I’m often asked about what blogging and wordpress resources I use so in this three part post I’m going to share an overview about what I’m currently using.
I’m not an expert in Webdesign or development but have spent the last five years working on my blog and learning plenty along the way.
I have designed and developed the site myself, I don’t have an external developer or designer working on the site, although have occasionally used an external developer to resolve a technical issue.
Part 2 of this post will cover Photo and Video production and editing and
Part 3 covers Social Media Tools.
Blogging Platform – WordPress
This website is a WordPress.Org site. WordPress is a content management system which allows people to easily set up their websites. There are two versions of WordPress. WordPress.Com – this is where WordPress host your website and theme and WordPress.Org where you host your website outside of WordPress. WordPress itself is free on the .com and .org platform and the .com is a good place to start if you want to start a free blog site that doesn’t cost anything. I tend to think of WordPress.Com as the place that’s easiest for beginners to start and WordPress.Org as a bit more specialist. .Org certainly off ortunity for customization and to expand.
In order to have a website you have to have a domain, which is essentially a registered version of your website name with various endings – .com, org, net, uk etc. The domain name of my site (CoffeeCakesAndRunning.com) is owned by BlueHost who are one of many sites where you can buy your domain name. Domain names are valid for a year and have to be renewed annually otherwise you lose the right to use the name and someone else could buy it. Other domain name sites I’ve used previously include GoDaddy who tend to be one of the more known domain name providers and NameCheap, the name says it all!
Your website files have to be kept (hosted) somewhere so that your site can be live and viewed across the web/world. My website started off being hosted by WordPress, when it was a .Com website. When I took the step to move to WordPress.Org I then moved it to BlueHost, then to a local server provider here in the UAE and finally to Cloudways. Cloudways are a cloud host providing a wide range of services. They will migrate your site for free for you, although I did it myself and it’s not too difficult. The benefit of using Cloudways for me is that I can back my site up easily, restore it easily, copy it and run it as a test site if I’m working on some development and scale the service as I need it. It’s also very reasonable and costs $10 per month. Customer support is probably the best I’ve had across all of my hosting providers. They are online 24 hours a day and generally sort out issues whilst I’m online via a hosted web chat session. There’s also the opportunity to call if you prefer.
The look and feel of your website, eg what people see when they come to your website is determined through your theme. WordPress provide a whole range of free themes and you can also buy more advanced versions too. My preference over the years has been to buy a premium theme as it tends to give you many more options to fully customize the site to look the way that you want it to.
I’m currently using Zeen theme as it fits all of the criteria that I’m looking for. In my opinion it’s one of the best magazine type themes available at the moment and it’s easy to use if you have limited technical skills. However, if you are technically minded, or work with a developer, there’s also plenty of scope to further develop the theme. Without being technical, There are plenty of ways in which you can customize Zeen to make it yours including page and post templates. If you need inspiration or want a quick start you can also upload some ready made templates created by the developer depending on the look and feel that you are planning for your website. Once you start you can customize away in the easy to use Theme Customiser including your choice of colour schemes, fonts, footer and header layouts and layouts for posts and pages etc. It’s also fully responsive, meaning that the site is resized automatically depending on what device your reader is viewing your blog. There is also a high level of customization for social elements of your website as well as the opportunity to allow for advertising, sponsored posts, reviews etc. My summary above is a quick overview of what you an do in Zeen do check out their website for further information.
Zeen comes with a built in theme builder called Tipi Builder which allows for customization on Pages but not on posts. Tipi Builder adds blocks to your pages which contain items such as grids, sliders, video, photo and text content, all of which can be highly customized depending on your needs. Tipi Builder being limited only to pages seems like a reasonable compromise in terms of functionality and flexibility. If you want to be able to customize posts further you can use Gutenberg blocks which is a new WordPress functionality or alternatively I believe Zeen also works with other Theme builders, although I have not as yet checked this out.
Psst … Top tip: always choose a theme with good support, especially when you are starting out. The theme developer for Zeen is quick and responsive both to helping with issues and also in terms of building in additional functionality into the Zeen theme.
Plugins add further functionality to your theme and allow you to do more with the theme. The majority of plugins I use are free plugins which either came with the theme or are downloadable from within WordPress. It’s possible to run your WordPress site without any plugins at all, or to have many plugins to add customization. There are lots of differing views and opinions about how many plugins are the idea number of plugins for a site and there’s no one single answer. The idea number needed varies from site to site and in my opinion you need to balance the number of plugins (added functionality) with how you want your site to work and to load. Plugins can cause the site to load slower by reducing your page speed. There is also the opportunity for plugins to cause issue with your site if they clash with each other, so be mindful of that. Plugins mean you can customize your site without having to go behind the theme and do deep technical work, however sometimes it’s better to pay a developer to hard code functionality into your theme rather than use a plugin.
My top tips when using plugins are as follows: firstly invest in a decent theme which has the majority of the functionality in the theme (without it being too cumbersome). Secondly, do your research when installing a plugin – check it’s updated regularly and that there are a reasonable number of users. Thirdly, since plugins can cause security vulnerabilities in your site so make sure you keep them updated regularly.Fourthly and finally, don’t have plugins for the sake of it, readers like well presented content and good content to read, but the reason they read won’t be because you have a snazzy, plugin heavy site which loads super slowly and distracts them from their reading experience.
The Plugins I use are as follows (all are free versions):
Zeen theme comes with a host of Plugins which add to the theme functionality, the majority of optional to use:
Let’s Social Count – adds social media follower numbers etc
Let’s Review – allows you to add fully customized information for review posts/affiliate links
Let’s info up – allows you to add product information/affiliation into posts
Contact 7 Form – I don’t use this one – see below
Zeen Live Blog – gives you the option to live blog an event eg sports event
Zeen Engine – mandatory Zeen plugin
Non Theme Plugins
Breeze – caching plugin for Cloudways (my host)
Lazy Load Optimizer – lazy loads images to help with page loading speed
WP Fastest Cache – Simple caching for the site
Catch IDs – adds ID numbers to posts/pages – makes it easier to feature specific postsMisc
Classic Editor – blocks WordPress Gutenberg Editor so I use the classic editor (personal choice)
Redirection – enables redirection for 301 (permanent page moves) and monitors 404 errors – important for user friendliness and SEO/Google
TablePress – enables me to embed sortable tables of information from CSV files
Simple Basic Contact Form – simple contact form (Zeen suggests using Contact 7 but I prefer Simple Basic Form as it’s less resource heavy).
WP File Manager – allows access to backend wordpress files which are typically only accessed from CPanel with your host (note : Cloudflare doesn’t have CPanel file access you have to do it via another file manager eg Filezilla).
Security and Backups
iThemes Security – adds security functionality
Updraft Backup/Restore – a free plugin which takes regular backups of my site and the data behind it and stores this in my Dropbox or Google account. I have backup via Cloudflare but this is an extra precaution.
SEO – Search Engine Optimization – allows your content to be found on the web
Squirrly SEO Briefcase – SEO for non SEO experts – easy tool to help with SEO (Search Engine Optimization and Keywords)
Redirect : enables reduction for 301 (permanent page moves) and monitors 404 (Page not found) errors. Important for user friendliness and SEO/Google.
Modula – flexible photo gallery for grids and masonary grids – Zeen theme has some options on this so I will probably delete at some stage.
Note – I resize and optimize my images before uploading them to WordPress – see Part 2 of this post for further information.
I’ve currently got 3 or 4 plugins which I’m considering using to add additional functionality, and there are a few parts of Zeen theme – eg pop outs, email sign up form etc that I’m not yet using. The site is never finished, it’s always work in progress.
Did I miss anything?
Drop me a line if you know of a great theme, hosting provider or plugin that you think I should take a look at.