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You might have heard about Structured Data, Schema.org and JSON-LD.  

Search engines read structured data and use it to enhance search engine results. Structured data helps search engines to understand and categorize page content.

Example

This structured data, in JSON-LD format, describes a simple Article.

Schema.org is a collaborative, community activity with a mission to create, maintain, and promote schemas for structured data on the Internet. But not all structured data endpoints are actually used by Google, Bing or other search engines yet.

Allowed Structured Data

Google provides a detailed overview of structured data allowed and used for search results.

There are basic enhancements you can use, like the Article structured data above. There are also many other more specific uses, like Video, LocalBusiness, Events, FAQ, Job Postings, Recipe and so on. Bing also provides a basic overview, but their documentation is scattered and feels incomplete.

How to integrate Structured Data

If you use a modern CMS, many structured data endpoints are already integrated out of the box (Article, Website, Logo, Person …).

Also modular content management systems often offer additional functionality through plugins, those help integrate structured data directly. Some do it better than others!

But if you really want to dive deep and integrate all those little things, structured data is still far more powerful when added manually. Especially things like events, products, job listings, courses, Q&A can greatly be enhanced by hand.

Alex@portalZINE

Validating Structured Data

Google and Bing offer validation tools for structured data. Both integrate it into their Webmaster Tools. You can also use the JSON-LD Playground to validate the JSON-LD itself or RDFa Play, Structured Data Linter, Facebook Debugger, Schema.org Generator and many other tools.

Need help?

I am a huge structured data fan and have been working with it for years now. I am constantly looking for new supported structured data endpoints, to enhance my own or customer websites & data.

Google constantly updates their documentation and highlights experimental structured data endpoints. Like Speakable for example, that highlights sections of a websites that are best suited for audio playback.

Fresh structured data helps to promote your content and enhance SEO, directly enhancing your discoverability and your search engine position. Your content becomes more meaningful for search engines, making it easier for them to promote it to the right potential user. It also ties into the GO GREEN concept, as you are reducing bounces of your website for users getting offered the wrong content.

Things like recipes and how-tos are already pushed to the top of the search index. A perfect way to promote your website and get noticed.

Have fun using or discovering structured data!

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I signed the Sustainable Web Manifesto a couple of weeks ago. The manifesto perfectly reflects how I have been handling my business and my projects.

I created a special “GO GREEN” subsection to talk about the topic in more detail and give you some more context about the areas I can help you with.

We all share and use the web, just as we all share and live on this planet. This manifesto is a public declaration of a shared commitment to create a sustainable internet.

https://www.sustainablewebmanifesto.com/
  1. CLEAN –  The services we provide and services we use will be powered by renewable energy.
  2. EFFICIENT –  The products and services we provide will use the least amount of energy and material resources possible.
  3. OPEN – The products and services we provide will be accessible, allow for the open exchange of information, and allow users to control their data.
  4. HONEST – The products and services we provide will not mislead or exploit users in their design or content.
  5. REGENERATIVE –  The products and services we provide will support an economy that nourishes people and planet.

“If we embrace sustainability in our work, we can create a web that is good for people and planet.”

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Together with my partners in crime (Dorit & Micha), we have finally opened our own personal online store.

We have been selling our single origin coffees (1st Single Malt Whisky Coffee, Basic – Single Origin Arabica, Kill me Quick Espresso -Single Origin Robusta), teas (Kräuterschorle – Kräutertee, Feuerkieker – Schwarztee) and rum (Fortune Teller – Double Aged Barbados Rum) using the Amazon Marketplace for the past 2 years.

No more Amazon

GreenApe has been a side project for the past years and I never wanted to deal with the maintenance of our own store. But its time to move on and do our own thing. Amazon has removed so many useful features over the years or added a new fee on top of other fees. Even though Amazon provides access to a large amount of customers, for small companies the fees build up quickly.

Our own

With our own store we can finally do bundles, coupons again and better optimized shipping. It will also allow me to better testdrive some new interesting features for my customers ;) Yeah its kind of my new toy or shopping lab! Its fun being able to work on untested new SEO features, structured data, merchant tools, shopping ads and tracking of all of those.

Locations

We have been selling in Germany for the past 2 years, but that might be changing in the future depending how well the new store shapes up :)

If you live in Germany, love good coffee, tee or rum … say Hi!

GreenApe – Makes Your Life Better
Homepage
Shop
Contact us

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Development today relies on multiple teams, services, and environments all working in unison. A topic that always comes up, when setting up a new development environment: How do we secure important credentials, while not making it too complicated for the rest of the team?

The key when working with version control systems like Git, is to keep any type of credentials out of the versioning system. These can be API keys, database or email passwords.

Even if its a private repository, development environments might change. It can be a simple staging & live website setup you are maintaining.

.env Files for Environment Variables

The simplest way in PHP is to use .env files to store your credentials outside of the public accessible directory structure. So outside the public_html, but still within the reach of the executing environment to read it. Variables are accessible through $_ENV['yourVar'] or getenv("yourVar"), once included in your code.

To make it simple you can use the popular package vlucas/phpdotenv, which reads and imports the file automatically.

Don’t fool yourself, if an attacker finds a way into your system, these variables can be easily read. This is just hiding the file from public access and provides some convenience while developing or sharing code.

Encrypted .env files

Some people propose to encrypt / decrypt environment variables using a secret key. But if an attacker can access your data, he can also find the secret key.

There are some nice packages that offer just that. You have to decide if those fit your ammo.

  • The psecio/secure_dotenv library provides an easy way to handle the encryption and decryption of the information in your .envfile. @Github
  • johnathanmiller/secure-env-php – Env encryption and decryption library. Prevent committing and exposing vulnerable plain-text environment variables in production environments. The lib provides a nice guided interface to encrypt your .env file. @Github
  • beyondcode/laravel-credential – Add encrypted credentials to your Laravel production environment. You can edit and encrypt using php artisan credentials:edit. @Github

Apache Pull – setting environment variables

The Apache2 environment variables are set in the /etc/apache2/envvars file. These variables are not the same as the environment variables of your Linux system; they are stored and manipulated in an internal Apache structure.

The /etc/apache2/envvars file holds variable definitions such as APACHE_LOG_DIR (the location of Apache log files), APACHE_PID_FILE (the Apache process ID), APACHE_RUN_USERS (the user that run Apache, by defaultwww-data), etc.

You can open and modify this file in a text editor of your choice. This is nice, but far from simple and requires a server restart. This is something which helps you when hardening security on a live deployed setup.

There are dynamic approaches, but you can do some research for that yourself :) Skipped that rabbit hole for now …

Infrastructure Secret Management

Handling secrets completely detached is another possibility. This is surely an overkill for most cases, but using an Infrastructure Secret Management concept might be worth looking into, if you are working on bigger scale projects that involve multiple development teams and setups. These services also often deal with secret rotation.

HashiCorp Vault – “Vault is a tool for securely accessing secrets. A secret is anything that you want to tightly control access to, such as API keys, passwords, certificates, and more. Vault provides a unified interface to any secret, while providing tight access control and recording a detailed audit log.”

You can deploy your own vault on your own infrastructure or test out a hosted version, which is free for Open Source projects. HashiCorp Vault

You will find a bunch of Hashicorp related packages that will help you to integrate a vault into your project workflow (scmrus/php-vault-env , poc-webapp-vault).

While this is nice, you will need to cache / store credentials somewhere, as you don’t want to query the vault on every single access.

The Hashicorp Vault is not the only Infrastructure Secret Management solution. There is a nice Github Gist that lists other solutions and a nice feature matrix.

Amazon also provides a solution called AWS Secrets Manager, which makes a lot of sense, when you build and deploy on AWS already :)

What a rabbit hole, once you start researching solutions :)
Have fun …

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Gatsby is a free and open source framework based on React that helps developers build blazing fast websites and apps.

What they have to say

  • Go Beyond Static Websites. Get all the benefits of static websites with none of the limitations. Gatsby sites are fully functional React apps so you can create high-quality, dynamic web apps, from blogs to e-commerce sites to user dashboards.
  • Use a Modern Stack for Every Site. No matter where the data comes from, Gatsby sites are built using React and GraphQL. Build a uniform workflow for you and your team, regardless of whether the data is coming from the same backend.
  • Load Data From Anywhere. Gatsby pulls in data from any data source, whether it’s Markdown files, a headless CMS like Contentful or WordPress, or a REST or GraphQL API. Use source plugins to load your data, then develop using Gatsby’s uniform GraphQL interface.
  • Performance Is Baked In. Ace your performance audits by default. Gatsby automates code splitting, image optimization, inlining critical styles, lazy-loading, and prefetching resources, and more to ensure your site is fast — no manual tuning required.
  • Host at Scale for Pennies. Gatsby sites don’t require servers so you can host your entire site on a CDN for a fraction of the cost of a server-rendered site. Many Gatsby sites can be hosted entirely free on services like GitHub Pages and Netlify.

What I have to say …

While researching some popular static site generation tools, GatsbyJS comes up often. I have played with NuxtJS and Hugo in the past, but what I REALLY like about GatsbyJS is the plugin / modular system. You can build your website with plain-old React and CSS styles, but make your development more efficient by adding node_modules.

Also being able to import any data source with ease, using GraphQL, is amazing. And when it comes to content management, you can easily hook a headless WordPress or Drupal setup into the mix and consume their REST APIs :)

I am not switching my own website to GatsbyJS anytime soon, but its another tool in my toolbox for future project consideration !

There are many tutorials on Youtube about getting started, maybe something to consider for the next freetime testdrive ;) Enjoy …

GatsbyJS @ Github

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Since I started in 2002, all iterations of portalZINE have been pure english content websites. You can read about the why on my services page.

I had potential customers in Germany complain about that a lot over the past few years. But your own website often suffers, while your customers get all the attention. That is how it is and how it should be!

Creating Multi – Language websites has been part of my services & portfolio for years, with an extreme application setup handling 13 languages in 2014 for the soccer world cup.

Multi-Language setups have come a long way and it was time to showcase that on my own setup as well. Not only to calm those potential customers, but to testdrive new functionality and possibilities on my own setup. portalZINE has always been my testlab for stability and new feature sets.

Most of my static pages are available in English and German now, the blog itself will remain pure English.

Need help setting up a multi language website, get in touch!

Cheers
Alex

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Updated 25.03. : Some function names changed in the latest beta version.

IN BETA

ACF 5.8 Beta introduced an easy way to create your custom Gutenberg blocks. I am already using it heavily for a current project, to easily organize content and media assets.

Really powerful, when combined with Timber as well, which has been the foundation of many of my themes for years now ;)

ORGANIZE YOURSELF

Organizing data using ACF is nice, but sometimes you seek access to that saved block data directly. I hate it when I am confined to boundaries and the data flow is restricted or hidden. I need things to be accessible to choose the creative flow myself.

SIMPLE EXAMPLE

There you go, enjoy some free block data :)

I was a big skeptic, when it comes to WordPress and the new Gutenberg editor, but combined with ACF + Timber its pure magic :) Looking forward to things to come!

Cheers
Alex

Enjoy coding …

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WordPress WooCommerce Appointments

WooCommerce Appointments is a commercial  booking plugin that allows you to setup appointments with WooCommerce. It has full integration into Google calendar to track appointments of your staff.

Staff availability can be set globally or via each staff members profile. While this is nice, I was looking for an option to actually handle availability via another Google Calendar as well. That was a must have feature for a current project.

What do you do, if that feature is not available yet ? You poke the code!

The magic entry point for the staff availability is the user meta “_wc_appointment_availability“, which is made available through includes/class-wc-product-appointment-staff.php.

A couple of weeks ago I asked support for a simple filter hook to alter the availability on demand from the outside.

The development team added the feature in one of the latest releases, making wc_appointments_staff_availability the entry point for my custom availability changes.

The filter hook

Getting the data

You can either pull Google Calendar Events directly through the Google Calendar API or use the available iCal export option. In this quick example I will use the private calendar iCal export file.

The availability calendar

Lets setup a quick clean calendar, called “Availability”. So simple and catchy :)

  1. Create a new calendar
  2. Create some test events. WooCommerce Appointments supports multiple availability rules, but I am focusing on the time:range option and recurring events for this example. I might be extending on this a bit more in the future ! So for this example:  Friday, timeframe 10:00 – 16:00 and repeating four times.
  3. Go into settings and get the link to the privat ical export file

Parse iCal data

For this example I am using the PHP ICS Parser, but any other parser will do.  Install it via composer: composer require johngrogg/ics-parser.

Lets create a quick little plugin to get us going and save it to /wp-content/plugins/CustomAvailability/smile.php

 

Set the availability

Its time to get the data into the system. I am only pulling and altering the availability for one single user in this example, the user with the USERID “3”. This should provide you with a good starting point.

The example pulls and parses the ics file on every load, use a transient or REDIS to store data and only refresh in certain intervals.

Hope this gets you started! I build a simple interface around it, with a lot of more rule options. This makes the setup for each staff member a brise. Now each of them can setup a calendar easily and provide  me with the ics link  :) WooCommerce Appointments rocks …

Enjoy coding ….

 

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Simple little snippet, that can easily be used in conjunction with wp_update_user()

Enjoy coding …

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When using your main content feed to share posts via buffer or other services, it is crucial that your feed validates cleanly.

[Valid RSS]

There are always things in the generated WordPress content that can break your feed validation. Here some things to cleanup or alter your delivered feed content.

CONDITIONAL TAGS

is_feed()
Check for syndication request. This tag is not typically used by users; it is used internally by WordPress and is available for Plugin Developers.

Check for feed syndication in your themes functions.php

REMOVE IFRAMES

REMOVE / DISABLE COMMENTS

REMOVE RESPONSIVE IMAGES

The sizes attribute breaks feed validation, here how to clean it up.

INCLUDE PAGES IN POST FEED

ADJUST AMOUNT OF POSTS

LIMIT BY CATEGORY

 

Enjoy coding …

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