My 6 Basic WordPress Plugins

wpplugins
I make a living working on WordPress. And this blog is on WordPress. And at the risk of sounding repetitive, I’ve been on WordPress for 4-5 years now. One of the most important things in the install workflow is selecting and installing the plugins you’d need. While the exact set of plugins varies from project to project, and depends on the intended functionality of the site, there are a few basic ones that I make sure to install on every site I deploy. The exhaustive list is too big, but here’s my top six, which you may find useful.

  1. Akismet: Automattic’s own plugin which saves me a lot of time & energy in filtering out the comment spam, done by SEO bots mainly.
  2. Google Analytics: Any GA plugin will do. But most loved by us is the one by Joost de Valk. Why do you need this? You do want to know the details of the traffic you get, don’t you? And then you can export that data, import it into your spreadsheet software, and soar into the dreamy world of pivot-tables.
  3. YARPP: Remember how you forgot to leave Amazon the last time you went there, because you kept clicking on the “the people who bought this also saw this” products? Well, why not use the same tactic for your blog? Increase the stickiness. Increase the meaningful interlinks. Increase SEO juice. There are plenty of related posts plugin, but I favour Yet Another Related Posts Plugin. Why? Is the name not enough?
  4. BWP Google XML Sitemaps: Sitemaps are important. Sitemaps let crawlers know where all your content is. It’s like the related posts for robots. Must for improved search rankings, and findability. Preferred plugin: BWP’s.
  5. Regenerate Thumbnails: How many times during development have you realised you need a new size of an image, and found that WordPress is either giving you too small or too big an image? And then after registering a new thumbnail size, how many times have you wondered if you need to delete and reupload the images already in the library, so that the thumbnails in the new size are created for these images? If you have come across such questions, you need to install this plugin, which regenerates thumbnails for all the images already in the library.
  6. Smushit: Have lots of images making your blog heavy to load? Install this plugin, so that every image you upload is passed through Yahoo!’s smush.it service and losslessly compressed.

Which plugins do you recommend as the bare necessities when installing a fresh WordPress setup? And do you have alternatives to the ones mentioned above?

Share them in the comments.

Smart Web – How Smart?

While reading this Rediff.com story about Maruti Madhavrao Phad, a Maharashtra government employee who got injured during the recent terrorist attack on Bombay, I noticed something.

It is not related to the story as such. If you scroll down to the end of the story you’ll see the credits for is particular story. It reads “Image: Maruti [Get Quote] Madhavrao Phad at his home. Text: A Ganesh [Images] Nadar. Photograph: Uttam Ghosh


See the screenshot of the line. Notice the yellow areas? These are smart tags which apparently the engine parsing the code of the pages inserts to “enrich” the user’s browsing experience, by providing additional information related to the content the user is browsing through at the moment.

Note the word “related”? Now see what the yellow highlights in the image show. “Get Quote” for Maruti. Here Maruti is the first name of the hero of the story, not the name of a car-making company. Yet, the Rediff engine treats it as the company’s name, and is offering you stock quotes for it. And for Ganesh, the link is a Rediff search link with the string “Ganesh” – marked “Images”. Which means that it would return images of the Lord Ganesha, and other celebrities called “Ganesh”. Not images of the author of the article in this case, A Ganesh Nadar.

And both these tags are intrusive, they not only break the text they are placed in, they break proper names of people. Intrusive and irreverent. Considering the tone of the article, even more so.

Were they really necessary?

Why can’t I pay my bill?

I use Tata Indicom’s broadband as my home connection (plugged into a wifi router, to allow me complete freedom of movement in the apartment, but that’s a different story), and I love it. Last I checked at www.calcuttatelephones.com (their speed checking tool has been mentioned on BBC’s Click), the connection (marketed as a 512 mbps connection) competes well with T1 lines. Impressive! There have been a few outages – 2 to 3 maximum since I have subscribed, but the helpline is helpful and they get the connection up in less than half a day everytime.

What really bothers me is their online presence.

Simple task: I have been getting calls from their collection people asking me to pay the due bill. So I want to make an online payment.

The usual routine with most vendors for this is: sign in to the website, click on Pay Bill, log in, follow instructions, enter card/account information, get confirmation from account provider, and you are done.

But with Tata Indicom, it does not work that way. What I need to do is, click on Pay Your Bill Online Here, log in, they should show me my outstanding, I select payment mode, confirm, read terms, confirm, log in again, on which I am directed to the usual post-login screen (the welcome user screen), then I click Pay Bill again, on which I am asked to log in again, and then I go through either of the two routes again (see my outstanding or the welcome screen). So far I have “logged in” some twenty five times since morning, but I have not once reached the screen where I am supposed to enter my account/card information for the payment processing people.

And I’m sure I’ll keep getting those payment collection calls. When I’d tell them that the site is not working, they’d say “Yes sir, we know it can cause problems sometimes, should I send someone over to collect a cheque?”

India’s biggest business house. Internet service provider. They are in the business of technology – the internet. Their core service is fantastic. How much effort or money does it take to smoothen this part of the user experience – the one where the customer is willing to pay their bill, but is unable to do so with ease? It’s not that they can’t do it. So why the negligence, why the apathy?

MetLotus – are they getting it right?

I came across this Facebook ad today, and clicked on it. It was an Indian site, which is… I don’t know what. On reaching the site (www.metlotus.com), I see the following:

metlotus.com screenshot, click to enlarge

What’s wrong with this? A good design, nice layout, soothing colours, slick animations. But where is the information about the site or the company that it represents? There are the generic social networking promises flashing in neat animation clips, but apart from that? What is its USP, positioning, the hook that would make me want to click any of the links on this page?

When I clicked on ‘Take a Tour’ (which I did purely for the reason for writing this blog), I am presented with another slick flash site in a pop-up window, which has description on how to use this site. Apparently it is a social networking venture. But didn’t the Facebook ad mention something about widgets? I clicked on that link thinking this might be a site specializing in making widgets that we can use on other social networking sites.

Now if it is trying to be a popular social networking site, why is the interface so unusable (for lack of a better word), and not intuitive? How many of us had to go through a tutorial when we first started using Orkut, Facebook or MySpace? Why does a new site, which no one knows about, insist that users log in on the front page without showing any tangible benefit to signing up?

And because I’m a designer of sorts, I also have a problem with the way the consistency with the sans-serifs in the entire design system is not maintained – they’ve used Arial in Flash animations, where they don’t have to worry about embedding fonts! That’s sacrilege in graphic designer-speak 🙂

Leaving this last bit about font puritanism apart, how many times did my mind go “negative” while going through that site – can you count?

Please provide a what???

A Calcuttan missing his hometown opens up the website belonging to the most read newspaper in that town. Pleased with what he saw, he clicked on one of the sections of the e-paper. The site tells him that he needs to be registered in order to go deeper into the contents. No problem. He is ready to register. So he clicks on register and fills up a form. Presses Submit. And see what he gets:

Email ID? The form does not mention email ID anywhere, let alone ask for it. Oh, the error page tells him that the “Username” field should have been populated with his email ID.

Who would have thought? 🙂

If you were that person, would you fill up that form again and continue to use the website? I didn’t. Who knows what other ‘mistake’ I would be chided for next? Is the phone number field actually supposed to contain my height?

Is it so difficult for web designers and companies that hire them to make websites that are free of inconsistencies and are helpful instead of carrying the old ’80-90s attitude of “I made this thing and it works at my end. You need to learn how to make it work for you if you want to use it.”?

It is all adding up to the user experience and thus the brand in the end.

Work – Foostor

I have been doing some work for this e-commerce site called Foostor. They build custom e-stores for IT companies for their employees to shop from.

So far I’ve worked on three banners (animated and static), and I’m on a major project with them (details to be disclosed later).

Do leave behind your comments about these: