Free Site Monitoring – Pingdom

In the past few weeks I’ve had a couple of questions regarding website monitoring, my first choice used to be “AlertFox” as you could go much deeper than just pinging the web server and script actions for the site to follow.

However they’ve[AlertFox] gone to a completely chargeable structure , even though they offer 30 days free, $49 a month is too much for most and I’ve found and cruically used a free alternative.


While they offer the ability to have both Basic accounts at $10 a month and Business accounts at $40, there is a free option (that i use) that allows you to monitor just one site and you can register here (its below the two paid options)

Setting it up is exceptionally easy and I was 50/50 – delighted/concerned when I started getting notifications the other morning to let me know that this site was down.

Here is a screen shot of some of the emails I received:

Pingdom Email AlertObviously I could now go and find out what was up with the host and it turned out one of the switches in the BlueSquare data-centre had died, fair enough, it happens and a data-centre across the road from them had the same issue last year, give them an hour or so and they’d have it sorted and they did.

Top marks to Evo-Hosting by the way, they were already on the ball and as soon as I started looking, they had already communicated the issue and were harassing the data-centre.


I also just received the monthly report for this site a screen shot is below. They also have reporting on their website, but to be frankly honest I don’t care, up or down, thats all I care about.



I like free, I know you do too. While not as powerful as the paid options and that found with AlterFox, this works, as I’ve shown above and its free!

While the free account is “basic” it works and for less than 5 minutes work, it was a set-and-forget action.

Stop - Take Action!Have you set yours up yet?
Go here its free!

Part 2: My Top 20 Free WordPress Plugins (And Why)

One of the huge reasons for WordPress being the number one CMS, besides it being free & there being countless development resources available for it, is because there are thousands of plugins & extensions for WordPress. Some are free, some are paid for.

I’ve been through hundreds of plugins, I’ve found really useless ones and I’ve found fabtastic ones. Its some of these “fabtastic” ones I’m going to share with you in the rest of the this article and I think they might be useful for you too.

Oh and all the plugins I mention here, they’re ALL free.

#1 AVH Extended Categories Widgets

This plugin isn’t for everyone, 99% you need not even look at this one (great start eh?). It enables you to control the WP categories and group them together and show them as groups for specific pages.

Its not used on this site, however I’ve used it on much larger scale sites where content needs to be broken down by category and sub categories. This plugin allows you to group them up and show a side widget that is dedicated to that “group” of categories.

If you have a deep category structure that goes past 2 levels, then this plugin may help you show categories that are specific to the category root.

To make this a little more visual, imagine you have this category structure:

  • Top Category 1
    • Sub Category 1-1
      • Sub-Sub Category 1-1-1
      • Sub-Sub Category 1-1-2
      • Sub-Sub Category 1-1-3
    • Sub Category 1-2
      • Sub-Sub Category 1-2-1
      • Sub-Sub Category 1-2-2
      • Sub-Sub Category 1-2-2
    • Sub Category 1-3
      • Sub-Sub Category 1-3-1
      • Sub-Sub Category 1-3-2
      • Sub-Sub Category 1-3-3
  • Top Category 2
    • Sub Category 2-1
    • Sub Category 2-2
    • Sub Category 2-3

Its quite likely that the content that is in “Sub Category 1-1” is very different to the content found in “Sub Category 1-2“, think “WordPress” and “Book Reviews” for these and the sub categories for each are apt sub versions of “WordPress” like “plugins“, “tips & tricks” & “How to Guides“, where as the “Book Reviews” category is broken up into sub categories based upon genre.

This plugin allows you to show just the categories that are below the main category, so the users that are viewing the “WordPress” content, get a sidebar navigation for the “WordPress” related categories and the users viewing the “Book Reviews” content, are shown the categories that are related to that. Oh and categories can in live in multiple category groups to give maximum flexibility.

Like I said, unless you have massive amounts of content in a complex category structure, 99% of you can ignore this plugin. However when you do have deep categories, this plugin can help users unravel the mess. I hope the colours helped!

#2 Broken Link Checker

broken-link-checker-1I only found this one a few weeks back, amazingly it only found 15 broken links, of which 8 were on purpose (two old articles that used ‘keywords’ in the links). However the remaining links were all dead.

A nice touch to this plugin is that it’ll show them on your dashboard, although there is no cron option and I disabled the update every hour option as that’s a bit excessive

#3 Contact Form 7

I tried about 5 different contact form plugins, this was by far the best of them all.

Exceptionally flexible, I’ve used this plugin on every WP site since.

This plugin is also directly linked to #4 Really Simple CAPTCHA which allows you to put a spam captcha option to the forms and if you look in the footer then you’ll see this in action.

#5 Custom Post Template

This plugin is brilliant, but was a complete ‘mare’ to get right as there were no examples with the plugin.

In short it allows you to make extra post and page templates. I use it for the super wide page layouts on this site and on other sites, I’ve got a couple of versions for different media types. You can see an example of the wide format in action here.

#6 Google Analyticator

Quickly and easily add your Google Analytic’s code to your WP site.

#7 Maintenance Mode

I just found this one on Saturday afternoon, I wish I had know about this months ago. Allows to lock your site down to specific users and display a maintenance page along with a counter. Simple, but very, very useful.

#8 Newsletter Sign-Up

You’ll find this on the right of most of the pages & “thanks” to Rob Cubbon for forking me on this from one of his articles I read.

This plugin makes the integration of newsletter subscriptions childs-play and works with custom providers and the major ones like MailChimp, iContact, AWeber, PHPList and so on.

#9 Sharebar

See the funny bar on the left, where you are about to press the Google +1 button to? That’s sharebar. Its actually missing the +1 button for Google by default, but its pretty easy to add it in.

BTW Did you press the +1 button?
Thank you!

#10 Shortcode Generator

Really handy for pre-making content. The short codes it makes are a bit long, but none-the-less exceptionally useful. Saves me/you hijacking the functions.php file and borking the sites like I have been known to do on occasion.

#11 Subscribe to Comments

Look at the comments form at bottom, notice the check box?
Enter a comment saying how fab this article is and check the tick box.

#12 W3 Total Cache

The traffic I get here warrants the use of such a plugin. In short this makes the site load faster. Users typically see a 50% increase in page load times from just activating this plugin, let-alone tweaking it.

I prefer this one as I can set up custom CDN’s and have spent a large amount of time focused on ensuring that this site loads fast. There are a lot of options, the defaults will be fine for most blogs.

#13 WordPress SEO by Yoast

I used to use “All in One SEO”, until I read Yoast’s damming (yet fair) report on it and moved to this version. Very comprehensive and more features than what used before, really one of those set-and-forget plugins

#14 WP-Syntax

This is really handy for “code”. If you’re posting blocks of code in your articles, then this plugin is pretty neat.

It uses the PRE tag and adds styling options, a big tip for this option is to always edit your posts/pages that have “code” examples or snippets in them, as HTML only, the WP editor will each these for breakfast.

#15 Capability Manager

One of my pet-hates with WP is its user control, this plugin helps manage the poor user access control and adds the level needed when working with staff, editors and content writers.

A big tip for using this is to create your own and test it with a sample account to ensure it behaves as you expect!

#16 JavaScript to Footer

This is simplest of them all, install and activate. Thats it. No config options, it just pushes all the JS files to the footer and makes the site load faster, as the JavaScript is the last to load, allowing the rest of the site to render first.

#17 Ozh’ Admin Drop Down Menu

This is another personal dislike of WP solved in one plugin.

The left hand menu takes up too much room. This plugin solves this by putting the entire menu system along the top, allowing for more writing space. Which considering the point of most WP sites is to create content, has to be a good thing.

#18 TinyMCE Advanced

I tried a few that were supposed to change the editor, this one actually works and allows you to alter the layout of the HTML editor option in the page/post creation pages.

You can get rid of the options you never use and organise the ones that you do need and use in a layout that makes sense to you. Dab-handy!

#19 Yoast Breadcrumbs

The breadcrumbs at the top of this article are powered by this, so easy to add and on some themes will auto-insert.

Worth noting that this is actually included in the earlier plugin from Yoast.

#20 WP Security Scan

General paranoia is advised when working with any open code platform, this plugin helps cover the obvious. It has a few neat features like a backup option and the provides the ability to change the table prefixes on the database used for the WP site.


WordPress is free and the vast majority of plugins that you’ll ever need are also free.

These are my top 20 free WordPress plugins, I do use a few paid-for plugins, I have had plugins coded for me and I have also created my own for highly specific uses.

Stop - Take Action!I’m wondering if you have a favourite WP plugin I’ve not mentioned here?
If so let me know in the comments below.

My #2 Pet Hate of Poor WebSite Design – Blog Navigation

Following on from early article on My #1 Pet Hate of Poor WebSite Design this one gets #2 place as it drives just as bonkers as the first one.

reverbnation-blogCan you see it yet?

The owners of this blog know the issue, they have tried to combat it.

Spotted it yet?

Blog Navigation

Yep, its the home link in the top left.

Firstly lets not diss this company, their rankings were quite high for the project I am working on, although not what I was looking for, my searches landed me in their blog. This is absolutely fantastic, this company has been leveraging the use of a company blog and just so happens they also have recently released their own iPhone app. Nice.

But what gets my goat is the navigation at the top, because the blog (wordpress) is not themed in-line with their main website, see main website and their blog so when I manually hacked the URL to remove the ‘blog.’ I was a little shocked to see their main website was nothing like their blog. But a common theme is not even my point here, just being able to readily navigate is.

The blog looks like Thesis (edit: doh, it says it in the footer), which is an extremely powerful template, so they have forked out +£100 for the theme, but completely (well mostly) failed to remember that browsing readers assume that the top left is the ‘reset button’.

Now this ‘reset button’ on this blog needs two uses, one to get the blog home and one to get to the website home. So….. Label them!


If you look closely at the image above or on their blog, you will notice that they are at least aware they have an issue transferring the browser back to their main site, they’ve added some text and a link to the right, but sadly, this is not where people look for navigation and the big fat ‘reset-get-me-back-home-again’ button.

Sooooo close, yet sooooo far.

Please stamp this in your head now

I’ll leave you with this godly statement, please carry it with you always:

Customers are idiots
Do not make an idiot to try to think
Its dangerous

Dealing with WordPress Spam Comments – Two Viable Solutions

Ignoring Askami from the conversion which will capture almost all comment spam, you may feel that there is little you can do to stop the wades of WordPress spam comments from being left.

Yes, you could add a captua to the comments box, there are several wordpress plugins that do this, but me being a geek prefer more server based options, here are two of my favourites both with the same effect.


.htaccess Redirects

This is the simpler of the two, I have used this for years for keeping banned players out our community websites, in the example below, I replacing it the site with, but it could readily be any site you want, is always a good one, I’ll leave the destination to your own selection.

If your hosting provider (or you have enabled htaccess in your Apache config, on by default), then this is a simple, but effective way of redirecting spammers:

RewriteCond %{REMOTE_ADDR} ^188\.143\.232\.39$
RewriteRule .* [R,L]

This adds a RewriteCond for the IP address and then using RewriteRule sends them to your chosen destination. Most amusing.

http.conf Edits

This is favoured when working in a development environment to keep a site only to specific IP addresses, but it easily works in reverse to keep out entire subnets. After a unfortunate experience with an Indian development company I needed to block four subnets, this worked wonderfully well.

order deny,allow
deny from
deny from 122.169

This works by selectively denying either specific IP addresses like in the first line or entire subnets.

If working in a development environment and say your IP was ‘’ then you could deny everyone else and allow yourself through using:

order deny,allow
deny from All
allow from


Yoast WordPress Breadcrumbs Plugin

Yoast.comTaking the advice from yesterdays post ‘Google SEO Starter Guide Updated’ on adding a breadcrumb to the sites theme, I remembered seeing a plugin from a few days back.

Installation was done in seconds, almost like every other WordPress plugin, unfortunately the auto insert option did not work, however within a few pastes in the files page.php, search.php and single.php it was in and working.

If you’re an avid blogger and the theme you are using does not come with breadcrumbs by default, this plugin was sooo easily added, even at code editor level, its worth adding and as a bonus its free. also has a collection of other plugins for WordPress, you can see them here.