Five Sass-y tricks to impress your friends

I am not ashamed to tell you that I was really reluctant to try Sass.

When you’ve been doing front-end development as long as I have (20 years this August), you know that there are new tools and techniques made available on an almost-daily basis. Most of them are fleeting at best, so I tend to wait until it looks like something is gaining some traction before I take the time to try it out.

But Sass won me over on the very first project I put it to work on and I’ve used it on practically every project since. Along the way, I’ve picked up some clever tricks that make life easier and development faster.

Here’s a small roundup of some of my favorites. Enjoy! Continue reading

Creating interactive image maps in WordPress

Last year, I created a website for a client to showcase their new building. We wanted to make it easy for site visitors to explore the new areas of the new building while also making it easy for the client to update the building information.

The only materials available to us were the architect’s plans and renderings for the new building. We created an interactive floor plan where site visitors can click on different areas of the building to get more information. Continue reading

Responsive sticky footer woes and fixes

Over the years, I must have used about a dozen different approaches to coding up a sticky footer, with varying degrees of success. I recently stumbled upon an elegant CSS3 solution and immediately put it to work on the theme on this site. But then I discovered some problems. Here’s how I fixed them.

What’s a sticky footer?

Alright, let’s say you’ve got a design that involves a big, chunky footer like the one on this site. If you have a page or a post that’s light on content, maybe just a few lines (like my contact page) and your site visitor happens to have a tall browser window, you don’t want that big footer hanging out in the middle of the screen. You want it down at the bottom of the browser window.


That is the art of coding a sticky footer. Continue reading

How to Create an Alphabetical Index of Posts in WordPress

About a year ago, I was handed a design comp from a designer that required me to build out an alphabetical index for a custom post type in WordPress. You know, something like this:

WP Alpha Index

…where clicking on one of those letters would take you to a page showing only posts with titles starting with that letter. I managed to cobble together a solution that works pretty well. Not great, but passable. It involved writing quite a few custom functions – one to generate that bunch of links you see in that image above, one to register a query parameter so I could use it in WordPress, and then a few more functions to do the right queries in the database, a bunch of code in the template to make sure I was showing the right posts…and on and on. Continue reading

The ‘Best’ WordPress theme is…

In case you didn’t know, I’m a regular over on the WordPress forums on LinkedIn. I like helping people out with their WordPress puzzles and conundrums.

Without a doubt, the most popular question people ask is some variation on “What’s the best WordPress theme?” For example, looking through page one of the forums today, I see:

Any insight into the best themes for mobile responsive?

What’s the best free or premium theme with featured page blocks on the home page?

What are the best free customizable themes available?

Which framework do you guys suggest for making responsive child themes?

These questions are tough, if not impossible, to answer. Not because there aren’t any great themes, but because the premise is all wrong. Here are the bad assumptions I see people making over and over again: Continue reading

Using Google Analytics with WordPress

Chances are, if you’ve set up a website with WordPress, it would be really nice to know how many visits you’re getting, where those people are coming from, which posts are the most popular, etc. Google Analytics is a great tool for that job. But how do you use Google Analytics with WordPress?

There are tons of places you can go to learn how to set up a Google Analytics account, so I won’t go into that here. But basically how Google Analytics works is you set up your account, tell it what website you’d like to track, and then Google gives you a bit of code, called a code snippet, that needs to be added to your site to enable Google to track what’s happening on your site and provide you with reports. Continue reading

How to Make a Local Copy of a WordPress Site in 5 Minutes or Less Without Dealing with Code, Terminal, or PHPMyAdmin

WordPress 3.8 was released today. Maybe you’d love to give it a try, but you’re not sure how it might work on your own site. Will it break any features on your site? Will your favorite plugin turn out to be incompatible? Chances are slim that you’ll run into any problems, but of course, you want to be absolutely sure before you upgrade.

How can you be sure? By making a local copy of your site to use for testing. By ‘local copy’, I mean a copy of your site that lives on your own computer instead of on a server. You’ll be the only one who can view it. Local copies are also great for adding new features, coding child themes, making adjustments to an existing theme and more. Think about all the things you can do with a WordPress site that you don’t necessarily want your site visitors to see in an unfinished or half-baked version. Continue reading

How to use Google Web Fonts in your WordPress theme

Of course there are plugins for using Google Web Fonts on your WordPress site, but if you’re developing a theme, chances are you’d like your typography choices to be tied to your theme, not dependent on a plugin. Here’s how to use Google Web Fonts in your theme.

First, head over to Google’s Web Fonts site and pick out the fonts you’d like to use. Use the tools on the left side to narrow down the options because there are a lot. For this blog, I knew I wanted a chunky serif font for the headers and blog title, so I picked serif from the Categories dropdown and then moved the thickness slider over to the right.

Searching for a thick serif

That handily narrowed down 617 choices to just 5. You’ve got quite a few options for previewing the fonts – you can view a word, a sentence, a paragraph, or a poster. You can choose from some pre-selected preview text or you can type in your own, and you can also select a font size.

Preview choices for Google Web Fonts

Once you’ve found a font you’d like to use, just click the Add to Collection button.

Click the Add to Collection button to choose a font

Yes, you could add dozens of fonts to your collection. But you won’t, right? Because you know that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Try to limit yourself to a maximum of three. Two is better. For performance reasons, I still like to use an old-fashioned web-safe font for body text and save the web fonts for headers and other elements that need special emphasis or attention. Be careful about the legibility of your fonts – there’s no use using some snazzy font if it means your site visitors can’t read what you’re writing.

As you add fonts to your collection, you’ll see them listed in the blue section at the bottom. Once you’ve got the fonts in your collection you’d like to use, just click the Use button.

Use your selected collection of fonts

And you’ll be whisked off to a screen with 4-step instructions on how to use the fonts. If you’d like to download your choices to use in a graphics editing program to produce a comp or maybe a fancy screenshot.png for your theme, you can do that by clicking the Download Fonts button at the top right. If you just want to use your font in your theme, then you don’t have to download your collection.

In step one, you can select which weights or styles you want include in your collection and in step two, you can select which character sets you want to include. You can also see the impact your font collection will have on your page speed.

Now, in step three is where things get tricky. Step three gives us code to add to our websites – three different options. Go ahead and select the Standard option, but we’re going to deviate from Google’s instructions a bit at this point to follow WordPress best practices for adding styles to our WordPress theme. In the code for the standard option, just copy the URL that’s listed as the href attribute for the <link> tag.

Copy the URL in the href attribute

Then, open up your theme’s functions.php file. We’ll create a function for loading the CSS that we’ll be using with our theme:

See that ggl prefix on my function? That’s a WordPress best practice. Always prefix your WordPress function names to reduce the chances that they’ll collide with some other function in a theme, child theme, or plugin.

Now, inside that function, we want to register our stylesheet from Google:

We’ll use the wp_register_style WordPress helper function. The first parameter is a handle, or shorthand, that we can use to refer to this stylesheet later on in our code. The second parameter is the path to the file. We’re using the URL we got from Step 3 in Google’s instructions.

Next up, we’ll enqueue our main stylesheet for our theme. You didn’t put a <link> tag in the <head> section of your header.php file, did you? If you did, go and remove it. Then enqueue your stylesheet in your functions.php file:

Here we’re using the wp_enqueue_style WordPress helper function. It’s got the same parameters as wp_register_style. First we assign our stylesheet a handle. Second, we get the path to our stylesheet. Handily, WordPress provides us with a function, get_stylesheet_uri(), that we can use to get the path to our theme’s style.css file. Third, we list dependencies. Our style.css file is dependent on the Google Web Fonts stylesheet, so we pass in the handle we assigned to that stylesheet when we registered it.

Finally, we’re going to use the wp_enqueue_scripts action hook to call our function:

Now we’re all done with functions.php and there’s only one thing left to do to use our Google Web Font. Step four of Google’s instructions for using the web font will show you what values you’ll pass to the font-family property to use your font. I want to set all of my headers in Holtwood One SC:

And I want to set my site description in Rouge Script:

That’s all there is to adding Google Web Fonts to your WordPress theme. Remember, with great power comes great responsibility. Use them responsibly!