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WordPress Plugins Baby

WordPress plugins are third party add-ons that can easily be added to your blog to make it ‘do more’. Some examples of doing more include;

  • Spam catchers
  • Picture galleries and Slideshows
  • iPad – iPhone friendly plugins
  • SEO and Google analytics
  • Sidebar widgets

I need to remind myself that this blog started as a way for me to test WordPress out and learn. I described it recently as a bit ‘cobbler’s shoes’ and there are some shortcomings that I do need to sort out. It was described a recently (by a new customer) as being “a bit male”, not unlike me then?

This site was intended as a test bed and I regularly try out ideas and plugins, prior to using them elsewhere in my work. It is tempting to be a bit plugin crazy but beware, no one hangs round for a slow site. Many plugins bring their own stylesheet and probably JavaScript too. Most of this needs to be loaded at the off and a quick Google Page Speed test may end up showing a sorry tale. If the site is stable and fully developed it may be worth getting your coding fingers dirty and at least minifying the individual CSS and JS files. Ideally they should be combined, or at least called only when needed. I recently gained a large speed increase on this blog by simplifying the stylesheets, that is, removing spaces and comments. But, this is a test-bed, and although it has ousted the main site it continues to be tinkered with.

Let’s look at some examples that I use,

Akismet – anti spam

Some time ago a customer asked me to look at her old static site. On the front page was a link to her site stats, there for all to see. Click on the site stats and you would be a click away from very offensive sites. Basically by hitting her site enough times these sites earned a link, via the stats counter to hers. I explained that it was nothing at all to do with her, but we took the stats link off straight away. Blogs are prone to spamming, particularly through the comments box. “lovely interesting post, great for my homework research, visit my casino website at www…….”

Aksimet stops this. It’s a no-brainer.

Picture Galleries

WordPress does come with a built in ability to create galleries. It’s still a bit clunky though although I imagine it will improve. I use NextGEN but I am going to recommend this with a warning. In my experience this plugin is far from perfect. In some ways though this serves to highlight what plugins, and WordPress are about. The problem I have with NextGEN is uploading images, I need to do it once with the Flash uploader turned off and once with it on. Also it seems to run out of steam if the image file is too large, this may be a problem with my host, I don’t know though.

So why do I use it? Because the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. I can create galleries, control and manage them very effectively with this tool. Flawed as it is, I don’t know of a better one, end of.

Attached to this I use Shadowbox JS to show slideshows end enlarge images when clicked on. Without this the image would load into a blank page, which is functional but not much of a user experience. ShadowBox is based on LightBox and there is a LightBox2 plugin that does a similar job. For some reason LightBox2 doesn’t work so well on this site. Anyway, you get the idea.

iPad – iPhone friendly Plugins

You know what, I don’t have an iPad or an iPhone #justsayin. If you do, you may want to post to your blog from them and there are a number of apps to help you. Perhaps someone out there could offer some recommendations?

I have previously discussed the iPad – Flash issue and if you go into an Apple shop the nice chApp will probably say “yes dude, HTML5 will sort that out.” If you read section five of this you will understand better what the issue is.

For now though, if you want to reliably show a YouTube video on iphones or iPads (via your WordPress site) I strongly recommend Smart YouTube. It really does what it says on the tin. I use it daily, there is a sidebar music video on the blog. Yes you can embed from YouTube without this plugin, but test your site on an iPad and see if the video shows, it may not.

Websites look great on iPads, I regularly test mine on one and am always very pleased with the way that the sites translate. However the best I can say about any website is that it will look ok on smaller mobile devices such as iPhones unless written specifically for that format.

This is where WpTouch steps in, it is available in as either free or Pro versions. Basically it will add a further theme to your website that can be used on mobile devices. Probably the neatest aspect to this plugin is that if the viewer wants to view the site in its standard form the plugin can be de-activated by them.

SEO and Google Analytics

There’s little point in having a site that people can’t find, there’s a huge range of options available to help. I’ve already written about this here but will re-iterate a few:

  • XML sitemap generator
    This will enable the blog to develop an XML site-map that helps Google and other search engines locate the pages in your site. (you can get a plugin to create a people friendly site-map such as the one on this site).
  • HeadSpace
    This lets you create a good page title and meta description. These two items are very important. Gone are the days when ‘Home’ was a good page title, it needs suitable keywords. The Meta description is what will generally appear in the Google snippet, the bit of information that appears when your page has been found on Google. This should be descriptive and keyword rich.Increasingly I use Headspace to deny Google indexing of individual posts on my site. Particularly useful if you want to put a post up that isn’t really representative of your core work.
  • WordPress Stats
    Statistics are your source for data that lets you find out how many people use your site and how they find you. You occasionally will find unexpected results.

Again a caveat. At the last upgrade my WordPress Stats plugin stopped working so I had to revert to the earlier version. The story is unfolding here. It is still a very useful plugin though.

Sidebar widgets

The sidebar is err, the bit at the side. Your theme may or may not show this. Mine allows me to add full width or half width widgets. Some themes will place these at the top or at the footer, themes may be geared up to take paying ads in widget space.

There are many default widgets in WordPress but these can be added to via plugins.

On my blog I use the built in text widget to put further information about my site and services. In one of the text widgets I have embedded my AudioBoo.

I also use the built in ‘blogroll’ but I have organised my links into user friendly categories and they appear in separate places.

Finally I also have widget versions of the Smart YouTube and the NextGEN galleries (already mentioned.) The latter allows me to place a random image that changes each time the page reloads.

The bottom line is that WordPress is extremely easy to customise and personalise. Widgets can add tremendous value to a WordPress blog for both you and your viewers.

Do beware of overdoing widgets though. Do as I say, not as I do…

PS: Sociable, TweetMeme and Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (the plugins that appear below, just in case you were wondering)

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