Friday, 19 July 2013

8 Great WordPress Plugins - part II

In my last post I talked about the WordPress plugins that I had found essential to have on my new website.  Now I want to tell you about the other four.

5.  Blogger Importer
Once I've got my website up and running, it's going to make sense to transfer my blog there, too.  In one way, I'll be sad - I've been on Blogger for a long time and it's always suited me - but, on the other hand, it does make sense to have website and blog integrated.  I had thought that I would have to start the blog afresh but then I found this great plugin which enabled me, very easily to import all the posts from this blog, complete with comments. 

There were only a couple of problems that I found, and those were minor ones.  The 'labels' on Blogger were interpreted as 'categories' on WordPress and I had to demote them to 'tags'.  And all my draft posts were imported as though published and I had to change them back to drafts.  But other than that, transition was very easy.

I'm going to continue posting here until I'm really ready to go on the website, and then I'll let you know - and hope that you'll be kind enough to join me there.

6.  Column Shortcodes
The theme that I'm using does, I believe, have a template that offers columns - but no instructions as to how to find it or use it.  I was getting rather frustrated because I wanted columns - and then I found this great plugin.  It installs a button on your screen which, when clicked, offers you a choice of column widths.  It will only give you two columns but you can either divide the page in half, or into one third plus two thirds, one quarter plus three quarters and so on up to sixths.  And the narrower column can be on either the left or the right.

The joy of this plugin is that it's so simple - and I suspect that anyone with a little knowledge of coding could adapt it to do even more than it already does.  The 18 people who have reviewed it on the WordPress site have scored it a solid five out of five.

7.  Fonts
Having sorted out the columns, I then turned my attention to my text.  Try as I might, I could not get the size of font that I wanted.  Here again, the theme offered different font options but I could find no way of overriding the default setting when I wanted to.  And once more I was fortunate enough to find a really simple plugin which does exactly what I want it to.

Fonts installs a drop down menu from which you can choose the font style and the font size you want.  Easy.  I can't help wondering why something of that sort is not basic to every WordPress theme.  We've all been using MSWord and WordPress for so long that surely we now expect to be able to choose our fonts at the click of a button.  And, I would have thought, this was even more important when creating a web page than when writing a letter.

8. Standout Color Boxes and Buttons
I had a picture in my head of how I wanted to display some of my text but was having great difficulty working out how to do it.  I'm going to have several pages on the site which will be reviewing or recommending books, courses and the like.   And I wanted to be able to delineate each one clearly from the next.  Standout Color Boxes has solved my problem - and is rather fun, besides.  You can show your text in a box with either round or square corners, with a choice of several colours for the background.  It makes the page look attractive as well as producing the effect - well, almost the effect - that I was looking for.  Since I could find nothing else that did anything remotely like this, 'almost' getting the effect is pretty good.

It took me a while to find all these plugins (not least because it took me some time to realise that a plugin would probably solve my problem).  But the time spent browsing, downloading and testing (and I did reject quite a few) was, I feel well spent.  For a WordPress novice like me, plugins are proving to be worth their weight in gold.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

8 Great WordPress Plugins

For the past few weeks I've been battling with my new website.  I'm new to WordPress and it's been a steep learning curve.  I have always used SiteSpinner to create websites in the past, but these were relatively simple affairs.  Persuaded that WordPress might be quicker and more versatile and, above all, might look more professional, I decided to give it a try.

I started off with a basic free theme and set up a website for my counselling practice.  Helped by an ebook - The WP Starter Guide - it took me a couple of days and I was really proud of the results.  So then I decided to set up a new website for my company, Sphinx House. 

Now one of the things that everyone seems to be emphasising these days is the importance of having a responsive theme.  In other words, it needs to have been formulated so that it looks good no matter how you're viewing the site - PC, mobile, tablet, whatever.  At first, I thought this meant having to pay for a theme but then discovered that there are loads of free responsive themes on the WordPress site.  (Something else that I'd picked up was that it's unwise to use free themes unless they're from WordPress or a well-established theme provider because as Alex Moss recently pointed out on Search Engine Watch "the code could contain anything, and could be harmful to your site both in terms of performance and security.")

After quite a lot of research and trial and error, I opted for the Suffusion theme which seemed to be very versatile.  Well . . . it may be, but at my level of knowledge, I'm finding it hard to implement a lot of the features which, apparently, are incorporated in the theme.  And I've found myself getting frustrated by not being able to achieve the effect that I want - either because it's not there or I can't work it out.  But - hallelujah - I've discovered that, if I look hard enough,  I can usually find a plugin to do what I want.  So I thought I'd share with you my top eight plugins.  And I'll start with four which, actually, have nothing to do with design but which seemed essential.

1.  Google Sitemap Plugin
Google states that "creating and submitting a Sitemap helps make sure that Google knows about all the pages on your site, including URLs that may not be discoverable by Google's normal crawling process".  So it makes sense to have one.  And the plugin makes it easy to construct.  This particular plugin has been downloaded over 200,000 times and has an approval rating of 4.5 out of 5 from those people who have reviewed it.

2.  404 to Start Plugin
I don't know about you, but I'm not too keen on 404 pages that just tell you 'page not found'.  Far nicer are those that offer a little apology or make a suggestion as to how you might find the page you're looking for.  This plugin allows you to divert all 404 errors to a page you have created specially.  It's been downloaded nearly 60,000 times and has an approval rating of 4 out of 5.

3.  Cookie Warning Plugin
 This is absolutely essential if you live in the EU and want to keep track of your site statistics.  Since May 2012 it's been illegal (if you're in the EU) to collect statistics on your website by using cookies - unless you get the site visitor's consent first.  Now, way back in April of last year, I wrote about how I preferred StatCounter to Google Analytics, on the grounds that it was much more accurate.  (Incidentally, it was only last week that I came across a post on Social Media Today which was looking at the inaccuracy of Google Analytics.)  But, whichever analytics system you use, if you're in the EU, you've got to ask permission.  When the Cookie Directive first came out, I wrote about this and mentioned that someone had brought out an 'EU Cookie Directive Plugin'.  However, the one I have chosen to use on my new site (the Cookie Warning Plugin) is a lot more popular (22,000 downloads) and has an approval rating of 4.9 out of 5.

4.  UpdraftPlus Backup Plugin
I'd only being working on my website a short time when a message appeared to say that a new version of WordPress was available to download.  Having read that it's important for site security to have the latest version, I clicked the button and was reminded to back everything up before upgrading.  How was I to do that?  I found instructions and was delighted to read that I could do it via a plugin.  There was one that sounded good but (as I always do) I read the reviews before downloading.  All the reviewers liked the plugin but (fortunately) one commented on the fact that this was just a backup and not a backup and restore facility.  So I looked further and discovered Updraft.  This excellent plugin not only backs up the site very quickly but, if necessary, will also restore it to its previous state.  With 175,000 downloads and an approval rating of 4.8 out of 5, I suspect that it's the best backup plugin around.

To be continued . . .