WordPress, right out of the box (so to speak) is a damn fine piece of software, and as long as you have at least a passing knowledge of what you are doing it’s pretty easy to install it and to set up a MySQL database for it. And many hosting companies (My recommendation is Bluehost – great company) provide a simple minimal-click install of WordPress.
Even the new updated stock “Twenty Twelve Theme” is quite nice, customizable and works for a great many applications, whether it’s a blog, website, etc.
But before long you’re going to want to investigate plugins and more widgets and possibly other mods, or at the very least start playing with the stock options of WordPress.
In this posting I’m going to go through some plugins (all free ones) that I have run across, enjoy, and use here on my blog. There’s so many great plugins, and many excellent ones that I may not specifically have a use for (as an example – the excellent TablePress plugin for creating tables without having to insert HTML into your blog postings).
You may have found others that do similar or are identical to the ones I mention here. If so, drop me a comment in the comment box under this posting. Let us all know which ones you like, and let us know about other ones you have found that you like and find of use.
Just a note on plugins in general; you will find the occasional plugin that needs you to manually edit the template for its functions to work. If you’re not familiar with doing that then you may not to attempt it, at least until you know a bit more about modifying things in WordPress. Even if you are familiar with editing the template then you might still want to consider using a backup program to make a quick backup of the entire blog before you make any changes to it. Believe me – it can save you a lot of time if something gets messed up. It’s even a good idea to do this before installing plugins sometimes.
Speaking of that – if you are familiar with PHP and what to edit in your blog’s template there are a lot of nice hacks you can do to customize how your blog looks and what can be done with it. Sometimes you either can’t find the right plugin or they just don’t do exactly what you want, or in the way you want, or how you want it.
For example – my template didn’t come with the ability to have a Previous/Next link at the bottom of each blog entry, showing the previously and next posted blog entry – which is something a lot of other templates do. So I was able to add that myself and customize it a bit (still working on the code for it).
To mod your template you probably would access your Dashboard and go to ‘Appearance’, then ‘Editor’ and pick the appropriate file. Though you can do it other ways like using an FTP program and editing the files directly, etc.
In addition to the care you need to apply to any changes directly to the template, you need to find the correct file which sometimes is different from any instructions you might find, depending on the template.
In my example most references mentioned to add the ‘Previous/’Next’ code I would have to add it to the ‘post.php’ file but in mine, to get it in the correct place, I needed to edit the ‘post-single.php’. After a bit of experimentation I found the right place, and a little coding with PHP got me what and how I wanted it to appear for the most part. Like I said – still working on getting it perfect.
But one mistake can really mess things up for you. If the worse happens and what you did crashes the WordPress, as in a totally catastrophic way you (usually you have to do something really Bad, but it does happen) – you can trying using your browser’s back button to go back and take the offending code out and update the file you’re working on. This might work depending on how well your browser caches a page and what the problem is, and in the event of something Very Bad Happening this can be a life-saver. Worse-case scenery you restore from your backup. You did make a backup, right?
So as I said above; you probably want to have some knowledge of what you’re doing before you attempt something like editing your template or any of the WordPress PHP.
Probably one of the most important things you need for your blog or WordPress website will be backups. And probably it’s one of the things that gets ignored the most when setting up a blog…or for that matter doing anything computer-related. Backups are neglected.
A lot of people might not even think about backing up their blog but servers do go down, sometimes catastrophically. MySQL databases get messed up as well as PHP (especially if you start making modifications to it), and servers and WordPress installs can get hacked and full of spyware and viruses too.
There’s a lot of backup plugins out there, but many of them ONLY back up your MySQL database. While this will preserve your postings it won’t save your settings and other files; like graphics and templates, etc. A big minus there if you had to restore everything and find that; while you have all of your blog postings backed up – you have to start over with everything else!
So check out BackUpWordPress. I’ve tried a mess of them and this seems to be the best, to me. Some even charge you for less than this plugin does totally free.
This plugin is fairly straight-forward but with the options you need. You can schedule backups, and it even uses ZIP to compress your backups. And it will save as many, or as few, backup versions as needed on your server.
You’ll find the backups directory under the “wp-content” sub-directly on your WordPress server. You can then download them manually, right from the plugin’s control panel or off your server using FTP, and you can also have your backups e-mailed to you.
BackUpWordPress works on shared servers, as well as those where maybe there’s not as much resources available – good for home servers maybe. You can even exclude certain files if needed (maybe you have a large video that you don’t need included in the archived backup and already have backed up on your local computer).
These backups can also come in handy if you’re migrating from one server to another. Restoring the files themselves from the ZIPPED archive is fairly easy (just copying them) but of course with anything MYSQL-related restoring the database can be a bit trickier. But not impossible for anyone of any ability with some care and research, there are some nice resources and places to start for restoring your database on the plugin’s website.
If you plan on doing any sort of blogging you need a backup program of some sort. So check out BackUpWordPress; you won’t be sorry.
And while we’re talking about backups and WordPress attacks and spyware; another great plugin to check out is Wordfence Security. I haven’t been using this too long but what I have seen of how it works, as well as the reviews on it – well, I’d say it’s something you want to consider. It not only is a sort of firewall that constantly scans your postings, pages, plugins, and comments but it also can repair infected WordPress core files and themes. You can see a real-time detailed display of your visitors and can even decide, in real-time if needed, to block any IP.
On my first scan with Wordfence Security it found a blog entry with a link to a Google-banned site. I have since changed the entry (it was out of date anyway, and the URL I had linked to a few years ago probably had been taken over by a spammer). Wordfence also found a number of modifications to the various files in my WordPress installation. These were my mods and those files, of course, I left alone. So if you see this make sure you analyze and evaluate and consider carefully what the plugin is outputting to you and don’t indiscriminately repair everything unless you’re sure you have an infected system file. Not just something that you modified or that a plugin modified. Though this can be tricky to determine sometimes.
You can even have Wordfence Security send a text message (find your phone’s text messaging e-mail address – they all have one) and stick it in there too, because it allows multiple e-mail addresses to be alerted.
Great plugin; get it, learn how to use it, and feel a bit safer in everyday blog use as well as when you download and try new themes and plugins.
Jetpack for WordPress. Nearly indispensable.
Sure, you can find all of the additions separately in the form of plugins that this brings to the table in one place. But why do all that when you can have one bug-free established and frequently updated installation instead
You’ll probably see this when you set up your blog, or maybe not. Either way you want to install it and activate it, and configure the parts of it that you want to use.
Because the number of things you can do with it are numerous.
You can embed video and doc more easily, give people a place to upload and share files, create polls, and much, much more – all with a few shortcodes. You can add more widgets of all kinds. If your theme allows it you can have the option of pulling in the next set of posts when a person gets to the end of the current blog post (my template didn’t support this). There are sections for adding enhanced distribution into search engines and other services, to allow other apps to securely access your blog’s info, to add complex math to your blog, to edit CSS without changing your theme, to make your site more friendly to mobile devices, for adding nice galleries and a carousel sort of album, a better contact form, more sharing options and buttons and ways to publicize posts and connections to social networking, and to allow a better subscription and comment system.
And it also gives you some nice stats; very nice. Very nice overall. You’ll use this, I almost guarantee it.
And speaking of Jetpack, you might want to check out Jetpack Post Views. This plugin lets you grab the aforementioned Jetpack Stats on your blog postings and allows you to add a widget to show most popular postings.
It also lets you show these in your blog postings themselves so that you can display how many times each entry has been read. Except that you must add this manually to your theme (by going to the WordPress Dashboard and then going to “Appearance” and then “Editor” and finding the appropriate file and place on the code to add it).
The author recommends adding it to the file ‘single.php’ but I couldn’t get it in a place that I was happy with visually, so I ended up adding it to my theme’s ‘post-single.php’ instead. Where you put it may depend on your theme and personal preference. If you’re not familiar and aren’t comfortable with editing your theme then you might want to skip this. At the very least use BackUpWordPress to back up your blog manually first before editing your theme or any WordPress code.
You can find other plugs that may add posts views without having to edit your theme, but they probably won’t plug into Jetpack so their accuracy might not be quite as good or may star counting from the time the plugin was installed (so you’re starting from nothing instead of using your stats from Jetpack Stats).
Akismet will do all of your contact form, trackback, and pingback spam filtering for you, and goes well with the contact form code from Jetpack. It’s not your conventional CAPTCHA but actually runs visitor comments/form results and pingbacks through a number of scans. You do have to activate it, which is free for most systems. They have a substantial system and database access in place for checking spam.
I use this in conjunction with the Stop Spammer Registrations Plugin – which also has a very extensive database of banned spammers and can block them from registering on your blog in the first place. Lots of options here. Make sure you click the ‘Check Your IP’ option and select the ‘Automatically add admins to white list’ checkbox.
If you had a blog on Blogger.com previously and want to migrate it to WordPress then you need this plugin – Blogger Importer. Even a large number of messages transfer over quickly to your WordPress installation (depending on your server speed and other factors). There’s not much more to say about this except that it works great, and even comments are transferred over as well as your photos.
A caveat on the photos though, and one BIG important thing to note here – the photos aren’t really transferred, the images in your blog entries are modified to point to the location of the images on Blogger. Your postings will display your photos and graphics just fine on your new WordPress blog, but they still stored on Blogger.com itself. So you probably don’t want to migrate your blog and then delete your old one at Blogger without copying your photos over first, and then adjusting their URL‘s in each blog entry on WordPress. And this can be a big pain if you have a lot of photos and graphics!
Also, if you have any traffic going to your old blog at Blogger.com then you might not want to delete your blog anyway, but just let people know on your old blog that you have migrated and to where with a posting or something. Maybe a side-bar reminder too.
In conjunction with Blogger Importer you can try a plugin like Blogger Image Import to import images directly into your WordPress installation, though at this time the author of Blogger Importer seems to be working on a similar feature. With Blogger Image Import you first import everything using Blogger Importer and then run the image import plugin.
The author of Blogger Image Import mentions that this plugin is Beta and that you are using it at your own risk so be careful, make backups first, and check things out afterward. Likely it may miss a few things here and there but it’s much better than doing it all by hand.
WordPress has a fairly good media management system. And the new versions of WordPress have upgraded this quite a bit. I think we’ll see it continue to improve. It’s quite usable but if you want to work with photos or have a lot of images to catalog you might want something more robust and customizable and with the ability to have albums and ‘galleries’.
And for good reason. NextGEN Gallery is a very powerful system with the ability to do pretty much whatever you want to do with your images and photos, with plenty more plugins that work with it or are made to enhance it.
A few of the handier features you’ll find in NextGEN Gallery;
- The ability to batch upload, or use a zip, or even FTP a batch of files into your WordPress.
- Add watermarks automatically.
- Add slideshows and adjust to your liking.
- More control over cropping and image manipulation and display, both for full size images as well as thumbnails and everything in between.
- Easy management of all of your albums and galleries.
- Shortcodes for display.
- Much, much more.
And while we’re talking about NextGEN Gallery you might want to try jQuery Colorbox with it. Or even if you don’t want to try or use NextGEN Gallery – the jQuery Colorbox plugin will work on most any images displayed in your blog.
Sure, there’s a lot of plugins for NextGEN Gallery or for images and photo displaying in general that do the same or similar. But after doing a lot of experimenting with various plugins and options in NextGEN Gallery I happened across this one, which is compatible with NextGEN Gallery. It works well thought it’s pretty basic, but does the job.
jQuery Colorbox uses a little jQuery code to create a visually appealing lightbox display for images whenever they are clicked, whether they are in posts or pages or what-have-you. It takes the standard image display to another level. You can also adjust options, of course, and pick an image display theme. It also has its own slideshow with options. All of these things are available in NextGEN Gallery too, BTW.
This plugin took a little futzing around with to get it to work with my theme. At first it didn’t work at all. And I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I don’t know which options or changes that made to get it to work but eventually it did, and it works quite well. Chances are it’s going to work with your theme anyway, without any changes to your theme. But be aware of various options on the plugin’s page that can help if it does not.
This is a cool plugin. There’s many like it – some only grab relevant content from your own blog, some both from your own blog as well as other’s. nrelate Related Content does it all and is my favorite among them, so far. It does rely on the servers from the company that supplies it, but in case you’re thinking about it – there’s no security issue here as the content it is analyzing is your public subject matter anyway.
What happens is a person clicks on your content, and as they read your blog posting and pages the plugin posts relevant links to other posts and pages – whether to other posts and pages on your own blog and/or someone else’s- your choice. There are many options, and various themes for integrating this into your blog. This is another must-have, I think.
You select what other blogs it grabs content from via the WordPress Links menu option in the Dashboard.
How do you tell if all of your work promoting your blog and getting/writing good content, is paying off? In addition to actually paying off in advertising of course…
Well, use the Social Metrics plugin. With this plugin you can see how many times someone has Liked, Tweeted, Stumbled, Dug, etc your various blog postings – all in a handy table. That’s about all there is to it, but it gives you a definitive, and visual, display of what people are doing with those social networking buttons. See screenshot, below.
Allow PHP in Posts and Pages does just what it says – it lets you add PHP code to any page or post using some simple WordPress-style shortcode. You can also make it even easier to add code by adding snippets in the plugin’s settings panel, which gives you an even shorter code that you can use over and over.
If you don’t know what PHP is or how to use it skip this one. If you do, you’ll probably come across a situation where you might want it.
Facebook Likes You! adds a Facebook and Google+ Like button to your posts and pages. I use this in addition to Jetpack’s Social Networking share icons. You have some options here of where to put it and what you want included or excluded. Probably something that should have been included with Jetpack, who knows – maybe future versions. But a good complement to Jetpack’s social networking sharing buttons.
Okay, you’re going to find a thousand of these, or at least a lot.
You know the ones – you can add ratings to each of your posts. Usually stars, but sometimes a thumbs up or down, or something else.
I went through a number of them and found Post Ratings quick and simple to use. Good set of settings (do you really need many for this application?) – you can decide where the ratings should go (before, after, or both), on what kind of pages or posts, which rating formula to use (or use our own), etc.
Ah, another plugin to help you see who’s coming to your site, who’s online right now, how often they are coming back, and in this case in a nice visual form. All displayed in textual form as well as on a globe. There is also a widget that comes with it that lets your visitors see some of this information if they please, primarily the nice globe with visitors pinpointed on it. I have to say that while it is very useful it also falls into the novelty and eye candy category.
Here’s some more interesting and useful plugins, though I’m still learning and evaluating some of these.
Grid Archives – If you look at my my archives page you’ll see past blog articles are arranged in a nice index of year and month, of which you can easily click to navigate around in and display the blog entries for. I tried a number of ways to display the archives/past postings to my taste and this, so far, is the nicest presentation I have found.
A close runner-up is Snazzy Archives. Very very nice and probably would be my first choice except that it didn’t gel very well with my theme. I tried it both with the normal two column screen as well as full-screen but it just seemed to want to be wider than my page and added annoying scroll bars with no way to adjust it satisfactorily (maybe I was missing something). If Snazzy Archives works for you, well, you might find it slightly better than Grid Archives, but Grid Archives works well for me.
I’m always keeping my eye out for more ideas though.
3D Tag Cloud – This one, while certainly somewhat usable, is maybe more eye candy than terribly useful. Tag Clouds, they’ve been around for a bit and this plugin’s widget is cool, it’s high tech, you’ve seen it on other sites, and now you can have it on your blog.
You have the option of selecting how may tags it will display (too many and it’s totally unreadable) and then, with the positioning of the widget in the sidebar you got yourself a tag cloud – a roughly globular structure that can be spun, zoomed, and clicked with a simple mouse hover. If a tag is clicked on it will display a search result page with all of the posts with that tag. Nice, but not sure how real-world practical it is. Your thoughts?
All in One SEO Pack – This helps make your blog’s Search Engine Optimization more user-friendly and gives you some more control over descriptions, the title, keywords, additional headers, etc. As a web designer I know how important this is, but I’m still working on evaluating whether this is better than what you can do with a little hand-coding/mods of the template. Nice plugin though.
Subscribe to Comments – Pretty essential; when people make a comment this allows them to check a box to subscribe to subsequently posted comments. How many times have you made a comment on a blog or website, only to come back later to find a whole discussion went on without you knowing it? Well, don’t let this happen to your visitors.
Remove Inactive Widgets – If you are trying a bunch of themes you may find that some of them have installed a widget here and there that is now inactive and unused by your current theme. With this plugin you can easily get rid of them. Just install and activate it, and then go to your Widgets screen and click the “Remove Inactive Widgets” button near the bottom. That’s all you have to do. Then you can uninstall this plugin afterwards if you’ve settled on a theme, or keep it in case of future experimentation.
Google XML Sitemaps – If you don’t know what a Google XML Sitemap is then skip it for now. But it will be worth it to learn a bit more about sitemaps and what they are and do and how they can help search engines, like Google and others, to better and more thoroughly index your site. This is pretty easy to use. Screenshot below of the output of a Sitemap generation.
404 Redirected – Very handy plugin, not only can you see a log of errored 404 non-found links that have referenced on your blog but you can have an automatic redirection to working posts and pages, and/or a nice little weighted and relevant suggestion page for any of those intercepted 404 errors, automatically generated. You can also manually create a redirect for errored pages to whatever page you might want (internal or external). It even has an automated deletion of old unneeded redirects if needed. You do have to add a bit of code to your 404.php file in your theme’s directory for the weighted suggested page to work, but it’s well worth it.
Revision Control – Another pretty basic but useful plugin; this one allows you to adjust how many revisions your WordPress keeps for pages and posts you have created. It might be especially useful if you have a limited server and/or one with limited space. Or if you just like things organized and tidy. You can delete revisions, and adjust how many WordPress is caching, and other related functions.
W3 Total Cache – This helps to cache the various parts of your blog so that your pages and posts load faster. I left this for last because, while it comes highly recommended; I’ve yet to have the time to learn all there is about it and to fully integrate it and take advantage of the full extent of its benefits. There’s the implication in a few places that the site should be somewhat established before this starts giving you benefits, in other words if you’re still adding plugins and widgets and editing and adding multiple blog entries and pages it may not be recommended to turn it on.
I’m not sure about this so if anyone has any thoughts on it please let me know. As I said, I’ve yet to give this my full attention nor have I read the full documentation yet, right now it’s semi-active on my site but most of the functions are not enabled.
Good potential and used on many blogs, but I need to learn more about it. So while I can’t fully recommend it myself, it is one of the top plugins used, so you might want to look into it.
That’s about it for now. There’s a few I haven’t listed here and who knows; maybe that will be a future blog entry. Wordpress has thousands of plugins but my thought is that you probably should avoid the new ones and the ones without any reviews or without very many downloads. Just to be sure. A spammer or hacky plugin can ruin your whole blogging day.
And if you are just starting out with WordPress, or even have been using it for awhile check out WPBeginner.com – you’ll find all sorts of help and tutorials there.