The Anatomy of Bit51 v2.0 – Tools and Services for Your Website (part 2)

The Anatomy of Bit51Last week I talked about some of the must-have plugins I use on Bit51 as well as the theme the site is built on. In doing so I listed the plugins I use on every WordPress project I develop but didn’t get to all the ones that are unique to Bit51 nor did I get to the services that interact with Bit51 and help me deliver my content to folks in the most efficient way possible.

As we all know, every project is different and each requires a special set of parts to come together. That said, here are the rest of the parts including plugins and other services I’ve used to bring Bit51 together.

Plugins

The first plugin I will add to this list is Advanced Custom Fields (ACF) and the Advanced Custom Fields: Repeater Field add-on (OK, so it’s actually two plugins). While the core ACF module is free the repeater field did cost a few dollars but allowed me to add the FAQ section for each of my software projects quickly and easily. If you have custom data and don’t want to code it out yourself I would highly recommend it. Frankly however I will eventually replace them both with actual code when I can find the time as two modules for really just one field seems like a bit of overkill to me.

Next is the ever-popular Akismet (it actually comes pre-installed when you download WordPress core). This plugin does a good job of keeping comment spam to a minimum. I’m not sure it’s the best solution on the market but it works for me so I’ve kept it and used it.

After the spam problem is solved Bit.ly Shortlinks keeps track of all the short URLs for this site for use on social media and elsewhere. I could do this manually but using a plugin makes it easy and adds the shortlink to the header meta of each page which hopefully helps the SEO.

The widget with the latest software updates in the sidebar is powered by the Category Posts Widget plugin. This handy little plugin allows you to take put any category of posts into a customizable widget for display anywhere on your site. In my case it keeps the main blog feed separate from the software update feed which hopefully makes it all a little easier to read.

Note: While writing this article I realized that the Bit.ly Shortlinks plugin and the Category Posts Widget plugin haven’t been updated in over 2 years. Personally I don’t find that to be a very good sign so if you know of any good alternatives please let me know in the comments.

Responsive images on this site are powered by FooBox (affiliate link). This awesome plugin does a better modal for images than anything else I’ve seen and is backed by FooPlugins who is also my partner for Better WP Security.

Genesis eNews Extended powered the subscribe widget. It allows you to add a nearly unlimited number of subscription services very easily as you can specify a custom mail handler and form field to do so. On top of that Genesis eNews Extended is written by Brandon Kraft who is an excellent WordPress developer here in the Austin area. As it is from Brandon I can assure you the code is rock solid.

For managing this site I’ve installed both the InfiniteWP Client plugin which allows me to link this site to the InfiniteWP service and Jetpack for notifications and other items both when I am logged into the site and when I’m not (I can get notifications on my iPhone too). If you have more than one site I would recommend looking into InfiniteWP. It installs on your host just like WordPress and the free version shows you everything that needs updating across all your sites and allows you to handle the updates from a single location. If you need more features such as scheduled backups, database optimization, user management or something else InfiniteWP has addons you can install for a nominal fee. Frankly if you just have one site it really isn’t going to do much for you but it you have multiple sites the free version can save you a lot of time and the backup module can save you both time and money in comparison to some of the other solutions out there.

This year I’ve been going to a lot of conferences (so far at least 3 with 3 more to go). To help share what I learn when attending I’ve installed the Liveblog module which is also by Automattic. This handy little module will allow me liveblog events right from the front end of the post making updates very fast and very easy. If you’re a person of few words or if you will be attending any big events I would highly recommend it.

One of the metrics I’m struggling to improve here on Bit51 is bounce rate. This is the percentage of folks who hit one page on my site and leave without going anywhere else. Currently it sits around 70% and before the end of the year I would like to reduce that to below 50%. One of the ways I’m doing this is with the “you might also like” section at the bottom of this post. The widget is powered by nRelate Related Content and lists related posts and other content (if I choose) in a number of configurable formats. While there are other services such as YARPP nRelate does the processing on their services keeping it fast and keeping the database clean. So far it seems to be working too as just turning it on dropped the bounce rate from just over 80% to around 70%. With a result like that the benefit of the nRelate plugin really speak for themselves.

Finally, for social sharing I am using two plugins. Share Center Pro powers the sharing buttons at the bottom of posts and is built by Bit51 for speed. It is the only social sharing plugin I know of that loads every service asynchronously to reduce page loading time. To display my Twitter feed back in the sidebar I use the Twitter Widget Pro plugin by Aaron D. Campbell. This handy little plugin simply displays a Twitter feed in a widget without much fanfare and, more importantly, without any problems.

Services

While the above covers most of the code on this site the plugins really wouldn’t be all that useful without reliable services behind them. That said I use a number of 3rd parties to handle everything from mailing lists to the RSS feed and more. While I could probably bring some of these in-house I find sometimes it really is better to not re-invent the wheel and instead to let the pros do their work to get me the best services possible.

For syndication I used to use FeedBurner but after the Google Reader shutdown I realized RSS isn’t Google’s priority and switched to FeedBlitz (affiliate link). It’s darn cheap if you don’t use their email services ($1.49 a month I believe is all it costs me) and it provides a well branded, easily customized RSS feed along with some good analytics to go along. While the built in WordPress RSS feed isn’t bad I just felt it could be better with a human-readable display and some stats as to who is using it. So far I’ve been rather impressed with the results!

Mailchimp LogoFor email I’m actually using two services. First is Jetpack for comment subscriptions. It’s free and easy and most people don’t have any issue with it. For post emails and newsletters I use Mailchimp (affiliate link) which is free for up to 2000 users (I’ve got a long way to go there), is easily customized, provides great stats, and is all-around easy to use. Email distribution is something new for me with the new Bit51 but already it is showing some promise and does serve to provide one more convenient way for folks to read Bit51 on their terms. By the way, if you’re not signed up already just enter your email here or in the subscribe box on the sidebar. I’ll never spam you and you might even find some neat giveaways and other exclusive items once in a while.

Finally this site won’t help anyone if it isn’t running and if it goes down I need to know fast so that I can do something about it. To keep me informed I use Pingdom. This great little service is free for one site and can email you or send notifications to your smart phone via their free app to let you know when you site goes down. As an added bonus it also measures page response times to give you an idea of how fast your site is and if there are any problems (you can see them easily in spikes in the response time graph, etc).

What is your site made of?

I’ve covered a lot of ground here but it isn’t even a scratch on the amount of options that are available. That leaves me curious as to what you use for your site? Any thoughts or suggestions on alternatives or anything I’m missing? Tell us about your setup in the comments below.

About Chris Wiegman

Chris is the owner of Bit51 where he blogs about web development and works on WordPress plugins such as Better WP Security. In addition Chris is a Senior Developer for Springbox in Austin, TX where he develops a host of solutions for clients large and small.

Find Chris on Facebook, , LinkedIn, and Twitter.

  • http://www.woodlogger.com Daris

    Another great post. Thanks. Do you know of a good plugin that you could recommend that would allow me to secure myself from certain countries? I know this sounds drastic, but there are a couple countries where I’ve gotten over 1k user attacks today alone from these two(I’m sure you know which ones). At least 90% of my attacks come from those two countries, and since my site is an English language only site my “real” readership from those two is next to nothing. The auto lockout feature in the bit 51 plugin is fantastic, but I’m ready to simply cut off entire sections of the globe.

    • http://chriswiegman.com Chris Wiegman

      I’m afraid I don’t although geo-location will, hopefully by the end of the year, be in Better WP Security. In the meantime I do believe Cloudflare has some excellent IP filtering based on heuristics rather than pure geo-ip. It might not be perfect but it might really cut down on what you’re seeing.