For years, theme developers have been creating sophisticated themes that let us easily change colors, backgrounds, and even column widths. But we’ve always had to revert to “programming” to change the way archives list or posts display. Even seemingly simple tasks like “listing only posts from category=’News’ in a widget area” required searching for plugins that never quite did exactly what I wanted. Of course, you can custom program anything. That’s how companies like Main Street make their living, but it seems like WordPress should offer some extra flexibility in formatting output from the loop.

Now with Loopbuddy from iThemes we have a great tool for selecting and formatting loop results without programming. This is the plugin I have been waiting for.

Loopbuddy lets you create custom queries and layouts. These results can be displayed in a widget area or on a page via shortcode. They work on iThemes themes or any other theme.

My first task for Loopbuddy was to create a sermon library page for a church website. I have a series of posts tagged with category of “sermons” that each have a title, thumbnail and short body copy with a link to the audio file. I wanted a simple page that would show all the sermons in tight list that didn’t require clicking the title to get to the audio link. The standard theme archive page was too verbose and I didn’t want code a custom category page for such a simple task. Looks like a job for Loopbuddy.

First I created a query that only selects records that have category = “sermons” and sort them newest to oldest. That’s all we needed in the query to get the right records.

Next I created a layout that would form my abbreviated listing page. On the layout I selected the title, post thumbnail, date and content. I can ignore author, categories and comments that make the standard archive list too long for my needs. These selections are all drag and drop, no coding required.

Finally, I created a page for my sermon library and inserted a shortcode on that page that specified which query and layout to run. That’s it. Exactly the results I wanted with no programming. I can use CSS to adjust any spacing or fonts to perfect the page design. Since I used a shortcode it didn’t matter if I was using a Loopbuddy compatible theme or not.

I never recommend clients use the 1.0 version of anything on their business websites, but for $45 for use on unlimited site, Loopbuddy is pretty sweet for a brand new plugin.