ABC Guide to Doing More with WordPress

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So you’ve got a WordPress site. Maybe it’s for your business, maybe it’s for a client. You know your way around pages and posts, have played with all your settings, maybe even modified a theme or a child theme. But you want to do more with your site: maybe add some more complex functionality, maybe do something more interesting with your data, maybe just make it easier to manage. Below is an ABC list of favorite plugins, services, and tips that can help take your WordPress site to the next level.

This is by no means a comprehensive list (there are many, many more I would love to add), but these are all things we have used or been involved with, which have made a big impact on site functionality while saving us a lot of time in the process.

Advanced Custom Fields

This plugin is a huge personal favorite of mine for adding custom fields and meta boxes to your pages and posts. These fields are a much more intuitive alternative to the Shortcode Chaos that often comes with complex page layouts, by creating data that is both easy to enter (for the admin) and easy to sort (in the theme). Their documentation is extremely thorough, and I highly recommend this plugin and its extensions to anyone building custom client themes.


A premium backup solution for WordPress that lets you automate when, where, and how backups take place. You can send backups to multiple remote locations, only backup certain portions of your site at certain intervals, and even restore and migrate sites using this plugin. Plus, iThemes is a great company.

Canvas by WooThemes

If you’re looking to break into theme customization, but either aren’t quite ready to custom code everything, or want a bit of a styling head start (including built in styles for the Woo plugin suite), the Canvas theme by WooThemes contains the most extensible version of the WooFramework and is a great place to get started.


This is my personal secret weapon for local development that is optimized for WordPress. I can create local WordPress installations that come pre-loaded with all of the plugins and themes I want to use, import content from existing WordPress installations, or (my favorite) instantly deploy these websites to an existing live or staging site without having to do manual database migration! Huge time saver. And the people who run this company are great, placing high value on constant improvements and service.

Events Calendar, The

In my opinion, the best events management plugin out there, with great documentation for themers and users alike. Manage events, venues, and organizers and relate them all together in interesting ways. Also highly extensible, with premium add-ons that hook into other big-name plugins so that you can do things like sell tickets without having to use a third party service. There is a free version with lots of functionality, as well as a premium version if you need to do more.

Fluid Video Embeds

A minor plugin, but one that does something important: helps make native WordPress video embeds responsive without much extra work from you, the end user.

Gravity Forms

My favorite form plugin because of the many ways you can extend it. It can be anywhere from a simple contact form, to a multi-page conditional logic form, to a front-end content submission form, to an e-commerce integration form… the possibilities are endless. Lots of control for styling, great documentation, and integration with several third-party services is just the icing on the cake.

Hierarchy, Template

The WordPress template hierarchy is the driving force behind how WordPress delivers your theme content in a way that is extremely customizable depending on what is being displayed. This is the interactive version of my Template Hierarchy graphic I created earlier this year.


One of many services out there that allows you to manage multiple WordPress installs from a single dashboard. Very useful for people that build WordPress sites for a living and have to maintain multiple client sites.


Love it or hate it (I have grown to love it), Jetpack brings a bunch of dynamic functionality to your self-hosted site. I particularly enjoy their site stats, comments, and sharing integrations.

Kitchen Sink (TinyMCE)

The TinyMCE “Kitchen Sink” is the name for the area in the visual editor that lets you control inline content styles. This area is extensible if you want to create custom styles for your clients.

Loop, The

Where the magic happens. The Loop is what enables WordPress to deliver post content. Many functions within WordPress only work within The Loop, so if you’re going to start working with custom themes be sure to get familiar with this core concept.


A favorite plugin of mine that updates the WordPress admin dashboard with a modern, flat aesthetic that is easier to read and has a better hierarchy of information. This plugin is slated to be included in WordPress 3.8 core, due out later this year.

News Sites

If you’re as much of a WordPress fan as I am, you’ll want to stay up to date on the latest WordPress news. Check out sites like,,, WPLift, and WPTavern so that you’ll always be informed and in the know. I have severla in my Feedly reader for daily browsing.

Options Framework

Building a theme for a client or for sale and need to include theme options? Using the Options Framework will save you the effort of having to build an options panel from scratch, and will also gracefully degrade to your default options if the panel is not enabled.


Not only does WordPress have an active news media, but we have an active television and audio media, providing commentary, news, editorializing, and instruction in WordPress. If you want to learn more, or just want to have a great time, I highly recommend adding a few of these to your regular schedule.

Query (WP_Query)

Want to display your posts in a more complex way than the standard WordPress Loop? WP_Query can be used to create custom loops that enable you to use your content in more dynamic or exciting ways.


There are plenty of plugins out there that will allow you to register custom post types without having to touch any code. However, I think that this is a great starting point for people that want to start learning to write their own mini-plugins for WordPress (you’re not adding functionality to your theme, right?) because it is so easy to do!


It wouldn’t be my blog if I couldn’t promote a personal project! I’m involved with 3themes, a collaboration designed to create best-practice, developer-friendly commercial themes, and Sassquatch is our custom Sass mixin library designed to support these themes. Go check it out if you’re interested in working with Sass!


Sometimes, you still need to use tables on a website for laying out information, and TablePress makes it extremely easy to do so.

Underscores (_s)

If your theming skills are more advanced than Canvas, I recommend giving Underscores, spelled _s, a try. This basic starter/skeleton theme gives you a best-practice place to start from when building a theme, without the added baggage of dozens of styles and excess functionality you don’t need.

Video Thumbnails

Another minor plugin that does exactly what it says: automatically generate thumbnails for your embedded videos to be used as the feature image of a post. This simple thing is extremely useful for a website that needs to archive a lot of videos (like ours).


The granddaddy of all WordPress e-commerce plugins, WooCommerce is comprehensive, extensible, and has a lot of community support. Integrates with almost any theme, and many themes (especially WooThemes) come with built in styling support for it.

XML sitemaps

A simple plugin to create an XML sitemap for your site. The WordPress SEO plugin (below) also comes with this functionality, which enables search engines to better understand the content on your site.

Yoast WordPress SEO

The benchmark plugin for SEO, this gives you granular control over how your content displays to peole using search engines, and lets you analyze your content to make sure you are using best practices. Yoast has several extensions for WordPress SEO for specialized items like video and e-commerce.


Want to do even more with WordPress? Check out the Zapier integrations that let WordPress interact with many third-party services!

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One Response to “ABC Guide to Doing More with WordPress”

  1. November 15, 2013: Weekly Roundup of Web Design and Development Resources

    […] The ABC Guide to WordPress: My friend Michelle Schulp shares some of her favorite plugins, services and tips to make your WordPress site stand out. Glad to see one of my favorites, BackupBuddy, made her list. […]