My WordPress Setup, Plugins and Writing Tools

Inside mbp

“It’s best to have your tools with you. If you don’t, you’re apt to find something you didn’t expect and get discouraged.” ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

The best way for physicians (or anyone) to control their online voice is to create their own content, and the best way for this content to be published is to have their own blog.

I am often surprised at how few physicians have what I would consider a bare minimum online presence: a simple webpage with their name and contact information. At the very least, this is necessary to take your place among the numerous physician rating websites that will show up in a search for your name.

While this may appear at first to be a more technical post, I hope that curating tips I have found helpful on running WordPress will encourage others who may be reluctant to starting their own blog.

While there are certainly more simple blogging platforms available, such as Blogger, Tumblr, or Squarespace, I specifically use WordPress given the power and flexibility of the platform, much of which comes from your choice in the additional plugins that are used.

Two ways to run WordPress

  • Free from WordPress.com. There are a number of limitations to this, such as being given a domain name (e.g. yourblog.wordpress.com) and having ads (although you can upgrade to your own domain name and to get rid of ads). The biggest downside in my opinion are the restrictions on plugins.
  • Hosting the free software available at WordPress.org on your own domain. This is the more powerful way to run WordPress, and the one I suggest. The easiest way to do this is to chose a host that supports automatic installation of WordPress (I use Dreamhost, which has been great).

This comparison chart between WordPress.com and a hosted WordPress.org site also helps explain many of the differences. If you’re worried that WordPress can get technical, keep in mind that it is the most used blogging platform, so if questions arise, finding answers is fairly easy, and the documentation is well organized.

WordPress Themes

Your WordPress theme is your template for the overall design of your page. There are a number of free options, or else you can pay for a premium theme, which is typically developed and updated by professional web designers, and will often have additional features. I use The Thesis Theme for WordPress, which has a number of simple tools for editing/managing content, and has built-in options for Google Analytics and SEO. This list of some of the most popular themes (both free and premium) can also provide some ideas.

WordPress Plugins

As mentioned above, plugins are the tools to add various functions to your blog, and there are currently thousands available. The plugins that I currently use, broken into various categories are:

Security

Speeding up WordPress

  • WP Super Cache  – Generates static html files that are sent to users, which speeds up loading by reducing load on your host server (otherwise, WordPress generates a new html file each time a user accesses your site, which can be slow). I previously used W3 Total Cache, but it never seemed fast enough and has some occasional problems.
  • WP deferred javaScript – speeds up loading time of your site by deferring loading of javascript.
  • Use Google Libraries – loads any javascript libraries used on your blog from Google’s servers, which tends to be faster than loading from your own host.

SEO

  • WordPress SEO by Yoast – despite some Search engine optimization (SEO) being built into my Thesis Theme, I find that this plugin does a better job at optimizing searches for my name (which as a physician, is the result that I care most about). An alternative to consider (with overall easier setup) is All in One SEO Pack. While I haven’t compared my results with these two plugins directly, Yoast’s package seems to be more successful[Update 11/4/2014: Since updating from Thesis version 1 to version 2, I have disabled WordPress SEO by Yoast owing to some compatibility issues, and am using the SEO built into Thesis. It appears these issues have been addressed, but I currently haven’t done any of the fixes].
  • Google XML sitemaps – XML sitemaps are files listing your sites URLs with important information about each to search engines. Yoast’s WordPress SEO has this built in, which is likely adequate, but this plugin gives you more control.

Statistics

  • Jetpack – this is a must-have plugin that includes numerous features, but the one that I use most frequently are the site statistics.
  • Google Analytics – though not technically a plugin (Analytics is added by adding a tracking code to your site, which I do through my Thesis Theme, but could also be done through WordPress SEO), Google provides piles of free data about who is accessing your site.

Backup

Other 

  • Contact Form 7 – provides a simple but highly customizable contact form, which I like better than the one included in Jetpack.

It can also be useful to look at what plugins your favorite blogs are using with the WPThemeDetector website (although it cannot detect every plugin), or else browse the most popular plugins in the WordPress directory.

Editing Tools

While you could write blog posts directly in WordPress, it can be a bit clumsy to do so. I use MarsEdit, which connects directly to your blog and allows you to write and upload posts with multiple editing options (it even supports Markdown). By connecting to your site, it actually downloads a copy of all of your posts which acts as an additional backup. Of note, if you use Google Authenticator, you’ll have to use an application specific password, since two-factor authentication is not currently supported.

For longer or more complex writing (such as my post on Decision Fatigue), I first write everything in Markdown using Scrivener, which is an incredibly powerful writing program that local author Patrick Rhone convinced me to purchase after this tweet:

It’s like an operating system for words. Everything one would need to turn words from concept to finished product is there.

Creating content

This is the hard part. I like WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg’s post suggesting that you “write for only two people”: yourself and “a single person who you have in mind as the perfect person to read what you write”. As such, this post was inspired by Dr. Rebecca Grainger looking for tips on starting a blog via Twitter. [Update 12/07/2014: Dr. Grainger (along with Dr. Eimear Savage) recently started a blog: 2xrheum: A rheumatology blog is born.]

My suggestion for writing inspiration would be to read the book quoted at the top of this post, Steven King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

Have suggestions regarding your own WordPress setup, especially plugins? Post them in the comments.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jason Theobald Mar 5, 2014

    Great tips. I host a WordPress blog on WebFaction and absolutely love it. And the last part is true — generating content is the hard part :)

  • Irwin Lim Mar 6, 2014

    Thanks Paul. Nice to see your tips.

    Maintaining the blog and continuing to write regularly can be a challenge. But it’s a good one and for physicians, an important one, for us to continue to have a useful online presence.

  • Rebecca Grainger Mar 6, 2014

    Thanks Paul – great post but sounds even more intimidating than I thought. I’m still stuck on the name! Content not such a problem. Had about 6 ideas this week. So when I have cleared the grant application due next week, the resubmission of a paper (accepted pending….), and proposal for new teaching for the 5th year medical students (that inspired the need to blog in the first place), I’ll take a deep breath and work my way through this….Thanks again

  • Philip Gardiner Mar 6, 2014

    Thanks for posting a very useful guide, Paul. I started using Blogger a few years ago and found it really simple to set up. I eventually moved over to WordPress for a bit more flexibility. I use similar plugins e.g WP super cache & Askimet/Google Analyticator. I use Wanguard to resist ‘sploggers’. I have meddled with the Wordpress mobile pack and downloaded a theme for this so that if you view the blog from a phone it looks quite different to viewing it from a PC or iPad. I have used Dreamhost for quite a few years & have been very happy with their hosting service. For a fairly minimal outlay you can host several different websites. Having said all that, I am an infrequent blogger at the moment. As others have said, generating high quality content on a regular basis is challenging. I generally wait for the urge to write something or perhaps respond to something we’ve been discussing on Twitter.