My Setup, part 3 – WordPress

In this, the final chapter of the epic My Setup post (see part 1 and part 2), I will reveal to you how I use WordPress as the back-end of this site.  In the previous two chapters, I explained what kind of hardware and software I used to develop a site.  This time, I’m going to explain how I take what I create locally on my computer and get it into an easy to manage, extensible website.

The hoop(s) brain is actually the first website I created with a WordPress back-end.  I had heard of some of the other common CMS softwares out there, like Joomla, Drupal, and Expression Engine.  Now in the interest of full-disclosure, I should probably mention that I haven’t tried any of these other CMS programs.  I probably will at some point just to experiment with them.  What drew me to WordPress is that it seemed like a lot (I mean, a lot) of the top-notch web designers/bloggers out on the internets are using WordPress.  And pretty much everyone agrees that WordPress is easy to use, and highly customizable with themes and plug-ins.  Being a Mac user, I recognized the importance of simplicity, elegance, and power in a single package.   So when it came to redesigning this site, I decided to try WordPress and I haven’t looked back.

So far, it’s been pretty amazing.  I think the biggest two things that I love about WordPress are all the available plug-ins (although sometimes there are so many, it seems daunting to find the right one) and the ease of quickly creating pages and new posts.  Prior to using WordPress, all of my HTML was hard-coded and required manual editing, which could be extremely time consuming.

WordPress makes it very easy to get started with a blog if you’ve never designed a website before.  Unfortunately, if you want to get beyond that and start customizing things, it’s not really obvious what the best way is to go.  A lot of folks will find  a theme that they like and customize it a little bit.  I knew right away that I wanted something I could really customize, but didn’t have to start from scratch on.  That’s when I discovered theme frameworks and child themes.

Theme frameworks are like a bare-bones theme you use as the structure of your site.  Most frameworks already have a lot of functionality built-in to them, and are flexible enough that you can customize the theme a lot, primarily through CSS.  You can then create a child theme, which uses the theme framework, but allows you to customize it separately.  That way you can upgrade the theme framework without breaking your child theme (usually :-)).  The theme framework I’m using is Thematic, by Ian Stewart.  Again in the interest of full disclosure, this is the only theme framework I’ve tried.  However, I am happy with Thematic and have not had much in the way of issues with it.  I then created my own child theme for this site and made all my customizations there.

I’m not going to talk about every little setting in WordPress, but I’m going to give you a quick overview of the plug-ins I use:

  • Advanced Tagline – I use this to post the random tagline in the site header.  It’s fun.
  • Akismet – This is a complete no-brainer.  Haven’t really gotten many comments on the blog yet, but Akismet has already prevented many spam comments.
  • All in One SEO Pack – Another no-brainer for easily changing your site’s SEO information.
  • Contact Form 7 – I used this to create the form on the contact page.  Was pretty easy to use and setup, so I have no complaints.
  • Google Analytics for WordPress – I’m a big fan of Google Analytics and have used it before.  This plugin makes it very easy to set it up in WordPress.
  • Google XML Sitemaps – Takes a couple of minutes to set up, but after that there’s nothing to it.
  • No Self Pings – Seems like a no-brainer – this plugin keeps WordPress from sending pings to your own site.
  • Really Simple CAPTCHA – this works with Contact Form 7 to prevent email form spam.
  • Search Unleashed – Lets you search everything on the site, not just the default stuff WordPress lets you search.  Again, very easy to setup.
  • Secure WordPress – Simple to set up, yet makes your WordPress site more secure.
  • Sociable – I know there are several different plugins that offer a quick and easy way to submit to various social networking sites, but I like Sociable from what I’ve seen.
  • WordPress Popular Posts – If you’re blogging, this seems like a very useful plugin, which just inserts a list of your most popular posts into a widget area.
  • WP-PageNavi – Adds pagination to your blog posts, which greatly improves on the standard WordPress method of previous article/next article.

That rounds out the various plugins I use.  I’m sure there are lots of other cool plugins out there.  Sometimes you just need a use for it.  Got any suggestions for plug-ins?  Post ’em in the comments.

Hope you enjoyed this series of articles on the tools I use to create this website.  Maybe you learned something.