Come on developers, we’re tech geeks: How can we automate WordPress and make our lives easier? One of the benefits of being so intimately wired with technology—aside from having the latest and greatest toys to play with—should be bending technology to our whim. OK, that sounds a little super villainish. Let’s just use that coder brain to automate WordPress and make life simpler.
We’re going to explore 10 ways to automate WordPress. These are ideas, tips and coding wonders that can make some part of your WordPress life easier. In some cases we’re welcoming the robot overlords and letting the machine do some mindless task automatically. In other cases we’re finding shortcuts or productivity tips that will remind you to do an important task or make the process easier. It’s not completely automatic, but it’s getting there.
A machine is not replacing you just yet, but you’d be surprised at how much you can automate WordPress.
10 Ways to Automate WordPress
1. You Gotta Keep It Updated
The latest versions of WordPress (since 3.7) include automatic background updates. That means WordPress automatically installs some of its own updates. Which ones? By default, only minor core updates (often maintenance and security) are done automatically.
But you can do more. You can automate WordPress to do those pesky major updates as well. You can also set it to update themes and plugins automatically. You need to update your wp-config.php file to do it, and WordPress has all the details.
Now, all that automation may be a bad idea. There’s a reason WordPress doesn’t turn these all on by default. The major updates often include, well, major new features that can sometimes cause problems with old plugins. You might not want to do that kind of update automatically. Same with themes and plugins—if you automate it you might not catch something broken right away.
But if you manage a lot of sites and some of them are fairly minor or don’t have much customization, it might be worth the risk to save some time (especially if you have a good backup).
The Oct. 28, 2013 WebDesign.com Chat (members only) includes details about how to implement this feature.
2. You Gotta Keep ‘Em All Updated
If you manage a lot of WordPress sites, it can save you time to condense that management. We’re talking core, theme and plugin updates, as well as backups and more, for multiple sites in one convenient dashboard.
There are several management tools out there, including WPRemote, ManageWP, InfiniteWP and our own Sync. WPRemote (free and premium versions) and ManageWP are going to be more costly and don’t offer custom control. InfiniteWP has a free version with paid add-ons. iThemes Sync is free for up to 10 sites, and iThemes Toolkit members get up to 25 sites.
3. Tell Me What’s Broken
Broken links are a hassle, and nobody wants to take the time to fix them. Especially if you’re a blog that’s been around for a while. Is it worthwhile to fix links from a 2006 blog post? It is if you can automate WordPress to do it for you.
The Broken Link Checker plugin will scour your site looking for broken links and take care of them. It can notify you of broken links so you can address them yourself. It also suggests an alternative link.
If that’s going to take too much of your time, you can just mitigate the impact of broken links. The plugin can add a “no follow” tag to those links, which ensures broken links don’t ding your search engine optimization (SEO). You can also unlink those broken links or apply custom formatting to a broken link, such as striking the text of the link so users know it doesn’t work anymore.
This can be resource intensive, so look at the settings to make sure it’s not checking links too often. You can also make the plugin cut itself off when it starts hogging resources.
4. Make Smarter Forms
You build your own contact forms, so you might as well make them smarter. You can use conditional logic with Gravity Forms to get the information you need from people.
Save time by cutting down on back and forth communication. Answer those common questions up front with an FAQ section available on the contact form page. Break your contact form down into specifics. Without getting too carried away it’s easy to add a question or two so you can filter questions into specific categories like sales or feature questions.
5. Use Search Queries to Automate Customer Acquisition Strategy
Huh? Yeah, that’s a mouthful. But here’s the idea: People coming to your site from search engines are looking for specific things. Sometimes very different things. By paying attention to those search queries, you can use specific contact forms and funnel those interested folks to the right place.
So if someone comes to your site looking for robots, have them fill out the robot contact form. If someone is interested in bouncy balls, push them to a bouncy balls contact form. You can gather better data (see #4) and give a more tailored response. All by paying attention to the search query.
You’re automating the back and forth process a bit by cutting down on the ‘what do they want’ question. You know what they want, so you can get to the point. Don’t waste time telling them about everything you do, focus on what they’re interested in.
6. Make Your Inbox Work For You
So you’ve got all these contact forms sending you emails. Your website is automated, but how about your inbox? Use your email system to make things easier. Create tags and filters for specific email forms so you can prioritize your interaction and maximize your response time.
Forget inbox zero: put all your leads in a special folder and worry about cleaning out that folder every day. That’s going to keep you in business more than deleting notifications from Kickstarter and emails from your mom.
7. Social Media Robot
OK, you ready to get crazy? This is where the power of technology gets fun. The site IFTTT has all these “recipes” that do stuff with your technology. Like posting to Facebook when you publish a blog post. Or adding an Instagram photo to your WordPress site. It’s like your own personal robot.
IFTTT stands for “if this then that,” where “this” is a trigger of some sort and “that” is an action. So if you do something on Twitter, that triggers an action on your blog. The brilliant part is you don’t have to know any code. You just sign in, connect these various pieces and then sit back and wait for the magic to happen.
Here are some cool ones that might automate WordPress for you:
- Keep your Facebook page current: Add a link to your Facebook page whenever you publish a new blog post. (WordPress to Facebook)
- Keep on blogging when you’re out and about and the data connection is spotty: Create a new blog post when you send a text message. (SMS to WordPress)
- Stay on top of new clients and make sure they’re doing it right: Receive a text message when a client publishes a new blog post. (WordPress to SMS)
- Keep your site updated with pretty pictures: Add a photo post to your WordPress site whenever you share an Instagram picture. (Instagram to WordPress)
- Super simple and instant text backup: Save a text file of new blog posts to Dropbox. (WordPress to Dropbox)
- Quick video blog posts: Create a new post on your site with embedded video of the YouTube video you just favorited. (YouTube to WordPress)
Pretty cool, huh? Want more? Here are 30 different WordPress-related tasks with IFTTT.
8. Empty the Trash
By default WordPress empties the trash every 30 days. But that might not be good enough. If you’ve got a client uploading full size images only to trash them, they could quickly fill the available server space and get their site shut down. Admittedly it’s not a very likely scenario, but if you can rely on clients for one thing, it’s breaking their own sites in incredibly unlikely ways.
So anticipate the problem with a little automation. Tell WordPress to empty the trash every 10 days instead of 30.
If you’re worried about client excess, you can also limit the number of post revisions WordPress saves.
9. Backup Your Site
One of the greatest WordPress automation inventions of all time is backup. Any kind of backup is something that needs to be automated. That way there’s no risk of forgetting. You let it slide once, and pretty soon you’re not doing it at all. You need to automate it.
You absolutely must be backing up your WordPress sites and storing them off-site—doing it automatically is the best way. With BackupBuddy, you can automatically backup WordPress – your entire site (not just the database) and move that backup to an off-site location (even multiple locations). If you’re a cheapskate, you can get free storage with BackupBuddy Stash.
10. Automatic Blogging
OK, the robots aren’t ready to blog for you just yet. But you can bring some automation to the blogging process. Here are two quick ideas to make it easier to blog:
Put Blogging at Your Fingertips
WordPress has a handy “Press This” bookmarklet you can drag to your browser’s toolbar. When you’re on a page you should blog about, just hit the “Press This” button, and it will pop up a mini Create a Post window pre-populated with a link to the site you’re looking at. You can immediately write and publish the blog post without having to go to your WordPress site.
It’s just a simple shortcut, and you can find it in WordPress under Settings: Writing.
Set up a Google Alert for your blog’s topic, which can be an instant fire hose of potential content. Finding a way to easily access that stream is the key. You could have the stream emailed to you and then filter those emails into a folder. Just browse the folder when you need some blog ideas. Or create an RSS feed and add it to your feed reader. You can also edit your WordPress dashboard to show the latest results of this feed. Put that dashboard widget next to Quick Draft and you can easily turn those Google results into blog posts.
It’s not quite automatic blogging, but it does make it faster to discover ideas and blog about them.
Make it Automagic
You’re busy. Anything you can do to speed things up or automate WordPress is a big win.