If you’re a regular around Kolakube, you’ve probably noticed a lot of changes throughout the site lately. And I’m talking more than the release of my new WordPress theme.
For the past month or so, I’ve been rebuilding the Kolakube website. Every major part has been overhauled, and it all now runs 100% on WordPress, which is a HUGE deal since I had a few other pieces of software deeply integrated into the site. Running my business has never been simpler.
I’m really fortunate that a platform like WordPress exists, and has such an active ecosystem of *genius* developers creating software for it. You can truly use WordPress to build any kind of website you want.
So I want to show you the plugins I used to build a site like Kolakube, with hopes that you can find new tools that you can use to improve your own website.
What I Started With…
As I mentioned, Kolakube is now 100% on WordPress. Before I started the rebuild, I relied on two other pieces of software to run things. Naturally, things got messy, and certain parts of the site became a burden to maintain.
Here’s how I used to run Kolakube:
- Main site (blog, user’s guides, product pages): WordPress
- Support forums: Invision Power Board
- Shopping system: IP.Nexus (IP.Board addon)
- Affiliate program: Post Affiliate Pro
While I really like each software individually, it was a pain to maintain them all together. Since none of the software integrated with each other, everything always had to remain separate.
That means remembering different logins, learning how to use different interfaces, and other technical aspects that just were a pain in the ass to deal with.
In the grand scheme of things — it could’ve been much worse. But as somebody who strives for efficiency and convenience in everything I build on the web, maintaining a business like that was not ideal.
Plus, there’s no excuse to run a business like that when great tools like the ones below exist. Let’s get started.
You’ve probably seen the plugins listed below in other roundup posts like this. Before we get into the really good stuff, here are some plugins I use on Kolakube that I think every site can benefit from.
Akismet is pretty much the best way to protect your website from spam, and it comes installed in WordPress. How else would you do it?
Without a doubt, Gravity Forms is the best way to create forms on your site. I used it to create the contact page here on Kolakube, and I love it. Building forms in the WordPress backend is a delight, as is working with the many developer features.
Gravity Forms is a plugin that can be extended by purchasing addons, and I use the AWeber addon that comes included with the Business package they sell. This way, whenever people fill out my contact form, they can click a checkbox to join my mailing list. It’s a pretty sweet package.
W3 Total Cache
I don’t yet use this plugin to its full potential, since I haven’t gotten around to configuring the mountains of options, but I can say that W3 Total Cache is the best caching plugin out there.
They say it all:
W3 Total Cache improves the user experience of your site by increasing server performance, reducing the download times and providing transparent content delivery network (CDN) integration.
Another plugin I haven’t yet fully utilized (I’m not an SEO guy, so I’m not rushing) is Yoast’s WordPress SEO, and it’s just wonderful.
The interface is easy to use, and I trust a developer as smart as Joost de Valk is to handle all the SEO stuff I don’t want to ever think about.
The Business Side
Let’s dig into the fun stuff. I sell WordPress themes on Kolakube, so it was crucial to create the best shopping experience I could for my user’s.
Not only did I need a solid way to sell my products, but I needed a way to support them in an easy way for everyone — myself, my customers, and my support staff.
And to top it off, I needed to make sure that the software I used had great administrative tools like adding/removing purchases from accounts, income/sales reports, and detailed user history, amongst other things.
Picky, right? That’s how I felt, until I found the plugins below:
Easy Digital Downloads
What can I say about good ol’ Easy Digital Downloads? It’s my absolute favorite plugin around, and one I’ve spent the most time working with throughout the rebuilding process. And it was really fun to build with.
I’ve used a long line of eCommerce solutions here on Kolakube, and I haven’t found one as solid as EDD. And that’s before I added any extensions, of which there are tons of. The people who develop this plugin really understand how an online store should be built.
To avoid feature bloat, a lot of functionality has been packaged separately into buyable extensions. And when I hit the EDD store to look for extensions, it reminded me of what it was like to run through Toys “R” Us as a kid: I wanted freakin’ everything.
To further increase the functionality of my store, here are the extensions I use:
- Software Licensing: Generates license keys for user’s of my products to input into their site, which enables them to receive automatic updates when I release a new version of a product. I cannot live without this extension.
- Stripe Payment Gateway: Allows me to accept credit card payments using the epic Stripe gateway. Fun fact: this is the first time in Kolakube history you can buy something with a credit card. Thanks, EDD!
- Manual Purchases: This extension was very important to me, and allows me to manually add a product to any of my customer’s accounts. During my shopping system migration, I couldn’t restore users’ purchases, so they had to follow instructions to do it themselves, or contact me so I could manually do it. This convenient extension made my growing pains much less painful.
- AWeber Checkout: After a customer completes a purchase, this extension will automatically subscribe them to one of my email lists in AWeber. This is crucial, so I can email customers about updates, offers, new products, etc.
- Affiliates Pro Integration: I haven’t played with this much yet, but this extension adds a simple affiliate program to Kolakube.
With an epic shopping system in place, I had to make sure I could easily support customers who have bought my products. I’ve always loved forums, and have a long history using different forum software before I discovered WordPress.
So finding bbPress was like a match made in heaven. It’s a simple forum built as a plugin, and integrates right into WordPress. Finally, the forum software of my dreams!
Because of my background with forum software, I had a lot of expectations for what kinds of features I wanted. Some of which weren’t built in by default, but were easy to custom build thanks to the easy template system in bbPress.
The only additional plugin I’ve needed so far is one called bbPress Pencil Unread, which shows read/unread status of forums and topics in each respective listing. Of course, I tweaked it a bit to my liking.
A quick maintenance tool, User Switching allows me to login into any account, which makes assisting customers with confusion about their accounts much easier.
I’ll be honest, I’ve always taken search for granted. While I’ve always tried to make Kolakube as easy to navigate as possible, I never had any kind of search functionality.
And that was a big mistake I realized after relaunching, when user’s of my forums pointed out there was no way to search for older topics. I couldn’t believe how neglectful I’ve been of it, so I went out to solve it the best way I could.
And I think I came up with a pretty neat search engine. I’ll talk about it more in another post, but here’s the plugin I used to solve my searching woes:
It would’ve been easy to use the default search in WordPress and call it a day. But honestly, default WordPress search wouldn’t be very helpful on a site with as much information as Kolakube. So that idea was quickly dispersed.
I’ve heard nothing but great things about SearchWP from people I follow on Twitter, but never looked very far into it. It popped up again while I was searching around Google, and has quickly becoming one of my favorite plugins.
With SearchWP, I was able to fine tune the search results all around Kolakube. It was easy for me to create search forms that will only search a specific section/post type of Kolakube.
For example, if you fill out the search bar at the top of this post, you’ll only get results from the blog. You can then choose to search in other parts of Kolakube, or search the entire site.
This functionality is great, and is all native to WordPress… but the results are what set SearchWP apart. Simply put, SearchWP displays more relevant results than WordPress’ native search. I don’t even click around Kolakube anymore, I just search for everything and find it immediately.
SearchWP comes with a bunch of extensions too (notice a trend here?). Here’s what I use so far:
- bbPress Integration: Allows SearchWP to search bbPress
- Fuzzy Matches: Makes search queries a little more lenient, and accounts for spelling mistakes and a few other variables in a search
- Term Highlight: Highlights keyword(s) in search results
Wrapping It Up…
Here are a few other smaller plugins I use that add little features to Kolakube:
- BAW Login/Logout menu: Adds login/logout links into the WordPress Menu Editor. Allows you to choose where to reidrect a user after logging in/out.
- Disable New User Notifications: WordPress sends you an email each time a new user registers, this plugins stops all those emails from being sent
- Table of Contents Plus: This badass plugin automatically generates a table of contents based on headings in your posts. It’s great for long posts (like this post), or documentation articles
A lot of work went into the development of Kolakube, and I plan to write more about how I built the new site. Until then, I hope you can find a plugin from this list to use on your own site.
Have any plugins you just can’t live without? Go ahead and share some of your favorites by leaving a comment below!