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.

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.

Client Case Study | Karen Hutton

karen_huttonSometimes you get a client that you want to invent new projects for, just so that you can keep working together. That has been the case for me, working with Karen Hutton: Photographer. Light-Bender. Purveyor of Awesomeness. (All true, by the way.) I’ve so enjoyed working with her but, in our first chat, I could immediately see the big issue that was running through Karen’s online presence: She’s a multi-talented woman, and that had translated into multiple websites. Multiple websites had served her really well but she was ready for a more polished approach. Also, because she’s becoming a sought after speaker and photographer, her business model had been making a switch from selling her talents, to selling her.

Information Architecture

The first thing Karen and I had to do was roll up our sleeves and sort out the information architecture of her site. (Not sure what that is? Check out this post of yore.) Usually, the information architecture meeting, is part of my hour-long launch meeting, right at the beginning of my work with a client. We ended up breaking Karen’s launch/information architecture meeting into two one-hour meetings. We had a lot to cover! It was super important for us to figure out what pages she actually needed on the site. The pages that we wanted to include depended heavily on Karen’s new way of selling her talents because we wanted to make the website as easy to use for the target audience. In order to have an easy-to-use website, you have to have a clear message and business plan.

Karen was moving more into her passion for photography, so we wanted the site to feature her photography prominently. Originally, Karen had a separate website for her photography, voiceover and blog. We combined the three sites into the new site and added a speaking page. That way, users going to her site will easily find what they were initially looking for, and may even discover one of Karen’s talents they didn’t know about.

The New Site

After Karen and I worked together to create an easily manageable information architecture, the site went off to design with Natasha Lakos. Once Natasha finished up the design, I built out the site with all of the pages that Karen and I originally decided on.

The result is a gorgeous website that is easy to get around and update. Karen now only has this site to update (and her Smugmug galleries), instead of maintaining three sites. It’s faster and cleaner for her, and much easier for her growing audience to find her. The result will be more audience interaction, more social media shares and hopefully more work for Karen!

You can check out Karen’s new site here. Don’t miss her Instagram feed. It’s f*#&ing gorgeous.

 

My Favourite WordPress Plugins

Favourite WordPress Plugins | Kate Moore HermesPlugins can make any WordPress website better! They help add custom functionality to your website and can make the workflow of that backend of your site much more efficient. Below are some of my favourite WordPress plugins and explanations on how they can make your website and workflow more efficient. I’ve included two lists: plugins for WordPress users and plugins that help make WordPress easier to use for your clients, if you’re a developer.

Plugins for WordPress Users

  • WordPress SEO by Yoast This plugin has no shortage of fans. It’s regularly touted as the best SEO plugin out there. In my experience, it has increased traffic to my blog posts and is fairly easy to use.
  • Simple Page Ordering This is a very simple plugin, as the name suggests, and solves a fairly simple problem. Don’t you find it annoying that WordPress orders your pages alphabetically, instead of in menu order? This plugin will let you organize your pages in whatever order you would like them to be, meaning you spend less time looking through your pages when you just need to change an email address on the contact page.
  • Editorial Calendar I’ve only recently starting using this plugin (back when I started getting more regular at bloggin’). This one helps you organize your blog posts in a calendar view, which somehow, makes you blog more and on a regular schedule (Who’d have thunk it?) This little gem will really get the blog ball rolling, helping you get your message out there.

Plugins for Developers to Help WordPress Users

  • WP101This plugin is one that I include on all of my WordPress builds. It provides video tutorials for my clients on how to use the common features of WordPress. When my clients hire new people, WP101 helps new staff learn WordPress too.
  • Advanced Custom Fields This plugin has a ton of fans. The first WordCamp that I attended featured several talks on this plugin, for good reason. This plugin allows for lots of custom functionality in the backend of a WordPress site, making your sites much easier for your clients to use.
  • Post Types Order This plugin is one that I only use on sites with custom post types, which frankly, is most of my sites. I often create a custom post type for things like testimonials. This plugin allows my clients to order the testimonials anyway they like, since WordPress will only allow posts to be automatically ordered by date, alphabetically etc.

Those are the main plugins that I use to make my life and my clients’ lives easier. If you’re having trouble deciding if a plugin is right for your site, you can check out my guide to picking a quality plugin, here.

Any I’ve missed? What are your favourite plugins?

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* Image by Kris Krüg used under Creative Commons.

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.