gravity forms

My Favorite WordPress Plugins List

My initial motivation for starting OpenSourceHack was to try out all sorts of open source and commercial website scripts and report back my findings. I’m still constantly on the prowl for all those hidden gems that work perfectly for my needs, but I’ve realized that once I come up with a new idea, I’m leaning on WordPress more and more. You can call it familiarity, complacency, or even boring…but the longer I play with WordPress, the more familiar I become with all the possibilities those themes and plugins allow.

Plugins are a non-programmers dream, and I definitely go overboard with them. I know I shouldn’t depend on so many, but it’s hard not to keep adding new

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functionalities with a few clicks on the mouse, which is something I could have never done before without shelling out gobs of money to a coder. So after launching dozens of WordPress sites, I’ve realized I can throw them up super quick now. In most cases I know exactly what I want and what I need to achieve a desired outcome.

In other words, I’ve developed a go to list of themes and plugins that I find I use over and over. Here’s my grab bag of favorites I reach into whenever I’m putting together a new site. I won’t go into much detail here. I don’t want to ruin the surprise of reading everything they can do on your own. ūüėČ

Themes

DIYThemes

I use Thesis for about 90% of all my WordPress sites. Why do I use it? Believe it or not, it’s mostly because of the support forum. I would pay that price alone for the awesome help they provide. Don’t get me wrong, the theme is pretty sweet too, but without that forum help I’d still have a pretty vanilla install.

Templatic

I’ve used a Templatic theme at least a couple times (GeoPlaces, eProduct). Beautiful looking themes out of the box or with very little customization needed. I love a site where you can actually get ideas for sites based on a theme gallery.

WooThemes

I’ve also used WooThemes a couple of times. (Gazette Edition, RockStar). They were actually my first foray into the world of premium themes.

Plugins

 Premium

Gravity Forms – What more can I say other than it gives me the ability to allow users to post from the front end, with images, and create a template so I can design how the post will look.

BackupBuddy – Although my initial purchase of this plugin was to use it for one personal site I host from home on a Synology NAS (which doesn’t work as of right now), I have used it on every site I have built. I bought the unlimited sites license because the difference between two sites and unlimited sites wasn’t that much. Add in a coupon code I found from a quick search before I purchased and it turned out to only be about $35 more to go from two sites to unlimited.

Reviewazon – I am an Amazon affiliate and I like to monetize my sites right way, even if they are only placeholders before any considerable traffic arrives. I do this because I like the consistency and I don’t want to start re-arranging the layout to work in ads a year down the road. Reviewazon lets me create posts from Amazon that pulls in the images, data, and reviews from Amazon products. Drop feed your site with new product posts every day, or just pull in a whole bunch of products at once. I’ve used this on a half dozen of my sites so far.

Free

Contact Form 7 – This was always my stand by because it was so simple. All you had to do was create a new page, paste code, and bam…you have a contact form. Although, the more I become familiar with Gravity Forms, the less I use this plugin.

Custom Post Limits – Ever want to control the number of posts that appear for certain categories or specific author? I have quite often and this plugin works like I charm.

Broken Link Checker – Self explanatory broken link checker that even emails you when a broken link is detected.

Page Links To – A great little plugin that allows you to redirect pages.

Simple Pagination – This plugin will add a configurable number of numbered page links at the bottom of category pages. Much better than the simple Previous/Next Links that don’t leave much room for exploration.

Table of Contents Creator¬†(http://markbeljaars.com/plugins/tocc-plugin/)¬†– I use this plugin on three sites including this one. I’ve yet to find another plugin that allows you to display what you want, how you want, with the ability to include or exclude just about anything. Sadly, at the time of this writing, it’s been nearly two years since it was updated. Still works for now though.

Update – 9/17/2012: I’m not sure what’s going on with this TOCC plugin, or the site in general, but it’s unfortunately been down for a couple of days now. I’ll remove the hyperlink but still include the url where this plugin once lived (in case it comes back to life).

WP FancyZoom – This plugin will create a nice pop up effect for any image link. I never liked the default image in post style where it would link to the image on it’s own page. Now you can include a text or thumbnail link and when clicked, a nice lightbox type display pops up to see the nicely framed full size image.

WP Symposium – A really cool plugin that turns WordPress into its own social network.

Ad Squares Widget – I used to be a big user of WP125, but lately I’m kind of digging this plugin instead. It takes my Amazon IFrame 125×125 ads no problem.

NextGen Gallery – There are plenty of gallery plugins out there, but NextGen is definitely my choice when I need to display images. I use this on a rather large photo gallery site (450+ galleries and over 15,000 photos so far) as well as on a smaller biographical site with a one page picture gallery.

Gravity Forms Plugin

I purchased Gravity Forms a month ago for one of my more recent sites. I’ve known about Gravity Forms for quite awhile but I never needed more than a simple contact form that the Contact7 plugin couldn’t handle for me. Since my latest endeavor was actually based around front end posting, I figured it was finally time to take the plunge and try it out.

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I felt pretty confident in ordering this plugin because over the years I’ve read more praise for Gravity Forms alone than nearly all other plugins and premium themes combined. More than a few times my questions in various WordPress related forums were answered with “Gravity Forms can do that”, so it’s clear that this plugin is the de facto standard for forms.

I have to agree that this plugin is the most advanced form plugin I’ve come across and within minutes I was publishing forms with options I never had at my disposal before. It reminded me a lot like the Thesis theme where there was a bunch of simple options for customizing things that a regular user can take advantage of without getting their hands dirty in any code.

Let me preface this next part with the fact that I enjoy both Gravity Forms and Thesis, but after a lot of frustration, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are ¬†best suited for those well versed in css and php. I’ve realized that a lot of the endorsements I’ve read have been from web developers which makes sense now.

If you do not know or understand php or css, you will be severely handicapped in your¬†customization’s¬†unless you plan on using a lot of the defaults. This might sound harsh coming from someone who is digging Gravity Forms so far, but I really believe this to be true. Sure, there’s some documentation on the site, but even that’s written for the individual who has a background in code.

Thankfully Gravity Forms has a pretty decent support forum with mods that go the extra mile and will take you by the hand to help you customize the basic stuff a bit. I really enjoy forums that understand their user base is not full of coding masters and aren’t stingy with sharing their expertise to get you to your end goal (or at least close).

The caveat here is that without these helpful individuals often spelling out what you need to do, a non-programmer is going to be lost, and customization help is not guaranteed either. Luckily they seem very willing to help and I have never been ignored about any question or issue I’ve had, regardless of the topic.

As the title of this site indicates, I like to hack around so I don’t shy away from having to manipulate code to get an effect I want. If your a non-programming tinkerer like me, then the Gravity Forms challenge awaits. But if you don’t understand filters, hooks, query strings, and cascading style sheets ¬†(I don’t) and don’t have any urge to learn (I do), then you may be in for a world of frustration, forever dependent on waiting for answers in a support forum.