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10 Must-Have WordPress Plugins

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One of my favorite things about WordPress is how extendable it is. As I’m writing, there are currently 43,739 plugins available in the official directory, and, if you can’t find what you’re looking for there, you can always make it yourself. So, what plugins do we think are must-haves? Here’s our pick of 10 of them.

Jetpack

No self-hosted WordPress installation is complete without Jetpack, which brings all sorts of WordPress.com features to your personal blog or company website. You can build custom contact forms, display your portfolio, keep track of site’s stats, and automatically connect to the most popular social media sites. And that’s just a few of the 35 or so features Jetpack has to offer.

All In One SEO Pack

When they say ‘All In One,’ they really mean it. AIOSEOP is the Swiss Army Knife of SEO plugins, and allows you to manage individual posts, pages, and even custom post types. It also lets you verify your site with Google’s Webmaster Tools and Bing’s Webmaster Central, add the Google Analytics code to your header, and even build XML sitemaps for submission to search engines.

Yoast SEO

So, if you feel confused by all of the options the All In One SEO Pack has to offer, then Yoast SEO is the plugin for you. While the first focuses on those who already have a good grasp of Search Engine Optimization, Yoast is much more friendly to those still learning about SEO, and includes a powerful page analysis tool to help you write better content, and make your site more friendly to search engines.

Wordfence

It isn’t a secret that WordPress is frequently targeted by people wanting to do bad things; that’s what happens when you’re the most widely used content management system. While there are many security plugins out there, Wordfence is our choice, because it’s powerful and, once configured, will take care of most issues before you even get the chance to check on them.

BackWPUp

There are almost as many backup plugins as there are opinions on which WordPress backup plugin is the best. Our choice is BackWPUp, because it’s easy to configure (even for those not that technically inclined), and can store your backups on remote FTP servers, Dropbox, have them sent to you via email, and many more.

Akismet

Another great plugin by the folks that brought you WordPress in the first place. Akismet helps keep your blog spam free by running any new comments through their servers, and automatically marking the spammy ones as spam. It requires an API key, but for personal blogs, it’s free, provided you have fewer than 50,000 comment attempts a month. For a professional account, the cost starts at just $5.

WP Super Cache

One of the drawbacks of using WordPress is that serving the complicated PHP files takes more time (and more server resources) than a static HTML file. WP Super Cache takes some load off of your server by building a static HTML file for the dynamic PHP pages. Once a period of time of your choosing passes, the static page will be dropped and refreshed. It’s a good compromise between static and dynamic.

WP-Optimize

It happens to the best of databases: over time, they gather extra lines of information that will never be useful again, causing them to slow down bit by bit. WP-Optimize takes that less-than-perfect database and cleans it back up again, improving performance, reducing space, and keeping WordPress generally happy.

Safe Redirect Manager

Posts and pages sometimes come and go, leaving search engines guessing as to where to go when it can’t find something. Safe Redirect Manager gives them a bit of direction, in case you move, or completely remove, anything from your website.

WordPress Importer

OK, WordPress Importer isn’t something we keep installed on all of our WordPress sites, but it’s one of those that, when you need it, you really need it. It allows you to take a WordPress export file, and pull all of the posts, pages, categories, tags, and media files (or basically anything you need) into a new WordPress installation. Great for when you need a sandbox to test out theme or plugin development.

Well, there you have it: our 10 must-have WordPress plugins. What plugins do you find the most useful?

Why You Should Upgrade Your Web Browser

Computer and BookEvery time a company announces that they are going to stop supporting a piece of software, folks start asking me if they should upgrade. It happened with Windows XP, it happened with Internet Explorer 7, and now it’s happening with Internet Explorer 8-10.

OK, so, every time Microsoft announces they are going to stop supporting a piece of software, folks start asking me if they should upgrade. I’m not trying to be unfair to Microsoft here; at a certain point, you have to stop supporting your software, because continuing to maintain it takes away resources you could be using to create the next product.

Microsoft will stop supporting Internet Explorer versions 8, 9, and 10 on January 12th, 2016, and, let’s face it, if you are still running a web browser that was originally released when Oasis was still together, it’s time for you to upgrade.

Why Should You Upgrade

Well, the most important reason to upgrade is because Microsoft will longer be releasing updates to the outdated browsers. While that might not sound horrible, any time a security vulnerability or bug is discovered in a program, an upgrade is required to fix it. So, after the software is no longer supported, no one is fixing issues that could allow people with bad intentions to run nefarious code on your computer.

Another important reason to upgrade is that old browsers can make websites difficult or impossible to use. We simply don’t design web pages the same way in 2016 that we did in 2009. Many frameworks (like Foundation) don’t even work in IE8, so you might not even be able to use the website you are trying to use.

Finally, maybe the best reason to upgrade, is that Internet Explorer 11 is a pretty good browser. It isn’t my personal browser of choice, but it’s far better than any other version that Microsoft has ever released. Give it a chance.

Why Should You Not Upgrade

“Compatibility Issues.”

It’s what I always hear from folks that say they can’t upgrade their version of Internet Explorer. Because the new version will be incompatible with some web application that they have to use, they are stuck with IE8. Or, (the horror) IE7.

I won’t get into all the reasons that I think this is a awful reason to not upgrade your browser, but I will say that if the web application being used requires a web browser that no longer has security support, then the web application is likely to have security issues as well.

If you find yourself caught in this trap, I highly recommend finding out exactly what applications you are using that require the outdated web browser, and then only using the web browser for those applications. For everything else, give Firefox, Chrome, or any other up-to-date web browser a try. Either of these two are easy to download and setup, and will at least provide you with the updated security that an unsupported version of Internet Explorer won’t.

Beyond “Compatibility Issues,” there would also be the possibility that your computer doesn’t have the recommended resources for running IE 11, but they are fairly low; it’s pretty likely that if your computer doesn’t have the resources that Internet Explorer requires that Windows has ground to a halt already.

Best Of All…

…it’s free.

Go ahead. Upgrade. Your computer will thank you.

How to Deal with Twitter Impersonators

I love Twitter; it’s probably my favorite social website. Everything is right this second, what’s going on right now, and in 15 minutes a tweet is old news. Not to mention how interesting trends are.

There is one thing I don’t love about Twitter: It is really easy for someone to impersonate you, and there are just way too many accounts for Twitter to self-police.

So what do you do if, like me, you find out that someone is pretending to be your business?

Finding Impersonators

First things first, you have to find out if someone is impersonating you. Use the Twitter search tool to do this:

  • Type in your business’s name (not your Twitter handle) into the search bar.
  • If someone is impersonating you, you are going to see more than just the one result. (If you have a common business name, you might have to click on ‘Search all people for…’ just to be sure.)

If your business is the only ‘you’ there, you are in good shape; it doesn’t seem that anyone is impersonating you. If there are multiple ‘yous’ there, make note of their Twitter handles (i.e. @10TWebDesign), as you’ll need them later.

Determine if any Twitter Rules Are Being Broken

OK, I know what you are thinking: They are pretending to be me, of course there are rules being broken!

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.

  • Parody accounts are fully protected at Twitter. If they are upfront with the fact that they are not the real you, provided that they are not using any images to which you own the copyright, there is probably very little you can do about it.
  • Fan accounts are also fully protected, again provided that they are not infringing on any image copyright.
  • Accounts that have a similar (or the same) name as your company, but are in no other way attempt to present themselves as your company (especially if they state they are not affiliated with you) are also not a violation.

If the offending account doesn’t fall into these categories, you have a good chance of getting the account deactivated, especially if they are using your profile and header images.

Filing the Complaint

Time to make the Head Twitter-birds aware of the copycat account. Twitter handles all impersonation complaints using this impersonation complaint form on their support pages. Some tips to make sure your complaint gets approved:

  • Be honest with your answers, especially the one about having a trademark. If you don’t have one, don’t tell them you do. Your complaint won’t be denied if you don’t have a trademark registered. Telling them you do and then not being able to give them proof will.
  • File the complaint from your company’s email address. It should be ‘you@yourcompany.com,’ not ‘you2193@somefreeemailaccount.com.’ (If you don’t have email set up at your business’s domain name, why not?) Filing it from a third-party email provider forces Twitter to verify you are the real you.
  • In the “How is this account pretending to be your brand, company, or organization?” section, don’t just click every box. Do the work to search through any only select the items that are really true. Clicking every box will likely get your complaint ignored, while selecting even just one box can be grounds to have the other account removed.

Wait for a Response

Give the good folks at Twitter time to work. Just because you filed the complaint at 8:32 AM doesn’t mean that the offending account will be down before your morning coffee break. Give it a few days, maybe a week. If you still haven’t heard back from them, shoot a tweet over to @Support and (politely) tell them that you had filed an impersonation complaint and ask (politely) if they have an update.

That Does It

It’s a good idea to check every month or two just to see if anyone is pretending to be you. Hopefully you won’t find anyone. If you do, feel honored that you are being impersonated, follow these instructions, and you should have no problems. If you have any questions, just drop me a line.

Reasons to Avoid Website Builders

OK, I don’t often link to other web design companies blog posts, but this one was too good to not share. It’s from a web design company over in London, England called Four to the 4. The company’s owner, Geoff, takes a look at how discount website builders don’t give you your money’s worth, even when they are free.

His major points include:

  • Their designs are typically not very good and are usually built using outdated technology.
  • They use a very small number of designs for their customers, making thousands of websites look almost exactly like your website.
  • Free doesn’t usually mean free. It means free for the trial period.

Anyway, it’s a good, quick read if you are considering going with a do-it-yourself type website, so head over and check it out.

How Much Does a Website Cost?

=”How much does a website cost?”

It is the most confusing question for a client about web design, but ultimately one that everyone considering a website will eventually ask. I’ll let you in on a little secret, though: It’s a confusing question for web designers, too.

Things to Consider

There isn’t just one type of website. I like to compare the question above to “How much does a car cost?” Websites come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of functionality. Simple, small, informational websites will naturally cost less than a new implementation of Facebook; more complex equals more expensive.

Quotes can vary greatly between designers. Ask three different web designers, and you are likely to get three (possibly drastically different) quotes. It might have to do with how comfortable the designer is fulfilling the goals you have for your website, or simply how busy the designer is.

Is the quote per hour, or for the entire project? Depending on the designer, they might give you a quote based on the entire project, or an hourly rate until the project is complete. While you might not flinch at paying a website designer $100 per hour, without knowing how many hours it takes to design a website, that number is really meaningless.

Elements of Web Design

I know what you’re saying: You still haven’t told me how much a website costs. I’m getting there, I promise. Now that we have some general topics under our belts, let’s consider different options that you might want incorporated into your website. Whenever you are looking to have someone design you a website, these are usually some of the first things they consider before giving you a quote.

Who is going to register the domain name and set up the hosting? You have the option of registering the domain name and setting up hosting yourself to save yourself some money. Typically, domains cost somewhere in the range of $10 to $20 per year. Hosting costs start from $5 per month for bargain basement hosting, which is usually enough for most small businesses. As your website traffic grows, you might find out you need more later. You don’t have to be technologically savvy to set up your domain and hosting; most hosting companies are glad to set it up for you over the phone, provided the designer gives you the specifications your website will need, and usually the only important variable is “Linux or Windows.”

Who is going to manage the email? Just like with the domain name and hosting, if you want to have email added to your package, there will be more charge. If you are the only person in the business, this is one you can probably tackle on your own. If you have hundreds of employees that need to be set up, it might be best to leave it to the designer.

What do you want your website to be? You might just want a five-page informational site that will only need updated every year. You might want the next Google. Technically, both qualify as websites, but the former can be completed over the course of a week, while the latter takes a team of designers working full-time just to stay ahead of the competition. Each page you add, each custom-built form or application, each anything you add, the longer it will take, and the more the price goes up.

Who is going to provide the website’s content? A beautiful website won’t get you anything if there isn’t information on it. Providing the web designer with the website’s content will lower the price, while asking the designer to provide the copy will make the cost go up. Even more complicated are the images for the website. Providing your own images to the designer is the cheapest option, but depending on the quality, might not look as good on your website. Most designers will capture or create images for you, or can provide stock photography, but it usually starts around $3 to $5 even for the cheapest images.

Does the site come optimized for search engine indexing? Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is something that’s pretty easy to define, but can be tricky to understand; simply, it’s making the website look attractive to web crawlers owned by search engines like Google and Bing. All sorts of things go into SEO, so it’s usually best left to a web designer. Money spent on SEO is usually money that doesn’t have to be spent later on pay-per-click marketing.

What type of maintenance comes with the design? Most all websites need periodic maintenance, be it updating information, adding new content, or (worst case scenario) recovering from a defacing or some other type of security intrusion. It’s important for you to know what all you are getting with the deal, as hourly maintenance cost can grow quickly, and recovering from an attack can cost be even more costly.

How will the website’s content be managed? Once the maintenance agreement runs out, how easily can you make simple updates to the website’s content? If there is no Content Management System (CMS) in place, it makes it less expensive, but more challenging to update. With a CMS in place, most anyone can make routine changes to the website’s content.

Will the website be marketed, and how will the site’s usage be tracked? Do you want there to be some sort of pay-per-click marketing, email marketing, social network marketing, and if so, how much of each? You can spend about as much as you want advertising online, but having the designer do it for you will result it at least a small markup. And without some sort of tracking mechanism, you’ll have no way of knowing how successful your website is. While most designers will install some sort of tracking for every website they design, but it’s still good to ask.

OK. How Much Does it Cost, Already?

I know. We’re almost 1,000 words into an article about how much a website costs, and I haven’t given you a figure yet, but the wait is almost over. It’s important to have some sort of basis before I start spitting numbers out at you. So, in general, here are some rough estimates of how much a variety of websites would cost.

Basic Website: $1,500 – $2,500

So, this would be your basic, informational only, five to seven page website. As mentioned before, who is managing the domain name, hosting, and email will cause the price to alter. Expect the design to be either relatively simple, or a template that may be used for other clients. The content would be almost completely provided by you, although a few stock images would usually be included. There wouldn’t be much in the way of long-term maintenance, probably little or no search engine optimization, and no content management system. There will be no marketing done by the designer, but they will usually install some sort of usage tracking.

Custom Designed Website: $2,500 – $7,000

The biggest difference between this price range and the basic price range is design. At this price level, you should expect a design that has been created just for you and your business; the more intricate the design, the higher the cost. Expect the designer to set up the domain name, hosting, and email for you, and expect them to allow you to have more pages, most likely up to the range of 20 or so. Again, the text content will mostly be provided by you, but the designer may be willing to provide some copy on the upper end of the price range; you should expect the designer to provide any stock images that they need for a complete design. There will still probably not be much long-term maintenance, but you should expect somewhere in the range of three to six months. There will be no content management system or marketing, but you should expect the website to be search engine optimized.

Content Management System: $3,000 – $9,000

Speaking honestly, this should really be the price range that most businesses should be in. You’re still going to get a non-template, custom designed layout, with most of the price difference again coming from the intricacy of the design. The rest of the price difference comes from if you want a custom-built CMS, which will drive the price up; most people will be more than satisfied with an out of the box CMS like WordPress. Your going to get everything from the custom designed website from above, but the maintenance term will usually be longer for routine updates, because a CMS makes updates simpler. Page restrictions are usually relaxed even more, due to the CMS making them easier to produce. Best of all, a well designed CMS will allow you to make routine changes yourself even after the maintenance agreement ends, should you choose to, or make the cost of long-term maintenance cheaper. Content management systems also allow you to ‘blog,’ or post news updates, and most any designer will integrate these to your social networking sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, as well.

Custom Application Development: $15,000+

If you are looking for e-commerce, custom designed application builds, or intricate programming, expect to be in this price range. Simple e-commerce can usually be done for the starting point, but larger, enterprise type shopping sites can easily grow to a cost of several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Expect at least a year, and possibly multiple years, of maintenance to be included. Also, expect the designer to take care of all hosting and domain requirements. While not always included, this will often come with some sort of marketing plan, as well.

So, there you go. That’s a rough outline of how much a website costs. As you can see, it can be a challenging question to answer. If you would like an estimate on a project, feel free to contact us and we can give you better estimate.

Choosing a Domain Name

Choosing a domain name is one of the first steps in getting on-line. Once you pick a domain name, you are sort of stuck with it, so you need to pick a good one. But how do you choose? Here are a few suggestions:

Shorter is, usually, better.

In general, the shorter you can make your domain name, the better. It makes it easier for your visitors to remember and it’s easier to type. So, if your business is named Super-Super Widgets Service and Custom Installation, instead of supersuperwidgetsserviceandcustominstallation.com, try to get supersuperwidgets.com or, even better, supersuper.com. The less you make your visitors type, the better.

Try to get a .com.

It’s not always possible, but if given the choice, pick the .com variant instead of other top-level domains like .us or .net. I know supersuper.info is a few bucks cheaper than supersuper.com. You’re going to be selling thousands of widgets, so what’s the big deal about spending less than the cost of lunch over the course of a year for the better domain name? People are so used to hearing .com that even if you tell them supersuper.info, they still hear supersuper.com.

Fear the hyphen.

Ok, maybe you don’t have to fear it, but you should be leery of the hyphen. Only use it if there is really no other option. I know the company is named “Super-Super Widgets” but people are going to leave they hyphen out. Not to mention that if you register super-super.com and a competitor notices that supersuper.com is available, they will register it, they will direct it to their website, and they will get visitors who are trying to find you. Worst of all, there really isn’t much you can do about it, short of a possible law suit.

Does it look good on a billboard?

You want a domain name that just ‘looks’ good. If it’s all gnarly and hard to remember, people are not going to remember it. As it turns out, super.com might be up for auction, but it’s going to cost you a couple hundred (or possibly thousand) dollars to buy. Why? Because super.com would look awesome on a billboard. You have to use your judgement and decide if the extra investment is right for you, but you have to admit, getting super.com would be pretty cool.

Grab them keywords.

Maybe super.com is out of your price range, and supersuper.com and any other variant you can think of isn’t available. Try to get a domain name that has some of your business’s keywords built in. Maybe you’ll get lucky and widget.com will be available. If not, maybe superwidgets.com will be.

Make it something they will remember.

Last, but not least, it needs to be catchy. Most people don’t walk around with a pen and paper to write down domain names they come across, so make sure it’s something that will stick in their mind.

Maybe super.com would be worth the cost after all. It’d look so good on a billboard…

Improve Your Google+ Profile for Business

Most people are not taking advantage of Google+ for their business, as many people have been slow to using Google+. It is, however, continuing to gain traction in the social networking world. If you are interested in improving your business’s Google+ page, Small Business Trends has a nice article to help you improve your profile.

Why Your Business Should Advertise Online

Anyone who has made use of advertising knows the impact that it can have on your business. However, many companies are reluctant to advertise online because it is a relatively new advertising format. Why should you consider online advertising for your business? Well, here are seven off the top of my head:

  1. Specific targeting –  Be as specific as you like with your advertising. Want to be huge in Sheboygan? You can tailor a campaign to focus on just one city.
  2. Global reach – Ever check into a country-wide television advertisement? Me either, because I’m sure it won’t fit in my budget. Advertise online and you can attract customers from just about anywhere.
  3. Affordable prices – Spend only what you want because you set the limits. As little as a dollar a day can let you see if it is going to be right for your business. Even with a moderately conservative budget of five dollars a day can make a huge impact.
  4. Enhanced analysis – Online advertisers offer a huge amount of information about how your ads are performing, allowing you to get a better grip on what is working, and what isn’t.
  5. Quick changes – With quick analysis comes the ability for quick changes. You can change your advertisements at any time with just a click. Want to stop running an ad? Just click stop.
  6. More effective use of funds – Ever figure out half way through a ‘traditional’ advertising campaign that it isn’t being effective? Too bad you had to pay for it up front. With online advertising, you pay after your ads display, so a dog of a campaign won’t cost you a fortune.
  7. Only pay for those you attract – With an advertisement on television, radio, or in the newspaper, you basically end up paying to the potential people who see your advertisement. With online advertising, you can choose to pay only for the people who show enough interest to visit your website. Plus, with good keyword selection, you will only advertise to people who are looking for what you are selling.

It’s a Contact Form, Not a Credit Application

So, tell me your name. Great, and what’s your email address? Awesome. Now, what’s your address, complete with city, state, and zip code? OK, daytime phone? Nighttime phone? Late-afternoon phone? Birthday? Oh, almost forgot, cell phone? Right, and your birthday again was? In what city were you born? Do you use an electric blanket? Electric socks? What’s your stance on beans in chili?

Overly intrusive forms are annoying, not to mention unnerving, to your visitors. After all, they just want to ask you a simple question and, to do so, have to give you their maternal, fraternal, maternal great-great-grandmother’s maiden name. Do you really need to know that?

In a world of Privacy Policies, the more information you require from your visitors, the more information you have to keep private. And, really, do you need five different phone numbers for one person? They just want to know if you have that hand-made scarf in blue.

Keep your contact forms simple, and don’t ask for too much information. Four to five pieces of information is generally enough to get the conversation started, and getting the conversation started is what you want.

Ask for too much information, and chances are the conversation it will never get going.

How Much Is this Going to Cost?

What do you want for it? What’s the damage? How much for this? What’s this cost?

How often do you buy something without knowing the cost ahead of time? Rarely, and when you don’t know the exact cost, you usually have an idea. If you don’t know the cost, chances are you’re not buying. The visitors to your website are no different.

I’ve found that if a website doesn’t at least give the visitor an idea of how much your goods or services cost, the visitor will either greatly overestimate or greatly underestimate the cost. If they overestimate, chances are you’ll never even hear from them. If they underestimate, chances are they will be shocked by your price when you make your pitch, and you’ll be wasting both you and your visitor’s time.

Even if they have done some research on the going rate, chances are they found that information out from one of your competitors. I don’t think I need to explain how horrifying that is.

I can already hear the service providers out there saying something about how the cost of your service is really dependent on what your client wants and each client wants something different.

I’m a web designer. Trust me, I know.

Still, you should be able to give potential customers an idea of what it’s going to cost them to get their project completed, and if costs can vary greatly, say so on your website. It’s better than saying nothing at all and leaving your visitors guessing.

Or looking up the costs on your competitor’s website.