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Technical Penguins: Recommended plugins for WordPress, plus apps and services. A Skee-Ball game in an old-fashioned arcade is pictured, with holes for 1,000, 2,000, and higher numbers of points visible.
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Recommended Plugins, Services and Applications

Executive Summary

When it comes to doing things on your computer, there are seemingly infinite ways to skin the proverbial digital cat. (Note: Don’t skin cats.) It can be difficult to discern which is the best offering in a given category, or what features actually differentiate two given products. (Hint: Sometimes, it’s just the name.) The following is a list of applications, services and recommended plugins for WordPress that cover some everyday uses. Note that we will not recommend a product we would not use ourselves; we either currently use or have used in the past absolutely all of these.

Details, Tips, Recommendations & Takeaways

Computer software, phone apps and websites are gradually being converted a services model. This means that you end up paying a monthly fee for things that used to be a (larger) one-time fee or, as used to be the case on the internet, nothing at all.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, this transition is actually largely beneficial to the average consumer. If you can’t tell how a given product or service is making money from you, it’s probably either a) selling information about you, or b) not making money, in which case it likely will not continue to be a going concern. A service-based model provides both a steady revenue stream for the creators of the product as well as a direct financial incentive for them to keep you happy.

For everything you use, you should either be willing to pay for it, or have several alternative options to perform the same function on standby (and not be sad if you lost what was already in there).

Note: Some of the items on this list use affiliate links. We stand by every one of these products, and as mentioned above currently use or have in the past used all of them.

Web Hosting

You can get a website hosted at any price point from free up to thousands of dollars per month. For the reasons mentioned above, we do not recommend using free hosting for anything you care about — if your website/service/app is worthwhile to you, you should be paying someone to take care of it. But you don’t have to break the bank.

SiteGround is one of our favorite webhosts. It’s solid, dependable, and comes with excellent technical support. They also keep everything easy to manage in their backend, which is not always the case with some hosts. It’s a little more expensive than some cut-rate providers after the trial period expires (starts at $3.95 for the trial period, then goes up to $9.95; or our favorite, $5.95, up to $14.95, for multiple websites), but they’re very fast, we’ve never had downtime issues with them, and they’re very responsive to questions.

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Interserver is the other webhost we tend to recommend, and is what we currently use. The price can’t be beat — a flat $5 per month for shared hosting or $6 per month for VPS (with an introductory rate of 1 cent for the first month), it’s certainly in the realm of affordability. They’ve been dependable and fairly fast, and one shared hosting account currently powers at least seven different of our sites we have running. They are pretty quick to respond to support questions, though it really helps if you know exactly what you’re asking as English is not the first language of most of the support engineers we’ve spoken to. They have, however, been very knowledgeable and always gotten our problems solved. Basically, we recommend SiteGround if you’re more of a novice, and Interserver if you’re more advanced (or have a handy Support Penguin who can help manage your site).

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Email/Cloud Storage

Do not run your business email through your hosting provider. We cannot stress this enough. Also, do not use your Comcast email account and definitely don’t use an account that was given to you by your employer or school. Your primary business email should be a single point of contact that is not dependent on your cable or telephone provider. This is why email typically fails the “free” test — most people cannot afford the lose the emails, contact list or the address already attached to their accounts.

Note that our email recommendations double as our cloud storage recommendations, because it comes bundled with. (Seriously, don’t get the Microsoft email-only $5-per-month plan. The Google $5-per-month plan comes with 30GB of cloud storage.)

If you absolutely cannot afford to pay for email, use a (professionally named) free GMail account.

Google Apps for Business should be your primary option for business email. You can set it up with your domain so you can have a yourname@yourdomain.com email, accessible through Gmail, as well as access to all of Google’s other services (Docs, Drive, etc.), including 30GB of cloud storage. At $5 a month, it’s a great price for the service you get, and it creates a business relationship, which means it’s not just going to go away suddenly with no warning. For $10 a month, you get 1 TB of cloud storage. If you’re interested in Google Apps for Business, contact us and we can get you a coupon code for 20 percent off your first year.

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Microsoft Office 365 for Business is the other option we recommend, though really only if you’re a) locked into Microsoft in every other way, or b) also need a subscription to Microsoft Office. They have an email-only plan at $5 per month per user (same as Gmail), and at that price point we recommend Google. If, however, you need Microsoft Word and PowerPoint and all that, you might want to consider the $12.50 Business Premium plan, which gets you the email, 1 TB of cloud storage and the ability to install the Office Suite.

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Mass Email Sending

MailPoet is a fantastic WordPress plugin that allows you create custom newsletters/email alerts from the content you publish, and can be used to send any other kind of email message you want as well. It’s pretty extensible, and makes allowances for things custom post types or RSS feed embedding. (Use case: We had an RSS feed from the events calendar that we fed into the regular newsletter that featured the latest posts.) It’s got a free version or a premium one, and the premium one comes with an email sending service as well. We heartily recommend against sending email directly from your server, as it’s likely to end up in spam or not getting sent. MailPoet’s sending is free if you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers. If you have more (or want detailed stats and emails), their premium plan is only $10 per month.

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SendGrid is an alternative to MailPoet’s sending service — for $9.95 a month, you can send up to 40,000 emails. We’ve never had a problem with them, and all of our emails get sent much faster than the old method we were using. We recommend SendGrid for our enterprise customers — when you have large lists and lots of volume (and aren’t using a different end-to-end transactional email options like MailChimp). Otherwise, stick with MailPoet.

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Aweber is our recommendation if you don’t use WordPress and need an email-management service, or if you have a list you want to manage outside WordPress (for security or other reasons). Joan used it for a list of more than 20,000 people for a contract job for several years and never had any trouble. While it’s easier for us to manage things inside WordPress using MailPoet, Aweber is absolutely a great option.

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Analytics/QA

SiteImprove is one of the best tools we've ever used for managing a website's content and analytics. If yo

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Technical Penguins is a full-service digital shop. We offer content, development, design and other internet services. Have a project you’re thinking about pursuing, but need a little help? Get in touch!

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