WordPress Plugins, Themes & Hosting

Wordpress plugins, themes and hosting.

YouRankWell.ca runs on Wordpress and uses the BeTheme and various Wordpress plugins.

When it comes to having a WordPress website, a lot goes into deciding which plugins, themes and hosting provider you will use.

Part of my business involves creating WordPress websites and I get asked a lot of questions about everything involved. Which WordPress theme did you use? Which WordPress plugins do you recommend? What sort of WordPress hosting should I get? How much should I spend on my WordPress hosting? How do you do SEO with a WordPress website?

This article was originally posted on July 02, 2016 and updated on August 02, 2016.

These are all reasonable questions and I decided to pull back the curtain on YouRankWell.ca and talk about what I use and the reasons behind those choices.

My WordPress Hosting:

Coming to my current hosting situation was a bit of a journey and I’ve learned a great deal in the process.

The first version of YouRankWell.ca was a static HTML website and didn’t need much “oomph” behind it. I had a basic “Godaddy” hosting account for a few dollars per month and it was fine. Once I switched to WordPress, the basic hosting package wasn’t enough and I tried to ‘migrate’ the WordPress version to a dedicated WordPress platform.

That didn’t work out, so I simply upgraded and added a new “level” to my existing plan.

I currently use their “Level 3 Deluxe Hosting”. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than it was and it’s quick enough for both myself (while editing) and visitors.

What I learned through that process was:

  1. Purchase a dedicated WordPress hosting package in the first place and use it as a staging area while you develop a WordPress website. They give you a temporary IP address that you can use and you point the domain name you want to use at it once it’s done. No transferring. No migrating. No problems.
  2. If you have to develop a WordPress site on the same server as an existing website, do it in the root folder and use the renaming index.php file workaround in the meantime. Developing a WordPress site in a sub-folder opens you up to issues later on when you try to copy everything into the root folder. It’s not as seamless as some might lead you to believe, and, when it goes bad, it goes really, really, bad.
  3. Cheap website hosting is for small static websites that get few visitors. That’s it. If you want a quick website, or one that can handle the demands of a full Content Management System (like WordPress), you should get an advanced hosting package or something like the dedicated WordPress hosting offered at Synthesis. Try not to let the costs scare you because we’ve all been misled to believe that you can get decent website hosting for “$2.95” a month. You can’t, and you should expect to pay at least $20.00 per month. I’m now paying $25.00 a month for my hosting package and it’s holding-up pretty well.

My WordPress Theme:

As a static HTML website, YouRankWell.ca was originally created using a theme named “Artificial Reason“. It was $16.00 and I bought it from Wrapbootstrap.com:

Original YouRankWell.ca static responsive HTML website.

It used the “Bootstrap” framework, which was fairly new at the time, and delivered a fully-responsive website with fairly clean coding. With a few custom tweaks, it validated and was pretty quick.

When I converted to WordPress, I tried to use their WordPress version of the theme but found that it was awkward. Actually, it really didn’t work very well at all, so I dumped it.

In defense of the theme’s author, I should point out that I tried to install their WordPress version on my basic hosting account. As I now know, this isn’t a good idea even if it’s just to stage a website while you develop it. Those hosting packages are too weak to handle something like WordPress and the theme itself might have been fine otherwise.

Although initially disappointed, I was ready for a change anyway and eventually settled on a theme named “BeTheme“. I found it over at Themeforest.net and paid around $80.00 for it.

It’s an extensive theme that comes with 200 demo layouts and a virtually unlimited amount of layout possibilities. It also includes its own builder that is similar to Visual Composer and I have had no trouble with it at all. It includes a few WordPress plugins, such as Visual Composer, but you can’t update them independently, unfortunately. I don’t bother with them for that reason.

As far as SEO goes, a lot of themes claim to be “SEO Friendly”. The truth, however, is that they rarely are.

Some are better than others, sure, but I have yet to see one that was ready to go without any tweaking being involved. This theme is easy enough to work with and, with the help of a plugin or two, I can focus on the actual content.

The support for it has also been great and I’ve recommended it to many people since.

My WordPress Theme’s Website Speed

I’m on the fence with this particular issue because most WordPress themes suck when it comes to speed these days. Most of them tend to be bloated with features and the general rule of thumb is “the funkier the website, the slower it will be”.

Google fonts, fly-ins and mega-menus are all pretty cool but they add up and take their toll. Something has to account for all of those bells and whistles and it’s probably going to be your page loading times.

That said, there are always things you can do to improve the loading times and page speed.

I think my first test with Google’s Page Speed Insights tool blazed-in with embarrassingly low scores of 60 & 72 for Mobile & Desktop. Definitely nothing to be proud of, but there was hope.

After a bit of tweaking, adjusting and playing around with different configurations (and WordPress plugins), I was able to get this far:

YouRankWell.ca's final Google Page Speed Insights score.

That’s not bad.

Having cleaned-up the initial warnings about CSS files, Javascript files and optimizing images, I am now left with two warnings:

1. “Eliminate render-blocking JavaScript and CSS in above-the-fold content”.

After hours of researching, reading, trying different caching plugins, minifying and compressing scripts and whatever else I could find on the subject, I gave up. No one seems to be having any particular success with this warning anyway, and since we’re all in the same boat, I’m not really losing any ground because of it.

2. “Leverage browser caching”.

This refers to a Google Analytics script I can’t do anything about. It seems somewhat odd that Google would introduce a page speed tool and prevent you from getting a perfect score, but that is what they’ve done here. There is a cheat available for it, but it will break the moment Google updates their file and you have to go in and do it again each time.

My only real goal was to have a green check mark for both the mobile and desktop results, but I’m obviously not going to achieve that for the mobile tests. At this point I’m content in saying “oh well” and being done with the whole mess.

In all fairness to my theme, I must say that it is as (and was) quick or quicker than the all of the others I have checked out. This syndrome of slowness is a result of the responsive website generation and can’t simply be blamed on clueless programmers and developers. Well, it sort of can in a lot of cases, but it’s mostly just a way of life online these days.

The bottom line is I can now deliver a half-decent viewing experience to my visitors. I’m also at least as fast – or close to being as fast – as the fastest sites in my industry / niche. From an SEO perspective, the gains here are minimal but do matter in the grand scheme of things.

Here’s a screenshot of my website’s page speed test results from Pingdom Tools:

YouRankWell.ca website speed test results from Pingdom.com.

Overall, I have managed to launch a fairly quick WordPress website with few WordPress Plugins and no coding customization. It could be a little better, but overall it’s not too bad and I’m happy with the results.

Pro Tip: Unless You Know What You’re Doing, Don’t Attempt Any Of These Modifications Yourself!

 

I created this article to give people a bit of insight into what is involved with having a WordPress website. This is by no means a “DIY tutorial ” on how to optimize your website and messing around with the internal workings of your website can lead to bad outcomes. Quickly, too.

Although not a programmer myself, I have years of experience with various coding configurations and know my way around something like WordPress. There are a lot of things involved that I haven’t discussed here and you can easily break your layout or even lock yourself out of your website altogether.

Feel free to call me or get in touch if you have any questions and I’ll be happy to help out.

My WordPress Plugins:

As a rule, I try to keep the number of plugins I use as low as possible. Poorly designed WordPress plugins add ‘bloat’ to a website’s loading time, or they conflict with another plugin and break the design.

With the exception of one (see below), each plugin I use has a specific and practical purpose.

Akismet

Akismet comes bundled with WordPress and works well to keep spam out of your post comments. You need a license via a donation, but you can get it for free if you’d rather not pay.

Akismet Free + Donation

All In One WP Security

The security plugin I use for my for website security.

This is probably the best WordPress plugin I’ve found for overall website security.

It has a ton of features, such as: database and important file backups, defending against brute force attacks, a firewall, spam prevention and it even has a maintenance option in case you want to take the website offline while you work on it.

It really focuses on a lot of login security. Changing the default login URL of “/wp-login/” to something else (that you name) is one feature that I love.

The dashboard security meter is a great feature as well.

All In One WP Security Free

AMP

This plugin automatically converts regular WordPress posts into “Accelerated Mobile Pages” (AMP). It comes with no options whatsoever, but it works and creates acceptable coding so that Google will consider it in the mobile search results.

The idea behind AMP is that it strips away a lot of the website’s bells and whistles, like unnecessary javascript and CSS, and delivers a faster loading page to mobile viewers.

Just add /amp/ after this post’s URL in your browser and you’ll see the AMP version.

I may stop using it in the near future if I don’t see any SEO benefits from it. AMP is really intended for anything related to “news” and WordPress posts typically aren’t that. AMP is a relatively new feature being promoted by companies like Google, so for now it’s worth at least trying.

AMP Free

Update: I decided to stop using this plugin as creating AMP pages isn’t appropriate for my type of content. I won’t get any sort of SEO boost from it and my visitors probably wouldn’t see the pages, anyway. It did work, though, so anyone publishing actual news-related content might want to give it a shot.

Glue for Yoast SEO & AMP

This works with the AMP plugin (above) and provides you with some design options, like header, text and link colors.

It also adds some of the Yoast metadata so that your AMP pages work with the Yoast SEO plugin, which I also use (below).

Glue for Yoast SEO & AMP Free

Update: I decided to stop using this plugin as well, pretty much for the same reasons above. It was supposed to add extra functionality to the AMP plugin, which it did, and I just don’t need it if I’m not using the AMP plugin any longer.

Yoast SEO

Definitely in the top 2 of WordPress plugins for SEO (“All In One SEO Pack” being the other).

I’ve read enough about both to come to the conclusion that it’s probably just a matter of preference. They both seem to offer the same sorts of things and I don’t see any advantages of using either.

The Yoast plugin helps to keep you focused on your target keywords and ensures you cover the SEO basics. Things such as Title and Meta descriptions, content, images and alt tags and more are tracked as you work. The paid version offers a little more functionality, but the free version is fine for most users.

I use the Yoast SEO plugin because it was the first one I tried and got used to it.

Yoast SEO Free + Paid

Contact Form 7

I use this one for all of my contact forms. It’s free and simple enough to use and suits my personal needs.

There are other contact form WordPress plugins that are probably better (or not) and you can always go with a premium contact plugin like “Ninja Forms” if you need something more versatile or with more functionality.

They have a free version that, although more basic than their paid version, is more than fine for most websites.

Contact Form 7 Free

Flamingo

Contact Form 7 recommends various other WordPress plugins and Flamingo is one of them.

Flamingo manages your contact list within your WordPress website. Basically, it allows me to see all of the form submissions sent through my website. You can’t answer them from within WordPress, but it keeps an active address book and provides me with an instant visual.

Flamingo Free

Easy Social Share Buttons for WordPress

I use the paid version of this plugin. For $20.00, I felt that it was best to just pay and not deal with any limitations.

I won’t attempt to go through its functionality here, mainly because there’s too much of it. The interface alone is overwhelming and something I’ll need to tackle over time, no doubt. The good news is that I don’t need much, so what I’m currently using it for is just fine.

It also affords you a ton of placement control, which really is the most important thing to me. It has mobile and responsive features and just about anything else you could ask of it, really. So far, so good.

A big issue with social sharing plugins in general is that they can really slow your website down. I don’t find that with this plugin, or at least it hasn’t effected my website in any noticeable way.

I researched a lot of Social Sharing WordPress plugins and settled on this one. If you are aware of something better, let me know.

Easy Social Share Buttons for WordPress Free + Paid

Select Eazy Login Logo

Change your WordPress login logo.

This one adds your logo to your WordPress login screen and replaces the standard WordPress logo.

There’s no practical purpose to it, but I like it and it doesn’t seem to add any bloat to my site or slow it down.

Select Eazy Login Logo Free

Insert Headers and Footers

This plugin allows you to automatically insert code or text in the header or footer of your WordPress blog.

Normally, you have to manually edit the theme footer and header PHP files. It’s easy enough to do, but you have to do it every time those files are updated or otherwise change. Using this WordPress plugin keeps the info stable and always accessible.

Insert Headers and Footers Free

Widget Importer & Exporter

I use this to back-up my widgets. There is a lot of HTML inside of them and losing them would take me hours to recreate.

It can also be used to transfer widgets to other websites, which is useful if I want to copy the formatting to another website or if I transfer my site to another host.

Widget Importer & Exporter Free

Wordfence Security

I use Wordfence as an additional layer of security and for its anti-virus, firewall and high speed caching. The paid version is $6.00 a month, I believe, and probably worth every penny if you were to need the extra functionality.

For caching, I did try W3 Total Cache but found that it broke my site more often than not.

The caching engine in Wordfence suits my needs.

Wordfence Security Free + Paid

WP Smush

This one basically compresses your images so that they load quicker. The free version lets you compress 50 at a time, I believe.

The paid version allows you to compress as many as you want at the same time.

WP Smush Free + Paid

Did you find any of this information useful?

Thinking about switching to WordPress? Knowing which WordPress plugins, themes and hosting packages to use is a huge advantage and it’s definitely something I can help you with.

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