• Choosing: In trying to choose a directory plugin, I read several “best-of” articles and carefully read the plugin pages for the ones that sounded promising, even checking out the support section to see what kinds of issues were being reported and whether they were getting responses (my general approach for choosing any plugin). I narrowed my selection down to a few possibilities. I was prepared to spend a fair amount of time trying each out before making a final decision and frankly, I was concerned that maybe none would meet my needs without requiring pretty expensive extensions. Fortunately for me, I decided to try out GeoDirectory first. So far, it has met all my requirements, for free, and has impressed me with the quality of its coding and the flexibility and options it provides.

    Theme: In my research, I came to understand that some directory plugins got started as plugin+theme combinations and some still basically require or encourage the use of a specialized theme to take advantage of the features on offer. I noticed on the core GeoDirectory website that they also offer custom themes. One of those, Directory Starter, is free (find it in the WP theme directory) so I decided to give it a try. I am comfortable making child themes and did so for Directory Starter, and I was expecting I might need to spend a lot of time tweaking it. But, actually I quite like it out of the box and haven’t needed to do much more than some basic CSS modifications to suit my personal styling taste.

    Flexibility: One of the reasons I didn’t need to do much tweaking of the directory is because the plugin developers have done a great job in how you configure and administer the various features and UI. I am a DIY programmer pretty familiar with WordPress so I am not intimidated to make plugin changes in my child theme (to preserve them). I expected I might need to do so with GeoDirectory, but it seemed that whenever there was something I wanted to change there was already a way to do so in the UI. For example, my site is a directory of schools in a specific city. No restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, etc. The default UI includes a header section showing the popular place types, but that was just pointless for my usage situation. No problem. Check out the widgets section and you see that it is a sidebar widget you can remove at will. Likewise with the huge map that is present on the homepage by default. I also wasn’t completely satisfied with the widths of the main content and sidebar but quickly realized there are settings for those inside the GeoDirectory admin section. There you can also completely disable certain sections as well as make a lot of other useful design tweaks without needing to do so in your child theme. Finally, I didn’t want a long permalink structure with places, place type, city, country, etc. Again, no problem, that can be configured in the admin UI.

    Custom Fields: Want to add an attribute to a listing? No problem. Head to the admin section and you can easily add various form types (text, radio button, selectbox, etc.) and customize the display title, description, etc. and you can even specify where to display it on the front end (sidebar, a new tab, etc.). For example, let’s say I want to add links to external reviews of a school in my directory from site XYZ.com. I can just add a new URL field called XYZ Review. Simple and effective.

    Customization: One sign of a well coded and developed plugin is the availability of custom hooks (actions and filters) and there are plenty provided by the GeoDirectory developers. I have only used one because all the other changes I wanted were achievable from the core UI but finding the action I needed and using it was straightforward.

    Setup: I recommend you read their online documentation, which is short and clear, to get started. One great feature they have added is the ability to load dummy content. This does two things. First, it lets you very quickly see how the site can/will look once you add your directory contents. Second, it sets up commonly used place types and categories, which both saves time, and shows you how to add/modify these. When you are ready to get started with your own content, it is quite easy to just delete the dummy content while keeping the setup changes.

    Free vs. Premium: I won’t lie. I was (am) put off by the pricing for the extensions available for this plugin and was worried that I would need them to get any sort of usable site up and running. The good news is, the functionality available for free is great and can do almost everything a basic directory site needs. I don’t really monetize my site, so accepting payments, which would require a premium extension, is not a concern for me. If I needed to take payments, I think that would justify the value of paying for that extension. I am also only providing a single city directory, so the free core plugin is fine, but if you plan to do multiple cities you will need to pay for an extension to do that. Obviously, you will want to consider your specific needs and review all the premium extensions (and themes if relevant) and the costs involved before you decide if this plugin is a good value for you or not, but since I am doing everything I want with just the free features, I couldn’t be happier!

    Strange Admin UI: I can really only think of one negative for this plugin (besides the high prices if you need the various extensions on offer) and that is the admin UI and menu integration with the WP admin page. Most plugins offer their various sub-page menu items on the WP admin sidebar itself (as sub-items under the main menu item) but for whatever reason the developers of GeoDirectory have provided just a single WP sidebar menu entry and when you click through you then see a complete page with all the relevant sub menu items on a dedicated left sidebar. Thus, you will always need an extra click to get where you want to go. Anyway, the extra click and nitpicky aesthetics (it’s a bit ugly) are really the only issues with this. Functionality is not affected and the options and usability are solid. So, really not a big complaint, just mentioning it to be complete in my review.

    Summary: The developers of this plugin seem to have really thought through the various options and features you will need to run a directory site. Are there better alternatives? I have no idea since this was the first I tried and have been very happy with it. So, I cannot say this is your best bet, but I can say it is a very good plugin and should at the very least be on your shortlist of directory plugins to try out if you are looking for one.

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