How I Rebuilt Kolakube With These 21 Awesome WordPress Plugins

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.

The Essentials

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

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?

Gravity Forms

Gravity Forms for WordPressWithout 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.

Yoast SEO

Yoast SEOAnother 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

Easy Digital DownloadsWhat 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.
bbPress

bbPressWith 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.

User Switching

A quick maintenance tool, User Switching allows me to login into any account, which makes assisting customers with confusion about their accounts much easier.

Searching Kolakube

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:

SearchWP

SearchWPIt 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!

27 comments add yours

  1. Glad to see the Kolakube blog back in business Alex! Always loved your writing style and this list of plugins is awesome

    I’m currently experimenting with iThemes Exchange Plugin for the simple fact that their Stripe add-on is FREE, whereas everyone else charges $49-$79 for it. That’s it.

    Exchange is an awesome plugin, and easy to use, but for what I’m trying to do (sell an eBook) I really, really, really, really, really would rather use EDD since I feel like it’s lighter, plus Pippin is that bol !!

    Have you ever sold an eBook or have a recommendation for a plugin that would make it easier?

    Great stuff as always man!

    • It feels great to write again! I have so many ideas for posts, this blog will be busy. I appreciate you stopping by man.

      I’ve released an eBook for free, but never sold one. It seems like you’re on the right track with Exchange, though. I can’t see it not being able to handle eBooks, so roll with it dude. Free is great!

      I saw the cover on Twitter, and thought it was badass btw. Psyched to see it out!

  2. Great write up. As you already know, I’m a huge fan of wrapping all of my major site components into one as well. It all started with Easy Digital Downloads and just grew from there.

    I haven’t used Gravity Forms before but Norcross swears by it. I’ve been saying that I will give it a try soon. If I heard correctly, you can create surveys with it. If that’s true, I’m definitely using it on my next project.

    • It’s always been a goal of mine to have a setup like this. Anything else just gets messy.

      I’m with him, it’s pretty great! I haven’t really dug into it for anything other than my contact form, but I’m pretty sure you can create any kind of form, even email signup forms.

      Clearly, I didn’t read a word of the sales copy when I bought it lol.

  3. Hi Alex. Thanks for sharing this list and I’m really looking forward to checking out EDD. Quick question: I noticed you didn’t mention a commenting plugin. Are you going to add that in the future?

    Is this the default WP commenting system you’re using right now?

    Thanks,
    Brendan

    • Hey Brendan,

      Thanks for the comment! You’ll love EDD, the things you can do with it are pretty much endless.

      Yes, the comments you see here are WordPress’ native comments. I’m not a fan of third party comment systems like for the fact that I can’t control them, and they can be sluggish.

  4. Alex – Thanks for posting this. I’ve been looking for a search plugin, so I will definitely try WPSearch. I *really* appreciate you sharing what’s working for you in your business!

  5. Thanks so much for sharing all of this Alex!
    You mention IP.Nexus and Invision Power Board at the beginning, but then later you go into detail about Easy Digital Downloads and bbPress. So which is it? Or are you using all four, but for specific tasks? If so, why? Because I noticed that IP.Nexus also offers customer support forums.

    Thanks for letting me squeeze some more information out of you.

    • Hey Nathan,

      I mentioned IPB and Nexus because those were the systems I used to use here. The point of this article was to show the different plugins and tools I used to rebuild the site, since the old way just wasn’t ideal. Sorry if that came across unclear!

  6. Hey Alex how are you?

    I recently saw you comment on SearchWP on Twitter and how much you liked it. Seeing how highly you had spoken of it in passing with Chris and the developer I decided that I would go by your recommendation and I ended up buying it as I have been looking for a customizable search solution for my website for some time now.

    One question though please, seeing how I really do not know much about WP Search function other than it’s inadequate, I was wondering, when I do customize this thing and deploy the search functionality on my website does it make a difference if I use the WordPress native Search or the Thesis Custom Widget?

    What did you use and what are your thoughts on this question please?

    Thank you Alex.

    Cam

    • Hey Cam,

      Thanks for stopping by! That’s cool you ended up getting SearchWP. It’s been great here so far.

      Basically, SearchWP takes control of default WordPress search by itself. So, you don’t have to do anything for it to work, once it’s done indexing your site.

      The default search widget in WordPress will show SearchWP results. I’ve got to assume the Thesis search widget uses WordPress’ search results as well, so that should be fine too.

      The only time you’ll have to do anything differently is when you add an additional search engine, and only want to search a specific post type. That, and more about how SearchWP handles search is talked about in their outstanding documentation area. Check it out.

  7. Dude, I’m sorry! You know I got so wrapped up in asking you about SearchWP I forgot to mention to you how much I like the site redesign.

    The site looks fantastic Alex and I’m digging the purple too actually! : D

    While I am asking, so you really think that highly of buddy Press hey? Can’t say that I really know much about it other than I have seen people talking about it and using it for years now.

    I liked that IP Board you were using prior from an aesthetic stand point (it seemed real nice) you are actually liking bbp better than that huh?

    You know, I don’t think I seen you write an article in quite a long while now Alex and was pleasantly surprised when I popped in and saw some fresh meat.

    Anyway, the joint looks really good man!

    Cam

    • Haha, no worries! I’ll take compliments anyway I can get them. 😀

      I really appreciate the kind words about the design. I’ve been spending a ton of time refining everything I can, and am happy with it so far. Still a lot of work to be done.

      I haven’t really looked at BuddyPress, but I may find a use for it for my support forums one of these days. I love social networking, and would really like to bring some of that functionality here to Kolakube.

      IP.Board is great, and part of me still wishes I had it. But, nothing integrated with it the way I wanted, and I simply didn’t want to do it myself.

      Now I’m on bbPress, and I’m slowly rebuilding the features I want into my forums. It’s a lot of fun, and I’m really glad I chose this route, even though it means more work down the road.

      I have tons of articles planned here, I just need to get back into the routine! I have a couple in mind for this week, stay tuned!

  8. Thanks for the update Alex.

    I am thinking of using WordPress SEO but have been cautious as to differing opinions on how to make it work with Thesis. I am currnetly using MD# and Thesis.

    How did you make it WordPress SEO work?

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