Everyday Solutions – Ninja Forms

Published on Jun 10, 2014   //  Business Topics, Reviews, Web Development, WordPress

This is BlueFur’s blog series: Everyday Solutions! This series focuses on quick and easy solutions for common problems experienced by website owners.

For the average person, building a contact form can be difficult. 15 years ago when finding a talented web developer was far more difficult, building a form from scratch often involved using Microsoft FrontPage or Macromedia Dreamweaver’s built-in tools. If you were not fortunate enough to have a functioning WYSIWYG editor on-hand, you were stuck with Notepad and reading several tutorials trying to slap together what you wanted.

Ah, 1997. But we digress…

With how far things have come since that time, many people still have trouble with forms. And that’s okay! You’re a business owner. Or a graphic designer. Or a stay-at-home mom. You’re not a web developer, and you would much rather focus your time on great content, not on coding. If you use WordPress to power your website, you are in luck.

There is a wealth of contact form plugins out there, the most popular being Contact Form 7, Formstack, Gravity Forms, and Fast Secure Contact Form. Well there is a new kid on the block that’s making waves, and it is well worth a look.

Ninja Forms is slick. Really slick. It has a drag and drop editor to help you place your fields exactly where you want them, reusable fields, the ability to import/export both forms and data, and the ability to add custom styling.

That’s all well and good, but where most contact form plugins fall short for us is during the form creation process. Often things look out of place, the interface has a very high learning curve, and your form elements don’t actually end up where you want them to go. Ninja Forms’ interface makes that all disappear by being very clear about what does what, how to place fields where you want them, and providing all the extras like data validation, hidden fields, and file uploads.

As well as making it easy to build your form, the preview function is far, far easier to use than any other. With every other contact form plugin we have used we are always told to insert the shortcode into a page and then preview the page. Not so with Ninja Forms! There is a handy “Form Preview” link that will actually open the form in a new tab/window in your browser, no embedding necessary.

Beyond all that. it features integrations with many popular services like PayPal, MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, and Freshbooks. It’s a very handy tool that goes beyond simple contact forms. Try Ninja Forms out for yourself and let us know what you think in the comments!

Everyday Solutions – Social Media Feather

Published on Jan 30, 2014   //  Did You Know, Marketing Tips, Social Media, WordPress

Welcome to BlueFur’s blog series: Everyday Solutions! This series focuses on quick and easy solutions for common problems experienced by website owners.

Whether you’re designing your first website, or redesigning your existing website, you have likely come to the realization that you need to make sure you take advantage of the exposure that social networks can give you, and want to make it extremely easy for your visitors to tweet, Like, +1, upvote, or share your content. You also understand that it’s important to make sure your visitors know where to find your brand on social networks. So what do you do?

Social Media Feather is a plugin that integrates with any WordPress theme to make it super easy for customers to follow your brand, while also giving them the tools to share your content with their networks. Some of the key features include:

  • Support for all the most popular social networks in Canada
  • Multiple skins available so that it feels like a natural part of your website
  • Support for high resolution displays, like Apple’s Retina technology
  • Full control over which social networks are enabled

With a quick copy and paste of a shortcode, you have enabled social sharing on your website. And you can easily show which social networks you’re on with a widget containing the logos of each, with links directly to your profile.

It doesn’t get much easier than that, especially if you’re using a WordPress theme that doesn’t include any social media features. There are other, similar plugins available, but we find Social Media Feather the easiest to use for website owners that need both the sharing and profile awareness pieces of this puzzle.

Plugins That Make WordPress Security Easy

Published on Dec 20, 2013   //  Reviews, Security, WordPress

WordPress is one the most widely used pieces of software on the web, making it a huge target for attackers regardless of their intentions. The great thing is that, being so widely used and respected, WordPress also benefits from a large community of supporters that develop plugins to enhance its functionality.

One area that benefits from this fervor is security. Multiple services and plugins exist to help you lock down your WordPress site, making it far more difficult to attackers to gain access to it. Today we’re going to take a look at two leading security plugins: WordFence and Better WP Security.

 

WordFence

The story of how WordFence got its start was new to us, but the reason is one we know well. The creator, Mark Maunder, is the person responsible for discovering a massive security hole in what was a very popular thumbnail plugin called TimThumb. He patched it, donated the code back to TimThumb, and then set about building his own security plugin to protect his WordPress-based website after it was exploited via TimThumb.

WordFence’s name is very appropriate; it effectively puts up a virtual fence around your WordPress site. We feel some of the most important features include:

  • Scans of WordPress, theme files, and plugins
  • Real-time views of hacking traffic
  • Blocking fake search engine crawlers
  • Tracking IP address to their source
  • Scans for backdoors
  • Blocking brute-force attacks

WordFence also offers a premium version of their plugin for $39 per year, which is likely worth the cost if you run a popular website. The premium version offers more frequent scans, two-factor authentication, and country blocking which can be highly useful for locally-focused websites.

 

Better WP Security

Better WP Security has been developed by multiple people, but development is now led by Chris Wiegman at iThemes. It attempts to take WordPress security best practices and package them all into a single plugin, which has led to features like:

  • Removing or obscuring information about your WordPress install
  • Removing the default “admin” account
  • Vulnerability scans and fixes
  • Banning bots and malicious agents
  • Forcing SSL
  • Monitoring the file system for changes

While the goals are the same, WordFence and Better WP Security do not overlap entirely. For example, Better WP Security helps prevent many potential vulnerabilities from becoming problems, even for unpatched WordPress installations, by obscuring information like the version of WordPress being used, which plugins and versions are installed, and changing several defaults to make it harder for attackers to even figure out what exploit to take advantage of. This helps deter attackers in the first place, and they will typically move on to an easier target.

WordFence, on the other hand, has a mix of proactive and reactive measures. It will block known bots, brute force attacks, scan your WordPress site for vulnerabilities and backdoors, and it takes advantage of machine learning capabilities to automatically block new types of attacks. The real-time view of attackers and crawlers could be a boon for those of you looking to identify a resource hog.

Regardless, both plugins are very good at what they do and will protect the average WordPress site extremely well. If you feel it’s worth the money, WordFence Premium is your best bet for features like country blocking, two-factor authentication, and remote scans. If you’re on a budget, install either plugin and get it configured. Regardless, in this day and age you must be taking advantage of the free, easily accessible security measures available to you.

Everyday Solutions – Disqus

Published on Nov 20, 2013   //  Business Topics, Did You Know, Discussion, Marketing Tips, Social Media, WordPress

Welcome to BlueFur’s new blog series: Everyday Solutions! This monthly series will focus on quick and easy solutions for common problems experienced by website owners.

Whether you have a personal or corporate blog, there are two things that really matter: engagement and spam.

One is something you want to increase (engagement), and the other is something no one wants (spam). While many content management systems (CMS) come with a built-in comments feature, or built-in spam reduction capabilities, no CMS includes the measures to achieve the right balance of high engagement with low (or no) spam.

The solution to this problem is actually authenticated comments. Your visitors still have the opportunity to use pseudonyms, which many people value, but those hoping to boost their own profile get a very easy way to authenticate themselves and use their real names.

What is this magical tool that can help solve your conundrum? None other than Disqus.

Disqus solves the issues above by doing a few things:

  • Allowing your visitors to register for their own Disqus account, which is also usable on thousands of popular sites like Bloomberg, the London Free Press, and MobileSyrup.
  • Allow your visitors to comment using their Facebook, Google+, or Twitter account which makes it much easier for them to engage, instead of registering for an account only for your website.
  • Disqus lets users choose a pseudonym, allowing them to comment while also protecting their identity, thus increasing engagement.
  • To cut down on spam, you can require visitors to log in to an account of some kind, whether it’s a Disqus, Facebook, Google+, or Twitter account. This means spambots have no way to access your website’s default commenting system, almost entirely eliminating spam as a potential issue.

We won’t talk about them here, but Disqus also gives you ways to monetize your content, promote your content, and automatically adapts its discussion system for mobile devices. You want your visitors to easily interact with your site no matter where they are, don’t you?

One great thing about Disqus is that they offer a slew of integration options, including native plugins for popular content management systems and platforms like Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress. Disqus can also update the comments in real-time, allowing discussions to flow fluidly, which can increase the amount of time people spend on your website.

There are other, similar solutions to Disqus, which we’ll take a look at another time. For now, just know that the default commenting systems can easily be replaced with something far more dynamic that can solve some real issues your for blog!

WordPress Wednesday: Slick Contact Forms

Published on Sep 28, 2011   //  WordPress

Whether you run a blog as part of a bigger business or your blog stands on its own, it’s important that you have an ability to reach out to your audience and they have an ability to reach right back to you. The comment section is one way to do that, but not all communication is intended to be public. That’s why contact forms are so useful.

There are many different contact form plugins available for WordPress, but most require you to create a separate page for the contact form. That’s not the case with the Slick Contact Forms plugin. Instead, it uses jQuery and AJAX so the contact form can be rendered on any page. There is no page refresh needed.

The contact form can simply float or drop down as a tab. If you prefer, it can aslo be a sticky, slide-out tab. In any case, the contact form can be placed as a widget at all kinds of places around the web and includes three text input fields, as well as a text intro. To fight spam, it uses a “honeypot” mechanism with a blank input field hidden to users but visible to spambots. This is more streamlined that a Captcha-style system.

Learn more about the Slick Contact Forms WordPress plugin on Design Chemical, which is the site of the people responsible for the plugin. Screenshots, installation instructions, a live demo, shortcode information, and the free download link can all be accessed from that page.

WordPress Wednesday: Auto Read More Generator

Published on Sep 21, 2011   //  WordPress

There are many different ways that you can go about displaying your blog. Some people like to have the full text visible right from the main page and main archive, much like what you see here on the BlueFur blog. However, for blogs with longer posts, this may not be as appropriate.

Depending on the theme that you are using, there may already be an automatic function to create excerpts, but this may not be the case. That’s why something like the Auto Read More Generator plugin can be so simple and so useful.

It serves a single function. For every post that you publish, it will automatically insert a “read more…” link after the first image and first paragraph. If there is no image, then the “read more…” link will be placed after the first paragraph. This creates the excerpt and streamlines the main page.

You can find the Auto Read More Generator through the WordPress Plugin Directory as normal. And also as normal, this plugin is available as a free download too.

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