Plugins and Progress on my WordPress Site (One Webmaster’s Learning Curve)

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I’d heard of WordPress some years ago, but it scared me. As a webmaster, I was both a rookie and a bit of a joke (as opposed to a legend) in my own mind. Coming late to the task, an old dog teaching himself new tricks while remembering how good it felt to suck eggs in the Stone Age, the software didn’t look all that user friendly to me.

Of course, the reader needs to understand that I’m a fellow who considers Microsoft Word highly unfriendly and sticks to Works come Hell or high water.

However, a bit more than a year ago, the time was right to force myself to give WordPress a try.

Here’s the backstory.

Having been writing on other people’s sites since early 2008–and having narrowed that down to writing only at HubPages since early 2009–an alternative option was becoming absolutely essential. The problems (for me, anyway) over at HP revolved primarily around two crucial issues:

1. There was censorship involved. You couldn’t write about cigarettes, web hosting, being willing to take out an attacker in self defense, etc., without getting hammered. (Unless it was done in fiction form. They had no problem with that.)

2. Worst of all, and what finally motivated me to pull the pin on the grenade, was when they began trying to tell me how to write.

Yep. You got it. I was being told what I could write and also how to write it.

Well, bleep that.

A couple of months ago, I had nearly 1600 published Hubs at HubPages. It’s down under 500 now, with all of the deadwood culled out and the fiction moving here (except for one lengthy western fiction series, which is moving to a friend’s site). Eventually, it’ll be bye-bye HP entirely.

But I had to learn WordPress first, and learn it well.

So I sorted through all the myriad offerings out there and eventually set up this website, hosted by DreamHost and powered by WordPress. The learning curve wasn’t bad at all…but I ran into a glitch.

Spam commenters.

The right plugin would fix that, no doubt, but which one? I tried several. None of them worked. One called Akismet sounded powerful enough, but I couldn’t figure out how to get it up and running properly.

Well, foo.

Frustrated but unwilling to give up, I shelved the idea of expanding this site for a while. There were 22 posts published, all good ones, getting views, but the comment spam was so heavy that the comments couldn’t be left open for readers unless I wanted to spend all my time deleting the garbage.

Enter DreamCon, DreamHost’s first ever user conference, held in Los Angeles in late July and early August, 2013. WordPress works closely with DreamHost and would be presenting information on their stuff.

I went. I saw. I learned that Akismet was indeed the right plugin…and that the creators of the plugin had made it a whole lot easier to install than it was a year ago.

Cool. DreamCon had solved my problem. It was time to get to work.

DreamCon had given me the information needed to solve my site's comment spam problem.  It was time to get to work.

DreamCon had given me the information needed to solve my site’s comment spam problem. It was time to get to work.

The timing couldn’t have been better. No sooner was Akismet up and running, handling the comment spam just fine, when push came to shove, the straw broke the camel’s back, and I’d finally had it with HubPages.

Things are looking good now. Really good. This will be published post #102 on this site, up from 22 in early August (of 2013). There’s fresh content every night, to go with your morning coffee as the floating FOLLOW button promises.

Most of all, I’m having fun now. I have a goal, too: Within ten years, be bigger (single handed, one writer only) than all of HubPages.

Hey, it’s a goal.

So, to the point of this page, which is: What plugins make WordPress work for me?

We’re about to tell you. If you’ve never run a website powered by WP, you might or might not want to use any or all of these. Word press site requirements are as individualized as snowflakes or fingerprints.

PLUGIN ROUNDUP

There are more than 70,000 WordPress plugins already out there, with more being released all the time. Wa-ay too many options. At the moment, I’m using six, with just five of them being pretty much essential.

1. Akismet. As stated above, this is the plugin that saved me from tearing out my nonexistent hair over comment spam. Ten times as many spam bots as human visitors hit the site. Akismet throws all of the spam into the spam folder, which allows the webmaster to eyeball it before deleting (just in case).

It also has several stats pages for the user’s edification. You can tell at a glance how many spam comments have been corralled, what percentage of visitors left “ham” (valid comments), and how many “false positives” (valid comments Akismet thought were spam) have turned up.

They even have a “yummy pie” chart to give you the picture at a glance. Akismet. No WordPress site should be without it.

Akismet plugin, basic stats page.

Akismet plugin, basic stats page.

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2. Follow Me button for FeedBurner. This is the site’s latest plugin, added just last night. Our friend BraveWarrior suggested adding a Subscribe button, and this was the result.

You have to sign up with FeedBurner first, but doing that is not enough to make anything show on the pages of your website. For that, you need a plugin. Follow Me is unbelievably popular, with thousands of users and a full Five Stars for a rating.

We can see why, too. Once the plugin is operational, a cool little floating, charcoal gray button hangs out in the lower right corner of every page a visitor pulls up. If he (or she) clicks on it, then up pops the subscription form as shown in the photo below.

Pretty cool, huh.

Fresh content with your morning coffee.  How awesome is that?

Fresh content with your morning coffee. How awesome is that?

3. Hello Dolly. This one is just plain useless…but the creator, WordPress wizard Matt Mullenweg, created it and thinks it’s the best thing since sliced bread. All it does is take a random line from the song (Hello Dolly) and make it show up in one corner of any Admin (edit, etc) page you’re accessing at any given time.

I’ll probably delete it some day. Hello Dolly (the song) never did that much for me in the first place. Nor have I ever been a huge Louis Armstrong fan. But for now, yeah, it’s activated and doing its thing.

Plugins 007

Dolly (above) will never go away…and apparently, neither will Matt Mullenweg (below).

DCM

4. Post Views Stats. I have mixed feelings about this one. It’s simple, which is good. It overstates a single day’s view numbers if you set it to tell you what happened in a particular 24 hour period, which is bad. But overall, I think I’ll keep it. The total view count seems to be accurate enough if you don’t select a narrow time span to measure, and it does make clear which posts are doing well and which are not.

Plugins 008

5. WP Slim Stat. This plugin, I really, really like. It’s crisp, clean, on the mark, and provides numerous pages jam packed with more information than a normal human could possibly need or even want. I check it several times a day; it’s that much fun. My favorite stats to check include (human) Visitors, Traffic Sources, and a color coded World Map that tells you at a glance where the action is coming from.

Plugins 009

Top search terms are listed, too.  Slim Stat is one powerful plugin.

Top search terms are listed, too. Slim Stat is one powerful plugin.

Plugins 011

6. YouTube. This one is exactly what it sounds like. The user can get viewership stats, but I’m only interested in the bare bones basics. Give me an easy way to embed YouTube videos on my site, and I’m a happy camper.

And wow, is the YouTube plugin ever easy. All you have to do to place a video on any given page is copy and paste the URL (including the http:// part) on its own separate line, anywhere on your Edit page, and…that’s it.

That’s right. No separate module or form to call up. No need to copy the YouTube embed code. Just the URL. That’s all

It can’t get much simpler than that. Tinker Bell couldn’t sprinkle a video with fairy dust any quicker than the average Internet writer can copy and paste a URL code.

I just copied the URL from one of my YouTube videos, a piece covering part of a talk given at the DreamHost user conference (DreamCon) by the DreamHost CEO, Simon Anderson.

Now, to paste on the line below this line to see if it works….

Yep. Looks like it worked, all right.

So there you have it. Just five functional plugins (Hello Dolly doesn’t count) and we have a whip-crackin’ good website, up from 22 pages to more than 100, shifting gears and going for the gold.

Outstanding. Check in with us this time next year. Bet the published post count will be up to 500 by then, or close to it. (Probably more, but we’d best not be bragging too much ahead of time.)

We are definitely having some fun now, and (as the old Roger Miller lyric from You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd goes) you can too, if you’ve a mind to.

2 thoughts on “Plugins and Progress on my WordPress Site (One Webmaster’s Learning Curve)

  1. Ghost, your Slim Stat plugin looks awesome. I like that it shows you the keywords used to find your site. That is a really nice feature. I’m on Weebly and our tracking system doesn’t show that. It does show the sources, but knowing what people are plugging into the search engines would be a huge help to the writer. Great post!

  2. Thanks, Sha–and extra special thanks for the help/encouragement/input that got me squared away with the “Follow” subscription button.

    I surely do agree about Slim Stat, too. It’s absolutely freaking awesome.

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