Category Archives: WordPress

RIP Caldera Forms

So long, it has been good knowing you.

Yesterday (24th March 2021) came the announcement I feared was coming.  My favoured form builder for WordPress and one I’ve used across umpteen sites for all sorts of forms, is being ‘retired’ at the end of the year.

After being purchased by rival form plugin Ninja Forms – who stated at the time that they had every intention of maintaining Caldera Forms as a fully supported plugin – it now transpires that that wasn’t true.  Caldera Forms wasn’t what they expected it to be (or at least the customers and their usage were not) and so they are retiring it at the end of 2021.

If you cannot win customers, buy them.

This story is replicated throughout the history of business and commerce; if you cannot entice your competitors customers to move to you, then simply buy out the competitor and the customer base comes to you.  Once they are ‘your’ customers you are free to do to them whatever you like.  I’ve experienced this with hosting companies, ISPs, software developers to name just a few examples.  In every situation the purchaser says they wanted to buy the business because of the great product or service they provided.  Then, almost without fail, they run down the product, water down the service or reduce the support offered hoping that inertia will keep the customer with them.

I recall many years ago, when starting out as a WordPress user, being disappointed with many of the Form plugins.  Some were (and still are – yes Contact Form 7, I’m talking about you) unbelievably crude and / or limited in what they could do.  It took a while to find Caldera Forms but I was delighted to discover that not only was it endlessly customisable, had every field type you might ever want to use, it also had excellent conditional fields where the choice made in one area would dictate what was show in another.  It was also fully responsive and out of the box could deploy multi-column forms on large screens that shrank down to a single column on a phone-sized screen.  Best of all, this functionality was all available in their free to use product.

What’s the Alternative?

Sadly the search for an alternative has shown that not much has changed with the form plugins that are available.  There is always something missing or only available in the premium product.  One (very well known) plugin had great form field features except for a CAPTCHA field which was only available if you coughed up for the paid version.  So, in essence what the developer is saying is you can use this plugin so long as you don’t mind the deluge of dodgy deals that appear in your inbox.  Another plugin allowed most form field types with the exception of a dedicated Phone field (this being reserved for the premium product).  Few Contact Forms can go without a field to capture the enquirers phone number. Having to pay for such a basic feature is like being asked to pay for doors on your car.

It is said that “change is always difficult”.  In this case it is especially difficult when you are having to move from a tool that met your needs perfectly to a less capable alternative.

I know I’m not alone, Caldera Forms had a wide and loyal following amongst developers and designers who appreciated the flexibility it provided.  Hundreds of thousands of developers who have used it on countless websites are searching for the “holy grail” of form plugins.

So, fellows developers and designers, what are you going to be using instead of Caldera? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

WordPress under attack (again)!

WordFence – creators of one of the most widely used WordPress security plugins have reported a dramatic spike in attacks on WordPress based websites. This reflects our own findings here at QD Design based on data gathered from the access logs of the various sites we manage on behalf of customers.

WordFence believe the increase is around 30 times the usual volume of website attacks.

Website attacks are, sadly, nothing new. From the earliest days of plain html sites uploaded via creaky File Transfer Programs, ‘bad actors’ have tried to break into other peoples websites.

The popularity of WordPress as a development platform for websites means that it attracts more than its fair share of attacks. Automattic (the people behind WordPress), reckon it is used on around 30% of all websites globally. With that level of usage, it is no wonder that cyber criminals focus upon it (and in particular any known weaknesses within the WordPress environment).

The current threat aims to exploit these vulnerabilities to inject a block of code into a site with the ultimate aim of giving the cyber criminal access and control of the site. With access they could remove your content, replace it with their own or gather data on your membership (should your site have such a feature).

The weaknesses they are trying to exploit are, in the main, well known and in many cases had patches published some time ago.

What to do?

  1. Don’t get too alarmed; website attacks occur all the time (though this current level is considerably higher than normal).
  2. Most importantly – keep your site up to date. The core WordPress file system, the Themes, and any Plugins all need keeping up to date. Updates are pushed out when vulnerabilities are discovered and leaving key components of your website unpatched is opening your site to increased risk of being compromised.
  3. Remove any unused Themes or Plugins. Keeping a stack of old, unused (and probably unpatched) files adds to the clutter in your admin panel. Amongst those deactivated plugins could be one that has been deleted from the WordPress repository because it is a severe security risk. This may be providing an easy ‘back door’ to your site, without you even realising it.
  4. If you don’t use a WordPress security plugin and firewall, it might be time to actively consider it. WordFence (and no I make nothing out of recommending them) make a truly effective plugin that is easy to set up and use.
  5. Consider whether restricting the access to your site by geo-location might give you an enhanced level of protection. The IP addresses of the attacks we have been following can in many cases be traced back to countries well outwith Europe. To be frank, they are exactly the sort of countries you would expect a cyber attack to originate from. If your site provides information and services to an exclusively UK audience, blocking visitors from some of the less desirable locations would prevent them from even accessing the site to try and attack it.

 

If you have concerns over your WordPress site, have noted activity you are unsure of or need to strengthen your sites security, QD Design can help. Call us on 07718 589338 to discuss any issues you are having or improvements you would like to make.

Stay up to date and stay safe!

WordPress – How to Change the Number of Dashboard Columns

This has been bugging me for weeks.

I tend to use a single decent sized monitor for most of my web design work.  On it, every WordPress install gives me two columns of very large dashboard blocks that makes appallingly poor use of the available space.  So much so that with a number blocks expanded to their full size, much of the information is off the bottom of the screen meaning I have to scroll down for it.  Sort of negates the idea of a ‘dashboard’ if you have to go looking for the info.

I do have one site that for some reason has three columns and it made much better use of the available space.  I wanted to recreate this on my other installs but couldn’t find out how.  I searched every control in the menu structure, looked at the code that drove the dashboard but nothing came up.  How on earth did this one site have three columns and not two?


Prior to WordPress 3.8 there was an option to choose the number of columns present in the dashboard but 3.8 saw this disappear.  Admittedly, there are plug ins that allow you to take control over the dashboard but I’ve discovered something easier, simpler and so obvious I’ve been kicking myself since I found it.

Most browsers allow you to zoom in / out.  On my personal favourite browser – Chrome (and I’m pretty sure it is the same in others too), it is CTRL + / CTRL –
Well, if you zoom out to 90%, such a small change in font size you will barely notice it, it gives just enough room to fit three columns across the dashboard. Voila, everything in view, all at the same time and no need to scroll.

Give it a try. If you have a reasonable amount of space on screen when working on a WordPress site, why not make the best use of it.

How long to set up a shop and sell online?

How long does it take to set up a shop and sell online?

I’ve been asked this question several times in the last week.  When you turn it around and ask the questioner how long they reckon it will take, the answer is usually several hours, if not days.

What if it took less than 30 minutes to set up your own shop and begin selling on line, wouldn’t you do it?  Of course you would!

You design handmade jewelry, knit incredible garments, print custom T shirts or make amazing items of artwork and sell them to friends / family and through local independent shops.

No doubt your customers are delighted with your products and tell all their friends about you. But you are still only tapping into the tiniest proportion of your available market. Unless someone happens to know you / one of your friends or be in that independent shop, they have no chance of knowing about your product and thus making a purchase.

The answer (of course), is to sell online.  However, several conversations in just the last week show that for many people the idea of setting up their own shop is a daunting one, and one they expect to be complex and problematical.

Let me let you into a secret. It isn’t! You could easily have a shop of your own up and running in around 30 minutes.    Here’s how.

1. Assuming you have a website running WordPress, install the WooCommerce plug in. WooCommerce is part of the organisation that builds WordPress itself and it is the biggest (by a long way) e-commerce platform on WordPress.   Not got a WordPress website – no problem. Just about every server can handle WordPress*, it is easy to set up a simple WordPress site, styled to look like your current website and put links to it from the relevant places in your main site.

2. Configure WooCommerce – set up your location, currency, whether it is a physical or downloadable product (e.g. an e book), customise any email confirmations you want the system to send.

3. Download the Payment Gateway plug in of your choice (PayPal, Stripe, Amazon Pay, WorldPay etc) and configure your account.

4. Connect WooCommerce to your chosen payment gateway and link using the provided API key.

5. Create a product to sell in WooCommerce. Ideally with a product description, images, size / colour options etc.

6. Begin selling!

It is as simple as that.  In 30 minutes or so, your reach will have gone from local to potentially global.  What’s stopping you?   You have a great product, why not sell it as widely as possible!

At QD Design we can assist you through the process. From simple advice and guidance, to setting up the WooCommerce platform and Payment Gateway or even building the complete WordPress site to contain it all.

We eat, sleep and breath the web and want to help businesses make the most out of it. Call us for a chat or drop us an email and we will get back to you.


*If your server really can’t support WordPress, we need to talk, urgently!  You are being hosted on a device that may well be compromising your websites speed and thus your position in Google search results (Google hates slow sites and penalises them over faster ones).