WP Review Site Plugin: Tutorial & Review

by trigatch4 on August 13th, 2008

Ever think about incorporating product/service reviews into your website? Or how about building an entire site around product/service reviews? Chances are you have… and so have I.

Dan Grossman recently launched a WordPress Plugin called WP Review Site that will allow you to do exactly that – create a review feature, or an entire review site, with an easy to use wordpress plugin. When he advertised on WickedFire for his new plugin, people were initially skeptical (including me). Dan was nice enough to provide me with a review copy so I could share my opinion about his product with others.

Since you can only use a product for the first time ONE time, I thought I’d walk you through my installation and use of the product. I decided to try just incorporating the FEATURE of “reviews” within Eureka Diary instead of building out a full site FOR reviews – I’ll do that if this “test run” is successful and I’ve already got a couple domains lined up.

First of all, I upgraded my WordPress to Version 2.6 and right off the bat had a question that doesn’t seem to have been answered in the documentation: will free upgrades be released for future versions of WordPress? Will new versions of the product with new functionality be offered? These issues are hugely important in deciding how much effort to put into using this product.

You can Download or Upgrade WordPress directly from WordPress.org. I unzipped the Plugin using WinZip and used FileZilla to move the folder named “review-site” to my plugins directory found in EurekaDiary.com/wp-content/plugins.

Logged into my admin backend (YourBlog.com/wp-admin) find the Plugins area and activate the WP Review Site plugin by clicking on Activate. That was just as easy as promised (click to enlarge pic)!

Now go to your settings tab and you should see two new menus: WP Review Site and Affiliate Links

First lets take a closer look at the WP Review Site Settings of which there are only three:

  1. We can choose  to re-order posts by weighted rating which makes obvious sense… the best products/companies/xyz are listed at the top.
  2. We can edit CSS for the embedded ratings/reviews right in the backend which is pretty sweet
  3. We can Add/Delete Review/Ratings categories. For example if you were doing a site that reviewed pictures of women your rating categories could be buttox, breasts, face and personality. If your site was about video games you could have Graphics, Gameplay, Price, etc…  This is a VERY helpful feature because it really tells your visitors that your reviews are detail oriented. Your site is really focusing hard on these reviews!

My “test drive” directory is actually something I think would be very useful – a section that reviews affiliate networks and companies. If you’ve been a member of WickedFire for awhile you’ll remember that not too long ago the earth was flat and the icons at the top were supposed to have functionality in the near future:

That section marked directory was supposed to be a “review area” for affiliate networks, hosting, etc… I’m happy to report that it sucks because it gives us an idea for our categories: Offers/Campaigns, Service/Support, Payment Terms, Employee Knowledge… So I added these along with our “Overall Rating” category:

If you take a look at the “Affiliate Links” tab you’ll notice what it does immediately. You identify “keywords” that, when used in posts/reviews, are automatically linked to websites that you identify (read: affiliate links). Below I’ve shown you an example where all instances of the word “Copeac” would be linked using my Copeac referral code:

Not quite sure how I feel about this… seems like it could get pretty annoying but at the same time would be a pain in the ass if you constantly have to find your referral links and manually link them. Here you can add as many keywords/urls as you want so having this option and functionality is a huge bonus. I’ll add it with “Copeac” and see how it pans out to decide if I should add it to others or remove it completely.

Now we’ve got some good ‘ol strategery to do. I want to use MY theme not the theme provided with WP Review Site so I have to alter my templates. And, I only want to display the WP Review Site features on specific posts/pages designated for Affiliate Network Reviews.

First of all, lets not forget our keyword research. That’s what I’m going to call the post/page/category or whatever I decide to use. After a quick look at Wordze it appears that “Affiliate Program” has a lot of searches with long tail variations… but my reviews are more geared towards “networks” and not individual programs. The term “Affiliate Network” gets pretty good results so I’ll go with “Affiliate Networks”. I’m not going to be as picky about the keyword because it isn’t the “main attraction” of my site anyway… just an added feature I’m testing.

Looking at the Official WP Review Site Documentation it appears as if the plugin is tied very closely with the loop so, while you can probably get it to work with Pages/Sub-Pages, I’m going to opt for using categories and posts my first time around.

So lets create the category called “Affiliate Networks” by going to Manage > Categories > Add Category:

Make note of what ID number your category is by putting your mouse over the newly created category and looking at the URL in the status bar. My category ID is #27 as you can see below:

Now I can create a custom template for the Affiliate Networks category that will display the review system as intended. Its relatively simple. Just create a file called category-27.php (or whatever ID # your category is) and put in the proper code to display the reviews (we’ll get to that).

The thing is… if we were making a FULL SITE dedicated to reviews we would be editing our index.php. And since Dan already CREATED a theme for us we can just COMPARE his sample index.php file he gave us, duplicate our CATEGORY.PHP file as CATEGORY-27.PHP and make the necessary changes!

I can’t really “test” anything until I have a post in my new category. Uhoh… you can make custom PAGE templates but how do you get POSTS in a SPECIFIC category to follow a custom template?

I dug up a line of code from Nathan Rice’s blog (I don’t know who the heck he is but thank you) that does this beautifully. Just add the following code to your functions.php file:

add_filter('single_template', create_function('$t', 'foreach( (array) get_the_category() as $cat ) { if ( file_exists(TEMPLATEPATH . "/single-{$cat->term_id}.php") ) return TEMPLATEPATH . "/single-{$cat->term_id}.php"; } return $t;' ));

This will make posts in category X check to see if there is a single-x.php template and if so, it will use that. Needless to say, we need to create a single-27.php file. We’ll do this by duplicating our EXISTING single.php file, renaming it single-27.php and making edits to it based on what we find in the single.php file from Dan’s sample WP Review Site Theme.

The catch here is that if your “post” is in multiple categories it will use the template with the lowest ID number. I’m only posting my “review” sections to this one category so it is not a worry for me.

Now I need to make a sample post and see how it looks… I’m expecting to need to make a few changes to category-27.php and single-27.php but the functionality should be there. And wowzers… it looks like I need to make a ton of changes, not to mention, the comments are all messed up.

Now the comments on my site were already messed up but we have a larger problem… we want the comment template for Affiliate Network posts to be different than the comment template for regular posts. So basically,  we have to make a second comment template designated for WP Review Site (I named mine comments-reviews.php) and replace the line in single-27.php that calls the regular comment template and tell it to call this “custom” template.

You can do that by placing this:

<?php include (TEMPLATEPATH . '/comments-reviews.php'); ?>

In place of this:

<?php comments_template(); ?>

I tried this and what do you know… it worked! Unfortunately it took a decent amount of researching and “figuring it out” to get to this point and we’ve still got somewhat of a mess on our hands. The good part is that I’ve done this dirty work once and don’t have to do it again (neither do you).

Lets take a look at our new templates in action. The first is a screen shot looking at an individual review. First of all… the formatting kind of sucks and I’ll have to play with this. Second of all… I submitted one review and although this is reflected in the overall stars at the top, my actual review isn’t listed at the bottom. Chances are this has to do with the fact that my comments were fubarred to begin with but its irritating nonetheless:

Now we lets look at the actual CATEGORY template which should (cross fingers) list all of the affiliate networks ranked by overall rating. Here goes nothing:

Not too, too terrible. I might  not even want to include the excerpt part and just list them by rankings and perhaps just the overall ratings but at least the base functionality works.

ALRIGHT… BEFORE I CONTINUE

The purpose of this initial tutorial/review was to provide the folks at WF a look at the plugin and offer my opinion. In getting to this point, a few things have become very, very obvious:

  1. The plugin is built with the idea that your ENTIRE SITE will be a review site and NOT that it is simply a feature within a larger site. I’ve illustrated how to modify it in this way but really, this is an option that should either be included and/or documented within the plugin. I think if I had tried to build a site built solely on the concept of “reviews” I would have had more luck. But… the plugin should be flexible and offer the option.
  2. Customizing the theme is NOT for newbs. If you’re a complete beginner you’re going to have a HELL of a time with this as the plugin currently stands. There could be a lot more effort put into making customization easier but, the nice thing here is that if you customize one theme for a review site you can use it over, and over, and over.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS THUS FAR:

This plugin has HUGE potential. I absolutely love the ease and effectiveness of phpBay and this has the potential to be another incredible weapon in the arsenal. The key word is “potential”… at the moment there are simply too many issues/questions to suggest this plugin to anyone/everyone:

  1. Price… $99 for one license and $299 for unlimited licenses is a bit steep considering the plugin leaves too many questions unanswered. I’d say $99 for single license and $199 for unlimited would be more fair. Keep pirating in mind… make it affordable and I think you’ll be rewarded ($79/$129 perhaps)
  2. Support… Dan – You’ll increase the value astronomically if you provide support forums and you NEED to make a statement regarding upgrades of the product and what happens when WordPress is upgraded. Questions will come into play once this plugin is used for a few months… questions that deserve to be answered if you’re buying the product. This could be a great product – extend its shelf life by providing support upfront.
  3. Not 4 Newbs… because some of the details are inherently technical and must be applied manually, the product will be a problem for complete newbs ESPECIALLY considering the lack of support forums. This is a product which could be a SAVIOR for newbs… but in its current form is just too problematic. I think with a little more effort this product could become quite a sensation across the board.

THE BOTTOM LINE

  • Not currently recommended for Newbs
  • If you are currently LOOKING for a review plugin for wordpress and have at least mid range skills, look no further. This thing is pretty kick arse.
  • If you love the idea of this plugin but aren’t pressed for an immediate review/ratings solution and/or are a newb, play wait and see while the WickedFire thread develops. If Dan polishes the product a bit based on suggestions and alters the price to make it a little more affordable, I think he’ll hit a homerun with WP Review Site. So why wouldn’t he?

I can’t stress enough that this thing has a butt load of potential. Stay tuned to WP Review Site ladies and gentlemen because this thing looks pretty darn good.

I’ll be developing the “Affiliate Networks” section so you can follow my progress on customization and implementation that way. I’m not currently willing to pay the $299 to use this on unlimited sites but I’m hoping Dan will take my suggestions to heart so I can start implementing WP Review Site more liberally right away! And, if that happens, I’ll try to make a start to finish tutorial on a fresh domain to show you how its done.

Speaking of which, Dan… you should hook up an Affiliate Program. Wade with phpBay Pro has one and it has worked wonders for word of mouth and promotion of his product. Who knows… if the headache of running an affiliate program is too much, maybe Wade can offer WP Review Site under the phpBay Pro umbrella and you can handle upgrades and the support forum!

Now I’m just dreaming. But it could happen… couldn’t it?

PS: Upgrading to WP 2.6 kind of royally effed my post categories and a bunch of other stuff. What a pain in the ass.

3 Comments

  1. 1. Dan Grossman wrote on August 22, 2008

    Something for anyone that comes across this in search engines… all of these suggestions have been taken into account, and the plugin’s been upgraded with new features requested and new support forums. The price for the multi site license was also dropped. Check it out!

  2. 2. WP Review Site wrote on September 22, 2008

    This is a fantastic plugin like you said. It does wonders for any user feedback driven site and really takes it to the next level.

  3. 3. wabsworks wrote on September 22, 2008

    I like the plugin, the only limitation it has for me is I’d like to be able to set ratings per category. So category 1 can have ratings related to it, while category 2 can have it’s own ratings. The only solution I see is having subsites tied into the master site.

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