A funny thing happened on the way to the office (i.e. the desk in my living room) yesterday.
After a long night of working on what I THOUGHT had been some major improvements to the website, I was just getting ready to attend my morning meeting with my 7 Graces Co-Director, Nancy Goodyear, feeling very enthusiastic about telling her about all the work I had done the night before. But when I turned on my browser…
The site was showing a ‘542’ error, which basically means the site had gone into data overload and got shut down by my web host.
“WHAT???!” I shouted.
(Actually, I shouted something else altogether… several times…)
I tried to log into my WordPress dashboard, but now I was getting a ‘500’ error. My site had been RESTRICTED (meaning nobody could view it, not even ME) due to it sending out too much data all at once.
“How could this be?” I wondered.
Fortunately I received some great tech support, first from a guy named Ivan (in Serbia) at MaxCDN and later from Anthony (in California) at HostGator, my hosting provider. I think these two men are quite possibly the most patient and calm human beings on the planet. EACH of them spent at least two hours with me somewhere between the hours of 4am and 1pm yesterday. Together, we troubleshot every possible thing, until I was finally able to isolate the cause of the conflict.
And do you know what the problem was?
A SINGLE checkbox (which I hadn’t even remembered checking) in W3 Total Cache, which I spoke about last time. For some reason, that little checkbox, combined with my other settings, had opened a gateway to some stream of data that never shut down. It’s sort of like leaving your kitchen tap dripping all night with a dishrag clogging the plughole. By morning, your kitchen is flooded, just from one tiny drip after another.
(This actually happened at my boyfriend’s, back when I was 24. Well, actually it happened in the apartment above his. In the middle of the night, his ceiling burst open and after the gush of water subsided, he had a clear view into the neighbour’s bathroom upstairs …but I digress…).
So, anyway, while I was sleeping in the wee hours of yesterday morning , just one casual click I had made and forgotten amongst the hundreds of other checkboxes of options was doing its work… and by morning the whole blinkin’ site had disappeared!
I had no idea what the checkbox was for. For some reason, my brain said, ‘Oooh… what’s that? That sounds important. I bet if I check the box, it will improve the site even more!
Uh huh. Not quite.
It reminded me of that old episode of Ren and Stimpy where Ren tells Stimpy that he is not, under any circumstances, to press the ‘History Eraser Button.’ But for Stimpy, it’s oh, so tempting… he’s just GOT to press the lovely… shiny… red… button….
And of course, for Ren and Stimpy, everything blows up and vanishes. Yeah, just like my website.
I’ll know better from this point forward.
- If you don’t know what it does, don’t press it.
- Plug-in conflicts don’t always show up the minute you install them. They may take time to build up.
- Don’t use complex technologies unless you know you have 24/7 access to great customer support.
- Sometimes the only way to get smarter, is to get a whole lot dumber first.
Moving on to Today’s Topic…
Of all the 26,000 WordPress plug-ins currently available, I’ve chosen today’s ‘Top 5 Engagement Plug-ins’ for three reasons:
- They didn’t ‘break’ my website (always a good thing).
- I think they are visually pleasing and ‘visitor friendly’.
- I know that have increased engagement on my site significantly.
Before we launch into these 5 Engagement plug-ins, here’s a reminder of the first 12 plug-ins we’ve looked at so far, covering Optimisation, Security and Operational plugins:
- Google XML Sitemap
- All in One SEO
- Keyword SEO links
- Limit login attempts plugin
- Growmap Anti Spambot Plugin
- UpdraftPlus Backup/Restore
- Page links to
- Duplicate post
- W3 Total Cache
- WPtouch Pro
If you missed any of those articles, you can read them at:
- 22 Essential WordPress Plug-ins for Business Bloggers – Pt 1
- 4 Vital WordPress Plug-ins to Keep Your Blog Safe and Secure
- 5 Back-Office Plug-ins to Make WordPress More Efficient
As this is a continuation from the last article, the numbering continues from where we left off last time.
TOP 5 ENGAGEMENT PLUG-INS FOR WORDPRESS
Perhaps one of the clearest signs that your readers are engaged is that they subscribe to your blog. They do this by subscribing to your blog’s RSS ‘feed’. Your ‘feed’ is a delivery service that syndicates everything you publish to everyone who asks for it.
To set up a proper ‘feed’ for your blog, you need to ‘burn’ one, hence the name ‘Feedburner’. If you haven’t burnt a feed for your blog yet, just set up a free Feedburner account (now part of Google), and follow the instructions. Once you burn your feed, you’ll have the option of activating email subscriptions, syndicating the titles and links of new blog posts to Twitter, and many other neat little things.
Once your email subscription option is activated, you’ll need to set up a web form on your blog so people have a way to subscribe. The easiest and most reliable way I have found is simply to copy the HTML code Feedburner gives you for email subscriptions, and paste it into a plain text widget at the top of your sidebar. It’s kind of Spartan looking, but it works like a charm, and you don’t even NEED to install a plug-in. That’s the method I use on this site.
If you’d rather jazz up the look of your subscription form, there are loads of Feedburner subscription plug-ins available at http://www.wordpress.org. One of the most popular plug-ins for this is the JetPack plug-in that now comes pre-installed in the core of newer WordPress installations. I’d like to offer a caveat about using JetPack for this purpose, as I’ve found it doesn’t always work. Several of my clients have told me that some of their readers reported that they NEVER RECEIVED their updates after subscribing via JetPack.
Although having some kind of Feedburner widget is a ‘must have’ on your blog, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a plug-in. For something as important as engaging with your readers, I’d go for the simple code in a plain text widget. But if you want to use a fancier plug-in, don’t just install and assume that it’s working. Test it on people in different countries first. READ the reviews of the plug-in (especially the bad ones) and make sure it is proven compatible with your version of WordPress.
14. Flare Follow widget
Plug-in URL: http://wordpress.org/plugins/flare/
This plug-in is a 2-parter, the second half of which I’ll talk about in Part 5.
When people enjoy something on your blog, they often want to find you on social media. That’s a true sign of audience engagement, and can often result in business for you. That’s why having a good ‘follow’ plug-in on your site is crucial.
I’m always on the look-out for nice ‘follow’ plug-ins that are easy to configure and don’t overwhelm the look of my site. The Flare Follow Widget is a tasteful, elegant-plugin with icons to many major social media networks. All you do is set up the links to your social media accounts in its settings area, customise the way you want the icons to look, and drag the Flare Follow Widget to your sidebar or footer:
While I chose Flare partially for its appearance and its customisation options (you can choose square or round icons of varying sizes), I also chose it because none of the other highly-rated plug-ins I saw included Pinterest and/or Google+.
What Flare does lack are icons for LinkedIn and YouTube. I Tweeted to the Flare folks and suggested they add both these to their follow widget, and they said they’d pass the idea on to the developers. Shortly later, I found out they’re not developing this current version any more, having replaced it with a new version called ‘Filament’. So far, Filament has not been warmly received by their users, so rather that switching to Filament, stick with Flare until Filament gains better reviews.
Plug-in URL: http://iworks.pl/upprev/
upPrev is a terrific plug-in that makes even the most home-spun blogs look more professional. The idea is simple: as your reader nears the end of your blog article, a discreet little slider pops out (basically wherever you want it to be), inviting them to check out another article on the site. Here’s an example of what it looks like. You might have already noticed it in the lower right hand corner of this site, as you near the end of our articles:
As you can see, the slider pulls the featured image from your post, so you’ll need to be sure to set one for EVERY article you write (which is good practice anyway). You also have the ability to exclude blogs before a certain date. Finally, you can tell upPrev to show what’s coming ‘up’ chronologically, what’s ‘previous’ to this article chronologically (hence the name ‘upPrev’). You can even randomise the order in which articles will appear, which is what I prefer.
I absolutely love this plug-in. It takes a little preparation to make it work the way YOU want it to work on your site, but when you’ve set it up, it helps keep your readers engaged and browsing around your site for much longer than they probably would have without it. What’s more, if you use the ‘random’ option, it drives traffic to your older blog posts, which might not see the light of day otherwise. This all helps to strengthen your web rankings on Google.
Bottom line: upPrev is subtle, useful, pretty and excellent for audience engagement.
16. Social Comments
Plug-in URL: http://wordpress.org/plugins/social-comments/
Cost: FREE, but you can give a donation to show your appreciation
Comments are an important part of reader engagement. Of course WordPress has an area for comments, but these are only seen if someone comes to visit your blog. For that reason, I’ve been including Facebook comments on my website for some time. When people use the Facebook comments field, it appears on their timeline, which means that their friends will see their comment and the link to the source of the comment. The best conversation I had with it on my site was back in June 2013 on my article ‘Write My Next Blog For Me. Tell Me What This Photo Says to YOU. (If that’s not a Call to Action, I don’t know what is).
There are many different plug-ins for WordPress that allow you to embed Facebook comments, and as long as they’re kept up-to-date, they all work pretty much equally as they are simply using Facebook’s proprietary code. In fact, if you’re tech savvy enough, you can go to https://developers.facebook.com/docs/plugins/comments/ and set up a comments thread without the need for a plug-in at all.
But recently I stumbled upon a plug-in called ‘Social Comments’ that incorporates Facebook comments with those from Google+, Disqus (a popular comments programme on many blogs) and ‘native’ comments from your WordPress blog. I thought this ‘4 in 1’ approach was a brilliant idea, so I installed it.
I like Social Comments for these reasons:
- It has a clean, customisable look with many different icon sets and layout options.
- It allows you to ‘tab’ the comment types – like a menu – so people don’t have to scroll down (and possibly miss) the format they prefer.
- Because it integrates Facebook, Google+ and Disqus, it eliminates the need for three separate plug-ins for each of these.
- It gives your readers more options to choose from.
- Your readers will be more likely to comment when they don’t have to share their email address with you.
- Any comments your readers place via Facebook, Google+ and Disqus bring your website to potentially unlimited numbers of people you don’t even know.
- It cleans up the visual experience of your site, making it more streamlined and integrated.
There is ONE drawback I’ve discovered to using this plug-in, however. The ‘native’ WordPress comments section is not compatible with the Growmap Anti Spambot plug-in I discussed in Part 2. As a result, some spam comments that were missed by Akismet have been hitting my ‘for moderation’ folder. I wrote to the developer to see if he could incorporate it into an update. We’ll see if he responds and is able to do that.
NOTE: No matter which method you use to embed Facebook comments on your site, you will need to set up a ‘Facebook app’ and obtain a special API key before your comments stream will work. You can create an app at https://developers.facebook.com/apps/.
17. Contact.Me forms
Plug-in URL: http://www.contactme.com/
Cost: FREE and paid versions
One of the most fundamental ingredients for engagement is providing your audience with a way to communicate with you privately. Many people will put their email address on their site, but I learned (the hard way) in the past that this just opens you up to an onslaught of spam. I always recommend putting a contact form on your site.
Again, there are many different contact form applications you can use, but the one I’ve found the most reliable is Contact.Me. It has a free version, if you don’t mind their branding on your form, or you can get a paid version to get rid of the branding, and open up additional customisations.
Contact.Me easily lets you create a contact page and/or a floating ‘contact’ tab you can customise to match your site’s colours. I’ve tried several other options, but some were unreliable. Once I tried a different contact plug-in because it ‘looked’ pretty. But soon, people started writing to me on Facebook and Twitter telling me they hadn’t been able to contact me through the form on my site. Many of these were prospective clients, meaning I could have been losing income JUST because my contact form was broken! I switched back to Contact.Me, and now I’m getting all the emails people have been sending me.
NOTE: If I’m not mistaken, JetPack has a contact form option, but as my clients have had so much trouble with their email subscription form, I’m hesitant to recommend it.
10 Rules of Thumb When Adding New WordPress Plug-ins
My web host say their advice is to use a maximum of 4 or 5 on your blog. But, in reality, most WordPress bloggers use many more than that. Using lots of plug-ins is fine, as long as you remember these rules of thumb:
- The more plug-ins you use, the more chance for conflicts.
- Not all plug-ins are compatible with every version of WordPress.
- Not all plug-ins are compatible with every WordPress theme.
- Not all plug-ins in WordPress directory are current or still in production. Always check the time it was last updated.
- ALWAYS read the WORST reviews of the plug-in to see what people said (and take note of the date, as it might have been fixed since then).
- ALWAYS update your plug-ins when they prompt you to, but don’t expect that they will continue to work on your site if you haven’t updated WordPress or your theme is old.
- ALWAYS back up your site before doing any major plug-in installation!!
- NEVER use ‘update all plug-ins’ feature in WordPress. That’s a potential ‘History Eraser Button’.
- ALWAYS install/activate one plug-in at a time, and then allow an hour or so to ensure it hasn’t kicked off a chain reaction of conflicts.
- Keep checking your site for ‘weirdness’. Sometimes new plug-ins can do funny things you’d never suspect.
NEVER press the lovely, big, shiny, red button,
just because it looks soooo tempting!
Coming up next time…
Next time we come to the final part in this 5-part tour of plug-ins. In that article, we’ll be looking at my top 5 ‘Expansion’ plug-ins that help to expand your reach and influence across the cybersphere.
Be sure to subscribe to this blog to make sure you receive that article, and all our 7 Grace articles to follow. We publish twice a week.
AND…please ENGAGE and leave a comment below!
23rd November 2013
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The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing.
Brit Writers Awards Finalist
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Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically, by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media.
eLit Book Awards Bronze Medal in Business and Sales
Get instant access to a free 90-minute Twitter marketing class at http://tweepelicious.com
LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.
(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)
Marketer Lynn Serafinn’s story of how a bad plug-in setting made her website disappear, PLUS a detailed review of her top 5 ‘engagement’ plug-ins for WordPress.