Build Your WordPress Blog: Plugins

Beginning or advanced bloggers who are building their WordPress site rely on plugins to make their blog do what they want it to. How do you find the best ones and what are the potential problems?

Plugins Grow Powerful

It used to be that the theme brought special functions to a WordPress platform, but increasingly the power has shifted from both the core installation of the WordPress softwarer, and also from themes to an array of plugins.

A plugin makes it easy to add the code necessary to do something either very simple like make a list of recent posts, to something very complex like adding a community system (i.e. “Buddypress”).

The WP team has increasingly decided to make features reside in something outside the core.

Remember

Too many plugins can cause “bloat” and slow down your site. Try to limit to your “most needed and wanted”.

Almost everything needed to find the best plugins are right within the dashboard of the latest version of WordPress. Simply find the button for “Plugins”, Go to “add new”, and search. Helpful categories such as “popular” and ratings will guide you to beginning the addition of plugins which expand the power of your blog.

Problems With Plugins

Most of the problems that arise with plugins revolve around “conflicts” with other functions or plugins, and “vulnerabilities”, or ways that hackers can get into your site through the code of the plugin.

With all problems from this source it is important that the plugins be updated. If you have updates in your wordpress installation, don’t delay implementing them. WordPress platform has made that easy.

What is more difficult is when you don’t know something is vulnerable or it needs updating when bundled into a theme.

Best practices that are now advocated by developers is that plugins handle many functions and that they “stand alone” instead of being introduced on the inside of a theme.

Recently, a well known, much used photo slider had been compromised in a very dangerous way. It was inside many themes, and alerts were put out, but there are many, many sites that probably go on without correction of the problem. Read about this here.

This isn’t to strike fear into your heart, but to educate you. Be aware of what to watch out for in a WordPress installation.

Things To Watch

Watch for conflicts between plugins or with your theme. If something isn’t working turn off all and then turn on one at a time to see if that is the problem.

How To Add A WordPress Plugin To Your Blog

 

Which Choices Out Of Thousands?

There are the basics, the features, and those for specific tasks.

Akismet is one of the basics. It prevents spam.

Although I changed around a bit, I use Yarpp (Yet Another Related Post Plugin) which brings up related posts for further discovery of your posts. This is an example of a feature: something your blog will really benefit from, but not a basic concern.

The third example of plugins that I like are those which add a function or feature that I need for a specific purpose. an example of that is one for recipes, or reviews. Adding social icons, or my favorite, an editorial organizer like “WordPress Editorial Calendar”.

Specialty Purposes

For recipes I like “Easy Recipe“, although there are others that probably would work as well. If I were a food blogger, I would want to research what worked best for my needs, and possibly buy a premium version.

Book blogging also has a choice of a number of special plugins for reviews. I like “Book Review Library” by Chris Reynolds the best.

Book Review Library
New Plugin for Adsense
Adsense Publisher Plugin has worked well for me.

I’ve tried a number of Adsense ones, but they had issues, so I’m now using Google Publisher for Adsense. It sometimes has problems with my theme, but is better than other ones I used previously.

The amount of this type is huge, and the best way to find what you want is to read reviews and find the recommendations of the users who test them. I like reading WPTavern blog for ideas about new ones.

 

Plugin
Feature
Price
YARPP
adds a group of related posts to keep readers interested in your content
free
Yoasts SEO
Powerful functions to help your SEO
free
BruteProtect
Secures against security attack
free

Dealing With HTML And CSS

I know how to use these, but many don’t. But despite the fact that I can customize my site and add tables to pages does not mean I want to have the headache of doing all the work ( espeically when it comes to building tables.

Never mind, Beginner and Expert alike! There are plugins that prove very handy for these chores.

TABLES

WordPress posts benefit form visual aids like tables. They are an easy way to organize information. The trouble is that a complex table can be hard to get set up. “Tablepress” is the plugin I use, it is an improvement on an older plugin that I have used on my garden site , and it works like a dream.

Tablepress

HTML ELEMENTS

Shortcode is the name for easy additions of blocks of code that do specific things. It used to be mainly built into themes, but now you can have numerous plugins that create boxes, insert Facebook like buttons, make image sliders- all sorts of things.

There is no single plugin that does this, but I like Elegant Themes shortcode plugin, not the least because I use their themes.

My Experience

I’ve had some trouble with plugins over the years. Some cause conflicted- even breaking my theme. If you have trouble with your theme or even your whole site breaks after updates, go through your plugins to see if that is the culprit.

METHOD:

Turn off ( deactivate) all the plugins. Turn each one back on individually and check to see if one was causing the problem. Unfortunately, you will probably have to delete that one until the developer fixes it.

Many developers provide support and answer questions or run a forum where problems acan be addressed and fixed.

SOMETIMES IT WORKS UNTIL IT DOESN’T

If it worked and then suddenly doesn’t do what it used to, it maybe that you will have to find a similar plugin to do that feature.

Or sometimes you find the occasional one that does something (secretly) that you don’t like, monetzers that take some of your income without your permission, though usually it is defaults you were not aware you needed to change.

Be aware is all I can say about that.

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Can You Make Money On Hubpages?

My Hubpages Review 2015

The answer to that question is increasingly “no”, but until very recently it had been a “yes”, and I think it might resume the affirmative.  Right now it depends on how the transition is made as Hubpages continues to try to please Google.

For those unaware of what Hubpages is, here is a short summary:

It is a community of online writers using a module based writing platform.

The income of ads and Amazon products are shared between the writer and Hubpages.

A Bit Of Background On Squidoo Turning Into Hubpages

If you have read some of my reports in the past you know that I started out on Squidoo, which was a writing platform with some similarities. While writing there I did quite well, getting some rewards and earning enough income to help support some of my other web writing – selfhosting and domains for my blogs (including this one).

Squidoo was bought out by Hubpages and merged, after which all the articles (christened “lenses”) became “hubs”.

Squidoo struggled with the same issues that are a trouble to Hubpages, now: penalties from Google for poor content, spamminess, and just because they consider them to be “content farms”.

Hubs Get Hit

The fact that Hubpages pay compensation means they have tended to draw some very questionable authors along with the worthwhile, talented, and honest ones. After Google Panda slapdowns (where the traffic was severely impacted), the struggle was on to try to eradicate the source of the problem. This included little to no links to one’s own blogs, or affiliates, and much fewer Amazon modules.

This has resulted in dropping income for many writers on the site (which explains my initial “no”, it is very difficult now to make any money on the site).

Compensation is still paid, but it is much more difficult and greatly reduced at this time (in my own experience).

What Has Changed In Earning Income?

For the things that created income, the ad income is less, the Amazon modules are restricted and discouraged. Also, an arbitrary system of relegating articles to “unfeatured status”, wherein HP tells search engines not to index the hubs, results in  less visitors for that “hub”. Ebay has not figured into my own earnings, or much for most others from what I have read.

One thing that has changed is the clarity by which a person may judge whether their writing is meeting standards on the site. Unfeatured for quality can mean almost anything for having outgoing links, to too many, to unrelated Amazon products, etc. It could also have to do with the writing… it is a mixed bag and changes often.

A portion of my dashboard
Are We Having Fun Yet?

Yes, sometimes. However it is a lot of work keeping up with many changes, and the compensation is steadily dropping. What tends to work?

  • Having a large number of articles still seems to matter. Part of the reason my income dropped is that I took a number of my articles down when they seemed unresponsive to improvements (I couldn’t get them out of unfeatured no matter what I tried).
  • Writing long articles of 700+ words.
  • Writing along a very tight topic focus (unlike Squidoo which seemed to reward ranging widely across the topic and covering everything).
  • Having few or no outgoing links, restricting them to one per  text module.
  • Having very few Amazon products and keeping them to those mentioned in the article.
  • A number of strong pictures/photos, but not too many.

 

Another change is the scoring of articles based more on visitor interaction, and less on raw traffic.

A robot editor now corrects grammar and spelling.

Start Doing This

If earning some revenue from your writing online is a goal, try some of these suggestions.

  • Build up your own sites if you wish to try your hand at making an income writing.
  • Diversify among different streams of income: sites like Hubpages, your own blogs, social media, Amazon, Zazzle.
  • Find your niche
  • Work hard
  • Network

For now, that is my report on the everchanging landscape of creating a business and income online.

So many writers are complaining in the Hubpages forums and many are leaving or threatening to do so. I take that to mean that there is a sitewide drop in income. Mine is about a third of what it was last year, but I don’t know if that is the common experience or not.

The benefits remain for those who simply wish to have experience writing and possibly getting feedback on their efforts. The community there is also a way to keep a touch on the pulse of the web as it impacts this type of writing (mostly informational articles).

This is simply information given to the reader to help you decide for yourself if you think joining and writing for Hubpages is a promising endeavor for your efforts.

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Better Late Than Never – Redirecting Old Blog To New

I had an old blog (from 2003) that had lots of good rep and some google rank just on the fact that it was OLD. I waited for years to move it from Blogger to WordPress on the basis that I really didn’t want to lose the ranking that it still held onto.

Well, due to the fact that I am a total amateur, I went through some very damaging steps because I simply didn’t know what to do. First I used a v-e-r-y slow meta-refresh to transfer people from the old Ilona’s Garden Journal to the new Home Garden Companion site.

Not a good idea. Besides being slow, it is seen as a malicious script.

I tried turning all 1000+ posts into drafts and taking the blog private. I felt like that was shooting myself in the foot!

So, finally I got serious, looked up how to make a proper 301 redirect and bit the bullet.

For those of you who don’t want to do all the really messy, bad stuff that I did…here is the really useful, clear page of instructions complete with the code you will need to make these happen.

How To Switch Using 301 Redirects

~From WP Beginner, great info for anyone trying to work on a wp blog.

The redirects appear to work well. I don’t know if I will recover the Google ranking after all my shenanigans, but it was Bing Webmaster tools and Google info that helped me realize the importance of creating proper redirects when moving a site.

Be sure to use Bing and Google webmaster tools (both of them). They are free, don’t take much of your time, and prove extremely useful when you need to know insights about your blogs.

Hope this helps someone else trying to move their large site from Blogger to WordPress.

This is the step, AFTER migrating the posts over to the new blog.

I found that step to be pretty easy because I used the included import plugin in the WordPress installation. It worked extremely well and I only had to upload some missing pictures. Which was relatively easy.

 

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Online Income, The One Rule

There is only one rule and this post will outline how that rule worked for me as I’ve been working to turn my blogging hobby into an income.

The only rule about online income:

It constantly changes.

Yes, that is it. Simple, isn’t it? And yet, that is what can make it incredibly challenging.

There may have been a time when millionaires were made overnight, but if they are still looking for their online business to provide income revenues they are working hard and still hustling.

In that sense, it is the same story as with any business. Success depends on hard work, and wild success is engined by people who love the process.

…Like gazillionaire Les Wexnerexample of someone who loved the process, who built his Limited empire less for the money and more for his drive to make his business grow and succeed ( I heard him on an interview given to a PBS show).

That seems to be the factor that almost all wildly successful business people have: they are driven to compete, most of all with themselves.

You may disagree with me… if you think it is something else I would love to read your opinion in the comments.

But Back To My Story

This is about how to make money, but mostly about not worrying if you don’t (yet)
source: Ilona Erwin
source: Ilona Erwin

Right. I was going to sum up my online pathway in generating income and how that looks:

  • At first I wrote entirely as a free service to others. I benefitted the “free” hosting, and in return I didn’t have to pay money for hosting. We weren’t allowed to have competing ads on our sites.
  • Then I discovered AmazonTheir rules have changed since my early days. You will need to make a sale or two to stay in the program. For years I made $0.00 -and was doubtful that anyone could make enough to qualify for the minimum for a payout.
  • Soon after I was able to sign up for Google Adsense. That also made me nothing, and with a higher qualifying payout. At least it kept whatever pennies were earned in an accumulating amount. Eventually, years later I did get that first payment.

Alrighty- the story here is that there is a learning curve to understanding what it means to monetize blogging.

Initially I was handicapped by the idea that it was crass to have ads on a blog. Yet, my html website was given ads that weren’t even my own while at Geocities. My idea translated into:

“I can’t make money with integrity on my own writing, but it is okay for others to reap income from all my hard work”

It was hard work I most willingly gave because I loved having readers enjoy and benefit from what I was offering. I wanted them to see beauty, to be inspired, to learn from me.

I can’t emphasize enough what hard work it was. But it was fun, stimulating, and gave me creative outlet. I also cannot emphasize enough how much I needed that as a stay at home wife with ten kids.

But I was using my life to give the blogs so much time and effort, and at the same time my husband and I were struggling financially.

I needed to improve the blog, and I needed for it to pay for itself. It wasn’t until much much later that I felt it should become a business (or even had the idea that it could)

Keys To Adsense and Amazon

The keys are placement and traffic.

key
source: tawheed manzoor on flickr

Now more than ever, there must be enough eyeballs visiting a page to create income from these two sources. That is traffic.

For you this means that you should not give up if you don’t see results. Keep writing. Keep building your blog

Along with those two keys, which are particularly important for Amazon affiliates, is that you must have enough places where products are included included within the posts and pages of the blog. One on the front page or a few in the sidebar won’t do it, for most of us.

That was always so hard for me because I am primarily a writer. Photos were a challenge, graphics were a challenge, and now including relevant items from Amazon? Yes, it seemed to be one more hurdle to writing a good post.

For years I didn’t even try. And I made so little income I privately thought it might be a scam. But it wasn’t, I just didn’t know how it worked.

So for Adsense there are two main things- having plenty of traffic to the blog and lots of content.

For Amazon, take the time to include links to the products you are advocating anyway. I always like the magazine resource pages that told me where I could get featured items, and that is what Amazon links on a blog can do.

I usually qualify for the minimum payout for Amazon now.

That isn’t something to boast about exactly… it is small potatoes, but at least it is potatoes on the plate.

Amazon Learning Center

lensThat is what I would call my time on Squidoo. Before I participated in that writing community (which is what it was for me), I had no idea how to include products within my writing. Not really incorporate them, or write income producing pages. I just wrote.

Squidoo (It is no more, it was sold and closed) had so many tutorials and tips from many writers. It had traffic. And it shared income.

Google Adsense is very up and down for me. My sites were google slappeddrops in search engine placement due to changes in how google gives results, like their Panda update so many times, that if I depended on that to pay the hosting bills, this story would be over.

Squidoo articles added up in small increments. The more I wrote the more I was making, sometimes it would surprise me which topics and pages could give me support.

Eventually, it paid the way for my other sites, including my garden site, Ilona’s Garden. I was able to buy Premium themes, which was necessary as WordPress had become more and more complex, and my sites were hacked. (Hacking meant I had to keep everything updated, and have reliably secure themes).

There is so much more to these stories that can only hinted at here … but it shows that income switched from Google ads to Squidoo ad-sharing community.

And a side effect of those pages was that my own Amazon affiliate earnings were finally increasing. They sent me traffic, due to their liberal policies on linking and adding your own affiliate products.

Squidoo became Hubpages, and for me, the adjustment is only in format. The income levels are about on par. I have no idea how long that will last.

But that could change at any time.

And that is the point of my story, online success depends on making the changes, and keeping abreast of what works and what doesn’t.

Secondly, but Importantly

Always, for me, everything is servant to the writing. I am one of those people who likes to craft, who wants to provide my readers with something worthwhile. Something that means something to me.

Making money from this is always secondary and I have had issues and difficulties because of that.

Other Things I Won’t Compromise

  • My family comes before the blog
  • I write from my inner muse, not in response to whether it makes money
  • I must be honest as possible.

Sure I make mistakes and sometimes deviate from the path, but those are my guiding principles in what I do, to create the blogs and to build income.

More Changes That Challenge

Blogging today is so different than when I started, although I saw many of these things coming.

What I didn’t foresee is how important the visuals would become. And how it would be a more proprietary environment.

We now need to have our own professional photos. Our own professional looking graphics. Participation on many social platforms ( which means lots of writing that never finds its way to the blog.

This makes a difference in income. Presently I have plough more than I make back into this blogging adventure.

Your Takeaways From My Experience

To sum up

  • Have diverse sources of income for your blogging/writing
  • SEO and traffic building are important
  • Each manner of generating income has its own rules and learning curve. They change.
  • Implicit, but previously unsaid, is the fact that you should concentrate on growing your own blogs and creating your own products.
  • Don’t give up too soon. The one thing it all takes is patience, work, and time. If it changes, change with it.

And it ought to be fun. You ought to enjoy creating and giving, or it just isn’t worthwhile.

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Evernote Helps Organize

I’ve been organizing my life. It is a twofold process, one with decluttering and getting rid of distractions; and two, organizing resources to best access what I need to keep and use.

In my online/computer work, Evernote is proving invaluable.

I started using it ever so slowly, but now that I realize how important it is to seamlessly go from the iPhone to desktop to iPad and back, this is proving such a mind and time saver!

I am using it for blogging ideas, random notes, saved links, and clips of information. I also created a file to keep track of my blog business expenses, which are piling up as I buy hosting, domain names, graphic files, premium themes, premium access to Picmonkey and apps like that.

Evernote organizes me. I am always losing paper scraps and making notes in whatever notebook was at hand was a losing proposition! This way I put everything in one place and can find it by just logging in, or through the program on my computer. It is super easy.

Some useful ways to people use this program/app:

  1. Cooks use it for recipes, making their shopping lists, and clipping directly from a cooking webpage.
  2. Homeschoolers could gather unit study materials, teaching tips, fieldtrip ideas, lists of curriculum or materials, science experiment info, just about anything! List of addresses and phone numbers, useful videos, urls of best resources, special graphics… I wish I had this in the years I was schooling my kids. I would have made a separate notebook for each subject, and one for each child. Keeping track of goals I had set would be smooth sailing with the many ways to search and access notes.
  3. Bloggers and writers can have a field day collecting and recalling all the places they find their research. The spurts of inspiration jotted down, the bits of finely tuned prose that swirls in our heads ; all now have a safe place where we can find them .

 

What are the features?

  • I use it on my PC, my iPad, iPhone, and Mac Laptop. I understand it can be used also on the Blackberry and other devices.
  • Most used? Type a note, clip from webpages (or the whole thing), screenshots, photos… lots of ways to gather info and data.
  • Everything can be searched. That is a huge help when you have collated lots of things that you want to use for a topic, especially over time.
  • Making a swipe file for things you need often: blog descriptions, social urls, etc. and it become so easy to find, on any of your devices that has the app.

Need more ideas?

 

workchat

Almost forgot! a new feature lately is the Workchat. You can share with team members or whoever you wish, the notes and the what you are working on. Cool. You just click the button and a window pops up for collaboration.

And that graphic? I made it with Skitch which can be synced to share directly into your Evernote file.