WordPress is a good blogging platform straight out of the box, but we can add extra functionality to our site through the installation of plugins.
As with most things in life, there’s are free things, as well as premium options. With WordPress, this is no exception, although you can still go a long way with the free plugins on offer.
Installing WordPress Plugins
It’s really simple to install WordPress plugins. As an example let’s start by installing Yoast. Yoast is a plugin that is used to aid WordPress sites in being search engine friendly. To date Yoast has been downloaded over 5 million times, so considered essential amongst the WordPress community.
To install a plug through the WordPress interface, as a logged-in user find ‘Plugins’ on the left-hand side of the WordPress interface and click on ‘Add New’ from the popup.
On the Plugin page, you’ll see a search box a the top right of the screen. In this box simply type ‘Yoast’, and you’ll then see instant search results from the ‘Yoast’ keyword search. The first result, from ‘Team Yoast’, is the one we’re looking for, so click ‘Install Now’ in the Yoast SEO box.
The ‘Install Now’ box will now show ‘Installing’ for a few seconds whilst your WordPress site downloads the plugin and adds it to your installation. It will soon show ‘Activate’. Click ‘Activate’ and your plugin will now be part of your site. You will see it in your list of plugins, as well as this plugin being part of the WordPress menu on the left-hand sidebar of the Admin page.
Here’s where we run through the basic setup of Yoast using the First-time SEO configuration. We’ll come to this later once we have some social media and analytics in place to integrate into the plugin.
WooCommerce is an open-source eCommerce plugin that is used by businesses worldwide, it currently has over 5 Million installations. Woocommerce provides most, if not all you need to start selling straight out the box, but can be configured to your needs with extra addons.
Once installed and activated you can quickly and easily setup your online store. WooCommerce will ask you for some information to get started, such as your business location, address and currency:
Once you’ve completed this step you will choose your favored payment provider, with a choice between Stripe and PayPal. You can select both if you wish. Stripe is chosen as default, but is easily changed to PayPal. For this tutorial we’ll be using PayPal only.
You will see at the bottom that certain plugins will be installed to enable this functionality, such as WooCommerce PayPal Checkout Gateway and WooCommerce Services. This is all good.
The next step is Shipping. This will depend on your business and what you are selling. At the moment we’ll keep it simple and enable a free shipping. In a later tutorial I’ll be looking at different approaches to calculate shipping. Hit Continue.
Next WooCommerce will offer you the chance to add extra plugins to your installation, including Automated Taxes, Mailchimp, Facebook and Woocommerce Admin. For this tutorial and to keep things uncluttered for the moment we’ll deselect Mailchimp and Facebook, but keep Automated Taxes and WooCommerce Admin. Hit Continue.
The next step is to Activate your store by connecting to Jetpack. This will enable your payment processing and automated taxes, so click on Continue with Jetpack. You will then be automatically connected to WordPress com where you will asked to create an account (it’s free) or your account will be connected to your store if you’re already logged in.
After this you’re all set to go. You can signup to the WooCommerce mailing list. You can add some products, you can import products from a CSV file. At the moment we’ll do none of this, so lets select Visit Dashboard to return to our WordPress admin interface.
WordPress sites need protection from hackers, bots and malware. Although websites and computer systems at the highest level can and do get hacked, some simple changes to your website can help prevent you from falling victim to an attack.
There are a number of plugins that are usually recommended, including Sucuri Security, iThemes Security, BulletProof Security, Wordfence & Acunetix WP SecurityScan. We’ll be using Wordfence for this tutorial. Wordfence is a very well regarded system and is well tested and developed with currently over 3 million downloads.
Once you’ve installed and activated Wordfence enter your email address so you can be updated with any issues for your site. Wordfence will advise you regularly of any problems with your site, or notifications of outdated plugins, so useful in helping remind you of any required site maintenance. There is then an option to upgrade to a premium license or you can just hit the ‘No Thanks’ option for the basic service.
Wordfence > Dashboard – Visit here to initially set up Wordfence. Initially you should see an option at the top of the window to optimize the Wordfence Firewall. Click to configure, then download a copy of your .htaccess file as suggested, and finally hit continue to begin optimizing your firewall. You’ll now have brute force protection to your login to prevent bots from testing your site to try and find a way in.
Back to the main WordPress dashboard, there’ll be an option to auto-update Wordfence. Yes, you do. Wordfence is one of your essential plugins, so let’s keep it working effectively.
What if something does go wrong? Occasionally the sh*t hits the fan and you have a problem. This could be caused by a plugin conflict, badly coded plugins, server errors etc. If you have a backup, then you can restore your site quickly to a previous version, avoiding having to rebuild your site, and potentially losing customers and sales in the process.
There are a number of recommended backup plugins. Backup systems that come recommended include BackupBuddy, Vaultpress (part of Jetpack), Duplicator, UpdraftPlus, and WP Time Capsule. We will be using UpdraftPlus for this site, a well-regarded plugin with over 2 million users.
Once activated we will follow the prompts and create an initial backup. You will notice that UpdraftPlus has created a dropdown menu at the top of the screen, so we’ll use this. Let’s go to UpdraftPlus > Settings
We can select a backup schedule for both the file system and the database. You can select from every two hours to daily weekly or monthly. This will, of course, depend on how dynamic your site is, and how often your site changes. For the moment, whilst we’re developing our site, let’s enable daily backup, as we will be making regular changes to our site. Make sure you click Save Changes at the bottom of the screen.
Backups can be made to your server space, plus in addition, you can also backup to cloud services such as Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive. Cloud storage is recommended as a failsafe in case you have issues with your web host and you need to restore your website from an external backup.
You can also then select specific areas of the site to backup. You may for example not need to backup your themes folder, or plugins in certain cases. You can probably just leave the default settings for the moment and ‘Save Changes’
Once we’ve saved our options, let’s go to UpdraftPlus > Backup / Restore and hit ‘Backup Now’ to create our first backup. This will create backup files of both our site and database on our hosting server. It should complete in just a few seconds. We can now revert back to this point through this page if we need to step back.
We’re going to install Jetpack. Jetpack is a useful plugin that adds some useful features that will help our site, in conjunction with your wordpress.com account.
To begin with we need to activate the plugin through wordpress.com. Visit wordpress.com and sign up for an account if you haven’t already. As a new user you should select the free option while you build your site and understand it features. You can upgrade later.
Now, let’s check out some of its essential functionality (initially free options) through the settings tabs:
Downtown Monitoring – This sends you an alert if your site goes down. Good for monitoring the effectiveness of your web host. If you get too many downtime notifications it’s time to upgrade your hosting!
Brute force attack protection – Using this option your site will have protection from bots and hackers using automated software and common username and password combinations. Do not solely rely on this! Use a secure username and password from the outset!
Lazy-loading images – As the name suggests, this will load images as required. If for example your page has a lot of images, the images at the bottom of the screen will load as the page is being scrolled, not before the page is displayed to the viewer. If you’ve a lengthy image heavy page this will help considerably.
Jetpack is useful in giving your basic Site Stats from the get-go. You can click through and see more detailed versions of these stats through wordpress.com. Later we will setup Google Analytics and discover how we can go much deeper with analysis of our traffic, but this is a good starting point, and gives us something to see if people are visiting our site.
You do not want your customers do not want to see your work in progress, it’s unprofessional. Let’s add a Coming Soon page that will allow us to work in the background. Go to Plugins > Add New. In the search box, search for Coming Soon. In the results page choose the ‘Coming Soon Page’ created by SeedProd. Install it, and then Activate it.
Let’s go to SeedProd > Settings. Under General > Status we can enable either Coming Soon or Maintenance Mode. Coming Soon is the best option for when you’re developing your site and enables you to get indexed by Google as well as enable you to implement site branding on your homepage. Maintenance Mode sends a signal to search engines that your site is down for maintenance without negatively impacting your search engine ranking (503 code).
On this page, you can add a logo, headline, page text, and even a Favicon and SEO information for search engines to track.
Now we have this setup, customers who visit your site will not see your work in progress, but you can log in and preview pages as if you were the end-user.