WordPress and its Technicalities: Part 2

Hello again! Welcome to part 2 of my “WordPress and its Technicalities” series! This article will cover a lot about plugins and my personal and professional opinions on the best plugins for any WordPress website. Without further delay, let’s get to it!

So what is a plugin?

Well, it’s a piece of software that extends the functionality of another piece of software. In hardware terms, it’s like adding a second video card to boost your gaming performance. In terms of WordPress: plugins can make your life easier while also adding value for your readership. With so many plugins out there, how do you know which ones to use? I’m going to tell you which one’s I see as “must haves” and those that are optional.

Why do plugins matter?

Stock WordPress is a great piece of software! It’s your basic blog, and will get the job done, but it’s a bit limited. There’s next to no Search Engine Optimization (SEO), SSL support is still lacking, and security against hackers and SPAM is almost non-existent.

So what plugins should I use?

Must Have Plugins:

  1. Jetpack by WordPress.com – This is kind of a Swiss army knife of plugins. It can provide everything from WordPress.com integration, to backups, to social media sharing icons, and more. Granted, some of the better functionality is paywalled, but there are great alternative plugins that you can use instead.
  2. Akismet Anti-Spam – This comes pre-stalled with WordPress, but you must enable it. It’s your first line of defense against spammers. Note: You’ll need to get at least a basic free key from the Akismet website.
  3. Wordfence Security – Over all, this is a useful plugin to help combat not only SPAM that Akismet doesn’t catch, but those that would defile and abuse your blog. Nothing is 100% when it comes to hackers, but adding as many obstacles in the way will help frustrate and deter them from unauthorized entry. Note: there is a free basic and a paid “Pro” version, so some functionality is paywalled.
  4. Advanced noCaptcha & invisible Captcha – Aside from a very long name, this is also a useful anti-SPAM plugin that will add the “I am not a robot” check to your registration and login pages. Note: You will need a key set from Google in order to use it. It’d relatively painless to obtain these keys.
  5. Yoast SEO – Search Engine Optimization is very important if you want people to find you on search engines like Google and Bing. This plugin will help you with not only key words and relevance, but also your content in general, after all “content is king” is a little more than a catch phrase; it’s a way to keep your readers engaged and coming back for more!

Optional Plugins:

  1. Really Simple SSL – If you run with an SSL certificate, this plugin helps ensure all content is linked using https. Modern browsers now tell you when you’re on an “unsecured” site. With Let’s Encrypt doling out free SSL certificates, it’s now possible for all of your websites to run secured without spending a dime.
  2. Cloudflare – This plugin optimizes your stats for use with the cloud DDoS protection service, Cloudflare. In essence, it passes the real client information to WordPress, instead of the Cloudflare servers, so your blog’s stats show up properly. I highly suggest Cloudflare’s services.
  3. Custom Meta Widget – The default “Meta Widget” is a bit limiting, and you can’t remove the WordPress link if you wish to hide their branding or remove the extra clutter. That’s where this plugin comes in handy. It’s completely customizable and very simple to use!
  4. Easy Custom Auto Excerpt – There’s nothing like going to a blog and you have to wade through multiple 400+ word articles, complete with pictures. Ugh! This plugin shows only a short excerpt from your article on your front page. I suggest using it to help tidy up your blog a bit.
  5. WP-Optimize – Sometimes your WordPress database will get a little messy, and slow down a bit, causing longer page loads. I suggest this plugin because it will help clean up and optimize your database, resulting in faster performance. The faster a page will load, the faster your readers will engage your content, the better off everyone is. You want this if you’re running a high volume site.

Honorable Mentions:

  1. WP AutoTerms – This plugin helps with setting up Terms of Service, disclaimers, and GDPR compliance. You’ll want to do some research what policies you must implement. GDPR is required in the EU, so this sill help you out with those functions as well.
  2. Auto Clean URL for SEO – Yoast SEO is an excellent plugin, don’t get me wrong, but cleaning “stop words” from the URL is a premium feature I don’t feel I should have to pay for. Stop words are words that search engines ignore. These include “the,” “they,” and “these.” You don’t want Google and Bing ignoring your posts, right? That’s what this prevents.

End of part 2

That’s it for now! I hope you find these plugins as useful as I do. I’ll revise these lists as needed, so they may change from time to time. Next up, I’ll cover why “Content is King” is a thing! Until then, happy blogging!

Maybe more later…

Cloudflare Introduces New Domain Registrar

One of the cloud services leading us into the future is undoubtedly Cloudflare. I host my DNS with them, though I’m still not sure it’s working as it should, since I’m using their free service to help mitigate any DDoS attacks that might happen. Along with this service comes a free SSL, though there is a paid version. Since I’m a customer, albeit a freebie whore of sorts, I’m happy that the recently announced addition of the Cloudflare Domain Registrar service, and I’ll tell you why.

Domain Registration

In the beginning, there was Network Solutions, who charged huge amounts of cash to register a .com, .org, or .net. domain. I believe my first domain cost around $35 per year to register, and there were no discounts. When they opened the system, I was ecstatic to learn I could transfer my current domain to, and buy new domains from, a much cheaper registrar, so I did. To this day I won’t go back to Network Solutions.

Presently, I have about 10 domains, down from around 20 or 25 at my most active. Each one has, or had, a purpose, and I just can’t give them up. It’s gotten really expensive. I presently have domains through two registrars. One is Godaddy and the other is an off brand reseller account I use simply because I get a paid for each domain renewal and I eventually garner enough to register/renew a domain essentially free. Like everything else, some things are cheaper with one than the other. It certainly isn’t a great setup, but it works for now.

Enter Cloudflare

Cloudflare’s new offerings take me back to a time of “discounted” and “cheap” domains, for the life of the domain. They promise only to charge what it costs them to register a domain, and not a lot of fees. Let’s break it down some.

Currently, for a .com, Godaddy charges $2.99 USD for the first year registration, then $14.99 USD plus an $.18 USD every year after that. Cloudflare says that the current cost of a .com is $7.89 plus an $.18 ICANN fee, for a total of $8.03 USD. That means that Godaddy is charging a little over $7 USD in fees per year, after the first year. Ouch! Honestly, that’s pretty much free money they get to throw at advertising, and it’s getting really pricey for me.

When it’s available.

Current customers, even the free ones, can signup on their website for early access, and only domain transfers will be offered at first. When you signup, you get assigned into a “wave” and will be notified when your wave will come up. They offer an earlier wave for a $1 donation to “Girls Who Code,” and I highly recommend it. I’m currently in wave #3 that is set for late October. 

Optimism

I’m cautiously optimistic, but competition is a good thing. We’ve seen similar attempts to offer “at cost” domain registrars, and they have all seemed to eventually fall into line like the rest. I’ll be transferring my more expensive domains over first, then the “cheaper” ones if all goes well. I’ve been wanting to unify where my domains are registered, and this just might be the answer!

Maybe more later…

WordPress and its Technicalities: Part 1

I almost forgot how complicated starting from scratch can be. Forgetting what plugins were installed, traded, and replaced. Services like FeedBurner going to the Google limbo, and the importance of SEO and having a Privacy Policy.

Ugh! Over the years I’ve setup various websites, mostly with WordPress because of its flexibility, choice of plugins, and the community support that’s so necessary these days. It being open source and readily available, easy to set up, and able to run on a multitude of different servers play into of course, but it’s really hard to beat the types of flexibility and support it has.

Self-host WordPress Setup

Setting up WordPress is fairly easy and well documented already. Have a WAMP/LAMP stack server running, download the file, unzip/untar the archive into your public_html directory, load it up in a browser, and follow the instructions from there.

What’s in a Server?

I like to use a VPS (Virtual Private Server) when self-hosting a WordPress site. It’s basically a segmented virtual machine, that runs on much more powerful server hardware. It differs from shared hosting in that you have root control and can run your preferred software on it. You can rent them monthly fairly cheap, and you can usually choose your operating system. Personally, I like CentOS. It works really well, and I’ve been working with Redhat products for a very, very long time. Sure, you can use Debian, Ubuntu, or even Windows, nothing’s stopping you. It’s all in your preferences.

Where do I find a VPS?

When I find myself in need of a new VPS, I usually head over to the WebHostingTalk VPS Hosting Offers section and find the deal that best suites my budget and specifications. Some will include a Control Panel, and some won’t. I personally get a bare CentOS installation and install Webmin and Virtualmin. It just works well for WordPress.

It’s all in the specs man…

So to lay out what would be my ideal specs to run WordPress on, here’s my short list:

  • 1GB RAM minimum – You can get away with less, but if your site gets busy, it’ll run out and essentially be DDOSed. Even better if you can get 512MB or more of swap as well.
  • 20+GB of drive space – I wouldn’t go with any less because of updates, upgrades, media files, and longevity. There’s nothing worse that running out of space!

End of this Part.

Ok, I could go on and on about this subject, but I’ve only got limited time today, so this will be at least 2 parts. In Part 2, I’ll cover some of the plugins I consider must-haves. Until then, happy blogging!

Maybe more later…