Useful WordPress Widgets from 2014

This is a list of widgets from 2014. I like to see how the widgets fared over time. One I had looked at fairly recently. Some don’t apply to me, like the Opening Hours widget, which would be really good for a brick and mortar business website.

Source for the full list: 20 Incredibly Useful WordPress Widgets | Elegant Themes Blog.
I’m going to try Biographia. It hasn’t been updated in 3 years but… it sounds interesting, if a bit complicated from the description in the review.

biographica

8. WP Biographia

WP Biographia allows you to add a biography box to your website. It is, by no means, a simple plugin. The settings area has seven different pages. It allows you to define whether the bio is displayed before or after the content area on posts, pages, RSS feeds, archives, and your home page. It can also be displayed in widget areas.

Put a Time Machine into WordPress

I like having old posts show up in my sidebar. I know about the evergreen theory where posts should never get stale, seasonal, etc. I just don’t agree with it.

I’ve been using the Time Machine plugin for several years. It sets up and works without much fuss. You can forget all about it there among your widgets.

Of course, there are other plugins for the same idea of looking back a year into your site’s life. I’ve put together a list for you to explore. (At this point the only one I can personally recommend is Time Machine).

Selling Ad Space with WordPress Plugins

The goal was to find a WordPress plugin which would let me sell ad space on my site, paid ads through PayPal.

Although I did not find one plugin which accomplishes everything… I do have some reviews for you.

The Easy Ad Plugins

Two very simple plugins which worked were WP125 and WPX Affiliate Manager. Both of these were simple to set up and you could have ads in your sidebar within an hour. (Your own ads or those of friends are good to start with). Both of these use ads which are 125 x 125 images and a link to the site. WP125 gives you more features and choices such as setting ads to display randomly or in order. Neither of these has anything to do with PayPal. But, almost none of the plugins I have reviewed here included getting payments.

Note: I used WP125 several months on one site. So of all these, it is the most well tested and the one I would rate my second favourite. One thing I especially like about WP125 is that I can upload images directly rather than typing in a link to the file I manually uploaded into the Media Library, or elsewhere.

adsmgr3adsmgr2

The Other Three

I tested all these next three but did not keep them around long. Simple Ads Manager loaded with an error message so I deactivated it without any testing. MyAdManager says it works with PayPal, but I didn’t get that far in the testing of it. Meks Easy Ads Widget was interesting but the settings are all in the widget, not in the admin. So, I didn’t see how I could keep track of the ads and how they were doing on my site.

adsmgr1

The One I Kept…

datafeedr ads pluginThe plugin I have switched to from WP125 is Datafeedr (Ads by Datafeedr.com).

First, it is not a plugin you need to sign up for their service to use. That is one of the things I don’t like to do. I’d rather keep as much as I can at my own site and avoid relying on another site to still be there.

Another good thing about Datafeedr are the support videos. Need some help figuring out the set up? There are several video tutorials to help you get started and go from there.

Datafeeder lets you choose text ads or image ads. You can choose sizes, add code, pretty much anything – because you add the code and the image into WordPress just like making a blog post. Simple. Don’t forget to add the link along with the image when you upload it to the Media Library. Text ads can be bolded, linked, etc.

When you add new ads you can sort them into groups. This makes it much easier to find your images again to update or delete them when the ad expires. You can set ads to expire at a specific date or limit them to a number of impressions before they expire. Or, set no limits at all, just a start date if you don’t want the ad to expire.

Choose to place your ads in the sidebar or footer widgets but you can also place them in your posts or pages too. Just add the automatically generated shortcode to widgets or posts. Choose which ads and how many you want to be included.

The only thing missing for me is the ability to accept payments for the ad space. But, I will look into that next. For now I’m the only one with ads on my sites. My next project in running ads will be to set up ads for other sites (free ads for friends). After that I can tackle the finer points of seeking paying ads.

Readmill Widget

Readmill Widget (deprecated) — Jetpack for WordPress.

The Readmill widget was officially depreciated from JetPack July 2014. Two years ago there was a post to the WordPress forums about the retired Readmill widget sticking around. The answer then was – remove it from your widget sidebar. However I don’t have it in my sidebar. It’s just sitting there in my widget list, still there.

Of course, it’s mainly cosmetic. But… it does make me wonder why no one has taken it out. How many WordPress and JetPack updates have there been since July, 2014?readmill retired widget

What other old junk has been left in the code? Stuff you wouldn’t know to look for if you wanted to clean it up. I do try to clean my database. There is only so much I can do. This little widget bugs me, even though it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. It bugs me because I wonder why no one has removed it?

Why JetPack? Is it purely sentimental reasons?

Uncluttering your Blog: Keep your Clutter Bug in Check

Clutter builds up on your site quickly if you stop working on it. Each time you add something new to your blog, in the sidebar, the footer or the menu and header – stop and think about it.

  • Is it necessary for your blog readers?
  • Does it say something about yourself and your blog that you actually want to say?
  • Could it be moved to a subpage of your blog and not really be missed?
  • Is it slowing down the load time and, if so, is it worth it?
  • Have you located it in a way which it’s function is easy to understand?
  • Don’t keep any broken links, including images.
  • Consider moving archives, link lists and categories/ tags to their own subpage.
  • Condense and prune your tags and categories. Use a general category for things which don’t fit into the main theme/ topic of your blog.
  • Consider using plain text links rather than image files, widgets and etc.
  • Downsize and/ or double up when giving your own links to be followed on social networks.
  • If you run ads, limit them to ads which are actually performing well.

Tidy Up Your Blog’s Sidebar

Focus on your readers. What are you keeping in your sidebar for yourself? What do you actually read and like to see in a blog sidebar when you read another blog? Let that be your guide to deciding what to keep on your own blog sidebar.

Work out the most important thing in your sidebar and on your blog.Create a list of everything in your sidebar – list them in order of importance. If you have more than ten things choose a few to be voted off the island. See if you can limit your blog sidebar to 5 or fewer items.

Remember, less is more. Put away anything you want to keep but don’t really need on your sidebar. Use features like pages and even your footer to tuck and tidy away extra items.

More to Read

Six Reasons I Like Having a Microblog in my Sidebar

Why I like having a micro/miniblog in my sidebar…

  1. There are always little things I find online and want to stick into my blog.
  2. I don’t want to turn every little thing into a full blown post when it can stand on it’s own with just a linkback to the source.
  3. It gives readers something original/ atypical to read in my sidebar, rather than the network widgets and etc.
  4. I can give a quick shout to a friend’s blog or site and (depending on how often I post there) leave it up for longer than a daily post.
  5. It’s different. I don’t see many other bloggers using a miniblog contained in their main blog.
  6. The plugin I found works really well and has weathered every WordPress upgrage with 5 stars.

Making Headway with Headway WP Theme

After seeing  April Tara’s blog I was pretty sure I wanted to try Headway. Her blog has some of my favourite things which I was using with the Thesis theme. I spent a couple of hours looking at themes. Before choosing Thesis I spent years looking at free themes and patching together what I wanted for my own blog. So, I expect a lot from a premium (paid) theme.

I picked Headway’s WordPress theme as the one I would switch from Thesis for. I am not knocking Thesis, I still find it a great theme, the GPL debate was mostly a good time for me to try a new theme that also looked good. Matt Mullenweg bought Headway for me after his post about paying for a new theme for anyone using Thesis interested in trying a new theme.

I did have a rough start using Headway. I was frustrated. I’m not that frustrated now that I have made some progress. There are still some issues which I would like to change or fix. But, overall, Headway is working for me.

Headway:Visual Editor:

Visual Editor: Leafs:

The first thing you need to know is how to find the drag and drop to manhandle your layout. It is part of the Visual Editor. If you look at Leafs you will see you can enable Arrange and Resize. Be aware it is kind of backwards: if it says “enable” it means it is not going to work until you click the button. If it says “enable” it is actually disabled. When it says “disable” it is enabled. In a future Headway update they might add the “D” to make this clearer.

Leafs is mainly a way to move around your template with your mouse. You can set the dimensions of your columns but be careful, they still have to fit in the wrapper in order to appear side by side. Also, check your site in different sized monitors as it will need to shrink and contract to fit various screens. Keep things fluid so they can suit each screen size without you needing to having to stress out about it too much.

Other than the drag and drop feature Leafs are mainly widgets you can add to the site. They can replace some of the WordPress plugins you may already be using. I haven’t done much with Leafs so far. I did add the About one but may yet change my mind about it as I already have a whole About page which is linked in my header navigation bar.

Visual Editor: Templates:

You can ignore the Templates tab unless you buy another template or skin for Headway. You don’t have to. I think this tab on the Visual Editor should be moved to the bottom of the list. It is an optional thing versus the tabs for Design Editor, Site Configuration, Leafs and Navigation which you will each need.

Visual Editor: Design Editor:

Design Editor is where I spent most of my time. I think it has too many options. It would help to have something that lets you set the font and colours for the whole site/ blog instead of going through each and every littlest option for comments, footers, headers, widgets, etc. A main switch would be nice. Some people may like to have a rainbow of colours and use every font at least once, I prefer to stick to a couple of colours and a couple of fonts.

In the Design Editor go down the list on the Element Selector. This is the best way to make sure you don’t miss something. Once you choose an element you will see a button appear: Call this element out. This is very nice, it highlights which element you will be working on. It’s a guide through your functions so you know which part of your blog theme you are changing before you begin making selections. Almost everything you need is in the Design Editor, just keep working your way through. It is handy to open a Notepad file and paste in your code for the HTML colours you are using. Much easier to paste them in as you go if you remember which one is the main colour for headers and subheaders and which one is background or subtitles.

Visual Editor: Site Configuration:

Site Configuration is where you can make big changes to your header, footer, wrapper and body, basically push around your site width at the top, middle and bottom. After you do you may need to go back to Leafs and fiddle around to get your columns in place again. This is where having fluid elements comes in handy.

WordPress Admin: Headway:

Now, you could do this at the end or you could have started here but last on my list is configuring Headway back in your WordPress Admin. You will leave the Visual Editor and step back into the WordPress screen again.

Headway: General Options:

In General Options you can add Header and Footer stuff. I put in some extra meta tags. (You add your main meta tags for keywords and description to Search Engine Optimization below). I also added stuff to the footer but I have more work to do on that, it looks a mess right now as I want to make a horizontal bar for widgets to be in 3 columns there. So far I have not gotten it to work. General Option is pretty simple, just add your Favicon and feed as directed.

Headway: Posts/ Comments:

If you want short posts in a double row as I have in this blog you tick Enable Small Excerpts in Posts/ Comments. At the bottom of Posts/ Comments you can also change the “Read More” words you use in the excerted posts.

Headway: Search Engine Optimization:

We now come to Search Engine Optimization. Skip down past the navigation title section. (I only changed Posts Page Title so it doesn’t show “Blog | Word Grrls” at the top of my blog). The important section is for your basic meta tags: description and keywords. Write a good description but don’t make it a book and don’t let it be spammy. Describe your site as you would to someone who asked you what your site is about. Make it clear and keep it simple. Don’t go into overkill on keywords. Try to find search terms someone might use to actually find your site. You can use phrases, not just single words.

Thats about it. Once you have gotten this far you have covered the basics of working with the Headway theme. I still have a list of things I am working on. One nice thing I discovered in Headway is that you can use the new WordPress 3 Menu feature which is not yet configured with the Thesis theme. The Menu (which is on WordPress, not part of the Headway theme itself) will let you set up the header menu bar with links to your pages, categories or outside (custom) links you want to add.

I am coming to like Headway. But, it does need to build more community support in order to get the extra tutorials, plugins, features, widgets and such which you can find when you use the Thesis theme. Headway needs to grow and I see every chance that it will. I wouldn’t say Headway is a full package yet. If you read my list of things I am working on (below) you may notice a couple of things Headway could add in another upgrade. I’m glad to see a strong community around Headway because this is how things like new features and extras come about.

Other resources:

Headway Beginner

Headway Tips

Headway Demo

Headway Hub

Headway Support – For premium members who have bought the theme.

Headway WP – Headway, as mentioned on Twitter.

Just for fun and human interest, these are the things I have worked on, have fixed or am still working on with this blog and the Headway theme. Some of them are not Headway related but still relevant to the outer workings, the things you can see when you land here. Right now the footer thing is the biggest project. I have tried the Headway Hub plan but it did not work for me. Looking at WordPress options, but no luck on getting this working yet.

  • Footer- need 3 columns for widgets, gadgets, etc. – Would like one long horizontal sidebar or 3 widget columns, whichever is workable.
  • Fluid main content div to fit the page rather than be fixed or float and throw off the alignment. (This seems to be ok, so far).
  • Add header graphic, under the header text and link. (Not able to do this with Headway it seems).
  • About page is missing and navbar seems to be uncoordinated. (Turned out to be user error which I fixed).
  • Background, something new. (Still high on my to-do list).
  • Sidebars, look untidy still. (Done, changed my font, personal taste).
  • Set up e-cards – WordPress thing. (This has been on my to-do list awhile. I keep putting off getting into figuring it all out).
  • Headway saves and then returns to previous settings. Why? (Still a mystery but… it only did it the first day I was working with it).
  • Set standard for all pages. (I am still missing sidebars when you click into a post etc).
  • Lifestream feed and RSS. (Done).
  • Big, gaping space appears at bottom of content, above footer. (This was an odd thing. My div columns were re-setting themselves, one kept becoming very long. Seems to be ok now.)
  • If possible… have a ticker type thing announcing posts which I would like to highlight or feature, running right under the header and navbar. (Have not started this project but expect I can find some kind of WP plugin that will work for my idea).

Choosing Web Scripts, Gadgets and Widgets

One thing I have learned to watch for when I look at free web scripts, gadgets, widgets and such are hitchhikers. Before you paste the code into your HTML paste it into Notepad first. Read the code. Do you see a link to a third party URL? A site not your own or the one you are using the code from?

Some of the sites offering freebies are also making a buck by using your blog to spam for another site. Watch for it. You can remove that part of the code or just choose not to use the script, find something else.

Why does it matter? Well, not a big deal, but do you really want someone else using the time, resources and energy you put into your blog to make money for themselves? Whether your blog is completely spam/ ad free or not, I doubt you want someone piggy backing on your work?

New Idea for Uncluttering

The next thing someone needs to invent is a sidebar or widget that lets you list all your webrings, blogrolls and other groups you have joined in one widget which you stick on your sidebar instead of all those individual blogrolls, webrings, widgets and graphic linkbacks. I see it being something like the widget for Wink. But, instead of links to your profiles on Yahoo, Blogger and etc it would be a link to all those widgets which usually clutter up our sidebars.

It could even take you to a secondary page on the blog where all those widgets and such are listed in full. But the widget on your main page would not have all that mass of clutter. If you have seen Wink you might get a better idea of what I am thinking of.

Now it just needs some code type person to come along and do it. Any time now… don’t all rush at once.