Mitch Canter is the real deal, a Big Dog if there ever was one. He is going to give us a big dish of “how to” because we Big Dogs must know how to get ourselves out there and WordPress is our muse.
Bark Louder: 5 Awesome WordPress Plugins You Should Be Using
by Mitch Canter
If I were a real dog, my dogtag would have a WordPress logo on it. True Story.
After seeing some of the other Big Dogs that Judi had lined up for you (and the lineup was absolutely fantastic, by the way), I realized that on a scale of “writer” to “coder” that I am one of those strange people that falls on both ends. My name is Mitch Canter, and I’m a WordPress designer / developer from honky-tonkin’ Nashville, TN. I spend my days writing code, pushing pixels, and getting the luxury of working in WordPress pretty much every hour of the day. I also technical edited fellow “Big Dog” Lisa Sabin Wilson’s WordPress Web Design for Dummies, and am finishing technical edits for WordPress for Dummies, 4th Ed. Aside from working with my own consultancy clients (via studionashvegas), I also work at the enterprise level at Bridgestone of Americas as a contracted consultant. Needless to say, I stay busy!
That said, I’m one of those guys whose job it is to know the latest and greatest WordPress plugins are, and I constantly scour the official plugin database to make sure that I know what the next big thing is. So, I wanted to share my top five WordPress plugins – a few of them that are on the obscure side. Think of them as plugins you never knew you needed, but once you add them in you won’t be able to live without. Shall we?
By the way, if you’re not a user of WordPress, stop reading, email me at email@example.com, and let me convince you to switch; you won’t be disappointed 🙂
I like to start with the nuts and bolts kind of stuff. I’m a tinkerer; it’s what I do. If the whole idea of technical terms and jargon makes your head spin, don’t fret. Basically, when you visit a WordPress site, it has to access a few different elements to display everything to you: a few database hits to pull your content and image source links, the actual images themselves, and any other data that’s been coded onto the template. Needless to say there could be hundreds of outgoing calls depending on your server and theme setup. W3 Total Cache takes all of those database calls and makes one page out of them; this cuts down the number of calls, and makes your page load faster. There are also many other things it does (hooking into a Content Delivery Network, minifying JavasScript) but for the sake of the non-technical out there we’ll just leave it at “it makes your website noticeably faster without a lot of setup”.
If you’ve ever been to Mashable and saw their nice little social bookmarks floating down the screen next to your content, chances are you’ve wondered how you could bring that same functionality into your own site. Digg Digg does it for you. It gives you the choice to insert boxes from any number of social networking sites (Twitter and Facebook are my go-to’s, but there may be others you like) and either floats them next to the content or drops them into the content itself (either above, below, or manually wherever you put it). It’s a great way to invite your readers to share your content with their networks, and when it scrolls it follows them down the page.
Mobile is the new web. It’s true, and if you’re not embracing it, you’re going to get left behind. WPTouch formats your site in such a way that today’s modern smartphone can see it in a style that works best for it. Plus, there’s a myriad of options on what content to display, icons to use, and any other number of items. It’s one of the very few “activate it and leave it” plugins out there, and it really makes a difference if people are consuming your content on the go.
Now for the fun, not-so-well-known plugins. This fantastic plugin does what every blogger dreams of: adding WYSIWYG functionality to your sidebar. Simply download and activate this plugin, drag it into your sidebar, and click on the text box. You’re presented with an editor that’s nearly exactly like the post or page editor. You can add colors, text, images, video, or audio, or whatever else you can think of. Once you’re done, it automatically generates the HTML it needs to display correctly. Prior to this, the only way to control what your sidebar content contained was to do it in the post editor beforehand and then paste the HTML in; not anymore.
I had the privilage of meeting the company behind Livefyre in New York at BlogWorldExpo, and within 10 minutes of them demoing the product, I switched my commenting system away from Disqus. Why? Because it works well. Livefyre takes over the output of your traditional WordPress comments, and adds in real-time updates and social integration. As you are on the screen watching a post, comments will fly in from the web and the feed will update on the fly. You can have conversations with commenters as they are on the site, and have an ongoing discussion. You can also type the @ symbol to bring up a list of your Facebook and Twitter friends (if you’ve added those accounts in) and Livefyre will automatically reference their profiles (and you can send messages to them to bring them into the discussion). All of this happens only on the visual layer; your real comments aren’t touched and you don’t have to learn another administration panel to moderate comments.
Being a Big Dog is knowing what tools to use to make yourself succeed. This is but a mere taste of the goodness that can be found in the WordPress database. My hope is that you take the plugins you’ve found and make your blogs stand out from the crowds. I’ve tried to cover everything from commenting to widgets and speed to sharing. Take what you’ve learned, apply it to your own blogs, and watch them rise above the pack.
So what’s going on with your blog? Have questions or comments? Bring em!
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