Table of Contents:
- Why Use WordPress, Like… Ever?
- Hosting for WordPress
- Great WordPress Themes
- Must-have WordPress Plugins
- Other Great Tools
Great WordPress Themes
Although WordPress itself is a powerful CMS (Content Management System), it is only as good as its theme. A lot of developers would say that a custom solution is the only way to guarantee that you have a well oiled, smoothly running website. That is totally true, but that only applies to a website that has a team of full-time developers. For the rest of us, we have to deal with what we get out of the box, or in my case, a hybrid of the two.
Well, I have great news; you can get the exact design that you want without the need for any heavy custom coding. I present to you, the Elementor Pro Page Builder and the (free) GeneratePress theme. With these two powers combined, you or your designer can easily create page designs and even design the header, footer, blog posts, archive pages, etc… across the entire site using the Elementor Pro template builder. This basically does what used to take me hours and hours to code by hand, but transformed into a user-friendly, truly mobile responsive drag-and-drop page builder.
To understand the power of Elementor, you need a basic understanding of the WordPress theme structure. Most themes are broken up into several parts:
- Header file
- Page Template file
- Archive Template file
- Post Template file
- Footer file
- Plus a bunch of other files I won’t get into here
The Header and Footer are typically the same across the site, then WordPress just fills in the middle, or body, with a corresponding template, based on what kind of content you are viewing. For example, a standard page loads the Header file, Page Template file and Footer file to display the content on that page. A blog post and archive work the same, loading the same Header and Footer files, but using a different body file for each.
What is cool about Elementor Pro, is that it allows you to use the page builder to design these elements individually, so that you can build a header that looks the same across the site, a consistent footer, every blog post is structured the same, etc… With other page builders, you would have to rebuild every single page independently and forget about even building a post template because you would be stuck with the theme default.
For the base theme itself, I chose GeneratePress because it works well with Elementor and it is lightweight and very fast. I used to recommend the Genesis Framework, but it is not as compatible with Elementor and requires some more developer knowledge to setup. I still love Genesis, I just wanted to simplify the whole process with another more Elementor-friendly theme. However, if Genesis ever gains more Elementor support, I will be the first one back on their wagon.
With all of that, here are some quick links to get you started with this setup:
Must-Have WordPress Plugins
WordPress plugins are what make this CMS so amazing. It can also be why some developers shy away from it. There is a vast community of developers who have created and are still creating thousands of plugins for WordPress. If you can think of something your website needs, chances are, there’s a plugin for that. Sounds great, right? The problem lies in the fact that none of these plugins are fully vetted by WordPress, so it is up to you to figure out whether you should trust it or not.
To help alleviate this issue, I am going to lay out the steps you can take to fully vett a plugin before installing it onto your site.
- Last Updated: If was updated more than 6 months ago, it is most likely no longer supported. So, ditch that plugin and keep on searching. There are a few exceptions, but this is generally a good rule to follow.
- Active Installations: If everyone else is doing it, in this case, you can probably feel safe doing it too. Don’t go jumping off any bridges though.
- Ratings and Reviews: Just like when you shop online, ratings can be a good way to see what other people think of the plugin.
- Stay Focused: If the plugin offers way more features than you need, it will most likely be a heavy lift on your site and slow it down more than necessary.
- Testing: Install the plugin on a staging environment to see if it creates any conflicts on your site.
With all that being said, Here is a list of plugins that I have already fully vetted and recommend for almost every site:
This is THE SEO plugin for WordPress. It has everything you need to make your posts SEO-friendly. It might as well come pre-installed with WordPress. They also have a pretty decent blog about best SEO practices.
This plugin adds Schema.org markup to your site. This is essential to making sure you have structured data which will greatly help SEO crawlers. Google pretty much demands that your site have structured data, and unfortunately, most themes don’t come with it built-in.
This plugin adds Accelerated Mobile Pages to your WordPress site. It will make a second version of your post with “/amp” attached to the end. This will display a stripped down version of your post that loads faster on mobile devices with slower connections.
This plugin will allow you to automate the insertion of code across your site. We typically use it to add inline banners after the nth paragraph or after the content of every post. You can alos be very specific and only add the code on a post that is tagged, a specific category, etc… I do recommend that you know some basic html or simply copy and paste code another developer gave you.
This is my favorite minification plugin, hands down. It plays nice with page builders and other caching plugins like W3 Total Cache.
This is the only form builder I will use. It is very easy to use and has a lot of integrations that will make your life so much easier. It also works with Zapier, so your options are virtually limitless. However, it is a Premium Plugin, but I promise the cost is way worth it if you want to build something outside of a standard contact form.
This plugin is great for adding code to your site, without having to edit your theme files. So, if you ever change your theme, you won’t lose your code.
This is a Schema rating plugin that allows users to rate your posts. After some time, Google may show the star ratings in search results, causing your post to stand out.
This plugin basically fixes the crappy WordPress search and makes it act more like Google when searching on your website. You can even dig into the settings and exclude certain items from your search.
This is an absolute must-have plugin that compresses your images. If you want a speedy site, use this plugin and a CDN together for optimal results. You will need to bulk “smush” your previously uploaded images, but future image uploads will be compressed automatically.
This is a great tool for accountability on your website. I am not one to cast blame, you must be responsible for your own site. But, with this logging plugin, you can see where mistakes were made and help to prevent them from happening again.
W3 Total Cache (if your hosting does not provide caching. DO NOT USE with WP Engine or SiteGround)
If your hosting provider does not offer site caching, then this is your go-to caching plugin. Just be sure to disable minification since Fast Velocity Minify will do a better job for that.
Other Great Tools and Resources
This is one of my favorite tools for creating lead generation ads on our websites. It has an easy drag-and-drop builder and integrates directly with major Email Marketing Services and Google Analytics. So, you can easily create your popups, welcome mats, floating bars and much more, while also collecting data on how your campaigns are performing. It also integrates directly into WordPress via a plugin.
This plugin is great for adding social sharing buttons, onsite analytics, heatmaps and more. It can be a bit heavy, so make sure you are going to utilize most of its features if you are going to install it to your site.
They offer a free push notification service. You can set it to automatically send a push notification when a new post is published, or you can schedule custom notifications within their dashboard.
This site pretty much covers almost anything a beginner may encounter when getting into WordPress. It can even be a great resource for more experienced people as well.