The best part of using WordPress to run your site is the sheer availability of plugins that will allow you to do almost anything. Borrowing heavily from the Apple model where Apps elevated the iPod into so much more than a portable personal music player, Plugins have transformed WordPress into much more than a simple blogging platform. Most of the widely available plugins are free – the upside for their creators is that their plugins provide keyword backlinks back to the creator’s site, which significantly enhances their profile with the Google and Bing Search Engines. Although there are nearly 24,000 plugins currently available on WordPress.org the following Plugins are ones that I use on each new site that I create. For me, finding a great new Plugin can be like finding buried treasure. Here is the list in alphabetical order.
Within WordPress, widgets generate the content that you see in the left-hand or right-hand column of a site. There are hundreds of potential widgets out there – the key to making your site relevant to your reader is the ability to customize the content that they are seeing on each of your pages. Without the Dynamic Widget plugin, readers see the exact same column on every one of your site’s pages. With the plugin, you are able to customize every page in your site. This plugin is very flexible, and best of all, it is free.
2. Google Analyticator
Knowing how your users interact with your site provides incredible insight into what is resonating with your readers. The Google Analyticator plugin links your site with all of Googles incredible analytics. Obtaining a Google Analytics account is quite easy, and with it you have access to things like ‘heat maps’ of your site (in your Google Analytics account, click on ‘content’ in the left hand menu, then ‘In Page Analytics’). It is truly mind blowing. This plugin provides a summary of your most important info within your WordPress dashboard, and includes a 30 day trend graph, key usage stats (visits, pageviews, etc), 5 most viewed pages, Top 5 sites that have generated traffic for your site, and Top 5 keywords where your site has been included in the search results.
The standard WordPress ‘comments’ box is seriously lacking in pizazz, not to mention the fact that JetPack’s comments feature ads an unacceptable delay to your page load time. IntenseDebate is a third party comment plugin that gives you total control over all aspects of your comments. The company is now owned by the same people who own the popular comment spam software ‘Akismet’, therefore this plugin integrates seamlessly with Akismet to keep comment spam to a minimum. There are 3 aspects of this plugin that I love:
- the ability to customize the look of your comment box
- the minimal load time it places on your site
- the free price tag (although Akismet is a paid service should you wish to integrate the 2).
Page load time is a factor in determining your site’s overall ranking with the various search engines. For this reason alone, it is important to know the lag time for each of the plugins that you are running. After all, there is a trade-off between using a plugin and the drag it places on your site. The best way to find this info is with P3 Plugin Performance Profiler. P3 is a free plugin that will show you how each plugin contributes to your page’s overall load time. The program only scans when requested by the Site Administrator, therefore does not contribute to your page drag in any way.
Having a quick site is important to your readers, and as mentioned above, an important factor in your site’s search engine ranking. This plugin works ‘out of the box’ and is the easiest cache plugin that I have found. Non-technical people will love the simplicity of this plugin – it has a big On/Off button that activates a series of default settings that work well for most blogs.
This plugin (or any cache plugin for that matter) takes a snapshot of all your site’s content at certain intervals (that an administrator can customize). When a new user accesses your site, they see the snapshot of your site’s content instead of having each individual component of your site load individually. This is helpful if you are pulling information from other sites – like a twitter feed for example. Without this plugin, your readers would need to wait for each page to obtain fresh information from twitter. With Quick Cache, a much faster pre-recorded image of the twitter feed is displayed.
There is no denying the impact that Social Media has had on, well, everything. If your readers see something they like (hint…hint…), hopefully they will be gracious enough to want to share your site with their network. This plugin floats in the margin and allows your readers to share content with one click of the mouse. It is customizable so that the site administrator can show any combination of 12 different social media platforms including all of the big ones (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest) for every individual post that you publish.
The word processing functionality within WordPress for bloggers writing articles is sub-standard. The Tiny MCE plugin provides much more control over the look and feel of the various posts. With this plugin, tables can be created and formatted, media can be inserted, text can be highlighted, and media can be embedded.
The unfortunate online reality is that sites can be hacked. Wordfence is one way to help keep the bad guys away from your site by limiting the number of login attempts, then scanning your site regularly for malware. The premium version of this site comes with more bells and whistles, however, the free version is more than enough for most new bloggers.
Getting some love from the search engines will bring new users to your site. Understanding all the nuances and technicalities of Search Engine Optimization is more than most bloggers have a willingness to learn. Enter the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast. Perhaps the best feature of this plugin is a red/yellow/green indicator on individual posts to show the degree of SEO friendliness.
Another great feature of the plugin is how it automatically maintains an up to date sitemap and submits the information to Google and Bing on a regular basis.
Last but not least is YARPP. This plugin shows related content within your blog (posts and pages) that may be of interest to your readers. It is very easy to configure and starts working instantly. Getting a new reader to your blog requires effort – you may as well use the opportunity to provide other relevant content at the end of your posts as a way of keeping the readers interest.
These are the most essential plugins for niche sites. For suggestions and recommendations on plugins that have less mass appeal (ie those that serve a specific need), please checkout my WordPress Plugin of the Week section. If you have any comments or recommendations, please use the comments box below. I would love to hear from you.