A Healthier Option Helps WordPress Users Improve the Options Table

A Healthier Option Helps WordPress Users Improve the Options Table

You may have noticed we’ve been covering a lot of plugins lately. What can we say? We’re doin’ work! We have yet another amazing plugin that we’d like you to meet, called A Healthier Option. A Healthier Option analyzes your options table and offers suggestions on how to make it healthier.

Autoloading WordPress options

WordPress provides a way to autoload (or not) certain options. WordPress stores these autoloaded options in a big bucket, like an object cache that allows a user to say, “This is an option that needs to be available all the time.” To make it constantly available, the option is placed in the autoload bucket, making it easy for the user to access it without having to go to the database. The option is stored in memory and far less computationally expensive.

For a fantastic rundown on understanding alloptions in WordPress, take a peek at this article from our friend, John James Jacoby.

The problem

By default, most object cache buckets can be up to 1 MB. When it’s filled with a reasonable amount of data, that’s totally fine. However, when you’re talking about a lot of plugins with a ton of autoloaded options, the autoloaded options cache bucket can fill up real quick. Once it’s overfilled, it stops working properly.

WordPress attempts to make all autoloaded options available on every page load. This is great, in theory, as it should save a lot of trips to the database. When the cache bucket for autoloaded options is too big, this breaks, and can cause a significant performance drain on your website.

If you have 10,000 options with big values, and 5,000 of those are autoloaded, then it can quickly become a performance strain. Suddenly, your options table gets unwieldy.

Depending on the configuration of your server, your database, and your object cache, what WordPress intended to be a simple and relatively small table of options can turn into the culprit behind your site’s slow speed. We know that loading time can make a huge difference in terms of sales and success, so keeping your site quick should be a high priority. A Healthier Option plugin helps you do that, and makes it wicked easy to manage.

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Zao Adopts Asset Queue Manager

You’ve already heard our good news about CMB2…but wait, there’s more! We recently adopted Asset Queue Manager, a WordPress plugin that allows experienced front-end performance engineers to take control over the scripts and styles enqueued on their site(s).

About Asset Queue Manager

AQM is a well-liked and regarded plugin built by a developer from the UK named Nate Wright.

When plugins are bad citizens, they enqueue their assets everywhere on the front-end, which means their style sheets and JavaScript files are loaded everywhere, regardless of where they need to be. AQM allows you to manage whether or not those assets are actually enqueued. It’s a fantastic tool based on a great idea, and it has a really cool UI.

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CMB2 Grows: Where Human Made, Zao, and WebDevStudios Meet

If you know WordPress, you certainly know CMB2. CMB2 is a developer’s toolkit for building metaboxes, custom fields, and forms for WordPress. It’s a thriving plugin, with over 100K active installs and a five star rating on WordPress.org and over 1500 stars on Github. CMB2 also happens to be flexible enough to be bundled in other projects (plugins/themes), and those installation numbers are unaccounted for. If you account for the plugins and themes which bundle CMB2, this number is truly astounding.

After a long history of many contributors and iterations, three WordPress web development companies, Human Made, Zao, and WebDevStudios, are coming together to work on CMB2 and create its own Github organization.

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Zao Client Spotlight: An Interview with Qpractice’s Lisa League

Earlier this week, we shared the technical breakdown of the work we did for Qpractice, including a run down of the extensive custom plugin development and functionality we added to the site.

I had a chance to chat with Lisa League, designer and founder of Qpractice, to get a more in-depth look at what Qpractice does, why she chose Zao, and her experience working with us.

Tell us a little bit about your work.

The NCIDQ exam is used in the US and Canada for [interior designer] licensing and certification. I teach several courses that prepare designers to take the exam. Designers who want to move ahead in their career, junior level and senior level designers looking to advance and take on higher paying projects. It’s typically commercially focused, because the exam has to do with health, safety, and welfare, [with a focus on] building codes, accessibility codes, etc. [The test is] not [focused on] interior design or decoration, but regulations and codes–on interior architecture, like the non-structural part of the building, plumbing, electrical, mechanical systems, stuff like that.

The exam reviews both what designers learn in school, as well as what you learn on the job. The exam is not available to everyone; you must meet certain requirements in education and years of work experience to be eligible to take it.

What was the major reason you needed a developer?

I had pretty much done everything myself since I started. I was creating content to work with customers or members, as well as providing customer support and doing the website design and development. I learned how to do quite a lot, but couldn’t go beyond the out of the box capabilities.

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I wanted to enhance what I could offer to my customers, so I wanted to work with developers. I worked with other developers a year ago, but to be able to continue on, Qpractice needed a team, [rather] than individuals that might get booked on a project [and be unavailable]. I needed the availability, as well as more than one person working on the site, and wanted continuity, support, and ongoing development.

How were you handling this before?

I was handling it all myself, with some backup from a support team that offers task based support. If it was something I couldn’t do, I would hand it off to them. They were taking one off small tasks, rather than major feature set development. When I needed somebody to take care of one thing or update plugins at night, it worked great, but more extensive features and ongoing development wasn’t within their scope.

How did you first hear about Zao?

I contacted several well-known, well-respected Genesis custom theme developers and they recommended Zao.

What led you to choose Zao over any other agency?

I talked to a lot of people, but what it boiled down to was Zao’s follow up and [willingness to] take the time. I hired Zao to scope the project, which provided the kind of feedback I didn’t get from other developers. When Zao [gave a] preliminary look into [the site], they did an excellent job digging in, seeing what I had, what I needed, why I needed it, and what we can do better. Not everybody does that.

What were the big successes of this project?

I’ve been able to offer different courses and products than I’ve offered before. Now, I can package them together and offer them at a higher price point. I also now offer an e-book for sale and delivery is totally automated, so I don’t have to spend any additional time while it adds to my revenue.

[Zao also] improved the product that I have, and make sure everything is kept up to date. We added some things that simplified [my work and the user experience], and offered tools that allow my customers to better track their progress, as well as tools for me to better manage my members and control member access.

How has Zao helped you achieve your goals for this year?

A website is like a living breathing organism, so it’s always going to need something. They’ve enabled me to take the whole big picture and break it up into parts, do what I need to do now (while making money from that), and then go forward [to the next piece]. It provides an opportunity to regroup [before diving into the next phase] and to profit on what we’ve already developed.

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Do you have numbers regarding Zao’s impact on your success?

I doubled my revenue for the first two months of this year compared to last year.

If someone was on the fence about working with Zao, what would you tell them?

I would tell them to put the time and money into the discovery/scoping process, because that’s critical. You’d have a really good doctor [take a look] before you go under for a major surgery. You want [a developer] to look at what’s happening, break it all down, figure out what you need and why you need it, as well as any alternate ways to achieve what you want, and then make recommendations based on that.

I have put money into software and custom development in the past, only to find it was something I had to scrap. It’s better to spend the time and money upfront and really break it apart, and what you think that you want to do may not be what you end up doing–or it might be, but there might be things you didn’t think of. Zao offers that.

Do you have anything you’d like to add about your experience?

I just enjoy working with the team at Zao. You don’t want people to just do a job, but you want to hire people you enjoy working with.

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So You Want to Hire a Contractor… (Part 1)

If you are running a small development or design agency (or working solo, but looking to grow), you may wonder when you’ll be able to actually hire employees. Hiring a team–even one person–can be intimidating.

You may be worried about taxes, whether you can afford it, or how you’re going to find someone who is a good fit. You might be panicking at the amount of work you have piling up while knowing it simply is not possible to hire a team member and offer them the full benefits of a regular employee. You know you need additional hands on deck, but you’re not sure you can start fleshing out a team of full time employees

That’s when it’s time to hire a contractor.

Getting started

One of the easiest ways to find someone who is a good fit is an obvious one: ask around. It’s likely someone in your industry has a solid lead on who can help you out.

You can contract for whatever help is needed the most.

Here are a few things I’ve seen developers hire contractors for in the past:

  • Development
  • Design
  • Social media management
  • Content management
  • Writing
  • Customer service
  • Tech support
  • Project management
  • Virtual assistance

Word of mouth is a great way to find folks, as is reaching out to any professional communities you’re involved in for recommendations.

While trying to find someone within your network is a good start, it’s also worthwhile to put out a call to online job boards (or even just a call out on your site). While we’re all inclined to invest more trust who is only a few degrees of social separation away, you want to have options. You never know who is lurking out there and will jump at the opportunity to work with you. Maximize your opportunities to create an amazing team by utilizing both your network and platforms that expose your call for a contractor to a new audience.


A huge aspect of productivity and success is having an incredible team. Although someone may not be formally joining your company, working with them even on a part-time or short-term basis means that you are working as a team.

A part-time or short-term team member can still have a huge impact on the work you’re creating and your clients’ experience. You want to make sure that they’re a good fit! If you don’t put the effort into finding a contractor that will enhance your team, you’ll wonder why you bothered at all. A bad personality or work style fit can create stress and unrest, and diminish the overall quality of your work. You want someone who is going to work well with you and deliver the goods.

Do your research

Do they have a website with samples of their work? Resumes are great, but often incomplete–especially if they’re performing a specific kind of work (development, writing, etc.). You need to see samples of the work they’ve done in the past.

Keep in mind: if the work is live on a client’s site, it may be different than what the contractor intended. How many times have you recommended something to a client, only to have them shoot it down? Or, worse, go in a completely different direction that you think is questionable (at best)? We’ve all been there, and as we know, clients get veto power. They’re hiring us to create what they need and want, and sometimes we disagree on the best way to accomplish that.

You may come across a sample that makes you go, “Buh? What is that?” Make sure you compare other pieces of their work to that, and look for consistency. Ask yourself, “Is this a deviation or a norm for their work?” You want to make sure that you’re not judging them based on decisions that weren’t entirely their own.

If you find a sample that makes you go, “??!?” to be anomalous, you can bring questions about it to your interview.

Doing this research gives you a fantastic starter for your first conversation with them, as you can ask them how they created this work, what kind of challenges they experienced while doing so, and other relevant questions. These questions offer insight into not only the work itself, but how they conduct themselves professionally and when facing adversity.

Ask for references

And make sure you check them! Even if you get a word of mouth recommendation, make sure you ask for a few additional references and follow through on tracking them down. You want to know that your contractor can consistently deliver good work and maintain relationships. Several good recommendations can give a lot of insight as to who they are and what they’re like to work with.

For example, what most of my references will tell you about me (both good and bad):

  • I’m a consistent, open communicator.
  • I’m also an overcommunicator, meaning I check in a lot and tend to follow up with the persistence of a hungry bed bug out for blood (or a puppy looking to play ball, if you’d prefer a less disgusting analogy).
  • I work hard to make sure what I’m delivering is the best it can be, and have an eye for additional opportunities (don’t get them started on how many times I’ve said, “That’d be a great blog post!” in the middle of a meeting).
  • I’m opinionated and outspoken, which surely can be annoying, but it comes from a place of advocacy and wanting things to be as high quality as possible.

Does this mean I’m a good fit for everyone? Surely not! A good fit for some, but not for others. It’s good information to have either way. A “good fit” is entirely determined by your personality and working style.

Another example:

If you find out that your contractor is a bit lackadaisical with communication, but always delivers work on time, you’ll have to determine what’s the most important to you. Would you prefer someone who communicates well but is sometimes flexible on deadlines? Or would you prefer someone who doesn’t communicate as much, but always shows up exactly when they say they will?

Of course, ideally you’ll find a candidate that checks off all of your boxes, but people are fallible creatures. If you know what your values are, you’ll be able to parse the information recommendations provide and apply it to your dream team scenario with ease.

Conduct an interview

Get on the horn and talk to your potential candidate! Even if most of your communication while working will be done virtually, take a moment to hop on a call. You want to get a sense of who they are through their tone and the way they verbally communicate. You’ll want to use this time to set your expectations for them. This is also an opportunity to ask questions about their experience and the way they approach problem solving and conflict.

Make sure you’re upfront about who you are and how you work, too. Give space for them to ask questions. Remember: This interview is their opportunity to interview you, too. It’s about finding a mutually beneficial set up, not just about you finding a crony. It needs to work for everyone.

In part two, we’ll cover what you need to get organized and logistics for hiring contractors.

Have any questions about the start of this process or any burning questions about hiring contractors? Drop it in the comments!

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Yes, You Want Your Business Site on WordPress

WordPress is powering more than a quarter of the web, but many businesses have shied away from taking the leap. Overhauling an entire site to move to a new content management system (CMS) can be intimidating. Businesses have a wide variety of concerns that prevent them from making such a big technology shift–even if the shift would be beneficial in the long-term. There are also a wide variety of myths surrounding what WordPress does and how it can benefit a business (or, rather, how it won’t).

I’m here to give you a few reasons that you want your business site on WordPress:

WordPress isn’t just for blogging

Although those of us in the WordPress industry already know this to be true, there are a lot of non-WordPress folk who still believe WP is just for blogging. Many of them aren’t even clear of what WordPress is.

WordPress provides all kinds of opportunities for your entire site, and it’s not just a place to host thoughts scribbled in a blog. Whether you want a member site, an e-commerce store, or a sleek, beautiful design to represent your company, WordPress can do all of that–and more. Since WordPress is endlessly advancing and changing, the bounds of what it can do are determined by the skill and creativity of the person building on it.

The learning curve is a little steep, but it’s worth it

Although WordPress boasts a five minute install, the average person is going to spend a bit longer setting it up. For someone who doesn’t have the technical savvy, getting a WordPress site set up the way that they want can be a challenge.

Don’t let that stop you from taking it on!

One of the best parts about WordPress is that it’s open source software, which means the source code is available to the public for study, alteration, and distribution. Most of the folks in WordPress are deeply committed to advancing open source software and giving back to the public by making it better and faster. The best and brightest professionals are giving their time to make a free software the absolute best it can be–which benefits all of us.

The work developers do requires expertise and skill, and when you hire them to do the work for your business, you pay for their extensive time and effort. In addition to that, they provide a public service by making WordPress, a free tool, widely beneficial and accessible to everyone. You may hire one developer, but when you work with WordPress, you benefit from the community work of countless brilliant minds.

If you stop and think a moment about all the people who generously give their time and knowledge, often without compensation, to create one of the strongest platforms available, you’ll realize it’s a community worth joining.

Since WordPress enthusiasts, professionals and amateurs alike, are so dedicated to enhancing the software and innovating with the tools provided, there are a ton of resources available for learning how to do what you want to your site. Sites like WPBeginner and WP101 aim to educate people on the fundamentals of WordPress, and if you do some Googling, you’ll easily find a wealth of answers to almost any question you have.

If you’re still worried about that learning curve, many WordPress developers and designers offer WordPress education as a part of their services, so the day to day dealings can be handled by you or your staff without a struggle.

WordPress makes content management easy

Yes, WordPress is a content management system, but that doesn’t just refer to blogging. “Content” describes nearly everything on your site–videos, photos, and text.

As a CMS, WordPress is the absolute best. Once you learn the basic terminology and know where things are in the dashboard, updating your site is easy peasy.

Even if you have a staff of Luddites, teaching them how to handle basic content management in WordPress is super simple! This means your staff will be empowered to make those changes and can handle the content on your site as a part of their duties. This means less oversight from you, which gives you time to focus on running your business. Empowering your staff to use your technology allows you to delegate responsibly and allocate your time to where you need it most.

Integrating with WordPress opens up your audience

One of the ways we’ve helped our clients is by building them their own WordPress plugin. This is particularly helpful for companies that offer a digital product or service and have a target audience that is building out their own business sites.

We have an example of this from our own experience:

Quantcast Corporation is a technology company that provides real-time measurement and analysis of advertising and audience engagement. Quantcast hired us to create a WordPress plugin that puts a JavaScript snippet in the header of their users’ sites. This extended their service out to the greater WordPress community and provided a huge benefit to their existing users. Quantcast users with WordPress websites can install the Audience Analytics plugin. Then, their Quantcast account is linked directly to their WordPress site and they can access their site analytics through WordPress super easily.

WordPress can scale–which means it can grow with your business

To make it do so successfully, though, you’ll definitely need the assistance of a professional. This part gets a little technically advanced, but Smashing Magazine took a look at what different developers have done to set up high traffic sites for success. WordPress isn’t the only key component in the fight to keep your site performant, but it’s not going to be what holds you back.

Getting on WordPress means being in good company

There are tons of businesses and major publications that are on WordPress, including:

  • WorldPay
  • Amazon
  • Disney
  • Politico
  • The NBA
  • Discovery Communications
  • USA Today
  • Microsoft Office Blogs
  • FiveThirtyEight
  • Airbnb

And many, many more. Big names take their technology seriously, and they’ve chosen WordPress to best serve their massive audiences.

So what are you waiting for?

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Zao Client Spotlight: An Interview with Reggie Black of Cancer Tutor

One of the things Zao prides itself on is taking on complex projects that require in-depth strategy and not only solve problems, but add value to the technology our clients are using. We take a boy scout approach to the work we do: Always leave the campground cleaner than you found it.

This means not only cleaning up what messes we may have found when we arrived, but leaving our clients with sustainable technology that benefits them in the future–both short and long-term.

We recently worked with Cancer Tutor, a website dedicated to providing valuable information on natural cancer treatment and prevention. Cancer Tutor is affiliated with and supported by prominent cancer researchers and the Independent Cancer Research Foundation, Inc., and aims to empower cancer patients to have unfettered access to information about alternative methodologies for their illness–and share their successes and failures.

You can read more about the work we did with them over at our portfolio (and check back–we may have another post here in the future delving into the technical dirty details of the work as well!).

Reggie Black, the head honcho over at Cancer Tutor, was generous enough to chat with us about why he chose Zao and how he felt about the project.

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If you’ve been wondering what it’s like to work with Zao or why our clients go with us, here’s some insight:

Why did Cancer Tutor seek out a developer?

We were building something new. Something that had not really been done before, there was no template or plugin to compare it to. So we needed someone who could dream as big as we can.

We get a lot of crazy ideas for things we would like to build. It takes a very special combination of developer and people-person to really understand what and how we want to do certain things.

Zao seemed to get “it” instantly. Even from the first wireframe we sent over, they understood our vision and direction. They were the first developers we had spoken to that took a genuine interest in understanding our project from day one.

Was there an emotional component to the problem you were looking to solve? What emotions did you or other stakeholders feel because of what was going on?

It was a little bit frustrating to hear some people tell us it can’t be done or shouldn’t be done through WordPress, and the fact that we had not seen others do it before to prove that it was possible made it difficult for us to express the vision that was inside of our head. It was very satisfying to be told that we could do it, and [that] Zao could tackle it. They happily accepted the challenge and took on every new problem that we threw their way.

What led you to choose Zao over any other agency?

Response time. Clear Communication. Hustle.

I sent them a wireframe and specs for the project late on a Friday night. I got a response on Saturday morning! Zao wanted to do video call to see each other face to face (which I love). I could visually see the wheels turning in their head and I could tell they were genuinely excited by the project.

During our first call it became evident very quickly that they had already done a very thorough analysis of our wireframes and asked us very hard questions about the project (which I also loved).

What was the solution to these hurdles?

Magic wizardry. I have no idea how Zao pulled off some of the stuff we asked them to do. It always got done, though.

What was the biggest takeaway or success of this project?

We launched on time! That was a huge success. There were so many moving parts between our internal team, designers, other developers, and Zao. There were many times during the project that we were flying by the seat of our pants. Zao always got their part done plus a little extra…without ever complaining. They displayed an incredible attitude throughout the entire project.

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How do you feel about your site now compared to when you were first searching for a developer?

The answer is now we feel like we have someone who can keep up with our craziness.

Me: Hey, I thought of this thing…let me tell you about it.

Zao: Yeah, we will have that done next week.

You guys get it instantly. One phone call and we’re on the same page. Even with the additional stuff we added, you were able to knock it out of the park

Are there any other comments or feedback you have for us about your project?

You guys have been, hands down, the most fun team we have ever worked with. “Making work fun again” should be your campaign. There were some incredibly funny moments in Slack and I really appreciated how you kept everything light-hearted.

Had we not gone with Zao, I know we could not have gotten this done on time. [You] were flexible with our crazy schedule and always got [the] work done.

Don’t be jelly! Getting your jam on with Zao is easy peasy; all you have to do is get in touch.