My Wordpress Setup: Canvas, MailChimp, GravityForms and Other Tools

on December 10, 2015

I recently gave a bit of a refresh. I wanted the website to be colorful, personal, and approachable.

Me talk website one day

Like most database people, I’m no professional designer. Working on my website consists mostly of 25% trying new things, and 75% undoing whatever I just did or figuring out how to simplify something.

After all that smearing paint on the internet wall, here’s what I’m using for the current site.

Wordpress Theme: Canvas

I’m using Canvas theme by WooThemes ($99). I’ve been using this for a few years, but I needed to update the theme to get the latest features and spend a lot of time experimenting with different layouts until I really liked it.

The great thing about Canvas it’s really flexible. And the bad thing about Canvas is that it has 999 configuration options to make it really flexible! But Canvas has been around long enough that it’s pretty robust and there’s lots of Q&A about it around the web.

Canvas tweaks for new header (added Jan 2016). These posts have been very helpful for customizing my header and footer:

Fonts - Karla and Open Sans

Fonts are really difficult to choose. I think I spent at least 3 hours total experimenting with several fonts over the course of a few weekends. The fonts you like at first are not the fonts you want to live with!

I’m using Karla for headers and Open Sans for body text. for Free Photos

I needed some images with color and texture for the site header background and for featured images for some posts. is a terrific resources for this stuff. I have no idea why chipped, textured blue paint on a wall speaks to me, but it really does – there’s something about the beauty and imperfection of it that made it just right for the site right now.

RSS, Email Subscriptions, and Downloads: MailChimp and GravityForms

I use MailChimp’s RSS template for RSS Emails. Canvas makes it easy to do a simple subscription form like you see here on the site, but there’s other ways to set it up if you’re using a different template.  MailChimp is free for small lists. This is super simple to set up, read the KB here.

I tested out ChimpFeedr for image resizing for the RSS feed, but ended up ditching it and deciding to just only post images that are 600px wide or smaller. (I learned that it’s really easy to resize images with Snagit, which I already have licensed.) If you’d rather use ChimpFeedr, read how to set it up here.

Updates 2016-01-05:

  • Simplified RSS: I used to use FeedBurner for the RSS signup, but after a discussion in the comments of this post and some testing, I discovered I don’t need it anymore. I now use the built in WordPress RSS functionality and have that address hooked into MailChimp.
  • Gravity Forms: I got a little fancier with signups and integrated GravityForms into my MailChimp signup form. This costs some money (you need at least the business license to use the MailChimp Gravity Forms add in), but this makes a few things simple:
    • Collect first and last name as well as email address to send people posts. Having the name information and using the “personalize” feature in MailChimp reduces the chances of your emails getting eaten by spam filters.
    • Add people to “groups” set up in your MailChimp list. If you ever plan to let people join different/multiple feeds within your mailing list, this is golden.
    • The free Gravity Forms Submit to Access plugin helps manage my download pages.

Tweeting Blog posts

I’m using the WP to Twitter plugin to auto-tweet when posts go live. It was very simple to install and configure and has the option to shorten URLs.

VaultPress for Backups

Because backups matter for websites, too.

Google Analytics, Google WebMaster Tools, Bing Webmaster Tools

These work great with Wordpress to help make sure your site is being crawled and indexed by the major search engines.

JetPack Plugin (1/26)

The Jetpack plugin from does a whole host of things– prevent brute force attacks, add sharing links, and allow readers to subscribe to comments on individual posts.