WordPress Migration, Part 3 – Customizing with Plug-ins

January 22, 2014 at 9:53 pm | Posted in Blogs, Internet, Software, Web Apps, Web Design | 8 Comments

< Part 2 – Setup
One you have the site up, you’ll want to browse the dashboard and all the settings you have. Lots of little things to tweak.

You may find going over the free Easy WP Guide will help you get a sense of the WP.org dashboard and features. It is much like WP.com, but with extras.  This is the start page for WP.org help. Google will bring you more.

The Appearance, Widgets section allows you to sort and change the components and appearance of items in your sidebar(s). This is much as in WP.com but much fancier and many plug-ins will add more widget options.

Your research will have given you a good idea of the extras you’ll want to add and thus the plug-in research you’ll be doing. Most integration with WP.org is with plug-ins – be it e-commerce, subscription services, SEO, backup, social networking, and a zillion little tweaks you can make.

You may find small things your theme settings don’t cover. There may be a snippet of custom CSS that can be added to the theme to make these adjustments. The themes support pages should have examples. For example, I removed the author footer, changed the hyperlink colours, and fixed a couple of plug-in issues this way. Don’t try to edit the theme itself or your changes will be overwritten on the next update. Use the Custom CSS box in the themes settings.

Plug-ins
There is a vast plug-in repository. Some are abandoned or no longer compatible with current versions. Some are not compatible with each other. The key is to review the info on the plug-in – Is it what you need? Current? How is support response? Rating? Is there a cost for the features you need?

After reviewing your theme and site, what features remain to be addressed?

As you’ve already installed a plug-in or 2, you’ll be a little familiar with the process. But for review, these are they typical steps.
1 – research on-line per above
2 – search for the chosen one in Dashboard, Plugins, New
3 – click Install on your choice from the above
4 – click Activate (a way to control which plug-ins are live)
5 – browse settings – in Plugins, Installed or in the Dashboard, Settings menu (generally)
You may also need to go into Appearance, Widgets and set sidebar widgets up. And tweak theme settings.
6 – test

Some plug-ins will require you to create an account at the related service, like Twitter or your newsletter service. The service will then provide you with special links, API or security keys to interact securely between your blog and them. Record your account login and these details carefully.

You have 2 main approaches to plugins:

The first – Keep it Simple. You may find that Jetpack and Akismet (spam protection) are all you need. These make your hosted blog the most like WP.com too. Jetpack is a mega-plugin that includes over 30 modules, made by the people behind WordPress. Some are pre-activated and others can be activated as desired.

Then you can add a couple of others if you like. However, some find Jetpack pushes features you may not want unilaterally, much like WP.com. And it keeps you tied to WP.com.

Your other approach for greater control and customization is to locate and install plug-ins to cover each feature you need. I started with Jetpack but soon realized I’d have the same issues with it as I did with WP.com.

Be very careful about plug-ins that have overlapping functions that may conflict. And be open to experimentation. I replaced some plug-ins that were on my initial list with others.

Your first step may be to browse some recommended plug-in lists. Just keep in mind that just because there’s a category, it doesn’t mean you need it. You don’t want to bog down your site with too many fiddly bits.

Here are a few recommendation sites:
MakeUseOf       Popular @ WordPress

50 Best at WPExplorer       35 Best at PC Mag

Here are some categories I looked at:
*Rather than linking to specific plug-ins, I’ll let you look up the names on the WP Plug-in site. That way, they’ll be placed in context and other alternatives will be more obvious.

Comment Spam control
Akismet? Captcha? Complex captcha is over-kill for low traffic sites. But you’ll be flooded with people making vague comments, trying to get their links on your site without something. I deactivated Akismet and started simple, then raised the bar a little. Still an experiment.

Comment enhancements
CommentLuv – adds an article link of the commenting bloggers below their comment, encouraging them.
– Subscription tools (see below) often offer a subscription checkbox for your commenters, contact form, etc.
– Replacement commenting systems like IntenseDebate or LiveFyre. (careful with conflicts here)

Contact Form, like Contact Form 7. You may want to add a custom choice field to avoid Contact spam. I added a required “Contact Type” pick list, for example. Simpler than Captcha but that’s an option too.

You do NOT want to publish your email address directly on your site. This is like wearing a Kick Me! sign for spammers to sully your new email account. If you do decide you want to offer it, use code from a munger site like Enkoder (best) or AddressMunger.

Writing support
TinyMCE Spellcheck
TinyMCE Advanced – adds a whack of features to the Add New Post form, including inserting tables, video, columns, pull quotes, buttons, and more. Very customizable.

Widgets
Image Widget – to add an image on the sidebar.
Custom Meta Widget (clean up the sidebar Admin Menu)
Link Manager – If you’d like to bring back the Blogroll. I decided to have a links Page instead.

Maintenance
Broken Link Checker [see comments] – great if you have many external links in your articles. It checks periodically and warns you of links that have gone south.

Dashboard Stats
Simple Feed Stats (for RSS)
Google Analyticator or the more customizable Yoast (for Google site stats)

Google Sitemaps – for search engines – helps your site get indexed. (not Google XML Sitemaps though)

Social Media – 3 types:
a) Feeds
The RSS feed of your articles can be posted to other social media sites, like Twitter (use WP to Twitter). This way, readers can get your content however they wish. Your email subscriber service may have a newsletter to social connection. MailChimp feeds to Twitter and Facebook, for example.

b) Readers sharing your article
Typically under your blog post will be a row of links to social media sites the reader may use. This allows them to more easily share a link to your article with others and bring traffic.

I’m still experimenting with this. Shareaholic [see comments] was buggy in Firefox. obsocialbookmarker is less prominent and a lighter load but out of date. ShareThis and Social Media Feather are others – each has a different look, style and approach.

c) Connecting with your social sites (Follow)
There are also plug-ins to place links to your Twitter, LinkedIn and other such accounts on your sidebar or footer. This allows readers to connect to you that way as well or instead. I looked at a few plug-ins but discovered some simple code in a text widget with the icon set of my choice was a better solution. This is also a good place to put RSS feed links for the less familiar. Just search free social media icons for many options and ideally, the size you want. I ended up with WPZoom’s big set.

Also note that some Themes have social media features – but make sure you’re clear which of the above they are.

e-commerce
Some people get confused looking at shopping carts with this or that host. WordPress allows you to add shopping carts to your blog more directly, making this less relevant unless you plan on building a large store.

If all you want to offer is digital downloads like a few ebooks, EasyDigitalDownloads may be enough for you. For more range, WooCommerce is a popular one. I chose iThemes Exchange plugin as it was free for the basics and I quite like the approach of the company. For example, development priorities are partly based on user feature votes. It also works with StripeStripe is an e-commerce integrator that, unlike Paypal, keeps clients on your site for transactions. Don’t let Stripes developer approach make you nervous. Exchange guides you through the steps you need with videos and support pages. Basically it’s selecting Stripe in the plugin, creating an account at Stripe, then pasting some numbers from the account into boxes on the Exchange plugin. Stripe only charges per transaction.

Email subscribers
While WP has a built-in subscription function, you have zippo control over it or subscribers. If you are working to build a subscriber base, you definitely want something better. I’d recommend a Newsletter service. You connect that to your RSS feed and your posts go out daily (or weekly, etc.) in a newsletter format of your choice and design. If you have under 2,000 subscribers, you can go free with MailChimp or MadMimi. More experienced marketers than I recommend the second but MailChimp is a little older and has more integration. There are also more basic newsletter plug-ins but if you plan to grow this, you’ll find them limited. A newsletter has a bit more setup but both sites have lots of support to guide you through the necessary steps. Basically in MailChimp it means setting up a list by importing your subscribers. Then creating an RSS “campaign” with an RSS layout theme (or customizing another more) and walking through the settings for it, including social sites. You configure the connection to MailChimp and forms on your blog with MailChimp for WordPress plugin.

Please Note: Your subscribers are NOT migrated with your web site. Email rules require opt-in.

I originally chose Feedburner so that when my site moved, I just needed to point all subscribers to the new site. Easy. But 2 problems with that idea. WordPress unilaterally added a subscription service later that you could neither manage nor turn off. I ended up with 2 sets of subscribers. (and nags to change from Feedburner – they knew) Meantime, Google bought Feedburner but now appears to be abandoning it. They’ve killed it’s API.

WordPress.com will move your WP subscribers IF you use the Jetpack plug-in on your new site. Their web site indicates they support this but I got 0 response. It also became apparent I didn’t want WP subscriptions anyway as there are no tools for managing them so I didn’t pursue it.

I recommend you migrate all email subscribers to a subscription management service as above. Gather them in a spreadsheet or text file and you can import them into the above services. They did already Opt-in, after all. I notified everyone of the change and only one unsubscribed.

After this, I removed email addresses from Feedburner and changed the RSS feed to the new site, then invited them to migrate to the new sites RSS. And invited WP RSS subscribers to the new site. A large % quickly complied. RSS users are usually very familiar with easily adding and removing sites.

Other Categories
There are lots of other things you can add like forums, image galleries, feature pages, Google fonts, search enhancements, SEO, caching management, uptime monitoring, database management and so on. It depends on your needs and you can adapt features over time.

My priority was to get the initial features I need up, then refine it over time.
David

Part 4 – Finishing up>

8 Comments »

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  1. […] < Part 3 If you haven’t already, now is the time to finish the content for your fixed Pages. […]

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  2. […] 2 – Setup > Part 3 – Customize > Part 4 – Final […]

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  3. […] Part 3 – Customizing > […]

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  4. For comment control, I ended up happily using Sweet Captcha. Its easy for end users to use and a little fun. The popular Captcha plugin has been hacked and some sites are being flooded with comment spam. I still moderate comments also – this also gives me the chance to respond at the same time.

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  5. Ran into a Plugin ranking site – that can give you an idea of the ones people lean on most:
    http://www.rankwp.com/

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  6. Recently helping a friend with a high traffic site. I discovered there’s a few plugins that tend to over-use server resources. While they may not be an issue when you get started, they’ll give you grief as you grow. One server host even deletes some of these on shared servers to keep resources clear.

    Broken Links Checker – a good tool for reviewing and updating links across your site. But use it during low traffic and deactivate it afterwards. It tends to thrash and heavily use server resources. Or use an external web link checker like
    http://brokenlinkcheck.com/

    All Related Posts Plugins. I used to use one in the sidebar. Other plugins like Shareaholic have this as a feature. Turn it off. Too database intensive and results not that useful. If it’s important to you, you can offload it to an external service like nRelate. Or use your post categories more proactively.

    Surprisingly, Google XML Sitemap. You can use the feature in Yoast SEO or Google Sitemap plugin.

    WP PostViews and other Stats plugins (which server does the work?)
    Auto-poster plugins
    MyReviewPlugin, LinkMan, Fuzzy SEO Booster, Tweet Blender

    Here’s one sites advice on plugins they’ve had trouble with:
    http://support.hostgator.com/articles/specialized-help/technical/wordpress/plugins-advice
    and on Optimizing your site (as you get popular)
    http://support.hostgator.com/articles/specialized-help/technical/wordpress/optimizing-wordpress

    And this one goes into more detail on further optimizing for a heavy use site.
    http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/why-trying-to-get-95-on-google-pagespeed-insights-will-drive-you-mad/

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  7. […] I discussed back in the Plug-in section of setting up a blog, there are three types of social sharing on a typical blog: 1 – Feeding new articles to your […]

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  8. A few followup notes.

    I’ve migrated to AddtoAny social sharing plugin. Not perfect but meets my needs. I was surprised to discover they also had a more basic version for free blogs, installed above. I wrote the issues up here:
    https://fornow.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/social-media-bane-or-blessing/

    I happily used Sweet captcha for awhile until they started pushing ads on my articles. I’ve since shifted to Goodbye Captcha.

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