How To Choose and Use WordPress Plugins

How To Choose and Use WordPress Plugins

WordPress Plugins

One of the biggest benefits of using WordPress to build and manage your website is plugins. These small pieces of code can greatly increase the functions and benefits of your WordPress site, but it’s not without some risk.

John Overall of WP Plugins from A-Z joins me on the BeBizzy Break Podcast Episode #85 to discuss WordPress plugins and a few other subjects.

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Some Basic Info on WordPress Plugins

Plugins are really just compiled code that can easily be installed and used on your website. Most are very small and only get loaded when they are used on a page. However, some, like Woocommerce and some contact form plugins are very large and often load on all pages whether they get used or not, so be careful on how many you install and run.

Currently there are nearly 55,000 plugins available in the WordPress repository in just about any function you can imagine.

The repository contains links and information to free plugins, with paid plugins available directly from the developer, CodeCanyon, and a variety of other places.

How to Select a Plugin

Searching for a plugin can yield hundreds of potential suitors for the job. Some detective work and maybe even some “live” testing may be required to find the right plugin.

John has set up some “sandbox” websites that only serve as test beds for plugins and themes. This is a great suggestion, or you can use a development area for the actual site if you have that available to you.

It’s not recommended that you test a plugin on a live site unless absolutely necessary. It can cause the site to not display correctly, or be totally down.

And also be advised there are three different types of plugins in regards to cost, free, premium, and freemium. Free is free. No cost, just download and use. Premium will cost you up front before you install. Large, often popular plugins like Gravity Forms are included in this model. The third is “freemium” where you will be given the plugin for free for a short time, then you have to pay to use it after the trial period.

Potential Issues Installing Plugins on Your Site

Before we go too far, this is a great time for me to snap in my weekly plug for backups. Back up your site BEFORE you install any plugins or themes just in case.

Like anything you install on a website, plugin code can cause some undesired results on the website. Collisions with other code can affect CSS, some themes, the working of other plugins, and even the dreaded “white screen of death” on your WordPress site.

Also, free can come with some security issues. While the WordPress repository does a great job of monitoring and screening plugins before they get into the wild, sometimes malware finds a way into a plugin. This also can occur on paid plugins, but it’s less of a chance.

Really what is comes down to is a couple of things.

  • When was the plugin last updated.
  • What versions of PHP or WordPress has it been tested with.
  • Read the reviews to see if the plugin was well-received by other users.
  • John suggested typing the plugin name into Google followed by the word “sucks”.

Keep in mind, WordPress is a free CRM. Out of the box it is very secure, but as you add themes, private code, or plugins you can open it up to potentially being exploited.

When asked if there is a number of plugins that is too many, John responded with “No.” It comes down to if all of the plugins can run well with each other, causes the page to load slowly, and can harm the user experience.

Go-To Plugins That We Use on Every Site

I use several plugins on nearly every website I develop. John also has a list of about ten or so plugins that go on his sites.

  • Wordfence : security plugin that has a free or premium service. Even the free version does a great job of locking down the site
  • UpdraftPlus : A GREAT backup system that allows you to back up to the WordPress install, a Dropbox folder, an FTP location, and several other options.
  • Gravity Forms : Versatile form builder
  • A CDN plugin – I use a CDN to make the website load faster for the visitor.
  • MainWP : I manage dozens of websites, so MainWP is very useful to track updates to all of the plugins.
  • WPMU Smush Pro : great image optimization plugin

Some Final Thoughts on WordPress Plugins

  • Don’t be afraid to use them.
  • The will save tons of time.
  • Don’t be stuck on the free version.
  • Don’t get married to a plugin. Sometimes you have to move to a new, better plugin.
  • Don’t be afraid of the research to find and implement the right plugin.
  • Listen to shows like the BeBizzy Break Podcast and WP Plugins from A-Z to learn about good, and bad, plugins.

WP Plugins from A-Z and Other John Overall Projects

If you are managing a WordPress website for you or for clients I would encourage you to add John Overall’s WP Plugins from A-Z to your rotation. He reviews five or so plugins on every episode and gives some real-world ratings on whether that plugin will be useful.

At JohnOverall.com he also serves his development, hosting and recovery clients.

Have any questions or suggestions on WordPress plugins? Leave them below, or send them to me @BeBizzy on Twitter!

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Why I Left Dropbox for Sync

Why I Left Dropbox for Sync

What are Dropbox and Sync?

    • Both are cloud storage systems
    • They ideally take files you create, edit and save to your local computer, tablet or smartphone and push them to a central storage on the “cloud” where they can be saved and edited on other devices or even by other users.
    • Some other examples include :
      • Box.com
      • Google Drive
      • Microsoft OneDrive
      • NextCloud
      • Amazon AWS
    • Not meant to serve as a full backup of the operating system for computers or devices.
      • Carbonite
      • Crashplan
      • Livedrive

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Why leave DropBox?

    • Dropbox was failing to provide some basic needs on my side.
    • Worked great when the size of the directory was small, and I would still recommend it for many needs.
      • https://bebizzy.com/dropbox
      • Sharing/collaborating with partners on files
      • Storing photos off-site and getting them off your devices
      • Working with some online resources to easily save backups to Dropbox since it is considered one of the leaders in cloud storage
      • You can comfortably fit local files on the same hard drive as your operating system

So why Sync?

        • https://bebizzy.com/sync
        • Price
          • For 2TB of storage I was paying $199 per year on Dropbox
          • For 2TB of storage on Sync I paid $96
        • Works better on attached storage
          • I have a second hard drive on my PC. Dropbox had SEVERE difficulty changing the location of my Dropbox folder to anywhere except on the C-drive.
          • Sync let me point where I wanted and it “synced” up immediately.
        • File ownership
          • This storage one is important for one reason… IT LET ME OWN MY FILES!
          • Dropbox works really well with cloud-based storage with nothing on the local machines.
          • However, I’m a believe in the 3-2-1 backup system (3 backups, 2 different types, 1 is offsite) and Dropbox did not play well with local storage on a directory located on an attached hard drive of 650GB. Sync had NO problems.
          • So to leave Dropbox, instead of a button that downloaded everything, I had to open each directory, sometimes two or three folders deep due to size download restrictions, and download a zip file of the folder, and unzip it on my computer.
        • Shared file tracking
          • Dropbox has no method of tracking whether or not a file shared to a partner, client or anyone else has been accessed.
          • Sync has a checkmark when sharing to notify you when the link has been followed, although nothing is documented when a file has been downloaded. But at least you know it got to them and they attempted to get to it.
        • Better Two-Factor Authenticaion
          • Dropbox does a great job of asking for a code texted to you when an attempt to log in is done.
          • Sync has an email version of that, but also works with Google Authenticator, which is a phone app that provides a changing auth-code. Both are good, but I like the Sync version a bit better.

So maybe it’s just the new toy, or possibly I just outgrew Dropbox. But Sync.com is really doing exactly what I needed in my cloud file storage.

I can get to them from multiple computers. I can save a copy locally on a second hard drive. I can tell if a client has at least clicked the link and went to the file or directory. It’s encrypted and protected by two-factor authentication. And it’s 1/2 the price of Dropbox.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from using Dropbox. It’s a wonderful tool, works well with backup solutions, is familiar to many business people and clients, and works… most of the time. If you want to check it out, go to https://bebizzy.com/dropbox and sign up.

But if you need/want more from your cloud storage, explore other options including Sync.com. Sign up at https://bebizzy.com/sync.

Have any questions or suggestions on going paperless? Leave them below, or send them to me @BeBizzy on Twitter!

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Why & How To Stop Using Internet Explorer

Why & How To Stop Using Internet Explorer

Back about a month ago it was announced that Internet Explorer security flaw allows hackers to steal files.

Security researcher John Page has revealed an unpatched exploit in the web browser’s handling of MHT files (IE’s web archive format) that hackers can use to both spy on Windows users and steal their local data.

The vulnerability affects Windows 7, Windows 10 and Windows Server 2012 R2 and allows some access to computer files by sending a simple command such as a CTRL+K (open a duplicate tab) or a Print command.

Page posted details of the exploit after Microsoft reportedly declined to roll out an urgent security fix. It instead said a fix would be “considered” in a future release. While that does suggest a patch is on the way, it leaves millions of users potentially vulnerable unless they either turn off Internet Explorer or point to another app that can open MHT files.

So, first… remove IE unless it is completely necessary for your job. Some government agencies, financial institutions, insurance companies, etc have websites or applications that ONLY work on Internet Explorer. Which is scary since it’s government info, your bank, CPA, insurance industry or other entity that stores private information.

But what are you supposed to use as a replacement? There are dozens of options, and we’re going to talk about a few, starting with the big three, and a few others.

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Market Share

I remember the old days (dating myself) when Netscape emerged as a new, robust applications that provided access to the World Wide Web, instead of BBS’s, usegroups and the all-powerful AOL. Microsoft came in a few years later and the two battled back and forth over market share.

IE finally finished Netscape off with IE6 with Windows XP, and at one time IE owned 90% of the browser market. Firefox started the new browser emergence, then Chrome began it’s climb to the top of the browser heap.

Now, every social media application like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have in-app browsers and there are literally dozens of others which serve specific cases.

The most recent browser market share data in the US from Stat Counter : http://gs.statcounter.com/browser-market-share/desktop/united-states-of-america

Basic Security Policies Regardless of Browser

  • Make sure you’re using the most recent version. Windows update, Chrome updates and others should be installed when possible to avoid an exploit.
  • Turn off Flash! Uninstall Flash! Never visit sites that require you to use Flash! Get the picture how insecure Flash is/was/forever will be?
  • Learn to see if the lock icon appears letting you know you’re visiting secure sites. This is very important if you’re making purchases or providing secure information
  • Use a password manager instead of storing passwords in the browser. Lastpass, Dashlane and others are cost effective and do a great job on computers and smartphones.
  • Clear History Periodically : erase your tracks every once in a while to keep anyone from snooping on where you’ve been.
  • Turn off autofill if you really don’t use/need it. It could be used by others with access to your devices to see what sort of sites and information you’ve been searching.
  • Use a VPN – A virtual private network encrypts traffic from the device you’re using to access the internet (computer, smartphone, etc) and routes through to a point where it joins the wide network. By encrypting traffic through your networking equipment, ISP’s devices, DNS routing equipment and other endpoints you’re tracks are covered up and you cannot be tracked.

Big Three

e-logo.0

Microsoft Edge

  • Internet Explorer’s replacement from Microsoft.
  • It probably came pre-installed on Windows 10, or one of your Windows 7 or Windows 8 updates.
  • Built-in Cortana integration which enables specific information to be displayed when certain websites are visited.
  • Reading Mode : turns off distractions when enabled so you can just read the page text.
  • There is a Microsoft Edge version for smartphones, tablets and other operating systems.
  • Microsoft has promised an “IE-Mode” which will open a familiar Internet Explorer look and feel in a separate tab
  • There is also a version of Edge that will be built on the Chromium, the same open-source web rendering engine that powers Google’s Chrome browser.

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/microsoft-edge

1200px-Google_Chrome_icon_(September_2014).svgGoogle Chrome

  • The browser market leader by a HUGE margin
  • Tons of extensions which extend the browser’s utility by offering website developer tools, notifications, marketing assistance, password managers and a whole lot more.
  • Tab Pinning – Have a site you visit almost every time you go online? Pin the tab and it will always be there.
  • Incognito Mode – Need to browse a site in private, meaning you leave no trace in browser history? Open a new browser instance by hitting CTRL + SHIFT+ N in Windows, or COMMAND + SHIFT + N on your MacOS.
  • Syncing Chrome with Your Google Account – Get access to the same settings, bookmarks and extensions by logging into your Google account in Chrome.
  • Of course you can download and use versions of Chrome on all Android and IOS devices.

https://www.google.com/chrome/

firefox_logo_2017-100742591-largeMozilla Firefox

  • A distant second place to Google Chrome
  • According to speed tests Firefox Quantum browser is currently the fastest browser available (May 2019)
  • Like Chrome, there are tons of extensions that add to functionality.
  • Great malware and SPAM protection. Firefox turns a blood-red color when you go somewhere you’re probably not supposed to go online.
  • Private Browsing – similar to Chrome’s Incognito mode, private browsing deletes cookies, passwords and all other traces you were on the web.
  • There are versions of Firefox available on all Android and IOS devices

https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/

Other Browsers

  • Opera : Opera has been around since 1995 but apart from a very dedicated group of users, has never gotten traction. It is built on Chromium and is thought of as a more secure version of Chrome.
  • Safari : The default browser for all IOS devices it is used by Apple and Mac users unless they select another as a default. A huge negative is it is not available to PC users (unless you know a few tricks), which took out a majority of the computer market. Like IE, Safari got buried as Chrome use soared.
  • Chromium : the open source version of Chrome, Chromium has appeared on Linux distributions, and is also used as the backbone to other specialty browsers. It works similarly to Chrome but is thought to be a bit more secure.
  • Brave – created by the same developer that created JavaScript, Brave is very new to the browser game, launched in 2016. It is a very minimalistic browser, which enhances its speed and security.
  • Maxthon : A browser popular in China. The most ringing review I could find of Maxthon was that it was a good choice to use if you preferred the layout of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Ugh.
  • Tor : built for users to access the internet anonymously via the Tor network. All traffic is encrypted so tracking is impossible. As an additional layer of security the user is routed through the TOR network which bounces the traffic through a series of relays before emerging on the open web.

As a web developer and an “experienced” technical professional, it is great reminiscing about the history of Internet Explorer and what it has done to move the internet toward what we have today. But like MySpace, Hotmail, AOL and the Blackberry, Internet Explorer is something we should no longer use. There are plenty of great replacements that take a little bit of effort to install and configure, but security, speed and utility makes the time spent worth while.

Have any questions or suggestions on your favorite, or least favorite internet browsers? Leave them below, or send them to me @BeBizzy on Twitter!

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