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How to Use Proxy Posts to Expose Participants Database to the World

Participants Database (PDB) provides a completely independent database on your WordPress site. The means that normally, the rest of the site will have limited ways in which can interact with PDB records. This also means that Participants Database records have have limited visibility to the world of search engines and social media.

Proxy Posts are a feature of the Directory Tools add-on for Participants Database. They provide a way to integrate PDB information with the rest of the site, making it possible to use WordPress features such as site-wide search to find matching data in the PDB database. It also makes it easy for search engine spiders to index this information, exposing it to the world.

How to Set Up Proxy Posts

Configuring Proxy Posts can be a little confusing at first because the idea is pretty abstract. I’m going to try to simplify this by providing a basic setup that uses this feature. Bear in mind this is only one of several ways to do it.

In this setup, proxy posts are used as a container for PDB records. This means that (for example) when a user clicks on a link to a PDB record, it is a link to the proxy post for that record. The actual visible content of the proxy post is provided by a PDB single record shortcode, not the content of the proxy post itself. This is so the full content of the record can be displayed in a format that is right for the type of data the record contains.

It’s important to understand that with this setup, there is only one way to view a Participants Database record: by viewing the proxy post. This is to avoid duplicate content and the confusion of having more than one way to view a PDB record.

The Settings

First, “Enable Proxy Posts” should be checked. Then you should check “Use Proxy Posts for Single Record Displays” so that links to a single record will go to the proxy post for that record.

Under the Advanced tab, select “Display Using PDB Shortcode” so that the full content of the record can be displayed. This gives you a lot of control over how the record is displayed: you can use PDB custom templates, you can control which fields are shown. This happens in the “Single Record Shortcode Extra Attributes” which gives you a place to put the attributes…for example:

This setting uses the same attributes and format that you would use in the shortcode, just without the shortcode name and brackets.

Controlling Visibility

With this setup, I mentioned that you have complete control over the visibility of your Participants Database data. By “visibility” I mean whether it can be seen by search engine spiders or site-wide search. This is distinct from what the user can see when they view a record.

For example, let’s say you are setting up a directory for health care providers, and you want users to be able to find providers by the services they offer and where they are located. But at the same time, you don’t want the street address or phone number visible to a search engine search.

We do this by configuring the proxy post to contain the list of services and the state and city of the office. The street address and phone numbers are not included. This is done in the Proxy Post “Content Source Fields” settings.

Now, when the record is viewed, the user can see the street address and phone number (because this is controlled by the single record shortcode attributes), but they wouldn’t have been able to find the record by searching for those things because they are not included in the proxy post.

This is also why, with this setup, the proxy post is never viewed directly by the user, they will instead see the display generated by the PDB single record shortcode.

Approving Records

You can also control visibility by using an “approved” checkbox in the record. This gives you a way to exclude a whole record from the proxy posts.

It is important to understand that with search engines, once a record is indexed, it can’t easily be “un-indexed” so even though a visitor to your site wouldn’t be able to view a record that was unapproved, it will still show up in a search engine search result.

The approval mechanism works best as a way to prevent new records from appearing until they can be approved. It does not work very well as a way to remove a listing once it’s been indexed.

If you need to remove a listing from search engine indexes, the best way to do it is to present alternative content (such as a generic message) for the record. This will eventually replace the previous content in search engine results. Don’t expect this to be immediate, however, it takes time for the indexes to be updated.

I hope this clarifies how proxy posts are supposed to work. Please post any questions you have about this in the comments, I think it will be helpful to other users who want to understand how to use this powerful feature of the Directory Tools plugin.

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