Top automation tools for WordPress

Most of us might cringe when we hear the words, “Do more with less.” However, there is some wisdom with doing more with what you have by being more efficient.

For instance, let’s say you compose a standard email response to potential clients. After writing the same three paragraphs each time (about 100 times now), you decide to create an email template instead. Your new template reduces all that typing you did before to one little click!

With that one simple template, you discover that you save a couple of hours every week. Welcome to the world of automation.

The wonderful thing with automation is that it scales up beautifully for larger and more complex tasks. And, when your processes do become larger, that’s when integrations comes in to connect things together. We’ll see shortly how automation and integration go hand-in-hand.

How can automation help me?

You still might be thinking, how can you tell if automation and integration tools can help your situation? Well, do you ever find yourself repeating mundane tasks like:

  • Downloading your client’s email attachments from your G Suite account then uploading them to your project folder on Dropbox?
  • Updating a training record in Google Sheets when attendees attend live events?
  • Tagging a new subscriber in your Mailchimp audience when they download one of your PDF giveaways?
  • Manually registering a new user to a course in LifterLMS, and to the course’s group forum in BuddyPress once they purchase a course from your WooCommerce store?
  • Looking for abandoned purchases in Stripe so you can create a Trello card to task your sales team to kick-off a down-sell campaign in Hubspot to salvage a customer?
  • Creating social media posts every time you publish a new blog article?

When it comes to efficiency, there are two words that come to mind: integration and automation. Integration with other systems, apps, and plugins is a necessity if you want to offer more features to your customers. It just goes with the territory.

Integrating more things together does enrich your offerings to help you reach your business goals. But, if you don’t automate your workflows to take advantage of your integrations, then having more integrations can hinder your growth.

What we’ll cover

Regardless of whether you’ve got a marketing, learning and development, eCommerce, or blogging site, if you are searching for ways to simplify your online business processes, then you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’ll reveal our top automation tools. We’ve grouped the tools according to their areas of speciality:

  • Non-WordPress.
  • CRM integration.
  • WordPress plugin integration.
  • Plugin specific automation.

From first-time to experienced website owners, we think there’s something for everyone in this set of tools. Let’s cover each one.

Non-WordPress

Zapier

Zapier builds on the adage: “Work smarter not harder.” Zapier’s strength lies in automation through integration with thousands of apps. It takes advantage of the fact that most businesses depend on many disparate digital technologies. And, trying to connect all these platforms together manually will not scale.

To make these apps, services, and websites work for you, you need something that can automate connecting all the pieces together. Insert Zapier here. Using Zapier, means all your business components are talking to each other to get the job done.

Some typical Zaps (workflows) include:

  • Checking newsletter subscriber’s email addresses with Zapier’s Data Validation to reduce your campaign bounce rate.
  • Broadcasting GitHub repo issues to a Slack channel to get your support team working on resolutions faster.
  • Automatically adding Zoom webinar participants to an AWeber list to spare you from manual data entry.

Explore more possibilities on Zapier.com.

A quick tour around Zapier

Zapier’s dashboard shows you a menu of options, your plan and quota, and a call to action (CTA) to connect something including personalised Zap suggestions.

You’re led through the Zap creation process with human-friendly prompts, e.g., When this happens … Do this… In addition to Zapier’s powerful search feature, you’ll see shortcuts to apps you’ve used before. That’s super convenient.

View, manage and see the status of all of your Zaps in one place. You can organise your Zaps into folders and even share the folders for collaboration. You can quickly turn on and off your Zaps. There’s also a bulk delete, which you can recover Zaps from the trash just in case you need them back.

Zapier’s Strengths

  • It supports more than 2,000 integrations—mostly B2B non-WordPress at the time of writing.
  • There’s support for three types of delayed Zaps. You can now schedule to run at specific intervals.
  • There’s the ability to build conditional Zaps.
  • It uses an Intuitive user interface (UI) for creating Zaps. No coding required.
  • It offers a free version.
  • It’s well documented.

Zapier’s Weaknesses

  • It has limited integrations with WordPress. There is a Zapier WordPress plugin available but it’s still in beta and has very few triggers and actions.
  • It stores application data on third-party servers (Amazon AWS).
  • There’s no support for multiple triggers.
  • Its multi-step Zaps are available only on paid plans.
  • You can’t customize system-generated sender email address for Zapier notifications.

Integromat

Integromat is an alternative to Zapier. It can automate many of the same use cases that Zapier can. For example, it can help sync your WooCommerce customers with your Google contacts, post Google Analytics reports to your marketing team’s Slack channel, lanch an email broadcast announcement when you have a new product, and more.

But, it doesn’t talk to as many apps as Zapier does. Integromat supports over 500 apps as opposed to Zapier’s more than 2,000 integrations.

Usually, webhooks operate in a trigger and action fashion with no data exchange. In other words, when a particular event happens, then do this activity. One of the interesting things that sets Integromat apart is being able to share data between scenarios using a data store.

Below is Integromat’s search interface. You’ll see this when you go to create a new scenario. The app selections presented under the search field are sorted alphabetically. Zapier, if you recall, shows your favourite apps at the top of the list.

Integromat by far has more ways to interact with WordPress compared to Zapier. Integromat supports 7 triggers, 30 actions, and 8 searches. Zapier has only 5 triggers, 4 actions, and 1 search.

 

Like Zapier, you can view and manage all your scenarios in one place. An especially useful feature is Integromat’s support for versioning of scenarios. This is extremely handy if your scenarios are updated frequently or if you are working in teams where more than one person are authoring scenarios.

For logging, Integromat breaks down the activities for each scenario. This way, you know what was done to them, when something happened, and how they are behaving.

 

Integromat’s Strengths

  • It has an advanced UI that makes them stand out from the competition. From the UI, you can create instant trigger webhooks, custom webhooks, and custom webhook responses.
  • Like Zapier, there’s no need to write any code to integrate with other systems.
  • You can restore previous versions of a scenario.
  • Its WordPress integration is more mature and offers more options than Zapier.
  • There’s support for storing data (offline) from a webhook.

Integromat’s Weaknesses

  • It uses non-standard terminology that can be confusing for new users.
  • It has a unique interface that can also be a disadvantage because it takes time to learn and get used to.
  • Their support for more than 500 integrations at the time of writing is significantly less than Zapier.
  • Your data is stored in the European Union.
  • The help documentation is minimal (mostly videos too), not always up to date, has typos, and contains links to missing pages.

CRM integration

WP Fusion

WP Fusion’s tagline is “Connect WordPress to anything.” This plugin’s primary function is connecting other WordPress plugins to a non-WordPress CRM. Naturally, WP Fusion is a superb choice if you are using an external CRM system. We use it on this site to add people to our mailing list, trigger automations on product purchases, and better engage with customers.

WP Fusion’s key features are:

  • It allows you to display CRM data within WordPress.
  • You can tag your CRM contacts when they download or purchase products.
  • You can keep your CRM accounts in sync between your WordPress sites.
  • It offers membership capabilities and shortcodes for a variety of plugins.
  • It gives you the ability to monitor stale accounts so that you can perform actions to win customers back.

The Plus and Professional plans include features such as abandoned cart reporting, redirecting logins, Zapier (webhooks) integration, and protecting downloads.

A quick tour around WP Fusion

We’ll use the Mailchimp integration in this quick tour. In your /wp-admin/, you’ll need to navigate to Settings > WP Fusion > Setup and set up your CRM before you can do anything. Have your API keys ready.

Once you’re done selecting your CRM, go back to the General Settings tab (first tab) to specify the rest of the CRM settings you need. Below is an example of linking WP Fusion to a specific audience (aka Mailchimp List) to sync with.

WP Fusion’s strengths

  • It supports 40 CRM systems.
  • There are more than 102 plugin integrations.
  • There’s a free plan (WP Fusion Lite).
  • It’s well documented on the main WP Fusion website.

WP Fusion’s weaknesses

  • The Lite (free) plan only supports synchronizing accounts with contact records and managing tags.
  • Add-ons are available only with the Plus and Professional plans.
  • Not all of the supported 40 CRMs are 100% compatible.
  • There can be only one CRM integration per site. If your site uses Mailchimp and Hubspot, for example, you will have a difficult time.
  • There is no setup wizard. It’s not intuitive that right after you install the plugin, you need to head over to  Settings > WP Fusion > Setup to select your CRM before you can get started.

Groundhogg

Groundhogg is an impressive CRM in itself. What’s more, it’s also a fully-fledged marketing automation tool built for WordPress. Having something this powerful running in your WordPress site changes everything.

Without Groundhogg, you would need to adopt a third-party CRM that stores your data and automates your workflows outside of WordPress. This means that your business’s website (on WordPress) and your online marketing systems (e.g., HubSpot or Click Funnels) are separate. Because they’re separate, you end up spending a lot of time making your site and marketing tools work together.

Let’s look at an example. Say we are using Mailchimp for our CRM and a marketing automation tool. Just to get a simple newsletter opt-in form on your site is a challenge. First, you’d have to build your Mailchimp audience. This includes defining your segments and tags. Then, you use Mailchimp’s form builder to create your opt-in form for your audience. After reading the Mailchimp docs and doing some research online, you realise that you will have to either mess around with HTML embed code, use a third-party plugin, or hire a developer to place your form on your site. And, we haven’t even talked about styling your form, testing it, or running any automation workflows.

With Groundhogg, your website, contacts, and opt-in forms are all in one place. Just imagine performing the big three marketing activities (managing your audience, creating marketing funnels, and launching email campaigns) all from your WordPress site.

A quick tour around Groundhogg

There’s no denying it, Groundhogg has a lot to take in. And, that’s putting it lightly. Thankfully, they have an Official quickstart Course for Beginners that you can start directly from the Groundhogg welcome page.

Being able to sync your WordPress user accounts with your CRM contacts is a must-have feature. It’s no surprise that you can easily do this with Groundhogg. You’ll find these settings under Groundhogg > Tools > Sync/Create Users (tab).

Do you need to import or export contacts? No problem. You can import your contacts using comma-separated values (CSV) format via Tools > Import. You can conveniently export your contacts from directly from Groundhogg’s Contacts page or from Tools > Export.

Out of all the other CRM systems in this article, Groundhogg is the only one that offers a unique editor for specifically building marketing funnels. And to top it off, you can get a running start by using a pre-built funnel template such as the Lead Magnet Download funnel pictured below.

Pro tip: Grounhogg lets you import and export funnels, which is tremendously helpful when you are working in a team or if you just want to make a quick backup or restore from an earlier export.

We just saw how nice it is to have ready to use funnel templates. Well, you can say the same thing about their canned emails. Right out of the box, you get about a half a dozen email templates in draft mode ready for you to use. This obviously saves a lot of time typing and re-inventing the wheel. So, that means you can get up and running fast if you take advantage of these templates.

Groundhogg’s strengths

  • It consolidates CRM, email marketing, and marketing automation tools.
  • There’s a unique marketing funnel builder that provides about a half a dozen templates. You can even export and import funnels.
  • It comes with pre-built canned email templates. The email editor allows you to set the From and Reply To fields. You can also override email headers.
  • It’s designed to be streamlined with fewer external integration hassles.
  • Your data stays on your site.
  • It has the advantage of native WordPress integration possibilities.
  • It provides a welcome page that features a quickstart course video along with 4 more step by step video tutorials. The welcome page also has links to help documentation and courses.

Groundhogg’s weaknesses

  • Its form builder is a rudimentary TinyMCE style text editor that relies heavily on shortcodes. There are no built-in styling options.
  • There are so many features that Grounhogg can be daunting at first. However, the makers of Groundhogg mitigated this with exceptional documentation.

Jetpack CRM

On July 20, 2020, Automattic Inc. (makers of WordPress.com and WooCommerce) announced the arrival of Jetpack CRM. Jetpack CRM, formerly Zero BS CRM, is a WordPress plugin and can run independently of the Jetpack plugin. Jetpack CRM is like Groundhogg in that it’s a full CRM that runs in WordPress. However, it does not have marketing automation out of the box as Groundhogg has.

If you visit Jetpack CRM’s website, you’ll notice immediately that its target audience is the so-called hacker-entrepreneurs. And, if you use Jetpack CRM, you’ll realize that its power comes from its extensions.

A quick tour around Jetpack CRM

Extensions are the way to go to get the full benefit of Jetpack CRM. Some of their newer integrations include Google Contact Sync, ConvertKit, WorldPay Sync, Envato Sync, Contact Form 7, and Bulk Tagger. You’ll need to pay for these extensions as there are no free ones at the time of writing. The pricing plans include “CRM” extensions, but the website doesn’t define which ones are CRM extensions. The website breaks out the extensions into the following categories: analytics, sync tools, email marketing, forms, payments, and tools.

The folks at Jetpack CRM realize that the onboarding process for CRMs can deter people from using them or worse they don’t set them up the right way. Jetpack CRM makes the start-up process easier with a modern and simple to follow setup wizard.

Jetpack CRM’s strengths

  • There’s a welcome start-up wizard.
  • There are more than 30 extensions available for individual or bundled purchases.
  • It has a B2B Mode that allows you to organize your contacts under a Companies layer.
  • It’s writer-friendly. There’s support for shortcodes, LaTeX, and markdown.
  • It leverages other useful Jetpack features such as stats, image galleries, and social sharing.
  • There are free, premium plans, and extensions for purchase. The entrepreneur bundle was a strong selling point for Zero BS CRM. This could change if an Elite plan is introduced because the email campaign feature might move from Entrepreneur to Elite.
  • It is also developer-friendly like Groundhogg.
  • It’s well documented.

Jetpack CRM’s weaknesses

  • The free version only has basic CRM capabilities.
  • There’s no bulk email feature in the free version. You’d need to purchase an extension such as their own Mail Campaigns extension. They also offer an AWeber and Mailchimp extension.
  • There’s no marketing automation in the free version. You’d need to purchase their Automations extension or use an external third-party marketing automation tool.
  • There’s no clear or well-defined funnels module. You’d need to purchase its Automations extension to build your workflow. Then, you’d need to purchase its Funnels (reporting only) extension to run your reports.
  • Only basic CSV import is available in the free plan. You’ll need to purchase an extension like Woo Sync to keep your data synced up.

WordPress plugin integration

WP Webhooks

Ironikus (makers of WP Webhooks) focus on a niche part of connecting systems together with a WordPress site: webhooks. The WP Webhooks  plugin boasts some of the more interesting use cases such as:

  • Create a user as soon as a new signup happens on Teachable.
  • Create a post using Alexa (Voice Control).
  • Create user accounts from a Microsoft Excel list.
  • Send data to Intercom when a user logs into your WordPress website.
  • Run custom PHP code using incoming data.

It comes with free and paid Pro versions. With the Pro version, you can publish a post via email, remotely manage files and media, and integrate with WooCommerce.

A quick tour around WP Webhooks

WP Webhooks has a somewhat unconventional user interface. The pleasantries of a friendly welcome page or setup wizard aren’t available, as the target audience seems to be mainly developers.

Below are screen captures of the Send Data and Receive Data pages. The documentation is embedded on the pages themselves—sort of like context-sensitive help if you need it.

WP Webhooks strengths

WP Webhooks weaknesses

  • There’s no setup wizard. You need to figure out on your own that you have to go to the Settings tab (fifth tab down) first before you can do anything.
  • It integrates with only three other WordPress plugins: EDD, CF7, and WooCommerce (Pro version).
  • The help documentation isn’t obvious. There’s no documentation on the main WP Webhooks site. If you dig around in the plugin itself, you’ll eventually find links to documentation that is hosted on a separate site. Most of the how-to documentation are videos, which isn’t great if you prefer to read or if you like to do searches using query strings.

Uncanny Automator

Uncanny Automator is the market leader for connecting WordPress plugins with other plugins, other WordPress sites and non-WordPress systems. At the time of writing, it integrated with over 50 plugins and external tools.

Automator’s use cases range from simple welcome emails to complex workflows that span separate WordPress sites. Since Automator integrates with Zapier, there are more than 2,000 non-WordPress apps at your disposal, plus anything that supports webhooks can be integrated too.

A quick tour around Uncanny Automator

Getting started with Automator is easy, just choose what plugins or tools you want to “trigger” your automation.

Uncanny Automator anonymous trigger

Creating anonymous recipes is a key feature that permits the automation of user account creation and connecting with webhooks. Again, the friendly interface coupled with contemporary card layout designs helps make a fairly technical process easier to complete.

Uncanny Automator anonymous recipe

Data that is passed into a recipe is pulled into a form interface for you by using using tokens (also known as variables). In other platforms, these tokens are called merge tags. They’re called merge tags because when the automation is actually running, these tokens are merged with (or replaced by) the real data that they represent. Think of them as placeholders.

This is a good example of creative approaches for automating the sharing of data between applications and systems.

Creating a WordPress user account from WP Forms

One of the key selling points of Uncanny Automator is its visual representation and organisation of a recipe. With a short glance, you can get a bird’s eye view of what your recipe is going to do and the status of each component of your recipe. The image below shows a completed webhook recipe as an example.

Uncanny Automator webhook recipe

Uncanny Automator’s strengths

  • There’s built-in support for multiple triggers per recipe.
  • All your data stays inhouse on your website’s servers.
  • It has the most plugin integrations available for WordPress.
  • You easily share and sync data between multiple sites (if you have Automator installed on each site).
  • It allows you to turn your free forms plugins into user registration forms without extra paid addons.
  • It can handle complex use cases.
  • You have the ability to turn on/off different components of your recipes.
  • It supports Zapier and Integromat, which open up integrations to more than 2,000 non-WordPress apps.
  • The Pro version supports anonymous recipes that allow you to automatically create user accounts and integrate apps using webhooks.
  • There’s a dashboard for viewing activity logs at the recipe, trigger, and action level. This can be a lifesaver when you’re troubleshooting an issue or testing out a new recipe.
  • It’s well documented, and the documentation is easy to find. This includes developer-specific knowledge base articles.

Uncanny Automator’s weaknesses

  • There’s no ability to delay or schedule triggers.
  • You currently can’t copy (clone) recipes.
  • There’s no versioning of recipes. So, you can’t revert to a previous version if needed.
  • You can’t import/export recipes.

Plugin specific automation

AutomateWoo

AutomateWoo is a premium extension for WooCommerce from the makers of WooCommerce and WordPress.

With the combination of AutomateWoo’s core features, add-ons, integrations, and customizable code, just about everything you need for marketing automation should be covered. This includes CRM functionality and support for bulk email campaigns from its integrations with AgileCRM and ActiveCampaign.

A quick tour around AutomateWoo

Your sales statistics are vital. Having a dashboard with important graphs and metrics will tell you if your business is on track with one quick peek. Like Uncanny Automator, AutomateWoo’s interface is up to date and blends (instead of clashing) with WordPress’s design.

AutomateWoo’s Text Variables are analogous to Uncanny Automator’s Tokens. Using Text Variables (handlebar syntax), you can pull in user account information to customise your emails.

AutomateWoo’s strengths

  • It’s perfect for targeted email marketing based on customer activity.
  • It has a workflow builder.
  • There’s excellent support for email use cases with no max limit for the number of emails sent.
  • It has a variety of automated emails that can fit almost any eCommerce scenario.
  • Twilio integration for SMS support is built-in.
  • It’s a developer-friendly plugin as you would expect because it comes from Automattic (parent company of WordPress and WooCommerce).
  • The documentation is great.

AutomateWoo’s weaknesses

  • It’s not designed for broadcast or bulk email campaigns. But, it integrates with Mailchimp and ActiveCampaign.
  • Its workflow builder doesn’t seem to be advanced as Groundhogg’s marketing funnel builder. There aren’t any templates. But, there are how-tos for creating loyalty, subscription, and win back workflows.

InfusedWoo

As its name suggests, InfusedWoo gives you seamless integration between your WooCommerce shop and your InfusionSoft account. InfusedWoo can automatically sync your contacts, sync your products, manage subscription sales, and apply tags based on purchases to keep your store and CRM in lockstep. On top of that, you can run email marketing campaigns (Infusionsoft campaign builder), track affiliate links and rescue abandoned carts as part of the integration that the plugin provides.

A quick tour around InfusedWoo

A splash page and Guided Setup wizard will get you up and running in no time.

There are two noteworthy mentions. InfusedWoo now supports pay plans and automation recipes. You can offer payment plans with InfusedWoo’s new Payplans feature located under the Receiving Payments tab. Click on the image below for the enlarged version.

The new Automation Recipes feature is not to be missed. It comes with a myriad of canned triggers, conditions, and actions. These standard automation features that you’d expect from third-party automation tools are right in your InfusedWoo menu under Automation > Automation Recipes.

InfusedWoo’s strengths

  • There’s a convenient Guided Setup wizard.
  • You can sync user accounts with Infusionsoft contacts.
  • You can import/export products, orders, and automation recipes.
  • It has built-in support WooComerce subscriptions. You can also use a combination of Infusionsoft’s Campaign Builder and WooCommerce APIs as an alternative.
  • There’s support for conditional automation recipes.
  • It comes with Infusionsoft’s payment gateway built-in, and it can run in test mode.
  • You can also use your favourite payment gateways such as Stripe, Authorize.net, or PayPal.
  • It supports payment plans.
  • There’s a dedicated GDPR Toolkit feature.

InfusedWoo’s weaknesses

  • There’s no support for multi-step automation recipes.
  • The Cart Abandon Campaign option in the Automation tools options is misleading. It’s only a blueprint on how to set up a cart abandonment campaign in Infusionsoft.
  • There’s no help documentation (publicly accessible).

Conclusion

We hope by now that you can see the advantages of integrating and automating your processes as your business grows. Integration and automation create an “efficiency cycle” (if you will). Put it this way, being more efficient means you can take on more business. More business translates into more demands. More demands will introduce additional offerings which beg for more integration. With more integration, you’ll need to bump up your automation to be more efficient as the cycle repeats.

In this post, we armed you with our selection of the top automation tools for non-WordPress platforms, WordPress ecosystems, CRMs, and eCommerce sites. As you can see, each of these tools has its strengths and weaknesses. Just like all tools, some work better than others given the situation. Always step back and look at your ultimate goal. You might find that one business case calls for Groundhogg, WP Fusion, and Zapier. Another case is perfect for AutomateWoo and Uncanny Automator. It just depends.

LearnDash 3.2 and Group Changes

The LearnDash LMS plugin for WordPress first introduced groups almost 7 years ago, back in version 1.4. Groups were a way to assign courses and track progress for a collection of students as a single unit. It also empowered a new type of user, called a Group Leader, to oversee the activity for that segment of users rather than for all students on a site.

As one of the most popular features in LearnDash, site owners started wanting more and more group capabilities. They extended group options with membership plugins, and developers like Uncanny Owl and Wisdm Labs built plugins specifically to add more features to LearnDash Groups.

The LearnDash 3.2 release is the most significant change to the groups model since LearnDash first added them in 2013. In this  article, we’ll examine what’s different and how it affects users of third party group and membership plugins.

Here are some of the high-level additions in 3.2 for LearnDash Groups:

  • Group purchases
  • Group hierarchies
  • Group certificates
  • Group pages
  • Group content protection
  • Group user management
  • Bypass course restrictions for Group Leaders
  • Course creation and management for Group Leaders
  • Group creation and management by Group Leaders
  • A new ld_group_list shortcode
  • Search restrictions based on course enrollment

LearnDash Group Leaders Manage Groups, Courses and Users

Group purchases

LearnDash 3.2 now supports selling access to groups, so that on purchase of a product/group, the purchaser is added to the associated group. LearnDash supports this natively as well as via their WooCommerce LearnDash integration plugin (version 1.8 or higher is required). This is a great feature that makes it easier for sites to offer a paid way for students to self-enroll into groups.

Along with this change, LearnDash Groups now adopt some some of the Access Mode options that you would normally associate with Groups. Three Group Access Modes are now supported:

  • Free (users with an account can add themselves to a group)
  • Buy Now (purchases enabled via LearnDash payments)
  • Recurring (purchases via LearnDash payments)
  • Closed (payment using an integration, third party plugin or admin intervention; “Closed” is what groups in previous versions would have been considered and is the default)

Uncanny Owl notes

While LearnDash now supports this in the core plugin, this capability has existed in third party plugins for several years. Our Uncanny Groups plugin supports it, Uncanny Automator supports it, and the Wisdm Labs Group Registration plugin supports it. The new LearnDash capability is also for selling group access to individual users; it doesn’t yet support sales to organizations (so that organizations can create groups and manage them in the front end). For that, a third party plugin (like Uncanny Groups) is still required.

Group hierarchies

One of our #1 requests for our Groups plugin has been to have it support group hierarchies. We held off because we preferred to see support for this come from LearnDash, and now that it’s here, we’re excited about the possibilities. What this feature does is allow users to optionally add child groups to parent groups. Users added to a parent group are automatically added to the child groups and get access to anything in the subgroup(s). On the opposite side, users can still be in child groups and then don’t inherit anything from parent groups.

LearnDash Group Hierarchy

Uncanny Owl notes

This has been a highly-requested feature, but the requests are usually for reporting roll-ups (so reports at the parent level include child group data) and pools of seats/licenses set at the parent level that can be allocated to subgroups. That’s not quite what this is, but we may still see movement in those directions (from both LearnDash and Uncanny Owl if we see interest for them; a way to enable these do at least exist in LearnDash now).

Group pages

In LearnDash 3.2, groups are now about more than just assigning course access and reporting, they also provide new opportunities to organize courses and offer group-specific content in the front end. By making group pages public and using a new shortcode that outputs a list of group pages a student has access to, it’s now easier than ever for elearning site owners to organize courses around groups and to deliver specific information and course content to members of a group.

LearnDash Group Pages

Uncanny Owl notes

It’s been possible for a long time to offer group-specific content to users based on CRM tag, membership level, and even group access. In our plugins we offer the Restrict Page Access module in Toolkit Pro to control access at the group level to specific pages/posts, and many other plugins offer similar tools. Where the new LearnDash capability makes things easier is by providing access to group pages themselves along with a shortcode that outputs links to those pages. With other tools, including ours, it wasn’t always clear how to make restricted access pages easy to find.

Group content protection

Beyond the new access restrictions for Group pages, LearnDash now supports restricting any page, post, or other post type based on a user’s membership in groups. Once this is enabled, each associated post type will have an option to restrict the post to members of specified groups only.

LearnDash Group Content Protection

Uncanny Owl notes

Post-level restrictions based on group are supported in the Restrict Page Access module in Toolkit Pro, but they can also done with other plugins like WP Fusion using tag-based restrictions linked to LearnDash Group. In the case of both of those, they add the ability to redirect users that don’t have access rather than just display messaging on the restricted page. Both WP Fusion and our Uncanny Groups plugin offer other group-based restrictions too, like shortcodes to restrict specific content on a page to certain groups.

LearnDash Restrict Page Access

Course creation

Starting with LearnDash 3.2, Group Leaders can now create and manage courses. Depending on settings, this can include the Group Leader’s own courses only or all courses on the site. Course creation works exactly as it does for admins, in the back end (i.e. /wp-admin/) and with the same available tools. Note that some third party tools normally only available to admins and other expected WordPress roles (and role capabilities) may not necessarily be available in editors.

Uncanny Owl notes

The Wisdm Labs Instructor Role plugin has historically served a similar purpose and continues to offer many advantages, like front end course creation and commission options for instructors. The new native features in LearnDash are likely to appeal to organizations where internal staff are creating courses, so they need a restricted role for course creation and management and are comfortable with course creation in the back end, whereas the Wisdm Labs plugin is likely to appeal more to sites where the course creators are third parties and may have less WordPress experience.

Group certificates

This new certificate type offers the option of awarding certificates for the completion of a group of courses. If all courses assigned to a group are completed by a student, a downloadable certificate is added to the group page for the user. It’s a nice way of being able to award specific certificates for completing a series of courses without having to set up workarounds like course prerequisites.

Uncanny Owl notes

Our Continuing Education Credits plugin has offered certificates based on the completion of a series of courses for several years. Where the LearnDash approach differs is with convenience and easy on-site retrieval of the certificates from the new group page. Our plugin also had the drawback of not recognizing completions of courses that were done before the plugin was installed. Toolkit Pro users: Yes, we do expect to add support for emailing out group certificates (like we do for course and quiz certificates) in an upcoming release.

User management

This new optional feature (and we do want to stress that it’s optional, as we’ve heard from a few nervous upgraders) now puts many elements of user management in the hands of Group Leaders. This is a feature where we suggest a lot of caution and testing, as it does mean that Group Leaders can create, edit and delete users.  The basic setting gives Group Leaders access to only the users in their groups, while the advanced setting gives Group Leaders access to any user on the entire site. We expect this will be used primarily on sites where Group Leaders are internal staff, because the ability to delete users and change information about them can be risky and recovery can be difficult. Still, for sites where Group Leaders can be trusted and need these types of tools, this is a great addition.

Uncanny Owl notes

The front end Group Management features in our Uncanny Groups plugin have allowed some level of user oversight and management for some time, but we’ve been very reluctant to put this level of control in Group Leader hands. We won’t even allow Group Leaders to set passwords for existing users, because the Group Leaders could potentially then access personal user data with the password, including data from other courses and personal information. If your staff need this type of control the LearnDash features will be a great addition; we still don’t plan to add anything like this to our plugins because of our concerns around privacy and destruction of data without an audit trail.

Group management

This next optional setting allows Group Leaders to create, manage and delete groups from inside /wp-admin/. Depending on the setting, this can apply to all groups on a website or only groups for which the user is a Group Leader.

Uncanny Owl notes

This can be another great option when Group Leaders need a lot of control and are likely employed by the site owner. The difficulty of recovering from group deletions and management of groups created by Group Leaders without consent of site admins remain a concern for us though. We can think of a few organizations we’ve worked with where these tools would be very helpful, but there still aren’t many. Our Uncanny Groups plugin does offer front end group creation, but we don’t enable it by default and we always emphasize caution (and restricting access) when people inquire about it.

Bypass course limits

Group Leaders can now optionally navigate anywhere they want in a course and ignore the Linear rules, just like admins can. This is a great addition that we plan to enable on most sites we support for ease of use and reduced confusion by Group Leaders.

Group Leaders Bypass Course Limits

Course auto-enrollment

When enabled, Group Leaders get access to courses assigned to groups for which they’re Group Leaders. This makes it easier for Group Leaders to see and review the courses that their students are completing.

Uncanny Owl notes

Our Toolkit Pro plugin has offered similar functionality for several years in the Improved Group Leader Interface module. As mentioned after the LearnDash 3.0 release, however, we largely now consider that module a legacy module and no longer as useful as it once was, especially with this new change in LearnDash core. Our Uncanny Groups plugin also offers a way for Group Leaders to get course access for the groups that they manage.

The ld_group_list shortcode

Paired with the Course Grid add-on from LearnDash, this new shortcode adds a new way to see groups visually. With this tool, courses can be organized by group, effectively another level in the LearnDash course hierarchy. Groups might even be used as categories to allow easier organization of related courses.

Search restrictions

We haven’t seen as much discussion around this feature, but LearnDash 3.2 now only returns lessons, topics and quiz results in WordPress search results if the user is enrolled in them. This means students will see fewer irrelevant search results and won’t experience frustration when they click into posts only to be told that they don’t have permission to view them.

Uncanny Owl notes

This is a huge improvement, and we have actually built custom solutions for some clients that have this exact behaviour. For those consulting clients we’re glad we could provide solutions where otherwise none existed, but now that LearnDash core supports this, it’s the better path forward.

We will note that this new behaviour will only work effectively if permissions are managed based on LearnDash course enrollment. For sites that make all of their courses Open and then restrict individual access by membership level, CRM tag or other intervention, this new LearnDash enhancement won’t make a difference.

Wrapping up and other notes

LearnDash 3.2 is a huge release and the LearnDash team deserve a lot of congratulations for the work they’ve done. They have taken big steps to make groups more useful and solve problems around membership capabilities for many current and future LearnDash users. It’s a big release, so there are a few outstanding issues as we publish this (there were also big changes to the TCPDF libraries and we expect a 3.2.1 release soon), but overall LearnDash 3.2 is going to open up many new course delivery and management capabilities for elearning site owners.

We’re Going to Change How You Use WordPress

About 8 months ago, we had an idea that got us very excited. We wanted to personalize learning and give users the right direction and feedback they needed at the right time, and to do that, we started looking into an Trigger > Condition > Action model. We could watch for things to happen on an elearning site (a trigger), check a condition, then automatically do something else (an action) if the requirements were met. It’s a simple model, but with it, we would be able to completely personalize learning.

That led us to start thinking bigger. If we’re going to build this architecture for one plugin (LearnDash), why not just build it out and make it work with lots of WordPress plugins ? The possibilities seemed endless. We could make one plugin, or several plugins, trigger actions in other plugins. Not only would it would a system like that make it easy to connect plugins and automate workflows, but we could eliminate the need for one-off plugins that just connected 2 plugins together in very simple ways.

So, one thousand development hours and 6 months of development time later, we built the framework for a plugin that does all of this. It’s not ready for wide release yet, but we are starting a limited beta over at https://automatorplugin.com/. (Make sure to check it out if you want to participate.)

You may still be wondering why our team is more excited about this work then anything else we’ve ever done. The possibilities with this plugin really are unlimited, and every day we’re thinking of new ways the plugin might be used. Let’s start off with a possible eLearning workflow to demonstrate how powerful the plugin can be.

Suppose a student demonstrates very poor performance in a course and we want to automate an appropriate intervention to get the student back on track. With the Uncanny Automator plugin, we can create a “recipe” that does this: If a student scores below 50% on quizzes X and Y (these are the triggers), enroll the student in a remedial course, notify his or her Group Leader, delete his or her progress from the current course (so they can retake it), unenroll the user from the current course, and send an email to the student with feedback about what happened and appropriate next steps.

With our new plugin, creating that complex workflow can be set up in about 3 minutes with absolutely no coding required and no further administrator or instructor involvement. It’s just automatic. And every recipe is created using a clean, intuitive user interface.

The possibilities for this plugin aren’t just limited to eLearning. Here’s a sales example:

A user submits an application form, visits a landing page and completes a purchase (these are triggers). The system then adds the user to a private bbPress forum, changes the user’s WordPress role and adds a tag in Infusionsoft (these are all actions). That entire workflow can be in a single Automator recipe.

We want to get the Uncanny Automator plugin in everyone’s hands as soon as we can, but for now anyone interested is welcome to apply for the beta program.

We hope you’re as excited as we are about the possibilities this opens up for WordPress end users, administrators, and even developers (by integrating with only Automator, plugins could instantly be connected to 20 other plugins). Stay tuned for more Automator news in the next future!

 

How Are We Doing? Part 2

One year ago today we posted a reflective article about feedback from our customers about our performance. At that time we had been using a Help Desk system for over a year, and that allowed us to start collecting metrics and feedback from some of our plugin customers and development clients.

A year later, we wanted to look back and reflect on how things have changed for us. For one thing, we’re definitely a lot busier! And, as we come up on our 5 year anniversary (next week!), it’s even more important to take a look at what growth has meant to our level of service. Here are some key stats for Uncanny Owl over the last 12 months:

Uncanny Owl 2018 Stats

(The number of sites using our plugins may actually be a fair bit higher than 10,000, as we can only accurately say that it’s somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000; we suspect it’s around 11,000 at the time of writing.)

It’s a lot of growth! Installs and support requests have more than doubled over the last year. And even with that growth, we’ve been able to improve the level of satisfaction across our support channels. Keep in mind too that those are only users that had issues or questions and took time to leave a rating or comment.

And what are people saying about us in the feedback they provide? Here are some selected comments from our users:

All of the features work and if you ever run into issues, the support team is top notch. They go out of their way to help and you can really tell that they care about their product. Thank you UO team for being so AWESOME!
- $avageMan
Ryan has been fabulous! His solutions correct the issue, and he is always so fast to reply. Uncanny Owl has provided fantastic support and their plugin is great!
- Kristie
Fast and clear reply. Took my vague query and provided a concise and brilliant answer. Thanks for making things much clearer... as a result I'm buying more licences today.
- Michael N
Very responsive. Direct and helpful.
- Thomas O
Excellent support and very fast!
- Nathan H
Always responsive!
- Alan C
A great detailed answer to my inquiry that will really help me! So appreciate it.
- Richard M
The support I have received has been phenomenal. Thank you very much!
- Abena E
I really appreciate the quick, knowledgeable, and detailed reply. Great!!
- Lisa D
Great response and very fast. Thank you very much for your efficient support.
- Sara C
Thanks for going above and beyond! Your service is amazing.
- Jacqueline H
You guys are amazing! Thank you for your incredible products.
- Will P
Ryan was very prompt with a response to my question and was very informative. I appreciate the quick assistance as this is time sensitive for us.
- Dan P
As someone who is new to the WP and LMS game, I find Uncanny Owl’s products and service to be a life-saver. I can’t recommend them enough!
- Leah
Ryan quickly pointed me in the direction I needed to resolve the answer. Within minutes of reading his response I had both issues resolved.
- Chris T

Of course, maintaining this level of service as we continue to grow is only possible with a great team. If you know LearnDash and are as committed to great products and service as we are, please consider checking out our open positions at http://jobs.uncannyowl.com/.

Use BadgeOS? Try This

If you’re a BadgeOS user, you’ve probably noticed that the plugin hasn’t been updated for almost a year. Conflicts with the latest version of WooCommerce and other plugins have made it virtually impossible to use BadgeOS on many sites, and as we have a lot of LearnDash sites relying on BadgeOS, the situation became rather difficult for us.

As future support of BadgeOS is unknown, we decided to implement some fixes ourselves for our clients. We know a lot of people are affected by these issues though, so we thought it would be helpful to release our patched plugin to the wider community. Having said that, there are some caveats:

  • This is not a plugin we will be maintaining or supporting. If you want to use this code, it’s at your own risk. This is purely to address some common issues that we know site owners are struggling to address themselves with BadgeOS version 1.4.8.2.
  • We currently have no plans to keep this updated. Right now it’s a short term fix.
  • This plugin may or may not work with third-party integrations. We fixed some common issues that affected our clients and plugins.
  • We have no relationship with the BadgeOS developers. We’re just filling a gap temporarily that was affecting a lot of our users.

If you are running into BadgeOS problems, we invite you to download the plugin below and see if it fixes your issues. It is a drop-in replacement for BadgeOS, so make sure you remove your current BadgeOS plugin first.

New Code-Based Enrolment Plugin for LearnDash

If you’ve ever wished for an easier way to get your learners into LearnDash Groups or courses, our newest plugin is perfect for you! We’ve built a really easy way to generate codes that can be used by learners to self-enrol into LearnDash groups and courses when they register, make a purchase, or are simply signed in.

If you sell course access to organizations, you can use the Uncanny LearnDash Codes plugin to generate and distribute codes that can be redeemed for LearnDash access. Using Gravity Forms, Theme My Login or the included registration shortcode, users can enter a code during registration that adds them directly to a group or course. Create codes with custom prefixes and suffixes to identify clients, and distribute codes in CSV files to your partners. You can also control how many times a code can be redeemed, so if it’s better for your situation to distribute a single code with multiple uses, that works too.

Here’s a screencast that walks through exactly what the plugin does and how it works:

The plugin also supports integration with WooCommerce and independent enrolment. For ecommerce transactions, you can identify specific products that can only be purchased with a valid code, making it possible for learners to buy access to a LearnDash Group. For signed in users, we also make a shortcode available so users can enrol themselves in additional courses and groups using a code.

view-codes

Here are 3 business scenarios that are a perfect fit for Uncanny LearnDash Codes:

  1. Offer a promo where the first 50 customers to enter a code from their profile page get early access to a new course. (Use the plugin to generate a single code with 50 uses that enrols the user in a course.)
  2. Send a CSV file with codes to a college professor that allows students to self-enrol directly into a LearnDash Group and associated courses. (Use the plugin to generate 100 single-use codes in bulk for a group and download as a CSV file, and force code redemption on registration.)
  3. Generate codes on your LearnDash site and sell them from another website. One of our clients is now able to sell course access from a Shopify store by creating the codes with our plugin, loading them into Shopify, and then letting users redeem them on the LearnDash site.

All codes have a detailed audit history, so you can see when codes were generated, when they were redeemed and by whom. Codes can be used for one or more courses or groups.

We hope you enjoy the plugin!

LearnDash Review Revisited

A few months ago, Ken wrote a brief review of his experiences using LearnDash to develop Grade Hacks, Uncanny Owl’s study skills program. It remains our second most-visited page on this website and attracts a lot of traffic for people searching for LearnDash reviews. Since that article was originally published 6 months ago, LearnDash has gone through a number of big changes, including the release of version 2.0. Ken’s original article is now outdated in a number of areas and we thought it was time to revisit some of the problem areas to see where things stand in the current release (2.0.3 at the time of writing).

A few months ago, Ken wrote a brief review of his experiences using LearnDash to develop Grade Hacks, Uncanny Owl’s study skills program. It remains our second most-visited page on this website and attracts a lot of traffic for people searching for LearnDash reviews. Since that article was originally published 6 months ago, LearnDash has gone through a number of big changes, including the release of version 2.0. Ken’s original article is now outdated in a number of areas and we thought it was time to revisit some of the problem areas to see where things stand in the current release (2.0.3 at the time of writing).  Navigating between courses, lessons, topics and quizzes was a significant source of frustration for us early on, especially while developing large training programs. In the version of LearnDash used for the article, courses, lessons, quizzes (standard and advanced) were very distinct objects and navigation between related items was difficult. In the most recent version of LearnDash, everything is now grouped under a single LearnDash entry in the WordPress admin interface, the 2 quiz components were combined, and course objects now include related items on the editing screen (made possible by LearnDash now enforcing a 1:1 relationship between courses and lessons/quizzes/topics). All of these changes make navigation much easier and intuitive, though building out courses can still be a very tedious process. (In that area, we would love to see a way to duplicate courses that retains course objects as well as an easy way to import and export quizzes from Word.)   Quizzes have been simplified in LearnDash 2.0, with Standard and Advanced Quizzes now combined into a single “Quiz” object. It’s great to have all quiz settings and questions in a single location, but the number of options is still going to overwhelm new users. Make sure you use quiz templates to make the quiz creation process as efficient and consistent as possible!  We would still love to be able to customize LearnDash more easily and to have access to additional shortcodes. Certificates are one such example; it’s hard to retrieve someone’s certificate without either displaying the learner’s full profile or having them retake the quiz. We’d love to see a shortcode for quiz display and to display a list of courses without descriptions.   In the comments of the original article, another LearnDash user mentioned wanting a custom theme for LearnDash. In earlier days of using LearnDash we certainly agreed, and we spent a lot of time making CSS changes to get unsupported themes working seamlessly with LearnDash. With LearnDash recently confirming that they won’t develop a theme themselves, it’s great to see themes like University http://themeforest.net/item/university-education-event-and-course-theme/8412116?ref=uncannyowl now showing up that have explicit LearnDash support.   It’s great to see the positive changes with LearnDash and many of Ken’s earlier criticisms being addressed. The community is still vibrant and it’s reassuring to see development continuing at a good pace. Navigating between courses, lessons, topics and quizzes was a significant source of frustration for us early on, especially while developing large training programs. In the version of LearnDash used for the article, courses, lessons and quizzes (standard and advanced) were very distinct objects and navigation between related items was difficult. In the most recent version of LearnDash, everything is now grouped under a single LearnDash entry in the WordPress admin interface, the 2 quiz components were combined, and course objects now include related items on the editing screen (made possible by LearnDash now enforcing a 1:1 relationship between courses and lessons/quizzes/topics). All of these changes make navigation much easier and intuitive, though building out courses can still be a very tedious process. (In that area, we would love to see a way to duplicate courses that retains course objects as well as an easy way to import and export quizzes from Word.)

Quizzes have been simplified in LearnDash 2.0, with Standard and Advanced Quizzes now combined into a single “Quiz” object. It’s great to have all quiz settings and questions in a single location, but the number of options is still going to overwhelm new users. Make sure you use quiz templates to make the quiz creation process as efficient and consistent as possible!

We would still love to be able to customize LearnDash more easily and to have access to additional shortcodes. Certificates are one such example; it’s hard to retrieve someone’s certificate without either displaying the learner’s full profile or having them retake the quiz. We’d love to see a shortcode to display certificates (with a single link if you passed at least once, regardless of the number of attempts) and one to display a list of courses without descriptions.

In the comments of the original article, another LearnDash user mentioned wanting a custom theme for LearnDash. In earlier days of using LearnDash we certainly agreed, and we spent a lot of time making CSS changes to get unsupported themes working seamlessly with LearnDash. With LearnDash recently confirming that they won’t develop a theme themselves, it’s great to see themes like University now showing up that have explicit LearnDash support.

It’s great to see the positive changes with LearnDash and many of Ken’s earlier criticisms being addressed. The LearnDash community is still very vibrant and it’s reassuring to see development continuing at a good pace.

Keeping Client Sites Up and Running

Secure WebsiteAt Uncanny Owl we do everything we can to make sure our clients are happy before, during and after projects. We design simple, straightforward solutions that are easy to manage, yet the platforms will be do sometimes require periodic updates and oversight to stay secure and operational, just as any other software does. That’s why we build long-term relationships with our partners and help out proactively—so they can focus on their business rather than their systems.

In the past we’ve managed ongoing maintenance on an individual basis. It worked, but coordinating everything on a monthly basis just wasn’t a good use of anyone’s time. As a result, we’re pleased to now offer standard maintenance packages to all of our clients—past, current and future. Packages start at just $100 and give clients the peace of mind that their systems will stay up and running no matter what.

More information about the packages and details are available on our new Worry-Free Website Maintenance page. If you’re a client and have questions, drop us a note and we’ll be happy to help!

Chrome Broke Captivate

Crying ManDo you retest your elearning whenever a browser update is released? If you don’t, a recent issue affecting Chrome and Captivate HTML5 content might have you reconsidering.

I was recently on our LearnDash demo site and happened to notice that the sample lesson with an embedded Captivate module stopped working. The module simply wouldn’t load. Fearing the worst (how long had visitors been staring at a broken site?) I tried the page in another browser and, lo and behold, it was still working. I did a bit of digging, searching for recent pages with the keywords “Chrome HTML5 Captivate” and discovered a very significant issue that causes the latest Chrome release to not render HTML5 Captivate files properly. Shocking! And how many other elearning developers aren’t using Chrome or checking olds course regularly, so wouldn’t know anything’s broken, and how many others would know what to search for and discover the Adobe article?

If you have publish elearning modules from Captivate 7 or 8 in HTML5, you need to visit this page and follow the instructions now. Try your modules in Chrome and see if they work. If they don’t, it’s not enough to drop the HTML file into existing content; you really do need to republish the files.  If you don’t, your users on Chrome could be having a really bad time.

LearnDash Demo Video

Our LearnDash demo site has been great to give people a taste of what can be done with LearnDash, but for companies interested in using LearnDash themselves, it’s not enough. They want to get behind the scenes and get a tour of things they might have missed on the front end.

To help companies develop better explore our LearnDash demo and get a taste of what’s going on behind the scenes, we’ve created a 6-minute screencast that goes over some of the highlights. We hope it helps in your evaluation and use of LearnDash!

Check out our LearnDash demo screencast below. Make sure you watch it on YouTube or in full-screen mode so you can read everything!