WordPress Plugins - WPMU.org http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog The WPMU DEV WordPress blog provides tutorials, tips, resources and reviews to help out any WP user Wed, 28 Jan 2015 03:32:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 WordPress Plugins - WPMU.org http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/envira-gallery-review/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/envira-gallery-review/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 13:00:56 +0000 http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/?p=136282 Envira Gallery is a responsive image gallery plugin for WordPress that aims to distinguish itself from the competition by offering a simpler gallery creation process, while still allowing you to present your photos in style.

NextGEN Gallery is the most popular image gallery plugin for WordPress, with the free version achieving over 11 million downloads to date. However, the huge feature list and selection of settings and options for creating galleries has drawn criticism from those looking for a stylish, but quick and easy way to get their photos online.

Envira Gallery by Thomas Griffin, aims to strike a balance between simplicity and high quality design. Thomas has also created the Soliloquy slider plugin and the popular lead-generation OptinMonster plugin, which we looked at here.

To find out whether the goal of delivering a user friendly image gallery plugin for WordPress has been achieved, this review will take a closer look at the features of Envira Gallery and see just how easy it is to use, as well as helping you to determine whether or not it represents good value for money.

Envira Add-ons

WPMU DEV Rating

4.1/5

The Good

  • Easy to use intuitive interface
  • Attractive image galleries using the default settings
  • Fully responsive gallery layouts
  • Good selection of options for presenting the galleries and lightboxes
  • Custom CSS support for additional styling options
  • Can be up and running very quickly

The Bad

  • Top tier licenses relatively expensive
  • No global gallery settings
  • Not as feature rich as some other options

Envira Gallery plugin

  • Learning curve / ease of use: 4.5/5
  • Features: 4/5
  • Flexibility: 4/5
  • Out-of-the-box: 4.5/5
  • Value for money: 3.5/5
  • Overall: 4.1/5

The Bottom Line

You might end up paying over the odds to get access to all the features you want. However, the intuitive user interface and ease of use make this the best choice for anyone looking for the quickest and easiest way to create attractive images galleries in WordPress that will look great on any device.

Envira Gallery

Cost

Envira Gallery is available on four licenses, plus a free lite version, which is available from the WordPress Plugin Repository.

The four pricing plans are as follows, and the main differences are the number of add-on features you get access to:

  • Bronze: $19
  • Silver: $49
  • Gold: $99
  • Platinum: $249

Other differences between the plans include the number of sites the plugin can be used on, and developer options for incorporating the gallery into a theme for re-sale.

Apart from the Platinum license, which gives you lifetime access, the other licenses must be renewed annually (at a discounted rate) in order to retain access to support and updates. The plugin will continue to function without a renewal and work unsupported.

What You Get

Depending on the license you choose, you will get access to a selection of files to download from your Envira Gallery account area. With access to the Envira Gold license, there were 13 files to download, covering the core plugin and the complete library of optional add-ons.

Thankfully, the add-ons that your license gives you access to can be installed with just a few clicks directly from the plugin dashboard. This is great as it saves you the time and effort of uploading them individually to your website.

Envira Add-ons
Installing the optional Envira add-ons

There is of course online documentation available, covering everything from getting started to more advanced topics such as pre-packaging Envira Gallery with a theme.

Many of the online articles are accompanied by walkthrough videos or code snippets to help you get the most from the support materials.

How it Works

After uploading the core plugin and activating any of the add-ons you want to make use of (and that you have access to), you can start creating image galleries for use in your posts, pages, and elsewhere on your site.

Envira Galleries
Manage the existing Envira Galleries

The plugin adds a new top level menu item to the sidebar of your WordPress site’s admin dashboard and it’s from there you can manage any existing galleries as well as create new ones.

When it comes to creating your first gallery, the process is thankfully very straightforward. Simply click on the Add New button, give the gallery a name, and then drag and drop the photos into place.

As the backend makes use of the native WordPress user interface, anyone who is familiar with adding images to posts in WordPress should have no problem creating their first gallery with Envira.

Add New Envira Gallery
The interface for adding a new Envira Gallery

You can also just as easily insert any images that have already been uploaded to your site into the gallery. Doing so is simply a case of clicking on the insert from other sources button, then selecting those images from your site’s media library.

At any point you can switch to the “Config” tab to customize the appearance of the gallery, determining how it will look when it’s displayed on your website. These settings allow you to choose how many columns to use to display the images (up to six columns), which theme to use to style the gallery if you have installed this premium add-on, set the space between the columns, decide whether to crop the images in the gallery or not, as well as a few other options.

Envira Gallery Settings
Display settings for the gallery

The gallery settings are all configured at the individual gallery level. However, it would be nice if you could enter your preferred settings once in a central location, and then have them applied to all new galleries you create by default.

When it comes to enabling crop for images in your gallery setting, you can set the crop dimensions to be applied to the thumbnails. While the images are cropped from the edges, there isn’t a way to change this through the settings. This isn’t ideal as it could result in your thumbnails showing a section of your image with no interesting or recognizable details from the full photo.

However, if you don’t mind editing your theme’s functions.php file, you can change the image crop position that is used by all images.

Premium users get access to a selection of settings to personalize the appearance of the lightbox display. This includes enabling or disabling the controls, including keyboard and mouse wheel navigation, maintain the aspect ratio of the images by resizing the lightbox window, and applying transition effects.

Furthermore, if you are a bronze or greater license holder, you can enable the gallery slideshow for the lightbox window using the free slideshow add-on. The settings for the slideshow include enabling auto play and defining the slideshow transition speed.

Envira Slideshow Settings
Settings for using the slideshow add-on

Finally, through the “Misc” tab on the individual gallery settings you can edit the gallery title, add custom gallery CSS classes, and a few other options. You can also export or import the individual galleries for use elsewhere on your site or another website with the plugin installed.

Throughout the creation process you can preview your gallery as you would a regular WordPress post in order to see what results your chosen settings are producing. Once you are happy with the gallery it can be published, making it ready for use.

Envira Gallery Shortcode
Inserting a gallery using a shortcode

Adding the galleries to your posts, pages, and widgets is as easy as inserting the corresponding shortcode into place. The plugin also adds a button to the WordPress post editor to help you easily insert galleries and albums if enabled, into your content. The function code for inserting galleries in the theme files is also readily available.

Envira 3 Column Layout Base Theme
3 column gallery layout using the free Base theme

The above example uses the provided Base theme to style the gallery, and it’s the only theme included with the core version of the plugin. Other themes are available to silver and greater license holders as a basic add-on.

Envira Captioned Theme
Example of the premium captioned theme

As the galleries are all fully responsive by default, they will adjust to fill the full width of the area they’ve been inserted into.  Using a one column layout will result in full width thumbnail being displayed automatically, while multi-column layouts will adjust the thumbnail size accordingly.

As the galleries are fully responsive, they will be displayed just as well on smartphones as they are on the latest high definition large screen monitors.

Envira Lightbox Base Theme
Lightbox display using the default Base theme

Clicking on any of the images opens them up in a lightbox window. This allows the viewer to scroll through the contents of the gallery, using either the onscreen controls or optionally, their keyboard and mouse.

Features

The lite version of the plugin gives you the ability to create a limited number of galleries and then insert them into your posts, pages, and elsewhere on your site. You can still choose the number of columns to use for organizing the image thumbnails, and the thumbnail images are still opened in a lightbox window, however that is about all you can do.

Bronze license holders can create unlimited galleries, however they don’t get access to any of the basic or advanced add-ons which really make the Envira Gallery what it is. Bronze license holders can make use of the free add-ons.

Upgrading to the silver license gives you access to the basic add-ons, while gold and platinum license holders get access to all add-ons, including the advanced options.

The full list of add-ons can be viewed here and they are divided into free, basic, and advanced options.

Some of the highlights of Envira that are delivered via the add-ons include the additional themes for styling the thumbnail gallery and lightbox window; the ability to create albums of galleries for better image organization, complete with cover images and much more; an add-on for displaying your images as large as possible in the lightbox window; and an add-on for allowing users to switch to full screen mode when viewing the lightbox gallery.

There is also a free NextGEN importer add-on for making the transition from that plugin to Envira Gallery as painless as possible.

It’s definitely worth taking a look at the add-ons to see which ones you are likely to want to use in your project. This allows you to workout which license you would need to purchase in order to gain access to those features.

It’s worth pointing out that you can easily upgrade at any time by paying the difference in price in order to get access to those premium add-ons as your needs grow.

Building a Test Image Gallery: Results

Building an image gallery with the Envira plugin was straightforward. With just few simple steps the final result was a very attractive responsive thumbnail image gallery. When those thumbnails images were clicked, a larger version of the image was displayed in an equally attractive lightbox window.

The user interface is very easy to get to grips with and thanks to the use of the native WordPress UI, it really did feel like a part of the core software as opposed to a third party plugin.

Using the default gallery settings produces good results, making this a great choice for anyone who just wants to get the job done without sacrificing on presentation and basic functionality. For users with access to some of the add-ons and a willingness to explore the settings, you should be able to get the end results you need without any trouble.

However, I did get the feeling that some power users might bemoan the lack of features compared to some of the other premium image gallery plugins out there. But for everyone else, the user experience of Envira and the end results more than deliver on its goals.

Ratings

Ease of Use / Learning Curve

This plugin feels like a part of WordPress and anyone familiar with the drag and drop interface and inserting elements into posts and pages using shortcodes or buttons on the editor won’t have any problems using Envira Gallery.

Features

This plugin has enough features to enable you to build attractive image galleries in WordPress. To summarise, the features on offer include:

  • Fully responsive mobile friendly galleries
  • Lightbox window image viewer
  • Multiple column layout options
  • Drag and drop interface for uploading and organizing images
  • A widget for displaying galleries in widgetized areas
  • Native WordPress UI
  • Multisite compatible
  • Import/export galleries
  • Pinterest pin button (basic add-on)
  • Display galleries in albums (advanced add-on)
  • Create lightbox slideshows (free add-on)
  • Add custom CSS (free add-on)

If you need more advanced features, such as greater control over how your images are cropped, the ability to insert a slideshow into a post, paginate large galleries, individual image commenting, or add watermarks to your images, then you will need to go elsewhere. However, for most users this plugin should more than suffice.

Flexibility

Envira Gallery should be able to cover a wide range of users’ needs. While professional and keen amateur photographers might notice the lack of advanced features, such as easier to access cropping controls, and the ability to back up images used in the galleries, the add-ons should provide enough functionality for most users

The free CSS add-on gives you the ability to customize the appearance of the galleries, helping to make this a very flexible plugin.

Out-of-the-Box

It couldn’t be easier to get started with Envira and get your first gallery online. You won’t need to refer to the documentation, and a little bit of experimentation will reveal the differences between the selection of settings and options on offer.

Choosing which add-ons you want or need to install may take some time. In some ways it would be preferable if the add-ons were automatically incorporated into the plugin in line with your license level. However, both approaches have their pros and cons.

Value for Money

If you value ease of use and simplicity and don’t mind paying for it, then you are probably in the target market for this plugin and its pricing structure.

However, if bang for your buck is your highest priority then you won’t consider Envira the best value for money premium plugin for adding advanced image galleries to your WordPress site.

While the free version does let you add image galleries to your website, and the entry level premium bronze option gives you slightly more features for $19, to really get the most out of Envira you will need either the silver or gold licenses, costing $49 and $99 respectively.

However, you can upgrade your license at any point and just pay the difference in order to get access to the more advanced features as you or your clients need them.

If time is money then the ease and speed with which you can now create attractive image galleries helps to justify the cost of this plugin and its add-ons.

Final Thoughts

If you need a large number of features and functionality for managing your website’s images and displaying them in galleries on your WordPress website, then the pro version of the popular NextGEN Gallery plugin may well be a better option.

However, if you have less demanding requirements and would prefer a more intuitive user interface and straightforward process for creating your galleries – not to mention more attractive galleries when using the default settings – then Envira is the better choice.

The feature list of this WordPress image gallery plugin should be enough for most users, with the only sticking point being the relatively high price of $99 that is required to unlock the full power of this plugin. However, if you don’t need any of the advanced add-ons then the cost would obviously be lower.

Pricing aside, this is a very easy to use plugin that contains a lot of great features that most importantly of all, outputs attractively presented image galleries in just a few simple steps.

Have you used Envira Gallery? Let us know what you think about it in the comments below.

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WordPress Plugins - WPMU.org http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/communicate-with-users/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/communicate-with-users/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 12:00:51 +0000 http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/?p=134228 A website is a communications tool. You create one to communicate with visitors, and to give them somewhere they can communicate with you.

Whether your site is for blogging, marketing, selling, fundraising or passing on information, one of your key concerns will be making sure you can communicate with your visitors to let them know what you’re doing and what’s new on your site.

But you can’t simply rely on people to keep coming back to your site. What if they visited your site yesterday, had a thorough look around, but you make a major update today? They don’t know that so they may not come back? You could lose a potential customer, subscriber or fan.

In this post I’ll look at some of the plugins you can use to reach out to your audience and communicate more effectively with your visitors.

These include plugins to help with:

  • RSS feeds,
  • Mailing lists and newsletters (using third party services or direct from your site), and
  • Social media.

Which ones you use will depend on your needs and those of your users, but there should be at least one here which will help you to communicate with your audience.

But First – a Warning!

Before you start to communicate directly with your audience, a note of caution: don’t be spammy. There are plugins which will let you send a newsletter to your subscribers every single day, and you can use social media to push out links to your site hourly, but it’s not a good idea.

Wikipedia defines spamming as:

“The use of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited messages (spam), especially advertising.”

So even if your users give you their contact details, that doesn’t mean you have permission to use them in any way you want. You should use all of the plugins below with caution, and be careful to ask for people’s consent for the specific form of communication you intend using their data for.

Keep your users happy and they’ll be far more loyal. Annoy them with spam and they’ll pass on their negativity to others, damaging your reputation.

So, let’s take a look at some plugins. First, RSS feeds.

RSS Feeds

The most basic way to push data from your site is with RSS, which stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication.

By default, WordPress will generate RSS feeds from your content, which you can find by visiting one of four URLs:

  • http://example.com/?feed=rss
  • http://example.com/?feed=rss2
  • http://example.com/?feed=rdf
  • http://example.com/?feed=atom

Alternatively if your site uses pretty permalinks, you’ll find your feed at some more user-friendly URLs:

  • http://example.com/feed/
  • http://example.com/feed/rss/
  • http://example.com/feed/rss2/
  • http://example.com/feed/rdf/
  • http://example.com/feed/atom/

These links won’t be apparent to the majority of your users, so you need to add an easy way for people to subscribe to your RSS feed. That’s where these plugins come in.

  • Subscribe Me

    subscribe-meZoom In

    The free Subscribe Me plugin makes it easier for your visitors to use some of the most popular feed reading applications or services to subscribe to your feed, by adding a popup that lets them choose which service they want to use.

    Simply install the plugin and add its widget to a widget area, and it’s good to go. It doesn’t let you specify which feed reading services to include and isn’t customizable but does the job.

  • Category Specific RSS

    category-specific-rssZoom In

    If you’re running a large blog with multiple categories, especially if those categories cover quite different content with separate target audiences, the Category Specific RSS plugin will make feeds more user-friendly for your subscribers.

    It provides you with a widget which displays a list of the RSS feeds for each category in your site.

    By default it lists all of the existing categories but if you’re working with custom post types or taxonomies, you can add extra feeds to the widget using its Settings screen. You’ll need to work out the url for each feed to do this, but instructions are provided by the plugin.

  • Featured Images in RSS Feeds

    feature-images-rssZoom In
    RSS Featured Images Output
    What it looks like if your RSS reader.

    The Featured Images in RSS Feeds plugin won’t make it any easier for users to subscribe to your feed, but it will make the feed more appealing and so increase the chances of them clicking through to your site and reduce the chances of them unsubscribing.

    The plugin does what you expect: it adds the featured image to the feed for each post. Unfortunately if a post doesn’t have a featured image it adds an empty box where the image would be, so if you do install it, you’ll have to make sure you add a featured image to every post.

Mailing List Services

You can set up your own mailing list in WordPress, which I’ll come to shortly, but the easiest way to handle mailing lists is by using a third party provider. For most of these you’ll find there’s at least one plugin to add a signup form to your site.

  • MailChimp

    mailchimp-list-subscribeZoom In

    If you’re using MailChimp for your newsletters, the MailChimp List Subscribe Form plugin may have a horrible name, but it does what you need – it gives you a widget with a signup form in which users can enter their details and sign up to your mailing list.

    You install it, and then log in to your MailChimp account from the settings screen:

    mailchimp-setup

    You can then choose which of your mailing lists you’ll let users sign up for, and add a widget to your site.

    The fields in the widget form will depend on the fields you’ve added to your newsletter signup in MailChimp, but you can use the settings screen to remove fields if you don’t need them here, as well as to customize the text and the CSS.

  • Campaign Monitor

    campaign-monitorZoom In

    campaign-monitor-widgetCampaign Monitor is another big player in the world of mailing lists and newsletters, and it has its share of plugins too. The Campaign Monitor Ajax Forms plugin uses Ajax to power a signup form in a widget which you add to your site.

    Instead of signing in to your Campaign Monitor account, you add your account and list API keys to the widget settings, and unfortunately there isn’t a lot of customization. But again it does the job.
  • AWeber

    aweberZoom In

    If you’re using AWeber to power your newsletters, the AWeber Web Form plugin will let you link your WordPress site to your account. First you’ll need to add your authentication code from your AWeber account to the plugin’s settings screen:

    aweber-setup

    You then have access to a widget to allow people to sign up:

    aweber-widget

    It also gives you the option to let people sign up to your newsletter as they subscribe to your site or leave a comment, which means you can grab people’s attention at just the point when they may be most likely to sign up.

  • Gravity Forms

    gravity-formsZoom In

    The premium Gravity Forms plugin has extensions for the major newsletter services which you can use to create a custom form with newsletter signup fields.

    This has the benefit of extra flexibility compared with the widgets above as you can add fields to your form using Gravity Forms, and also integrate other features such as subscription and payment at the same time. If you’ve got a developer license for Gravity Forms you can access add-ons for MailChimp, Campaign Monitor and AWeber.

  • WooCommerce

    newsletter-subscriptionZoom In

    If your site runs a store using WooCommerce, you can use the premium WooCommerce Newsletter Subscription add-on to add your customers to a mailing list and send them newsletters based on your blog posts or with information about new or promoted products. This can be a powerful way to keep customers coming back to your store.

    The plugin links to your MailChimp or Campaign Monitor account and can add new customers to your mailing list. To avoid being spammy you should set the default so that new customers aren’t auto-subscribed, and provide a checkbox for people to tick if they want to sign up for your newsletter at the checkout:

    woocommerce-newsletter-signup

    Again this gives you an opportunity to encourage people to sign up for mailings at a point where they’re feeling positive about your site.

Site-based Mailing Lists

If you want to create a mailing list that’s directly linked to your WordPress site and doesn’t use a third party service, then there are plugins to help you do this.

This gives you more flexibility: You can send out an email every time you publish a new post or add a new product to your store, or you can send out weekly or monthly digests.

However, there are caveats: If you’re sending out a large volume of emails, you might get blacklisted by your hosting provider as a potential spammer, and you’ll need to ensure that the data on your site is robust, as well as ensuring spammers can’t join your mailing list and swell the volume being sent out.

There is a school of thought that says you should never send mailings directly from your WordPress site, but if you’re confident, these plugins can help you.

  • MailPoet

    mailpoetZoom In

    The freemium MailPoet plugin aims to make sending mailings directly from your site easy. It includes a selection of themes you can use to style your newsletters and a visual editor you can use to drag and drop content, placeholders and other elements such as social shares into them. You can automate regular mailings with your latest posts or send a newsletter every time you publish a new post, as well as setting up newsletters manually. You can create lists from your website subscribers for specific mailings, as well as creating forms to sign up to specific lists, which you then add to a widget.

    MailPoet has a large range of options and customizations with the free version, which is why it’s taken off very quickly and is now the most popular free in-site newsletter plugin.
  • e-Newsletter

    e-newsletterZoom In

    Our e-Newsletter plugin gives you a user-friendly interface for creating individual newsletters. You’ll have to install it and configure settings for your mail server first, so need to know a little bit about your email setup. You can also specify whether to stick with the default of using CRON to schedule emails or use PHP instead:

    e-newsletter-settings

    Once you’ve got it set up, you’ll find that it uses themes for the newsletters you send out, which you can customize and add content to using the theme customizer.

    e-newsletter-theme-customizer

    You have to create your newsletters manually – you can’t auto-schedule them to send out the content of your posts. But because the content fields in the customizer use the same editing pane that you use for posts, you can easily add links to your latest blog posts, with images and static text, too.

    The plugin also provides you with a signup widget, with the option to allow users to choose one or more mailing groups they’ll be added to. The plugin also lets you view statistics for your campaigns in the WordPress admin.

  • Subscribe2

    subscribe2Zoom In

    The freemium Subscribe2 plugin lets you create mailing lists from the list of subscribers to your site.

    People can subscribe to mailings relating to each category on your site, and you can schedule regular automated mailings, send out a mailing with each new post, or create manual mailings. The styling options are limited with the free version however, and all you can customize is the content of your mailings and whether they are sent as HTML or text.

    The screenshot below shows you the options for editing the text of your mailings:

    subscribe2-settings

    Historically, this has been a popular free plugin, but it’s seen a drastic fall in the number of downloads in the last year, most likely because its features haven’t been developed much recently and it’s been overtaken by other free and premium plugins.

  • Subscribe by Email

    subscribe-by-emailZoom In

    Our Subscribe by Email plugin lets you register on your site to receive email updates when you post content. It gives you flexibility with the frequency of your emails, letting you send a new email every time you post or via a daily or weekly digest, and also lets you make some basic customisations to the design and content of your emails.

    subscribe-by-email-settings

    This plugin also lets you send out an email when a new post of a custom post type is added, which would be useful for an events website or a store:

    subscribe-by-email-custom-post-types

Social Media Plugins

Another effective way to tell users and followers about updated content on your site is by using social media.

Obviously, you can use the various social media sites to manually post links to your content, but here I’ll look at some of the plugins which can help you automate this process, pushing out status updates or tweets for you when you publish new posts or pages.

  • WP to Twitter

    wp-to-twitterZoom In

    The freemium WP to Twitter plugin lets you send out tweets every time you publish new content.

    You’ll need to create an app using the twitter API and then add your API keys to the plugin’s setting screen, which will allow the plugin to link to your twitter account. Once you’ve done that you can configure default settings for different post types and override these in individual posts when you need to, or specify that a tweet shouldn’t be sent for a given post.

    When you’re adding a new post, you’ll see a metabox on the bottom right of the editing screen where you specify whether you want to send the default tweet for that post type or change the content of your tweet.

    And if you want to display your tweets on your site too, you have a widget you can use to do this.

  • Add Link to Facebook

    add-link-to-facebookZoom In

    If you want to automatically post updates to your Facebook account or page when you add new content to you site, then the free Add Link to Facebook plugin will help you.

    facebook-add-link-publish

    Again you’ll need to create an app using the Facebook developer API, and add its app ID and secret key to the plugin’s settings page. The app then adds some checkboxes to the publishing metabox on the post and page editing screen, which you’ll need to tick if you don’t want your post to be added to Facebook in a status update.

    If you want to display your Facebook updates on the front end of your site as well, the plugin also gives you a widget you can use to do this.

  • ShareThis

    sharethisZoom In

    As well as posting your content to your own social media profiles, you may also want to let users share your posts on their own Facebook or twitter account. The ShareThis plugin integrates with a range of popular social media sites including twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest.

    The plugin gives you configuration options where you choose which services you want to link to and what style of button you want. It then automatically adds the buttons in the position on each post that you specify:

    share-this-widget
    Easily add social share buttons to your site.

    It also gives you statistics for the number of shares of your content, helping you to focus your content strategy on the types of post that are most likely to be shared.

  • Ultimate Facebook

    ultimate-facebookZoom In

    WPMU DEV’s Ultimate Facebook plugin aims to give you everything you could need to link your site to Facebook. It lets you display the feed from your Facebook Page on your site, provides a Like button to encourage people to engage with you on Facebook, and also lets you post new content from your site to your Facebook Page.

    To use the plugin, you’ll need to create a Facebook application and input your App ID and Secret keys in the plugin’s settings page:

    ultimate-facebook-settings

    It then gives you a range of options including shortcodes you can use to insert content or buttons from Facebook and the ability to let your users log in using their Facebook account.

    But the most useful aspect of this plugin when it comes to communicating with your users is the “Autopost to Facebook” feature, which lets you automatically post new content (posts and other content types) to Facebook and choose which images will accompany that content.

Summary

Your website is just the first step in communicating with the wider public. If you’re going to reach as wide an audience as possible, you need to push your content out beyond your WordPress site using RSS feeds, newsletters or social media.

There is a wide range of plugins out there which will help you do this, and the examples I’ve listed above represent a selection which cover the most frequently needed functionality. Hopefully with one or more of these you’ll be able to drive more traffic to your site and encourage your visitors to keep on coming back.

What methods do you use to communicate with your site’s users? Let us know in the comments below.

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WordPress Plugins - WPMU.org http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/basic-plugins-wordpress-business/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/basic-plugins-wordpress-business/#comments Sat, 17 Jan 2015 13:00:14 +0000 http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/?p=136266 The great thing about WordPress is the low barrier to entry, meaning anyone can create their own website. This is especially convenient for small business owners who, years ago, had to ask a web savvy friend to code a site in HTML, or shell out cash if they didn’t know someone who could give them mates rates.

For businesses keen to reach out to and engage customers, there are a few basic plugins we offer that can help you move beyond the constraints of a basic web page.

In today’s Weekend WordPress Project, we’re going to look at three basic plugins – all available at WPMU DEV – that can help grow any business, whether you’re selling a product or service.

  • eNewsletter

    e-newsletterZoom In

    Email marketing and e-newsletters are a crucial form of communication between your business and past and prospective customers.

    If visitors to your site have signed up to your newsletter, they genuinely want to hear from you and are interested in your business and what you have to offer.

    You don’t even need a huge list of thousands of people in order to see your sales increase. All you need is a small group of people who hang on your every word – this is far more powerful to your business than 10,000 people who don’t really care. This small group is more likely to share your message with everyone they know because they are excited by what you do.

    But why does it have to be done through email?

    According to Litmus, 91% of consumers check their inbox daily, making email the leading channel for communication. The same survey found that 66% of consumers have made a purchase as a result of an email they received.

    Email also puts you in control of your subscriber list. With e-Newsletter, you can easily manage your email list and build a loyal fan base, collect new contacts and send customized emails using templates.

    e-Newsletter is built into the WordPress admin, so you don’t have to leave your site to get in touch with your subscribers. You can include images and video in your emails and then test and preview your messages before you hit “Send.”

    You don’t have to send emails out everyday and they don’t have to be huge. They just have to be consistent.

    This is where the eNewsletter plugin becomes especially useful. It comes with reporting tools to help you determine how many of your subscribers are actually opening and reading your emails. You can conclude which topics worked and which ones didn’t work as well.

    You can begin to tailor your emails to your subscribers’ interests more and more.

    For a simple plugin, it’s an incredibly powerful tool that will help you keep your subscribers up-to-date with your latest news – and keep followers coming back to your site.

  • PopUp Pro

    popup-proZoom In

    In order for anyone to be genuinely interested in joining your mailing list, you need to have a really good reason for them to join – no, the promise of great newsletters is not enough.

    You need to offer something of incredible value to them for free. This doesn’t mean a product or service that will cost you tons of money to give away. It can be something simple like a video series or an eBook.

    In a video series or eBook you can provide information that people will find genuinely useful, like your best tips or tools for success in whatever it is that you do.

    Where many people go wrong here is that they offer information that can be found all over the internet or they quickly try to turn their offer it into a sales pitch. What you’re aiming for here is golden nuggets that are great on their own, but when paired with your business’ products or services, they offer an even bigger, heavier punch.

    Rather than offer freebies and other special offers via email, pop-ups provide a quick and easy way to grab the attention of people who visit your site, and potentially convert casual visitors into paying customers.

    PopUp Pro allows you to create eye-popping ads that appear on-screen exactly when you want them to – the moment someone lands on your site, when they scroll to the bottom of a page, or even when they’re about to leave your site.

    You can create beautiful pop-ups that contain concise information coupled with striking images. All your visitors have to do is enter their email address to receive your special offer. In turn, you’ve captured their information, allowing you to get in touch with that customer the next time you promote your business via email.

  • Comments+

    Comments+ pluginZoom In

    Once you have your list growing, you need to give your subscribers a good reason to keep coming back to your site, and to continue liking what you do and what you have to offer.

    Ensuring your site is a friendly and welcoming place to return to is key.

    Encouraging commenting on your site, such as we do on this blog, is a great way to leverage the users who have joined your subscriber list and build a community around your content. Comments also allow you to interact with people who like your product or service and encourage discussion on your site.

    Comments+ lets your readers comment on your posts using their Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or WordPress.com accounts.

    Customize the style of your comments box to match your theme and have conversations with followers in real-time.

    Visitors will be able to see your name and picture next to your comments, giving the experience a more personal touch.

Summing Up

Connecting with your website’s visitors through email newsletters, pop-ups and comments are sure-fire ways to engage and, hopefully, convert people into paying customers.

eNewletter, Pop Up Pro and Comments+ are three simple plugins, but each offers functionality beyond what the basic WordPress software provides.

There are many plugins out there that can help you with these tasks, but I’m sharing these ones because I have had personal success with them and was able to quickly generate income with them.

If you’re interested in added greater functionality to your site to further grow your business, you may want to check out some of our other plugins, like Appointments+ and Restricted Content.

What are other tools, methods or plugins that have helped you grow your business? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

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WordPress Plugins - WPMU.org http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/free-plugins-wordpress-freelancers-business/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/free-plugins-wordpress-freelancers-business/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 13:00:16 +0000 http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/?p=135808 The internet is an amazing tool that provides anyone the means to grow their business and career in a meaningful way.

The first hurdle, though, is creating a website that allows you to go about your work without hindering your productivity.

To help you get started – or even find plugins you hadn’t thought of – this list contains solutions that will help you manage and organize your work, from making your site easier for your visitors to access, to completely managing invoicing and payment.

Each of these plugins is up-to-date, ensuring you’ll get the most out of compatible resources. And many of them are hugely popular in their categories, some with well over 1 million downloads.

  • Starbox

    Starbox pluginZoom In

    Starbox offers an elegant, professional and stunning author box for your posts whether you have Multisite enabled with many authors, or you’re just a one man – or woman – show. It provides tons of options, including the ability to add a tab that lists the author in question’s latest posts. You can choose between different styles and placement of the box – either before or after post content.

    This plugin makes you want to click through to an author’s profile, rather than quickly skim the excerpt or pass it by it all together. It’s incredibly easy to use right out of the box and doesn’t require any additional coding.

    You can’t land on any page these days without viewing social media links because – let’s face it – they’re essential to communicating your message and Starbox is no exception. You can easily link up your social profiles with sleek icons.

  • Business Deal Countdown

    Business Deal Countdown pluginZoom In

    With a simple shortcode, the Business Deal Countdown plugin adds a configurable timer to your WordPress site. Don’t think for a second that this is a regular, run-of-the-mill countdown clock because it’s anything but that.

    With the shortcode, you can place the timer on any post or page you choose and it will not only count down to the end of an exclusive offer, but will also make that page unavailable once the time is up. At that time, users will be redirected to any other page of your choosing such as a one with a message mentioning the special offer has ended.

    Why is this so important? Adding a time limit for your potential customers to see will make them act fast. They’ll be more inclined to read over your offer and go for it for fear that they’ll miss it all together.

  • BigContact Contact Page

    BigContact Contact Page pluginZoom In

    There’s a good reason why this plugin has the word “big” in it – It’s much more than just a contact form creator; it also offers the ability to display your business hours, directions and other similar contact. The most impressive feature, though, is that it allows you to create an appointment form so our site’s visitors can schedule an appointment with you.

    There are many possible layout options so you can arrange your forms in the best way possible to suit your theme and needs. As if all these features weren’t enough, BigContact also includes basic spam filtering so you don’t have to worry about getting annoyed with junky messages.

    While you get more scheduling features in our Appointments + plugin, BigContact is still a a great multi-functional plugin, especially when you consider its $0 price tag.

  • Relevanssi

    Relevanssi pluginZoom In

    Have you ever used WordPress’ own search box? It sucks. I’m sorry to say it, but it does. When you search for terms you know are a part of a post’s title, that post won’t likely appear at the top of the search results – Bummer! Relevanssi fixes this issue.

    With this plugin, you can expect better search results listed by relevance – not just by the most recent post date. It can also search with phrases, matching key words or quotes. You can also customize the excerpts that appear for posts in the results, search terms are highlighted and many other options.

    Relevanssi has many advanced featured already included, but if you would like this plugin to work for multisite with other even more advanced options, you’ll have to upgrade to premium.

  • WP Review

    WP Review pluginZoom In

    This plugin allows you to easily add review posts to your WordPress site with an incredible amount of customizations available. You can choose to use star, point or percentage ratings and it’s completely compatible with multisite networks.

    WP Review is lightweight so it won’t cause your site to lag and it was originally made a s a premium plugin so quality is assured. You might be wondering what’s wrong with this plugin if it used to be premium, but now it’s free. The creators simply wanted to give back to the lovely and supportive WordPress community and this plugin is how they are able to fulfill that reciprocity.

    So there you have it – a solid plugin that even displays your ratings in Google’s search results for your posts. If you post reviews, you will become very fond of this plugin.

  • SVG Case Study

    SVG Case Study pluginZoom In

    With the use of a simple shortcode, you can add detailed testimonials or case studies to your site to showcase your experience and skills. You can even add multiple large images and different sections to each case study.

    You can use this plugin to build your freelance portfolio or display instances of many of your happy customers in great detail. It’s a new plugin, but it works well and can help you style your testimonials page without coding.

    It’s easy to install and straight forward to use. Just be sure to keep an eye out for future possible updates to ensure this plugin stays relevant.

  • Dynamic Widgets

    Dynamic Widgets pluginZoom In

    Dynamic Widgets is not your typical widget creating plugin. While it does allow you to place widgets anywhere on your site, it also allows you to show or hide them based on conditions you set.

    There are so many options such as being able to show a special offer to only certain customers on certain pages, show a greeting in their language by detecting their geographical area, tips and solutions if they reach an error page and so many more possibilities.

    It’s as easy to install as most other plugins and has a fairly robust settings page. It’s a great tool for adding a bit of personalization to your visitors’ experience.

  • Light Full Screen Slider

    Light Full Screen Slider pluginZoom In

    If your goal is to stand out while also featuring your image content then this plugin is a great one for you to consider. It’s lightweight and implements a fullscreen slider on any page template where you would like to have slider capabilities via a tiny snippet of code.

    While you do need to edit your page templates, it doesn’t require lengthy knowledge in coding. You just need to enter in one line of code that’s provided to you after the plugin is installed and you’re done.

    From there you can adjust the options from your dashboard’s “Settings” page under the plugin’s name. As far as plugins go that require coding, it’s very straight forward, simple to use and the result is beautiful.

  • Social Share Button

    Social Share Button pluginZoom In

    I use this plugin regularly for the sites I create because it has stunning pre-styled layouts for adding a bar to posts or pages with social media share buttons in it. There are styles for professional and personal use alike and are very easy to implement.

    Simply choose which buttons you would like to add from a long list of available and popular social media outlets. You can also choose to add a button that allows your visitor to share your content the old fashioned way – through email.

    It’s installation is quick and painless as is the set up process. It’s been around for quite some time, but is updated regularly making it a reliable and excellent way to add social media share buttons to your WordPress site.

  • UpdraftPlus Backup and Restoration

    UpdraftPlus Backup and Restoration pluginZoom In

    One of the very crucial points to consider when choosing a backup option for your site is where the backups are stored. Believe me, it really matters.

    If your backups are stored among the files of your site and you can only complete a restore of your site through your dashboard, you’re in for a wild ride. If your site goes down because it’s hacked, you can kiss it goodbye. You won’t be able to do a site restore because you won’t be able to access your dashboard.

    The best kind of backup is the kind where the backed up files are stored offsite and this plugin allows you to do that. You can choose from a wide number of offsite backup options including Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon S3, FTP, email and many other popular outlets.

    If you need to restore your site, you’ll have a backup copy ready to go that you can use to restore your site externally, such as through FTP. It’s a solid plugin that is updated regularly, has over 1,500,000 downloads and hundreds of thousands of happy users. It’s a solid plugin worth considering.

  • Multimedia Customer Feedback

    Multimedia Customer Feedback pluginZoom In

    This plugin is one of the coolest out there for allowing your visitors to give you feedback. You can allow your visitors to do everything from upload a video testimonial, to post their own photos, audio and text as a part of their feedback response.

    It looks great and can be implemented through a lightbox or an iFrame. You can also email customers who you would specifically like to request feedback from and even pay them through PayPal for their testimonial if you wish.

    It’s also responsive on mobile devices so you don’t have to worry about frustrating anyone who is trying to give you feedback. It has other options such as digital content protection and social media sharing.

  • Footer Putter

    Footer Putter pluginZoom In

    This plugin’s name may be memorable, but that’s not the only reason why you should consider installing this plugin. It offers you an incredibly easy way to input professional looking content in your footer.

    From elegantly displayed privacy policy and terms of service links, contact information and an automated update system for the copyright year, this plugin has everything you need to legitimize your company or freelance business. It’s all displayed very beautifully with many layout options available.

    There are also more advanced settings included that allow you to show or hide the footer content such as for landing pages or any other page of your choice. It also optimizes your site with Google best practices to ensure your site isn’t looked over when displaying your site in search results.

  • Auto Terms of Service and Privacy Policy

    Auto Terms of Service and Privacy Policy pluginZoom In

    Just as the name suggests, this plugin will automatically generate a terms of service and privacy policy content and displays them effortlessly with shortcodes. While it’s not a substitute for professional legal services, it’s still a plugin worth considering in the interim or if you’re strapped for cash.

    It borrows the page content from WordPress’ own legal pages to help you generate one with your business name and information. They’re both available under a Creative Commons license so it’s available for you to use for free.

  • Publish to Schedule

    Publish to Schedule pluginZoom In

    This isn’t your ordinary publish to schedule plugin. Yes, you can schedule your posts, but this plugin allows you to do it automatically.

    Simply set up the days and times you would like posts to be scheduled and sit back and relax. Once you’re finished writing, your post will automatically be placed in an available spot eliminating the need for you to worry about organizing your posts yourself.

    If you don’t like the date and time that’s automatically chosen you can easily change it so you don’t have to worry about ending up with a messy schedule. It has straight forward options and it’s an easy plugin to install, set up and use.

    If you’re looking for an easier way to schedule your post content, then this plugin has every potential to help you out. Now you’ll be able to focus more time on writing and less time on little organizational tasks.

  • Sitestillup

    Sitestillup pluginZoom In

    The Sitestillup plugin checks your site every hour to ensure it’s still up and running. If it’s not, you are notified immediately. Your site is additionally scanned for viruses and this pluing includes a verification seal to display on your site so your visitors can rest easy knowing your site is safe to visit.

    Since this plugin will regularly and frequently checks your uptime, you won’t have to worry about losing traffic, sales or leads due to downtime you don’t know about. It’s easy to use and install, but does require you to sign up for a free account on the corresponding website.

  • Social Networks Auto-Poster

    NextScripts: Social Networks Auto-PosterZoom In

    If you’re tired of manually tweeting and sharing your posts once they are published then this plugin offers you a very suitable alternative. Not only are posts shared automatically, this plugin goes many steps further and allows you to customize the shared posts to optimize your shares for increased traffic.

    There are currently 28 social media sites and networks available to post to including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Evernote, Reddit, Pinterest, Flickr, YouTube, Deviantart and so many others. The list consistently grows, too!

    The most notable aspect of this plugin is that each post is automatically customized to meet the standards and formatting for each network so you don’t have to worry about posting anything that looks messy or unreadable.

    Setting up this plugin is a little more involved since you need to allow permissions for each social media site you would like to post to, but not to worry because detailed instructions are available. Free support is also available if you run into issues which also adds to this plugin’s stability and ease of use.

  • Organize Series

    Organize Series pluginZoom In

    This plugin helps you make each series you have written in post format more visible by adding new taxonomies for each arrangement. Visitors will be able to easily search for and access other posts apart of the same series.

    There are also other cool options like being able to have a featured image for each one of your series and placing posts in whichever order you’d like your visitors to view them. You can even add a table of contents, extra navigation for the series and so many more options.

    It’s easy to install and works perfectly right out of the box. It’s an easy way to organize your work in a clear and effective way to help boost readership and readability. If you run into issues both free and premium support are available.

  • Hire Me Status Widget

    Hire Me Status WidgetZoom In

    This isn’t a plugin so much as a widget, but it can be certainly a useful one if you work and get paid based on your time rather than by products. It adds a fixed status to your site that clearly states if you are available for hire.

    It works for businesses and freelancers alike as you are able to adjust the plugin to accommodate whether you are an individual or a company with many available workers. Installation and usage of this widget is as easy as it gets to use and set up.

    It’s a great way to let your potential clients know right away whether you are available before having to spend tons of time searching for an free spot in your calendar or communicating back and forth.

  • Ebyline Payments

    Ebyline Payments pluginZoom In

    If you run a site with many contributors, the Ebyline Payments plugin helps make it easier for you to pay your writers for their work through PayPal. You can easily keep track of projects, payments and can even track your payment history.

    It’s easy to set up and use, and payments are secure and encrypted. The plugin even generates reports for tax purposes making it even easier for you to manage the writing side of your site and business.

    It’s a solid plugin that integrates well no matter what theme you are using. It’s a great plugin to consider to help you streamline the payment process if you have freelance writers contributing to your site.

  • Contact Form Clean and Simple

    Contact Form Clean and Simple pluginZoom In

    This contact form plugin doesn’t just allow visitors to contact you with basic captcha spam filtering. It does a lot more than that.

    It features a clean script to minimize the possibilities for incompatibility, has Akismet spam filtering integrated along with reCAPTCHA and uses Twitter Bootstrap to ensure your forms are responsive across devices. The only limitation is that it only provides a simple contact form with a name, email and message fields.

    You won’t be able to customize the form to your liking with as many options as you’d like, but it’s a great contact form if your needs are simple. The fact that it includes spam filtering is an excellent bonus to help save you time and from filtering through a lot of spam.

  • Pizzazz Portfolio

    Pizzazz Portfolio pluginZoom In

    This portfolio plugin is unique in that it it only requires one page to feature all your work. There is a main content area for viewing selected content from a carousel and even supports Vimeo and YouTube videos.

    Visitors won’t have to worry about waiting for a new page to load every time they wish to view one of your projects. They’ll love you for it since waiting is not most people’s favorite thing to do.

    It’s also fully responsive and includes optional social media share buttons. Your portfolio content will also be fully and easily indexed by search engines. There are a lot of options to make your portfolio professional and help it stand out on the page.

    It’s a great plugin to consider if you’re wanting to focus on a great user experience with a professional look. If you’re looking for even more features, it’s worth looking into the commercial version of Pizzazz.

  • Types – Custom Post Types

    Types - Custom Post Types pluginZoom In

    Types allows you to create fully adjustable custom post types and even allows you to include multiple multi-line text boxes with the WordPress visual editor attached. It doesn’t stop there.

    You can also add custom fields to user profiles as well. You can even control which fields each type of user can see and edit.

    Not only can you fully customize and create any kind of post type you can dream up, you can also fully customize the look and feel in both the editing and front page view with CSS.

    It’s easy to install, set up and use so you can get started creating custom post types in seconds.

  • WP-Invoice

    WP-Invoice pluginZoom In

    WP-Invoice is a multi-functional invoicing plugin that allows you to bill your clients and customers while also allowing you to process their payments securely through PayPal or Authorize.net.

    The invoices you create are hugely customizable and you can also send a link to your invoice to clients through email. If you have enabled user registrations, you can also allow invoices to be pre-filled for an improved user experience.

    On the payments front, this plugin is just as impressive. Not only can you accept payments, but you can also integrate recurring billing and split payments.

    It has many useful features that help to make invoicing and payment super easy, breezy and as painless as possible.

  • WP Project Manager

    WP Project Manager pluginZoom In

    WP Project Manager is a great way to manage writing or any other kind of project with your team or contributors right from the dashboard. You can communicate with each other, plan projects, assign tasks and even upload files for review.

    It’s easy to install and use while also allowing you to set permissions to restrict or allow access to members and also includes a calendar to display all the tasks visually. You can also set a time limit for each task with a timer that you can both start and stop to help increase efficiency and reduce redundancies.

  • Editorial Calendar

    Editorial Calendar pluginZoom In

    This editorial calendar plugin includes an easy drag and drop interface to easily manage and view scheduled posts. The status and authors of the post are also displayed to give you an even better overview of your blog and posts.

    Infinite scrolling is set up on the calendar so you can schedule posts as far in advance as you could ever possibly need or desire for added flexibility. Don’t worry, though – there is a button that instantly brings you back to the current date so you won’t get lost among the scheduled posts.

    There are many features that make this plugin special and highly useful for any blog whether you are a freelancer or you are managing many contributors and posts. It’s a popular plugin and it’s not difficult to see why.

Which ones are your favorite plugins? Did I overlook any you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments below.

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WordPress Plugins - WPMU.org http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/visual-composer-review/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/visual-composer-review/#comments Tue, 06 Jan 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/?p=134238 Visual Composer is the number one selling plugin at CodeCanyon, passing the 20,000 sales milestone in March 2014. Developed by WP Bakery, the drag and drop plugin is bundled with more than 300 premium themes on ThemeForest, while more than 65,000 websites around the world have the plugin installed.

It’s clearly a popular plugin, allowing anyone to put together a WordPress site with relative ease. But does it stand up to all the hype?

In this review, I will show you what Visual Composer can do, how it stacks up to the hype, and walk you through how you can use the plugin to create stylish content and unique pages.

Visual Composer

WPMU DEV Rating

4.15/5

The Good

  • Easy to use
  • Features a backend editor and a front-end editor
  • Great selection of content elements
  • Easy to style content elements and good support for developers

The Bad

  • No option to easily insert third party widgets
  • Front-end editor can be a little temperamental

Visual Composer

  • Cost: 4.5/5
  • Features: 4.5/5
  • Aesthetics: 3.5/5
  • Usability: 4/5
  • Support: 4.5/5
  • Speed: 4/5
  • Overall: 4.15/5

The Bottom Line

Visual Composer is a feature packed drag and drop page builder that comes with over 40 content elements. It allows you to style your pages on both the front-end (your live website) and the backend (the WordPress admin area).

I found the transition to the front-end editor to be a little problematic at times. Sometimes it refused to load, sometimes it would load perfectly. It was frustrating to have a problem with such an important feature.

Despite this issue, Visual Composer is the best all round drag and drop page building solution available to WordPress users. It has an easy to use interface, a great selection of content elements, and is cheap to buy. Once you are familiar with the Visual Composer interface, you will be able to create professional pages in minutes.

Main Features of Visual Composer

Before we look at how Visual Composer works, let’s briefly look at the main features of the plugin.

The WordPress post editor allows anyone to style their articles. It can be used to make text bold and italic and to insert links, images, lists, code and quotes. Articles can be styled further by using a drag and drop page builder. This is a general term to refer to WordPress plugins that help you create professional pages using a drag and drop visual interface. The page builder market is very competitive today, however the plugin that paved the way for others was Visual Composer.

Visual Composer allows you to design unique pages using building blocks of content. Some page builder plugins refer to these blocks as modules and some refer to them as widgets. Visual Composer calls them “Content Elements.” They all refer to blocks of content that can be dragged and dropped into any part of a page.

Over 40 content elements are packaged with Visual Composer. This includes text blocks, social media buttons, video players, image carousels, post grids, charts, and much more.

All content elements are responsive, therefore they look great on any computer, tablet, or smartphone. Individual content elements can also be styled to help you style pages further.

Responsive Design
All Visual Composer content elements are responsive.

Drag and drop page builders usually let you style pages in the backend (i.e. the post editor) or the front-end (i.e. the live website). Visual Composer allows you to do both.

As with all page builders, Visual Composer can be used with any WordPress theme. It supports multiple languages and is compatible with the WordPress translation plugin qTranslate. WordPress custom post types are supported, too.

How to Design Pages Using Visual Composer

Once you’ve activated Visual Composer on your website, you will see two buttons added to your post editor. One allows you to style pages using the backend editor. The other will take you to the front-end editor.

Visual Composer Post Editor Buttons
The Visual Composer buttons in the post editor allow you to switch between classic mode (i.e. the default WordPress post editor), backend editor, and front-end editor.

Clicking on the backend editor button will switch the default WordPress editor to Visual Composer’s backend editor.

There are four buttons at the top of the interface. The plus symbol lets you add a new content element. The grey box with a white T inside loads the template box. The cog symbol will load up a custom CSS box that lets you define CSS classes for that specific page. The last button will take you to the front-end editor.

When you first load the backend editor, a welcome page will be displayed that offers shortcuts to common choices. You can add a new element, add a text block (a type of content element), or choose from one of six pre-defined layouts (i.e. load a template).

Backend Editor Welcome Page
A welcome page will be displayed if your page is blank.

Clicking on the plus symbol will bring up the element box. By default, every available element is displayed initially, however you can browse elements by type if you wish.

Earlier on I noted that over 40 content elements are available. Technically this is true, however this total includes 12 default WordPress widgets. You will also find 25 content elements, four social media elements, and three structure elements.

Content Elements List
The current version of Visual Composer features 44 content elements.

Rows can be dragged to other areas of your page. Rows can also be edited, cloned, and deleted. Similar buttons are displayed at the top of each column. Likewise, hovering over a content element will bring up an option to move it, customize it, edit or, or delete it.

Visual Composer Text Block
The text block element allows you to add content using the WordPress visual editor.

Visual Composer lets you customize each content element. The settings that are available to you will depend on the type of content element you are modifying. Simple content elements such as social media sharing buttons only allow you to define the size of the button, while more advanced content elements such as post grids offer many different options and settings.

The Posts Grid Element
Visual Composer allows you to customize every content element you insert into your page.

New rows can be added by clicking on the plus symbol in the row header. Next to that is an option to place content into multiple columns.

There are 11 preset column layouts are available, such as 2/3 + 1/3, 1/4 + 1/2 + 1/4, and 5/6 + 1/6. If you prefer, you can create your own custom layout. Once you have added columns, you can freely move content elements from other rows and columns into the new columns you created.

Creating Rows and Columns
Columns help you create professional page designs.

Visual Composer allows you to customize the look and feel of columns and rows. The general tab allows you to change the default font color and define additional CSS classes.

Column General Settings
You can style columns and rows using custom CSS.

The size of borders, padding, and margins, can be defined in the design options tab. You can also change the color of borders and backgrounds. The type of border can also be changed. For example, you can use a solid, dotted, or dashed border.

Column Design Options
The design options tab lets you change colors, borders, padding, and margins.

Columns have an additional settings tab for widths and responsiveness. These settings are not available for rows (as they are not necessary).

The width of columns can be reduced to a twelfth. Column widths can be changed according to the device that someone is using. This ensures that content is not cramped on smaller devices.

Column Width & Responsiveness
The width of columns can be defined in the column settings box.

The template icon at the top of the Visual Composer interface will load up the templates box. Your custom layout can be saved so that it can be used on other pages on your website. Previously saved templates can also be loaded.

Saving a Template
It only takes a few seconds to save your custom layout.

Six default templates are included with Visual Composer. These templates are a great starting point from creating pages such as landing pages. I recommend loading these templates when you first use Visual Composer as they will give you an understanding of how the plugin works.

Loading a Template
Default layouts can be inserted into your custom layouts.

Loading a default template will add the layout below your existing customizations. You can then replace the dummy text with your own content.

An Example Layout
An example of what a default layout looks like when it is added to your canvas.

The backend editor is very simple to use. Like most WordPress plugins of this nature, it may take you 20 or 30 minutes to get accustomed to how everything works. Once you are familiar with the settings area of each content element and have changed the styling of rows and columns, you will be in a position to create stylish pages that are truly unique.

The Visual Composer Front-end Editor

The front-end editor allows you to style pages on your live website. You can switch to the front-end editor from the backend by clicking on the front-end button in your post editor. Be sure to save any changes you have made to your page before switching the editing mode or you could lose your changes.

I feel that the backend editor is better for structuring a page initially and the front-end editor is better for tweaking pages afterwards; however, I know many WordPress users prefer to do everything via the front-end editor.

Clicking on a content block will bring you up the same options you would see using the backend editor. This includes options to add new rows and columns and the option to add, edit, and delete content elements. At the top of the page you will see options to add new elements, launch the templating system, adjust page settings, save draft, and publish the article. There is an option to switch back to the backend editor as well.

Visual Composer
The front-end editor helps you see how a page will look with your WordPress design. Note: Click on image for a larger and clearer view.

The guides button at the top of the front-end editor will disable the content element box options. This lets you see how a page will look without the Visual Composer editing options displayed.

There is also an option to preview how your page will look in five different sizes of devices. This includes desktops, tablets, and smartphones. It is an essential tool for viewing the page you created on multiple resolutions and checking that it looks good for everyone.

Responsive Preview of Your Page
Be sure to check how your page looks on all resolutions.

There are few drag and drop page builders that give you the option of styling pages on both the front-end and backend. This is one reason why Visual Composer is so versatile.

Visual Composer Settings

The Visual Composer settings area has five tabs. The first tab is home to general settings.

At the top of the page you can choose which post types Visual Composer can be used with. Posts, pages, and any other active post types, can be disabled or enabled from this section. You can also select Google fonts and disable responsive content elements.

One of the best options available on this page is the role editor. You can choose whether a specific user group can use use both Visual Composer and the default WordPress editor or restrict usage to either the Visual Composer or the default WordPress editor. For example, you could only allow use of Visual Composer to administrators and editors.

Specific content elements can also be disabled for each user group; which is useful if you only want certain user groups to have access to certain elements.

The second tab lets you change the color scheme of the Visual Composer content elements. The margin at the bottom of elements and the mobile screen width can also be modified.

The third tab can be used to enter custom CSS code. You can then style content elements by calling the classes defined in this box.

Entering your license details means that you automatically update Visual Composer. It will also make you eligible to receive support. This is a necessary evil that many WordPress developers take to thwart illegal downloads of their products.

The final settings tab can be used to map custom shortcodes and shortcodes from third party plugins. This allows you to expand the number of content elements available to you.

As you can see, there are not many settings to configure for Visual Composer. The setting page you need to pay attention to is the license page as this will ensure you receive support and automatic updates.

A Look at What Visual Composer Can Do

Visual Composer will help you create professional looking pages in minutes. It will not take you long to get an understanding of how Visual Composer works, though it may take you longer to be familiarise yourself with all the content elements that are available to you.

Corporate Page Example
An example of a corporate page designed by Visual Composer.

Once you are comfortable styling elements, you will be in a position to create truly unique pages. The six default templates that are included with Visual Composer will give you a helping hand in the beginning.

Landing Page Example
Visual Composer can be used to create landing pages too.

Extending Visual Composer

Visual Composer is developer friendly. Content elements can be be modified directly from the theme functions.php file and you can also add your own shortcodes.

There are also a huge number of addons that were designed to enhance Visual Composer and many more WordPress plugins that work in conjunction with it.

Templatera Template Manager
Templatera Template Manager is one of the many addons that are available for Visual Composer.

Downsides to Visual Composer

Whenever I use a plugin, there are always things that frustrate me and ways in which I think the plugin could be improved. Visual Composer is no different.

Over the past year, I have tested around a dozen free and premium drag and drop page builders. Many other solutions give you the option of inserting every available widget as a content element. This extends the functionality of a page builder plugin considerably as it allows you to insert any WordPress widget you have activated on your website.

Unfortunately, Visual Composer does not have this. You are restricted the the default WordPress plugins and a couple of third party plugins such as Contact Form 7.

Widgetized Sidebar Content Element
I found the Widgetized sidebar content element limiting.

What Visual Composer does offer is a widgetized sidebar content element. In theory, this allows you to insert any widget directly into your pages. However, in practice it is a pain to do that.

The widgetized sidebar content element allows you to select which sidebar you insert into the element, but it does not allow you to create a new sidebar (i.e. a new widget area). You therefore need to manually create sidebars every time you want to add a custom widget into a page. While WordPress plugins such as Custom Sidebars do make the process of creating new sidebars simpler, the whole process is still a pain.

Consider a content website with 100 pages. If you wanted to insert custom widgets into just 25 pages on that website, you would need to create 25 custom sidebars. In contrast, other page building plugin solutions allow you to simply drag and drop your preferred custom widget into the content area.

Hopefully, WP Bakery will address this issue in the future and give Visual Composer users the option of inserting custom widgets directly.

I prefer using the backend editor to style pages, however I can understand why so many people love editing pages on their live website as it allows them to see the changes they make in real-time. Though I found switching to the front-end editor frustrating. The front-end editor works great once it has loaded, however it frequently did not load correctly and just displayed the loading icon indefinitely. I tested Visual Composer on a test website using Twenty Twelve with no other WordPress plugins activated. Despite this, the frontend editor would rarely load correctly.

At one point I spent 30 minutes trying to switch from the backend editor to the front-end editor. Eventually, it worked on a blog post that had no content. The following day the front-end editor seemed to load correctly every time, which surprised me as nothing had been changed on my website. I did some research on this issue and found that other users have had the same problem, but were able to resolve the issue. It appears that the front-end editor sometimes fails to load due to various issues relating to the preloader.

A Word of Warning About WordPress Plugins Packaged with Themes

Visual Composer is a popular plugin with WordPress theme developers as it allows their customers to create stylish pages using a drag and drop interface. That is why Visual Composer is included with hundreds of WordPress themes on ThemeForest.

It is good to receive a premium WordPress plugin with the purchase of a WordPress theme, however you should be aware of the fact that many theme developers do not update their theme zip file every time an included plugin is updated. This may result in your website using an outdated version of the plugin and becoming vulnerable to attacks.

After Visual Composer, the second most popular WordPress plugin on CodeCanyon is Slider Revolution. Security specialists Sucuri noted in September 2014 that Slider Revolution had a large security hole.

WordPress users who purchased the plugin directly on CodeCanyon were able to download an updated version of the plugin that included the security patch. Unfortunately, the thousands of users who were using a version of the plugin that was included with a WordPress theme were not able to download the new version. Many theme developers do not check to see if a new version of their packaged plugins has been released. It is also common for theme developers to only check for new versions of a plugin when they are updating their own WordPress theme.

Therefore, if you are using a version of Visual Composer that was included in a WordPress theme you purchased, please be sure to check whether you are using the latest version. If the theme developer is not proactive in updating the plugin, it could be prudent to buy a copy of the plugin directly from CodeCanyon so that you can receive support and automatic updates.

Ratings

Cost

Visual Composer offers fantastic value for money. It is an advanced WordPress plugin with tons of functionality, but retails at a one-off fee of only $28.

This is considerably less than many of its competitors. For example, the page builder plugin Velocity Page has fewer features than Visual Composer. However, the plugin retails at $97 for one website, $167 for three websites, and $247 for unlimited use. Beaver Builder has a similar pricing scheme.

There are, of course, free drag and drop page builder plugins available for WordPress, but these plugins cannot match Visual Composer for design or features. Without doubt, Visual Composer gives you a lot of bang for your buck.

Features

Visual Composer allows you to modify content on the backend or the front-end. This is an area where it excels over many of its competitors as most drag and drop plugins only permit you to create pages using the backend or the front-end.

Visual Composer includes a fantastic range of content elements too. This includes social media buttons, multimedia elements for videos and images, and content related elements such as post grids, post carousels, and post sliders.

Separators and empty space can also be integrated into pages to help structure a page. You will also find support for buttons and call to actions.

As I noted earlier, the one thing the developers of Visual Composer could do is give better support for third party widgets. This would help extend the functionality of the plugin. However, I have no doubt that most WordPress users will be satisfied with the content elements that come included with Visual Composer.

Aesthetics

Every part of Visual Composer looks gorgeous; from the drag and drop interface to the pages it helps you create for your website. All content elements are responsive, therefore content will look great on desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

The plugin also allows you to customize each content element to your liking. You can easily change borders, margins, and padding. Font colors and background colors can be changed through the settings box, too. Custom CSS can also be added to style elements even further.

With many drag and drop page builder solutions, the style of content elements cannot be changed. It is a case of what you see is what you get. Visual Composer doesn’t restrict you in this way.

Usability

The Visual Composer interface on the backend and the front-end are very simple to use. You should have a good understanding of how to add content elements and place them into rows and columns within 15 minutes of using the plugin.

Don’t expect to be creating perfect pages right away. Although Visual Composer is easy to use, it will take you a few hours before you will feel comfortable creating the pages you desire. You need to familiarize yourself with the options that are available for each content element.

The pre-packaged templates that are included with the plugin help speed up this process. By loading a default template and then spending time moving things around and tweaking content elements, you will soon be familiar with how everything works.

Support

Visual Composer has been available for years, yet the plugin is still regularly updated with new features. As the best selling plugin on CodeCanyon, you can be sure it will be actively supported for many years to come.

You needn’t worry about how to use the plugin. On the WP Bakery website there is a large knowledge base that walks you through how to use the plugin. The developers also answer customer queries through a dedicated ticket support system and actively respond to comments on CodeCanyon every day, too.

There are no yearly fees with Visual Composer. Therefore, once you purchase the plugin, you will receive lifetime support and updates.

Speed

Visual Composer has been designed so that necessary Javascript files are only loaded if they are being used by a particular content element. This ensures that pages load fast and bandwidth is reduced. For example, the Javascript that is necessary to display a post carousel is only loaded if you have added a post carousel to that particular page.

Tens of thousands of fast loading websites use Visual Composer, therefore you don’t need to be concerned about the plugin slowing down your website. Every content element element loads quickly and efficiently.

Final Thoughts

In a crowded market of drag and drop page builders, Visual Composer can lay claim to being the most popular and the best option available to WordPress users.

The interface is easy to use, the content elements look fantastic, and it allows you to style pages on both the front-end and the backend of your website.

The one area I feel it falls behind some of its competitors is the lack of an option to integrate widgets into a page. You could argue the point that free drag and drop page builder plugins such as MiniMax, Aqua Page Builder, and Page Builder, are more flexible; as these solutions allow you to insert any widget into pages easily.

Of course, if you do not need to insert 3rd party widgets into pages, this is a moot point. Most WordPress users will be happy with the content elements that come packaged with Visual Composer and the option to style content elements using custom CSS means that the plugin can be used to create beautiful pages in a matter of minutes.

Do you use Visual Composer? If so, please let us know your thoughts on the plugin in the comments area below.

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WordPress Plugins - WPMU.org http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/premium-freemium-wordpress-backup-plugins/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/premium-freemium-wordpress-backup-plugins/#comments Mon, 05 Jan 2015 13:00:36 +0000 http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/?p=135117 Backing up your WordPress site is essential. Without it, you run the risk of losing all of your hard work if something goes wrong. If your hosting provider loses your data, your site is hacked or you simply want to roll back to an earlier version of your site, keeping regular backups will save you a lot of work – and a lot of stress.

But backing up isn’t something you’re going to want to keep on doing manually. Keeping backups only works if it’s automated, with regular snapshots being taken of your site so that you have constant access to a recent backup you can restore if things go wrong. Which is where backup plugins come in.

In this post I’ll review seven of the top backup plugins for WordPress. All of these are premium or freemium (meaning there’s a free version and a paid for version), because when I was researching this post I found that if you want a backup plugin that’ll make the process of backing up and restoring your site quick and easy, you generally have to pay for it. And this is something that’s worth paying for – imagine what it would cost you if you had to take time out to recreate your site from scratch or even worse, your clients’ sites?

Disclaimer: I’m sure there are many readers who use plugins not on this list, including free ones, and are perfectly happy with them. As with all reviews, there is going to be an element of subjectivity in this post and my reviews will reflect my experience of researching or testing these plugins.

What Makes a Great Backup Plugin?

In this post I’ve focused on plugins which make the process of backing up, migrating and restoring your site easy, reliable and hassle-free. The plugins I’ll rate most highly will have the following features:

  • Automated backup scheduling, with the flexibility for you to choose what you back up and how often.
  • A choice of locations to store your backups, including third party services such as Dropbox and Amazon S3.
  • Backups stored for as long as you need with no time limit.
  • Straightforward migration or restoring via the WordPress admin screens or the provider’s website.
  • Quality one to one support.
  • Detailed documentation on the provider’s website.
  • Flexible billing plans (where appropriate), with monthly or annual options and different prices for different needs.
  • Support for WordPress Multisite without having to pay extra for each site in your network.

Not all of the plugins I’ve reviewed here meet all of those criteria, but what I’ve listed above is what the ideal plugin will boast. So let’s take a look at some plugins.

Snapshot

Snapshot

WPMU DEV Rating

4.7/5

The Good

  • Flexible automated backups, with the option to have multiple snapshots with different content and regularity
  • Support for third party storage services including Dropbox, Amazon S3, FTP/sFTP, Google Drive and GreenQloud
  • No limit on how long backups are stored
  • One click migration and restore from the WordPress admin
  • One-to-one support with fast response times
  • Documentation and how to videos
  • Option to buy just this plugin for a month or to subscribe to the full suite of WPMU DEV themes and plugins annually
  • WordPress Multisite support at no extra cost per site

The Bad

  • Annual subscription can be expensive if you don't need access to the full range of WPMU DEV themes and plugins

Ratings

  • Support: 5/5
  • Flexibility: 5/5
  • Storage Options: 4.5/5
  • Ease of Restoration: 5/5
  • Ease of Migration: 5/5
  • Price & Plans: 3.5/5
  • Multisite: 5/5
  • Overall: 4.7/5

The Bottom Line

A great backup plugin, which offers all of the features in my wish list. Restoring and migration are both done with one click and full Multisite support is included without you having to pay for each site in your network. The only downside is the cost if you're just looking for a backup plugin and don't want to subscribe to the full range of WPMU DEV themes and plugins. But if you do already subscribe to WPMU DEV (and if you're here there's a reasonable chance that you do), then Snapshot is effectively free!


VaultPress

vaultpress

WPMU DEV Rating

3.7/5

The Good

  • Backups run in the background with no input from the user
  • One-click restore and migration
  • Monthly or annual billing
  • Storage on Automattic's own servers
  • One-to-one support
  • Support for WordPress Multisite – but at extra cost

The Bad

  • No option to store your data using third party services
  • Documentation is less comprehensive than for some other plugins
  • Each site in a Multisite Network is charged as a separate site, which can add up

Ratings

  • Support: 5/5
  • Storage Options: 2/5
  • Flexibility: 2/5
  • Ease of Restoration: 5/5
  • Ease of Migration: 5/5
  • Price and Plans: 4/5
  • Multisite: 3/5
  • Overall: 3.7/5

The Bottom Line

VaultPress is Automattic's backup offering and uses the same servers that wordpress.com sites are stored on, so comes with that peace of mind. However, if you want the flexibility to store your data elsewhere or to choose what you back up and when, this won't be the plugin for you. Backups are managed via your WordPress dashboard on the valuators site (rather than in the WordPress admin), which will suit some people but not others, and while Multisite is supported, each site in your network is charged as a separate site.


ManageWP

managewp

WPMU DEV Rating

3.5/5

The Good

  • Flexible storage options with the ability to select what's backed up and when
  • Support for third party storage including Dropbox, Amazon S3, Google Drive, FTP/SFTP and email.
  • One-click restore from the ManageWP dashboard
  • One to one support via tickets
  • Monthly and annual billing options
  • Extra services included such as SEO and security checks

The Bad

  • Migrations are done via cPanel and FTP - no 1-click migration
  • No support for WordPress Multisite

Ratings

  • Support: 5/5
  • Storage Options: 5/5
  • Flexibility: 4/5
  • Ease of Restoration: 4/5
  • Ease of Migration: 1/5
  • Price & Plans: 5/5
  • Multisite: 0.5/5
  • Overall: 3.5/5

The Bottom Line

ManageWP isn't designed just as a backup service but backups are one of the things it offers. It offers great value for the features on offer although it doesn't make migration easy and there's no support for Multisite networks, as ManageWP is designed as an alternative to Multisite.


BackupBuddy

backup-buddy

WPMU DEV Rating

3.2/5

The Good

  • Automated backups with flexible options for scheduling and content
  • Support for third party storage services including Amazon S3, Dropbox, Backspace Cloud, FTP or email.
  • Online documentation and tutorials
  • Custom backup profiles so you can backup different files or tables at different intervals
  • Flexible pricing depending on the number of sites to be backed up
  • Extra tools including individual file restore, malware scan and database mass text replacement

The Bad

  • Migration and restore involves uploading a script – no options for one–click restore
  • Support via forums – not as user-friendly as for some services
  • No support for WordPress Multisite
  • No monthly payment option

Ratings

  • Support: 4/5
  • Flexibility: 4/5
  • Storage Options: 5/5
  • Ease of Restoration: 3/5
  • Ease of Migration: 3/5
  • Price & Plans: 3/5
  • Multisite: 0.5/5
  • Overall: 3.2/5

The Bottom Line

BackupBuddy is hugely popular and includes an impressive range of tools for backing up and restoring your site in the way that works for you. However, the process for restoring a site is complicated for novice users and there's no support for WordPress Multisite.


BlogVault

blogvault

WPMU DEV Rating

2.35/5

The Good

  • Automated backups with option to amend scheduling
  • Backups are stored on BlogVault's servers and on Amazon S3 and (optionally) Dropbox
  • Online documentation – but not as comprehensive as for some plugins
  • Supports Multisite – but only up to three sites
  • One to one support

The Bad

  • Backups only stored for 30 days
  • Restores are done manually using FTP and phpMyAdmin
  • No option to exclude specific files or tables from backups
  • Limited range of third party storage services supported
  • If you have more than three sites (i.e. your main domain and two sites) in your Multisite network, you'll have to pay again

Ratings

  • Support: 4/5
  • Flexibility: 1.5/5
  • Storage Options: 3/5
  • Ease of Restoration: 1/5
  • Ease of Migration: 1/5
  • Price & Plans: 3/5
  • Multisite: 3/5
  • Overall: 2.35/5

The Bottom Line

BlogVault claims to be the best backup plugin for WordPress, but it falls down on the process for restoring or migrating a site, which is no simpler than with any free plugin. It also doesn't let you store backups for more than 30 days and can cost a lot for Multisite users with large networks. Like VaultPress it stores your data on its own servers and you access it via their website, but it doesn't offer the same peace of mind as a provider as well known and trusted as Automattic.


BackWPUp

backwpup

WPMU DEV Rating

2.55/5

The Good

  • Automatic backup scheduling
  • Support for free and premium users via forum
  • Supports Multisite
  • Free version available
  • Multiple storage options available with the premium version

The Bad

  • Backing up files didn't work when I tested it – only the database was backed up
  • Restores and migrations have to be done manually using phpMyAdmin
  • No monthly payment option
  • Online documentation isn't very clearly worded

Ratings

  • Support: 4/5
  • Storage Options: 4/5
  • Flexibility: 1/5
  • Ease of Restoration: 1/5
  • Ease of Migration: 1/5
  • Price & Plans: 4/5
  • Multisite: 3/5
  • Overall: 2.55/5

The Bottom Line

BackUpWP is a "freemium" plugin in that there is a free version (BackWPUp Free) available in the WordPress plugin repository and a premium version (BackWPUp Pro) which you can download from their website. Both of these have the same basic features for backups, restores and migrations with the premium version supporting more third party storage services and including wizards for testing. However, when I tested the free version, it only backed up my database and not my files, which was a serious shortcoming. The process for restoring and migrating a site is also too complicated for a premium plugin, with users having to do these manually.


BackUpWordPress

backupwordpress

WPMU DEV Rating

3.65/5

The Good

  • Flexible backup options – choose what to back up and when
  • Range of third party storage options with premium version including FTP/SFTP, Dropbox, Googe Drive, Amazon S3, Dreamhost Dream Objects, Rackspace Cloud and Microsoft Azure
  • Free version available
  • Email support for free and premium users (with priority given to premium users)
  • Backups managed via WordPress admin
  • Online documentation – above average for free plugins, not as comprehensive as for some other premium plugins
  • Multisite Support

The Bad

  • Restore and migration has to be done manually via FTP and phpMyAdmin
  • Plans just for single site or unlimited sites, with nothing in between

Ratings

  • Support: 4/5
  • Storage Options: 5/5
  • Flexibility: 5/5
  • Ease of Restoration: 1/5
  • Ease of Migration: 1/5
  • Price & Plans: 4.5/5
  • Multisite: 5/5
  • Overall: 3.65/5

The Bottom Line

BackWordPressUp is another freemium plugin, with the same basic functionality available in the free and premium versions. By buying the premium version you have access to more storage options as well as priority support. Like the other freemium plugins reviewed here it doesn't offer one-click restore or migration so it's not suitable for novice users, but it is more reliable than BackWPUp so if you're looking for a free plugin, this is the one I'd recommend.


Overall – Backup Plugins Compared

Support

  • Snapshot: 5/5
  • VaultPress: 5/5
  • ManageWP: 5/5
  • BackupBuddy: 4/5
  • BlogVault: 4/5
  • BackWPUp: 4/5
  • BackUpWordPress: 4/5

Storage Options

  • Snapshot: 4.5/5
  • VaultPress: 2/5
  • ManageWP: 5/5
  • BackupBuddy: 5/5
  • BlogVault: 3/5
  • BackWPUp: 4/5
  • BackUpWordPress: 5/5

Flexibility

  • Snapshot: 5/5
  • VaultPress: 2/5
  • ManageWP: 5/5
  • BackupBuddy: 4/5
  • BlogVault: 1.5/5
  • BackWPUp: 1/5
  • BackUpWordPress: 5/5

Ease of Restoration

  • Snapshot: 5/5
  • VaultPress: 5/5
  • ManageWP: 4/5
  • BackupBuddy: 3/5
  • BlogVault: 1/5
  • BackWPUp: 1/5
  • BackUpWordPress: 1/5

Ease of Migration

  • Snapshot: 5/5
  • VaultPress: 5/5
  • ManageWP: 1/5
  • BackupBuddy: 3/5
  • BlogVault: 1/5
  • BackWPUp: 1/5
  • BackUpWordPress: 1/5

Price & Plans

  • Snapshot: 3.5/5
  • VaultPress: 4/5
  • ManageWP: 5/5
  • BackupBuddy: 3/5
  • BlogVault: 3/5
  • BackWPUp: 4/5
  • BackUpWordPress: 4.5/5

Overall

  • Snapshot: 4.65/5
  • VaultPress: 3.85/5
  • ManageWP: 4.15/5
  • BackupBuddy: 3.65/5
  • BlogVault: 2.25/5
  • BackWPUp: 2.5/5
  • BackUpWordPress: 3.4/5

Summary

Of all the plugins I’ve reviewed here, Snapshot is the one which comes the closest to meeting all of my criteria – in fact, it meets all of the criteria except for price, as it is expensive if you don’t want access to all of WPMU DEV’s other plugins and themes. However, I believe that secure, reliable and user-friendly backups are worth every penny you spend on them so I think that it’s worth the money.

If your budget is tight, however, and you decide to go for the free version of a freemium plugin, I would certainly recommend the BackUpWordPress plugin. Like all free plugins it requires you to restore or migrate your site manually, but it’s far more reliable than the BackWPUp and has better documentation.

It’s worth considering which plugins will work best for different WordPress setups:

  • If you’re running Multisite, Snapshot is the only plugin which will include all of the sites in your network for no extra fee and let you make one-click restores.
  • If you’re running a single site installation and prefer not to set up backups yourself but have it all done for you, then VaultPress will meet your needs.
  • If you’re running single site and want your data stored where you want it but prefer using the plugin’s website to manage your backups, then ManageWP could be for you.
  • If you want to manage your single site backups from the WordPress admin and have easy options for restoring your site, then I’d recommend Snapshot.
  • If you don’t want to spend any money and are comfortable restoring your site manually, then I’d recommend BackUpWordPress, which gives you the option to start out with the free version and upgrade if you want more flexibility later.

What do you use to backup your WordPress website? Let us know your favorite backup solution in the comments below.

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WordPress Plugins - WPMU.org http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/make-your-wordpress-site-accessible/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/make-your-wordpress-site-accessible/#comments Thu, 01 Jan 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/?p=135618 I think we can all agree that technology has made our lives a lot easier, but what about people who are visually or hearing impaired and those who are color blind?

We spend a lot of time improving our websites, optimizing them for speed and creating quality content, but not enough attention is placed on site accessibility. Have you ever wondered how easy it is for people with disabilities to access your site and then navigate around it?

The importance of creating accessible websites is gaining much-needed traction in the WordPress community thanks to the WordPress Accessibility team. The team has been working with the Theme Review team on the possibility of requiring the accessibility-ready tag for themes hosted on WordPress.org. The Accessibility team hope to announced new guidelines for theme developers in April 2015, which would then be required as of November 2015.

So what does it take to create an accessible website? In this post I’ll go over some of the requirements in the WordPress Codex for meeting accessibility guidelines, as well as themes and plugins for improving your site’s accessibility.

Is Your Site Accessible?

To ensure your website is accessible, there are a number of required and/or recommended criteria you need to meet. All themes and theme updates that use the tag “accessibility-ready” undergo an accessibility audit against a number of guidelines, which you’ll find in the Theme Review Handbook. There are also more details about accessibility in the WordPress Codex.

For now, let’s go over the most important points you need to know now in order to score your site for its accessibility:

  • Headings should be used to define a page’s sub-sections and not simply for visual appeal
  • you should only have one h1 tag per page
  • Links should be descriptive and should make sense out of context (use “Continue Reading [Title of Post]” instead of “Read More”)
  • Buttons and (drop down) menus should be selectable and highlight-able with a keyboard well as a mouse
  • Your page’s text color must be in high contrast when compared to the background color of the content area
  • Text should not refer to interactive elements such as links or buttons by color only
  • Your website should include skip links at the very top of each page to allow users direct navigation to content with only a keyboard
  • The title attribute for links should only be used if the corresponding text would not be redundant when they are viewed side by side
  • Forms must be sufficiently labelled outside the form field and all confirmations and warnings should be easily recognizable
  • Images and icons should supplement text and content and should not stand alone without alt tags and very descriptive captions or titles
  • Media such as video, audio, sliders or carousels should not start or change action without user interaction by default
  • New browser windows or tabs should not be opened automatically, without user interaction

Plugins for Accessibility

There are a couple websites which can help you test for some of these issues such as the Color Contrast Comparison and Tanaguru Contrast Finder sites. These are great, but there are many plugins to help you test your site and also help you achieve accessibility.

Let’s take a look at the most reliable ones.

  • Inaccessibility Checker

    Inaccessibility Check pluginZoom In

    If you’re forgetful when it comes to adding alt text or captions, this simple plugin could be helpful to you. It shows a bright red border around any image that doesn’t have descriptive text attached to it in a post’s preview. It’s super easy to install and you won’t have to worry about forgetting descriptive image texts ever again.

  • Accessible Drop Down Menus

    Accessible Drop Down Menu pluginZoom In

    This is one of the most important tools you need to make your site fully accessible. Accessible Drop Down Menus allows your dynamic drop down menus to be accessible by keyboard and not just via a mouse hover. This is important for those who are visually impaired or for those who don’t use a mouse.

    If you’re not convinced this is necessary, try closing your eyes and using your mouse to navigate to the plugins page of WPMU DEV. Difficult, right? That’s why you need this plugin or at least one that’s similar to it.

    It’s easy to install and works perfectly on menus using JavaScript. On other menus, the links are still accessible through the tab button, although, the menu will not fully drop down. It’s a great free tool that works.

  • Skip To

    Skip To pluginZoom In

    Skip To creates its own menu that is fully accessible with a keyboard. The menu pops up as soon as someone tabs into the page. The menu drops down when the enter key is pushed then populates with the major sections of the page as marked by headings.

    This menu would be the alternative to creating your own skip links making it even easier to get one step closer to a fully accessible site. If you ask me, it’s a done deal. I’m downloading this sucker right away.

  • Vividly

    Vividly pluginZoom In

    Vividly adds the functionality of being able to toggle between stylesheets to one that is in high contrast. In the accessibility-friendly stylesheet, text will be very dark in comparison to the content background to pump up its visibility.

    The extra cool thing about this plugin is that it stores a cookie in the visitor’s browser when the high contrast stylesheet is selected. They won’t have to continue making this selection for every page they travel to and will even stay intact when they come back another time.

    Vividly installs like a regular plugin, but with slightly more work involved at the end. You need to create a high contrasting stylesheet and upload it to the root of your theme. Finally, you just need to add the toggle button to the top of your theme.

    It’s not too complicated and once you’ve done it once, you’re done for good.

  • Zoom

    Zoom WidgetZoom In

    Zoom allows your site’s visitors to resize text and other content to suit needs. Anyone viewing a page on your site will be able to toggle the text size, for example, to allow your content to be easily readable and more accessible.

    Installation is as easy as any other average plugin out there and a menu will be created after activation in the admin area where you can adjust the settings. A widget can then be placed into a post or page by a shortcode wherever you would like it to appear.

    If you’d like more control over the look of the zoom button as well as the individual content sections that are resized, you’ll need the commercial version of this plugin for $19.99. Even without upgrading, this plugin works very well so you don’t need to worry if you’re on a budget.

  • MCE Accessible Language Change

    MCE Accessible Language Change pluginZoom In

    This is a lightweight plugin that allows you easily toggle between languages in the post or page visual editor. You can easily translate text and links to the five included languages: English, German, Spanish, French and Italian.

    This plugin will help you easily reach more people around the globe while also being super easy to install. Once you’ve installed it just like any other plugin, you’re done!

    Although I can’t vouch for its accuracy with extreme certainty, it should still be able to help. Even if your sentences end up having a few fragments, it will likely still get the point across well enough for most uses.

  • WP Accessibility

    WP Accessibility pluginZoom In

    This is a fantastic plugin because it adds many accessibility options in a single package. You can disable as many or as few options as you like if your current theme already has the same options included.

    You can add skip links, a toolbar to toggle between high contrast, large print and grayscale views of your site, add long descriptions to images, add post titles to the standard “read more” links, and a lot more. While this won’t replace a solid theme that’s built for accessibility, it will certainly help a great deal making this a very valuable plugin.

  • Alt Checker

    Alt Checker pluginZoom In

    If the first plugin doesn’t fit well with your workflow or you’re otherwise not a big fan, you can try this one. Alt Checker is a plugin that also checks to make sure you have added alt text to your uploaded images. It’s super easy to install as well. The only major difference between this plugin and the Inaccessibility Checker is that the latter also checks for captions.

  • Universal Accessibility Key

    Universal Accessibility Key pluginZoom In

    This plugin is pretty neat because it produces very unique results when compared to the other plugins on this list. Instead of adding buttons or menus to your site, it will allow users to have instant access to a fully accessible version of your site. By pressing the shift key and “A” at the same time, a user will be redirected to a fully accessible version of the same page.

    It’s as easy to install as most other plugins, but you will have quite a bit of added work since you’ll have to make a separate version of your site that’s fully accessible. This doesn’t have to be a difficult task, especially if you have a multisite and our Cloner plugin installed and activated.

    You’ll have only four easy steps if you have these. All you’ll have to do is …

    1. Copy your site with the Cloner plugin
    2. Adjust the settings of the Universal Accessibility Key plugin to add the main URL of your accessible site
    3. Add text to the top of your original homepage to mention the instructions for visiting the accessible site
    4. Then switch the theme of your copied site to one of the accessibility-ready WordPress themes listed below

    The only downside to this plugin is it’s in French, so allow me to translate the two sentences in the options for you, which you can access by going to Settings > UAK after this plugin is activated. Here we go:

    The user will be redirected to the URL below, where they’ll use the keyboard shortcut Shift + A
    URL of the page or accessible site:

    Done and done in under five minutes flat and your site will be fully accessible at that. This plugin makes it as easy as possible to help you get a fully accessible site and for that reason, this is the most valuable and best plugin on this list.

Accessibility-Ready Themes

Creating an accessible site from scratch can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be with these fantastic themes.

All of the themes in this list have passed the Theme Review Team’s accessibility audit with flying colors. This means they have at least the minimum requirements to be considered accessible by the visually impaired. If you are a theme developer, WordPress does encourage you to go above and beyond the minimum standards.

Don’t worry, though – even if one of these themes doesn’t surpass the standard, you can pair it with one or more of the plugins above to help you achieve a greater level of accessibility.

  • 14-Glassy

    14-Glassy theme screenshotZoom In

    14-Glassy is a child theme of Twenty Fourteen, if you can imagine that. The only major difference is that 14-Glassy has been tweaked slightly to have an enhanced readability on mobile devices making it a bit more accessible. If you’re a fan of WordPress’ official Twenty Fourteen theme, then this is the best theme for you.

  • Stock

    Stock theme screenshotZoom In

    Stock is a practical theme. It’s a minimalist theme that has all the necessary components of a well-laid out website. It’s a great theme that’s simple enough in design to be well accepted by those with a visual impairment, while still having a handsome design for everyone else’s viewing pleasure. It also includes post formats and basic styling options.

  • Bosco

    Bosco theme screenshotZoom In

    Bosco is a minimalist theme, but its splash of color makes for a bold and chic design. It’s an excellent theme for photo bloggers or vloggers. If you’re not a fan of the pop of red, you can definitely change that color in the theme options as well as make other basic customizations. With Bosco, you’ll also enjoy the different post formats that are included.

  • White Xmas

    White Xmas theme screenshotZoom In

    While White Xmas is a beautiful theme for the holidays, you can easily hide all of its winter wonderland designs and replace them with other images and styles for the rest of the year. It has gorgeous calligraphic typography which completes the design and as a whole, this theme seems to tug at the cockles of your heart. It has all the basic styling options you need along with sticky posts and threaded comments.

  • Simone

    Simone theme screenshotZoom In

    Simone looks as though it has a narrow content area, but it’s actually very roomy. It has large, clean fonts for an easy reading experience and its menus are fully accessible by keyboard. If you don’t like the sidebar, you can opt for a full-width page template instead. You can change the color scheme, background and all that good stuff. It also has all the major post formats, sticky posts and threaded comments.

  • Kuorinka

    Kuorinka theme screenshotZoom In

    Kuorinka is a simple, elegant, yet commanding theme. It’s perfect for business or freelancers who only want to worry about creating one theme that’s fruitful for all users. For such a beautiful theme, it also carries many options for customization from the color schemes to the layout structure. It also includes many post formats, sticky posts and threaded comments.

  • WPstart

    WPstart theme screenshotZoom In

    WPstart is a clean, minimalist with an added touch of flair, added by its customizable header image. Its simple design makes it perfect for screen readers that are used by those who are visually impaired. WPstart also features styling theme options, post formats, sticky posts and threaded comments.

  • Tikva

    Tikva theme screenshotZoom In

    Tikva has a dark background and light-colored text if you’re into that sort of thing. Other than that, it has the same basic layout that most other themes have making it a comparable selection to other minimal themes. You can customize the color scheme and background if it isn’t your sort of thing after all. It also has other flexible theme options, sticky posts and threaded comments.

  • Drop

    Drop theme screenshotZoom In

    Drop is a truly exquisite theme modelling after WordPress’ new Twenty Fifteen theme. It looks very polished with its left sidebar content being delicately centered and including a circular featured image. Its content area is large and in charge with bold, clean typography and an apt featured image size. You’ll have no troubles refining the styles of Drop with great theme options and included sticky post and threaded comments features.

  • Accessible Zen

    Accessible Zen screenshotZoom In

    Accessible Zen is – you guessed it – accessible, but also very clean with incredibly readable fonts. Simplicity is the name of the game here as your users will have little to no issues easily navigating and reading your content. You can change the colors and has other select theme options. Your content is sure to be the star with post formats, threaded comments and the ability to have sticky posts.

  • JBST

    JBST theme screenshotZoom In

    This is a neat and tidy theme that is fully customizable from head to toe – or rather, header to footer. If you want to make even more customizations, it’s the perfect framework to build upon by creating a child theme. It’s also ready for BuddyPress and BBpress, too! It also has concise fonts that are as easy to read as they are functional.

  • Cherish

    Cherish theme screenshotZoom In

    If you’re in need of a theme that has a large call to action (CTA) area, then Cherish has you covered. It also features some pretty fanciful fonts that screen readers won’t have trouble detecting, but are also eye-catching for those with 20 / 20 vision. It’s a minimalist theme that focuses on content with a clean, full-width layout. Sticky posts and threaded comments are also included.

  • Neighborly

    Neighborly theme screenshotZoom In

    Neighborly is simple, but mighty. You can keep this theme’s style straightforward or you can embellish it with images and color schemes. It’s a clean theme that’s great for posting content with the intention of readability and ease of use. It comes with a simple set of theme options, common post formats, sticky posts and threaded comments.

  • Universal

    Universal theme screenshotZoom In

    Last but not least we have the Universal theme that has a rather unique feature to it which makes it shine among other themes. It has extensive in-line documentation on its accessibility features. This can act as a resource in and of itself to help you further understand how to make your site accessible. It has a good number of theme options to help you tweak the style to your liking along with the sticky post feature.

Final Thoughts

Ensuring your WordPress site is accessible may seem like a lot of work, but the benefits are worth it. Not only will you make your content more available to those with disabilities, but you will be opening up your site to a larger audience.

The plugins and themes in this list provide a great start to get you thinking about how to improve your site’s accessibility.

The Theme Review Team’s accessibility guidelines provide a neat overview of the requirements websites should meet. If your site doesn’t already meet these guidelines, it’s worth thinking about how to put them in place – the accessibility movement in WordPress is gaining traction and you don’t want to be left behind or discriminate against potential readers of customers.

What did you think of these plugins and themes? Do you have any favourites that I’ve missed? Post them in the comments below.

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WordPress Plugins - WPMU.org http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/convert-visitors-wordpress-slide-in-form/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/convert-visitors-wordpress-slide-in-form/#comments Sat, 27 Dec 2014 13:00:38 +0000 http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/?p=133728 Most site admins focus far too heavily on traffic at the expense of what truly matters. And while what truly matters is up to you, it shouldn’t be traffic.

Why? Because traffic doesn’t represent anything useful. The number of eyeballs on your site simply isn’t as important as more relevant factors, such as the percentage of those eyeballs who subscribe to your email list or make a purchase.

What I’m getting at is this: you should be as focused (or perhaps even more focused) on optimizing your site to achieve your ultimate goal (subscribers, sales, etc.) than sending visitors to your site. For many of us it would be far easier to double our conversion rate than double traffic to our site.

In this post we’re going to focus on email subscribers; namely, gaining more of them from your existing visitor pool. I’ll explain what your site-wide conversion rate (i.e. the number of visitors to your site who become email subscribers) should be. Then we’ll look at a few slide-in signup form options and some tips for writing compelling headlines and copy.

What Should Your Website’s Conversion Rate Be?

I’ve done a lot of research on this, and the bottom line is that there is not a great deal to go on in terms of formal blog email subscription conversion statistics. So I’m going to rely largely on anecdotal evidence.

Based on my fairly extensive experience, I can tell you a couple of things:

  1. A 1% conversion rate is pretty bad
  2. A 10% conversion rate is highly unlikely

In my opinion you should be working within a 2-5%+ range of expectation. This may not sound like a lot, but if your conversion rate is currently 1%, an increase to 2% is considerable.

Let’s put it in perspective. Say your blog attracts 5,000 visitors per month. That would lead to 50 subscribers a month at a 1% conversion rate, or 100 subscribers at a 2% conversion rate. That may not seem like a wild difference, but that same 2% conversion rate will leave you with whopping 600 more subscribers over a year.

Exponential Email Subscriber Growth
It’s amazing what you can do with the same amount of traffic if you improve your conversion rate.

And that’s not even taking into account the exponential effect of having more subscribers. The more subscribers you have, the more subscribers you are likely to reach (through word of mouth, social sharing and so on). In reality, a 100% increase in conversion rate will lead to subscriber growth way in excess of 100% over time.

So take all of the above information and now imagine if you were able to increase your subscriber rate from 1% to 3%, or 1% to 4%, or even higher. We’re now talking in the realms of completely transforming your blog without actually attracting any more visitors.

As an aside, you should always be looking to improve your conversion rate, regardless of what it actually is. Always be testing. Google Analytics Content Experiments is your friend.

Slide-In Signup Forms

There are lots of ways to encourage visitors to signup to your side. The following are the more popular options:

The Feature Box

The Pop Up

The Sidebar Form

The Post Footer Form

The generally accepted wisdom is that the more opportunities visitors have to subscribe to your blog, the better. So including all of the above forms on your blog is certainly not overkill.

If you’re worried about irritating your visitors, I’ll refer you back to the aforementioned mantra: always be testing. Metrics such as bounce rate and time on site can demonstrate the positive or negative impact of anything you do on your site.

So let’s assume that you have all of the above in place. What next? In my opinion, a slide-in signup form is a great option.

Here are examples of a few in action:

The idea is that these little bars at the bottom right of the screen contain some sort of enticing headline that compels visitors to click. Once they do that they are met with a signup form:

Signup Form

As you can see, the signup form contains a short paragraph followed by an email field and a button. Once users entered their email and clicked the button, they’ll be sent a confirmation message via email so they can confirm their subscription.

There are a couple of special things about slide-in signup forms:

  1. In the above example a visitor needs to click on the headline to reveal the main copy and the signup form. This starts what is known as a “yes chain.” The psychology is simple: If you can get someone to take positive action once (i.e. click to find out more), they’re far more likely to take positive action again (i.e. signup). It feels much more like they’re in control of the opportunity placed in front of them, rather than it being thrust upon them.
  2. Another setting we’ll get into is the ability for a slide-in signup form to appear only after the visitor has scrolled past a certain point. Firstly, this feels far less imposing on the visitor; they have a chance to read at least some of your content before you are asking them to subscribe. Secondly, a slide-in form that appears only after a certain point is far more “visible” to visitors who might otherwise be blind to your signup forms.

By now you should be sold on the potential of slide-in signup forms. And even if you’re not, you should at least test one to see how it performs.

Slide-In Plugin Options

There are many slide-in plugins available, both free and premium.

A couple of great free options are Dreamgrow and Icegram, which are both available in the WordPress Plugin Repository. Both plugins provide slide-in functionality.

If you’re looking for a great premium option with support and updates, you may want to check out our own Slide In plugin. It’s a versatile and customizable option for promoting products and key messages on your site if you prefer not to use pop-ups.

You can configure when the slide-in, well, slides in – when a visitor reaches the bottom of your site, after a set period of time, etc. Setting up a new slide-in is as easy as writing a new post.

Creating a Slide-In Signup Form That Converts

As you can see, I am using a slide-in form on my own site to promote a free e-course (here’s an example of a post that has the slide-in form on it).

This is a completely different offering to my other signup forms (which offer a free download of my manifesto) and is targeted only at blog posts on my site that are in the Freelancing category. In this way I am getting two bites of the cherry: if a visitor isn’t interested in my manifesto, they may still be interested in a freelance blogging e-course.

I would advise that you consider doing the same: use a slide-in form to promote a specific signup incentive that you do not have available elsewhere on the site.

It is likely to be an incentive that persuades people to sign up to your blog. Simply telling them that they’ll get updates is rarely enough these days. When it comes to creating an incentive, I highly recommend that you listen to Episode 78 of the Smart Passive Income Podcast, which offers some truly invaluable advice on how to create persuasive and enticing headlines and incentives.

And I know I’ve already mentioned this twice already, but it bears repeating as many times as possible: always be testing. You may have your own opinion on what you think is the most effective headline, but the only way to be sure is to split test headlines against each other to see which one emerges victorious.

Conclusion

We’ve covered a number of things in this article, but the key takeaways are as follows:

  • You should ultimately be tracking truly meaningful metrics (such as email subscribers and/or sales) to adjudge the success of your site.
  • You should always be aiming to improve your site’s conversion rate, regardless of how high it is.
  • Always be testing!
  • A slide-in signup form is a unique and powerful means of enticing subscribers who might otherwise be blind to your other forms.

As for writing your copy, Episode 78 of the Smart Passive Income Podcast offers more actionable copywriting tips based upon real statistics than I could ever hope to offer myself.

So what are you waiting for? Get a slide-in signup form up and running on your site now.

If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to get in touch via the contact form below.

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WordPress Plugins - WPMU.org http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/qr-codes-wordpress/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/qr-codes-wordpress/#comments Mon, 22 Dec 2014 13:00:27 +0000 http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/?p=134958 While choosing a mobile responsive WordPress theme is a one way to cater to the growing number of internet users accessing websites on their smartphones, QR codes are another way you can improve the user experience for your mobile visitors – if used carefully.

QR, or quick response codes, are similar to the barcodes you see on the packaging of many products. The main difference between the two is that QR codes can hold a lot more data than traditional barcodes. When scanned by a compatible device, including a camera equipped smartphone with a suitable app installed, that data is extracted. As creating your own QR codes is fairly straightforward, they can be put to use on your website for custom purposes.

While there are plenty of incorrect ways to use QR codes, in this post we’ll look at some helpful uses that could improve the user experience on your site, as well as some free tools for creating them.

QR Codes and WordPress

There are many ways you can use QR codes on websites.

In print media they are often used to make it easier to visit a website by encoding a URL in the code. When scanned the code will open the website on a phone’s browser, saving the user the trouble of typing in the address. However, if your visitors are already viewing your website, this obviously isn’t a useful way to use them!

While it might be tempting to start using QR codes all over your website due to their novelty factor, less is definitely more and it’s best to use them wisely to ensure they really benefit your visitors, rather than become a distraction.

So let’s take a look at some example uses for QR codes.

Improving Your Contact Page

As well as the standard email contact form, another way you can provide an easy way for your visitors to get in touch with you is to add a QR code to your contact page.

Contact Me QR Code
An example of a QR code for a contact page

Depending on how you create a QR code, once it’s scanned it could allow your users to either send you an email on their phone, or send you a SMS message.

If you prefer not to receive enquiries about your services via email, then this can be a great way to encourage your potential clients and customers to contact you via SMS, while also saving them the effort of manually entering your contact details.

File Download Links

Another way to use a QR code on your site is to link it to a file that can be downloaded by your users. This could be an audio file for a podcast, a PDF containing a map, or any other content that is well-suited to be consumed on the move on a mobile device.

Switch to Mobile Version

Perhaps a visitor is accessing your website on their laptop but it would be more convenient for them to view it on their smartphone. While they could type in the URL, a scannable QR code on the website would allow them to open the mobile version of your website with much less effort.

While this isn’t the move inventive use of QR codes, for pages that your readers would want to access on the go, such as location details, or an article they’d like to save for later, it could save them time and effort.

Open a Map with Your Location Marker

Adding a QR code to your contact page which links to an online map that is locked into your location is a great way to simplify the process of a visitor looking up your location on their phone. This can then be used for navigational purposes when they are making their way to your premises.

Use a vCard to Share Contact Details

Another popular use for QR cards that translates well to online publishing, is sharing contact details using the vCard format.

vCard
Contact details stored in a vCard.

This gives your visitors an easy way to store your details in their phone as one of their contacts, rather than entering them manually.

App Downloads

If you are offering your visitors a mobile app, or linking out to apps created by others, you can create a QR code that not only links to the app, but also automatically redirects visitors to the correct store based on the device they are using.

Link to App Stores
Links to the relevant store for downloading an app.

Add a “Clickable” Link to Printed Pages

If your visitors are printing pages from your website, a way you can make it easier for them to find their way back to your online content later on is to insert a QR code into the footer of printed copies of your pages.

The free QR Print plugin can take care of this for you and requires no setup beyond installing and activating the plugin. Despite not being updated for over two years now, the plugin worked as advertised when tested with WordPress 4.0.1.

If you are creating printable content and want to do the next best thing after adding a clickable link to a sheet of paper, this plugin is well worth investigating.

Improve WordPress Site Security

Last but not least is perhaps the most practical use for QR codes on a WordPress site: adding two-step verification to the login process.

As well as, or even instead of, entering your username and password, you can set your website to require that a trusted device scans the QR code on the login page. This helps ensure that even if your passwords get compromised, unless a hacker also has access to your mobile device, they won’t be able log into your site.

QR Code Two-Step Authentication
QR code two-step authentication in action.

If this sounds like an appealing way of increasing the security of your WordPress website, Rublon is a free plugin that adds QR code-based two-factor authentication to a WordPress site.

For an alternative, you can explore these six security authentication plugins for WordPress.

Choosing a WordPress Plugin to Create QR Codes

After trying out a bunch of free WordPress plugins designed for creating and adding QR codes to a website, QR Code Generator by René Hermenau seems to be the best option.

However, if you don’t plan on creating and inserting multiple QR codes into your content, and don’t mind creating them elsewhere, you can use this free online QR code generator tool. This tool lets you insert QR codes to your site similarly to inserting images.

Online QR Code Generator
A free online QR code generator tool.

Using an external online generator reduces the overheads associated with having too many active plugins on your website. However, it does mean that should you need to update the codes, you will have to regenerate them and upload the file to your site. This is opposed to simply editing the shortcode content when using a plugin.

Although if you do use an external service and create a dynamic QR code, the data it stores can be updated even after it’s been printed.

The QR codes that you can create with QR Code Generator can contain a range of content that you supply. However, if you want to create more advanced QR codes, and make use of some of the examples listed above, then the aforementioned online QR code generator tool can enable you to do so.

How to Create a QR Code Using a Plugin

If you do choose to use the above free QR Code Generator plugin, then creating codes is fairly straightforward. The plugin adds a shortcode to your website, which you can then paste into your posts and pages to publish the QR code.

If you want to use the shortcode outside of the post editor then check out our guide to using shortcodes outside the post editor to start using them in widgets and theme files.

There are a number of parameters you can use to customize the QR code, including adding the content that will be extracted by the scanning device, the size of the QR code, and whether to provide a credit link to the author of the plugin or not. An example of how the shortcode could look would be something like this:

[qrcode content="Your content goes here" size="150" alt="QrCode" class="qrcode" credit="FALSE"]

While the above is a working example, it’s a good idea to check the documentation on the plugin’s website for the latest information.

Once you’ve entered your content you can preview the post, then test it by scanning it with a compatible device.

QR Code Preview
Preview of the QR code inserted into a post.

Final Thoughts

While QR codes didn’t turn out to be the next big thing they were touted to become a few years ago, they are still being used by many websites (including big commercial ones). If you’re not convinced, here are some stats on QR code usage around the world.

If you can make the benefits of scanning your code outweigh the involved effort of doing so, then you’ve probably found a good use for them that goes beyond the novelty factor of a scannable image on your website.

What are your thoughts on QR codes? Have you ever scanned one on a website, or have you ever used them to good effect? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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WordPress Plugins - WPMU.org http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/plugins-test-compatibility/ http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/plugins-test-compatibility/#comments Sun, 21 Dec 2014 13:00:00 +0000 http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/?p=135570 Creating a website with WordPress can be a challenging and sometimes frustrating pursuit, especially when you’re working with plugins or themes and you run into compatibility issues, which may break your site.

That’s why it’s a great idea to test your site for errors before implementing any changes.

Posting a copy of your theme, plugin, or site files on GitHub for community feedback is one way to solve issues before they cause problems. Unfortunately, you may have to wait a while for replies and fixing issues could take a while as a result.

Luckily, there are some free plugins that do a fantastic job of quickly helping you test various aspects of your site so you can catch any issues before pushing your content live.

The plugins in this collection allow you to do everything from setting up a site sandbox to cloning an entire site and ensuring your theme meets WordPress standards.

  • SitePush

    SitePush WordPress pluginZoom In

    The SitePush plugin is designed to copy site data and content and transfer it to another server for testing. It works on single site installations running on Linux or Mac OS X servers. It is known to work with Windows, but certain features will not work, including backing up files and clearing cache files.

    The plugin takes a bit more effort to install than your average WordPress plugin, but extensive instructions are included on the plugin’s page and in the plugin itself. Once installed successfully, you’ll enjoy smooth sailing.
     
    You’ll end up with a copy of your site that you can test by clicking all the links to make sure they point to the correct pages, as well as other functionality you may have like shopping carts and contact forms. Once you’re content, you can publish your site with peace of mind everything just works.

  • Theme Check

    Theme Check WordPress PluginZoom In

    This plugin is sure to delight any theme developers out there. Theme Check runs the same automated testing on your site that the WordPress Theme Review team uses. The latest theme review standards are integrated to ensure your theme either meets or exceeds WordPress best practice. This plugins is also compatible with Multisite installations.

    All you have to do to test your theme is go to the Appearance tab in your admin area, then click on “Theme Check.” From here, all you have to do is simply select an installed theme from the drop down list and click the “Check it!” button. One step short of instantly, you’ll see information about the selected theme alongside a “Pass” or “Fail” notice.

    Theme Check WordPress plugin test with Twenty Twelve theme

    Now you don’t have to worry about implementing or uploading a broken theme. It takes seconds and you’ll save a ton of time.

  • Sandbox

    Sandbox WordPress pluginZoom In

    This is easily my favorite plugin of the four in this list not only because it can you test your theme – you can test absolutely everything – but it also checks for compatibility issues among your installed plugins. That’s pretty darn nifty if you ask me.

    Sandbow works by creating a copy of your site called a “sandbox”.

    Fill in the info in the Sandbox plugin tab to create a new sandbox

    Once the plugin is installed and activated, a new tab will be added to your admin area and you will be asked to back up your site before continuing. Navigate to the Sandbox tab and follow the instructions to create a new sandbox.
     

    Success message in the Sandbox plugin

    Click the “Create” button and wait patiently for the success message. Depending on how big your WordPress install is, it may take quite a bit of time, so be patient.

    Finally, activate the sandbox by clicking the “Activate” link. From here you will be able to test the entirety of your site for any compatibility issues which are present.

    I don’t recommend this plugin for Multisite installations at this point in time because while this plugin is great, there are still some basic issues that could cause troubles down the road, such as new database tables being created for each and every test. I tested it with my own Multisite install and personally found that it wasn’t compatible. While I can’t say that my findings are typical results for the masses, I would still exercise caution if you decide to go ahead and test it out on your network. If you do, please be sure to back up your entire site before installing and activating this plugin. In fact, I would advise that you do this before testing out any plugin on any kind of installation.

  • NS Cloner - Site Copier

    NS Cloner - Site Copier WordPress pluginZoom In

    This plugin is very similar to SitePush in that it copies your website’s content in its entirety to prepare it for testing. The difference is that NS Cloner only works with Multisite installations. The plugin needs to be network activated and it doesn’t just allow you to manually copy content to a new install, but actually creates a copy automatically.

    While this is a fast, efficient and great plugin by itself, it’s not without its problems. There are known issues with this plugin; specifically, NS Cloner only works with your main site and not any site in your network, it doesn’t work if you changed your database prefixes from the default wp_ setting and isn’t 100 percent compatible with BuddyPress.

    If you want an incredibly fast plugin like the NS Cloner that doesn’t have these restrictions and has even more features, check out our own Cloner plugin. It’s a viable and recommended alternative to the NS Cloner plugin.

Do you have any plugins to add to this list? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

Image credit: Lemmling.

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