Choosing a WordPress Plugin

Here at Stratagem, we’re big fans of WordPress for many reasons.  The developer-friendly ecosystem, the open source community, and especially the ready availability of thousands of plugins.  54,805 as of this writing!  That’s just in the WordPress plugin repository!  There are many more for-pay plugins as well! In this article, I’ll show you what to look for when choosing the right WordPress plugin.

Side note: What’s the difference between plugins in the WordPress repository and those outside of it?  Well, the plugins in the repository are much easier to add from within your WordPress installation. You’ll have to upload plugins that aren’t in the repository yourself, but that’s not hard!

We’re big fans of keeping as much extra functionality in our themes and hand-crafted plugins as possible, but there are a slew of plugins that can do a lot more than we can hope to do for a smaller site.  With well over 55,000 plugins available, how do you go about finding the one you’re looking for?

Search

Yep.  Google is your go-to solution for all web problems.  It typically does a better job than the WordPress search, and it’ll find the ones which don’t live in the WordPress repository as well.  The Contact Form is one of the most commonly requested features on client sites, with good reason. Without a way to convert a website visit into a contact, what’s the point of your site?

Let’s start with a basic search, “Wordpress plugin contact form”  What do we get?

Google search results for contact form

Holy clickbait Batman!  We’ve got some research to do.  The two that are actually WordPress plugin results are Contact Form 7, a long-time fan favorite, and Contact Form Builder, Contact Widget.  That’s a really long and awkward name!  Let’s take a look at these two:

Ratings

The quickest way to weed out a sub-par plugin is to take a quick glace at the ratings.  Here is Contact Form 7:

And here is Contact Form Builder:

Both of them are 4 1/2 stars.  I typically try to avoid anything below 4 stars, however, if a plugin is providing functionality you can’t find elsewhere, click on the word “1 star” to find out the reasons for the bad reviews.  Sometimes the plugins don’t provide what they claimed, but sometimes the plugin just works differently than expected.  Negative reviews are not always indicative of a bad plugin.

Plugin Information

WordPress plugins in the repository contain a lot of valuable information at the top right side of their page.  Here is Contact Form 7:

I’ve highlighted in pink the main area I’m looking for on this page.  And here is the same info for Contact Form Builder:

Contact Form Builder

And here’s their info together:

Information Contact Form 7 Contact Form Builder
Version: 5.0.1 1.4.4
Last updated: 1 month ago 3 weeks ago
Active installations: 5+ million 10,000+
Requires WordPress Version: 4.8 3.4.0
Tested up to: 4.9.5 4.9.5
Languages See all 46

What does that tell us?

Well, for the version, I’m generally looking for a plugin that’s been around awhile.  5.0.1 definitely sounds better than 1.4.4., but 1.4.4 isn’t disqualifying…anything that’s above 1.0.0 is worth looking at closer.

We want to make sure that the plugin has been updated regularly.  WordPress is the most popular publishing platform on the web, and with great popularity comes great security risks.  We want to make sure that our plugin hasn’t been abandoned, and that it doesn’t look like it will be. They’ve both been updated in the last month, which is great.  You generally want to be more wary when a plugin hasn’t been updated in, for example, a year. There are exceptions…some plugins barely interact with any of the new functionalities that WordPress have introduced, so they haven’t needed to be updated.  Without further information, though, more updated is better.

For the WordPress Version, you’ll want to make sure that your current WordPress version is supported.  (You are keeping your WordPress install up-to-date aren’t you? Definitely, do that!) Both of these are tested up to the most recent version of WordPress (4.9.5 as of this writing).  The fact that Contact Form Builder works with older versions of WordPress tells me that it may not take advantage of some of the newer functionality, but should work fine.

You’ll notice I skipped one row.  Active Installations. Contact Form 7 is an absolute monster here.  Over 5 million installs vs. 10,000 for Contact Form Builder. This is enough to push me into the Contact Form 7 camp for a few reasons.

5 million installs mean that there are a lot of security companies looking at the security of that plugin.
If security issues are found, they will most likely be patched quickly due to pressure from the 5 million strong user-base
If 5 million people are using it, there’s probably a good reason!

Support

Next, make sure to check out the Support for the plugin.  You can get an idea of how responsive the developers are, how many things are going wrong, and a general idea of the community’s opinion of the plugin.

Contact Form 7 has a lot more activity due to the higher user base.  This means that the developers have more work to do, but also they have more help from their user base.  Neither support forum concerns me.

At this point, I’m firmly in the Contact Form 7 camp.  I’m reassured that the large installation base will be helpful, that the plugin is supported, and that the plugin won’t drop off the face of the web.

As I’m in charge of a few hundred WordPress sites, I want to make doubly sure that I’m choosing correctly.  So, let’s google Contact Form 7 Security.  That does take me to a JetPack page called, “Is Contact Form 7 Safe?”  I’m a little concerned that there are insecure versions in the past, but, again, the developers seem to keep everything up to date.  So, at this point, I would choose Contact Form 7.

Twist Ending

You actually made it this far?  Congratulations!

From this article, I hope that you take the general philosophy of choosing a plugin.  The goal here was not to show the best Contact Form plugin, but the process I go through to evaluate plugins.

In a real-world scenario, I would have read several of those “Top X WordPress Contact Form Plugin” pages, and done more searching on my own.  For the free plugins, I would have installed them on a development version of WordPress to see how the plugin interacts with my theme.

After having done that, and because many of my sites require many forms, not just a contact form, I actually use Gravity Forms which wasn’t even on the first page of Google.  It turns out because Gravity Forms does so many other things, it’s overkill for a contact form, but great if you need more customized forms that interact with other technologies.

That being said, if you just need a simple contact form, Contact Form 7 is the way to go!  If you’d like more information, please Contact Us!

Creating a beautiful display from JSON business data

We were approached by a client interested in crafting a beautiful display from their JSON business data.  Starlight rents, returns and hauls dumpsters.   They had an application which showed how many dumpsters were out, how many they had access to, and how many hauls were pending.   They wanted that information to be displayed in real-time on a TV monitor in their operations center.

The client created a JSON feed showing the current inventory.  Stratagem Creative wrote custom code to consume that JSON feed, and formatted and styled the content.

Our client wanted to show this information on a widescreen TV monitor at their operations center.  We formatted the table so it would be easily readable on a large display.

Success breeds success

Our client was very happy with the result.  After some time, they found their employees wanted the display on their desktop PCs.  We had ensured that the site was responsive, so it easily adapted to the reduced real estate on the employee’s monitors.

The display got so much use, they wanted to provide the same functionality to their business partners, which had different dumpster sizes and locations.

We implemented login functionality so that different users would have different accounts.  Now they can log in and view personalized information pertaining directly to them!

Custom solutions to fit your needs

Our client ended up changing the way that they did business.  Now, they have the ability to view information about their current business operations, open in a browser all the time.  In addition, they have a birds-eye view of their data, available from anywhere in their operations center.  Even better, they have a product that they can offer their business partners and clients which make their business more appealing than the competition.

If you need help visualizing your data, and streamlining your operations, please contact us and see how we can work together.

 

Mood Boards: Why do I care?

You know what you want your website to say about you, “Professional, approachable and friendly.” But, what do those descriptors look like in colors, images and font style? The mood board is the perfect tool to help translate concept and feeling words into design elements. It’s your hopes, dreams, and wishes for your company’s web presence in pictures. And it’s definitely worth more than a thousand words. A mood board and the process that goes with it are key to avoiding costly missteps and frustrating losses.

How we facilitate collaboration with moodboards

To help direct mood board creation, our team first gets to know you, your goals for your company, and your goals for your website. This helps us stay on-track. We take that information and create an initial mood board concept. Many times, we create 1, 2 or 3 different mood boards, each with a different look or feel. Then we have a conversation with you. We say, “Here’s why we chose these looks, what do you think?” Then the fun begins – and it is fun! You get to say what you like or don’t like and why.

To help direct mood board creation, our team first gets to know you, your goals for your company, and your goals for your website. This helps us stay on-track. We take that information and create an initial mood board concept. Many times, we create 1, 2 or 3 different mood boards, each with a different look or feel. Then we have a conversation with you. We say, “Here’s why we chose these looks, what do you think?” Then the fun begins – and it is fun! You get to say what you like or don’t like and why.

Hopefully, one or more mood board will strike the tone you’re looking for. If not, perhaps some elements from each board will appeal to you. The point is you get to say what you like. And we go from there. All of this back and forth happens before time, money and energy are spent on building elements of a website so that you don’t end up with a site that doesn’t match your vision.

“OK, so I understand why it’s important, but how long will it take?”

“It depends,” is the short answer. Some projects take a day, some can take months. It depends on the scope of the project and your needs. Luckily, we will talk about all of this with you before we even get started.

In case you’re curious, here are some examples of mood boards created for other clients. Many times we work in Pinterest because of its ease-of-use. But, for some projects, Pinterest might not be the best tool. For you, we will decide together what will work best.

Pinterest Landing Page

 

First Sample Moodboard Second Sample Moodboard