WordPress Plugin Roundup – May 2017

In this post, we round up 10 cool and useful (oh, and free!) WordPress plugins available on the WordPress Plugin Directory. This month’s WordPress Plugin Roundup includes everything from a way easily replace media library files to a way to highlight new plugin menu items after plugin activation.

1. WatsonFinds

watson finds plugin

The WatsonFinds plugin analyzes your content to provide insights about the emotions that your audience may perceive as they read it

Nathan’s Notes:

  • Watson is an IBM supercomputer designed to answer questions.
  • Trivia: Watson was named for Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM.
  • Returns Watson’s evaluation of one of five emotions a post will create in your reader: joy, sadness, anger, disgust and fear.
  • Not sure the practical use of the results, but it’s pretty cool.

2. Limit Max IPs Per User

Limit Max IPs Per User plugin

The WP Limit Max IPs Per User plugin limits the maximum number of IPs a user can log in.

Nathan’s Notes:

  • Settings page allows you to set IP limits by number of IPs per user and the number of days to track.
  • Login log shows what users have tried to log in, a helpful feature.
  • Unclear if the log will auto-prune or if it must be cleared manually using the button on the settings page.
  • Adds unique IP account to user list and IP details to individual user records.
  • All-in-all a pretty sweet plugin for a membership site or the like.

3. FastDev

FastDev plugin

The FastDev plugin can be a real time saver for you when creating the next plugin or theme. If you are not a developer, you may need to get general info about the WP installation, server info, PHP or MySQL info, etc.

Nathan’s Notes:

  • This plugin gives you a TON of information about your WordPress installation and the environment.
  • Extremely helpful if you’re not in yournormal environment or theme/plugin stack.

4. Correct Horse Battery Staple

Correct Horse Battery Staple plugin

The Correct Horse Battery plugin replaces WordPress’s default strong password generator with one to create passwords in a style similar to those described in the XKCD Password Strength comic. The plugin will generate four word passwords using words of up to seven letters with dashes between the words.

Nathan’s Notes:

  • Requires a Linux/Unix/MacOS server (may not work in localhost on Windows).
  • Randomly selects four words from the system dictionary and joins them with hyphens.
  • Excellent option for users who will not use random hashed passwords or a password manager.

5. Wicked Folders

wicked folders plugin

The Wicked Folders plugin is a tool for managing large numbers of pages and custom post types. The plugin simplifies content management by allowing you to organize your content into folders like you would on a computer. Wicked Folders is an administration plugin that does not alter your content’s permalinks or hierarchy giving you the complete freedom to organize your pages and/or custom post types any way you want independently of your site’s structure.

Nathan’s Notes:

  • Allows you to add a “Folders” link in Pages, Posts and Custom post types.
  • Nice drag and drop UI.
  • Very nice tool for sites with lots of content
  • Only a UI feature for the back end, does not change any permalinks or actual page/post hierarchy.
  • Pro version ($49/yr) allows you to add folders to the media library.

6. WP Media Size

The WP Media Size adds a column in the WordPress Media Gallery list page with the filesize. It does not currently add the filesize to the grid view.

Nathan’s Notes:

  • Simple but potentially helpful addition to the admin area.
  • Unfortunately does not allow sorting by file size in list view.

7. Sticky Posts – Switch

sticky posts switch plugin

The Sticky Posts – Switch plugin adds a new column to the post admin columns that allows you to easily mark a post so that it is sticky. Sticky Posts is a WordPress feature only for posts. With this plugin, you can use this feature also with custom post types.

Nathan’s Notes:

  • Another handy UI tweak for the post list.
  • Adds a clickable star to turn on or off a sticky post from the post list.
  • Uses AJAX so no page loads or updates are necessary.

8. Dashboard Columns

dashboard columns plugin

The Dashboard Columns plugin The option to change the number of columns of the main WordPress Dashboard was removed in WordPress 3.8 in favor of a more dynamic/responsive approach. For most people, this change is great because it simplifies the UI. But for those who like more control over how their admin dashboard looks like this feels like a step backwards. With the help of Dashboard Columns you can now easily change the number of columns in your admin dashboard.

Nathan’s Notes:

  • I personally really like this UI tweak for the dashboard.
  • Just set your column preference on the Screen Options pulldown on the dashboard.

9. Show Plugin Menu Items on Activation

show plugin menu items on activation

Have you ever activated a WordPress plugin, then had to hunt around the admin sidebar trying to find the new menu items the plugin added? Or maybe after looking for them, you found out that the new plugin didn’t even add any menu items at all. The Show Plugin Menu Items on Activation plugin solves that problem by pointing out exactly which new menu items have been added to the admin sidebar every time a plugin is activated.

Nathan’s Notes:

  • A very simple plugin that solves a really annoying problem!

10. Enable Media Replace

enable media replace

The Enable Media Replace plugin This plugin allows you to replace a file in your media library by uploading a new file in its place. No more deleting, renaming and re-uploading files!

Nathan’s Notes:

  • Adds a “Replace Media” function when you mouse over an item in the media library.
  • Gives you two options:
    • Replace the file: as long as the file type is the same, you can upload a file and the plugin will rename it and replace the previous version.
    • Replace the file with new file name: upload a new file and the plugin will replace the old file and update all links throughout your site with the new filename.
  • An incredibly powerful plugin that can save a TON of time, especially on larger sites.

Bonus: Age Gate

age gate plugin

There are many uses for restricting content based on age, be it movie trailers, beer or other adult themes. The Age Gate plugin allows you to set a restriction on what content can been seen or restricted based on the age of the user

Nathan’s Notes:

  • A well executed solution for sites that require age verification.
  • Restrict all content or just specified content.
  • Full control of the colors, images and text on the age gate popup.
This post is based on the May 2017 Plugin Roundup webinar by Nathan Ingram. In this webinar, Nathan demonstrates how to use each of these plugins so you can get a better idea of how they work. Check out the entire series of monthly WordPress Plugin Roundup posts here.

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A 6 Step Website Design Process for Clients

Potential web design clients may be new to understanding how the website design process works. Educating clients on your web design process is a great chance to demonstrate your expertise, credibility, and authority in providing websites that get results. In this post, we’ll break down the website design process into 6 steps.
web design process

The 6 Steps of the Web Design Process

Quality web design is much more than building a website, and having a step-by-step approach to web design projects shows all the work and skill involved in developing a successful online presence. Maybe you’ve never thought about your approach to the web design process in these terms, but maybe the outline in this post can help shape your own.

Take these 6 steps, create a special page on your freelance website, and point new clients to your web design process. Most clients will prefer a clear, actionable plan for their web design project, and clarifying your website design process will help with communication throughout the project, ultimately leading to happier clients–and less work (and headaches) for you.

Step 1: Discover

The Discover phase of the web design process is all about information-gathering. This step is important for you to understand more about your client’s business and industry, their target market and customers, and the ultimate goal/aim for the website.

While it’s easy to skip the discovery and planning steps and jump right into design, these first two steps are critical to building the correct website for a client’s needs.
Questions to Ask Your Clients During This Step:
  • What does your business or organization do?
  • What sets your business or organization apart from your competition?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • Who is your ideal customer?
  • Describe the concept, project or service this site is intended to provide or promote.
  • What is the goal of your website?
  • Who is coming to your website?
  • What is your dream for this website?
  • Is there a budget for their web presence?

In addition to these questions, this post offers 65 Questions to Ask During Your Next Freelance Client Meeting. The suggested questions in this post are divided into seven main groups: client, project, audience, brand, features and scope, ecommerce, and time and budget. Each group offers important areas of potential information that will help shape the overall web design project.

Using the approach included in the 65 Questions post, the Discover step of the web design process is really more like an initial consultation meeting with a potential client. During they Discovery phase, you can better gauge the chemistry between you and the potential client, investigate the working conditions you will have with the potential client, and estimate the scope of the project.

This meeting is also when you can inform the potential client about your process of web development (hint: this post!), and suggest additional features that can meet the client’s goals. This is also a good time to educate the potential client on the importance of your ongoing services for website maintenance.

Step 2: Plan

Just like information-gathering, the planning step of website design is a critical part of launching a new website. As designers, it’s easy to want to jump right into the design step, since that’s the most creative (and enjoyable) part of a project. But, ultimately, research and planning will help clarify your objectives for the website and guide your design, so spend a generous amount of time in this stage of the process. Just like the saying, “measure twice, cut once,” spending time on website planning is a good investment that will ultimately save you time and even money in the long-run.

During the planning phase, you’ll want to review or create an SEO strategy for the website. Since websites often organize lots of information into a user-friendly format, this is also a good time to get an idea of missing content before you start designing anything. The planning phase also helps clients understand their role in meeting deadlines with content so the launch process isn’t held up.

The planning phase of website design includes 3 basic tasks:

1. Review or Create an SEO Strategy

If you’re new to providing SEO services to clients, we have several free SEO training and basics of SEO training videos available. You can also check out the SEO Summit for 9 hours of intensive SEO training.
  • Consult with the client on search terms for their business/industry
  • Research and review keyword volumes
  • Create a spreadsheet of keywords/keyphrases
  • Audit existing content for SEO focus
  • Make a list of SEO content needs to fill gaps
  • Map keywords/keyphrases to existing or needed content

2. Create the Website Sitemap

After working on an SEO Strategy, it’s time build the website sitemap. A sitemap is essentially an outline of the structure of the pages that will comprise the website. Planning the sitemap prior to working on any website design has several benefits since you can build your design around the most important pages, plan the website navigation more efficiently, and get an overall idea of the content that still needs to be written.

  • Using your SEO Strategy, build a sitemap with appropriate page hierarchies and content silos.
  • Create an actual document for your sitemap/site outline. You can use the sitemap as a checklist to guide the project.
  • Include basic website pages (About, Contact, etc.) plus additional keyword/keyphrase pages.

3. Content Review & Development

The last part of the website planning process includes an in-depth review of the website content. You’ll need to take an audit of existing content (if the client has a website already) and make a plan for producing new content. Clients can be responsible for creating new content, but sometimes it’s helpful to contract with a freelance writer to finish up content needs.

  • Review existing web content
  • Ask for non-web content such as brochures, business cards or flyers
  • Hire or assign writers for content needs
  • Put deadlines on content completion

Step 3: Design

The third step of the web design process is to design how the website will look. In this step, a website wireframe is created with basic web page elements such as the header, navigation, widgets, etc. The wireframe can then be moved into a more realistic mockup using a program such as Photoshop.

The challenge of good web design, like all design, is balancing form and function. Use the information you gathered in the Discover and Plan steps to shape your design. Good web designers have intention behind every design decision.

Design should also accommodate content. Content often accommodates design instead, and content ends up receiving very little attention. Website content is the number one thing you want viewers to notice. For each page design, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the main goal of the page?
  • Is it clear to users what action they need to take?
  • How does the design encourage users to take an action?

Good web designers also keep in mind how a design will translate to code. Even if you aren’t doing the development yourself, as a designer, it’s a good idea to invest in your coding skills. Have a developer review a design before it goes to the client.

Finally, use the Design step to finalize the overall look of the website with the client and discuss decisions for colors, typography, and imagery. Confirm the design with the client before moving on to any development.

Step 4: Develop

In the Develop step, the website design is translated to actual code that makes the website work. This stage can be the most lengthy, so keep clients informed on the status of the project.

A 3-sentence email like this one is great for maintaining client communication:

“This is what we did this week (past). This is where things are (present). This is what’s next (future).”

The basic steps of website development include:

  • Install WordPress on a localhost or testing server.
  • Install a starter WordPress theme.
  • Install a WordPress backup plugin like BackupBuddy. Running a backup plugin during development makes it easy to 1) revert file changes and 2) move the site to the live domain or server for launch.
  • Using the mockup, translate the design to the live site.
  • Test and optimize along the way.

Step 5: Launch

Finally, it’s time to launch the website. Since there are so many steps involved in launching a website, it’s a good idea to use a checklist to make sure you haven’t missed a step.

Use these checklist posts to make sure your website launch goes smoothly:

Step 6: Maintain

This last and final step of web design is often overlooked by freelancers, but website maintenance is important for the long-term health and success of a website, as well as a source of potential recurring revenue.

Before a new website project even begins, educate potential clients on the longterm responsibilities of owning a website. Just like owning a car or house, a website will need upkeep and maintenance. Offer a monthly WordPress maintenance service to take website maintenance tasks off your clients.

On a basic level, a WordPress maintenance service includes the following necessary actions to keep a WordPress site running smoothly:

  • WordPress Updates
  • Theme and Plugin Updates
  • WordPress Backups
  • WordPress Security
  • Analytics Tracking & Reporting
  • WordPress Hosting

WordPress maintenance can also extend into other areas of website upkeep such as SEO, adding new content or updating existing content, comment approval/replies, spam cleanup and more.

If you manage multiple WordPress sites, use a service like iThemes Sync to manage WordPress updates and more from one dashboard.

Ask your clients: Is there a long-term strategy to edit, update, and promote your website? Who will be in charge of maintaining the website? Be ready to offer your monthly maintenance rate and inform clients about hourly rates if they need you to fix website problems, make changes to content, etc.

A Smooth Website Design Process

By following the 6-step outline above, the website design process should go more smoothly. With a little research and planning, your website design will be more informed. By following a checklist for development and launch, you won’t miss crucial steps. And finally, maintaining a website protects the investment made in building the website. Ultimately, clients will be more satisfied with their experience and see the value in their website.

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How to Copy a WordPress Site

The ability to copy a WordPress site is really useful for several reasons, especially if you’re considering a redesign or for testing purposes. Having a copy of a “starter” WordPress site also comes in handy if you deploy new websites for clients with the same settings, plugins and themes installed. In this post, we’ll cover how to copy a WordPress site in just a few steps.

copy wordpress site

Getting Started: The Components of a WordPress Website

A WordPress website is made up of two basic components. Both will need to be included to have a complete copy of your website:

  • The WordPress database. The WordPress database contains the content (text) of your WordPress posts, pages, comments, and users.
  • The files that make your WordPress website function. Your WordPress website contains hundreds of files that work together to make your website operate. These files include the core WordPress files, all the files you’ve uploaded to your media library (.jpg, .png, etc.), Javascripts, PHP scripts, and other code files, plus all your theme or plugin files. Additionally, you must copy all of your files in your WordPress directory (including subdirectories) and your .htaccess file. These files are not stored in your WordPress database.

Making a Copy is Like Making a Backup

Copying your WordPress website is very similar to making a backup.

A WordPress backup essentially makes a copy of your entire WordPress installation (including your WordPress database and all files in your WordPress installation). And just like making a backup, you’ll need an easy way to access your backup files in a downloadable format.

How to Copy a WordPress Site: The Manual Method

In this section, we’ll cover copying a WordPress site manually. If you aren’t comfortable with editing code or browsing files on your server, you can skip ahead.

Copying Your Site’s Database

  • 1. To copy your site’s database, you’ll need access to phpMyAdmin on your site’s server. As a quick reference, you’ll find the phpMyAdmin icon located after logging in to cPanel.

phpmyadmin

  • 2. Click on the phpMyAdmin icon and login. (If you’re alredy logged into cPanel, phpMyadmin should launch automatically.)
  • 3. From left side of the page, select your WordPress database. In this example, the name of database is “wp”.

  • 4. You should now see all the tables included in your WordPress database (for example: wp_commentmeta, wp_comments, wp_options, wp_posts, etc.)
  • 5. Click the ‘Export’ tab on the top set of tabs. Select the “Quick” option, and the click the Go button.

phpmyadmin export database

Your database file should download automatically in an .sql format. Depending on the database size, this may take a few seconds.

Copying Your Site’s Files

You can use an FTP client to manually copy the files on your server to a folder on your computer. Once you’ve downloaded the files, you can zip or compress them into a zip file. Note: depending on the size of your site, this download could take a while.

wordpress files ftp

Using BackupBuddy to Copy a WordPress Site

The WordPress backup plugin, BackupBuddy, makes copying WordPress sites much easier than the manual method. With BackupBuddy, there’s no need to manually export or download any files.

  • You can copy your WordPress site directly from your WordPress dashboard (no need to login to cPanel or and FTP client).
  • Your entire WordPress website (including your database and files) can be downloaded into one zip file in a matter of minutes.
  • You can easily move the copied site to a new location such as a different domain, host or testing server with BackupBuddy’s ImportBuddy script.
  • 1. To get started, install and activate the BackupBuddy plugin on your WordPress website.
  • 2. Expand the BackupBuddy menu on the left side of your WordPress dashboard and click the ‘Backup’ link.
  • 3. On the Backup page, click the Complete Backup button to start running a backup of your site’s files and database.

complete wordpress backup

  • 4. Once the backup has completed, you can download your backup file as a zip file to your computer. This backup file is essentially a complete copy of your WordPress site.

download wordpress backup file

Moving Your WordPress Site Copy to A Different Domain, Host or Testing Server

Once you have a copy of your WordPress site, you’ll most likely want to use it for a testing environment or for development. To do this, you’ll need to move your WordPress site copy to a different directory on your server, to a new domain or to a localhost.

Manually Moving Your WordPress Site

If you’re interested in manually moving your website copy, use these two posts as a reference. These posts include more in-depth instructions if you want to tackle doing it manually.

Using BackupBuddy To Move Your WordPress Site in 10 Steps

BackupBuddy makes the process of moving a WordPress website easy by automating the process.

For example, BackupBuddy removes these complicated steps from the process:

  • Editing the wp-config.php with the new server’s MySQL database name, user and password.
  • Searching and replacing on your entire database to change URLs
  • Changing uploaded media to refer to the new location
  • Migrating serialized data
  • 1. Download your complete backup file and leave it in the zip format (see step 1 – 4 above).
  • 2. Navigate to the Restore/Migrate page in the BackupBuddy menu. Click the button to download the ImportBuddy script.

download importbuddy

  • 3. Confirm your ImportBuddy password. In the window that pops up, enter a new password or leave blank to use the ImportBuddy password you set up when you first installed BackupBuddy. This password is important because it locks the ImportBuddy script from unauthorized access. Click OK and the download will begin.

importbuddy password

  • 4. The next part of the process requires you to create a database on your server for your copied WordPress site. BackupBuddy will handle taking the database from your copy and replacing the tables, but you still need a new, blank database.
    Be sure to copy the database name, username and password you create in this section to use during the ImportBuddy migration process later.

    For step-by-step instructions on how to create a new MqSQL database, see this post:
    A Step by Step Guide for How to Move a WordPress Site to a New Domain with BackupBuddy

create new wordpress database

  • 5. Next, upload the backup zip file and the ImportBuddy file into the directory of the new/moved site on your server. (Basically, a directory is where your WordPress site “lives” on your server. All the files that run the WordPress site are located within this folder (directory).) For this step, you can use FTP access to the server or the File Manager within your cPanel. You just need to have access to upload (or delete) files on your server.

empty wordpress directory

  • 6. Open the directory (folder) of the final location of the WordPress site. Note: Most hosting providers will automatically set up and name the directory when you add the domain name to your hosting account. Your directories will be located in the /public_html directory. IMPORTANT: This directory will need to be empty prior to uploading the backup zip file and the importbuddy.php file. If there are existing files in this directory, go ahead and delete them so you have an empty folder.

upload files to cpanel

  • 7. Upload the importbuddy.php file and the backup zip file to this empty directory. You can use the Upload function within the File Manager here. 14. After you upload the importbuddy.php file and the backup zip file, the directory should look like this:

backupbuddy upload to directory

  • 8. This final series of steps will guide you through using ImportBuddy to finish up the site move. Navigate to the site URL/importbuddy.php. For our example site move, we’d visit this link in your browser.
http://mywpsitecopy.com/importbuddy.php
  • 9. Follow the remaining ImportBuddy steps to complete the site move. Input your new database credentials on step 3. On the last step, verify the site is working by clicking on the site URL.

importbuddy step 6

  • 10. Click the “Finish Cleanup” button. That’s it! You’ve successfully moved your WordPress site copy to a new location.

Get BackupBuddy Now

Get BackupBuddy, the 3-in-1 WordPress backup plugin. Easily backup, restore and migrate your WordPress site with BackupBuddy.

Get BackupBuddy now

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How to Do Freelancer Self Care With Adam Soucie

It’s important for freelancers to take care of themselves. It’s a challenge because freelancers are often focused on getting the work done and self care is often neglected—until it’s too late.

So we’re exploring self care for freelancers by talking with some experts. Today we’re going to dive deeper and talk about depression.

adam soucieAdam Soucie is a freelance WordPress developer who has also struggled with depression. He runs the digital creative agency, Impossibly Creative, and champions accessibility. He also volunteers with WordCamp Orlando and the WordPress Accessibility Team.

“Sometimes you have to say no to work, even when you need money, because in the long run you’re doing a lot of damage to yourself and are putting yourself at risk for much larger problems.” -Adam Soucie

We talk about identifying depression, getting help and enforcing boundaries in order to take care of yourself.

Dealing with depression certainly requires more than simple self care. What convinced you that mental health was something you needed to take seriously?

For me, it became clear when my thoughts of harm and suicide started coming out of nowhere. When the littlest thing would set me off. I started by seeing a therapist, and that helped unlock a lot of information, but over time even that wasn’t enough. I’d have 13 good days, but that 14th day was a nightmare for reasons that didn’t make sense. I’ve written about that experience for HeroPress, when I hit rock bottom at WordCamp Orlando 2016. After that, I finally got medical help and am now stable and recovered.

Since depression is not something you can address simply by getting exercise or other self-care strategies, what did you do?

Once I noticed that self-care wasn’t enough, I sought professional help. For some, a therapist is enough. Having someone to talk to about your deepest and darkest thoughts without judgment is incredibly helpful. A good therapist will also be able to point you in the right direction if they become aware you need additional medical assistance.

How did you handle the demands of work and the struggle with depression? Did it come to a point where you had to put work on hold?

Not putting my work on hold actually made my recovery harder. Just as I was starting to get better, and was set to go on a family vacation, I got project offers I couldn’t refuse. I ended up stressing out the entire vacation because I couldn’t check email or work on the sites. After taking a single day off for Christmas, I went right back to work and finished off two custom blogs in a week. Then the depression set in and really knocked me out.

Sometimes you have to say no to work, even when you need money, because in the long run you’re doing a lot of damage to yourself and are putting yourself at risk for much larger problems.

While being stressed or burned out and depression are obviously different things, can one lead to the other? Are there self-care strategies that can still help us avoid or at least manage depression?

Stress and burnout can absolutely lead to depression or worse. There’s a reason work-life-balance has become such a hot topic in the tech space. Too many companies are focused on “making the world a better place” and they lose sight of how they’re making the world a worse place for their employees.

It’s really important for agency workers and freelancers alike to have set work hours. Once those hours are over, work stops. Period. Don’t answer emails, don’t respond to work-related texts. Unless it’s part of your actual job description or freelance contract to be available at that time, leave work behind. You have to have a life away from your code or design.

One of the traps freelancers often get themselves into is replying to an email late at night because they’re up tinkering for fun or trying to get ahead. Some clients will notice the timestamp of the email and assume that means you’re always available that late. It becomes an expectation, and it’s not healthy. Getting eight hours of sleep a night is a crucial component of mental health, as is having a set schedule. Most developers thrive on routine. It’s why we relate to computers so well. Upsetting that routine on a regular basis, especially to the point where the routine doesn’t exist anymore, can quickly cause you to spiral or bring to light an undiagnosed mental condition.

Beyond that, it’s important to avoid self-medicating. I don’t judge people for drinking or using recreational drugs in moderation, but when you’re teetering on the edge, mixing either with your stress and possible depression is a recipe for disaster. Having that extra beer or shot to make yourself feel better starts you down a dangerous path. Some people manage to navigate it well. Others crash quickly.

It’s an unpopular opinion, but the web dev world, and the general tech community at large, has a huge problem with alcohol. Social events are almost always tied to bars. Even low key, end-of-the-week events at companies often involve drinking. When I started my career, the agency I worked at had a tradition of taking a group shot at our weekly wrap-up meeting every time we launched a new project. We weren’t forced to drink by any means, but the peer pressure was certainly there. Most social gatherings involving the team revolved around going out for drinks. As someone who doesn’t drink, by choice, it became a problem over time. I was seen as distant. Furthermore, when I tried to call attention to a team member’s clear issues with drinking too much while at the office (Fridays were very relaxed), I was seen as the problem. This isolated me more and made my underlying depression that much harder to deal with at work. I left the company soon after.

The WordPress community is still struggling to deal with this alcohol-involved isolation problem. It has improved as some WordCamps have provided low-noise options for after-parties, but even those options often involve drinking. By continuing to tie these social events to alcohol, it’s actually harming the community as a whole by both isolating non-drinkers and enabling self-medicators. As a community, we need to take a larger look at how we plan events and make sure they’re both more inclusive and not putting some of our most valuable assets at risk.

For more on mental health in WordPress, check out these resources:

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What Is A Plugin? 11 Things to Know

What is a plugin? Plugins are tools (bits of software) that expand what you can do with your WordPress site, without having to manually write or edit code.

There is virtually no limit to what you can do with WordPress plugins – if you want to do it, there’s probably a plugin for it – from ecommerce to SEO, from design features to social media, from security to spam prevention. There are more than 50,000 free plugins available in the WordPress.org repository, and hundreds more premium plugins available in the commercial marketplace.

what is a plugin

If you’re reading this, you are probably already using WordPress, as well as a handful of plugins. WordPress is an outstanding Content Management System (CMS). Even so, WordPress on its own can’t do everything. That’s where plugins come into the picture. But just because you can do something with a plugin doesn’t mean you should.

What Is a Plugin? 11 Things You Need to Know

These 11 things you need to know about WordPress plugins will help you sift through the choices and decisions you have to make around using plugins, and create a lean, secure, yet creative and functional WordPress site. These best practices will serve as a guideline to prevent pitfalls for you so you can get on with the business of your business.

1. Sometimes (Well, Usually), Less is More

Plugins are great resources because they allow your site to do things it otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. But, the more plugins you have, the greater the risk of problems occurring within your site. Plugin problems can be random and unexpected, or more specific issues related to plugin or WordPress upgrades. Plugins can also conflict with other plugins or even themes.

In addition, each active plugin will slow down your site by some amount. Imagine that each active plugin slows down the site by 5 milliseconds (some more and some less). If you have 20 active plugins, that means every page will take a tenth of a second longer to load than if no plugins were active.

If you catch yourself asking “Do I have too many plugins installed?”, then you probably do. Just remember to keep the number of plugins installed on your website reasonable.

2.Keep Your Plugins Updated

Developers provide updates to their plugins to:

  1. Add new functionality
  2. Patch security holes and to fix bugs
  3. Keep up with the ever-changing WordPress core.

If you aren’t updating your plugins when the developer provides it, you are exposing yourself to potential frustrations and possible security breaches. As plugin developers, we can honestly tell you that we don’t update plugins just for the fun of it, but we ultimately want to ensure that our plugins function at their peak levels of performance. And that’s what we want for you and your site—peak performance!

If you manage multiple WordPress sites, keeping up with plugin updates can be tedious. Use a service like iThemes Sync to run updates across multiple WordPress sites, view available updates and much more. You can also do a ton of other WordPress admin tasks from one dashboard.

3. If You’re Not Using a Plugin, Delete It

Many people keep a library of inactive plugins sitting on their site. Since you have the option of deactivating a plugin, it may seem tempting to leave it on your server. But even disabled plugins can pose a major WordPress security risk, so if you aren’t using the plugin, remove it entirely. You can always reinstall the plugin if you change your mind later.

4. Plugins Should Serve a Specific Purpose

There are tons of cool plugins that do fun things. But since plugins slow your site, and could pose some security issues, it’s important to make sure the plugin serves a genuine purpose–and isn’t installed just because it’s cool.

Cool is OK, of course, but probably not a strong enough reason to use a plugin. Each plugin you use should do something important to enhance your visitor’s experience at your site. The way you use plugins affects your site’s design, and ultimately affects your brand.

5. Avoid Overlapping Plugins

Plugins that overlap in services are just taking up valuable space and bandwidth, and potentially posing additional security risks. You simply don’t need 4 plugins that handle redirections, 6 plugins that create SEO, and 8 different social networking sharing plugins. In addition to slowing your site down, it’s just more you have to keep up with. And who wants that?

6. Use Trusted Plugins From Reputable Sources

Only install plugins that come from either the WordPress Plugin Repository or from a trusted premium plugin developer (for example: iThemes, Gravity Forms or Easy Digital Downloads). Since plugins have the potential to create security gaps in your site, you want to be sure they have been vetted by knowledgeable developers who stand behind their work with professional support. Trusted plugin providers will provide updates to address any bugs or security issues, as well as updates to keep pace with the latest version of WordPress.

7. Ask People You Trust

The WordPress community is a rich resource of people who love what they do, have tested and tried many different plugins, and are eager to help out and share advice. Use their knowledge and experience if you have questions about a plugin. For example, you could ask people on Twitter whether they like one plugin or another. Use the hashtag #WordPress and you’re sure to get more advice than you expected!

8. Consider Coding Minor Plugin Functions

If a plugin only performs a minor function, the code may be better off residing on the theme’s functions.php file rather than within a stand-alone plugin. Plugins are great because they provide the coding for you, but if the function is really simple, why not save your plugin “bandwidth” for more critical functions?

Just remember that if you place the functionality in the theme file, it stays with the theme. If you change themes, that functionality goes away, too. Make a note to remember these details and recreate it for your new theme. Another (advanced) option is to code an all-inclusive plugin that has your common functions and just use that.

Learning how to write code in your theme files can seem daunting, but with the right guidance, it doesn’t have to be difficult. The WordPress Developer Course shows you how to edit your functions.php file as a way of minimizing the number of plugins you use.

9. When Your Site Stops Working … It’s Usually Because of a Plugin

If some part of your site just all of a sudden isn’t “working like it did before,” then it’s likely a conflict between plugins or between a plugin and your theme. If you’ve recently added a plugin, you can bet a plugin conflict is the source of the problem. This doesn’t mean you can’t use the plugin–but you’ll have to figure out what’s going on so you can make an informed choice about how to proceed.

The best way to “find the problem” is to deactivate all your plugins … and slowly (one-by-one) reactivate the plugins to find the plugin causing the issue. Once you know which plugin is the culprit, you can then evaluate the importance of that particular plugin.

10. Always Use These Must-Have Plugins

From our experience, these plugins are vital to every WordPress site. They perform exceptional functions that would be challenging for even the intermediate WordPress user to code into their functions.php file. Because they come from reputable and trusted sources and have been individually developed by professional plugin developers, you can rest assured they are secure and safe. This is a very basic list of must-have plugins:

  • A WordPress Backup Plugin – BackupBuddy is is an absolute MUST-have plugin because having a solid WordPress backup strategy is critical to running a WordPress website. Out of the box, WordPress doesn’t offer a built-in backup solution, so you’ll need to find your own. While hosts offer backup services, we still recommend using a plugin so you own your data and can easily access your backup files. BackupBuddy backs up your entire WordPress installation – not just the database – AND allows you to migrate or restore your site with just a few clicks. With BackupBuddy, you can literally be back up and running within seconds of a crashed site.
  • A WordPress Security Plugin – iThemes Security offers 30+ ways to secure and protect your WordPress site. WordPress security is a hot topic these days, as WordPress now powers nearly 28% off all websites. WordPress itself isn’t insecure, but there are several WordPress security best practices that the iThemes Security plugin can help with to make your website more secure.
  • A WordPress Contact Form Plugin – There are tons of WordPress contact form plugin options out there, but Gravity Forms is the oldest and most established. You can use Gravity Forms for simple and advanced contact forms, but also for order forms and other information gathering essentials. It even includes add-ons for some email programs, ecommerce, and more. Another WordPress form builder to consider is Ninja Forms.
  • A WordPress SEO plugin – Yoast SEO is a plugin that optimizes your WordPress site for search engines. Not only can you set specific SEO data for each page or post, you can override any title and set any meta description or keywords you want. It works right out of the box for beginners – even optimizing your titles automatically – or advanced users can configure the more advanced settings.

11. You Get What You Pay For

Sometimes with plugins, it’s a matter of “you get what you pay for.” If you use a free plugin, remember that you haven’t paid for all the hard work the developer did – work that makes your site better. You also haven’t paid for support, so be reasonable in what you expect or request.

With premium plugins, you will receive upgrades and support based on the terms of your license (often an annual license). Make sure you know the terms – and definitely take advantage of the great support being offered.

Just know that the WordPress community is a close one. Word about how you treat one developer will spread, so we still recommend practicing respect in all your interactions.

More Resources on WordPress Plugins

WordPress plugins offer a ton of possibility for extending your WordPress website. Armed with this knowledge about how and when to use plugins, you’ll be on your way to making informed decisions about which plugins you download, install and use on your WordPress website.

The post What Is A Plugin? 11 Things to Know appeared first on iThemes.

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