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WordPress Intermediate: Themes, Shortcodes, and Plugins

Last week, I shared with you some tips on getting started with building your own Web Portfolio using WordPress. I mentioned during that article that there were many different themes and plugins to give your portfolio that added flare. This week, I’m going to go into more depth about the possibilities of extending WordPress.

Themes

Building the perfect web portfolio starts with selecting a theme that is going to fit your brand, give you the flexibility you need, and provide several options for displaying your content. There are hundreds of free themes in WordPress, but if you get serious about building a web portfolio, you may want to consider purchasing a premium theme. Premium themes tend to have greater flexibility, and offer more advanced features and higher quality design. If you are particularly tech savvy, you may also consider developing your own theme. There are many online resources for developing your own theme if you are interested, but my purpose today is to get you going quickly and simply, so here are a handful of theme developers worth considering.

  • Woo Themes. Woo is a big name in the WordPress themes field. They produce high quality themes and their themes often have powerful features, reducing the need for plugins.
  • Mojo Themes. Mojo has a plethora of theme designs. While not always as fancy as the Woo Themes, Mojo provides the same quality in their design and has a larger collection. Be careful though, not all themes from Mojo are for WordPress. They also provide site templates and Joomla themes.
  • GraphPaperPress. I am a fan of the simple, minimalist designs of this developer. They strip many of the busy aspects of other theme developers while still focusing on good design.
  • Elegant Themes. Another provide of simple themes, Elegant Themes has a variety of versatile, yet not too busy theme designs.
  • Premium WordPress. Unlike the others, PremiumWP is not a developer, but a shared space for many premium theme developers. You can learn about other developers and keep up on new themes here.

When exploring these various places for a theme that fits your needs, there are several things worth considering.

Responsive Design

Today’s web surfer is more likely to be exploring the web from a mobile device than from a computer. You never know when people are going to click on the link to your web portfolio, so it’s a good idea to be prepared for users coming from a mobile platform. It used to be that meant having two websites—one designed for a smart phone and one designed for a computer—but the world is no longer that simple. The rise of tablets and netbooks and the price drops in large external monitors leaves a range of screen sizes that could be visiting your site. Thus the rise of the responsive or fluid design. These websites wisely rearrange themselves as a browser window gets smaller or larger.

The blog you are reading right now is built with a response design, so give it a test. If you’re on a laptop, desktop, or notebook, grab the corner of the browser and watch how the site adjusts as you increase or decrease the size of the window. If you’re on a tablet or smartphone, rotate the screen and watch how the content adjusts as the width of your viewing space changes. If you happen to have access to a large screen, take a look at one of the fully flexible pages on this site, such as the photo galleries.

Interface

To make things more complicated, a small mouse-based netbook could have a lower resolution screen than a high-resolution iPad. So as you look at designs, here are some things to think about:

  • Small, tightly packed links can be hard to hit for those chubby fingers on tablets.
  • Avoid mouseover effects for displaying content as these often do not work at all on tablets.
  • If you do use mouseover effects to display content, be sure to have a way for tablet users to access that same content.
  • Avoid long scrolling pages of content. This can be very difficult for a smartphone user to navigate.
  • Don’t make users scroll in multiple directions. Generally, try to keep scrolling to the vertical orientation only.

Page Layout

The point of buying a theme is to put a professional and aesthetic face to your site. A portfolio with a list of links to your best works does not draw a view in. You want to have a plethora of tools and resources at your disposal so that you can display your portfolio artifacts in a variety of ways. Here are a few page types you may find in WordPress templates:

  • Image and video galleries
  • Full width page
  • Page with sidebar
  • Portfolio (grid of filterable thumbnails that link to portfolio artifacts)
  • Blog
  • Contact Form
  • eCommerce (an online store)

Installing A Premium Theme

This video will show you how to install a premium theme to your WordPress site.

Shortcodes

Another form of page layout control within both free and premium themes are shortcodes. Shortcodes allow you to insert specific layout features within a page. They add the ability to format text on the page. Some shortcodes you may find in themes include:
  • Columns
  • Block Quotes
  • Pull Quotes
  • Headings
  • Drop Caps
  • Tabs and Toggles
  • Buttons
  • Lists
  • Icons
Obviously, premium themes are prone to have a larger selection of shortcodes in them, but there are free themes that have a plethora of shortcodes as well. The video below will give you an introduction to how to use shortcodes.

Plugins

A well-developed theme will often fill the majority of your layout needs for your web portfolio, however, there will come a time when there is something you want to do that your theme doesn’t cover. This is where plugins come in. Plugins can offer you additional features and tools that your theme cannot. Plugins can extend WordPress to fit almost any of your webpage needs. If you are looking for a specific plugin, WordPress.org is a great place to start. Here are just a few features plugins can add to your website:

  • Add a photo gallery to organize photos
  • Add a lightbox to display images and videos
  • Add an image slider to your website
  • Extend the features of pages, posts, widgets, and the media library
  • Pull feeds from other sites and social networks
  • Add a comment system like Disqus or LiveFyre
  • Fine tune content to boost SEO
  • And much, much more

Each plugin will function differently, so be sure to check the the plugin documentation for how it works.

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