Store Locator Plus and WordPress 4.9.1 Updates

It has been a busy week for WordPress and all the updates and patches going around.    For those on our MySLP managed service, sit back and relax.  You’re good.    While you may wait a little longer for some new features and a couple of minor patches you are not going to be affected by software updates.   You’re good.

For WordPress users we’ve been busy chasing down some notable functionality issues with Store Locator Plus and the Add Ons for WordPress since WordPress 4.9 and 4.9.1 hit the update queue on your sites.

Store Locator Plus for WordPress 4.9.1

Any time WordPress puts out a major release we get a slew of new support requests.   4.9 was not exception.   People that have put off updating their site tend to “do everything at once”.  When you are updating a complex system with software from potentially dozens of different companies there are bound to be some problems.    We’ve been busy squashing bugs reported in our software and guiding people towards solutions that are caused by other elements in their software stack.

While WordPress 4.9 does not have “breaking changes” to WordPress itself, we do recommend updating to get the latest security features.  For those staying on WordPress 4.8.2 you can read about the breaking changes in WordPress 4.8.2 that forced users to upgrade Store Locator Plus.

PHP 5.3 Compatibility

As of Store Locator Plus 4.9 we no longer support PHP version 5.2.   We are now properly checking the WordPress version and disabling Store Locator Plus if you are not on at least version 5.3 of PHP.

According to PHP history, version 5.2 was officially at end-of-life, no longer maintained by PHP, in January 2011.  Version 5.3 is marginally better with end-of-life in August 2014.  WordPress recommends PHP version 7.  We do too, but at the very least you should be on PHP 5.6.

In the meantime we’ve fixed some code that was introduced that only works on PHP 5.4 so we can maintain our PHP 5.3 compatibility.

Non-English Blank Settings Tabs

We finally located and squashed the bug that caused some non-English sites to lose settings tab content when switching sub tabs on the Store Locator Plus | Settings interface.

On a related note, if you are using SLP on a non-English site please read our documentation on how you can translate SLP to your language.  If the language files are not at least 93% complete WordPress will not provide translated text on our admin interfaces. This is handled at Translate.WordPress.Org.

Debugging

When an update generates the dreaded White Screen of Doom (WSOD) we often ask people to enable the WordPress Debug Log so we can quickly find and fix code errors in our plugin.   In version 4.9.1 you can now enable “late loading” WordPress debugging from the Store Locator Plus admin pages (assuming you can at least get to those, which you often can) without having to edit the wp-config file.    While it does not catch all errors it will cover 95% of the Store Locator Plus code base during run time.

You can enable debugging via the Enable WP Debug under Settings | General | Admin | Messages | Enable WP DEBUG.

This often generates warnings and messages on your web pages so we do not recommend doing this at peak hours for your site.   In fact we recommend you use a hosting service, like SiteGround’s GoGeek service, that provides “one-click” staging sites that are an exact replica of your live site.    Managed WordPress hosts are rarely more expensive than other hosts; we recommend you consider switching to a host that provides staging services when your hosting contract comes up for renewal.

On The Radar

This patch is not the end of our punch list for this month.

PATCH: Location Page Export | Bulk Actions Not Working We know about an issue we are still trying to replicate where the Power add on and WordPress 4.9 are colluding to not finish loading the Store Locator Plus | Locations pages.  That means the JavaScript for that page does not load completely and lots of weird things happen.  This is new since Power 4.9 and WordPress 4.9.   Given the problems WordPress has had with JavaScript we are not 100% certain who broke what.  We are still investigating and hope to have Power 4.9.1 out in a few days with a fix.

PATCH: Power Tag Search Not Working – we have been able to reproduce this problem and are tracking it down for a 4.9.2 release of SLP or 4.9.1 of Power.   Both updates should be out within a week.

FEATURE: Add On Auto Update – while we try to “go by the book”,  following WordPress Best Practices, their plugin development guide, and the WordPress Core code style guide that allows us to be contributor to WP Core there are times when you have to “be creative”.   WordPress update notifications for Store Locator Plus add ons have been getting worse with each release of WordPress.   We are finding many sites now get notifications weeks after our updates have been published for our paid add ons.    We are working on a new custom update notification system to automatically download and install the latest add ons for Store Locator Plus when the base plugin is updated and no longer compatible with an addon.  We are hoping to get this feature out in the 4.9.2 release if possible.

Having issues?  Please use the support forums as a first line of communication as it helps others with a similar issue see answers we post.  If you cannot post there you can send us an email but email does not show up in the dev’s Slack Channel feed like forum posts do.

Whether posting in the forum or sending email, make sure you post the exact URL for your locator page and copy the plugin environment from under Store Locator Plus | Info | Plugin Environment on the site that is having the issue.  Without BOTH pieces of information it takes us a LOT longer to figure out what may be happening on your site.   It also helps to provide us with step-by-step instructions to reproduce the problem and see what you are seeing, as in “Go to this page <url here>, type in 29464 as the address, search.   I expect to see store A, B, C and instead I see store B, and C only.”

Example Plugin Environment Detail

Did you know on MacOS you can get a screen shot by holding down the command key + shift + 4?   It is a great way to show us your plugin environment.

 

Google Maps

Google Maps is the most prevalent map service available today.   Their routine updates to the public website constantly adds new features that go well beyond “where is this place?”.  The reason they have become the go-to map service lies elsewhere.   Their application program interfaces (APIs), the language that apps use to talk to each other, have pushed Google into a majority of website and mobile apps.   One of our favorite things about Google Maps is the fun, and sometimes useful, lesser-known features of the service.

Google Maps marketing site
Google Maps marketing site, October 2017

Lesser Known Features

While most people know about Google Maps and use it frequently for doing searches for “pizza near me”, one of the most-searched phrases for 5 years running, there are a lot of cool and fun things going on in the Google Maps world.  Sometimes, while in the middle of hacking up our own maps software for MySLP and WPSLP, we get sidetracked discovering one of the many tidbits Google leaves lying around.   We find some of these side trips most interesting such as exploring planets, checking out 3D views of Earth, and zooming in on  satellite view in our own mini-version of “What On Earth?”.

Maps Of Space

Yes, you can even explore space with Google Maps.  There are plenty of cool places they’ve mapped with a little help from NASA and international space agencies.    One of our favorites includes the International Space Station with its 360-degree view from inside one of the pods.   How cool is that?

Google Maps view from the International Space Station
Google Maps view from the International Space Station (ISS)

Some of the other places on the Google Maps “Interplanetary Exploration” list include Venus, Mars, and Europa.   You’ll find a half-dozen planets and a dozen moons or other extra-terrestrial objects  on the list.   We’re anticipating Google will add driving directions to these places in another decade-or-two, once Elon Musk gets SpaceX on routine runs back-and-forth to Mars.

Time Travel With Google Maps

Another lesser-known feature of Google Maps is the ability to see how a place changed over time.   The feature, dubbed “Time Travel” by some Google insiders, is available in Street View mode.    Open Google Maps, and drag “stick man” onto the map to get a street-level view of the area.    For places on the map that have a historical record of photos available to Google you will see a clock icon that allows you to view the location in the past.

 

Google Maps Time Travel
Google Maps Time Travel feature.

You’ll find Time Travel for the Freedom Tower in New York City, Onagawa Japan,the World Cup Stadium in Brazil ,as well as  the roads of Emilia in Italy.   I was personally hoping for a time machine of Machu Picchu, but no such luck.  However, you can check out some great views of Machu Picchu today.

Haunted Houses

Another cool find, fitting for an October post, is Google’s list of Most Haunted Places In America.   Apparently if you are afraid of ghosts, the Northwest is a great place to relocate.  If you’re going out trick-or-treating this year these are some places you may want to avoid, or go out-of-your-way to visit, depending on how adventurous your spirit is.  We were hoping to see photos of these places on Google Maps, but apparently that has not been added yet.     Maybe in a future version.

Have some favorite features you’d like to share?  Let us know!

How To Put Google Maps On A Website

You want to put Google Maps on a website but don’t know where to start. If you are not a tech geek it can be confusing. There are literally hundreds of options ranging from free to you-want-how-much? The technical skills required to implement maps on your site are no less varied, with anything from “paste this code into your web page” to “edit the JavaScript to set your JSON data block”. Depending on your budget, technical expertise, and what you need to accomplish there are a variety of options available.

Should I Go Direct To Google?

One option to consider is going direct to Google.   Why get too many people involved when you can go “straight to the source”?   It is a great option if you have the technical skills to implement the map code and the time to maintain it.

While Google is a great option, they like to change things.   Sometimes the changes are cosmetic, such as renaming a service on-a-whim with little-if-any notification.  These types of changes rarely break anything.  If you were accustomed to finding the settings you need to update under the “Browser Key” and now it is named “JavaScript Business API Key” it can be frustrating.    Less innocuous is when they change how things work such as dropping location sensor, the feature that automatically detects where the user is, if you did not enable secure web protocols when implementing your map.   Suddenly the map shows people locations in Coffeyville Kansas when they are in downtown Boston.

With a variety of third party solutions that deal with the Google changes for you, there is little reason to go directly to Google to put Google Maps on a website.

Free Google Alternatives

Google’s map service is free, at least until your site gets a lot of traffic, but it is not easy to setup unless you have technical expertise.   There are a lot of quality services and plugins available from reputable vendors.   Many of the Google Maps vendors have been around for a while and are not likely to vanish overnight.  This should alleviate any concerns that your map will suddenly disappear from your website.

Depending on which platform you are using, there are multiple free services to choose from.   For businesses that use WordPress as their website platform, our Store Locator Plus plugin is one such free option.   Maps are implemented with a shortcode and managing your locations is handled via an easy-to-use web form.   You also get the added security of owning the software.

Low-Cost Website Maps

Another way to put Google Maps on a website is to use a paid service.   If your business relies on local customers or clients, a map of your locations is paramount.   According to research by Comscore as well as many marketing agencies, business address information is the number-one item people look for when researching a local business.   With Google Maps playing such an important role, paying a little more for a mapping service is a smart investment.

Location is the most sought-after piece of information by web visitors.
Location is the most sought-after piece of information by web visitors.

…address and location are the primary pieces of information sought by local searchers.

Search Engine Land 

Paid services include a lot more than taking care of the technical challenges of putting a map on a website.   Free plugins and services do a great job of hiding the complexities of putting Google Maps on your site, however they often take care of only the basics.   Paid services add extra features and management tools so you can focus on building your business.

For example, with most free services you will still need to get “permission” from Google to show their maps on your site.   That means registering for an API key and configuring the settings of your product.  Our own Store Locator Plus for WordPress plugin works that way.   With paid services such as our My Store Locator Plus service, the API key is taken care of for you.  No extra configuration required on your part  Add your locations and paste the embed code that is generated on your site and you are done.

Software As A Service

If you choose to use a subscription-based service we recommend using a hosted or “SaaS” service.  Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) is a term for any software that you “rent” on a month-to-month basis that is managed by the company that makes the software.   If you have ever used web-based email such as gMail or Yahoo! Mail, you have used SaaS.

When it comes to putting Google Maps on a website, SaaS has many advantages.   With a service like our MySLP offering, you do not have to worry about updating the software whenever  a new update comes out.    You also don’t need to subscribe to a backup service to ensure you don’t lose your locations;  Any reputable Software-As-A-Service provider will be doing that for you.    There can also be significant performance advantages, meaning your website visitors see the map and your location faster. Most SaaS providers are running in the cloud on high-performance server with more bandwidth than most businesses get with their hosting provider.

How To Put Google Maps On A Website?

One thing is certain, if you have a local business you need to have a Google Maps on your site.   If you have multiple locations it is critical.  Which option should you choose?

  • You are technically-inclined and don’t mind spending some time every few months updating your code: going directly to Google is an option.
  • If you would like to add visual flair to your maps, want to let someone else worry about the latest changes to the Google service, and only want to focus on building your business then consider a free service.
  • Want a custom style that matches your brand, have multiple locations, rely on local traffic at your business, or want to hand-off everything but “keeping our map loaded up with the latest address information”? You’ll want to go with a SaaS-based service.

Regardless of which option you choose, studies have proven that businesses that rely on local customers generate more business by having their address and map on a website.

Have questions about how to put Google Maps on a website? We can help.