Must-have WordPress Plugins

I’ve written about plugins a couple of times on my blog. I’ve talked about my favourites, ones for backing up your site, how to pick a good one and even my serious love affair with Editorial Calendar. I haven’t talked much about the ones that I consider essential however. Here are a few plugins that will help keep your website secure, safe and running smoothly.

  • Akismet This plugin is built by the folks at Auttomatic (the guys who make and maintain WordPress). It is the best plugin for keeping spam off your website. It ships with all WordPress installs, but you have to make sure that you Activate it and sign up to get an API key. It’s run by donation, so if you love it, throw them a few dollars.
  • Backup Buddy I’ve written about other backup plugins, but I especially love this one! You can set it to automatically backup both your website and database (which is where all of the content is stored), which means that it is sort of a set it and forget it plugin. That said, it’s important to check with your hosting company to find out how regularly they back things up. It’s really smart to have two back up systems in place. If you want to be even more careful, use a plugin like Duplicator, to manually back everything up, every once in a while.
  • W3 Total Cache I don’t use this plugin on every site, but I could! It really helps keep the site moving quickly and things loading as they should. Install it and use this blog post to set it up properly.

Basic SEO Tips

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a huge buzzword these days and important part of your website. SEO is the practice of optimizing your site to ensure that your natural traffic (or traffic from search engines) is as high as possible. [Definition paraphrased from Wikipedia.] A lot of peole put a lot of importance into SEO, as it will, in theory, result in more visitors to your website.

I am not an SEO expert but I do know a few things that can help your site rank a little bit higher. Here are some basic SEO tips:

  • Use the ‘Title’ and ‘Alt’ boxes when inputting content into your website. You know those boxes on your site that pop up when you’re putting a link or image into your site that you ignore? Use them! They’re not only good for SEO, they help your site be accessible to people with disabilities, and that’s a really good thing.
  • Use an SEO plugin. My favourite one is WordPress SEO Plugin by Yoast. Install it and use it, for every post and page you write.
  • Give your image files a descriptive name. Search engines look at everything on your site, including your file names. Don’t name your images DSC_1084.jpg (you know, the name your camera gives them), give them a name like golden_retriever.jpg. Obviously, the name should describe the subject of the image.
  • Write great content, regularly. Blogging is an excellent tool to help your SEO. Don’t get too caught up in trying to put keywords into your content. Just write great content, and do it regularly. I always tell people to blog at least twice a month, but weekly is even better. Every time you add new content to you blog, search engines have to come back and re-index your site, which is a very good thing.
  • Use WordPress as your blogging platform or content management system. WordPress is super SEO friendly, so you’ve already got a step up by using it.

If you want more help with SEO or want someone to do all this for you, consider hiring a pro to do it for you.

Custom WordPress Site or Out-of-the-Box Theme?

Lots of people know that they want a WordPress site because they are easy to update and great for SEO. However there are many different kinds of WordPress sites. You can have an out-of-the-box site with WordPress or a fully-custom designed and built site.

I wrote a little bit about the difference between the two here but to recap: A custom WordPress theme means that you can have the site look and do almost anything you want whereas a out-of-the-box WordPress site, means that you have to find a WordPress theme that looks and does what you want already.

Deciding Between a Custom-Theme and an Out-of-the-Box Theme

How do you decide between the two? Most people want a website that looks like some version of the perfect site they have visualized in their head. And that’s great! I think, however that if your website isn’t going to make the designer’s and developer’s fees back for you (good ol’ return on investment), it may not be worth going the custom route. Often, you can find a great theme that will do everything you want and look great, that will take your business through several years without looking dated. An out-of-the-box website will cost much less than a fully custom site. I charge $500 to install WordPress, the premium theme, some top notch plugins and point your domain in the right direction, whereas custom designed and developed themes start in the thousands of dollars.

A WordPress Theme Quiz

Here’s a quick quiz to help you decide if your business would be better served by an out-of-the-box theme or a custom theme (note that either option can hand a blog):

  • What is the purpose of your website?
    1. Informational: It will tell my clients/customers what we do, where we are what our philosophy is, how to contact us.
    2. Interactive: It will do something to help me in my business. (e.g. Customers can buy something form the website.)
  • What is your budget?
    1. Less than $1000.
    2. More than $1000.
  • What do you want your customers to do when they encounter your website?
    1. Read about us, contact us, get our address, read our menus, learn what we do, look at images.
    2. Buy something from the site, complete a quiz, give us feedback, sign in to a members only area.
  • What would a successful website do for your business?
    1. Increase the amount of people contacting us about our services, reduce the amount of time we spend explaining our services, reduce the amount of time we spend giving directions to our business.
    2. Increase our passive income, reduce the amount of time maintaining our website, reduce the amount of time we spend learning about how to make our website do what we want, give us a place to share members only content.
  • How technologically saavy are you or your staff?
    1. I know my way around!
    2. Ugh, not at all. I want the site to just work and not spend time maintaining the site myself.
  • How much time are you willing to dedicate to the site (not including writing content and gathering images) initially?
    1. I’ve got some time! Maybe ten hours?
    2. Very little time. I just want someone to do it for me.

If you answered mostly number 1s, you probably want an out-of-the-box website. If you answered mostly number 2, you’re probably right for a custom design and build. Regardless of this quiz, you’ll need to talk to a developer about what your options are. There are somethings that an out-of-the-box theme just can’t do. On the other hand, if you just can’t live without a beautiful, one-of-kind design, ROI be damned, then a custom designed and built site, might be the only option for you.

The Best Design Feedback Tip

Best Design Feedback Tip | Kate Moore HermesSeveral weeks ago, I wrote a blog post entitled How to Give Great Design Feedback. I still think that post covered some gems: making sure that you don’t fire off your first impression, have adequate time to go through the site, write it all in one email and check all the links, but it the best thing that you can do to help your designer help you! That one thing is: explain why you want that change you’re asking for.

Why Do You Want That Change?

When you hire a designer or developer, you’re not hiring them to push the mouse around and use the keyboard in ways you don’t know about, right? You’ve hired them to solve a problem for you. So if you don’t like a colour choice, let your designer know why you don’t like that colour choice. For example, say you just hate the green that your designer picked for you. Your high school, which was not your favourite time of life, had weird mint green hallway tiles — not that I’m speaking from experience or anything … go Lords! — whatever it is.

You write your designer and say, “Love the design, but can we see what the site would look like with pink where all of the green bits are?” I know. You’re trying to be helpful and point the designer in the direction of a colour that you actually like. The problem is, the designer you hired probably picked the green for a reason. And chances are that reason is probably not one that you would consider, because you’re not a designer, right? Again, that’s why you hired one. Maybe the designer picked the green because you have a juice company. (I have juice on the mind. Vancouver just re-elected the juiceman as our mayor, but I digress.) Even though your new site is going to look way more unique than all the other juice companies out there, and you think the pink will help it stand out even more, your designer picked the green so that visitors to the site will have an immediate visual cue that they’ve arrived at a juice company’s website.

Notice how, in the example, there is no mention of what you actually like? That’s because the website isn’t being designed or developed for you. It’s being designed to help you make a living, to get you a return on the money you’ve invested in the designer and developer and to get your business more attention and customers.

It would be more helpful of the above fake client had written: “Hey! I don’t love the green. I feel like the site isn’t standing out enough amongst all of the other juice companies and I suspect the green is the issue. And also, I just don’t like green.” When the designer gets that feedback, they’re more likely to come back at you with a great change that makes the site more unique, such as fresh, amazing typography (in green). The site with the green positions you as a unique, hip, fresh juice company, that is clearly a juice company, instead of a company with pink on their website, and oh, got it, they sell juice! Get what I’m sayin’? It’s a bit of a dramatic example, but I think it illustrates my point.

Why Saying Why You Want That Change Helps Your Business

Great design, branding and web development mostly aren’t about what you like aesthetically, they’re about what will achieve your business goals. That probably sounds a bit weird and perhaps even a wee bit harsh, my bad. All I’m trying to say is that design, branding and web development are tools for your business, a business that is supposed to support you and your family, meaning that those tools should appeal to your ideal client base, which may, or may not, be you.

When I take on a new project, I send my clients questionnaires geared toward their project (branding, web design, web development or a combination of the three … whatever they’ve hired me for). These questionnaires help me drill down on what you really need and want to get out of your investment in working with me. Sometimes it’s brand clarity to create a more professional brand that gets you better clients whom you can charge what you’re worth. Other times it’s a website whose design helps you build a bigger email list and social media following. Whatever your goals are, your work with a designer and developer needs to be geared toward those goals. Telling your designer why you’d like a certain change, is the best thing you can do to help a quality designer get you a great return on your investment in them.

* Image by Miladus Edenensis used under Creative Commons.

Make Images Pinterest-Friendly

How to Make Your Images Pinterest-Friendly || Kate Moore Hermes Graphic + Web DesignPinterest is a great medium for getting your work, and especially your blog posts, out to a wider audience. Having just started blogging more regularly, myself, I’ve been pinning my recent posts to my Pinterest board. When I started to pin my own posts though, I noticed that the caption that Pinterest was giving my images wasn’t what I wanted. In fact, it was captioning my pins with the file name of the image that I posted in my blog post. Not pretty, and it means the if anyone else were to Pin my posts, they’d have to type in a prettier title. Let’s face it, how many people are actually going to do that? Clearly, I needed to figure out how to make my images Pinterest-friendly: So, how do you get pretty captions from your posts to show up on Pinterest?

Making Your Posts Pinterest-Friendly

You’ll be happy to know that it only takes one step to make this happen! When you’re uploading your images via the WordPress ‘Add Media’ button, you’ll see a little box that says ‘Title.’ In that box, you’ll see whatever you named your image when you saved it. (Pro tip: When naming the image files that are going to go up on your website, give them a human-friendly name, because human-friendly also means SEO-friendly. Also, when you name files for the web, try to use ONLY alphanumeric characters, hyphens and underscores. Naming your files that way makes computers happy, and happy computers mean that they won’t come to life and take over the world. Just kidding! Or am I? I digress.)

How to Make Your Images Pinterest-Friendly || Kate Moore Hermes Graphic Design + WordPress Development

Once you’ve found that ‘Title’ box, put something Pinterest-friendly in there instead of the image’s file name. This is often where Pinterest pulls the caption that they put under your Pin, so write it in a succinct way, keeping in mind that this will also be good for your blog post’s overall SEO.

How to Make Your Images Pinterest-Friendly || Kate Moore Hermes Graphic Design + WordPress DevelopmentIt’s always a good idea to fill in the ‘Alt Text’ box, as well. These two attributes add descriptions to your images, which are great for SEO and also help out people who are visually-impaired. The visually-impaired often use software that reads to them, out loud, the text and descriptions of what is on a website. Pretty cool, and inclusive, huh? And we should do everything we can to make that process easier, amiright?

This method isn’t foolproof for getting your captions up on Pinterest, but it will help and is definitely a great practice going forward for the SEO of your site. Kind of win-win, I think!

One last thing: When Pinning your posts, make sure that you Pin from the actual blog post’s specific page, as opposed to Pinning from the blog feed page. This will ensure that when the Pin of your post goes viral, people will be directed back to your actual blog post, instead of the general blog page; that’s really where they want to end up. Happy Pinning!

P.S. If you want to follow my blog on Pinterest, you can follow me here. I also put my blog posts up on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, natch.