13 Essential WordPress Plug-ins For Business

I use WordPress to host and run my websites.

(It started as blog-hosting software but works as a Content Management System too. The Wall Street Journal’s site is built on its software, for example).

Lots of people more technically-skilled than I have written lots of little programs, called plug-ins, that help me make my website do cool things without having to write the code myself[1. This only works on a self-hosted WordPress installation, not a blog hosted by WordPress.com]. Some of these things I could do myself, but plug-ins make it easier, quicker and automated. [2. I love automated]

Plug-ins let me do everything from put headlines in my sidebars, to helping me track how many people visit which article, to creating sign-up forms, and create those cute little ‘link to me’ buttons at the top of this article. Here are the ones that allow me to build websites that make my clients go “ooooh!”

Must-Haves

Google XML SiteMaps

This makes it easier for Google to index your pages (i.e include you in their search results)

Google Analytics For WordPress

This inserts the “Google Analytics” code wherever it needs to be in your site (usually in the header or footer of the code, which you don’t necessarily want to go digging around in unless you know what you’re doing. Trust me. A misplaced semi colon can bring grown men to tears!)

Google Analytics is an amazing (free) tool that tracks how people get to your website, where they go, how long they stay, where in the world they are, what keywords they searched for to get to you (and therefore what you should be including on more of your pages)…and so much more. It presents the information in all kinds of cool ways: graphs, overlays, tables. Go. Sign up.

Being able to tell clients exactly what’s going on with traffic is really valuable. You can both see what impact the site is having on business, you can see which marketing strategies are working and which are a big waste of money, you can improve the site. Good for you, good for your client.

Social, Sharing and Visibility Plug-ins

Simple Modal Contact Form (SMCP)

I, and my clients, use mailing list services like MailChimp and Constant Contact. While both of these offer form-building options at their sites, sometimes you just want a little more control, but again, with out having to play HTML or CSS.Very easy to use and effective, and no-one has to know you didn’t hand-code the whole thing.

The only problem I have with this plug-in is that its acronym reminds me of that song “SIMP, Squirrels In My Pants” from te cartoon Phineas and Ferb…)

WP-Polls

Thinking about offering a new product or service? Ask your customers/readers what they think. Super-easy single-question polls to pop in your sidebar. Minimalist style. Lovely.

Sexy Bookmarks

I tried gathering button graphics for all the social networking tools (Twitter, RSS, LinkedIn, Facebook) and building a sidebar “Link to me!” plea.

Then I discovered Sexy Bookmarks. You can see what this plug-in looks like at the bottom of this post (unless you’re reading the RSS feed. It didn’t show the graphics, just a huge text list, so I turned it off for you guys. Come visit the original post…)

Social Follow

Sign up at the Social Follow website, enter in your user name at all the social networking sites you use (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc) and they will generate a little button like the one in my sidebar, making it easy for people to follow you wherever you are (if you like that sort of thing). This plug-in builds a widget that you can drop into any widget area in your theme (again, no messing around with your theme’s code files).

WP125

You know how a lot of sites have those little square adverts off to the side? Well, some are powered by ad companies (or Google ads) but sometimes it makes sense to control your own ads.

This plug in lets you sell and manage advertising on your site. You control how big the ads are, where they go, how many show up, what images show up, and it also contains a management function, that allows you to set rates, and expiration dates. It’ll even email your advertisers when their contract is about to expire.

Nice, for getting things how want them to look

Query Post

This allows you to build sidebar widgets that contain just the posts you want them to contain. It has a zillion different ways to filter your posts and pages to allow you to control what appears. It is obviously very powerful and I’ve only figured out how to do rudimentary stuff so far, but it is simple enough for newbs and powerful enough for folks who know what they’re doing.

Category Page and Page2Cat

This is a lovely little plug in that lets you create a page that is automatically updated with all your posts from categoryX (which you define by typing a short code, i.e. a phrase in a square bracket). Simple and elegant. You may have to add some code to your site depending on your theme, but it’s only once and it is well-documented.

Make Things Easy For Your Readers

WPTouch iPhone Theme

Your three-column design might look great on a computer monitor, but it probably irritates people reading on a tiny mobile screen. Thisplug-in automatically converts your blog, when readers access it via a mobile device. It makes your site look like an iPhone app (which is cute if, like me, you love your iPhone). It also has a ‘turn this off’ button at the bottom for people who want to see the original layout, or who hate all things iPhoney. Very, very nice plug-in

Make Posting Easier For You

Flickr Manager

Every time I go to Flickr, I curse the fact that I have to click so often to get to the size and code I want for my picture. Flickr Manager Plug-in works just like the little “insert picture’ button on you WP Dashboard, except that instead of prompting you to upload a picture, it goes straight to your Flickr Photostream. It allows you to choose sizes, alignment etc and add a caption (dependent on your theme). HUGE timesaver.

(update: this doesn’t seem to be finding all my pictures since I upgraded to WordPress 2.9.1)

FDFootnote

This allows me to create footnotes [15. Like this] really simply, by using shortcodes (basically,putting something in a square bracket — in this case a number, a period and your note)

So, off you go and explore the wonderful world of plug-ins.

Update (2/22/10): Lucky 13 is:

WP-Table Reloaded

I’ve long been frustrated by having to hand-code tables in the wordpress window. No longer! This plug-in installs its control panel in the Tools section, from whence you can set up tables, add data and then embed the same table (or different ones) anywhere in your website simply by entering a short code. Love it!

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You Can’t Afford To Be As Secretive As Apple

Hardly anyone knew anything for sure about Apple’s new tablet, the iPad, before its vaunted launch last week.

Within 13 minutes of the word “iPad”‘s first public utterance it was the top trend on Twitter.

But are you sure you have Apple’s reach?

Not The Apple Approach

Last week, something else happened that got less press, but meant a lot more to me and a few hundred thousand like-minded people.

Author Gretchen Rubin‘s book “The Happiness Project” zoomed up to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers list, and she announced it on her blog.

Her readers (me included) got a real jolt of, well, happiness, seeing that post.

Why?

Because we had been there, reading the blog and talking to each other in Gretchen’s virtual kitchen, long before the book was really a book.

We had tweeted and blogged and emailed and reviewed this book for our ‘friend’ because she had been so open with us during the writing process. We felt like we had a stake in this book’s success.

This is not the Apple model.

It is, however, a large part of the reason Gretchen Rubin reached the top spot in her industry within one month of her book’s publication date.

Can You Afford To Be As Secretive As Apple?

What benefit do you gain from guarding your processes?
Do you need to develop new products and services in secret?
How much would you benefit from a more direct conversation with your audience?

In other words:
Do you need a social networking strategy?

If you think the answer is yes, but you’re not sure, email me, or comment below, and we’ll get the conversation rolling.

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New eReader from Barnes & Noble: The Nook

Barnes and Noble have released a new eReader, which looks suspiciously like the Kindle with a few “Look I’m Different” features.

(I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Not at all. I just wonder why it has to be white and rectangular and look like a clone. Surely there are other designs?)

Here’s a side-by-side comparison, based on B&N’s site comparison and a Kindle user’s experiences (mine!).

I’m glad there’s competition, because it means that Amazon will have to improve the Kindle and someone else might invent something that breaks the mold and is wonderful. Of course, as an early adopter I’m rolling my eyes at the prospect of that, but I went into this with my eyes open!).

As a reader, I think it’s a good thing, because it probably means that more books will be available in ebook format and in multiple ebook formats. There seems to be a move towards making ebooks multi-platform and maybe more hardware will encourage that.

I’m also not sure if I should be concerned that the booksellers are now also the manufacturers of the device that holds the books AND, in many cases, the publisher of the content as well.

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How To Create Great Customer Reviews

What’s more likely to tip you over from browser to buyer:

  • a detailed list of features and benefits

or

  • an enthusiastic recommendation by someone just like you?

Consumers are pretty savvy these days, having been bombarded with advertising since they were babies. They are skeptical of your claims about your product. They know your job is to sell it to them.

How Do You Make Your Decision To Buy?

Most people will ask around for recommendations (if you’ve ever hung out with a group of new mothers, you know what I’m talking about).

The best thing you can do for your product or service is to show your customer how it has helped other people just like them.

Get Your Customers on Camera Photo by <a href=

Have your happiest customers talk directly to prospects by interviewing them.

It doesn’t take much time or money yet is incredibly powerful.

Here’s how:

  • Get a cheap and easy-to-use video camera like the Flip UltraHD Camcorder (mash the big red button to start recording, mash it again to stop, plug into the USB port of your computer, copy to your computer using the super-easy included software, click ‘upload’ to send it to YouTube)
  • Identify your happiest customer, ones who will rave unashamedly about what you’ve done for them.
  • Take them out for dinner, a drink, a walk in the park or invite them in to your office.
  • Ask them some warm up questions to get them used to the camera (you don’t even have to turn it on for this).
  • Then ask them to talk for about 2 minutes on what your product or service has done for them and why they’d recommend it.

Technicalities of Recording a Video

  • Keep it short (people will watch 2 minutes but not 10)
  • Keep the camera at eye level
  • Focus on their face
  • Try to have good lighting on their face (bring a lamp if you need to)
  • Sit next to the camera so they’re looking at you while they’re talking.
  • And keep it short (did I mention that?)

It’s amazing how powerful an amateur video of a happy customer can be, posted on your ‘reviews’ or ‘testimonials’ page. Try it and let me know how it works out.

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Phoenix Karate Website

Phoenix Karate – Created website architecture and look & feel, SEO and keywords, contracted graphics work, created Content Management System, created mailing list, incorporate ad space and management in sidebars, create graphics for ads and feature boxes, write news and blog updates, research and write weekly newsletter, conducted video interviews and clips to embed on site.

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How To Excite Your Customer

This week I was listening to a gathering of (probably) excellent minds from “Great Universities” talking about one of my favourite subjects: the history of History. The program’s audience was the general public.

I tried — twice — to get through the whole podcast, but couldn’t do it.

I refuse to admit that the professors were cleverer than I am, but I had difficulty following their discussion, and more importantly, they didn’t make me care to.

(How many industry presentations have you been to, or websites have you read where you felt the same way?)

  • Each speaker’s points were supported with obscure references from his very tight niche of historical study
  • They spoke almost apologetically tone, that said, “My fellow historians are probably going ready to leap in and hack me to pieces for using this example in a way they disagree with, so I’d better be ready to go on the defensive.”

In other words, they used jargon, they droned, and they aimed their words at their colleagues, not at the audience.

I turned them off and have no idea what their names were.

In contrast, last week I listened to a talk by Simon Schama, a popular historian who fled the Oxford-Cambridge position he once held and has gone on to become a huge popularizer of the study of history. He talks simply, to everyday people; you can almost hear him bouncing with enthusiasm; and he clearly doesn’t care if someone criticizes him: he’s ready to engage them.

That talk left me energized, inspired and ready to sign up as a Simon Schama groupie.

Are You Engaging Your Audience

Today, take a fresh look at your documents and your company’s presentations.

  • Are you using jargon (is it explained? Can you say what you mean in ‘real world’ words?)
  • Are you talking to your customer, your colleagues or your competition? Make sure you are talking to your customer!
  • Are you excited? Are you getting them excited? Are you showing them how your product or service can have an impact? Why they need it?

Tomorrow:  The Secrets To Becoming Your Customer’s New Best Friend

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Why Your Business Needs A Website – Videocast

Too many small and local business still don’t have a website. Find out why you need to take control of your online presence (even if you didn’t know you had one!)

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How To Avoid Looking Like An Idiot

Should you follow the latest trend in your field? Not necessarily. But you must be able to tell your clients why you are avoiding it. And you must do your research.

In marketing, Twitter is trendy. Some marketers are finding ways to work with it. Others feel it’s not worth the effort. And still others make themselves look like fools, because they haven’t done their homework.

I just read a post on a blog I *used to* follow. The author takes 485 words (or 2921 characters) to demonstrate that he: doesn’t get Twitter, doesn’t like Twitter, couldn’t use Twitter to help your business if you hired him (that was 102 characters and used up a lot less of your life).

The author dismisses Twitter with such disdain that he doesn’t even bother to do any research. He says,

“I can only assume that a very young demographic embraces it and gets something from it.”

In fact:
43% of Twitter users are aged 18-35
29% are aged 36-49.
54% are women and
43% have children.
26% have incomes above $60,000,
25% have incomes above $100,000,29% have incomes in the $30-30,000 range, and all of them are consumers.

(Estimated figures for March 09-August 09, from http://www.quantcast.com/twitter.com )

That’s a marketer’s dream, right there!

I’m pretty unimpressed with this ‘professional’ and ‘expert’ by now.

He goes on to complain about the celebrities he follows,
“I received 63 tweets yesterday from the assorted personalities I’m following, none of which hold any impact beyond remote voyeurism.”

Maybe he’s following the wrong celebrities.

  • Neil Gaiman, a writer, tweeted that a couple of schools in poor areas were asking for donations to buy copies of his books. Gaiman’s books are very popular with boys, a population notoriously hard to engage in reading. Within 24 hrs the project was fully funded and the class will have new books any day now. We may have just changed a life or two. Because we followed a tweet from a ‘celebrity’.
  • Nathan Fillion, an actor, asked his followers to support friends who were running for charity. “If only a handful of you donate a dollar- imagine!”, he tweeted. In two days they’d raised almost $10,000.

What about businesses? Is tweeting a waste of time for them?

  • Here’s a story about a Texas cafe whose operations manager credits Twitter with doubling their clientele
  • Blair Hirtle, sales coordinator for Fairmont Hotels, noted that the Fairmont Empress offered a special discounted room rate on Twitter. The result was “increased occupancy. Much more successful than any traditional ad buy and it cost minimal time and labour.” Now seven Fairmont hotels have Twitter accounts.
    (Read this and lots of other interesting examples here )

Now I’m questioning this ‘expert’s judgment, not to mention wondering why he’s reading about Paris Hilton’s nights out instead of working on my project.

So yeah, it’s fine to distance yourself from a trend that you don’t love. Just don’t make yourself look like a fool in the process.


Is there a trend in your industry that you love or hate? Are you struggling with social media?

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Create Your Own Kindle eBooks

If you’re lucky enough to have a Kindle or a Kindle 2, there is no need to go spending good money to put your own content on there.

If you have PDFs, HTML docs, word processor documents that you’d like to carry around on your Kindle, you can either pay 10c a doc to have Amazon convert and email them to your Kindle OR you can use this handy, free method.

[UPDATE 1/3/12 – Amazon has announced the latest Kindle format will move away from the Mobi format. Find out more at the Amazon Digital Publishing site]

STEP 1
[click to continue…]

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How To Find Your Audience On Twitter

As a follow-up to my last post (about getting more followers on Twitter through auto-follows), I wanted to post quickly about how I’m finding the right people to follow (and hoping they auto-follow me).

At first I was searching Twitter for keywords, manually (at search.twitter.com), reading conversations and cherry-picking the best. Then I was joining conversations and trying to be friendly and funny and charming, just as I would at a real life party.

Now, I’m letting TweetLater do the searching for me [1. I don’t mean to sound like a walking ad for TweetLater. It’s just the service I’m using. I’m sure there are others.].

I used their free service to set up a search for tweets that contained certain keywords and told it to email me once a day with the results. (You can customize it to send them more or less frequently). I checked the tweets and, if I liked what I saw, I followed.

In my case, I wanted to build relationships with other parents of kindergartners. Since it was June, and everyone was finishing school, it was easy to choose my keywords: “kindergarten graduation”.

I’d suggest starting with one or two keywords at first, to avoid being overwhelmed.  Check what’s working, change what’s not.

You can auto-follow everyone, but at some point it becomes too much. If you’re not chatting back and forth with at least some of your “Tweeps”, no-one will listen when you do talk.

After all, it’s the same thing online or off: you’re more likely to listen to your friends than a stranger. Smart following on Twitter  helps you make more ‘friends’.

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