Beyond Basic WordPress Plugins, Not the Usual Suspects, Part 2

In our first installment of this series, I shared my thoughts on some lesser known plug-ins that I’ve used for projects. You’ve probably run across lots of articles about WordPress plug-ins, but they almost all list the usual popular suspects. Here are more awesome plug-ins that will extend and improve your websites.

Broadcast

Do you need to publish articles or content to multiple sites on a multisite WordPress network? While some may point out that publishing the same content to multiple sites is going to ruin your SEO results, you may have a set of websites that sometimes need duplicate content published to all, or some, of them. One example is a set of local newspaper websites, where certain news stories or op-eds or content need to be published to newspapers covering different cities, towns or neighborhoods.

Blog Designer

Sometimes you decide on a theme for your site which does everything you want for the front page, navigation and more, but doesn’t give you the blog index design you want. By blog index, I’m talking about the display of blog post titles, summaries and images. What you think of when you think of a classic blog. The Blog Designer plug-in gives you several different options to have that classic blog look while the rest of your site is controlled by the main theme.

Ad Inserter

While we prefer AdRotate for a comprehensive ad system for a website with lots of different types of ads, your ad display needs might be more basic. You may need to just insert a Google AdSense block in the middle of an article, above or below an article, or at s specific point in your content (like after the fifth paragraph).

Coming Soon Page & Maintenance Mode

Do you have a domain and WordPress set up for a new site and want to make sure that the general public can’t see the development site? Do you want to let your client(s) see the site and test it, while it’s in development? In the ancient days of the Internet (the 1990s), a common way of doing this was the “under construction” page. This plug-in allows you to display a more contemporary “coming soon” page, while at the same time having the website up and running for development and testing.

Post Expirator

Do you publish content that needs to go offline at a specific time? WordPress makes it easy to schedule post publication. This is very critical if a post is ready for publication, but you need it to go live at a high traffic time in the future. This is also a common practice across social media.

What if you need a post to expire on a certain day or a certain time and day? For example, you may have a legal notice (or similar custom content type) that is supposed to run for a certain number of days and then be unpublished. Or you might have an event announcement or promotion that you want to be unpublished or offline after the event it finished. These situations are solved by Post Expirator.

YouTube Embed

Have a Youtube channel featuring your videos that you want to share on your website? Do you maintain a curated channel of collected videos on a certain subject? YouTube Embed displays a grid of video preview images and titles that display on your website. It connects with via API key to your YouTube account. It will automatically display new videos in embed after you add them to your YouTube channel.

WP Cloudy

Finding a free weather plug-in to add a local touch to your website has been challenging. While there is plenty of publicly available weather information out there, integrating these tricky data streams into a plug-in is not easy. You’ normally expect to pay for a premium plug-in to get this kind of widget functionality, but WP Cloudy does the basic with a free plug-in (premium add-ons are available).

Adding a weather widget to a local news site is an obvious choice with this plug-in, but you may want to add it to your blog or even a small business website, if your services are weather-related. A towing service or gardening site are some examples.

Next week I’ll go over some premium plug-ins that I’ve found useful for website projects over the years and which you may find applicable to your projects.

Photographer: Lisa Fotios

Beyond Basic WordPress Plugins, Not the Usual Suspects, Part 1

You’ve probably read a gazillion articles about the top WordPress plug-ins that your site needs, which mostly profile the same popular plug-ins. Akismet, All-in-One SEO, Contact Form 7, Jetpack, Yoast CEO, W3 Total Cache, Google XML Sitemaps, Google Analytics for WordPress are the ones you’ll see again and again. These are great plug-ins, but what about the best of the rest? What are some of the truly helpful free plug-ins that will take your website to the next level?

Today I’ll go over a few of the WordPress plug-ins I find helpful.

Adrotate Banner Manager

How do you run your own ad system for a high traffic news website or blog? What if you want to go beyond Google AdWords and run banner ads from paying advertisers? Do you want a system that is easy to configure, comes with useful premium upgrade options, and provides reliable metrics? Adrotate is the workhorse plug-in for your advertising needs.

It provides reliable metrics on ad impressions and click-throughs, without overtaxing your system. In my experience running a high traffic news websites, the metrics tracking didn’t affect performance of the website, especially the back-end database.

It allows you to set up access for advertisers to ad campaigns, run special versions of a campaign for mobile users, set start times and end times for campaigns, set where banners display in a story or before and after, widget options and much more.

Adrotate also has support for Google Adwords, which comes in handy when you are using multiple advertising ecosystems on your site.

BackUpWordPress

Backing up your computer and its content is one of those important tasks that millions of people put off doing every day. Then something happens with to your computer, the content, or the configuration. If you are a veteran web developer like me, you probably have a variety of methods to back-up the databases and files of your WordPress sites. Even if you are a developer, it helps to have multiple methods scheduled to back-up critical website files and content. If you aren’t a web developer and just run a website for your business, organization or blog, BackUpWordPress is an easy-to-configure plug-in that manages your back-up needs.

The plug-in allows you to create back-ups on demand or you can schedule back-ups. You can set up frequency, timing of the back-ups and how many back-ups to save on the hosting server. For small websites that aren’t changed often, I’ve set up back-ups to happen weekly and to trigger during off hours. BackUpWordPress saves a back-up on the server and also mails me a zip file of the backup.

Blog Designer

There are thousands of WordPress themes out there, both free and premium, that can make your website look like anything. These themes offer all kinds of customization of the look of your website, but they are mostly focused on your home page design and the look of posts and pages. WordPress became popular as a platform for blogging, but the blog design in many contemporary themes is an afterthought. You may find a theme that organizes your home page precisely how you want it and gives your website the look you want, but then you have a blog component and the theme just doesn’t give you the layout and look you want.

Blog Designer is a simple plug-in that enables several classic layouts for your blog index page (the list of post titles, images, summaries and links), which plays well with your site’s theme. We are currently using it for this blog’s listing of posts page.

Print, PDF & Email by PrintFriendly

One of the most common requests from readers of news sites and blogs is the ability to do something with an article. Most websites are focused on enabling social media sharing of articles, using plug-ins or theme features. What if your reader wants to print just the text of an article or blog post, minus the navigation, ads and other cruft? What if they want to email it to somebody? What if you want to enable a smart looking version of your content with branding via a PDF?

The Print, PDF & Email plug-in handles all of these tasks with ease. While some premium themes provide these functions, I had to spend quite a bit of time searching for plug-ins and code that enabled readers to print and email content.

Better Search Replace

Do you have a website with hundreds or thousands of posts and pages, which need some changes across the content? Perhaps you need to change a phrase, an official name, the name of a product or URL links to articles and websites? Updating URLs in stories is probably the most common housekeeping task you need to do with lots of content, as websites change their URLs, go offline, or merge with a new website. Is there an easy way to change content without having to search for and open every post/page on your website?

Better Search Replace is a free plug-in (with pro options available) that allows you to directly change content in a website’s database from the WordPress dashboard. You can select the table(s) in your database and search and replace for text strings, URLs, and HTML code. This is a very powerful tool that can easily mess up your website if you don’t get your search strings exactly right, so backing up your database before using it is imperative. It also allows you to do a “dry run” to see what kind of results you can expect before initiating changes.


Check back next week for part 2 of our free plug-in round-up and two weeks for a list of several awesome premium plug-ins.