widget, which is completely free and it’s on TripAdvisor.
You can go and you can get a little piece of code and it shows a variety of different reviews that your property has gotten on TripAdvisor, and then you can put that in the footer or in the sidebar, or even on the page and it shows out the latest reviews that you’ve gotten on TripAdvisor. Also, I would go to the plugin marketplace on WordPress and search for Yelp and TripAdvisor plugins. Because there are probably a bunch of plugins that have already been created to solve that exact need which is to get authentic, real genuine reviews on your website so that people can see them. And the nice thing about using something like Yelp or TripAdvisor is that people already know of those companies so there’s that name brand recognition which just increases your validity in their eyes.
Alex: Tipton [SP] asked if we had any thoughts on the Divi theme from Elegant Themes. And I hadn’t heard of it. I just googled it, and I just took a very quick glance at it and it looks legitimate, but that’s just a very quick glance. It looks pretty popular, so it looks legitimate.
Brandon: Sadly, we do not have an encyclopedia catalog of every hospitality theme ever created on WordPress. I wish we did, but you heard it here first ladies and gentlemen, Alex has officially approved the Divi theme. He says it looks great. We haven’t used it, so we can’t really tell you how well it works, but if it looks good to Alex, then it looks good to me.
Alex: From Eliza [SP], “Can you compare the aesthetics of the Squarespace platform versus WordPress?”
Brandon: Yeah, so Squarespace is much more streamlined. I wouldn’t say that it’s really user friendly because there’s a bit of learning curve with Squarespace. I’ve used both and frankly, I had a hard time kind of navigating Squarespace. But once you orient yourself and you know where you’re at, it’s pretty easy to just go through all of their pre-built options, and drag and drop things here and there, and publish your website and then you’re good to go. WordPress is completely different. WordPress is a modular drag and drop, choose a theme, move a tile, publish website sort of thing. WordPress is much more like you’re creating something. You’re picking a theme but then you’re producing a lot of this wonderful content and then you’re hopping into some CSS.
I see WordPress as this toolkit that people who are really creative types like to use. They like to log in to their website and just get their hands dirty with it. Sometimes they tinker with some code, sometimes they’re just changing some colors and sometimes they’re just picking a new font. You have greater access to more of the details. You can get your hands deep into the bones of the beast of WordPress. Now, with Squarespace since it’s hosted on the Squarespace servers and you’re using their proprietary technology you don’t really have all of the same access to the inner workings of the monster than you would when you’re working with WordPress.
So yes, they both produce websites, but it’s really catered to two different personality types. Do you just want to get your website up and running as fast as possible with as little work as possible, then Squarespace may be a really great tool for you. Yes, they accept branded domains. It’s going to be perfectly functional. I don’t know how sophisticated their hotel booking widgets are. I haven’t worked with them before, that’s a gap in my own knowledge. But if you really wanted to have more control over your brand, how your website is presented, if you want to have more flexibility and more options with the functionality and plugins that are out there, then WordPress is your solution. Because it’s been around for much longer and there’s just so much more you can do with it.
Alex: Alexander asked where the eBook will be after the presentation. We’re going to email it out.
Brandon: We are. Probably not today, but definitely tomorrow. I want to be able to gather all of the email addresses for the people who registered for this webinar but didn’t go to it so that I can send them a link. I also have to upload the video so I’ve got to prepare some documentation but this time tomorrow, check your email. You will have a link to this video. I’m recording this video and then I’ll also give you a link to the eBook so that you can download it onto your desktop computer.
Alex: Caleb asked, “What content do you recommend for hostels?” We have a plethora of information about this on our blog that I can email it to you if you shout it in this little chat right here. But Brandon can talk about it right now if you would like.
Brandon: Just really briefly because Alex is right, we’ve covered this a lot on our own blog. There’s a lot of great content that Alex has produced on this topic. But just really quickly in general, put yourself in the shoes of somebody who’s staying at your hostel. Why are they coming to your property? What local attractions are they interested in? Are they coming because of the scenery or are they coming because it’s an adventure hostel? Or are they coming because they like meeting people? Are they coming because it’s in the middle of the city and they like going to parties? It’s answering those questions that’s just going to help direct to the content you’re going to produce.
Because on one hand, you’d be producing a lot of adventure related content. All right, here’s the hot water rapids that are near us. Here’s a blog post on hiking trails [inaudible 01:07:06] hot water rapids. Here’s a blog post of all of the different hot water rapids companies that are nearby with some coupons that you can use if you stay at our hostel [inaudible 01:07:14]. Or if you’re in the middle of an urban environment, you can say, “Here is a list of all the late night hotspots for people who are wanting a nice drink over the weekend,” or whatever. That kind of content is going to be really important.
But if you’re wanting to find success on search engines, I’d suggest that you weave the content that you produce around a very specific searched idea and you can use free online tools like Google Keyword Planner to discover the words that your guests are actually using on Google to do research about your property. That’s late night hotspots in Colorado Springs. If you have a property in Colorado Springs and if you’re in the middle of an urban environment then that might be a really good topic to do for your property. If there are a lot of people who are doing that query, who were making that query every single month. So it’s sitting down, doing a little bit of keyword research, discovering the words that your guests are using to do research about your property and then producing the content that meets that need. That’s going to be your best bet on finding success.
Alex: Great. So does anyone else have any questions? Looks like we answered all of the ones I had.
Brandon: All right, fantastic. Well, if there are no other questions then we’ll go ahead and end this. This has been a rather long webinar. Thank you so much for sticking along with me and for suffering through the technical details at the very beginning of the webinar. Thanks for your patience. I hope this was useful. I hope that you guys will share it with your employees and your peers and be sure to tune in for our next webinar. We do this every two weeks. We send out an email inviting you to come to a new topic every two weeks and we’ll produce some amazing content for you. Thank you very much for coming to this week’s webinar on WordPress. I’m Brandon Dennis, VP of Marketing at Cloudbeds, and this is Alex Gaggioli, Marketing Coordinator and we wish you all a very pleasant day.
Alex: Great and I’ll send that email to Caleb and Alex a bit after this.
Brandon: Awesome. Thanks so much Alex.
Alex: Thank you guys.
Brandon: Thanks everyone.