The Elements of a WordPress Site

I’m open about the fact that I’m not a developer. I’m self-taught in HTML and CSS, and I know enough Javascript and PHP to be dangerous.

That’s why WordPress is perfect for a guy like me. I wouldn’t dare attempt to build this site from scratch. But I know enough programming that I can take a theme, toss in some effective plugins, and customize it to create a pretty nice website.

I started building this site a couple of months ago, and I’m thrilled with it. I’m constantly tweaking and refining, but it does everything I need it to do.

I often have people ask me What theme do you use? or What plugin do you have that does this?. This isn’t proprietary. I have no problem telling you what I did. Let’s break it down…

The Theme

I use the Shell Lite theme by ThemeID. It’s a theme meant for commercial use, so it’s not necessarily the right option for your typical blogger. But it’s perfect for me. It allows me to customize a front page as the entry point instead of sending people directly to the blog. And I love the design.

I’ve also created a child theme to allow me to further customize how it looks and feels. I’ve definitely gotten my hands dirty with it, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot of fun discovering its potential in the future.

My one complaint is that the home page makes it difficult for mobile use. I haven’t yet found a mobile theme that works with a theme like this. But I’ll keep looking.

The Plugins

The power of my website — and of WordPress in general — is the awesome enhancements you can make with plugins. It seems that any problem I’ve had can be solved with a plugin. Now, the one issue is that there are so many plugins that do the same thing — or something similar — that it’s often a chore finding the perfect solution.

There are a few that I’m not listing below, but here are the main plugins you can actually see at work on this site:

BlogRoll Widget with RSS Feeds: Just a little subtle plugin that I use to bring in the latest blog posts from my PastKast websites. You’ll see it on the right. I went through several RSS widgets before I found the one that worked the way I wanted.

Collapsing Archives: This is a widget that should be a staple on WordPress, but isn’t. Once again, you see it working to the right. It allows you to customize whether a single month or all months are expanded or not.

CSS & JavaScript Toolbox: For the most part, if I want to update CSS I just go to the master CSS file. But if I want to include JavaScript in a post, I can’t enter it into an editor. I need a plugin, and that’s where this one comes into play. I use it most for my Facebook iFrames (when I don’t use the Facebook Tab Manager), adding templated JavaScript to those pages to set width, overflow, no scrollbars, etc.

DirtySuds – Embed PDF: I use this plugin to embed my résumé on this page.

Disqus Comment System: I can’t even tell you how long I’ve searched for the right commenting system for other sites. It looks nice. It works well. People seem to love commenting on it. I haven’t received a single message of spam. It’s awesome.

Facebook Tab Manager: This is a great solution for anyone wanting to create iFrames for their Facebook page. It creates a template that is ready-made for Facebook, setting width and removing scrollbars. I found this plugin after I had already created my own template, otherwise this would be one of my favorites.

Gravity Forms: Every place you see a form on this site, it’s a Gravity Form. Hey, let’s just throw one right here…

[gravityform id=”5″ name=”Show the love!”]

I haven’t even begun to realize the power of this plugin. Highly customizable, create many different types of forms, send responders, get stats on conversions, and so much other stuff I don’t even know how to use yet.

Kalin’s Post List: This is another plugin that I use for a very isolated purpose, but I haven’t even begun to explore its full awesomeness. I needed a solution to display recent posts by tag or category, allowing me to customize how many items are shown and in a particular format. The big one is that I needed to embed this information on the home page as well as on individual posts. This plugin does the job. You’ll see it at work on the home page, on this page and on this Facebook iFrame.

nrelate flyout

This is the nrelate Flyout plugin

nrelate Flyout: Every once in a while, I’ll find a plugin that seems way too professional and expensive looking to be free. This is one of them. When you get to the bottom of this post (or any post), a little animation flies out telling you about another similar post you should read. I get a lot of questions about what this one is.

PRO Player: I’m actually using two different video players right now, and this is one of them. The beauty of PRO Player is that it allows you to embed a YouTube playlist with PHP on the home page. There are dozens of other video gallery plugins, but most only offer the ability to add galleries to posts with a shortcode. Those that offer the additional flexibility often cost money. Not this one.

My only complaint is that the option to pull in a YouTube playlist isn’t currently functional. I have to provide the link to each individual video. But I’ve been in contact with the developer, and he’s working on a fix.

Random Text: If you go to the bottom of the home page, you’ll see some recommendations from people I’ve worked with. If you refresh the page, you’ll see recommendations from other people. It’s a simple little plugin that solved a problem.

Prince Fielder Bowling Ball Celebration


Shadowbox JS: When you click on a photo anywhere in this site, it’ll bring up a slick overlay to view the full size. That’s Shadowbox in action. I love it, but it’s even more awesome if you have some high def photography. My site is pretty light on the awesome imagery.

Here’s an example. Click on the thumbnail of the Prince Fielder celebration on the right.

Share and Follow: I found this while working on my PastKast sites. Again, I had a hard time finding a sharing icon that I liked. This one does the trick. The size of the icons are customizable and you can pick and choose what icons appear. There’s also an option for icons to float on the side to follow you on social networks. That doesn’t seem to work on this theme, but you can see it in action on

Overall, it’s fantastic, but I still have a couple of complaints. The first is that the main Twitter button doesn’t work very well. I instruct it to bring up the title of the article in the tweet, but it does not. I have had no luck finding the solution to this as it seems that others don’t have the same problem. Instead, I’m forced to add a Twitter Tweet button at the bottom, but it just seems out of place.

The other issue is that they haven’t updated to include Google+ yet. Hopefully that’s coming.

TubePress: This is the other video gallery plugin that I just started using. You can see it in play on this Facebook iFrame. While it would make sense, for simplicity’s sake, to use only one video plugin for everything, I may stick with the two different options. I feel that each one is perfect for their specific job. I’d rather have the one I’m currently using on the iFrame, and it would take up too much space on my home page. So we’ll stick with both for now.

WordPress SEO: I’ve gone through hell with SEO plugins. None seem to work properly for me. But this one has done the job. It’s powerful, too, and actually helps me pick keywords and titles.

Work in Progress

This site is constantly evolving based on new needs I have, but the plugins I list above all come highly recommended. What are the WordPress plugins that you can’t live without?