Plug-in and Theme Experimentation


Now that I have moved to self-hosted, I am having a bucket load of fun trying out a whole bunch of plug-ins and themes.

Here’s a little bit about my experience, probably useful for someone considering a move or has just moved to a self-hosted WordPress blog.

First up themes

I am a wee bit disappointed to find that the whole wonderful world of themes that I thought were out there for me to use when I go self-hosted are not for me after all. A lot of the free available themes were untested in a big blog, and though very pretty were very time-consuming to debug. Even more dangerous, some of them contain malicious code that could bring down the site.

After reading this very eye-opening article post, I decided to really play it safe with themes.

Another word of advice. Stay away from cheaply priced pre-made themes available on sites like Etsy and stuff. Most of these themes are simple customizations of the Genesis framework or similar such themes and aren’t very feature-rich nor are adequately tested. They may work for you if you are a new blogger, but if you have loads of posts already, it’s a massive headache trying to get everything to look the way it should.

In the end, I rather halfheartedly just decided to do a basic switch and moved to the Highwind theme and started customizing it. Surprisingly, what I thought was rather a plain-Jane theme, has come out quite nicely (or so I like to think). It’s amazing what a change of color can do. A little more customization is in the works, but I am holding off the publish until I’m sure I like what I see.

So, that was about the themes. Now on to the plug-ins

This is where things really get exciting. Like themes, plug-ins can also be really buggy, and I really spent a lot of time trying to decide what functionality I wanted to include on the blog.

For commenting: I really like CommentLuv. It’s an awesome plug-in that gives a shout out to whoever is kind enough to comment on your blog, and encourages movement within blogs. I love this one.

How comments look with CommentLuv enabled

How comments look with CommentLuv enabled

Although I love CommentLuv, I eventually went with Disqus as a 3rd-party commenting system on my blog.

From a user’s perspective, the benefit of Disqus is that you can stay logged in, so you don’t have to login at every blog you comment on. I also love that it enables you to sign in with Twitter or Facebook and doesn’t need a new authentication system. Their Discovery feature (see screen-cap below) both within and outside of the blog also rocks. And me being very superficial, I love the professional look and feel it gives to my blog πŸ™‚ .

What I mean by Disqus' Discovery System

What I mean by Disqus’ Discovery System

Also, it’s super easy to migrate comments over from WordPress to Disqus.

One last point on commenting systems: If you are pondering which commenting system to use – IntenseDebate and Disqus are the popular options. Before you decide on either one, read this. I read it before deciding to go with Disqus. Whichever option you choose, it’s good to know the pros and cons upfront.

For intra-blog navigation: By intra-blog navigation, I mean the suggested/related topics that appear at the bottom of each post page at the end of each post like so…

One of the many display options for related topics

One of the many display options for related topics

You can use either nrelate or LinkWithin to add this feature to your blog. Both plug-ins seem to have very similar functionality. I went with nrelate just because I found it simpler to configure and set up.

I love adding related topics at the end of the blog posts. I think it’s important to be able to direct users to other similar content and get more hits on some of the older blog posts as well.

For pinning blog images: In the past year, I’ve seen a lot of traffic to my blog from images that I have posted and which have been pinned by readers. To make image pinning easier, I used the Pinterest Pin It plug-in.

I modified the plug-in a wee bit so that I don’t have to use the default boring pin-it image it comes with. It’s just amazing how much people use pinterest and just how much visuals matter in a blog (even if it is a book blog). My blogging resolution for next year is to make sure I add interesting visuals in my blog posts, and to be more active on pinterest.

For recipes: This is not a must-have, but it’s something I saw on Janel’s blog, which she recommended I try, and I think it’s a super-cool plug-in if you are into posting a lot of recipes.

I immediately installed EasyRecipe and set it up for one of my older posts, and I am very happy with the look. This plug-in is highly customizable, and I am definitely going to play around with it a lot more. So, don’t be surprised if you suddenly see a rash of recipes published on the blog πŸ˜‰ . I also love the print functionality of this recipe.

Another bonus EasyRecipe offers is the opportunity to get your recipe featured on Fooderific (optional feature). This is not a huge incentive for me as I am only a casual food blogger, but when I went to the Fooderific site, I loved the huge amount of recipes within the database, and the ease of searching for just the recipe you want with the ingredients you have. Truly a great plug-in and feature, and I am so excited to discover this one πŸ™‚ .

So, this is the list of my favorite plug-ins of the top of my head, and which I have implemented on my blog.

I hope this post is useful for beginner bloggers new to the self-hosted world. For other bloggers, I’d love to know which plug-ins you use on your blog? Which were the stars and which were the duds? And why?

  • veens

    You know you have been awesome in helping out and letting meknow all this -whenever I do think of changing to self hosted blog, I will re read all YOUR blog posts about it. And I do think your theme has turned out gorgeous and i love the color theme as well πŸ™‚

    • Nishita

      @veens:disqus Glad you find this post useful. These are some basics only. But because I was flailing about a bit, I thought it would be good for others also to know πŸ™‚

  • Great post, I have been considering switching to self-hosted but lack the courage just yet…

    • Nishita

      @disqus_mUBrEiIQ5D:disqus switching is the only difficult part. Once you make the move, it’s very easy to make the switch to the new setup. All the functionality is there.

      If you are hesitant about the move (it is an investment, so better not to move if you are not sure about the blogging thing), then just purchase your own domain name.

      I waited for a very long time before I did that, and I was just kicking myself because it took me ages to recover the page rank afterwards.

      • I already have the domain name as I fully intend to switch. Your post has been really helpful as it is all those sort of decisions and the fact that it is all there for you on WordPress that has made me hesitate… I plan on spending some time over the holidays (if I get any) Will come back and use you as reference anyway πŸ˜‰

        • Nishita

          @disqus_mUBrEiIQ5D:disqus all the best with the switch. Feel free to ping me here if you have any questions about moving πŸ™‚

          • Thank you so much that is really kind of you.

  • Jairam Mohan

    I personally like using the CommentLuv plugin as a commenter and don’t like Disqus too much primarily because CommentLuv allows you to choose a particular post which you would like reader traffic to be generated to.

    However as a host I guess Disqus prevents spam comments for you and therefore have no complaints, more so as it allows Facebook and Twitter logins as well.

    • Nishita

      @jairammohan:disqus wish Disqus would include the CommentLuv functionality :(, I like the CommentLuv feature as well, but I love the way Disqus allows me to comment across all blogs regardless of WordPress, Blogger, TypePad etc. It’s a more universal system

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