If you haven’t read part one about how to setup a WordPress blog then I highly recommend reading it. This post will cover customizing your WordPress blog using themes and plug-ins.
One of the things that people are beginning to discover about WordPress is its excellent strength as a CMS platform in general instead of simply for blogging. WordPress gives you the option to create pages and even child pages instead of simply blog “posts”. With this feature you could theoretically create a website of any size or complexity. WorPress also has a very small installation footprint and an amazingly active user community! Although out of the box WordPress is fairly bland, straightforward, and basic the level of customization and already written styles and functions is mind-blowing!
After installing you’re going to want to decide on a theme and general look. There are literally thousands of designs that are already out on the web that you can download free. There are also themes that you can purchase that include support, but I’m not going to cover them. There are many sites out there that offer WordPress themes, some great places to start looking include:
- Theme Viewer - this is the daddy of all WordPress theme sites. With over 1,200 themes that you can scroll through and even demo you might not need to look anywhere else.
- Top WordPress Themes - this is a great site that has very professional looking themes. Themes are also rated and you can also live demo them.
- Theme Porter - this is the site where I found the template that this blog uses so I’ve definitely got to commend them on their excellent WordPress themes!
- 100 Excellent Free WordPress Themes - Smashing Magazine just put this list together on Jan. 8, 2008 so it’s fairly recent and worth a look.
With WordPress changing themes is as easy as flipping a switch once you have a theme downloaded in the theme directory, so download a few different ones and tinker with them until you decide on one that you love. Some plug-ins require tinkering with the code so it’s best to completely decide on a theme before going forward. I’ll point out the plug-ins that I used that require some tinkering.
There are lots of places that you can look to find lists of WordPress plug-ins. Here are a few resources to give you more than you want:
- WordPress Plugins - Just like with theme’s WordPress has a location where programmers can submit their plug-ins. Most likely you will find anything and everything you could want here.
- WordPress Plugin Database - another excellent place to look for WordPress Plugins. This site is nice because everything is organized into categories.
- 50 Best WordPress Plugins for Power Blogging - just as I’m doing now Quick Online Tips put together a list of 50 excellent plugins just this past December and it’s worth a scan.
If you would just prefer I make some suggestions, that is why you are reading this post isn’t it, well look no further. In my previous post I suggested a few plug-ins (FeedSmith, Google Analytics for WordPress, Google XML Sitemaps, and WordPress.com Stats). Well since then I’ve been doing more tinkering, looking for plug-ins, and more testing than I care to admit and have to say I’m throwing two of these plug-ins out the window! So here is the updated list broken down into three sections (Essential, Plug-ins I use, and plug-ins that I’ve tested but something out there was better or it just didn’t quite fit what I wanted to do).
- Advanced-Admin-Menus – if your serious about WordPress and blogging you simply have to install this one! In the admin console it’s a pain in the but having to click twice to go into any admin page. This feature turns the top horizontal menu into a java based drop down to cut down on those clicks and hopefully save you from Carpal Tunnel!
- Akismet – I believe this one comes preinstalled (I don’t even remember anymore) and is essential in blocking comment spamming.
- All in One SEO Pack - there are lots of plug-ins that do parts of what this one does, so just get this one and save your self the work. This will setup Titles, Descriptions, and Keywords in all its SEO friendliness.
- Enforce www. Preference – This is all about branding and to reduce duplication. Once you have made up your mind if you like the www on the front of your brand or not then install this and start promoting. This is good to decide early.
- Favicon Manager – As I’ve said branding is very important and having a favicon is another simply way to brand. This will even show up on your RSS feed.
- FeedSmith – I’m still using this official feedburner plug-in so install it!
- Google XML Sitemaps – Still using this one and highly recommend as a must.
- ShareThis – This is probably the best of the Social Bookmarking widgets in my opinion. It adds all the bookmarks in one clean and simple format. It also give people the option to email a friend your post. The only reason why it’s not the only Social Bookmark I use is because it doesn’t include a Sphinn option. Oh and I forgot to mention that it does this in a SEO friendly format because you don’t have a bunch of links to various social bookmarking sites on your site! Oh yeah ShareThis also tracks who submits to what through their service.
- Tag Suggest Thing – this plug-in scans your post looking for tags. At that point you just click on the tags to add them, or as I like to do click on the add all! Great for creating a Tag Cloud, keywords, or something else that I haven’t even thought of yet.
- WordPress Database Backup – Install this puppy and set it up to backup your database on a weekly basis or whatever. You will thank me later should something ever happen to your precious blog.
- WordPress Reports – This plug-in is AMAZING! A true gem that I can’t express enough how happy I am that I found it. Joe Tan, the creator, you are a genius! This plug-in pulls in your Feedburner AND Google Analytics stats into a Reports tab in the admin panel! Oh and did I mention it also will handle the installing of the Google Analytics script. So this puppy made the Stats and Google Analytics plug-in obsolete. Install this right now and thank me later! Oh and it also comes with a widget option to let you display your most active content on your sidebar. Haven’t used the widget yet, but I’m sure it’s fantastic.
- WP-Cache – should you build up a large internet following and by chance get dugg, then this could save your site from going down. I know there is a SuperCache plug-in. Hopefully one day this site will be in demand enough to recommend it.
I also use these
- Buy Me a Beer – I’m not a big fan of ads all over the place. I think it’s unattractive and looks like I’m trying to sell you something. I’m not! If you want to support me and what I’m trying to do with this blog than please do it by “Buying Me a Beer” which to me is a cooler way of saying make a donation to the cause. It can also be set to a small donation level (mine is $3) so people will see you aren’t asking for a mint, just a little love.
- ChenPress – This is the best of the WYSIWYG editors that I’ve seen. It gives the WordPress editor a very nice assortment of additional functionality. Not necessary for everyone, but definitely nice to have installed just in case you want to do something advanced like create tables and don’t want to write the code behind or paste from Dreamweaver.
- Comment Relish – Nice little plug-in that sends an e-mail to a user the first time they make a comment. Pretty cool way to get people excited when they engage in your posts.
- Full Text Feed – WordPress 2.1+ prevents the full body of your post going into your feed. This turns it back on. Don’t alienate your RSS readers and enable this.
- MyAvatars – This plug-in allows commenter’s to display their MyBlogLog.com avatars in comments. Nice little feature to entice your audience to get engaged.
- Sociable (“Antisocial”) – I use the Antisocial plug-in mainly for it’s Sphinn button, but it is also SEO friendly because of the way it uses “no follow links” on the social bookmarking sites.
- WordPress.com Stats – I have to say that this one is on the way out thanks to the WordPress Reports plug-in. Still nice to see your stats on that day, but there is nothing that it shows that you can’t see in Google Analytics. Especially now that you have access to Google Analytics data in your admin panel.
- WP-PostRatings – This is a nice plug-in that lets you display a ratings option on your posts. There is a slew of options available and you can choose the type of icons (anything from hearts to stars). The widget option also looks nice, but I haven’t played with it yet. *NOTE: This plug-in does require adding the code to the page on your own.
- Yet Another Related Posts Plug-in –This is definitely the best of the related posts plug-ins that I’ve seen. *NOTE: This plug-in also requires a little coping of code onto the page.
Juries still out and Honorable mentions
- Bot Tracker – I’ve had this one installed for the last few days and haven’t seen it actually pickup any bot traffic so it’s hard to say good things about it. I’ve checked Google Sitemaps and know that they have been crawling my site so what’s the deal?
- Search Meter – I’ve installed this and had it running for a few days, but never say any results. Please play with it and give me some feedback.
- Simple CAPTCHA – if your still having spamming problems with comments after Aksimet then you might want to install this, I haven’t had a problem yet.
- Social Bookmarks – This is another good Social bookmarking plug-in that gives you a slew of sites.
- Social Traffic Monitor – This plug requires you to add the script to your post to display results. Not really convinced, but I am intrigued.
So there you go. Lots of plug-in options to try and play with. Now all you have to do is write quality content to get people to come to your blog!
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