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How-to: Keep your Wordpress install looking good, running smooth, and secure

This is less of a "how-to" than it is a guide to what I use for my own sites in the Wordpress world of things. I hope it helps!

There are a slew of Wordpress plugins out there that have been plugged (read: recommended) by the best of the best in the development and blogging community; some of which are indeed good, and others that are utter crap. As an average user of Wordpress and one who's never satisifed with how things look or run I thought it would be a good idea to get the perspective of a "average Joe blogger" on what does work with Wordpress... in my opinion.

I've been meaning to do this post for quite some time and for that I apologize to those I told I was going to do it, oh, say, two months ago. So first what's my working environment? Note that the below plugins all work using this:
  • Wordpress Version: 2.9.2
  • Theme: Atahualpa 3.4.6
  • Host: Hostgator
All in all I'm happy with what I've done to the site. I try to run the bare minimum visual plugins so as to not take away from the load speed or the content I've written ('casue that's why you're here right?). However, I do use a few visual for easy of coordinating what's going on with other posts; and I use some back end ones to help with an overall better experience.

Visual plugins you see:
  • Theme: Though I realize this isn't really a plugin I've got to say that the Atahualpa series of themes are the best out there so far as free themes go. With over 200 options you can change- the theme is one of the best out there for customization... especially for being free. I like my themes simple, which Atahualpa accommodates; however, if you like to get into the weeds with all sorts of sidebars for widgets or overall style then this one will serve you well. I also use this same theme on my Coast Guard aggregation site 1790.us.

  • RSS: Short of the actual theme I personally think ones RSS feed is just as important as their site. I usually get most of my blog reading done, to include GovLoop, via my RSS reader (Google Reader at work, Feedly at home). One of the things that drives me nuts about some sites is how much time they'll spend on the site layout without any thought being put into the feed. One such common problem is the layout of non-text elements such as pictures. In most fees the picture is auto-aligned to the top left; however, if you have a Wordpress blog there's a plugin that'll help in keeping your pictures where you want 'em. Enter Align RSS Images (site here)- it simply does what its name implies- it aligns your images in your feed as you intend them to look in your post.

  • Commenting: There is no doubt a loyalty issue with some when it comes to commenting systems within the Wordpress community. I've tried several to include HaloScan (now ECHO), the built in function, IntenseDebate, and now I'm using Disqus (here) as my primary means of commenting for this site. It works, and the support is great. Nuf said. I'm also a fan of their sidebar widgets and their recent upgrades with better back-end integration are great!

  • Related posts: Last but not least is the Yet Another Related Posts Plugin plugin (get it here). It to does what the title notes- it recommends related content on your site that has the same idea as the current post their reading/skimming. All in all this plugin alone has decreased my bounce rate by at least 10%... it's that good.

Behind the scenes stuff:

  • Stats/Analytics: Let's face it- you want to know how many people are visiting your site if for nothing else other than to validate all the time spend in writing for a non-profit project... right? There are a lot of different plugins for Wordpress that'll count the numbers and spit 'em out for you but some, at least in my opinion, are betters than others. I'll admit I use three of them on ryanerickson.com and only one on 1790.us.
    • On both sites I use the very common WordPress.com Stats (here) which is great for the quick overview but with a little depth to ensure that post you were hoping to garnish come attention actually did.

    • The next one I use on here is the always famous Google Analyticator (get 'er here) which is one of several plugins that make the integration of Google's Analytics a snap. I keep this one for historical reason as GA was the first one I used and the one I still use.

    • The last one I use is called Clicky (here). It too, as with GA, is quite robust in the information department and gives a different level (at least in my eyes) of clarity to that of Google's Analytics. I use the free account which work fine for what I need.

  • SEO: I've keep to the standard of using All in One SEO Pack (here). This is one of those no-brainer plugins to assist in getting your blog notices by at least one person out there.

  • SEO: Sitemaps are what help search engines locate different parts of your site. You can manually create these if you'd like but why do that if someone has done the work to automate the process? Using Google XML Sitemaps (here). The description of the plugin best describes itself as a plugin that will generate a special XML sitemap which will help search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing and Ask.com to better index your blog.

  • Maintenance: When I need to do some major updates to the look of my site I use a plugin called Maintenance Mode (here) to let everyone know the site is down for work... it puts up a slash page which you can customize to say anything you want. Mine will usually just tell you to check back in about 60 minutes.

  • Social Networks: If you maintain a presence on any social site and you want to make sure your friends can see when you've posted something on your blog I'd highly recommend using Shorten2Ping (here). In short this will let the website Ping.fm know that you've posted a new entry and in turn Ping.fm pushes that out to all the social networks you've got attached to your account. I LOVE this plugin! I will tell you I've had some issues with it double posting in the past but it has since fixed itself.


Security:
  • Security: I never really thought about security on my blog until I had one taken over for about an hour about a year ago. While on the hunt I found this great plugin: Limit Login Attempts (here). It has only one real function and that's to limit someone from breaking into your site. If some enters the wrong user name and password combo too many times it'll lock them out for a time specified by you. And you can get emails sent to you every time it happens. I get emails daily... sad really.

  • Security: The plugin of Secure WordPress (here) does a great job with it's little individual options to ensure your site is as secure as you can get it (though to be fair there are more robust way of doing it, but for a little site like mine I'm not too worried). This is highly recommended for very Wordpress install.

  • Database: Not really in the realm of securty as the two above but keeping a working copy of your Wordpress database is a must if you think you're site might be vulnerable or if you're like me and tinker a lot. I use WP-DBManager (here) and have for years. It's easy to use, and does what you want it to do- backup your database.
I know this was a long list, and it only covers about half of the ones I use on a regular basis to keep ryanerickson.com up to snuff. I hope it helps you- and if you have any questions, comments, or recommendations of other plugins please let me know. I'm always on the hunt!

CoastieHead_Small30Ryan Erickson is a semi-regular contributor to GovLoop and can be found daily at ryanerickson.com on the normal topic of Coast Guard, social media, and life; this post was written as an original piece for ryanerickson.com.

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Tags: how to, how-to, plugins, tech, wordpress

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Comment by Ryan Erickson on April 1, 2010 at 9:46am
@Cyd I really like Theme Hybrid for the fact that it's so clean from the get-go; in fact I have it installed already as I've been playing with it and trying to lean how all the hooks work for the last few weeks. It's a good alternative to the Thesis theme as well.
Comment by Ryan Erickson on March 31, 2010 at 9:33am
I've used, or rather played, with both Typepad and Drupal. I only came back to WP as I knew how to use it as it was my first blogging platform. These other two do the job quite well in my opinion so I guess it just comes down to hosting and a personal preference.
Comment by GovLoop on March 31, 2010 at 9:19am
Great stuff.

I'm a big fan of wordpress (topics pages of GovLoop bulilt on Wordpress)...was wondering your take on Wordpress vs Typepad vs Drupal

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