The Things About WordPress Plugins People Don’t Tell You – Insider Tips

WordPress is a powerful content management system, if used properly. Powering almost 30% of the internet (that’s over 15 million WordPress.org sites), the CMS is home to small personal websites, to large multinational business websites including TechCrunch, Sony Music and Mercedes Benz. Even artists like Beyonce and Katy Perry have their websites built on the platform. Not to mention the additional 76.5 million WordPress.com personal blogs that are currently active.

Despite its widespread popularity, there’s often a negative stigma attached to the open source platform. Developers have a love-hate relationship with the platform, praising it’s easy to use dashboard, customisability and quick setup process, but loathing the mess that CMS platforms often become. There are around 55,000 plugins available on the WordPress store, which allow you to expand your site functionality. Want to add an online store to your site? How about add an interactive calendar? Or would you like an email signup form? This is all achievable through plugins – many of which are free.

With so much expandability your site can do anything and everything! But be warned – with great power comes great responsibility. Whilst it’s great that you don’t need a developer to install these plugins and expand the functionality of your site – many people don’t understand the ins-and-outs of how to use plugins.

 

Is using too many plugins a bad thing?

Plugins are essentially additional blocks of code that run alongside your website to change how it behaves. So in short – no. You can have as many plugins as you want (theoretically), but you could run into a few issues when you start installing a lot of plugins. These issues might include:

  • Site speed/performance degradation – most plugins have a very little footprint, so you shouldn’t experience too many performance issues. However, if the plugins you install need to load a lot of additional files/link to external sites, your site loading times will increase. Depending on the nature of your plugin, it may require some server resources – whilst they may be minimal, if your site gets a lot of visitors, you may soon feel the effects.
  • Incompatibility – if you install multiple plugins that alter similar parts of your site, they may start to interfere with each other. The chances of this happening are rare – but check the description of the plugin before you download it, some plugins have known incompatibilities and simply won’t work. Also, check if the plugin you’re downloading has been tested with your version of WordPress – outdated plugins may also have issues running on newer versions of WordPress.
  • Style differences – plugins alter the way your site looks and behaves, and whilst that’s the goal of plugins – they may sometimes make some unintentional changes. Most plugins have their own look-and-feel, and may clash with your site’s existing templates and themes. They will be able to work – but they might look a bit odd/out of place at times. Be prepared to edit the PHP and CSS (code) files of your website if this is the case.

 

What do I need to be careful of when looking for plugins?

It’s hard to tell what a plugin will do without installing it first unfortunately. But there are a few things you can keep in mind when looking for/installing/using plugins:

  • Is it well documented? Before you download the plugin, check if it has – a detailed description explaining what the plugin does, screenshots, and installation instructions. Also have a look to see when it was last updated, and what the reviews have to say about the plugin.
  • Does the plugin offer support? Majority of plugins offer some form of support – but it’s worth checking before you commit to a plugin. Do a bit of research – if they’ve got a support forum, are people able to resolve their queries? Does the plugin have a dedicated website, with contact details? You might not need support straight away, but it’s nice to know in case you encounter a problem down the track.
  • Is it compatible with my version of WordPress? Will it work with my existing plugins? A reminder of what was discussed in the previous section of this article.
  • Is this plugin free, or will I need to pay for a Pro version? You can install any WordPress plugin for free – but keep in mind that a lot of them offer “Pro” or “Premium” versions which give you access to the full functionality of the plugin. Some are one-time fees, and other work off subscription models. If you’re running on a tight budget – choose your plugins wisely as the costs can add up quickly.
  • Most importantly – ask yourself, do I really need this plugin? Don’t install plugins just because you think they offer some “cool features”. Consider the purpose of your website, and what you want users to do. Will this plugin help you/your users achieve these goals? It’s also worth noting that some plugins offer multiple features, and you might already have a plugin installed that can handle what you’re looking for.
Make sure the plugin is compatible with your version of WordPress, has good reviews, and has an active support forum

Are there any plugins I should avoid?

To put it simply – avoid plugins that don’t meet the points listed above (lack of documentation, lack of support, not compatible, etc…). As a website designer, there is one type of plugin I recommend avoiding though, and that is drag-and-drop editors like:

  • Visual Composer
  • Divi Builder
  • WPBakery Page Builder
  • Elementor Page Builder
  • Live Composer

And the list goes on…

But they’re so easy to use! Why do you recommend we stray away from these site builders? Yes, whilst they are convenient, you sacrifice a lot of web design standards. Usually these site builders use their own version of HTML (code), which adds another layer to your website. The more advanced features you use with these site builders, the more additional code and resources your site has to unnecessarily load. They produce messy HTML and can become a nightmare to fix if you experience issues with the page layout. Drag and drop builders also encourage poor design standards, and you’ll find many sites that use tools like Visual Composer have no consistent theme or layout. You’re better off getting someone who knows how to write HTML & PHP for your website, rather than having someone who doesn’t understand how code works dragging and dropping elements on a page builder. Quick fixes often result in ongoing pains.

 

Are there some plugin essentials that I should have?

There are a few good plugins I think are a MUST for every WordPress site. They are:

  • Jetpack – built by the people who built WordPress, Jetpack adds awesome features that don’t come standard with your site. This includes – a Contact Form creator, social media integration, downtime monitoring, faster loading images (using a CDN), sitemaps, and a whole lot more! You won’t need all of the features, but it’s easy to turn on/off the ones you do and don’t want.
  • Google Analytics Dashboard for WP – this lightweight plugin offers two features. It adds the Google Analytics tracking code to your site (without you needing to edit your site code). And it shows your Google Analytics data on your WordPress dashboard – which is really handy! For quick stats, you don’t need to log into the Google Analytics site, you can do it straight from your dashboard. It’s worth noting that I personally trust Google’s Analytics more than Jetpack’s.
  • Smush Image Compression and Optimisation – most people forget to resize their images for web before they upload them, which means large images may take a while to load when someone visits your site. Smush automatically compresses every image you upload to your site, ensuring faster loading times for your users. The settings are quite customisable, however there are limitations in the free version. The paid version of this plugin is justifiable if your site is photo-heavy.
  • TinyMCE Advanced – the text editor that comes with WordPress is pretty awful to say the least. TinyMCE gives you additional formatting tools that makes entering content to your pages and posts a lot easier and more user friendly. The plugin also allows you to customise how the editor menus look.

A few more optional plugins (some are a bit more advanced):

  • Visual Form Builder – need to create complex forms on your site? Visual Form Builder is a powerful yet easy to use tool that has a lot of customisable features. You can use it for simple contact forms, to more complex entry forms/survey pages.
  • Custom Post Type UI – not for the faint hearted. Use this plugin if you want to get into some serious customisation. I won’t explain it in depth here, as you should understand how Post Types should work first (do a bit of research if you’re interested).
  • Advanced Custom Fields – also not for the faint hearted. This plugin is also for serious customisation, and you should learn how Shortcodes and PHP works before delving into custom fields (do a bit of research if you’re interested).
  • Advanced Page Manager – the page manager in WordPress is sufficient but can get clunky if you have a lot of subpages. If you want a more hierarchical view of how your pages are organised, a plugin like this will replace your “Pages” dashboard with something a little more intuitive. Whilst it’s not perfect, it helps beginners understand how their pages are structured.

 

So, there you have it! Some ins-and-outs about all things plugins! This isn’t a definitive guide, but it should help clear up some common misconceptions and concerns. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to send me a message.

Have You Got A Live Chat Widget On Your Website? Are You Using Facebook Messenger?

It’s 2017, and with the rapid evolution of technology and social media tools, it’s no surprise that services and features such as live chat widgets and chatbots are rising in popularity. With consumers expecting businesses to be available almost 24×7 and on a more human level, new social communication tools are now leading a new method of customer interaction.

Although emails, contact forms and ticket systems still have their place in many businesses (especially B2B), B2C companies are now embracing more instant forms of messaging. Whether it’s using the built-in feature of Facebook Messenger, or using a website widget, if you’re communicating with customers, you should be making the move towards instantaneous communication platforms.

Competition is fierce, and you don’t want to lose business simply because you didn’t respond in time.

The headings below will outline the benefits (and downfalls) of each platform:

 

Facebook Messenger

With over 1 billion people on Facebook, the social media platform is one of the easiest ways to reach and communicate with new and existing customers using its Pages feature. With a separate app (called Pages Manager), you can respond to messages sent directly to your Facebook page. There’s almost no setup required, as the messaging platform is a core feature of Facebook and Facebook pages.

Here are some reasons why your business should be using Facebook Messenger (via Facebook Pages Manager) to communicate with users:

  • No tools required – simply install the Facebook Pages Manager app on your mobile, or access the Page Manager from your desktop computer (via Facebook on your web browser)
  • “Everyone” has it – Facebook Messenger is a trusted platform that’s easy to use. Users will be able to communicate with you using a familiar interface – eliminating the trickiness of backwards and forwards emails, numerous phone calls or trying to schedule appointments.
  • Easy on mobile – Facebook Messenger is available (and optimised) for the mobile experience. You don’t need to worry about the technicalities, that’s Facebook’s speciality.
  • Automation – through third party platforms, you are able to automate or semi-automate the chat experience. Automatically sending messages, responding to enquiries or collecting data.
  • It’s social – people want to interact with people, not a faceless business, what better way to achieve this other than social media?

Now for the negatives. Admittedly there aren’t many, because seriously, what’s wrong with communicating using modern widely adopted technologies??

  • It requires manpower and effort –  depending on your business, you may need to hire one (or many) employees to man your social media page, handling enquiries as they come in. Because of this, it’s expensive and responding to customers is limited to the hours your employees are working. (Like many businesses nowadays anyway).
  • Automation platforms can be expensive – third party tools to automate the chat process often come at a price, and this needs to be evaluated from a business standpoint – what does it offer and is it worth it? Keeping in mind that automation is optional
  • Lack of customisation – unlike live chat widgets, emails or website forms, Facebook gives you almost no level of customisation for your messaging experience

 

 

Live Chat

Now onto live chat. Live chat widgets are commonly seen floating around the bottom left/right of a website (on both mobile and desktop), when clicked they bring up a window which resembles that of a Facebook Messenger conversation. Allowing website users to interact with your staff in real time whilst browsing your website. Here are the pros:

  • Branding and customisation – live chat software usually offers a great deal of customisation, allowing you to: pick a colour scheme, set logos and pop up images, choose when and where to display it on your site, and heaps more
  • Canned responses – often find yourself repeating the same information? Canned responses allow you to send predefined messages to users with the click of a button, speeding up the customer service process
  • Ability to capture information – live chat software allows you to have a pre-chat form, prompting users to enter certain data before initiating the chat. This allows you to store their phone, email (or whatever you like) for future reference, say for example you need to follow up on an enquiry
  • Reporting – important in any business environment, live chat software often allows you to monitor a variety of important stats, including: what page they entered on, how long they’ve been on the site, what browser/device they are using, and plenty more!
  • Screen sharing – some live chat apps even allow the user to share their screen with you, making it easy for you to guide them through a process on your website
  • File sharing – majority of live chat apps have a file sharing feature, making it easy to send photos, PDFs, Word Documents and more
  • Ticketing – unable to help the customer out through live chat? Live chat programs will allow you to assign a ticket to a particular user, making it easy to communicate with them once the chat session has ended
  • Categorisation – if you start to get inundated with large volumes of chat sessions, you can categorise them using tags. For example – if someone is asking about a particular product, you could tag it as the product name, and if someone had a general account enquiry, you could tag the chat with “account” (or similar). This makes reporting even easier – you’ll be able to see what users are using the live chat for, and tailor your web experience for them
  • Polls/feedback – once the chat ends, it’s always helpful to know whether or not the user appreciated the interaction. Different live chat apps have different setups, but usually you can gauge a user’s experience with a simple thumbs up/down poll at the end of a chat session
  • API integration – some live chat apps integrate with other services such as Salesforce and MailChimp. Others allow Zapier integration, which means importing/exporting data between almost any system is possible.

Wow! So many positives! There are a few cons you need to take into consideration though:

  • It requires manpower and effort –  depending on your business, you may need to hire one (or many) employees to man your live chat software, handling enquiries as they come in. Because of this, it’s expensive and responding to customers is limited to the hours your employees are working

 

Chatbot

Last, but not least, Chatbots. Gaining in popularity, Chatbots require little to human monitoring once the system has been set up. Here are the pros of using a Chatbot over Messenger or Live Chat:

  • 24/7 – computer code doesn’t sleep! You can answer enquiries on your website at any time of the day, any day of the year
  • Multiple chats – have multiple users wanting to contact you at the same time? No worries, many Chatbots can handle a few (even unlimited amounts of) enquiries simultaneously
  • Responses are instant – Chatbots respond using a database of predefines responses depending on their relevancy – because of this, they can reply to messages instantly
  • Cost efficient – depending on your needs, a Chatbot will almost always be cheaper to maintain than hiring a staff member to respond to enquiries
  • Potential to be fully automated – you basically don’t have to touch a single key on the keyboard, everything is handled by if-this-then-that pieces of code, and almost anything can be implemented depending on your Chatbot software

Whilst a “robot” may solve some of your problems, new issues often arise due to the lack of a human element, please consider that:

  • The software may need training – just like humans, a Chatbot needs to learn how to respond to questions, and a bit of initial effort may need to be put into setting up the system
  • Lacks a human touch and empathy – whilst you can make your predefined responses sound as friendly as possible, at the end of the day, they’re coming from a computer. Many consumers still want to interact with a human
  • Responses may not be specific enough – many website users turn to live chat widgets as a quick and easy way to get relevant information. If the Chatbot doesn’t understand what it’s being asked, it may send back a generic response that doesn’t help the user at all
  • User frustration – because of the points mentioned above, someone on your website may get annoyed and frustrated, a simple question for a human may prove difficult for a computer. Depending on how you implement a Chatbot, it may do more harm than good.

 

So which one is right for me?

Well it depends on your business, here are a few questions to get you thinking:

  • How do people currently contact my business – through social media, email or phone?
  • How many enquiries do I get and how frequently?
  • Do I usually respond with similar information, or is every enquiry unique?
  • What’s my budget?

 

Need help deciding?

Get in touch with me on social media, or click the Contact tab!

Why Your Business Needs A Website

Whether you’re running an enterprise, looking at starting a small business or you’re working from home, having a website is no doubt a must. With over 21 million Australians alone connected to the world’s largest network, you too can take advantage of numerous opportunities available online. Below is a list of reasons your business (or even hobby) needs a website:

  • It’s an almost “free” method of advertising. By simply existing online, you can create brand awareness. With the right SEO tools and knowledge, you could be appearing on the first page of Google (based on what your potential customers are searching).
  • Your website is accessible 24/7. The internet never sleeps, and a website allows you to market to potential customers easily outside of business hours. Online chat software also allows you to have instant and direct contact with people browsing your website.
  • You are able to provide as much information to your customers as you want. It can be hard conveying large amounts of information to people in a busy environment – your website allows you to provide countless resources to customers without limits, allowing them to understand in their own time, at their own pace.
  • You can make it your own & develop your business’ unique brand without limitations. Unlike social media, your website has no set template – the colour scheme, layout and content is all yours.
  • Online tools make it possible to capture data and statistics that you are otherwise unable to acquire. It’s hard to track how long a customer is in your store, what they were interested in, and where they came from – but online that’s not the case. Analytics software, such as Google’s free “Google Analytics” allows you to record and analyse in-depth visitor data, which can be used to improve your website and customer experience.
  • It shows that you’re serious and establishes credibility and customer confidence. To run a business and not have a website in the 21st century is unheard of.
  • It’s very cheap to maintain and make changes to. Web hosting can be as cheap as $3 a month, and with Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress, you can make content changes yourself in a matter of minutes.
  • It is an essential for businesses without a store – this IS your front of shop. It’s a no brainer – but if your business is a digital business, having a website is non-negotiable.
  • Websites allow you to accept payments online. Shopping is no longer limited to physical stores, and you could be reaching customers nation-wide, not just in your city/suburb. There’s also no overhead costs!
  • There are basically no limits (within reason). Seriously, with the right tools, almost anything can be achieved!