Filter: Web Design

10 Popular WordPress Plugins You Should Be Using

WordPress is the most popular and easy to use content management systems (CMS) utilized by millions of entrepreneurs, businesses and webmasters across the globe. Because WordPress is a free open source platform, it allows developers to contribute themes and plugins that extend the design and functionality of your website. The best part for many businesses is these added features come without the need to know how to code. Developers have generated thousands of useful free WordPress plugins in addition to premium plugins that carry a price tag. This article will guide you in making the best plugin choices for your website.

1. W3 Total Cache

Your site’s speed plays an important role in search engine rankings. W3 Total Cache helps you optimize your WordPress site for speed and performance. It allows you to easily setup page and browser caching, compress pages for quicker downloads, and setup a content delivery network for your static files.

2. Hello Bar

HelloBar is one of the more popular lead generation tools available.  It allows you to add eye-catching notification bars to the top of a webpage which can be used for driving traffic to a designated landing page. Any WordPress blogger can easily integrate HelloBar onto a blog with this simple WordPress plugin.

3. Akismet

Say goodbye to content spam.  Akismet is a content spam filtering service that is able to identify anything that appears to be spam and automatically moves the content to WordPress installation’s spam folder. You can look in your dashboard to check Aksimet Stats for a breakdown of your spam, missed spam, real comments, and false positives that have been mistaken for spam by Akismet that you can flag as genuine.

4. WordPress SEO by Yoast Plugin

Yoast SEO is an absolute must to boost any WordPress site’s search engine optimization; enabling more potential customers to find you. This plugin allows you to manage page titles, add meta descriptions, homepage descriptions, sitemaps or keyword stuffing. There is also a premium version with many additional, helpful add-ons.

5. Gravity Forms

Gravity Forms is the most beginner and developer friendly contact form plugin for WordPress. It can be used to add almost any kind of online form to your WordPress website. It comes with powerful add-ons which allow you to create online survey, user submitted posts, web directory, or almost anything where a user input is required.

6. Broken Link Checker

Broken Link Checker is a great plugin that can help improve the user experience on your website. Why? Because clinking on links that don’t work can be frustrating and often times a visitor will just leave the website. This plugin will check your content for broken links and missing images and notify you.

7. Google XML Sitemaps for videos

Google XML sitemaps is the best plugin to help you in submitting a XML sitemap of blogs containing video to search engines so that the search engines can easily recognize and index them.  Your Video Sitemap will include web pages which embed videos from YouTube or which links to videos on YouTube. If a YouTube video that you have in your blog has been removed from YouTube, the record in the Sitemap file will be ignored by Googlebot.

8. Floating Social

Social media share buttons are a must have for every site, but they can significantly impact your site’s speed. The floating social bar was created to maximize your social media visibility without impacting your site speed.Floating social bar is a light-weight WordPress plugin that adds a horizontal floating share bar to your blog posts, pages, and other post types. The floating ability allows this eye-catching social media bar to get you maximum shares.

9. Disqus

Enabling comments on your blog is one great way to engage with your readers.  Disqus makes commenting easier and more interactive, while connecting websites and commenters across a thriving discussion community.

10. Sucuri Security

Everyone wants to keep their WordPress site protected and secure from hackers. Sucuri Security is a useful web based security toolset plugin for security integrity monitoring, activity monitoring, malware, malicious coding scanning, or bug detection, blacklist monitoring, security hardening, and security notifications. This plugin is the best way to ensure your site is secure, especially if you are running an online retail store or if you store sensitive customer information. Sucuri Security works in the background to actively monitor your site for potential threats and warns you immediately to take post-hack security actions.

The List Doesn’t End There

There are many more useful WordPress plugins such as WordPress Importer and Next Gen Gallery. The one caveat is more is not always better. Sometimes plugins can conflict with each other or your theme, and the possibility of this happening increases with the amount of plugins you use. Your best bet is to use only the plugins you need. The good news is, if you do find that a plugin conflicts, there is probably a similar plugin that works perfectly with your set up.  This flexibility is one of the features that makes WordPress and its plugins such a popular platform.

Choosing the Right WordPress Plugins for Your Site

Quality plugins for WordPress websites are more than simple, useful codes written to fill in temporary feature needs. Plugins can add a social component to a blog or business and have a serious, quantifiable effect; they can enable global content sharing, build loyal communities and even make the smallest of websites a viable commerce center. So choosing the right plugin and knowing how to make that choice is quite important.

WordPress plugin expert Brian Lis says the key is to choose only a few plugins that fit your needs. Standard plugins can run for free and premium versions vary in price, but all are implemented in the same way a mobile app is: You download the plugins to your hardware, file them in your content directory and then activate them. The best plugins — often the premium ones — are consistently updated by their engineers and are easy to troubleshoot because of their large, collaborative user base.

Premium plugins perform reliably and minimize problems, such as website downturn, that can come with running a site. Functions such as defining “security vulnerabilities, conflicts, and increased load times,” are most important, because they prevent system crashing. It’s ironic, then, that certain plugin combinations will cause a site to crash, especially when developers use too many of them at the same time.

The nature of plugin development is the cause of the challenge. Anyone can build a WordPress plugin, and sometimes official instruction documents that detail build conflicts aren’t available. For these reasons, Lis says, top developers often use fewer than 10 plugins per build. “Anything over 30 plugins is generally an invitation for problems.”

Even if a plugin seems like it’s optimally useful, thorough testing and analysis bears out the truth. Lis says he once worked on a site using a single stat-tracking plugin that “took over 1.5 gigs in [the site’s] database [while] their website was only 50 megs. The speed difference once that stat-tracking plugin was removed was significant.”

The factors that go into load times can be varied and include what type of server or provider you use, whether your site is multimedia heavy or uses slow caching or whether it is connected to a content-delivery network. It might also be a signal that the website is coded poorly. In any case, a select combination of premium and standard plugins that work well together and offer serious benefits, like security and reduced load times, while unsexy, are more important than checking off every box of possible site functionality.

 Plugins Every WordPress Site Should Use

Before adding plugins, businesses should back up all files. Lis says plugin failure rates are at 1 percent, but that tiny percentage can cause serious damage to the infrastructure.

Here are the plugins no site should do without:

Security: Limit Login Attempts (standard)

Hackers can brute-force their way into WordPress software because it allows unlimited login attempts. The best way to prevent this is by locking the number of attempts, and this plugin does it cleanly and efficiently. Users have noted the great customer service.

E-commerce: WooCommerce (premium)

This is a fully featured suite of great plugin applications. The software offers extensions that help both small and large businesses provide a variety of product options, including shipping choices, recurring payments, CSV product importing, one-page checkout and even a deep suite of marketing features.

Forms: Gravity Forms (premium)

Managing forms is a breeze using this plugin. You can create order forms with pricing fields, add PayPal for add-ons, create configurable entry lists, and a lot more. It’s also easy to customize any form, including CSS column layouts.

Membership: WishList Member (premium)

WishList Member is an awesome membership curator that can grow with your site. If you’re a major blogger who wants to offer a few paid articles in between tons of free content, you can offer free, trial or paid memberships, or you can create member upgrade levels for each of paid post.

Backup: WordPress Backup to Dropbox (standard)
You need to back up your whole system on a server, but your content also needs backup. WordPress Backup to Dropbox takes your files and SQL database and sends them to your Dropbox account folder (subscription required). The plugin uses the OAuth (authorization standard), so your account details are secure.

Analytics: Google Analytics for WordPress (standard)
A lot of people use Google Analytics, and this is the best plugin incorporating it. According to load-speed analysts, this tracking software is swift. It also comes with a wide variety of customizable demo options, such as categories for page views per user.

Social Sharing: Sociable (standard)
A customizable plugin that makes icons easy to see on a webpage is also one of the most popular. With two different choices for styling (including Skyscraper, which incorporates commenting data), it nicely features the big networks, including Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Digg and StumbleUpon.

Despite the many ways plugins can help, it’s important to temper expectations. Lis says the difference between hugely successful sites and modest ones comes down to execution of content, not necessarily plugin use.

The best sites “have meaningful content followed by a community of advocates for that website,” he says.

As a result, the best practice for beginners vetting plugins is to keep things simple and use the free ones “until you’ve perfected the core functionality. Once your core functionality is tested and true, [you can] begin adding in the bells and whistles [of the premium sites].”

Website owners with modest budgets can easily build out a site with plugins for analytics managers, file trackers, SEO enhancers, XML sitemaps, social sharing, social feeds and graphics software. cleardot

[image: nyengendadi/iStock/ThinkStockPhotos] 

 

Why WordPress Makes Sense for Your Company Website

According to its official website, WordPress (WP) now powers more than 17 percent of the World Wide Web. The content management system (CMS) far outpaces other CMSs, such as Drupal and Joomla.

Despite its success, however, many companies write off WordPress as “just another blogging tool.” Many people wonder whether this consumer tool can really deliver the complete online experience for their businesses.

Word on the Street

Thousands of companies use WordPress. The New York Times, CNN, UPS and Sony all use WP to power their blogs, which are read by millions of users worldwide. The idea that WordPress is confined to blogging remains pervasive, but WordPress use is changing. As the WordPress Showcase page notes, the Canadian Olympic Committee and Sweden’s official website are powered entirely by WordPress; so are technology websites Gigaom and TechCrunch, along with InStyle.com and the New York Observer.

The Amazing Evolution of WordPress

So how did this humble CMS make the jump from personal use to industry standard? It started in 2001, when Michel Valdrighi launched b2 cafelog, a stylish, streamlined blogging platform. In 2003, Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little “forked” b2’s source code to create WordPress version 0.71 (Gold). It had no dashboard but allowed users to assign a status — Publish, Draft or Private — to a post. Compared to other platforms available at the time, WP was a godsend.

The year 2004 saw the release of version 1.0 (Miles), giving users the ability to assign multiple categories to posts and to include search-engine-friendly permalinks. Version 1.2 (Mingus) was released the same year and introduced plugins. In 2005, version 1.5 (Strayhorn) featured the first iteration of WP’s popular dashboard. Version 2.0 (Ellington) also went live in 2005 and gave users the advanced TinyMCE editor and the ability to upload images. By 2008, the platform was being used by thousands of bloggers worldwide; versions 2.5 (Brecker) and 2.7 (Coltrane) included support for multiple image uploads and a sidebar of links to essential WP tools, along with a one-click plugin installer.

By 2010, the core components of WordPress were stable, useful and extremely popular. The next three years focused on making WordPress content easily searchable and manageable. The most recent version, 3.8 (Parker) introduced a new admin design and default theme named “Twenty Fourteen.”

What’s the Big Deal About WordPress?

Sure, WordPress has made a name for itself among bloggers and businesses alike. But with a host of website design tools available online, why use this blog-platform-turned-CMS? First, it’s free. No licensing fee, no purchase agreement. Free. Reputable web hosts support WordPress deployments, and many hosts have developed custom themes they make available to clients at no charge. The platform is easy to use, intuitive and browser-based, meaning any Internet-enabled computer can be used to manage content. WordPress also has clean and simple code, making it attractive to popular search engines.

But solid infrastructure isn’t the only benefit of WordPress. Plugins exist to make every aspect of site management easier; W3 Total Cache, for example, improves website speed for users by scaling down the size of CSS, JS and HTML resources. Meanwhile, the Google XML Sitemaps plugin generates an XML sitemap that helps search engines better index a company’s website, and the All in One SEO Pack helps optimize content.

The WordPress community is also extremely active, with resource sites like Woo Themes, WPBeginner and Lynda.com all offering tips on how to get the most out of a WP page.

Relegating WordPress to the status of “blogging tool” is easy to do because the platform is free, it’s simple to use and it focuses on general functionality, leaving third parties to create specific-use plugins. But many companies miss the true value of this CMS: flexibility.

WordPress empowers companies to create how they want, when they want, and frees them up to spend more time running, promoting and managing their businesses and less time haggling with the backend infrastructure of a siloed CMS.

[image: kalexanderson/Flickr]

Getting the Most Out of Your WordPress Site

WordPress is one of the most common content management systems (CMSs) available to individuals and businesses, but as with any solution, tweaks and optimization may be required to make it a perfect fit.

Brandon Sharp, a solutions specialist for web hosting provider Lunarpages, says that the worst thing you can do with a WordPress site is “install it and forget it.”

“A website is just like a car. It needs routine maintenance to ensure that it is going to run and function properly for years to come,” says Sharp. “What happens if you don’t change the oil in your car? The car breaks down, and you have a huge repair bill. Make sure that your WordPress core, themes and plug-ins are up to date.”

After all, if organizations don’t maintain and nurture their websites, how can they expect the sites to take care of their customers?

Here are a few best practices that will help keep your WordPress install humming along.

Limit the Number of Plug-Ins

First and foremost, reduce the number of plug-ins to a simple core set. While it’s easy to get addicted to the functionality that they provide, plug-ins consume resources and memory on the server that runs your WordPress site. “If your WordPress site is hosted in a shared environment, you have limited use of the resources. You’ll want to make sure that your site is able to load in a reasonable amount of time so that visitors do not abandon your home page,” says Sharp.

Optimize Your Home Page

If your website is a digital storefront, you want to ensure that the front door — the home page — opens quickly to allow customers in. WordPress offers the option to quantify the number of stories that appear on the home page, and you may want to consider posting abstracts of articles rather than the entire text. Sharp recommends sticking to five or six of the most relevant or new items.

Install a Caching Plug-In

Caching the content on your site is one of the best things you can do to optimize site performance. Caching saves an instance of your article locally on the server. This allows WordPress to load content more quickly because it doesn’t have to read the content from the WordPress database. Sharp has a video tutorial that walks you through the process of implementing WP Super Cache. Another popular caching plug-in is W3 Total Cache.

Keep WordPress Updated

WordPress frequently publishes updates to introduce new site optimization and security fixes. You should log in regularly to the administrative console within your WordPress install and check for these. When they do appear, run them! As a bonus, WordPress will alert you if any third-party items are incompatible with the update.

Prevent Spammers

Sharp recommends installing both Akismet as well as a CAPTCHA plug-in to reduce the amount of spam that appears in your comments. Using CAPTCHA for your comments “prevents hackers and bots from trying to gain access and wreak havoc on your blog,” he says.

Prioritize Backups and Database Optimizations

Always ensure that you have a regular backup routine in place for the physical files on the server and the database powering the site. Database backups can be automated using a variety of available plug-ins, many of which also offer optimization for routine maintenance of the WordPress database. Once you have a local copy of the database stored within your file structure on the server, back those database and PHP files up regularly to an offsite location.

Monitor Third-Party Scripts and Images

Another thing that can dramatically slow down the load time of your WordPress site is third-party graphics or scripts. If you are linking images from a site other than your own, you are at the mercy of how fast that site can deliver the images. Wherever possible, try to have images stored locally within your WordPress install. Similarly, running third-party JavaScript or analytics can increase load time, particularly if the script has to be processed elsewhere. If you are running advertising on your site, again, you are at the mercy of a third-party to serve those ads. Be selective with the ad networks you use and prioritize those that don’t hinder your site’s performance.

Hosting Considerations with WordPress

When considering a web host for your WordPress install, there are a few technical considerations to keep in mind:

  • How much memory, CPU and disk space will be allocated to your WordPress installation?
  • Is the hosting provider oversubscribing the number of sites on a server (meaning, are they jam-packing a server with too many sites)? If you are using a shared server, all sites will be competing for memory and CPU, which means that a “noisy neighbor” may affect your site’s performance.
  • How much control do you have over the server your WordPress site is running on?
  • Should you move from a shared server to a virtual private server (VPS) or a dedicated physical or cloud server? While it may be more costly, you will definitely have better processing power and more memory at your disposal if you do.

Take Your Time

While the web is a medium that allows for instant publishing, Sharp says it’s important not to rush — especially if you are installing WordPress for the first time.

“Take your time on installation and configuration,” he says. “A poorly installed or configured site leads to many issues down the road.”

[image: Silent47/iStock/ThinkStockPhotos]