Themes and Plugins You’ll Find in My Toolkit

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Things in your toolkit, WordPress themes and plugins.

Have you decided on WordPress for your website but have become overwhelmed by the amount of themes and plugins available?

The beauty of WordPress is the number of developers who have created themes and plugin, some free and some not. Themes are a great way to get started on the design and plugins help you add much-needed functionality especially if you're a non-designer.

But choosing the correct combination is oftentimes stressful when you're not in the trenches every day. And you need to decide if free can work or should you invest in premium.

My process, like many other designers, is streamlined with a starter stack or preferred themes and plugin that make up my toolkit. Will these be right for you? I hope so which is why I'm pulling back the curtain and showing you.

Fair warning – this article includes affiliate links which I may earn money from should you use them to purchase. But I only recommend them because I use them regularly.

responsive WordPress theme
When choosing a theme, make it responsive because that is a must.

WordPress Themes

According to Codex a theme is “a collection of files that work together to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a weblog.” WordPress itself comes with a default theme which is free to everyone. But I've found two different options that I use with every website I build.

For my more tech-savvy and custom sites, I use the Genesis framework from StudioPress. I find these themes are easy to use and configure out of the box. Genesis provides a search-engine-optimized foundation and runs pretty fast due to its clean code.

But I love BeaverBuilder (see must use plugins) to create more owner updatable (aka you can easily update) and the Astra theme is built to be more page builder friendly. So that is my choice for sites that don't need custom bells and whistles and will be maintained by the business owner.

While Genesis is a paid theme, Astra is free for the basic theme with a premium add-on that extends design choice functionality.

WordPress Plugins

WordPress plugins are bits of software that can be uploaded to extend and expand the functionality of your WordPress site. Having plugins in my toolkit saves me time since I'm not reinventing the wheel every time I build a website.

WordPress plugin to extend functionality.
Trusted WordPress plugins can be found in the official repository

Must Use Plugins

My ultimate must-use plugin is Beaver Builder, which is a drag and drop page builder with tons of options that allow me to create layouts of all kinds. In addition to the modules for the design, they also include modules that extend functionality like opt-in forms, buttons, tabs, and video embeds. While I prefer Beaver Builder, its competitor Elementor is a wonderful option too.

On top of a great looking site, every site needs a form or forms to collect information. I prefer Gravity Forms which is a premium plugin but well worth the money. Gravity Forms also has add-ons so you can sync your forms with your email marketing program, collect payments and create a quiz or survey.

If you want to help your site in the getting found arena, you should be adding Schema, which is a markup that allows search engines to figure out what your site is all about. I've found that the makers of Astra Theme also have an easy to use schema plugin aptly names Schema Pro.

Speaking of getting found I bounce between two SEO plugins: SEOPress and RankMath. I've used Yoast too but I've found the load speed is a tad slower and they don't have the bells and whistles of the others without paying the annual fee.

I do have to say that SEO plugins don't directly improve SEO, and regardless of which plugin you use, SEO optimization plugins are a tool to make your site search engine-friendly by guiding and pointing out what is missing from the page. They don't do the work for you and as my SEO mentor Brendon Hufford says “it's like having a post-it note to remind you of what to add”.

Moving on to security, Shield it for me because they literally cover all the bases of helping you secure your site from login to comments to file monitoring. And they don't kick false positives like other security monitoring plugins.

Caching is another must-have and some hosts now include caching with their packages. But my go to is WPRocket because there is minimal configuration with immediate results. Plus for some hosts (like Flywheel) they are the only caching plugin officially supported,

And finally, Better Search and Replace is my favorite for correcting URLS like when you add SSL onto your site and need to change the permalinks form http to https. I also use Better Search and Replace to find temporary URLs that may be created when building a site on staging or development servers.

Optional Plugins

I mentioned above that Beaver Builder is my favorite page builder plugin and it's companion UABB, Ultimate Beaver Builder which has custom modules, rows and templates to help create even more beautiful and functional sites.

Google Analytics is a must for tracking because one, it's free and two, you need to know about your traffic. There are many plugins that will pull the data into your WordPress dashboard like Monster Insights or Google Analytics Dashboard for WP by ExactMetrics. I personally don't use either and instead add the code to my theme and look at the reports online.

Social sharing is another must for bloggers who want to extend their reach on their posts. My favorite is Sassy Social Share because they don't use cookies and is GDPR compliant.

Talk about extending reach, I'm a fan of content upgrades and unintrusive pop-ups which is why I use ConvertPro for these functions on my website. It's drag-and-drop and pretty simple to use and it supports fast loading.

And finally, if images are your thing or you're obsessed with speed like I am, Imagify is the perfect solution for optimizing your images.

more tools for your digital space.
Other tools help with creating a perfect digital space.

Other Tools

As always, there are tools I recommend that don't fall into the themes and plugin category but will help you with your digital presence.

  • Email marketingMailchimp is what I use after switching from ActiveCampaign. Both are great programs but I did not need all the bells and whistle of ActiveCampaign. And if you're a DIYer or semi-techie then MailChimp would be easier to set up and use.
  • Spelling and grammar correctness are a must for your website which is why I use Grammarly to provide an extra set of eyes when creating posts and pages.
  • Email – Most use their host for setting up email accounts but what if your server goes down or (*gasp*) gets hacked? You have no way to get your email messages and that's the number one reason I use GSuite for my business email addresses.
  • Local Development – I'm going to get a little nerdy for a minute and talk about creating a website on my computer which is how I start many of my projects. I've found that Local by Flywheel is a perfect option because it's easy to use and with the click of an option sharable to my clients.

It doesn't matter what tools you use, but it's great to have a starter kit or tools of reliable options to use to create your WordPress website. Most of the above tools mentions have been in my toolbox a good while, which says a lot about sustainability.

I'm always finding new and different tools and resources which can be found on my resources page. How about you – what are some of your must have tools?

Themes and plugins to use on your WordPress website.
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Adding Protection To WordPress For A Secure Website

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Are you worried that your site will get hacked or overtaken by questionable characters?

WordPress powers 14.7% of the top 100 websites in the world because of its popularity has become a target for spammers and hackers.

You want to protect your investment in both WordPress and your site, so it's critical that you block these hackers and lock down your site for peace of mind.

There are many plugins out there that will do this job for you but choosing the right one is a decision most don't want to have to make. That's why I'm introducing you to my favorite security plugin Shield Security (WordPress Simple Firewall)  from One Dollar Plugin. Don't let the name through you off because this super slick plugin is brought to you by the same behind iContolWP.

Shield is the easiest security plugin to set up with a step-by-step wizard that walks you through the configuration. And it gives you a dashboard that tells you the things you need to address.

And there are no false positives that other security plugins tend to report, which for someone who doesn't work intimately with WordPress can send you into a panic.

Securing Your Website Has Never Been Easier

Here are some of the protection that Shield provides:

  • Beautiful, Easy-To-Use Guided Wizards – help you configure Shield and run scans like a Pro
  • Limit Login Attempts / Block Automatic Brute-Force Bots – all automatically
  • Powerful Core File Scanners – automatically detects malicious file changes and hacks you’d never see
  • Automatic IP Black List – no need for you to manage IPs!
  • 2-Factor Authentication – including Google Authenticator and Email
  • Block 100% Automated Comments SPAM
  • Audit Trail & User Activity Logging
  • Firewall
  • Security Admin Users
  • Automatic Updates Control
  • and much, much more

When it comes to securing your website install Shield (free or pro), set up the sections and site back worry free as the magic of website protection happens, and you don't have to lift another finger while Shield does all the work for you.

Using the free version is an easy way to start with no additional money spent, but we recommend the Pro for a small investment of $12/year (we add this for you in all our maintenance packages). The Pro version gives you added protection especially if you're looking for protection for your WooCommerce customers (incl. Easy Digital Downloads & BuddyPress).

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Five Free Commercial Font Sites You Need To Know

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Five Free Commercial Font Sites .

Fonts can certainly give your website personality and flair, but it’s important to realize that all fonts available on the internet are not web-friendly or free of charge. Commercial font sites are favorites of web and graphic designers for their client projects to add visual flair to their creations.

There is a difference between a font and typeface with typeface being a set of letters, numbers, and other symbols or the overall look of the characters. The collection itself is what is considered the font. So essentially the typeface is the design collection, and the font is the digital file.

And some free fonts in the typeface collection are good for personal use only meaning you can’t use on your website. Let's find some free commercial font sites that you can add to your resource list.

Note to self: Like images, typeface follows copyright rules. You can't use a font free of charge if it's copyrighted or on your website if the license doesn't apply.

Google Fonts

Google fonts are a popular choice for many since they come with the code you need to display them. Another reason they are popular is Google fonts takes care of hosting and licensing so you know you can use any of the fonts on your website, computer or in your commercial products.

And the revamped search function allows you to find the perfect font by category, language, thickness, slant, and width. They also have a feature that lets you change the background so that you can see the contract in addition to style.

What we like best: Google makes it easy to use the fonts by providing a hosted web version that you can place directly onto your website.

Creative Market

If you are not familiar with Creative Market it’s an online marketplace for independent creatives. Creative Market usually charges a small fee but their weekly freebie section contains at least one free font. The limited-time period freebie does come with a commercial license and is an excellent way to build up your font library.

What we like best: You clearly understand the use of the font and other terms of the font

Hungry JPEG

Like Creative Market, Hungry JPEG is a marketplace for designers and crafters that offer design resources at affordable prices. The fonts on HungryJPEG are not free but inexpensive and like Creative Market they have a weekly freebie that comes with a commercial license, the same as will all paid products. Also, they have an extensive freebie area that applies commercial license use.

What we like best: The recommended fonts you may like allow for variation without a steep price tag.


Another favorite commercial font sites we use regularly is Font Squirrel. FontSquirrel has taken the guesswork out of what is acceptable for use by selecting typefaces that are available for commercial purposes. They do recommend that you read the license because a designer may change their mind after FontSquirrel lists them.

For fonts acceptable on websites Fontsquirrel uses a row of symbols to indicate it is okay to embed on websites and digital products.

What we like best: It’s a well-designed site with easy to find symbols to show usage.


FontSpace boasts a collection of over 31,000 free fonts with lots of categories for the user-submitted fonts. The browse function allows you to easily find the style of font you may need for your website or next project but if you want the free for commercial use you need to add that to your search terms.

What we like best: Each font is clearly marked whether it is for commercial or personal use.

Bottom Line of Commercial Font Sites

If you are looking for the safest best go with Google Fonts first. But if you need fonts that are not so commonplace then try Creative Market and HungryJPEG. When adding fonts to your website remember that you want the body text to be easy to read so “every day” fonts that are popular are a safe bet. But when you're looking to add visual interest to images or call out words try the other sites for fonts that have more personality.

Remember to choose web ready fonts as part of your brand assets so that when visitors come to your site they see it as you intended and it is still on brand.

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Online Payment: Shopping Carts, Gateways and Merchant Accounts, Oh My!

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Online Payment: Shopping Carts, Gateways and Merchant Accounts, Oh My!.

4 Crucial Points You Need to Understand Before Choosing  the Right Online Payment System

E-Commerce is big business. Whether you're a small solo shop with a couple of ebooks or full on with tons of products, online stores are the way to go.

No matter the size, there’s one thing all online shops need – an online payment system. And, not all are created equal.

The Hubs is not a shopper, or, at least, he wasn’t. He hates getting in the car, fighting traffic, spending all that time in crowded stores and then having to take me for a meal, after all was said and done.

Then he learned about online shopping. He thought it was just awesome to be able to sit in the comfort of our home and get everything he needs while still watching sports.

You would think. But he stops short of actually completing the purchase. Why? Because he doesn’t understand all, that's involved in making the online payment.

I was telling a client, who is also a friend, about this and how it drives me crazy that I need be his checkout girl. She, too, confessed that the reason she hasn’t added her digital books to her website was because she didn’t understand the inner workings of an online shopping cart. They totally frustrate her.

Then it dawned on me; not everyone is so jazzed about the way the online payments work. At least, not enough to wade through all the boring, snoozefest information and instructions.

So let’s break it down.

What is a Payment Gateway?

A payment gateway is the online equivalent of the cash register at your favorite brick and mortar store. It connects you, the client, their credit card provider to your bank.

Your shopping cart software sends the card numbers to your payment gateway to authorize the purchase and process the payment. If the information submitted matches the information on file, then the charge is approved, and the gateway will transfer the money into your merchant account.

What is a Merchant Account?

This is the point of the process that people get confused because a payment gateway and merchant account are not one in the same. A merchant account is the most complicated of the two. It's an area that holds your money until it's transferred to your bank account. This can take anywhere from a couple of days to a week. In most cases, the money is automatically transferred from here to your bank account.

Many of you are familiar with Authorize is a merchant account that processes payments once they’re through the gateway.  Some services such as PayPal or Stripe have their own merchant account which is why they’re a little more expensive and easier to sign up. These types of services are known by the terms dedicated versus aggregate accounts.  Dedicated being just for you and aggregate is a pool of money to draw from.

What’s a Shopping Cart?

The beauty of WordPress is there are many options to add a shopping cart to your site. However, just like no two payment gateways are created equal, no two shopping carts are either. Some are easy to set up while others need lots of add-ons to make it function as you need it to.

Four Things to Look For and Understand Before You Choose:

To make the best choice for you, you need to know what to look for as far as terms, services, and fees.

Payment Types

You need to know what kinds of payments you’ll accept. Credit cards are the most popular type of payment, but there are others. Electronic checks are another option, but they do take longer to process. Then there’s gift cards. There are two choices there too: store-specific and those issued by a major player credit companies.

And let’s not forget PayPal, a popular (and recognized) choice of many.

Transaction Fees

There are no free options, so it is important that you know about the fee structure. Some gateways will keep a small percentage of the sale while others will be a flat fee. Sometimes it’s both. It’s best to start with anticipated sales and compare fees based on that number.

Be sure that you check to see if there are any additional fees such as set-up or monthly subscription fees. And watch out for additional gateway costs.

Hosted Accounts

Several gateways will take you to their own server to complete the cart process. This means that the customer is taken to a page on their site and uses their form to checkout. Then they are redirected to a confirmation or thank you page.

Because of PCI compliance rules, hosted payments are popular since the host is responsible for maintaining and keeping your customers’ information safe. Without a hosted site, you’d need at the very least an SSL certificate and dedicated hosting that will add fees starting at $10 per month to your website hosting costs.

Several hosted gateways now allow you to “slurp” your site — which is a fancy way to say mimic the look so that customers don’t get confused when being sent away from your site to the host for payment.

Shopping Cart Integration

When choosing a gateway be sure to check that it can be easily added or integrated with your cart of choice.

The popular options such as PayPal or Stripe are included in many of today’s WordPress shopping cart plugins. Stand alones such as 1ShoppingCart or 2CheckOut are not. You don’t want to be stuck paying additional fees for a plug-in you can’t make work or pay a programmer to customize your cart.

The Final Stop

Having worked with many e-commerce stores, most don’t need their own dedicated merchant account It’s simply not worth the length of time and trouble to get everything approved and set-up. Unless you’re consistently doing high volumes of sales each month (e.g., > $5,000), an aggregate service like Paypal or Stripe will be just fine.

My suggestion for credit card processing is Stripe. There is no monthly fee with Stripe and like PayPal, they have a fee structure of 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.

With an easy online application, you can be up and running in about 15 minutes.

While some are not keen on PayPal, it is a great second option. Most shoppers are familiar with it and for those doing international transactions, it takes the guess work out of the currency conversion process.

Do you have an online store for your products and services? Got a question? Let’s start a discussion about what works, or doesn’t work for you.

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