* (Post updated, August 29, 2015)
If you’re a blogger or have a website for your business, you probably know there’s a lot that goes into a website behind the scenes. Deciding what theme to use, which plugins and what type of hosting can make running a web business a little daunting. While I don’t claim to have all the answers, here’s a few resources for bloggers and/or website owners I’ve personally found helpful, which may even help boost your presence on the web.
Unless you’ve got the time and skills to build a site yourself, choosing a good theme is a fundamental part of running a website. You want it to be user-friendly, SEO ready, look good, be mobile responsive and have the latest coding, such as HTML5. I use WordPress as it’s so easy to use, has a huge community and looks professional. Of the numerous WordPress theme designers, I can recommend:
StudioPress has evolved into one of the most solid WordPress design frameworks out there. They took the trouble to hire renown digital entrepreneur Joost de Valk (known as Yoast), to make sure their themes were SEO ready out of the box. They also have great community support, numerous mobile responsive themes (now a hugely important factor) and use the latest HTML5 code, which makes sites faster and generally more compliant.
Designed by Yoast, WordPress SEO is an essential plugin for any WordPress website owner, which allows you much more control over your website. From your meta tags, titles, breadcrumbs, gzip compression, installing sitemaps and fixing your permalinks, this is a very useful and must-have plugin. If this all sounds a bit confusing, the plugin has many useful tutorials, like the one here.
W3 Total Cache
Another must-have plugin in the WordPress arsenal, W3 Total Cache, or W3TC, allows you to optimise your site speed (an important metric in Google), performance and tweak it in ways you didn’t even know existed. For a guide on how to setup this plugin, click here. Note: I don’t use this plugin anymore, as I use managed WordPress hosting that has its own caching system (see web hosting, below).
This is the best free WordPress contact form I’ve come across. I’ve used most of them, even the lauded Gravity Forms (which you pay for) and I still find this the best contact form for WordPress there is. Ninja Forms are also the contact form of choice for StudioPress’ demo sites. Plus, what a great name, and I’ve always liked ninjas.
Related Posts by Zemanta
After nRelate shut down its services, this is my go-to plugin for displaying related posts. It’s great for encouraging visitors to read further articles within your site. For bloggers or sites that share regular content, Related Posts by Zemanta is a must-have in the plugin arsenal.
Subscribe to Comments Reloaded
This plugin is also a must-have if you’ve got comments enabled and your theme doesn’t already come with this function. With this plugin, your readers can keep up to date with replies to their comments, or even just other people’s.
Clicky Popular Posts Widget
I love this popular posts plugin, as it ranks posts by engagement (time spent on posts coupled with amount of views) rather than sheer numbers or comments. You’ll need to sign up for a Clicky analytics account – which from my experience has been just as good as Google Analytics – and it’s entirely free. Highly recommended.
After initially looking for free themes and free plugins for this blog, I’ve learnt over time that it’s often better to fork out a few bucks for some quality coded software. The following are all plugins I pay for, which I find are super helpful in driving more traffic to this site and making it more user friendly. They all perform better than any free plugins I’ve come across.
Easy Social Share Buttons for WordPress
We all know how important social media has become, and this plugin has just made it easier to share while looking pretty fly. It has tons of customisable options, doesn’t slow down your site, has a slick design and all the social networks you could ask for. The setup may seem complicated at first, but it’s relatively easy to get going. I paid $19US for this plugin and reckon it’s money well spent.
Interactive World Maps
If you have a travel blog, or need to display locations in any way, Interactive World Maps is another must-have plugin. I paid $21US for this, which I consider to be a real bargain to display an interactive map. There’s various ways you can customise this plugin (see my Australia page and sidebar above for examples). A good example of a map can be seen on the travel blog A Dangerous Business.
Revive old post Pro Add-on
This is my favourite and most useful of the premium plugins I use on this site. The plugin basically shares posts on social media automatically. I use this for Twitter and the Revive Old Post plugin has a basic, free version, however the pro add-on, which costs $75US from Themeisle, adds pictures, Bitlinks and hashtags to your tweets automatically, making it look uber-professional.
The click-through rate on my site has gone up phenomenally using this plugin, and all my old posts are given new life. $75 might sound like a lot of money, but it really is money well spent. You’ll need the free, basic plugin before you can add the pro add-on.
As far as I’m aware, the battle of the browsers is pretty much between Firefox and Chrome, as they currently offer more options for digital entrepreneurs. I use Firefox and recommend the following plugins to measure your site’s performance.
More for the SEO bandit, SearchStatus is a plugin for Firefox browsers that displays factors such as Google PageRank, Alexa ranking, Mozrank and no follow links (all factors that govern or help your site’s success). A handy little plugin that’s well worth a look at.
Available for both Firefox and Chrome, MozBar is another SEO orientated plugin, although it’s also one I believe every website should have. MozBar displays the page authority and domain authority of any given website and its pages. Domain authority is more or less an indicator of your website’s success and advertisers look closely at this to determine whether they want to work with you. Domain authority is arguably more important than Google pagerank (now defunct) and Alexia ranking, and many SEO experts rate this as the plugin to have, if you’re going to use any.
I also use the StumbleUpon toolbar for Firefox. I find StumbleUpon probably the best social media network for driving traffic to my site next to Facebook. You should get this add-on and join StumbleUpon (if you haven’t already) if you’re marketing your brand/business in any way.
Content distribution network (CDN)
A surprising number of bloggers/websites I’ve come across don’t use a content distribution network, or a CDN. A CDN will help your site speed by relaying information to users faster to wherever they are in the world, as it uses edge servers located around the globe, from which it can deliver information. A CDN can also render your site safer against viruses, as it can disperse these attacks. And if your server is playing up and your site is down, a CDN will still show a cached version of your website.
If you have a website, you really should have one. You can read more about CDNs here.
A good quality web host can determine the difference between an atrocious or a smooth user experience. Factors such as bandwidth, cost, reliability and location all factor into choosing a good web host. I’ve just completely re-written this section, as I’ve had various problems with hosts and have spent hours researching a good one.
One web host, which claims to limit the number of shared users on its hosting (which minimises down time) is SiteGround. Based in Bulgaria, this company is reputedly one of the most reliable, cheapest and has data centres in Singapore, Amsterdam and Chicago, which means it can relay information to users in or near these areas faster. This is great for us Aussies with limited options. I tried hard searching for good Aussie companies and at the moment they just don’t compare with those overseas.
WordPress managed hosting
If you want rock solid hosting without having to deal with tech issues (I’d personally rather spend my time writing/photographing), I highly recommend WordPress managed hosting. Companies that offer this service optimise their hosting for WordPress and actively tweak/manage your website for the best performance/security. WordPress managed hosting costs a little more than regular hosting, but in my opinion it’s worth it.
I can’t recommend these guys enough. They transferred my entire site over to their hosting quickly and professionally and when I tested my site, it ran a lot faster. I just received an email to say it was done, which is what I want! They also use their own caching system and CDN, further minimising maintenance on my end. They’re also really price competitive for WordPress managed hosting and they have data centres across the globe. I currently use Flywheel hosting for this site.
The first company to implement WordPress managed hosting, which I found to be really good, was Pagely. However, when my traffic started going up I found them to be more expensive than Flywheel (which is equally as good and offers free site transfers, unlike Pagely).
Resources to check your site’s performance/health
If you want the all-in-one stop to check out the performance of your site, including how your SEO is, how fast your site renders and what you can do to improve it, I’d start with Google Webmaster Tools.
Google Webmaster Tools
This handy little site, which you will need a Google account to access, will tell you how you can optimise your site (amongst other things). Things like removing unnecessary jqueries (which W3TC plugin can help with) and how you can submit sitemaps (which WordPress SEO helps with) will become clear. Click around this site, be familiar with it.
WebPagetest is a great site that shows if you’re using a CDN or not and is an all-round indicator of your site’s performance. For example, a high score out of 100 (this site scores 95) means you’re maximising your site’s potential. A lower score means you’ve got improvements to make, which they’ll point out to you.
Another good site to identify potential problems on your site and/or test your site performance is GTmetrix. With Google now ranking sites partly based on speed, this little tool comes in handy.
A great site for measuring your site’s traffic and those of your competitors is SimilarWeb. You can link your Google Analytics (another must use) data with SimilarWeb, although with SimilarWeb you have the advantage of being able to see other bloggers’ traffic in comparison to your own.
Of course there’s tons of other resources for bloggers and/or website owners. I’ve mainly focused here on optimising your website’s performance. Anything I’ve missed? Things to add? Let me know in the comments!