Design Topics

Save tons of time blogging with Phrase Express

Collectively day to day we repeat a routine, and that is no different in blogging. There are certain blocks of text or HTML that we find ourselves typing time and time again. Phrase Express can cut down on that time significantly, maybe by as much as 20% and its so easy to use. (more…)

Never use Microsoft Word to write blog posts

I tell all of my clients, if you use Microsoft Word to write your web content – all may seem fine, but under the hood your website may be one post from a breakdown. WordPress is no different, any database driven site hates incorrect character translation and one day you might corrupt your website and data to the point of no recovery. Read on for some simple tips to prevent a melt down. (more…)

My Top 5 ‘Must Have’ Plugins for WordPress

From time to time I get asked what plugins I use for WordPress. There are a small batch that I install time and time again on a fresh load of WordPress – here are the top five that I recommend as ‘must have’s’ that make your blog site that much more powerful.

My top 5 necessary plugins for WordPress

I need a one click install for all of these to save that little bit of time…but hey, WordPress MU and WordPress are merging, so soon enough this will be possible. Back to the plugins;

  1. Askimet – This plugin is a no brainer. If you are serious about getting traffic on your blog, you have to have a way to filter out comment spam. Even a small site can get serveral hundred spam comments a day, and I know this site gets thousands, it’s ineluctable. Developed by Automattic, the people who bring you WordPress, so you know that it’s quality and that as long as you have one, you will have the other. Make sure to get an API key, the instructions are easy to follow.
  2. All in One SEO Pack – There for awhile we weren’t sure if All in One SEO Pack would live on. The original developer decided he wasn’t going to maintain the plugin anymore, but another developer stepped up. What is ‘SEO Pack’? It is a plugin that allows you to customize the title, description and keywords for each post. Crucial to doing Search Engine Optimization. Otherwise when you put your keywords and description in the default settings for WordPress, that information is carried across every post, no matter the topic. Build your traffic, make the effort to customize your titles to be keyword rich and make the post keywords agree.
  3. Google XML Sitemaps – Want to do well in Google? Then you kind of have to play their game. Google loves sitemaps, and with an ever growing blog with dynamic links, this would be impossible to generate manually. Enter Google XML Sitemaps, which generates, you guessed it, a sitemap of your blog / website as an XML file helped Google more accurately index your whole site and increase the chances of searchers finding you. A must have, and it has a good deal of options to customize if you are an more advanced SEO guru like what categories of your website to index, how often, priority of indexing and custom directory locations for your XML file.
  4. Ozh’ Admin Drop Down Menu – This one may be a preference, but I love this Admin Drop Down Menu plugin. Even with WordPress’ many incarnations of how they structure their navigation, I always finding myself two to three clicks in to get to what I want. Not anymore. Since about version 2.6 I’ve been using this plugin to make my menus horizontal at the top and you hover to get the menu item you need. Only one click. It saves a ton of time when navigating through your administrative panel. Trust me. And it gives you about 10% more real estate to play with as well for writing posts.
  5. Cforms – I should start out by saying, I used Cforms more out of legacy than anything else. I think when I first investigated Contact Form plugins for WordPress two years ago, this was the best available option. The form works great, you just install and you’re done, and it comes with a captcha and a tremendous amount of options for designing multiple multi-tied contact forms throughout your website.

Continuing on with Cforms though, I do have my gripes. The problem this plugin has is an customization information overload. The options are dizzing, but everything you could possible think of for designing a contact form is right at your fingertips. Also, I think his website could be better. He has the same complex on his website, an overwhelming amount of information. It seems like he could simplify but keep more advanced information in a separate location.

Plus, updates come very frequently. Sometimes it seems like it is every week, and you can’t use the WordPress ‘automatic’ plugin upgrade to update this plugin, especially if you have a custom stylesheet for the presentation of your form. (Update: I just did a search in the WordPress plugin repository, and can’t find cforms in there, heck why no link. I think other options might be out there, but you probably won’t find another contact form plugin that is nearly as rich. Just know that if you want to do anything beyond the default, be prepared to spend a little time figuring out how Cforms works.

What are your top plugins?

Those are my top five plugins that I upload with every install of WordPress. What are yours? Are you using a contact form plugin that you really like?

I am sure that at least 3-4 of these probably overlap, but if you are using WordPress for a website that is a little off the beaten path, you might have some other things installed. I have several dozen plugins installed, and most of them I could not do without, or so I tell myself. It is always about discovering something new, and I know I’ve found a plugin or two I didn’t know existed by reading another blog. That is the beauty of WordPress – the amount of great third party plugins. Dive in and see what you can find, you’ll be surprised what is out there for a specific niche.

Photoshop tutorial for punching text ‘effect’ out of an image

This down and dirty tutorial is mostly for Photoshop beginner’s. If you are trying to figure out how to take an image and make it into text, this will be a perfect how to. I have taken things one step further and then placed that text (arcade themed of course) into a Photoshop file that could be used for a custom WordPress website header / masthead. (more…)

Save time exporting web images using Fireworks

There are so many loyalists to Photoshop among the design community that feel like Photoshop is the be all – end all to any graphic editing needs. However, as a designer we all know that reducing time = better efficiency = greater profitability. So why don’t more designers use Adobe’s Fireworks for exporting graphics instead of Photoshop? Slicing in Fireworks can cut your time in half – here’s the comparison between Photoshop and Fireworks. (more…)

Editing layered Fireworks pngs in Photoshop

It’s been over four years now since Adobe bought Macromedia and all of their flagship products like Dreamweaver, Flash and Fireworks. We have seen two new versions of the Adobe Creative Suite since then. The first one did some basic integration between the programs, the second release of CS more tightly integrated all of the software. So why in the heck can’t the almighty Photoshop open up layered .png files that were originally created in Fireworks? (more…)

Creating WordPress posts offline with BlogDesk

In a post last week I mentioned that I was looking for solutions for areas in the typical WordPress post publishing flow that I felt could improve efficiency. One of these areas is to have a piece of local software for Windows that allows you to essentially do ‘offline blogging’. I miss Dreamweaver and my power user shortcuts that allow me to generate content faster. Today I am evaluating BlogDesk to see how it stands up to the job of blogging offline.

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