If you’re ready to add some fancy functionality to your WordPress blog or website and you don’t know how to write code, plugins can be your best friend. Of the over 23,000 plugins available there are some that rise above the rest. I’ve outlined 36 of my favorites in the Slideshare presentation below (originally presented at Workbar Boston in January 2013).
How the presentation is organized
The plugins are organized by category – starting with front-end functionality such as sharing buttons and slideshows. The second half of the presentation covers back-end plugins such as analytics and SEO. I give my top 2-3 recommendations for each category, with a total of 36 plugins mentioned.
Quick note: WordPress Plugins are available for self-hosted WordPress sites only (not WordPress.com blogs). If you’re not sure the difference, see this post.
Another quick note: The final slide was added during the session itself to take note of a recommendation from a member of the audience. Consider it a bonus. 🙂
To install plugins, login to your WordPress admin dashboard and click Plugins>Add New. Search for the plugin by name (I tried to use the exact plugin names in my presentation, as many of them have similar names). Once you find the correct one, click Install, wait a few seconds, and then click Activate. Configure your plugin per the instructions.
This past Saturday I conducted brand consults for 14 fantastic mom bloggers at Springboard Conference in Boston. For me, doing one-on-one consults is incredibly rewarding because in just a short period of time, you can give people individualized recommendations and concrete to-dos that are specific to their blog and their goals. It’s much harder to do that as a speaker in a conference session. Plus, I get to learn more about what people need, and create content to fill that need. A win-win.
Although everyone had questions and concerns that were about their individual blogs, several common themes came up. Everyone I spoke with had the goal of growing and improving their blog and/or business. In other words, taking it to the next level. I found myself sharing the same list of mom blogging tips and resources many times over. And so I’ve decided to share them here AND in a new resource area on my site.
Quick note… my first three tips pertain to WordPress self-hosted bloggers (or those who aspire to be). If you’re a dedicated Blogger or WordPress.com user, skip to Tip #4.
1. Switch from Blogger or WordPress.com to a Self-Hosted WordPress Blog
You’ve heard it before, and I’ll tell you again. If you want to own your content, customize your site and look more professional, a self-hosted blog is the way to go. One blogger told me this analogy she had heard: Blogger is an automatic car and WordPress self-hosted is a stick shift. In other words, it’s tough to learn in the beginning, and a little scary, but after a while you feel so much more in control.
A large number of bloggers I spoke with at Springboard were interested in moving their blog to their own domain and web host and switching to the WordPress.org platform (vs. hosting it on a site such as Blogger or WordPress.com). For those who want to do this, I recommend Hostgator for web hosting services, and their partner Registry Rocket for domain purchases. Even if you already have your own domain (Blogger and WordPress.com both give you the option to use a domain name that you’ve purchased), in order to move to a true self-hosted site you will need to sign on with a web host such as Hostgator. Hostgator can also help you move your blog from Blogger or WordPress.com to a self-hosted site on the WordPress.org software platform. On the Hostgator site they have detailed information about moving your WordPress.com blog or Blogger blog without losing data with minimal disruption to your readers.
2. Use a Premium WordPress Theme
Although WordPress self-hosted bloggers can choose from hundreds of free themes, many of those can be tricky to customize, don’t get frequent updates and lack support. I use a WooThemes premium WordPress theme to power this site and they’re fantastic. I have also used and recommend Headway Themes for those who want even more power to customize. Friends and colleagues use and recommend Thesis, Genesis and Elegant Themes.
Unless you’re a graphic designer or have some mad design skills, you probably want to hire a designer to create your logo. Designers can be quite expensive but the results are worth the money and are an excellent business investment. If you’re looking for a professional logo or other design elements for your blog, such as a header, a budget-friendly option is 99designs. For $299, you hold a “design contest” where dozens of designers from around the world compete to create a winning logo. 99designs has an extremely detailed form to help you identify exactly what you are looking for (something serious? humorous? favorite colors? styles you like?). And while the contest is running, you rate the designs as they come in so the designers can make tweaks and changes. I used 99designs for my company logo and had a fantastic experience.
5. Use Interesting and High Quality Photos (Without Stealing Them)
Beginning bloggers are often surprised to learn that they cannot use Google Images to grab photos to use on their blog. As I’ve written in the past, Google Images merely searches ALL images on the web and returns them regardless of copyright. For paid stock photo images, my top choice is iStockphoto. And my new favorite for free images is Photo Pin, which is an application for searching the Flickr Creative Commons database. This database of millions of photos that can be used with attribution, and Photo Pin provides both better search results than the native Flickr site and a handy copy/paste area for placing the attribution link at the bottom of your post or in the caption. Like I’m about to do, right now.
1. WPtouch – Reading a blog on a mobile phone web browser can be a pain–teeny tiny print with links that even the most slender finger can’t pinpoint. WPtouch makes your blog easy to navigate when viewed on mobile devices. This plug-in automatically turns your blog into an easy-to-read app-style experience when it’s viewed on certain mobile phones, including iPhone and Android. (see photo)
2. Akismet – A comment spam filter. Actually, more like the comment spam filter. You don’t want to go without Akismet. Unless you enjoy sifting through hundreds of porn spam comments. And if you do, I’d rather not know about it.
3. Share and Follow – This plugin places sharing buttons at the end of each post, so readers can pass along your amazing posts to their favorite social networks and/or social bookmarking sites. It can also create a sidebar that directs readers to your social accounts. I tried about a dozen social sharing plugins before finally settling on Share and Follow. What do I like about it? It’s incredibly customizable—there are dozens and dozens of options to turn on and off and it includes every single social sharing site you could think of, and about 50 you’ve never heard of. (Mister Wong? Plurk?)
4. CommentLuv – I resisted this plugin for a while, partly because I hate how they spell the word “love” and partly because I can’t stand the cutesy little hearts. But I’ve since gotten over the spelling thing and learned you could turn off the hearts. Sold. The best feature of CommentLuv? It automatically creates links to your commenter’s recent blog posts. This encourages bloggers to leave comments (what blogger doesn’t love to self-promote?) and it makes for a richer comment feed.
5. Google Analytics for WordPress – Most bloggers are curious about their readers—how many there are, how they found the site, what content they like best, whether they are redheaded women who live in Chicago and like to chew gum. Google Analytics tracks and shares this data (okay the hair color and gum are a stretch but surprisingly not that outlandish). Once you get your domain set up on Google Analytics, you’ll receive a tracking code to insert to your blog. Confused about where to put it? Let the Google Analytics for WordPress plugin do it for you. It also collects data with more accuracy and you can mess around with some advanced metrics like custom variables. Which, if you’re an analytics addict like me, sounds like super nerdy fun!
6. Quick Cache – A caching plug-in can dramatically improve your site speed. And believe me, your blog loading time is very important. Blog readers are a very impatient bunch. There are other very good caching plug-ins, but Quick Cache is simple and easy to use. And I’m all about simple and easy to use.
7. Yet Another Related Posts Plugin – I’ve written about best practices for ending blog posts, and one of my favorite tips is to install a related posts plugin. It’s a great way to encourage readers to explore your blog instead of hightailing it off your site. YARPP gives a written list of related posts, which it assembles using some kind of advanced algorithm (which you can tweak to your liking). I also like LinkWithin (actually a widget, not a plugin), which serves up related posts visually using thumbnail photos.