Headway 2.0 WordPress Theme – a brief review

I’ve been using the Headway Premium WordPress theme (disclosure: that’s an affiliate link) for nearly a year.

It has just been upgraded to version 2.0, which has brought a whole heap of new and improved functionality, bug fixes and speed improvements.

What is Headway?

Headway is a premium (paid-for) WordPress theme that has a built in visual editor for you to take control of how your WordPress driven site looks – everything from colour scheme, font styles and sizes to layout (yes, you read that right, drag and drop layout, in the browser!).

What Headway isn’t

Headway isn’t a beautiful but overly designed theme that locks you out of the ability to edit how your site or blog looks. Quite frankly if you have no eye for colour or talent for layout, you might not like Headway at first sight. There are, however, ‘Skins’ for Headway available, some free, some paid for, including one (more to come) from a very skilled WordPress paid-for theme designer. These are installed as a plugin and let you skip the process of designing your site initially yet most give you the ability to use Headway’s powerful layout features when you’re ready.

Why use Headway rather than a free or cheap pre-designed theme?

Sometimes you like some things about a theme but not others. Using Headway you can replicate a theme, with a little bit of time and in some cases some custom CSS (for anyone familiar with CSS, the ability to see a web page change as you type in a CSS command is something wonderful). In fact I’ve just switched this site over to Headway from a free theme called Gear that I have been using for a year or so. Mostly I wanted to see how quickly I could switch whilst retaining the original look and feel. It took me about an hour. I promise I’ll change it around again soon and make it more appealing, now I have the ability to do that!

One of the most common uses I’ve had so far for Headway has been adding a blog to existing websites, whilst maintaining a similar style to the main site. That’s pretty hard to do with anything else but a breeze with Headway. If you know your way round PHP and HTML too, you’ll appreciate Headway’s ‘Hooks’. These are points in the page where you can insert PHP code or HTML. Say you have a top navigational include for a main site – just insert a PHP include command at the relevant hook and you’re done. I’ve just finished working on a much more involved site than a standard blog and Headway’s Visual Editor and Live CSS Editor (it’s a fairly involved design) we invaluable in getting the site looking exactly like the PSD files.

One of the new features that should appeal to a lot of people is the Search Engine results preview – in the WordPress Edit Post page is a panel that shows you what your page will look like when it comes up in the SERPs on Google, encouraging you to write a meaningful title and META description (and Headway’s long standing SEO features include allowing you to set a different title tag to the on-page title.

Pricing

When you purchase a developer license you have the ability to install it on as many sites as you like (your own, friends, family and clients), forever (it’s a lifetime license). Many of the other premium WordPress themes require you to buy a license for every site you set up that isn’t owned by you/your company. The only thing that people who you set up Headway for in this way don’t get is access to the support forums and future upgrades. For that they’d need their own license. The support forums are superb by the way, with some very helpful people, both those working for Headway Themes and regular users too. Oh and about upgrades? There’s a one-click upgrade function built in now!

Marks out of ten?

With the latest version, a solid 9. There’s always room for improvement, but then the Headway team are continuing to take it forward, and lifetime upgrades means I’ll get to enjoy all the coming enhancements. One thing that I go back and forth on is what functionality should be added in future versions that is already provided by other plugins – should that be in Headway or should I install a plugin to get it? Fortunately Headway’s developers ‘know when they’re beat’, for example Headway’s own breadcrumbs code steps aside if it detects the presence of Yoast’s Breadcrumbs plugin. More compatibility with the big guns in various areas of advanced WordPress usage (multi-lingual, e-commerce) can only be a good thing.

Use WordPress? Feel a Need for Speed?

If you’re looking to take your WordPress site from slow-poke to Speedy Gonzalez, install WP Minify plugin.

Faster pussycat!Since Google have now been very public that site speed is a ranking factor, albeit a minor one, now is a good time to get testing your site’s speed.

I’ve been using Google’s Page Speed Firefox extension, you can also use YSlow from Yahoo. For either you’ll need to install Firebug first.

There are plenty of tutorials online for how to use these Firefox extensions, and each of them has built in suggestions and information on what it all means. Some of the suggestions can be a bit cryptic, also there’s a limit to how many of the suggestions you can implement (seriously, how do I ‘parallelize downloads’ by loading static files from different hosts and at the same time keep DNS requests to a minimum?).

Most of the suggestions (Enable compression, Leverage browser caching) can be handled using .htaccess rules, but some are a bit more involved.

This one’s a three-fer

Some of the suggestions would be a pain to implement manually but you can get at least 7-10 points closer to 100, using the WP Minify WordPress plugin. This marvellous bit of code will take care of the ‘Minify CSS’, ‘Combine external CSS’ and ‘Combine external JavaScript’ suggestions, on the fly too, and it’s just a case of turning it on.

Implementing this plugin, and a couple of .htaccess rules took this site to 86/100 according to Page Speed. The rest of the suggestions would be impractical to implement, requiring the use of a content delivery network that a personal blog like this wouldn’t warrant, and spending a lot of time rewriting CSS.

Image credit: heikof via Creative Commons on Flickr

My 10 Base Install WordPress Plugins

UK PlugThere are some plugins that are standout candidates to be rolled into the core of WordPress as ‘canonical’, ‘core’, ‘anointed’ or whatever Automattic end up calling them. I just think of them as essential.

For now you’ll just have to install them manually. These are the plugins that I install into a WordPress site as soon as I set it up, with a little explanation of what it does and why you want it.

To install a plugin, go to the ‘Plugins > Add New’ page in your WordPress Admin area.

WP Supercache
It’s all too easy to go overboard with WordPress plugins but each of them takes time to process a post, slowing down your blog. QP Supercache helps speed things up by storing cached pages. There are some confusing advanced settings and for maximum compatibility I tend to leave it on ‘half-on’ for the WP Touch plugin.

Cleaner Gallery
Remember that case of the family photograph that found its way into a shop window display in Prague? Wonder how someone could take a low res image and print it big enough for a shop window? When you place an image gallery in a post link them to larger versions, those larger versions are pretty damn large, even though WordPress creates several different size versions. Cleaner Gallery gives you more control over images placed in galleries.

Google Analyticator
The first of the Google Analytics plugins to support the new asynchronous Google Analytics Javascript. As well as placing your analytics tracking code for you, it also adds a quick analytics view to your WordPress dashboard and can prevent tracking clicks by logged-in admin users too, so your numbers aren’t skewed by your own visits.

WP Touch
This plugin serves your WordPress site up in a format that’s optimised for mobile use, especially the iPhone.

GZip Output
Earlier versions of WordPress had an option to gzip files on the fly. Why would you want to do this? Gzipping files compresses them before being served to browsers. Browsers expand them at the other end, using less bandwidth. This plugin gives you that option back.

Bad Behaviour
The web can be dangerous place and using an open source blog platform makes your site vulnerable to attack from various types of attack. Bad Behaviour mitigates these attacks through various methods. Trust me, it’s worth having.

All in One SEO pack
Gives you some serious SEO-fu control over your blog – page titles, meta descriptions and more.

Post Limits
Ever thought 10 posts was a lot to serve up on your homepage? Post Limits gives you control over how many posts are shown at a time on your homepage, archive and category pages.

EverMore
Wordpress’s <!–More–> Shortcode is great for putting in a ‘click to read the rest of this post’ link but the problem is you need to remember to use it. If you’re in the habit of writing long posts, or you’d just prefer your post listings to show only the first 3 (or 4, it’s configurable) paragraphs of each post, EverMore is what you’re looking for.

WP Security Scan
Getting hacked is akin to getting burgled, someone thumbing through your writings, your drafts, potentially changing your published content. WP Security Scan spots your weaknesses and tells you what you can do to tighten up your defences.

A final tip: run a health check on your blog with Is My Blog Working – some of the plugins above will help you get your site scoring green across the board, even if you’re not running on a dedicated server.

Image credit: Matt Fowler via Creative Commons on Flickr

Optimising your web pages for being shared on facebook

Sharing links on Facebook is a growth activity. Is your website optimised for it?

Have you noticed when you share a link on Facebook, you can choose a thumbnail image. Facebook get the list of images by scanning the URL you want to share for any images that are placed on the page. Sometimes that works well, other times it doesn’t pick the image you want.

How would you like to be able to choose what image is selected as the thumbnail for your page when it’s shared?

Facebook’s page of advice on how to best format your page for sharing on their site

http://www.facebook.com/share_partners.php – recommends putting in the head are of the html document something like the following:

<link rel=”image_src” href=”images/my-thumbnail.jpg” />

There are further options for multiple media types and they’re worth looking into if your site is sharing audio or video files.

If your pages aren’t hand-coded (and whose are), press your CMS/eCommerce site provider to give you control to decide which image on a page should be the chosen thumbnail, or set a site-wide default (your logo perhaps?).

If you’re using WordPress and your theme makes use of the (new since WordPress 2.9) post thumbnail feature, there’s a handy plugin that makes sure your post thumbnail is the image that shows up.