WordPress: Themes & Plugins

Hopefully you weren’t scared off by all the options in the last lesson of setting up a WordPress site, and now have a basic site going in your hosting account with your custom domain name assigned to it. If you did, what you have on your site is probably a default blog that looks very simple. What makes WordPress so widely used is how you can customize this simple starter blog you have with a huge array of themes and plugins so that your site can look like any official site out there.

You could simply read about installing a different theme at http://codex.wordpress.org/Themes. But here’s also a quick way to see for yourself how an organization take advantage of themes.  To find out, go to http://whatwpthemeisthat.com. This is a tool that lets you type in any website address, and if the site uses a WordPress theme, it will tell you the name of the theme and link to it, so you can get the theme for your own site. So at http://whatwpthemeisthat.com, type in http://www.villafrancolaw.com, a criminal law firm just down the street from me.  When you do, you will see the name of a theme called Flexsqueeze at http://www.flexsqueeze.com.  This means that if you wanted to, you could easily buy the Flexsqueeze theme, install it on your WordPress site, and customize it so that your site will look like that firm’s home page.

Although that Flexsqueeze theme costs money, there are many free WordPress themes that work fine. The site you’re reading right now is made with a free theme found at https://wordpress.com/themes/independent-publisher/. Look at how a lawyer at http://beltranlitigation.com used the free theme from http://theme.wordpress.com/themes/chateau/ to make the site for his solo practice. You can start browsing for free themes at the official WordPress site at http://theme.wordpress.com/themes/sort/free/. There are also many individuals like at http://www.evaneckard.com/wp-themes/ that have created themes which they offer for free. However, don’t simply do a Google search for free WordPress themes or go to random sites to download themes, as some nasty people have placed viruses in free themes that they offer. Stick with either the WordPress official site for free themes, or carefully look at the theme author’s site to make sure you can trust the work of the person.

In addition to themes, plugins are another feature that makes WordPress so valued. Plugins are software extensions to WordPress that are just as easy to install as themes and allow you to extend WordPress’s functionality far beyond being just a blogging platform. To get an idea of the breadth of plugins you can have in your WordPress site, check out the plugins news page at http://managewp.org/articles/plugins. There is also the official WordPress plugins site at http://wordpress.org/plugins.

There are a few free plugins that are widely used, so consider especially installing these on your WordPress site. The All in One SEO Pack can be found at http://wordpress.org/plugins/all-in-one-seo-pack, and the Yoast SEO plugin can be found at https://yoast.com/wordpress/plugins/seo. Having one of these installed on your site will make it easy to do lots of little things that will get your site ranked higher by the search engines. Mostly it involves making sure that the keywords that are most appropriate to your site appear in places that Google will want to look on your site. These plugins help you in creating and optimizing everything from the titles of your article posts to a sitemap, which is kind of like a special table of contents to your site that only the search engines see. With another similar plugin, SEO Ultimate, found at http://wordpress.org/plugins/seo-ultimate/, you can even watch an hour-long tutorial on how to use it (and learn about SEO in the process) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZwZuUPCAto.

Another basic plugin is at http://akismet.com, which simply catches spam comments to your websites so you can duly delete them before they are posted. Just be aware that the free version is only for personal sites. Finally, consider some plugins that will help you include on your WordPress site the features you have been working with in previous lessons. For instance, you will probably want to place a sign-up form for your e-mail mailing list right on your WordPress site. Mailchimp offers several options for their service at https://blog.mailchimp.com/wordpress-plugins-for-mailchimp. Or you can examine the free plan at http://wpemailcapture.com, or if you’re feeling a little more ambitious, the plugin at http://contactform7.com has many options for expanding your sign-up forms. If you enjoyed making slideshows in the previous lessons, the plugin at https://wordpress.org/plugins/seoslides/ will let you integrate one in your WordPress site. There are plugins for doing everything else from setting up shopping carts to creating social networks, and that’s why so many people use the platform. And don’t forget a plugin to help ward off any nasty hacker attacks, like http://wordpress.org/plugins/better-wp-security.

On the other hand, be cautious about installing too many plugins. This is because plugins normally have regularly updated versions that you will be urged to install for security reasons and for new features. The problem is that you can never be sure what kind of changes these plugin updates will make to your WordPress site, especially if you have made a lot of custom modifications to your site already. Try to just install the plugins that offer functions your site really needs.

Now that you’ve got a web site, some content, and an e-mail list ready for signups, you’re probably itching to find more potential clients to show this stuff to. Let’s help you network a little before we hit the concluding lessons.

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