My blog and some of my other web sites focus on visualising Asset & Facilities Management issues , so uses BIM, CAD, PDF’s, maps, databases, photographs, tables, graphs and other data associated with properties.
I want to highlight Free WordPress Plugins that have worked for me on my Blog, Demo Tool Website & Test Property Management Website. I have been developing these sites for over a year and have slowly been updating and enhancing them with useful plugins. There are a couple of blogs on the setup of the Property Site and plugins HERE & HERE.
I appreciate for Web Gurus plug-ins are an anathema, but for mere ignorant mortals they are great for testing and exploring tools to enhance websites.
For someone who is coming to Web design and development for use as a tool for conveying ideas about a very focused area. A means to an end.
I am looking for tools to get my ideas across. True, I’d love to have lean, lightning fast and elegant code for the websites I’m developing, but, the web site design is secondary to the ideas that I want to express.
Plug-ins help explore those ideas without spending a massive time on website coding. Once you have the principals, then you can refine. My focus is on getting the ideas expressed so that they can be challenged.
After installing WordPress and setting up the theme of your choice, you then choose plugins that can enhance your site.
Plugins I have explored in the following areas:
Panorama (360 degree images to be shown). See this blog for some examples.
WP Photo Sphere. This is a nice plugin as it collapses the panorama and only loads when you click on the bar. Speeds up page load. Particularly good as some of my panoramas are big files (4MB) so take time to load, so you only load them if you want them.
gPano. The plugin allow embed the Google street view panoramas to WordPress. Works on one site but I think there is a conflict with another plugin on another site. But a really simple and useful plugin for property site.
TablePress. Embed feature-rich tables into your posts and pages. Import from CSV. Good for static tables. See this example. You do spend a bit of time formatting it though, look to Embed Any Document (see below) as an alternative. Also, for more LIVE data the EZ SQL Report Shortcode Widget & DB backup (see below) keeps the data in the table up to date with the DB, formatting a pain, but if you have more than a couple of columns TablePress can be a challenge too.
Geo Mashup. I had properties on different pages, and I wanted to show them all on the home page on a map. This plugin allowed me to do it. Very good. I used Snazzy Maps do do map styling
WP-Property. For setting up the Property Management Website this is a brilliant plugin.
bbPress. I wanted to setup a forum so that visitors could discuss issues. A good plugin. Unfortunately no one is using it. Initially I thought I had to do a registration, but I have now made it open, hopefully that will get a better process working
Lazy Load by WP Rocket. The tiny Lazy Load script only loads images when they are on the page, this speeds up page load.
PDF Embedder. Embed PDFs straight into your posts and pages, with flexible width and height. iFrame type setup but pretty good.
Embed Any Document. (Feb 2018). This has been a find, you can embed PDF, Excel & Word files into the web page & it has a download button. Not quite perfect (The Excel file does not show top/Left corner so you need to scroll to the side) but you can change size of iframe and you can download the file, rather than doing a PDF/File link as well. So I love it. It is actually similar to the embed link from OneDrive as per this blog.
PDF page savers. I found the free ones pretty disappointing, especially on pages I had tables on. I may test one or two of them on another site, but if you need this facility I think you’ll be paying for a plugin. PDF & Print. PDF part works but not the print. Print Friendly and PDF Button. Some of the images do not not print. WP-Print . A bit of coding in this one. I couldn’t get either the code to work or the short code.
MaxButtons. For putting a button in your page (possibly a link or Download). I thought this was a particularly nice plugin.
Database Browser. Easily browse the data in your database, and download in CSV, XML, SQL and JSON format. I needed to look at dynamic tables for my property site, so rather than using tables above (example here), I wanted to create a table from data in the database, for that I needed to be able to create an SQL Query to put a table on a page. I also needed to view the result of the query to see that the outcome was what I wanted. This is a lovely tool that lets you interrogate your database tables and then use the created SQL Query in the following plugin
EZ SQL Reports Shortcode Widget and DB Backup.Create and save SQL queries, place them on Pages and Posts using the shortcode. And keep your database safe with scheduled backups. I used this tool (fantastic) to create tables in pages (via shortcode) that would automatically update if the database is updated. Example here.(note, formatting terrible, I was just doing a test case of extraction from DB).
MetaSlider. Easy to use slideshow plugin. There is a conflict with the Lazy Load plugin,, so I don’t run both plugins on the same site.
ImageMapper. This one is even better as you can create a region that is the hotspot. Good if you have complex shapes and want to show specific regions. Again, see this post. Also this site for active link.
Widget Context. Show or hide widgets on pages/posts etc. An excellent way of controlling widgets and on which page you want to show them. I moved onto Widget Options as it worked better for me in what I needed to do.
Widget Options. I found I had more control with this widget for showing or hiding widgets on pages/posts etc. So now I use this one rather than Widget Context.
GTranslate. There are a large number of visitors from Asia, from the South Americas and Europe so wanted to make the site more accessible to them. I have had no feedback on this so do not know if it helps or hinders. I hope it does help.
Links with Icons. A simple link to my other sites and to Email. I initially had a contact page (no-one used) so a basic link for email seems best.
D Feedburner Plugin.Redirects the main feed and optionally the comments feed to Feedburner.com. All existing feeds simply become Feedburner feeds seamlessly and transparently for
all users. It links to feedly & RSS
WordPress Popular Posts. These rank the top posts so they are easily accessed by visitors to the site. I am not sure if I will keep this as the Category Tag Cloud does the same and is more visual.
WP ULike. Integrates a Like Button into your WordPress website to allow your visitors to like and unlike pages, posts. I installed this to try and get some simple feedback from users on the blog. (Feb 2018 update– I have run this but no-one uses it, I suppose you need a CALL TO ACTION to highlight it, but if it isn’t instinctive I’m not sure if its worth putting in the shortcode on the pages, I have found that I am getting more use from the Sassy Social Share plugin below. But it is worth exploring)
Sassy Social Share. Optimized Share buttons. Facebook, Twitter,and over 100 more. Good for sharing. I tried two others but add blocker stopped them from working. ( Update Feb 2018. I have been posting a few of my generalist posts onto linked in (using Sassy Social Share) and am finding that people are using this to forward onto Facebook & Email, so this is helping visitors to the site share posts that interest them and possibly their friends/colleagues).
Google Analytics. Good to get an idea if your websites are being visited, where from & by who. The SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) process. Fascinating at times and definitely worth a play. The other one is MailChimp that is interesting too (see bottom of post) and also Feedburner.
FeedBurner. To get people to link to you blogs via a feed process. I have not found it that popular on my websites.
Web Control & efficiency
Ultimate Member. Front end security and logins as well as controlling content if required. I did set this up on my demo property site but took it off again.
WP Super Cache. Fast caching plugin for WordPress. To speed up page loads. This works on my AwardSpace site but not my VPS contabo site. I have been playing around with others on the contabo site but have not come across a satisfactory one yet. The cache can be a pain when you are testing something as it wont refresh, so you have to turn your cache off, test and then when you are happy with results, remember to put cache on again.
Transferring Data between instances of WordPress
WordPress Importer. Import posts, pages, comments, custom fields, categories, tags and more from a WordPress export file. This is a really elegant way of transferring info to another domain. You still need to move your database across, but great tool. You then need to check all your links, that is where Search/replace comes in.
Better Search Replace. A small plugin for running a search/replace on your WordPress database. God is that it will do a dry run to check if the links/data is what you want.
Background. My personal WordPress blog/website evolution
I created a blog originally to express a few ideas I had floating in my head.
I initially set up with WordPress.com and found it was easy to set up the blog. I wrote a few rambling articles and was reasonably pleased with its ease of use.
I then moved over to a different hosting provider, my first testing of the waters, and HostPapa said they could migrate the WordPress blog. They couldn’t, so I moved onto another web hosting provider.
As I was completely clueless about all of this, and my preferred learning method is to try something and break it, then read up about the bit I broke, I found a web host provider that was free, Awardspace.com. See blog on setting up a totally free SELF HOSTED website.
I found I could play quite merrily on this site and make a complete mess of things with the confidence it was not costing me anything except my time and my paid domain name. (The free account only has one database, so you need to sign on with a number of different emails or go for one of their paid options that you can get for about $1US per year with 5 databases)
I have since found you can get free domains on Freenom.com, so you can set up a site for free.( You need to set this up and then use it to create the Awardspace account (Note: you’ll need to wait a while (hours/days) for the domain to propagate through the web before its usable for Awardspace setup))
Awardspace have a zacky installer that will download WordPress onto the site quite easily so that you do not really have to know too much about the process.( See blog on free website above).
I did dabble with Drupal & Joomla but they require quite a commitment to learning up-front before you can get the fundamentals working. So, to date, I have stayed with WordPress.
I had to manually move each blog page across from my WordPress.com website to my Awardspace website. That was tedious. I have since found a plugin to help with that. Hindsight is great, if only I’d had it then!
The Awardspace hosting is cheap to begin with, but costs ramp up the following the cheap startup year, so you have the choice to continue with the plan or go through the hassle of moving to another web host. I am moving my web sites to a VPS (Virtual Private Server), where I can have a bit more control over it. It is with Contabo.com. I needed a minimum of 8GB RAM and 100GB of storage for the openMAINT programme and they are definitely better value than a lot of other VPS off`rings out there. You could consider AWS EC2 (Amazon Web Service) where you can host a free VPS. See my blogs for that.
I am now in the process of transferring my blog site across to a Virtual Private Server, the next iteration of learning website management.
To try and persuade people to move across I have been using MailChimp to offer a free lesson plan for OpenMAINT (one of the main search items on my site). I have a post about that.
I would like to thank all the people who gave their time to creating these free plugins. I have really got a lot of value from them, so a big thank you to you all.