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At the end of 2014 I was on Episode 114 of the WPWatercooler. We talked about our favorite (and least favorite) WordPress plugins. I’m a big fan of being prepared (heh), so I made a list of plugins to talk about on the show. I even made little bullet-point lists of talking points, because that’s how I roll.
I only got to hit on a couple during the podcast (we’re a chatty bunch), so I thought I’d share a rest of my list with you here. These are eight WordPress plugins I love right now:
Advanced Custom Fields Pro
I hadn’t used ACF in at least a year. Not because I didn’t really like it—I just hadn’t needed it. But when I started experimenting with using Webflow as my primary design tool at the end of last year I realized I’d need to create a lot of custom fields to build the custom pages I was designing.
I knew I didn’t want to code all the custom meta boxes myself. The whole reason I chose Webflow for my primary design app is to avoid the copying, pasting, and cursing that is my coding style. I’d heard about ACF from a lot of really smart people at my local meetup, so I thought I’d try.
I used a few text fields and WSYWIG editors, a couple of image upload fields and even a repeater field or two to build a landing page my client loves. It’s super-easy to build new pages or create variations for A/B tests. The client just fills out a form, so training was a cinch. Best of all, it helps maintain design consistency after I hand the site off to the client.
NS Automation for WordPress SEO
As awesome as ACF is, there is one downside—custom fields don’t play nicely with the Yoast SEO plugin. I’d stripped out the main content field in the sales page template so as far as Yoast SEO was concerned, I had no keywords in my content. I depend on that little green light, and will edit and tweak a page until it lights up.
It’s been pretty successful for me. I’ve been able to rank pretty highly for certain keyword because I edit until that light pops on. I felt lost without it, but not enough to give up using Advanced Custom Fields. The NSAutomation plugin lets me choose which custom fields to include in the indexing. Now I don’t have to choose—I get Advanced Custom Fields *and* my green light!
Nelio A/B Testing
I’m obsessed with analyzing data. When I was a younger designer we were making web design up as we went along. Just having a site was something that set you apart from your competitors. Those days are long gone—today you need to know that what you’re doing works.
Nelio A/B Testing is the first conversion optimization service that has been specifically designed for WordPress. I love being able to create and run experiments on everything from a button color and label change to split-testing an entirely different theme. Experiment data is right in the dashboard, and you can apply the best performing experiment with the click of a button. Best of all, it’s easy enough for my non-technical clients to use.
I also love that it’s affordable for small businesses (plans start at $24/month) and did I mention the WordPress plug-in means the service integrates seamlessly with your site? (I did, but it’s worth mentioning twice, lol!) If loving Nelio and analyzing data is wrong, I don’t wanna be right :D
This is another plugin that I haven’t used in a while. I’d tried it when it first came out, but it didn’t do what I needed at the time. When a client wanted to be able to split-test newsletter signup forms, though, I took another look at it. I’m glad I did, because my original complaints had been resolved.
My main beef was being locked in to a few pre-defined templates. I needed to be able to build custom templates for my clients. Happily, it’s been addressed, and there are now instructions on how to create a plugin to install your own custom templates. This client is making a ton of micro-sites based on the same templates, so I can just install the plugin on every new site.
It’s also awesome to analyze all the numbers. It’s like getting to do the 5th grade science fair all over again. But this time it’s design experiments, which are way more fun than baking soda volcanoes.
I get asked about Coschedule a lot. The most common question I get is “Is Coschedule worth it?” My answer is always the same: “If you hold up your end of the bargain and actually write, then Coschedule is more than worth it—it’s a steal.”
I suffer from too-many-ideas-itis when I write (which could totally be a Mrs. Pigglewiggle disease). With Coschedule, when I have an idea, I create a draft post—but before I save it to the calendar I have to write the article’s outline. That way I can go back to edit and refine my thoughts without forgetting what I wanted to say.
My favorite feature is the way I’m able to schedule Twitter posts with images, hashtags and custom messages. I wrote a post last week about design dream jobs. I scheduled tweets tagging every company I mentioned and used an image of their homepage as the Twitter image. I love a tool that makes something that is tedious fun. Coschedule is that kind of tool.
Aesop Story Engine
In case you were hiding under a rock in 2014, storytelling has become one of the biggest buzzwords in web design. The New York Times started it with “Snowfall” and it snowballed (#dadjoke) from there. It seems like everybody wants to get in on longform sturytelling.
Problem is, it was a pretty expensive undertaking. At least, it was until a little over a year ago when Nick Haskins released Aesop Story Engine. Aesop Story Engine is a free WordPress plugin that allows you to put together long-form stories containing video, parallax scrolling, quotes, audio and more.
The user experience/interface of Aesop has just gotten better and better with each update. Nick is even taking the Aesop concept and creating a hosted storytelling platform called Story.am that looks amazing. The front-end editor has me drooling. I just hope it gets rolled into Aesop ASAP.
Full disclosure: Aesop Story Engine is a client of mine. I developed their initial brand, logo and website. I also designed a theme for their shop and their first Story Series feature. Even if I hadn’t, though, I think it rocks)
When I designed this site, I wanted the blog and archive pages to have a custom layout. (You can see what I mean on my main blog page). So I tried reading every single Genesis Grid Loop tutorial on the internet. I eventually wound up hiring a developer to implement the feature, because I was tired of walking around with waffle-forehead.
I was able to replicate the same feature using the Conductor plugin in maybe 5 minutes. Not sort of, not close to, not similar, but exactly the same. Really, do you need to know anything more than that?
This is one of those “How did I live without this?” plugins. Last year, when I was running a Kickstarter to fund a WordPress Workshop for design students, Shawn Hesketh was awesome enough to approach me and offer to donate a license for WP101 so the students would have access to WordPress tutorials right in their dashboards.
The videos it ships with are amazing. They’re helpful and easy to understand. The production values are awesome. And they eliminate o lot of the “How do I complete this common WordPress task questions. It would be worth the price of admission if that’s all the plugin did.
What really puts this plugin over the top, though is the support for videos I’ve recorded for my students. I can include videos about theme-specific tasks, or videos on how to use a plugin. For this next workshop, I’m considering including videos about everything I cover, including non-WordPress specific videos about wireframing, content strategy and documenting style guides.
About my only wish for this product is that every theme and plugin author in the world released video libraries I could upload to WP101. I know it wouldn’t eliminate every support request, but I bet it would put a heck of a dent in them…