Time for another exciting blog entry! The year is winding down and shaping up to be awesome! The reason I wanted to do a Best WordPress Website Resources of 2016 article is because I felt like I’ve accrued more expertise and knowledge this year about WordPress than ever. I’m excited to share what I’ve found with you!
I just posted on How to Get a Full Time Web Design or Frontend Developer Job in 2016: and in that article, I mention having a great portfolio. At a loss where to start? You might want to try a WordPress website.
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Please note that I’m not being paid to link anything – and that all of the resources below are items that I personally have tried and used at some point this year. What follows below are all my own personal opinions.
but instead; highly selective.
I have made a great effort to only recommend high-quality items that I myself use on my own sites or client websites. These are plugins and themes I have extensive experience with.
If you’re new to WordPress, and need some help – there’s a lot of noise out there about what’s the best this and that. Some blogs are frustratingly annoying: posts created just to generate traffic, without any real evaluation of the products or insight into why they were chosen.
Best WordPress Themes
Well, this isn’t going to be a long list. This year, I’ve honed and whittled my favorite themes down to two beautiful pieces of code:
My Review: on WordPress.org
Useful For: Any Website
Cost: Free with an Optional Plugin Extension (go to pricing)
If you’re an adept frontend developer, and you really need a great starter framework that’s flexible, easy to use, and semantically beautiful… this is my favorite one of 2016. I’ve tried all sorts of frameworks and starter themes: Genesis, Divi, ect… and while there are plusses and negatives to each; I’ve now determined that Make can power all future WordPress sites when I’m creating a client website. Well, unless the market changes with a better alternative!
It features a nice drag-and-drop page builder template along with the standard template that you’re more used to seeing on other themes. This makes it easy to create custom pages in a snap. What’s incredible about this theme? It’s very versatile. I’ve used it so far for these sites (clicking on these buttons will take you to the folio entry):
Gardening Blog Beauty and Barber Supply Website Label Manufacturer Website Compliance Website Roofing Website
All but one (can you tell which one?) of the above were made using the Free version of Make. Impressive price tag for a fully mobile-responsive, customizable theme!
Another great thing about Make is how very well-documented and supported it is. The Theme Foundry team does a great job at keeping this theme on the cutting edge and updated in a timely manner. This means that your site will be built on a solid foundation – a worry-free WordPress experience for years to come.
GK Portfolio Theme
My Review: on WordPress.org
Useful For: Portfolio for Artists, Designers, Photographers. A Simple Responsive Gallery.
Cost: Free with Optional Paid Support (See Pricing)
This theme is powering my website as a parent theme. I’ve made significant changes to the way the theme looks – but I chose it for the way the archive pages display posts and entries.
When I’m choosing a theme that isn’t “Make” – I look for the main qualities or functionality I’m really wanting at the core (in this case, a minimalistic approach to showing posts as a portfolio instead of a list) – and then tweak the best-written and well-supported theme I can find. I check and validate the theme with a handy plugin called Theme Checker. (See more in the plugin list below.)
While I love the GK Portfolio theme, it’s very limited. This means most of the website will require some custom work and/or plugins to get it going beyond a simplistic portfolio. That’s okay though! I believe that was intended. The theme makes up for the lack of features with lightweight code and a solid foundation. If you’re looking for a basic folio theme that’s sleek, simple, and no-fuss: GK Portfolio is my top pick. Want to know all the different plugins I use to extend this theme? Check out the “Under the Hood” section of my About Page.
Best WordPress Plugins
We’ve all experienced the moment where we hit the functionality wall: our theme doesn’t do everything we wished it would. That’s where the plugin comes in! Some are sketchy, some are simply sensational. Here’s my top picks in order of how frequently I use them.
Avoid Code Bloat. Only install and activate the plugins you need
to keep your site running smoothly and quickly.
All of the plugins and how-tos below are compatible with the two above themes.
Useful For: Firewall, Caching, Security
Cost: Free / Premium Paid Subscription (see this page for pricing)
I’ve been using Wordfence for a while now. It’s a very useful plugin for a few reasons.
- WordPress is popular, and therefore targeted.
- Website maintenance can be easy to forget to do.
- WordPress can be slow due to the database bottleneck.
- Website Security is intimidating.
But these reasons are not a legitimate excuse to bury your head in the sand about your website security! Just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Wordfence steps in with a useful way to solve these problems. Let’s look at it more in-depth:
1. WordPress is popular, and therefore targeted.
The nice thing about a popular software is that it’s got a huge community behind it that serves as a wealth of information for new users. That’s awesome! But being widely used also means that it looks like a big, juicy target for would-be hackers.
Luckily, Wordfence combats this in several ways: it has settings which allow bad login attempts to be blocked after a set number of tries (you tell it how many tries you want). This helps mitigate brute force attacks. It also has a setting which requires user passwords to be strong. This is helpful, since we all know humans are bad at picking decent passwords. And say someone does try to hack your website with a ton of brute force attempts – you’ll have a notification, (if set up this way) and the IP address and ability to block that IP address from accessing your site in the future via the Wordfence IP blocking tool. Handy!
2. Website maintenance can be easy to forget to do.
If you’re setting up a website that doesn’t change frequently (or ever), it’s easy to forget you still need to update it. Wordfence is great because when configured correctly, it will send automatic emails to you (or whomever your web admin is) to notify you that something (a theme, plugin, or WordPress itself) needs to be updated. This saves the headache of logging in every day to check, yet enables you to perform a timely update when it’s needed.
3. WordPress can be slow due to the database bottleneck.
Like most Content Management Systems (CMS) – WordPress relies on a database for all content. This means that there’s a sitewide bottleneck at your single data access point: the database.
To combat the slowdown, caching is recommended. There’s a lot of info out there about caching – but the basic concept is that if a user accesses the page (or any assets on the page), then the website stores a copy of that data in the user’s temporary internet files folder. The next time the site is accessed, the data is pulled from the user’s computer instead of the database – unless the page has been updated or the cache is cleared.
Luckily, Wordfence has a nice caching system! Unfortunately, the Wordfence cache is being disabled. Luckily, the Falcon Cache has been forked by Vendi – you can grab the caching plugin seperately now.
4. Website Security is intimidating.
Let’s face it: we’re scared of what we don’t know. In the case of cyber security, it seems there’s always someone smarter, faster, and better out there, ready to hack your site with ease. That’s why it’s great to rely on a team which provides the very expertise you (and I) lack! The team that created this plugin is smart and on the ball. I trust that they know how to help me best protect my site from security threats because I saw firsthand how well the plugin works against hackers.
All-In-One WP Migration
Useful For: Site Migration, Backups
When I worked hard creating a development site and finished it, and then needed to launch, it used to be a nail-biter of a night for me until I found this plugin. In general, it’s not perfect, but it does work well when your PHP memory limit is increased.
Please note that if you want to restore an old backup, you may need the older version of the plugin too – so be sure to backup every version of this plugin before upgrading for future needs! Then it’s just a matter of installing the old version of the plugin, restoring the backup file, and bam! You’ve got your old site back. I know it’s not meant for backups necessarily, but I find it too convenient! So, I use it for one-click full site backups (including database) as well as migration during launch.
Useful For: SEO, XML Sitemaps
Cost: Free / Premium Version Available
SEO in WordPress used to be a pain until Yoast came along. I use this plugin exclusively for all my WordPress website SEO work. The XML Sitemaps is useful for your Google Webmaster Console – and the integration means that your sitemap is always updated to Google.
The main feature of this plugin is the on-page or on-post SEO keyword, title, and meta description input fields. I arrange them in the WordPress backend so they sit just under the post/page editor so it’s easy to remember to fill out those items when I’m done writing the main content. Also nice that it comes with the red/yellow/green light system – makes it visually easy to see where your website needs SEO work from the All Posts or All Pages menu.
Top marks for the free version – I’ve never tried the premium.
Contact Form 7
Useful For: Contact Forms
I’ll admit, this is the first contact form I ever used, and so I haven’t tried any others to compare. But, this one has always worked for me, and I love that it’s lightweight and easy to use.
Useful For: eCommerce
Cost: Free with Lots of Paid Extensions
WooCommerce is my favorite plugin available in a market yet to be dominated by a clear winner. The reason? The paid extensions are sometimes buggy or annoying, and their support sometimes stinks. (I’d rather not get into the specific instance, but it wasn’t horrible – and ultimately resolved) Overall, though, the product works awesome right out of the box with the free price tag, with the understanding that the functionality will be limited.
Still, I achieved several cheap to produce results with this amazing plugin, and can’t wait to see more of what the Woo team comes up with next.
Contextual Related Posts
Useful For: Browsing Enhancement, Website Usability, Post Bounce Rate Reduction
It used to be that when I looked at my analytics, I noticed a lot of bounces on individual posts and folio entries. I attributed that to the fact that the user doesn’t usually want to hit the back button (who wants to go back when you can keep moving?). To solve the problem (and boy did it ever!), I added this plugin to my site and let it do its thing.
After installation, bounces have significantly decreased, and I think my users are happier! The plugin works great out of the box, but the plugin author is also pretty awesome, if you should run into issues. I love this little bit of code so much, I made a donation to show my support.
Useful For: WordPress search enhancement
Cost: Free / Premium Option
WordPress is awesome to have a built-in search. In my opinion though, it kind of sucks. Relevanssi changes that – once activated and set up, it creates a much more google-like experience. I use the free version on just about every WordPress installation.
Useful For: Accessibility enhancements for any theme
Some themes don’t come with built-in skiplinks (Make does though!), some styling is hard to read, people forget to fill out alt text… there’s a lot of reasons why this plugin is useful. I installed it to help my elderly relatives read easier: I modified the plugin to make the font-size toggle button also change the font color to a high-contrast version. (You can try it yourself on the left side of the screen.)
This plugin is great for a site owner who wants to be sure their site is easy for everyone to use, but isn’t sure exactly how to make that happen. I also donated to show my support for this plugin – it’s a great piece of code! If you’re a fan of Joe’s work, you might also be interested to hear that he’s a featured speaker at the WordCamp US (keep reading below for that entry) – Look forward to seeing his presentation at the conference!
Useful For: Responsive Accordion Dropdowns
If you need accordion dropdowns, this one works well – and continues to work for over a year now.
User Admin Simplifier
Useful For: Changing the Admin Menus
Ever had a client that liked to break their website? Enter the admin simplifier! This allows me to change the backend admin menus to completely disable certain areas for certain users. Regain control back from someone who knows just enough to be dangerous, but not enough to know how to fix the problems they create.
Best WordPress How-Tos
Redirection Messaging Popup after htaccess 301 Redirect
Useful For: SEO, Redirection
Recently, I wanted to build a small, fast, lightweight plugin which created a small splash popup after a redirect. (For now, to see it live in action, travel here). I used this tutorial with decent success and tweaked it to my own needs. I think it might prove useful for you, too!
Google Analytics Plugin
Useful For: Embedding the Google Analytics tracking code into your theme’s header via a plugin
Well, that’s just too easy! I use this lightweight plugin on all builds. It’s perfect for any theme.
How to Customize the Login Page
Useful For: Creating a Plugin for Login Page Customization
I used this guide to make this and this. I enjoyed using this guide because I really wanted to learn how to do this for a more branded user experience. I did it first on my own site to learn how it was done, and then once built, recycled it for the client website.
How to Create Responsive Tables
Useful For: Responsive Tables
I love this blog. What a beautifully written article that was helpful and easy to modify to my needs. Indeed, they don’t suck! Thanks, Mr. Penland! See one of my examples of this usage in action here.
How to Disable the Backend Visual Editor on Just One Page
Useful For: Backend Page Editor Customization
This is why this is useful: Sometimes clicking on the “Visual” tab in the WordPress backend breaks the code of whatever hand-written coding work you’ve done. (Especially for fancy things like tables, or icons like font awesome) In this case, you need to disable the Visual Editor. But not for the whole site! On pages that work either way; they should remain as-is and be user-friendly for non-coders. Here’s your answer to this problem, on StackOverflow.
Best WordPress Meetups
Useful For: Networking, New Technologies
Last year, I volunteered at the WordCamp US convention, and it opened my eyes to a lot of topics that are emerging in the WordPress development community. If you’re planning on making WordPress part of your career, you should plan to attend this event!
I’ll be there this year – contact me if you want to meet up on Saturday, December 3, 2016!
Wrapping it Up
Did I miss something?
Want my opinion on the best plugin for your particular issue? Got your own stories and tips to share? Post your ideas and questions in the comments below – and have fun creating your own WordPress Website!
If you liked this post and want more information, post your question in the Reply area below so others can benefit from our conversation!
Blog Writing: Laura Rafferty
Featured Photo: This Free Stock Photo (thanks!)
Screenshots: Source Websites are Linked to Screenshot
* Common-Sense Disclaimer: While I do my best to ensure that all plugins and themes are valid, beautiful code, it is up to you to also check for those things! Don’t sue me if something doesn’t work great 100% of the time. These are other people’s projects, and I’m suggesting them because they worked well for my purposes and I found them useful. Code also changes over time: so if you find an error here, please contact me so I can fix this article. Thanks!
Hi! My name is Laura Rafferty, and I'm a fine artist, photographer, web designer and front-end developer in Philadelphia. Also love flatland BMX & my sweet lil kitty.