I’d like to conclude my WordPress Plugins for Writers series with a FREE! way to backup your site.
If you use Dropbox, you know that your first 2GB of backup storage are free. Many of you probably pay a pro version to get a lot more than that. If so, you’re paranoid like me and mistrustful of technology.
As described in their marketing materials: Dropbox is a file hosting service that offers cloud storage, file synchronization, and personal cloud services and access. The Dropbox client enables users to drop any file into a designated folder. The file is then automatically uploaded to Dropbox’s cloud-based service and made available to any other of the user’s computers and devices that also have the Dropbox client installed. Users may also upload files manually through the Dropbox web application.
I use the Backup to Dropbox Plugin to sync my site’s files to my Dropbox account once a week. I think it is worth giving you the caveat that I’ve never had to restore my site from backup. This is important because I can’t really tell you how good the plugin is at disaster recovery when disaster actually strikes. I just want to let you know, if you are paying for another solution, that there is a free tool out there.
That brings me to the end of the series. I hope I have shared at least one or two new tools that have excited you and helped you get the most out of your wordpress site. If you have any questions, please contact me.
I’m no guru with social media, but there are two plugins I like and use.
One is Revive Old Post. You set a timer, whether it be three times a day or three times a month, and the plugin tweets a random post, page, or image from your site. Sound silly? It is. It’s delightfully silly. You can customize it to include or exclude certain content.
One thing I like about it is how it keeps the past alive, kind of like Facebook’s “one year ago today” feature. The other thing I like is putting my site on autopilot for awhile. No, disappearing from social media for months is not professional suicide. Despite the hype, social media is just a fun, free(ish) way to self-promote. Kurt Vonnegut (to my knowledge) never once tweeted, and his books are still selling fine.
Wouldn’t it be nice to take a month off and have your site random-tweet or random-share on Facebook a post every few days while you were away?
The other plugin I like is the Social Metrics Tracker. I don’t have comments enabled on my website. The main reason is if my website gets very little traffic, and I have a fan post a wonderful review or comment, nobody is going to see it. I’d rather them direct that energy to a more visible forum, such as goodreads, facebook, or twitter.
So when I post, I also immediately share it out to my social media outlets, same as you. And, same as you, I don’t really care about getting comments on my site–my private space. I want to get comments, shares, retweets, out in the highly visible, public spaces of social media.
This plugin is turnkey: Install it and instantly see your top posts ranked by social media engagement. For me, it’s a good way to measure the success of my marketing efforts, but it’s also a good way to discover what seems to work and what doesn’t.
This post series is about wordpress plugins, not third party software, so I’ll save a Mailchimp post for later. But if you already use it, then you should get the most out of it by installing the Mailchimp for WordPress Plugin.
Inside the Mailchimp Plugin’s settings, there’s an area for third party integrations, and one of the plugins it integrates with is the one from my earlier post, Easy Digital Downloads. If you use EDD to sell your work, you can use Mailchimp Plugin’s settings to create a checkbox that says “subscribe me to your mailing list” and have it default to checked on the EDD checkout page. This sort of cross-plugin cooperation makes your life a lot easier.
The reason I say this opens a Pandora’s box is because the line between promotion and spam is a fine one. If your customer unchecks the mailing list box, but you have their email, do you manually add them anyway?
That’s an ethical question, among many, that you will have to feel out as an indie writer. Mailing list etiquette is all about how best to engage existing and potential fans. How best to do this without running them off? I don’t have the answer. Please, just don’t use this plugin to create a “SUBSCRIBE NOW!” popup box on your home page.
I’ll roll another plugin into this same post because it’s along the same lines. I don’t like Jetpack’s built in email subscriber, so I use the Email Subscribers Plugin. I don’t use this plugin to solicit email addresses on my site, I use Mailchimp instead. However, there are those, like my mother and grandmother, who aren’t the savviest web users, so there are a handful of people I want to “spam” with a link every time I do a blog post, to keep them engaged. Just remember, with great power comes great responsibility.
Now it is time to dive into another technical plugin and help you understand how plugins work at an operational level. What is a shortcode? A shortcode is a symbol or marker that gets replaced by html code during the rendering of a wordpress page. Here is a typical example. At some point on your webpage, you have probably added a standard contact form. If you insert one, then switch from the “visual” to the “text” tab, you’ll see something like this:
This is the shortcode for the contact me form. Not so short, you think? Then compare it to the html code that takes its place when the page renders:
So you see, even though the shortcode might still look like computer code, it’s minimal compared to real computer code, it’s code you can actually type and work with. That’s the beauty of wordpress: all the complexity is hidden and a minimal amount of control is left to you to configure a working site.
If this intro hasn’t frightened you away, I strongly encourage you to stick with me as I teach you how to create your own custom shortcodes. If you’re on the fence, scroll to the bottom and see a really cool trick you’ll be able to do after wading through the geeky mumbojumbo. First, install the Shortcoder Plugin. Let’s start with something simple. There may be a page or a series of pages that you want to have a common footer, kind of like an email signature, and you’ve copy-pasted something over and over again. For example, on each of my download pages, I have the following icons & message. Looks nice, but I have over twenty download pages, and I was copy/pasting this footer each time.
Go to Settings > Shortcoder and you will see something beautiful. It’s exactly the message you see at the bottom of each of my downloads pages. So the plugin allows me to create it once, then reference it in any page I want. Any changes I make to this centrally maintained code is reflected on every page.
Here is what I put at the bottom of each download page. (Notice above where it says “your shortcode is.”)
WordPress, as it renders each page, scans for this shortcode and replaces it with the message stored in the settings. That’s the concept. Now let me show you something truly cool. Shortcodes are more than just placeholders, they are also customizable. Take another look at my download page. See the goodreads reviews at the bottom? Wouldn’t you love to add this little widget to your book pages?? Here’s how I did it. At the bottom of each download page there appears the following shortcode:
Notice that in addition to the shortcode itself, there are three parameters: the book’s goodreads id, isbn, and title. Going back to Settings > Shortcoder, here’s how the plugin manages those parameters:
As wordpress renders the page, it looks out for this goodreads shortcode, and replaces each instance of it with the above code. But it also replaces each instance of %%id%% within that code with the book’s goodreads id. For those of you who don’t read html (we are writers after all, not coders), what this snippet of code does is insert a frame which goodreads fills with all the reviews for your book as they appear on your book’s goodreads page. I don’t expect you to type all that, after all, I copy/pasted it myself out of goodreads’ developer area. I can’t post it directly here because this website is itself a wordpress site which will try to render the code rather than just display it, so click here to access a copy for yourself. Please note though, that buried in the code is a place for “developer id.” No, you do not have to register as a goodreads developer in order for this to work, but keep in mind that like any other big site, if you use their tools without registering, they’ll throttle you after so many tens of thousands of clicks. Here is the final result, tailored to each individual book:
The power of this one little plugin is so awesome, you can just about use it to create your very own plugins. If you have any questions about shortcodes, please contact me.
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