The Lesser Known Tools We Use For WordPress Development

We’ve spent the better part of the last 5 years using some iteration of these tools every day, learning their strengths, weaknesses, and why sometimes it’s better to design things or code things yourself instead of relying on a pre-built tool. We primarily work with WordPress, so we’ll be focusing on some of the tools we use to make WordPress sites, including some of the more development-heavy tools and plugins we use.

If you use WordPress but you’re not a developer, you’ll still find that these tools can help you on your own sites. They don’t all require coding and many of them can extend the functionality of your WordPress websites, as well as make them more secure from hackers.

If you want to try any of the stuff we’re pimping, click on the links and try them out for yourself. (Full disclosure: we likely used a referral code in them.) We did our best to not include the obvious tools that everyone uses like Adobe Creative Suite and Sketch cause that would just be stupid, and you wouldn’t read our post then.


WordPress Tools

Coda Plugins
Is it possible to get WordPress contextual help in my code editor?

Yes it is possible to get WordPress functions auto-completed in your editor. At COVERT NINE, we use either Coda or Sublime Text as our editors of choice. If you’re someone who uses Coda like this dinosaur (me), then you’ll definitely benefit from having WordPress, ACF, + jQuery modes installed for helping with contextual information, proper code highlighting, and auto-complete for most of the WordPress, ACF, and jQuery functions.

If you have to remember a million other things when doing development, you may as well make it a little easier on yourself when viewing code and writing code by adding some of these simple utilities to Coda that’ll make your life way easier.

Regex101
REgular expressions are really hard. This makes them a little easier.

While it’s generally a good idea to find a non-regex solution to a problem if you can, sometimes it’s just the quickest way to target an element on a page or scrape content from an old website. You can also enhance the search-replaces in your editor of choice, which should support regex pattern-matching.

What are regular expressions? That’s part of a much longer conversation, but we’ve found this video with penguins and catchy music does a better job of explaining them.

Local by Flywheel
Making local WordPress development incredibly easy

Cue the, “Back in my day we had to compile PHP and MySQL from scratch on a WINDOWS machine just to get a local dev environment setup!!” types of old-timer comments–not anymore with Local By Flywheel. Local by Flywheel sets up a local development environment in seconds so you can start learning how to change your old WordPress shortcodes to Gutenberg JS blocks in no time!

Shoutout to Jeremy Josey who we saw speak at Wordcamp Chicago for showing us this.

Create Guten Block
Is there a dev tool for creating blocks in the new gutenberg editor?

Yes! And it works really well for local development. If you’re interested in learning how to create blocks for the new WordPress editing experience that’s still in beta, then you’ll definitely want to install and begin using this tool for creating Gutenberg blocks. We’ve been working with this tool for the past several weeks as we prepare for the upcoming release of the new WP Editor, and this tool has made learning Javascript, React, Webpack, and all the other elements required for developing with the new blocks API much more easy to setup and configure–especially for a React.js n00b like myself.

Important note

This plugin seems to only work on local development and not when you instal it on a remote server so make sure you’re using Local by Flywheel or MAMP in tandem with the Create Guten Block Tool.

WordPress Plugins

Query Monitor
Is there a plugin that helps with troubleshooting JS/PHP errors with WordPress?

Unless you’re someone who can easily memorize entire classes of information that you probably only use once a week or month in development, then you’ll likely need some help debugging your queries to the database in WordPress. The Query Monitor plugin makes it a lot easier to debug custom queries (i.e., using the global $wpdb object). If you’re not careful, you can end up writing queries that take exponentially longer to run as you add parameters. This plugin gives you useful metrics on all database queries being run.

WP Migrate DB
How can I keep a development site, production site & their media libraries in sync?

If you’ve ever wondered how to keep two versions of the same site in sync, then WP Migrate DB is exactly what you’re looking for. It can change out links and paths in bulk when you migrate, and it even migrates images and media missing from your media library. Overall, this plugin has saved us a ton of time in both moving websites from one server to another, as well as being able to keep development sites in sync between development and production websites. We use the pro version of the plugin as it does have significantly more features.

This comes from the same guys who make WP Offload, a plugin that helps offload your media library to Amazon Web Services or elsewhere.

For Non-developerswhy would you have two different versions of the same site?

If you’re working on a ‘live’ website that’s publicly accessible and in the Google Search results, then you run the risk of potentially breaking the site or publishing content that is not ready for public viewing yet–this is why we use a copy of a production website, called a development site, so we can make code changes, and content changes to pages, posts, and other portions of a WordPress site as we’re testing or adding new features.

Doing this on a test environment, or a development environment, keeps it hidden from public view until you’re ready to publish so you can make code changes, copy edits, swap out graphics, or make formatting changes to posts and are still able to see what it would look like in the various browser window sizes you need to.

Advanced Custom Fields

We use Advanced Custom Fields Pro extensively in our client work to extend the custom fields functionality with WordPress, and to give it an easy-to-use interface for creating field groups associated with specific post templates, pages, post formats, and custom posts.

Gravity Forms
We need a better form to take payments + utilize our CRM software

We’ve worked with just about every form plugin, and just in the past year or two have finally started using Gravity Forms almost exclusively for all of our client websites who uses WordPress because of its ease of use, extensions, and payment plugins. We haven’t looked back since. While there are always a few quirks with their CSS to get it looking like the rest of your theme, the forms plugin itself integrates with a wide range of payment processors and other services.

Even if you’re just using forms for simple contacts from your website, you should still be using something like Gravity Forms for a number of reasons, and for us it really boils down to:

  • Spam protection
  • Handling of file uploads (for PDF attachments for instance)
  • Emailing notifications to multiple users
  • Storing entries on your server
  • Ability to export entries to CRM software like Salesforce.com
  • Integration with Zapier so you can store entries on Google Sheets + a million other places
  • Handling payments with a variety of payment processors

Anti-Malware Security and Brute-Force Firewall
Scan and clean malware from your hacked website

It’s a good idea to have some sort of malware scanning installed on your site, and there are plenty of options out there for WordPress security, but we’ve used this plugin for years now to help clean out malware, and to perform deep scans of site files for malware. This works in tandem with our own home-grown malware scanner that runs on our servers automatically at all times.

Most of the malware issues can be avoided with proper WordPress permissions, but there’s still the occasional malware that can show up from time to time. This malware scanner takes care of cleaning that out and quarantining the infected files.

Cloudflare
Our site crashes from traffic and needs more security

We’ve been using Cloudflare for 4 years and we’ve never had to look for another CDN service. Cloudflare takes over DNS management, and allows sites to install a WordPress Plugin that integrates directly with the CloudFlare CDN/DNS management service. This way your site will serve up cached pages and will never crash from spikes in traffic.

CloudFlare also adds an additional layer of security as your site is distributed across the web. The CloudFlare WordPress plugin also allows users to clear their Cloudflare cache automatically or manually from the settings page. We install this plugin on just about every single client site we build.

Github Updater
How do we update plugins that come from github and not wordpress.org?

If you’ve ever developed a custom plugin or theme, and want to have your websites look in a GitHub repo instead of only on WordPress.org, then this script will come in handy. As long as you use semantic version numbers (v1.x.x) and GitHub-specific repo information in your plugin or stylesheet, the GitHub updater plugin will look in the GitHub repo and push a notification to update it in the WordPress backend so you can update your custom plugins and themes at the same time you update your other plugin software.

SSH SFTP Support
How do we offer sFTP upload support for WordPress Media Library on our secured server?

If you’re as familiar with WordPress Security as we are, then you’ll know that you can make your server that much more secure by having sFTP upload support instead of just regular old FTP. This plugin asks for your sFTP credentials and then saves them so you can update plugins and files securely on your WordPress backend. You can learn more about WordPress’ SSH/sFTP on Hardening WordPress.

SEO Framework
The only seo plugin you’ll ever need

As much as we’d love to recommend some of the more popular SEO plugins, this plugin gives you exactly what you need, and is simple, fast, secure, and rarely requires much maintenance and updates. Most importantly, it generates the SEO sitemap, fills in all the key meta information for social sharing, page titles, and descriptions so you can set it once and then never worry about it again. We’ve also never gotten any security alerts from this plugin being hacked, making all the more valuable for users.

Primarily, we chose this plugin because it doesn’t have all of the confusing SEO metrics such as “focus keywords” that really have very little baring on your PageRank score with Google. Plugins that try to dictate your brand voice, word count, or try to steer you in the direction of jamming keywords in headings, titles, and in page content are giving you bad advice because Google has relied less and less on keywords to rank search results. Google has, over time, reduced their reliance on keywords as an indicator for relevance in search results. Ever since 2013 when Google released codename “Hummingbird,” Google takes into account many different page factors such as users’ intent when searching, as well as the page content and links to and from that content as their main indicators for what is on the page–not how many times you jammed the word “SEO SERVICES” into your page content.

“Hummingbird” places greater emphasis on natural language queries, considering context and meaning over individual keywords.

Wikipedia entry for Hummingbird

When your clients are constantly thinking about their SEO and how they rank in search, you want to make sure they’re focusing on the quality of the content, and whether or not it is on brand and original content with links, not that it has the same stupid words embedded in page content, titles, and headings so you sound like some sort of Russian bot wrote your website copy.

That’s it for now–stay tuned for our next tools-based post in 2019!