Author Alastair McDermott

Alastair McDermott is an online business and technology consultant specialising in web design & development, internet marketing and search engine optimisation. He has been building websites and software since 1996 and is a ten year veteran of using WordPress.

Alastair blogs and makes media of all kinds at WebsiteDoctor. Follow him on Twitter at @WebsiteDoctor.

Recent posts by Alastair

SelfAssemblySites Relaunch

Hi folks,

You may have noticed that we've recently made all of SelfAssemblySites video training library and bonus downloads available to anyone who signs up for a free account.

Back in 2011 we launched the site with high hopes, but over the next 18 months we failed to achieve the traction we were looking for, and both Al and I eventually moved on to other projects.

Recently I was setting up a new server and decided to see if we could breath some new life into the old site. We had over 100 videos here and neither of us wanted to see them go to waste.

What we've done is remove some of the more powerful but complex systems we were using like our forum software and membership software - we've replaced them with simpler solutions like a private Facebook group and a free WordPress plugin respectively.

While making these changes it also highlighted for me just how much some technology has moved on.

We performed a content audit rating our videos as Evergreen, Note or Warn

Our 100+ videos were recorded 3-4 years ago and the appearance and functionality of some of the featured tools and websites has changed since then. Because of that we've done a content audit of our entire training library.


We show a note like this on 43% of videos

The content audit revealed that 39% of our video content is "evergreen", i.e. needs no update, 43% of the video content "appears dated but no major changes in functionality", and 18% we classified as "out of date, principle or visuals have changed". (Even for these out of date videos, for the most part the general principles involved have not changed, so they're still useful.)


On 18% of videos we show this strong warning

Now that we've done the audit and marked content appropriately, for a limited time we're making everything available to anyone who registers a free account.

Over time we're planning to update the more crucial video content and then put everything behind a paywall for an amount tbd.

If you'd like to guarantee free lifetime access to the content, sign up for a free account now.

Thanks for checking out SelfAssemblySites, I hope you find it useful.

- Alastair.

Fire Phoenix by Sid Raphael on DeviantArt (CC)

WordPress 3.4 Beta 1 Video Review

WordPress have released just WordPress 3.4 Beta 1. I've made a short video review of the new version, particularly comparing the v3.4 new features against a current WP 3.3.1 install.

"If all goes well, we hope to release WordPress 3.4 in May. The more help we get with testing and fixing bugs, the sooner we will be able to release the final version"

New Features in WordPress v3.4b1

Headline Feature: Theme Customizer

The Dirty Secrets of Submitting Your Site to Search Engines

Search Engine Submission ServicesIf you do a web search for "Search Engine Submission" you'll see a lot of ads for services to help you out:

1000+ Directory Submission for 5¢ Each. High PR Directories!

Submit to 700,000+ search engines. Packages Starting at $14.95

If you use one of these paid services to have your site submitted to search engines, you might as well burn your money.

There's two very simple reasons why these services are not worth it.

It's All About Market Share

The first reason is market share - there are only two search engines that you need care about, which will drive 97-99% of the traffic for most websites.

How to Track Clicks on Outgoing Links

Google Analytics Hacks Image by Search Engine People Blog via Flickr
Tracking clicks on outgoing links away from your website can be useful:

  • you might want to check how many clicks your externally hosted RSS feed gets,
  • you might want to track referrals for advertising revenue or affiliates,
  • you might want to create a popularity graphs for sites you link to,
  • or you might just be curious!

Here's a rundown of a few different ways you can count clicks on links outbound from your website, and when you might want to use them:

Warning: Irish Government Pirating Your Rights

Update 27/01/2012:

The number of signatures on the petition against "SOPA Ireland" (or "Sherlock's Folly" as some are calling it) is now hitting 60,000 - an incredible number for a petition started just days ago. If you're an Irish citizen and haven't yet, please sign it.

There was a brief 15 minute debate in an empty government chamber last night, but thankfully a little common sense seems to be applied to the situation and we'll have a 50 minute debate on Tuesday next.

Mark Dennehy has a great blog post on his work to get reforms in legislation and why he thinks the system itself needs an overhaul:

I've given up on the idea of working legislation in this country at this stage in almost any area of life. We'd need major change to fix the system of government before we'd get decent legislation for anything

We're going to get some more debate on this issue, but Sherlock appears intent on signing. He seems naive enough to believe that his legislation is fine as it is, and that the courts will deal with any spurious legislation. This beggars belief - we've seen the film and music industry in America taking dead people and people who don't even own computers to court for online copyright violations.

Individuals and small businesses who can't afford to fight won't stand a chance - when they get a threatening letter they will not risk the chance of court costs, regardless of how spurious it is.


Original post:

Last week, we had SOPA and PIPA in the US. This week in Ireland, in an even less democratic fashion, we have a "statutory instrument", which requires no parlimentary or public debate, ready to be signed into law by a single minister's pen.

The "Statutory Instrument Number (TBD) of 2011 European Communities (Copyright and Related Rights) Regulations 2011", otherwise known as the "Irish SOPA" is allegedly being enacted in order to comply with EU law, but the European Commission – which monitors implementation of EU law – doesn't seem to think Ireland is in breach and hasn't taken any action against Ireland for failure to introduce blocking.

The situation can no longer be tolerated where Irish Ministers enact EU legislation by statutory instrument. The checks and balances of parliamentary democracy are by-passed.

Very wise! Who said that? Why, the current government in their Programme For Government 2011!

So we have a law being rushed in by the government, with no parlimentary debate - against the wishes of the government's own programme, in order to comply with EU law that we're probably not in breach of. It gets worse!

WordPress 3.3 Fix for “Fatal Error Undefined Function is_rtl()”

Here's a quick fix if you're seeing the following error after upgrading to WordPress 3.3:

Fatal error: Call to undefined function is_rtl() in /wp-includes/general-template.php on line 2102

First of all, don't panic, the error seems to affect the admin dashboard but not the publicly accessible areas of your site. Secondly, it's a fairly simple fix.

The cause is most likely a plugin, and for many people reading this it's the "PopupDomination" plugin.

Fix for "Fatal Error Undefined Function is_rtl()":

  1. Login to your site via FTP and navigate to the /wp-content/plugins directory.
  2. If you have PopupDomination installed look at the directory names starting with 'P' and see if you can identify it (it could be "popup-domination", "popupD" or similar).
  3. Rename that folder to "PopupDomination-broken" or something similar.
  4. You're done! Reload the page and everything should be working. Contact the plugin author and ask them for a fixed version and re-enable after you've updated.

In the unlikely event that didn't fix your problem, try the following:

  • Deactivate all plugins to see if this resolves the problem. If this works, re-activate plugins one by one until you find the problematic plugin(s).
  • Try renaming the plugins directory to plugins-broken by FTP (sometimes, an inactive plugin can cause a problem so this works).
  • Deactivate plugins in the mu-plugins folder by renaming that directory to mu-plugins-old

You can find more on how to do this on Fixing a Broken WordPress Site

Hope this helps!

Friday Shorts 18th November

A few interesting bits and pieces we've come across this week.

Image Copyright Matt Inman, The Oatmeal

This happened to me - don't let it happen to you :)

  • How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell. Entertaining and educational cartoon from Matthew Inman at The Oatmeal. "It's funny cos it's true."
  • Do Schools Kill Creativity?  From TED Talks -  Sir Ken Robinson entertains while making a very moving case for creating an education system that nurtures creativity. Highly recommended - if you watch one online video this week, make it this one.
  •  Is Google Making Us Stupid? What effect does using the Internet have on our brains. An article from a couple of years ago, but really interesting and more relevant now than ever.
  • Ricky Gervais admits he may be wrong about Twitter. One for the Twitter sceptics: "I may have been wrong about Twitter. [...] Of course there are idiots on Twitter. But there are idiots on the high street and I still go there. People say awful idiotic things all the time, but I don't give up language because of it."
  • A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy. A Clay Shirky article about groups, the internet and social software. Quite long but very interesting. A must read if your business is focused on online community (social network, discussion forums, etc).

If you have any suggestions or comments please leave a comment below :)

SelfAssemblySites News Update November 2011

Here's an update for November to let you know what changes and improvements we've made around the site - and what's coming next - as well as a taster of the website training videos we've produced or have in production. Please give us your thoughts and suggestions on anything you think could make the site better for you!

We're continuously shooting more videos for you - here's a list of recently completed screencasts:

And recently completed Expert Answers videos:

On the way over the next few weeks:

  • Show/Hide Content On A Page
  • Installing A Picture Gallery
  • List of Recommended Plugins
  • Ecommerce Plugin Overview
  • Backup Plugin Setup
  • Yoast SEO Plugin Setup
  • Westhost Hosting Setup

We've also made some improvements to the website itself since our last update:

  • Completed our site move to faster hosting
  • Made improvements to code and images to optimise page load times
  • Design improvements on the Members Dashboard

Site improvements we will making over the next few weeks :

  • Improving the layout of the category pages (e.g. ) - to differentiate between video pages and blog posts
  • Tidy up how Tags appear (on all pages)
  • Add blog specific sidebar for blog listing page
  • Add a new custom field to the videos which will tell you "How this particular video benefits you" (we're working on figuring out a better way to word that, it's a bit clunky, but we want to make it really obvious what result you will get from watching any given video)
  • Reviewing the plugins we use on the site currently, ensuring we have everything we want installed

We will update this community forum thread regularly - feel free to add your suggestions and comments!


Moving Your WordPress Directory

When developing the new version of an existing website, what a lot of people do is develop it at a subdirectory of the current site, at e.g. When your new site is ready for production, you'll probably need to move it up to the top level e.g. - here's what you need to look out for when you're doing that.

First, make a backup of the old site - in FTP create a directory called something like "oldsite" and move all of the files and folders except /newsite in there.

Fixing TimThumb Security in WordPress

TimThumb.php is a great open-source script that web developers can use to help speed up sites by doing some clever image caching and resizing.

Unfortunately it's been discovered that there is a security hole in older versions of the script. If you are using this script on your site - it may be part of a premium theme - then you need to upgrade it to the latest version.

To know if you've been affected, you need to do a search for a file called "timthumb.php" - if you downloaded your theme files to your desktop before uploading, then you can do instant search by typing the filename into Voidtools Search Everything - watch the video for a full walkthrough.

Fortunately, the fix is easy.