WordPress Unplugged, Pt 2: Keystone WordPress Development in Practice

Hopefully you checked out our previous article and learned why we take such a lean approach to WordPress development. Now that you understand the philosophy behind what we do, we wanted to share a list of our favorite plugins, and to explain how we apply our ideas in the real world.

Forms

Contact forms and email signup forms are more complicated than they look. A poorly coded form can be a major security risk. We like to use plugins for form creation because the security is already taken care of. Super Simple Contact Form is a great plugin for creating…well… super simple contact forms. It doesn't have any settings or configuration options, and that means that it’s just about the leanest plug-in around. For more complex forms, or if the client is going to be adding and maintaining their own forms, we like Contact Form 7. It has a lot of configuration options, and that makes it very user-friendly. Contact Form 7 also has a handy extension that saves submissions to your site’s database. That means that even if something goes wrong with the email submission, you still have a record of everything that was in the form.

Security & Backup

Sucuri is a fantastic plug in for handling site security. It has an easy-to-use site-scan function that identifies malware. We typically only install Sucuri when we’ve already identified a security issue with one of our sites, and those cases are rare. But when we do encounter malware, we leave Sucuri installed even after we remove the malware, because it can also be configured to give warnings about future issues.

Keeping plugins and WordPress core software updated is another important part of keeping a site secure.  We use Easy Updates Manager for this purpose. It ensures that new plugin updates are downloaded and installed within 12 hours of release. For clients who aren’t on our Business Class Hosting, we use the Backup & Restore Dropbox plugin to set up regular backups. It’s easy to configure, and it can be a lifesaver.

Design

This is where we really try to stay lean in our WordPress development process. Sure, we could use a plug-in to create a mobile navigation menu, or to generate social media icons. But, in order to offer a variety of display options that most users want, these plug-ins have to include thousands of lines of code to accomplish something that can often be done in less than 100.

That is especially true of sites built with the plug-in called Visual Composer. Visual Composer is a drag-and-drop editor that allows users to build websites without writing any HTML, CSS, or JavaScript. The catch is that it also adds numerous wrapper elements and extraneous CSS classes to your site HTML. This is bad for site performance, and makes the code much more difficult to maintain. One other note about Visual Composer: If it gets deactivated, your site doesn't really work anymore. We take pride in building sites from scratch because it gives our projects more of a unique feel, but it also helps us avoid the inherent performance and maintenance problems that come with drag-and-drop editors like Visual Composer.

Site Performance

This is an area of WordPress development where plug-ins really come in handy. Developing our own caching or image optimization functionality would be extremely time-consuming, so we use a combination of plugins to save development time for us, and to save money for our clients. The W3 Total Cache plugin is great for configuring server-side and client-side caching. Autoptimize takes care of some performance issues like resources that load with query strings and can't be cached as easily. For images on the sites we build, we use a plug-in called EWWW. This optimizes all of the images on your site to ensure that they load fast, but don't lose noticeable quality. These three plug-ins make a huge difference in the speed of a website, and that’s great for your users, and it’s an important part of Google's search rankings, too.

SEO

Speaking of search rankings, Yoast's Google analytics plug-in is another useful plug-in, although one that we don't always use. It connects your site to Google Analytics, and also provides useful feedback about how visitors are using your site. As a marketing agency, we analyze site usage in Google Analytics itself, so we typically use a more streamlined method to add the Google tracking code to websites. But if we’re building a site that will be managed by the client, we’ll definitely set it up with Yoast.

301 redirects are another important part of good SEO. When building a new site to replace a pre-existing site, we improve user experience by combining content and getting rid of unneeded pages. In order to keep the SEO value from those [now non-existent] pages, we set up 301 redirects to relevant content on the new site. The Simple 301 Redirects plugin serves this purpose admirably. While we could accomplish this task without using a plugin, Simple 301 Redirects gives us a graphical user interface that’s a lot more fun to look at than an Apache .htaccess file.
 

Got additional questions about why we do things this way? Wondering how you can optimize your own WordPress setup? Dreaming about how awesome it would be to work with such a competent, forward-thinking, good-looking team? Drop us a note! We’re a Nashville web development agency with over a decade of experience, and we'd be happy to talk about your next project.

Cheers,

Jason