Let Me Begin… Just five WordPress plug-in posts left now! Rather than trying to decide which to recommend the most/first, I’ve just been writing about them in alphabetical order. Different people use blogs for different reasons and write about different topics, so my number one recommended plug-in for one person’s site might be totally useless to you. That said, WP-DBManager is likely to be useful to almost everyone running a WordPress blog. As you may guess from the not-too-cryptic name, it helps you to look after your database. A lot of the features could be achieved by using PHPMyAdmin. This would require your hosting company to use that interface, you to remember your user name and password, and no automation would occur.
Using WP-DBManager means you can optimize, repair, backup & restore your database, as well as delete backups database , drop and empty indivudal tables and run selected queries. You can also (the most important feature for me) have database backups automatically created and e-mailed to you. If you only write a new post every week or so, there is little point in having the database backed up every 24 hours (unless you receive a LOT of comments), similarly, if you are writing about WorPress plugins five times a day, it makes sense to at least have daily backups emailed to you.
Should you wish, you can also directly run SQL queries, and have the database optimized as often as you like. Having just re-read this post before publishing, I realize I should probably point out that the database holds almost all of the data you would want backed up in case you needed to restore all your posts, comments and WordPress and plug-in options. If your server gets hacked (and your host doesn’t keep decent backups) or if you accidentally install something that wipes parts of your blog out, then these backups will contain all you need. Obviously any external files (like videos and pictures) would not be included, but you will probably have those backed up on your home PC.
Now go and jump around 🙂
This is the first of two plug-ins by the same author, who goes by the moniker StarGazer. This first one is WP-Blackcheck, and the idea is quite simple. Rather than simply relying on your anti-spam plug-in (if you haven’t installed anything extra, this will most likely be Akismet) to notice when there are unwanted commercial links placed in a comment, WP-Blackcheck consults with a central server which holds a blacklist of known spammers, or rather the IP addresses they tend to use.
If someone attempts to leave a comment when they are using an IP address in the blacklist, they are presented with a message explaining why the comment won’t be processed, and if they feel they are on the list and shouldn’t be, they can send a message. This is useful because due to DHCP leases on IP addresses, it is possible that the spammer only used the IP address for a few days. If someone then leaves a genuine comment on a relevant post, they can let the author know they are not spamming.
The blacklist itself is updated by anyone who uses the plug-in, as when any spam that gets past WP-BlackCheck is discovered by Akismet, the details are recorded. Once you click the report spam link at the top of your dashboard, the IP addresses are noted, and if the trigger level is reacher (in terms of number of spam comments from one IP address), then the address is added to the central blacklist, to ensure the spammer can’t even try and sneak any comments past Akismet (or your preferred spam checking plug-in) in the future.
If you want to increase the amount of time that the average new visitor to your blog spends on your site, one option is to include links to related posts. The aptly named WordPress Related Posts (the English language version of the author’s post about this plug-in is down, so that links to the official WordPress.org page for it instead) plug-in does just that. You can select how many posts you want listed, what the plug-in should do if no related posts are actually found, and whether thumbnails should be used. You can also instruct it to never include posts from certain categories, display how old the related post is, how many comments each post has, and whether to automatically insert the information into each post (in case you want to edit your theme’s PHP files yourself and customise it more) and/or your RSS feed.
Although it doesn’t work in a multi-blog environment (if you don’t know what that means, you don’t need to worry about it), and there are a lot of competing plug-ins available, until I find a problem I can’t easily fix with it, I’ll probably continue using it.
Anyway, I need to check my old e-mails sometime, as another author has invited me to try out their plug-in for displaying related posts, but I still have other more important mails to sort out first, so it may take a while. If I do end up changing, I’ll try and remember to post details on the new one.
We are already onto the W of plug-ins that are used across my different sites. So this review will be one of the last in this series. For anyone more interested in Windows Mobile applications and tweaks, I realised recently that I’ve not put any up for a long time, so those will most likely be the next series here at ChrisMerriman.com
Anyway, back to the plug-in… Wizzart – Recent Comments is a more versatile replacement for the Recent Comments widget that was recently integrated into WordPress. If you know more than me about CSS (I’m pretty sure AlexC is well past that point already!) you can define the rules for this widget, or if you are more of a point, click and hope sort of person, the widget admin area opens up some basic options.
You can obviously decide how many comments you want to display, as well as how many characters should be included (useful if your theme’s sidebars’ width mean the default character count often ends up with a word left trailing on a new line by itself). You can decide whether just comments should be displayed, or whether you also want to include recent pings and trackbacks (when WordPress is informed of links to your posts, be they internal or external).
If you wish, then only comments from the current category of the post you are viewing will be presented (if you write about amateur radio hardware and also snowboarding, then you may only want comments relevant to each topic displayed by default).
Finally, it is Gravatar enabled, meaning that if the comment author has a Gravatar account, their chosen profile picture will be displayed. WordPress populates this field with a random image if you have selected that option (check the Discussion option page).
If you are 100% happy with WordPress’s own Recent Comments widget (or simply don’t use it), or perhaps you have all your blog entries set to no comments allowed, then obviously this plug-in isn’t for you, otherwise, take a few minutes to check it out.
Although I have not had the time recently to sit and read through my twitter friend’s tweets very much, I do still use the twitter service itself a lot. This blog has the Twitter Tools plug-in installed, which provides a lot of integration of customization between tweets and posts.
Every time I create a new post on this site, a tweet is automatically generated under my Twitter account, which has the post title, and a link to the post itself. This obviously helps encourage a few people to visit my site, and through an app in Facebook, sets my status update as well. If you write a post about bar reviews, and don’t want to have to manually create a tweet explaining you’ve just published the post, this plug-in makes a lot of sense.
Also, every time I tweet, a blog post mirroring the content is created on this site. I find this very useful, as if I’m out and about with my phone, whether I’m writing a tweet from within PockeTwit (possibly with a picture included), streaming an (at the time) live video from my phone with Qik or publishing my location via Foursquare, I don’t need to either instantly repeat any information from a different program, or wait until I get home and remember to mirror the data elsewhere. Obviously I still need to remember to actually embed the pictures/videos later, as I appreciate that some people don’t have the time to click on external links, but the Twitter Tools plug-in definitely saves me a lot of time.
There are related Twitter Tools plug-ins that cover…
Bit.ly URLs (to automatically shorten long URLs to keep within the 140 character limit imposted by Twitter. You can also use it to track visitor activity related to those links, if you have a bit.ly account).
Exclude Category (if you don’t want to have a certain group of posts tweeted about, this helps you.
Hashtags (which as you can probably guess, correctly handles hash tags. If I mention #UKNews in a tweet, then the corresponding blog post will automatically link that hash tag to the relevant search URL on Twitter.)
Approaching the end of this evening’s posts about WordPress plug-ins, this one is about Tagline Rotator. If you didn’t already know, a tagline can be found in adverts, often under or after the product name, and on a lot of web sites.
For SEO reasons, you should choose yours carefully, make sure it is targeted towards your audience and content, and it should stay constant.
However, I can never really decide which tagline of the few I’ve thought up I want to keep, and not that many have an obvious (to a search engine at least) connection to my posts. So I use the tagline rotator plug-in to automatically change it each time a new visitor arrives, or someone clicks on a link to somewhere else on this site. You will also notice the tagline change if you just refresh the page. There are 38 different ones available, although as the selection process is random, you may find you come across the same one a few times before you’e seen them all. Most should be fairly self-explanatory, but if one catches your eye, and you can’t fathom it out, just let me know.
A little over six months ago the server that this site is hosted on was hacked. I still don’t know how they got in (it is likely that someone else on the same server had an outdated version of some software installed, and once in the hacker somehow gained root access), but once a friend alerted me to the presence of malware links, the fingerprints of the hack were clearly traceable on almost all the PHP files in use across all my sites.
One of the tricks such hacks use is to encode their urls in Base64, hiding in the theme files for your WordPress installation, meaning a simple text search for the url won’t work. Go and google or wiki for more info on Base64, but King Of Flibbles could be encoded to c3RlaW5lciBiaW5vY3VsYXJz … not very easy to read, nor to pick up with a cursory scan of the source code.
This is where you either need to learn to read Base64, if you have shell access you can grep the files for Base64 references, or simply install something like the TAC (Theme Authenticity Checker) plug-in. Whether you are installing a new theme for the first time, and therefore want to check it before activating, or suspect you may have been hacked and want to check all the theme files are still OK, the plug-in will do all the hard work for you. It also lets you know just how many (normally formed) static links there are in the theme, you can easily tell if it has been stuffed full of SEO sapping links.
Whether people come and visit your site to read the latest developments in the world of console comparisons, to catch up with the latest photos of your family and friends, or enjoy checking what complete strangers are up to, it is great when they make the effort and leave comment for everyone else to read and perhaps reply to.
One problem I come up against (as a visitor, rather than site owner) is I tend to leave comments at a wide variety of sites and don’t have time to check for replies in the conventional manner. My Google Reader account is already full of all the RSS feeds I have the time to follow, and keeping bookmarks for a million and one sites just clutters up the browser’s menus, and realistically means you’ll forget to check them very often.
This is why I am very happy when I come across another site that uses the Subscribe To Comments plug-in. The premise is simple – if someone fills in the e-mail field correctly, when leaving a comment, they will be e-mailed by your site should somebody else then leave a new comment on the same post. This means the visitor doesn’t have to actively check whether any replies have been left, and also improves the chances that a visitor who randomly came upon your site will return.
One issue is that the latest versions of the plug-in have had the checkbox to subscribe to comments left unticked as default. This was due to a conversation had between WordPress developers, who decided that to comply with anti-spam legislation (as there is no double opt-in etc.), visitors should have to explicitly indicate that they want to receive further communications. This makes sense (especially legally) if you are a business operating in America with their CAN-SPAM regulations. However, on a personal site like this, I tend to think it is more likely that I’ll have family, friends and random strangers who will not notice, or neglect to tick the box. For this reason, I modified the code to revert its behaviour to the old system of relying on visitors to un-tick the box if they don’t want to be told about new replies. You can either search for Subscribe To Comments on this blog to check my post detailing which lines of code to change, or check the comments section in this plug-in’s post over at txfx.net.
In terms of settings, you can check which addresses have subscribed to the most amount of posts, which posts have the most amount of people subscribed, and also tailor the text that is used when presenting the option to subscribe.
Next in this series of posts describing the plug-ins I use on my various sites is the ShareThis plug-in (I’ve linked directly to the WordPress specific section of the site, to read more about the system in general, just click their logo at the top of the page). Although no longer activated on this blog, I keep it installed, and on the other more niche orientated web sites, it is active.
Even if you don’t happen to use Social Bookmarking/Networking sites a lot yourself it is quite likely that your visitors do. I suppose if you only ever write about Max Bygraves albums, then perhaps your average reader doesn’t fall within the typical market sector that use reddit, stumbleupon or twitter, however it can’t hurt to try it out.
The plugin adds an expanding area to the bottom of each of your posts, which contains links to whichever schemes you hope your readers will submit the post to. For example, if a visitor finds your post very informative, they have the option to submit the URL to facebook or twitter or digg, with some of the fields pre-filled. You can also use the data collected to check some statistics about your visitors. To be honest, the plug-in didn’t see much use on this site, and as I was having problems with CPU throttling from Bluehost at one point, I disabled any plug-ins that I couldn’t justify keeping live.
I have written about the SEO SearchTerms Tagging 2 plug-in before, however a few features have been added, and I see from my server logs that this site has recently started to get visitors from countries that didn’t appear very often previously. So, for the new readers, or those interested on whether people arrive at their WordPress blog because they were searching for WordPress plug-ins, here is a quick refresher… SEOSTT2 (acronyms are ugly, but typing out the full name will get boring) checks the referring URL if a visitor comes from a search engine, and extracts the exact search term they entered when they discovered your site. This information is then stored, and be used in a number of ways.
You can keep all the information gathered as private, and simply check the plug-in’s page to discover the most popular search terms that led to your site (both recently and since the plug-in was installed). You can choose to display those same tables of search terms in a widget on your sidebar (or of course in a post), however what most people will do is have post-specific information added to the relevant entry. For example, if this post was found by people searching for Kazakhstan Blogs WordPress SEOSTT2, at the bottom of the post a link with that text, and linked to this same post, could automatically appear. Some people argue this adds SEO value to your site – I don’t know whether this is true, but do find it interesting to discover the sometimes random terms that lead to a particular post. You can also have the search terms converted to tags on the post, and block certain search terms from ever appearing.
One thing to remember is that if you install the plug-in, it isn’t retro-active – you will need to wait for new visitors, as it can not magically backdate its processing to old visits. Wait a while, and you’ll start to see patterns emerging as to what topics attract visitors, and if you feel the urge, continue to write new posts on that topic to encourage new and repeat visitors.