[Blogging 101] WordPress Plugins & Themes
Hello everyone! I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving Holiday. I apologize that this article took so long to get to you, but here it is. Today we will be covering extensions for your WordPress blog. These will include themes and plugins.
Themes are the look and feel of your site. There are plenty of places to download free themes, and some premium themes, or you can design your own. There is plenty of documentation on the WordPress website on how to design your own theme, and all the cool things you can do.
Plugins are what add features and backend enhancements to your site. This might include anti-spam guard for commens and user registration, social network share buttons, analytics, and more.
As I said earlier, there are many places where you can find free and premium themes. My favorite place to go for free themes is 1stwebdesigner. They have a great article on 80 of the best “premium” themes for free. For free themes I don’t really have one go-to site. I typically will use Google phrases like “best Wordpress themes of 2012″ or “best Wordpress themes of November”. You will have a lot of bloggers writing articles around the best themes that are hitting the market, but free and premium, and some will do a monthly installment of the best themes that have been released.
For premium themes I tend to like Template Monster. They offer some great quality premium themes, and the rates are pretty reasonable. The difference between premium and free is that you Premium does not have copyrights in the footer, or require to you to give credit to the creator. You paid for it so it is yours. You also can typically get the PSD (PhotoShop Document) for these themes so that you can customize them to your liking.
In addition to that, one of my favorite websites is Artisteer. Artisteer is a program that lets you build your layout the way you like it and then generate the necessary code to upload to your blog. Not only does it convert your theme creations to WordPress compatible format, it will also convert for Joomla and a few others. They also feature some of the best user created templates. You can download these templates, open them up in Artisteer, edit them to your liking, and then generate the necessary code for your blogging software.
Where themes are nice to get across the message of your site, and to set the mood for visitors, plugins is what adds enhanced interaction ability to your site. The section on themes was pretty short and straight forward, but that is because I can’t be your creative mind. In this section I’ll cover some of my favorite plugins, some of the must have plugins for your blog, and more. Note that the more plugins you add to your site the slower it will become, so install with caution.
NOTE: All plugins that I list here are currently installed on my WordPress site, and it runs fine.
Akismet comes pre-installed on all new WordPress blogs, and for good reason. It is a great Spam Guard. Simply activate the plugin, enter your Akismet API key, and you are all set. The plugin will monitor every comment made to your site and either approve it, flag it as spam, or delete it. If Akismet approves a comment, the comment must still meet the criteria you set in Settings -> Discussion. This is a must have for all Wordpress installations.
While Akismet tries to catch everything, sometimes automated bots are programmed to post things that might not trigger software such as Akismet. It also does not monitor people logging into your site or registering. That is where Captcha comes in. It adds either an auto-generated image to all your forms, or a easy to solve mathematical question, to help prevent automated services from attacking your site. Simply go to Plugins->Add New and search for Captcha. The name of the plugin is literally Captcha, so don’t install the wrong one.
Contact Form 7
This plugin creates simple and elegant contact forms for your web site. You can imbed them in blog posts or in pages. You can also set them up to use Captcha to prevent automated services from spamming your Inbox. This is a great way to provide your visitors with a means to contact you in a private manner. To install go to Plugins->Add New and search for Contact Form 7
Google XML Sitemaps
Sitemaps are important to your site because it is how search engines can quickly and easily index all of your content. It also provides users with a high level view of all the content for your site. Even though it says it is for Google, other search engines will still make use of the sitemap that is generated for you. The great thing about this plugin is that is accounts for dynamic content. Therefore, every time you add content to your site it is automatically updated so that search engines are always up to date with your latest. If you have Google Webmaster Tools you can also go input the URL for your sitemap and it will begin processing your sitemap and returning analytics back to you. To install go to Plugins->Add New and search for Google XML Sitemaps.
JetPack for WordPress
This plugin actually includes many features in it. Once activated you can go to the configuration screen and select which of the features from the plugin you want to use. JetPack adds analytics about your site directly into your Dashboard. While it is by no means a replacement for Google Analytics, it does provide a quick overview of how your blog is performing. I highly recommend JetPack as the perfect paring for Google Analytics to really get good insight into your blog. Check out JetPacks website to register for free and get the plugin.
Being able to share your content to social media outlets is a must these days. Not only is it important for you to be able to share your content with your followers, but it is also important for your users to be able to share it. This plugin provides a large number of social media sharing buttons that you can add to your website, and displays them in a very neat and stylish fashion. See the bottom of this post to see the Share The Knowledge share buttons that are created by this plugin. Apart from the basic RSS, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn options, you can also configure Reddit, Digg, Pinterest, Tumblr, and many more. This is a great one plugin catch-all for social media sharing. Just go to Plugins->Add New to install.
Features and sharing is only one side of the coin. Having a blog that can handle your traffic without under-performing is also very important to consider. For this I highly recommend W3Total Cache. The number of options it provides you are vast, and you can get very granular with your customization. For those who do not know Caching is a great way to store content that typically has to be pulled from a database for quick access. Content that doesn’t change option can have longer cache times, whereas pages that might change with high frequency might have lower or no cache times. You have to know your site well in order to configure this in a manner that it benefits you. Expect to spend about 30 minutes tweaking all the settings in this Plugin to provide you with optimal site performance. To install go to Plugins->Add New and search for W3Total Cache
Finally, we have the Google Analytics plugin. Google Analytics is free for anyone with a Google account, so there should be no reason not to have it. Google provides a lot of documentation and videos on this product, so you should have plenty of resources to learn from. When you set up your site in Google Analytics you are given a code that needs to be embedded into every page on your website. The Google Analytics plugin lets you paste that code in once in the Settings screen, and then it automatically handles including it on all your public pages. Note that it does not send tracking data for your dashboard/admin screen. Once it starts collecting results go into your Google Analytics account and start playing around with the data that is being sent to you. As you learn more about what data is collected and how it can be used, you can start tailoring your blog to your audience.
That wraps up this blog post. I hope that you all found it very informative. Please be sure to post the links to your favorite themes and plugins in the Comments below!
Be sure to follow me on Twitter, Like me on my new FaceBook page, and subscribe to my RSS Feed to stay updated on the latest and greatest content. The next article in the series is planned to be “Your First Blog Post.” Stay tuned!
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