Genius At Work by Ben McLeod
I use WordPress to host and run my websites.
(It started as blog-hosting software but works as a Content Management System too. The Wall Street Journal’s site is built on its software, for example).
Lots of people more technically-skilled than I have written lots of little programs, called plug-ins, that help me make my website do cool things without having to write the code myself. Some of these things I could do myself, but plug-ins make it easier, quicker and automated.
Plug-ins let me do everything from put headlines in my sidebars, to helping me track how many people visit which article, to creating sign-up forms, and create those cute little ‘link to me’ buttons at the top of this article. Here are the ones that allow me to build websites that make my clients go “ooooh!”
This makes it easier for Google to index your pages (i.e include you in their search results)
This inserts the “Google Analytics” code wherever it needs to be in your site (usually in the header or footer of the code, which you don’t necessarily want to go digging around in unless you know what you’re doing. Trust me. A misplaced semi colon can bring grown men to tears!)
Google Analytics is an amazing (free) tool that tracks how people get to your website, where they go, how long they stay, where in the world they are, what keywords they searched for to get to you (and therefore what you should be including on more of your pages)…and so much more. It presents the information in all kinds of cool ways: graphs, overlays, tables. Go. Sign up.
Being able to tell clients exactly what’s going on with traffic is really valuable. You can both see what impact the site is having on business, you can see which marketing strategies are working and which are a big waste of money, you can improve the site. Good for you, good for your client.
Social, Sharing and Visibility Plug-ins
I, and my clients, use mailing list services like MailChimp and Constant Contact. While both of these offer form-building options at their sites, sometimes you just want a little more control, but again, with out having to play HTML or CSS.Very easy to use and effective, and no-one has to know you didn’t hand-code the whole thing.
The only problem I have with this plug-in is that its acronym reminds me of that song “SIMP, Squirrels In My Pants” from te cartoon Phineas and Ferb…)
Thinking about offering a new product or service? Ask your customers/readers what they think. Super-easy single-question polls to pop in your sidebar. Minimalist style. Lovely.
I tried gathering button graphics for all the social networking tools (Twitter, RSS, LinkedIn, Facebook) and building a sidebar “Link to me!” plea.
Then I discovered Sexy Bookmarks. You can see what this plug-in looks like at the bottom of this post (unless you’re reading the RSS feed. It didn’t show the graphics, just a huge text list, so I turned it off for you guys. Come visit the original post…)
Sign up at the Social Follow website, enter in your user name at all the social networking sites you use (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc) and they will generate a little button like the one in my sidebar, making it easy for people to follow you wherever you are (if you like that sort of thing). This plug-in builds a widget that you can drop into any widget area in your theme (again, no messing around with your theme’s code files).
You know how a lot of sites have those little square adverts off to the side? Well, some are powered by ad companies (or Google ads) but sometimes it makes sense to control your own ads.
This plug in lets you sell and manage advertising on your site. You control how big the ads are, where they go, how many show up, what images show up, and it also contains a management function, that allows you to set rates, and expiration dates. It’ll even email your advertisers when their contract is about to expire.
Nice, for getting things how want them to look
This allows you to build sidebar widgets that contain just the posts you want them to contain. It has a zillion different ways to filter your posts and pages to allow you to control what appears. It is obviously very powerful and I’ve only figured out how to do rudimentary stuff so far, but it is simple enough for newbs and powerful enough for folks who know what they’re doing.
This is a lovely little plug in that lets you create a page that is automatically updated with all your posts from categoryX (which you define by typing a short code, i.e. a phrase in a square bracket). Simple and elegant. You may have to add some code to your site depending on your theme, but it’s only once and it is well-documented.
Make Things Easy For Your Readers
Your three-column design might look great on a computer monitor, but it probably irritates people reading on a tiny mobile screen. Thisplug-in automatically converts your blog, when readers access it via a mobile device. It makes your site look like an iPhone app (which is cute if, like me, you love your iPhone). It also has a ‘turn this off’ button at the bottom for people who want to see the original layout, or who hate all things iPhoney. Very, very nice plug-in
Make Posting Easier For You
Every time I go to Flickr, I curse the fact that I have to click so often to get to the size and code I want for my picture. Flickr Manager Plug-in works just like the little “insert picture’ button on you WP Dashboard, except that instead of prompting you to upload a picture, it goes straight to your Flickr Photostream. It allows you to choose sizes, alignment etc and add a caption (dependent on your theme). HUGE timesaver.
(update: this doesn’t seem to be finding all my pictures since I upgraded to WordPress 2.9.1)
This allows me to create footnotes really simply, by using shortcodes (basically,putting something in a square bracket — in this case a number, a period and your note)
So, off you go and explore the wonderful world of plug-ins.
Update (2/22/10): Lucky 13 is:
I’ve long been frustrated by having to hand-code tables in the wordpress window. No longer! This plug-in installs its control panel in the Tools section, from whence you can set up tables, add data and then embed the same table (or different ones) anywhere in your website simply by entering a short code. Love it!