By now you should already have your WordPress blog up and running. In the previous lesson we covered the basic setup and in this lesson, we are going to list the resources that you can use to download WordPress themes, plugins and more.
Documentation and Technical Support
WordPress Codex: If you need to find answers to your technical questions, or to discover how the WordPress software works behind the scenes, the Codex is the place to go. You find an extensive documentation covering anything from installing WordPress to customizing your theme and backing up your database correctly.
Support Forums: If you can’t find what you were looking for in the Codex, the Support Forums should be your next stop. There are different sections for problems with the WordPress installation process, themes, advanced features and so on. The forum is very active, and there is a good chance that someone will answer your questions within a couple of hours. Remember that you can also search for past threads and posts that might be related to your issues.
WordPress has literally thousands of themes available. There are many themes available for FREE. Some are called premium themes and will cost you some money. Here is where you can find them:
Official Theme Directory: If you are looking for a new and free theme for your blog, check out the official theme directory. There are over 600 themes to choose from, and on the sidebar, you will also find a list with the most popular ones. If you have specific requirements for your theme (e.g., a specific color or number of columns) you can also use the search function or browse the directory using the theme tags.
StudioPress Themes: StudioPress is the reincarnation of the Revolution Theme, created by Brian Gardner. Brian basically re-branded his themes and released them under the StudioPress name. Most cost in the $100 range, and you will also find themes built for specific niches and purposes there.
Thesis Themes: Chris Pearson is one of the most talented WordPress designers around, and recently he introduced in the market the Thesis theme. It is basically a highly flexible and customizable theme with particular attention to typography and search engine optimization. The theme costs $87.
As we explained in the previous lesson, one of the biggest advantages of using WordPress is the huge availability of plugins. Just think about it this way: if you want to accomplish something with your blog that is not supported by the core features of WordPress, it is likely that someone created a plugin for it already.
If you want to search for plugins, your first option is the official WordPress Plugin Directory. They have over 4,000 plugins listed, and apart from searching the plugins by keyword or tag, you will also be able to see the rating and reviews from other users.
If you are not sure about the plugins you should be looking for, below we are going to cover the essential ones. After that, we will also list some useful plugins that you might need to use depending on the features that you will need on your blog.
Essential WordPress Plugins
1. Akismet: The most reliable anti-spam plugin around. It was created by Automattic (the company that started the WordPress project), and it already comes with WordPress, so you will just need to activate it.
2. All in One SEO Pack: This plugin will make sure that many elements in your blog (e.g., title tags and meta tags) will be optimized for search engines. It has an options page, but it will be already working after you activate it.
3. Subscribe to Comments: As you probably know, having an engaged and active community on your blog is important. This plugin will allow your readers to subscribe to the comments on any specific post. Whenever a new comment is posted, they will receive an email about it, making it easier for them to follow the conversation.
4. Feedburner: If you use Feedburner to deliver your RSS feeds, this plugin is a must. It will basically forward all your subscribers to the right Feedburner feed. WordPress has many different RSS feeds available, so the plugin will make sure that you will not have subscribers scattered all over the place.
5. WP Super Cache: This plugin will create static versions of your pages and posts, and serve them to the users. This will drastically reduce the server load, making sure that your blog will sustain even sudden bursts of traffic that might result from a Digg front page, for example. Other benefits include a reduced bandwidth consumption and slightly faster loading times.
Useful WordPress Plugins
6. WP Contact Form: This plugin will add a very simple contact form to your blog. After activating it, you will just need to insert a tag in the page where you want the contact form to be displayed.
7. Google XML Sitemap: It is not necessary to have an XML sitemap for your site. If you are having indexation problems with Google, however, it might solve the problem. This plugin will create an XML sitemap for your site automatically, and it will also update the sitemap whenever you publish new content on the blog.
8. Exec-PHP: If you try to use PHP code inside your posts or pages, WordPress will treat it as normal text and break the code down. Once you have the Exec-PHP plugin installed, though, you will be able to run any sort of PHP code directly from your posts. You just need to activate the plugin and it will do the rest for you.
9. WordPress.com Stats: If you don’t like the web analytics programs available with your hosting plan, give this plugin a try. It will track all the visitors to your blog, and you will be able to view different reports, including search referrals.
10. WordPress Automatic Upgrade: If you happen to be using a WordPress version older than the 2.7, this plugin can be used to upgrade your install smoothly. You just need to activate it and follow the instructions. It even backs your files up to make sure that you won’t mess the blog while upgrading. If you have WordPress 2.7 you won’t need this plugin, though as version 2.7 already comes with a 1-click upgrade feature.
11. WP-DB-Backup: Backing up the WordPress MySQL database can be tricky if you have no technical knowledge. This plugin can be used to make the process simpler and automated.
12. Sociable: If you want to add social bookmarking icons to your posts and pages but don’t know how, try this plugin. After activating it you will just need to insert a tag where the icons are supposed to be displayed, and to select what icons you want to show (it supports a bunch of them).
There are many blogs that cover the WordPress niche. If you want to stay updated with the latest WordPress news and developments, it could be a good idea to subscribe to them.
Official Blog: The official WordPress blog gets updated whenever the WordPress team releases a new version or when they update sections of the WordPress website. Therefore, it is worth to keep a look on it therefore.
Yoast: Yoast is the home of Joost de Valk, a dutch SEO, and programmer. Joost is closely involved with the WordPress development community, and he is always blogging about WordPress optimization tips and tricks.
Lorelle on WordPress: Lorelle is a WordPress evangelist. On her blog she covers WordPress plugins, customization tips, and she also talks about all the WordPress events that are going on around the world.
- Bookmark the WordPress Codex and Support Forums for future reference. Those are the first two spots that you should keep in mind when trying to solve WordPress related issues.
- Browse around the different theme directories covered in this lesson and try to find some themes that suit your style and layout requirements.
- Download and install the essential plugins. After that take a look at the useful plugins and evaluate whether you will need any of them.
- Visit and possibly subscribe via RSS feed to the WordPress blogs mentioned in this lesson.
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