Add-ons to make your blog more powerful & versatile
Last week I attended a WordPress East Bay meetup in Oakland led by Podcast Asylum trainer Sallie Goetsch (at left in picture above). I’ve been an avid user of, and proponent of, WordPress since I began using the open source platform for all my blogs (Socialmedia.biz, Socialbrite and jdlasica.com) in December 2008.
At the end of the session we began discussing our favorite WP plug-ins. As someone pointed out, the WordPress Plug-in Directory is daunting and not terribly user-friendly, with 8,516 plug-ins and sometimes terse coder descriptions of what they’ve created. So it’s up to bloggers and journalists to sift through the noise and pinpoint the gotta-have plug-ins. (I’ll be doing the same with my favorite Apple iPhone apps next month.)
The WordPress development community is a wonder to behold and one of the main reasons I switched from TypePad to WordPress. Plug-ins greatly expand the number of things you can do with your out-of-the-box WordPress installation.
Here, then, are my 10 must-have WordPress plug-ins for anyone running their own WordPress.org site — I’ll bet you haven’t heard of some of these! Please list some of your own favorite plug-ins in the comments below.
Top 10 WordPress plug-ins
It’s hard to imagine blogging without Akismet, the free (for personal use) spam filter — both as a stand-alone service and WordPress plug-in — created by WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg and five of his colleagues. About 99 percent of the time, Akismet identifies spam as spam, saving you from having to filter genuine comments and trackbacks from the evil scourge that is spam. Akismet comes already installed on all WordPress sites; you need to activate the API key.
My understanding is that the major search engines like it when you deploy and activate a plug-in like Dagon Design Sitemap Generator. In the old days, site maps were for humans. Today they’re chiefly for search engines to help them index your site. The plug-in lets you configure what to show through your WordPress dashboard: pages and posts, how many items to display on each page, etc. I also use Google XML Sitemaps.
When I worked for Microsoft in the late ’90s, my favorite tool was our internal system’s dead link checker. I missed this tremendously during first eight years of blogging, since such a tool would serve as an automated editor when I messed up a link or when link rot set in. Now, Broken Link Checker for WordPress does the trick, checking your posts and pages for broken links and missing images and notifying you on the dashboard if any are found. Genius.
Last July I reported that our developer, Esteban Glas, had crafted a Creative Commons plug-in that woud allow users of WordPress blogs to use different CC licenses for each post on the site. Absolutely essential for group blogs like Socialbrite (see the Creative Commons license at the bottom of this post?). You can download it here. For sitewide use of Creative Commons, WpLicense still works.
While WordPress comments are serviceable, I was immediately torn between adding IntenseDebate or Disqus to upgrade the look and functionality of the comments. I settled on IntenseDebate because it’s owned and operated by the WordPress guys and thus will likely see cycles of improvement in the years ahead. You get threaded comments, user images, a comments dashboard, comment voting (though haven’t figured that one out) and Twitter integration. I love the fact that users here can log in via WordPress, OpenID, Twitter or Facebook. (See the Facebook Connect plug-in.)
When adding new plug-ins and monkeying with the code, anything can happen. So install WordPress Database Backup — you’ll be able to return to an earlier state if something goes wrong.
Here’s another unsexy plug-in that does only one thing well — but it’s an important thing. All in One SEO Pack optimizes your WordPress blog for search engines. Just fill in the title and short description at the bottom of your post.
I’ve been using Zemanta for more than a year now and it’s one of my favorite plug-ins. It offers supplemental links, tags and images to your blog post — even before you’re done composing it — by listing on-the-fly with content suggestions relevant to the current text. See at bottom of this post for an example. Zemanta draws from Creative Commons images, Wikipedia, YouTube, Amazon, BBC, CNN and elsewhere. It’s also available as a Firefox plug-in.
Audio Player is a highly configurable, simple mp3 player for all your audio needs. You can customize the player’s color scheme to match your blog theme, have it automatically show track information from the encoded ID3 tags and more. I use it to embed podcasts. Another choice: WPAudio MP3 Player.
Did you know that every time you update a WordPress post, it sends out a ping that delivers the update to most RSS readers? That’s pretty awful, especially for minor corrections. Smart Update Pinger solves that problem by pinging only when publishing new posts, not when editing.
Other must-have plug-ins
I’d also put these down as must-haves:
AddThis: This lets folks bookmark your post on virtually any social media site. It helps you see how people share your content (which sites they’re sharing on and which posts are shared the most. Another good choice: ShareThis.
• Tweetmeme ReTweet Button: Adds a “retweet” icon and link to every post and page (Mashable uses this atop every post, Socialbrite uses it at the bottom of every post) . Shortens URLs and can automatically tweet new and scheduled blog posts.
• Yet Another Related Posts Plugin: I just added this classic plug-in to show off related articles, below the comments box. Display can be customized.
• GZIP Output: Restores functionality removed in WordPress 2.5. Gzipping each page makes the page smaller, causing it to use less bandwidth and improve load time.
Nice to have, but not essential: wp-Typography, which improves your site’s look.
This isn’t a plug-in, but folks have asked me how to implement an automated email delivery of their new blog posts, simulating an email newsletter. See that field for “Subscribe by email” over there on the right? You can do the same.
Make sure you have a Feedburner account. Select your blog and go to Publicize -> delivery options. You can change the time zone and time of day that emails get delivered but not the frequency — they automatically go out once every day there’s a new blog post. Pretty handy!
WP plug-ins I’m exploring
One caution flag should be raised with so many worthy plug-ins in the marketplace: Don’t activate so many that it compromises your site’s performance. I’m right at the edge now on Socialbrite and Socialmedia.biz, so I’ll be cautious in adding more. Here are some of the plug-ins I’m considering:
• I just installed and activated GD Press Tools, a collection of various administration, SEO, maintenance and security related tools that can help with everyday blog tasks and blog optimization.
• Search Meter: This plug-in tracks what people search for on your site and what results they get.
• RSS Cloud: As soon as you publish, this new plug-in pings services, giving you a 10 to 60-minute jump on other services.
• Ajaxed WordPress: Adds the power of Ajax to WordPress. It can display excerpts of posts and then load full posts inline, submit comments without reloading the page, thread comments to make those long discussions easier to read, etc.
• Stat Press works in tandem with or as a stand-alone plug-in next to Google Analytics. It breaks down your traffic in lots of different ways.
• wordTube makes it easy for you to put music, videos or flash movies onto your WordPress posts and pages.
• Tim Ferriss recommends Popularity Contest, which lists the popular posts on your blog. Tim also recommends Redirection, a plug-in to manage 301 redirections, keep track of 404 errors and tidy up any loose ends on your site.
• SpamShiv Lite converts any email addresses on your site to code that is not recognized as an email address.
• WP-Polls 2.50 adds a customizable AJAX poll system to your WordPress blog.
OK, that’s my round-up. What have I missed? What are some of your favorite plug-ins?
• Top 10 Must Have Plugins for a WordPress Blog (CreatewithNate)
• Interview with founder Matt Mullenweg on the state of WordPress (Socialbrite)
• 17 Really Useful WordPress Plugins That Probably Are Essential (SmashingApps, with screen shots)
• 6 essential social media plug-ins for your blog (Socialbrite)
• Best WordPress Plugins (WordPress Hacks)
• The 15 Best WordPress Plugins to Use in 2010 (Site Sketch 101)
• Best WordPress Plugins for Your Blog (CoreBloggers)
• Useful WordPress Plugins (WebDesignerWall)
• 15 Plugins to Make your WordPress Comment System Better (smartbloggerz)
Other great posts about social media plug-ins
- 30+ Plugins to Make Your WordPress Blog More Social
- Top 7 WordPress Social Media Plugins
- Top 35 Plugins of WordPress to Share Your Blog Post
- Your Go-To Guide of WordPress Plugins
- The Top 111 WordPress Plugins
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