Site Themes And Plugins

monet garden

What Do They Do?

Why should you care about your website theme or plugins? And I’m not just talking about WordPress, but those for any platform, including Joomla. At any point when a plugin or a new theme is called for, they all do just one thing:

They Solve A Problem

The gist of it is that when you want a type of layout, or certain functions in your website, or ease of custom features, you will (eventually)  look for a theme that will give you what you are looking for…

Some of these themes will include the plugins built-in (sliders, anyone?) More and more, these problem solvers will simply be plugins.

Do you wish to have a recipe that can be indexed and printed? There are plugins for that,

Would you like to reduce the size of your photos automatically? Plugins will accomplish that task.

Need help with the mysteries of SEO? Plugins can solve this problem.

In fact, this is why there are so very many of them available, and they are both free and premium in just about every blogging platform: they do all sorts of coding and create answers to your need for everything from an ecommerce site to adding easy ways to post to social media.

Just.About. Everything.

The difficulty is choosing the best ones to add style or function to your own blog.

Quickly, what to look for?

  • Ratings.  See what users think about the themes and plugins you are considering.
  • Updates. Plugins can have vulnerabilities, and need to be kept updated if at all possible.
  • Support. If there is good support from a community or developer, it can help trouble shoot when not working right with your site. What good is a plugin that doesn’t work or causes problems… or becomes unusable after platform updates?
  • Function. It does what you need without unnecessary bloat. Plugins, too big or too many, can slow your site.

So basically that is what your theme, with its built-in plugins and setup, and the plugins themselves will do… they are meant to solve your problems and meet your needs. Blogwise, anyway.

 

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 software and from the theme to an array of plugins.

Plugins are the preferred way to expand function. This pullquote is by way of a shortcode plugin.
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. Authors don’t always keep them updated.

Or sometimes you find the occasional one that does something (secretly) that you don’t like, monetizers that take some of your income without your permission. Though usually it is through defaults you were not aware that you needed to change. This happens less with the newer plugins, which tend to cost something upfront.

Be aware is all I can say about that.

Post Formats In WordPress

wordpress

I have had a devil of a time trying to use post formats in themes that don’t have them automatically included. I have a number of uses for the formats in mind for one of my sites, but am committed to a theme that doesn’t include them.

As post formats have come and gone from the core of WordPress, they are now supposed to be included through plugins (or in the case of themes, written into the functions.php)

So if you would like to use post formats, one plugin to try is WCK which adds the post type and new taxonomies. I’m am working with that to solve my problem of getting the formats without hacking my theme’s functions (which is hard work for someone like me).

My Premium Themes

I have been using Elegant Themes for a number of years, and their newer themes have custom post types that are often included in only one theme. I hacked the functions to transfer my post-types and get them to show in another theme change. In the meantime they developed their Divi theme which, once you are used to it, is fantastic. I love its look, and feel I can finally have a theme that is truly customized to the needs of my site.

I think part of the challenge is the fact that WordPress has evolved so radically. It can do so much more, more easily, than in years (versions) past.

If you are wishing to include post types in your theme, and have little to no coding skill, get one of the post type plugins that are being developed. I expect to see more come online in the near future.

OR… you could go with a theme that has them built-in (like the native 2014 theme for WordPress).

There are times you need all the bells and whistles, and that is when to go for a premium theme. There are ‘lite’ versions of premium themes that are quite good which might be adequate for your needs; but they usually have limited support if you need custom solutions or are trying to troubleshoot something that has gone awry.

More about starting with wordpress

My Favorite WordPress Plugins

wordpress

I have new favorites. I’ve been replacing some of the old favorites and adding new plugins that accomplish important tasks… here is the scoop.

Plugin Good For Ads

For Adsense I used to use Easy Adsense until it changed into something second rate, not to go into a rant or badmouth it. It served well for many years, but now I use Post Layout which gives much more control and doesn’t seem to try and siphon off earnings (of which there was never very much and is quite low at this point). Post Layout allows for other ad programs to be added, as well. So far, I like it.
Post Layout Plugin

Plugins Every Site Should Have

Some of my sites have been WordPress based for many years, and during that time went through changes including problems with permalinks, etc. I had lots of redirects and broken links to other sites, etc. So I am super excited about the plugin I tried, called “Broken Link Checker”.

It is very easy to use and I have gone through just about all the broken links to either unlink, or -more often- find the new links on site that dropped their pages or changed the location. I am looking forward to this plugin changing the speed and (possibly help) google rank. At least my site is updated and far better experience for readers!!!

(1.) I recommend every WordPress site to have the Broken Link Checker plugin.

For many years I used “All In One SEO”, and I have no complaint about it, but when I read about all that Yoast’s WP SEO plugin could do, I started using it. It is complex and I don’t have the learning curve completely mastered, but it is working well, and I think it will be a huge improvement for my site. It imports all of the settings and info from ‘All In One’.

(2.) Yoast SEO for WordPress

“Yet Another Related Posts Plugin” is one that I have used from very early on. It has been reliable and helps people find more posts, which is more important than ever on sites that have lots of content. I tweaked it to provide graphics, much like “LinkWithin” but without the nuisance keywords of the LinkWithin site coming up repeatedly. The new version of YARPP now has those thumbnails builtin.

I wouldn’t do without this plugin.

(3.) Yet Another Related Posts Plugin

Other New Additions

I started using the Jetpack because it was so highly recommended. Mostly the stats part of it interests me, I’m not sure about the rest of it (and it is extensive). The verdict will be in later in the year. But it is well worth trying, especially if your blog uses more of the features than mine would.
Jetpack.

Jetpack Plugin

Google XML Sitemaps isn’t perfect, but it helps provide a sitemap which is necessary and which I don’t understand well enough to provide for myself. I liked it much better when you could add pages, a feature which they have not restored as of this writing. Still, the plugin is a useful one.

Google XML Sitemap

WP-PageNavi is built-in to some templates, but if you don’t have it, this navigation tool is very worthwhile. It gives a logical and good looking way to navigate through the sites pages. Plus you can style it.

WP-PageNavi


I have used many plugins over the years, some of which I regret, some that I get more excited over the more I use them. If I wanted the essentials this list is one I would start with. It is not a definitive list by any means, but a great way to start your WordPress site.