• Web Usability: key to user experience
  • Once a user has found your web site, its usability will determine its success. User surveys suggest that user-oriented design, and well organised content, scores over funky graphics and innovative design. There’s a link, too, with SEO… Read more...
  • SEO: Climb Online or Fly With The Dove?
  • Lord Sugar’s decision to back an SEO start-up with £250,000 is a reminder of the essential roles of SEO and effective web management. Dovedale Design manages web sites and their SEO, freeing business owners to build their business. Read more...
  • In praise of Microsites
  • A microsite can used to complement a mother site, with a distinct character appropriate to its subject and audience. Among many other advantages are speed of rollout and the ability to give a discrete group control over character and content. Read more...
  • IE8 – Let’s Kill This Beast!
  • I came across today a web site dedicated to killing off Internet Explorer 8. My own experiences have taught me painfully why my first web design teacher referred to Internet Explorer as ‘the spawn of the devil’… Read more...
  • Responsive Web Design – what does it mean?
  • These days, web sites are accessed on a host of different devices, with a myriad of different screen sizes, resolutions, browsers and operating systems. From the very start of web design, there has been a need to ensure that sites […] Read more...
  • How should I measure my web site traffic?
  • Content is king for search engines, and well-structured navigation is high on user priorities. Regular analysis of a web site’s traffic can help maintain a well-structured, engaging site. But what metrics should we use? Read more...
  • Why WordPress?
  • I am unashamedly a fan of WordPress, an opensource blogging platform-turned-Content Management System, which sits at the heart of many our web sites. But “wait a minute”, I hear you say, “doesn’t ‘opensource’ mean free? How can something free be […] Read more...
  • Should social media form part of our web strategy?
  • It depends on what you are trying to achieve with your site, but for many sites, the answer is increasingly ‘YES’. Social media (mainly Facebook and Twitter for the purposes of this article) have become increasingly pervasive. Recently I read […] Read more...
  • To blog or not to blog
  • I am sure that we are all familiar with standalone blogs. Someone decides that they wish to express him- or herself on the Web, sets up a blog site and away they go. There are plenty of blogging tools and […] Read more...

WordPress Custom Fields – an underused weapon!

A recent project, revamping Chiltern Chamber’s web site, made effective use of WordPress custom fields to create specific solutions for specific needs. Concerns about the previous, Joomla-based site included hopelessly inconsistent formatting for content such as events. Those inputting content were all trying to style it creatively, and ending up with very different results.

On this site, there are two important areas, where similar content is replicated, and consistency really necessary.

  • The Chamber’s monthly events: in addition to full text on the Events page, summary information for upcoming events is presented on the Home page. A standard format ensures that the necessary details are all easy to find, in the same order, and consistent.
  • Member pages: all members have the opportunity to submit a write-up, contact details, logo, map etc, for their own page. With more than 100 member organisations, and ambitions to grow, lack of a systematic approach would be a recipe for mayhem! On the other hand, an effective, systematic approach would give the potential for real scalability.

The image below demonstrates how plain text input via a WordPress custom field can be turned into a consistent, formatted output on the web page.

The user has input, in plain text, and without the need for link anchors, the various contact details including web, phone, address, Facebook and Twitter, a logo, and details for a Google Map. For corporate members, there is an additional field for any Member-to-Member offers. These inputs are then output on the web page in a consistent position, and format, with links created.

Example of WordPress custom fields usage

To make this magic happen, two additional stages are needed:

  • The content of the custom field needs to be placed within the template for the web page. Another advantage of using a custom field is that you can test whether the custom field holds any content, and output only if it does – hence unused or empty custom fields will not mess up the appearance of the web page. The code for this would look something like this:
    $contact = get_post_meta($post->ID, ‘Company contact’, true);
    if ($contact) { echo “Phone : $contact”; }
  • The output needs to be styled, via the style sheet.

With these ingredients in place, pages for any number of member organisations can be created easily, and rendered in a consistent, user-friendly format. Using WordPress categories, we have also created a database of member organisations, searchable by industry.

We have taken a similar approach with the Chamber’s monthly events. By setting up fields for event date, title, time and venue, event type and cost, we can output consistent formats for events. One other nice trick is that, via code comparing the date in the custom field with the current date, the event details are moved from ‘forthcoming events’ to ‘past events’ at midnight on the day of the event, and removed from the Home page, with no human intervention needed. Just another example of the usefulness of the WordPress custom field!