5 Plugins we use on every website

WordPress is a great tool, but out of the box it lacks some must have functionality. To address this, we install a number of plugins from the off to handle things from design & templating, through to backup and security.

In this post I want to take you through the plugins we use, and why.

Templating & Design

I love many things about WordPress, but the systems for managing editing and laying out the actual content of the site is not one of them. The recently introduced Guthenburg block editor has improved things a little, but it is still far from ideal. If I am being honest, we usually switch it off and go back to the classic editor.

For building page layouts we use a plugin called Elementor www.elementor.com.  According to the stats, it’s the number 1 page builder, with over 5 million active installations. As such it is being actively updated and has a great ecosystem of developers adding functionality. Again, there are many reasons I like this plugin but these are the 3 main ones:

  1. Elementor has great functionality out of the box, but also has a broad ecosystem for extensions
  2. It integrates well with Advanced Custom Fields (Whilst not on this list, ACF is another plugin we use a lot )
  3. It allows you to split the page template design from the content meaning you can give users a clean simple content management system, whilst still having full and separate control over the design

Finally to ask the question “Why do we prefer a page builder to a theme?” The answer is simple. Themes are driven by fashion and tend not to be consistently developed & updated in the long term. They are also often over complicated as they try to appeal to a broad group of potential users. As Elementor is theme independent, it is developed on an ongoing basis, and designs developed in Elementor tend to be more tailored to the needs of an individual site.  All in all, it’s our experience that themes developed in Elementor give more longevity, and a better experience for both site visitors and administrators.

Security

The next plugin we install on every site deals with security and in this area our plugin of choice is Wordfence (www.wordfence.com). We like it as it’s simple to use and very comprehensive. Including as standard features like, brute force protection, bot management, a firewall and malware scanning. Running Wordfence is as simple as installing the plugin and running through a config wizard. Once installed you can forget it as it simply works. Something a security plugin should be.

This is one of the plugins where we use the free version as it gives all the functionality we need. Furthermore, the fact that it has a well established installed base of the pro version means that it is being constantly developed, and here for the long term.

Backup

Just as critical as security is making sure the site is reliably and regularly backed up. For this we use a plugin called Updraft (www.updraftplus.com). Updraft has a great free offering, but in this case we use the pro vision one simple reason: It allows you to schedule backups. Making sure the backups happen regularly is key, so automating the process is important. Other reasons we like updraft are:

  1. It allows you to easily keep off site copies using a range of cloud storage providers
  2. Updraft automatically prompts you to do a backup whenever you update plugins, themes or the WordPress core
  3. In our experience it is very reliable & “Just works”

All in all, whether you go for the free of paid version, updraft is a great backup tool.

Forms Builder

There are a lot of good forms plugins for WordPress, but we have opted for Gravity forms (www.gravityforms.com). Again this is a paid plugin but is is very feature rich, integrates well with Elementor and has great functionality. It also has a powerful API for integrating forms with other systems – Mailchimp for example.

If I am being truly honest, they only thing I don’t like about Gravity forms is the limited options for styling forms without resorting to custom CSS. This is however a limitation they are aware of and are, by my understanding working on better functionality in this area. That said, even now and with this limitation, Gravity forms is a great tool and one we would not be without.

SEO

Last on the list, but by no means least is the SEO function. For this we use a plugin called Yoast (www.yoast.com). Yoast is a great plugin as it puts the process of optimising content fully in the hands of the person writing the content. It has an easy to use traffic light system to indicate how well optimised a page is. Along side this it gives helpful and easy to understand tips on how to improve your optimisation.

Furthermore, it gives the user easy access to the page meta data like titles & descriptions. These, whilst important to SEO, are often hidden and difficult to edit. Yoast brings these aspects to the forefront, making then a simple part of the page editing process.

This is another one where we use the free version. Unless you are working in highly competitive areas or have more complex optimisation needs, the free version does everything you need.

Other plugins worth a mention

The above are plugins that we install as a matter of routine on all our site. There are a couple of others that we also find very useful and worthy of mention:

  1. Advanced custom fieldswww.advancedcustomfields.com. This allows you to add custom content field to posts and pages. Thus making it easy to structure your content and make page layout and editing much more simple. In our view its this one that turns WordPress into a proper content management system.
  2. Admin Columns Prowww.admincolumnspro.com. This is a bit more niche, but if you do a lot of editing of content in the back end of WordPress, it make the process much more enjoyable & efficient.

We love these plugins so much that we actually include a pro licence for all of them with all our hosting packages, so if you use WordPress, and are using any of these plugins, its worth checking out our hosting offering. It may save you money. What’s more, we have a lot of experience in the world of WordPress, so if you are looking for a plugin to deliver some specific functionality, feel free to get in touch. We would be happy to share our experience.

The right tools for the job…

If you haven’t got the right tools it makes marketing a LOT harder – if not impossible.

I learnt my lesson many years ago. I was struggling for too long with a particular job when it dawned on me:

There must be a better way to do this!

Trying to market your business without the correct tools is hard work. There is also the risk of losing focus on your marketing and business goals. Your objective shifts to trying to make the most of what you have.

Is it better to use what you have or make sure you have the right tool?

OK, sometimes you have no choice. you have to accept you must work with your existing resources. Even so, it’s important that you don’t forget what it is you are aiming for.  It is still about taking your business forward.

In business and marketing, in particular, things change rapidly. There are new opportunities to make your marketing easier, cheaper and more effective. One of the main areas where things are developing is online. Many digital marketing tools and techniques, previously the domain of costly specialists are now accessible to all. But there is a challenge…do you stick with the old ways where you accept it may cost more but you know the job will get done (and will continue to be more expensive when you want to do it again in future)? Alternatively, or do you explore the new opportunities which may allow you to do things more quickly and more cost-effectively? You may either do more in-house or the better tools enable an external supplier to deliver more quickly and at a lower cost? There is a cost/risk in the learning curve of adopting new tools and approaches but perhaps this should be seen as an investment rather than a cost? Taking the step to adopt better tools in your business can pay dividends in efficiency and reduce cost long into the future.

You may have the right tool but do you have the knowledge and experience to use it effectively?

I touched on this in the last section. One of the biggest costs in marketing can be the fee charged by marketing professionals. As online marketing tools become easier and quicker to use, marketing professionals can see the risk of reducing fee income and so resist the shift to using better tools. At the same time, while these better tools may be easier and quicker to use, you may not want to go the whole step of doing everything in-house. Sometimes, calling in an experienced professional is the most cost-effective approach – so long as you can find the expert who will work with the better tools and charge correspondingly less!

I have raised the idea several times before and it is central to my business ethos; customers and suppliers should work together in a framework of mutual confidence and trust where everyone is focussed on delivering the best outcome where everyone benefits. These relationships can be challenging to build but they are immensely valuable to everyone.

At BSA we are always keen to adopt the best new tools. Whether we are using these in-house, for our own needs or creating better opportunities for our clients. This has been our philosophy for over 20 years and it continues to pay dividends to everyone involved.

Get in touch if you’d like to know more.

Dos and Don’ts of Live Chat

When used appropriately, chat on a website is a great tool. But if implemented badly it can also be a real frustration.

Because of this I thought it would be worth giving some of my experiences with chat. Outlining the ways to implement it effectively, maximising benefits whilst minimising frustrations.

Not all Chat systems are equal.

There are a lot of chat systems out there from cheap and cheerful to fully integrated chat, customer service and ticketing systems. The first thing to consider is which one is right for you?

Our experience has been it two systems, Zen Desk and Livechat.  Whilst I am not aiming to create a full review here, I can say that our experiece with both LiveChat and Zendesk have been positive. They are both easy to integrate into a website (Both have wordpress plugins) and offer the features you need to make live chat work. Whilst LiveChat is the more expensive option ($16/month compared with $5/month for the Zendesk entry level), it is the one that most of our clients are using, and has great tools for managing the appearance and functionality of the chat box on the website. Other than the price, we would not hesitate to recommend LiveChat, and if your customers value access via chat on your website $16/month should be a cost effective option.

Chat should not be a messaging system

Ok, I will hold my hands up and say that this is a personal bugbear of mine. Chat should be a live interactive medium, and should only be used if you have the resources to man it. One of the things I like about LiveChat is that it can be set to only appear on your website when you are logged into the system and ready to accept chats. That way, when someone starts chatting on your site, there is a good chance that there will be someone there to answer their questions in real time. If you are not logged in the chat box disappears. In these cases they should have other options like email and enquiry forms to contact you.

Chat boxes should not be intrusive

Another way that I think that chat is misused relates to how obtrusive the chat box is on the site. As a website user, when you need it, it should be obvious and easy to access. But when you don’t, it should not get in the way. By all means include chat pop up box after a user has been on your site for a period of time. But if they dismiss it, don’t keep nagging them. It should be their decision if they need to chat. If they don’t, the chat should not get in the way of their browsing.

Be careful of multitasking during chats

One of the benefits of chat over phone calls is you can multitask. Whilst chatting you can deal with multiple enquiries at once, or work on other tasks whist engaging with customers.  When doing this however, be sure to prioritise the chat and don’t leave customers hanging for an answer to their questions. If you have to go of and find other information, or are going to take more than a few seconds to respond, then let them know.

Use chat bots effectively

Like much technology chat bots can be used or abused. If you are going to use one, I would suggest that you follow two simple rules:

  1. Be transparent – If a user is talking to a bot, make sure they know it. Good chat bots are effectively an “intelligent drill down menu”. They ask users a series of questions to point them to the right bit of information. If they can deliver information the user is looking for, they can be a great way to give basic technical support.
  2. Always offer the option to talk to a real person – Going back to my first point about the fact that chat should be a “live interactive medium”, always give the user an option to talk to a real person. Most people will go onto a chat system with a specific enquiry. If that can be answered by the bot then great. But when it can’t, you need to give them the opportunity to talk to a real person. Not doing this can easily lead to disappointment & frustration.

Follow these two rules and chat bots can be a really useful addition to the chat system.

3 Golden Rules for using Chat effectively

In summary, I will leave you with three golden rules for the effective use of chat:

  1. It’s not a messaging system. If you are not there to chat, don’t offer it on your site
  2. Leave the customer in control- Don’t nag web visitors, if they want to chat they will
  3. Use chat bots intelligently. Focus on the customer experience when deciding to use them.

Follow these rule and chat can really enhance your customers experience, and your ability to engage with them.

 

Talk to your customers – it’s important

I’ve been spending a lot of time dealing with suppliers recently and the experience set me thinking. Most of them didn’t seem to be very good at talking to me, their customer. Too often I found suppliers not delivering on what they said they would do. I had to chase.

We talk about the importance of engagement in marketing but this doesn’t end when your efforts succeed and you receive your enquiry which (hopefully) grows into a customer. My own recent experience was disappointing. Too often I got the feeling that a supplier wasn’t really bothered about me, they were focused on my business for the value they would gain. The fact that I (their customer) was trying to get some benefit from the relationship felt incidental.

I believe that a good and solid business should be built on developing long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. These are relationships where the trust and confidence bridges between customer and supplier grow ever stronger. Effective communication is a vital part of this development process. Here are 5 tips/ideas that might strike a chord to help you build stronger, more valuable relationships with your customers/clients.

1. Be Responsive

First and foremost, just do what you say you are going to do! This may not sound much but it amazes me how often it doesn’t happen. Of course, sometimes events conspire against us and it may not be possible to do this. If this happens…

2. Be Proactive

If there is a problem, be ready to talk about it. Take the initiative to deal with a situation. Don’t just wait for your customer to call you. Even if you think that your customer will not be happy about what you have to tell them, having the gumption to speak to them and address the issue shows a real commitment to the relationship. It can actually be a great way of making your relationship stronger.

Often it isn't the problem that's the issue - it is how you deal with it!

You never know, you may find your fears of a dissatisfied client are unfounded. Problems happen. Objective, open discussion will resolve most.

3. Is your communication effective

Just because you have said something isn’t the whole story. You may feel you have explained things but has your customer understood what you mean? It can be useful to ‘put yourself in the other person’s shoes’.  Might you have been misunderstood? Likewise, if your customer says something you, could what they say have different meanings. A simple example:

“We will deliver on Friday”

Does this mean the customer will receive the goods on Friday? Or is the supplier actually saying we will ship on Friday. The goods will not actually arrive until the following week. Clarification of this sort of message can avoid a problem later on. In my experience, ignored issues are more likely to get worse than go away. On the other hand, clear effective communication is a great way to build confidence.

4. Be ready to hold your hands up

None of us is perfect. Sometimes, everyone gets things wrong. Yet why are so many people reluctant to admit their failings? Often too much time and energy are spent defending a position or excusing a mistake instead of trying to resolve the matter. This can distract from the business in hand. If you have made a mistake, hold your hands up. Equally, it is reasonable to expect your customer to do the same! The best way forward is to work to rectify the issue and focus on how you can avoid the same problem in the future. If your customer uses the situation as a stick to beat you with, maybe your relationship is fated anyway!

Whether in business or life, some relationships work, others don’t. If you find yourself in a bad one, better to get out.

5. Records are valuable

I don’t know about you but, when you lead a busy life, I find it can be easy to forget things. I have learnt (sometimes the hard way!) that unless I give myself some sort of reminder, tasks sometimes slip my mind, or details of a discussion get blurred. In Tip 3, above, I talk about effective communication. If there is no record then different views about what was said, or even what was intended, become entrenched – and potentially divisive. Sometimes written notes are very helpful. These don’t need to be formal. Just a few words of reminder can be valuable when you come back to a task.

Notes can either be personal, for yourself alone or something you might share by way of confirmation to your customer. There is no single ‘right way‘. It is about finding what works for you and your business. There are all sorts of task and time management tools available. None will work unless you are committed to using it effectively. Personally, I am a real fan of a ‘to-do’ list where I can add notes. Simple, but it works for me.

Build strong relationships – the value will follow.

Focus on your customer, your relationship and delivering real benefit. Make sure you take into account your own needs too. A good relationship is mutually beneficial. Build a good relationship and the value will flow to everyone. The beneficial relationship is the objective. The value is the consequence.