The WordPress CMS works great ‘out of the box’. With its famous five-minute install, WordPress powers over 25 per cent of the world’s websites. Plug-ins are probably the most widely used WordPress ‘enhancement’ and there are plenty of free and premium plugins that will power up a WordPress install. Check out the following five that need your serious consideration.
IMPROVE YOUR WEBSITE’S SEARCH ENGINE RANKING
WordPress SEO by Yoast
Search engine optimisation can be daunting, so it comes as a relief that WordPress SEO by Yoast is easy to use.
Once activated, head over to any site page to see where the main action happens. The first real decision is to choose your ‘focus keyword’ – that is the word or words you want this page to be found for. There’s a button that will suggest related keywords to help refine your thinking. Once you’ve chosen one, the plug-in will analyse your content and confirm if that keyword appears in your article heading, page title, page URL, content and meta description and you’ll be rewarded with green text or flagged with red text depending on the results.
After you’ve carefully crafted your page snipped on this plug-in tab, you should go to ‘page analysis’.
This tabbed page also uses a colour code system – from red for ‘needs attention’ to green for ‘all good’ – for a wide range of measures including reading ease, number of words on the page and whether your keyword appears within the first paragraph. As you work through each point, you should eventually turn the overall colour for that page green. You can give yourself a pat on the back but should also move on to the next page, and the next, until you have scored green on as many pages as possible.
There are advanced options to explore, but you might want to do all the most obvious work first and then move on to tweaking and refining.
SUPERCHARGE YOUR WORDPRESS SITE
Jetpack by WordPress.com
Installing Jetpack is like installing (currently) 24 plug-ins in one go.
Before you get started you’ll need to go and create a WordPress.com account if you don’t already have one set up.
Okay, you might not need to use every one of Jetpack’s features (for example Latex – a ‘powerful markup language for writing complex mathematical equations’), but don’t let that put you off the real big hitters that installing this plug-in gives you.
First, there’s WordPress.com stats and yes, you can and probably should have Google Analytics installed, but these stats are handy, right there in the site’s admin area (and with a nice 48-hour summary chart there too – which will quickly help you spot any sudden spikes in traffic).
Photon is one of the newest additions to the Jetpack suite. It’s basically a free, zero-configuration content delivery network for your site.
Extra Sidebar Widgets provides seven useful additional widgets including a Twitter feed, Blog subscription sign-up, mini Gravatar profile, Facebook Like Box,a widget to display an image in your sidebar, RSS links, and Top Posts and Pages.
There are two gallery enhancements available. Carousel transforms your standard image gallery into an ‘immersive full-screen experience’, while Tile Galleries (which is powered by Photon, whether or not you have that option activated) creates a groovy magazine-style mosaic of your images.
With 19 further plug-ins to explore, you’re very likely to find something in Jetpack that will improve your site and there’s always the hope of new plug-ins around the corner.
SECURE YOUR WORDPRESS SITE AGAINST HACKERS
Better WP Security
If you don’t have appropriate security in place,
you might well wake up one day to find that you no longer have a website at all. So before investing time in making your site better, it’s essential to secure your installation. This plug-in combines a wide range of security features and techniques to help you harden your WordPress site against attack from hackers.
The developers have usefully identified those features that can easily be implemented and
features that should be considered more carefully
to avoid conflicts with other plug-ins, themes or server configurations.
The security measures are categorised into Obscuring (hiding information or access to your site), Protecting (restricting or banning access, strengthening server security), Detecting (reporting unauthorised access or file changes) and Recovering (backing up your site on a regular basis should the worst happen).
In the plug-in dashboard, colour codes are used to indicate the security status of your site against 21 measures. Green-indicated items are fully secured, orange items are partially secured, red are not secured (you are urged to secure these items immediately) and blue are not fully secured items that might conflict with other site factors which you should secure if you can.
Some example security measures include enforcing strong passwords (with inadequate passwords being a common security failure) and restricting administration access to certain times of the day only (as many bank vaults do). The plug-in can also be configured to ban access from specific IP addresses by reference to blacklists or following repeated login failures.
CREATE SOPHISTICATED PAGE LAYOUTS EFFORTLESSLY
This plug-in costs $25, but it boasts a truly impressive feature set. Visual Composer is a drag-and-drop page builder. Once installed, you’ll need to configure which options are available to which category of users and which content types may be used with Visual Composer. Once that’s done, you’ll notice a new Visual Composer button above the editor window in your page or post or other custom content type (assuming you remembered to select that content type in the settings).
Launching Visual Composer lets you select new rows in nine different column width combinations, add elements to drop into the columns within those rows, load templates based on previous ones or save templates for future use with other pages. You can currently select between 28 element types: 18 content, five social and three ‘structural’ ones.
The interface is well executed, as are the elements that are generated, and it’s easy to override the CSS of these elements if further customisation is needed.
There is an argument that many of these layouts could be done (better) using CSS and HTML with no need for a plug-in, but Visual Composer has been so well thought out and put together that it’s not so easy to agree that they could be done better that way.
Visual Composer is a real time-saver and when it enables you to create richer, more interesting pages that stand out from everyone else’s, does it really matter how they came into being?
WOW YOUR VISITORS WITH A MEGA MENU
UberMenu is one of the bestselling premium WordPress plug-ins of all time, and for good reason. $16 buys you a menu system that knocks the spots off the (already quite good) WordPress 3 Menu Management System.
You’ll want to be able to fully customise the look and feel of the menu, obviously, and choose from over 20 preset styles. That’s nice.
But what if you could put some funky graphics and description text in the menu to aid navigation and add a bit of pizzazz? That would be cool.
But wait. With UberMenu you can add widgets to your menu – which means blog posts, maps, contact forms, if you want – so you can effectively turn a menu item into a highly aesthetic, user-friendly and functional page in its own right. Now that’s Mega!
Underpinning UberMenu is some pretty smart code that delivers its functionality efficiently and with as much compatibility as possible. As a premium plug-in, if you do need support you can be fairly sure of a responsive and helpful reply.
The developers are very upfront about how it works in different environments, who might expect problems etc, and they are not at all apologetic about not supporting Internet Explorer 6. Hurrah to that. iPhones and iPads
UberMenu might not be for everyone. Or at least you might find yourself hoping that – because the fewer users there are out there, the more Mega your menu will be.
Visit the UberMenu demo site to experience the Mega-ness yourself.