At the Seattle Writer.ly PubCamp, there was one topic in my presentation on “Getting Started With Author Blogging” that I wasn’t able to cover: installing WordPress plugins. It’s a shame because WordPress plugins are one of the reasons WordPress still blows away the blogging platform competition. They’re what make WordPress so easy customize. While other blogging platforms let you change the design of your site, WordPress goes beyond this to add whole new features and tools, that click into place like Legos. It’s enough to bring a tear to this old book publicist’s eye!
That’s why this week I want to give back to the Writer.ly community and go over WordPress Plugins. Before I get to the details on how to install them, I want to give you some examples of what you can do with them in the first place. Thus I’m going to introduce you to some essential plugins every writer should have on their site. Tomorrow I’ll go over the details on how to install WordPress plugins. Finally I’ll entice you further with plugins that are useful for making your site more popular.
To begin: here are some plugins that every WordPress blogger should have. All of these are free, though you may have to get a free account to customize some of them.
Seven Essential WordPress Plugins
If you only have one plugin up and running on your blog, it should be Akismet. When I first started blogging I racked up hundreds of thousands of spam comments and spent hours mass deleting comments with keywords like Viagra and “hot Asians”. Not only do these comments look bad, they’re also suck up a lot of time that could be better spent blogging. I ultimately had to delete all my comments, even the legit ones, and start over. Then I installed Akismet. Now I very rarely get comment spam.
To make use of Akismet, you have to sign up for an account and copy the API key they give you into the box that says Akismet API key. Do it! It will be the best five minutes you spend for your blog.
WordPress has something called the “Featured Image” which is basically a thumbnail version of one of the images in your post. Choosing the Featured Image is just one of a hundred things that makes posting a blog more and more time consuming. With this plugin, the first image in the blog is automatically chosen as the Featured Image, unless you’ve chosen one manually. A big time saver.
Some of the savvier among you have Google Analytics installed manually on your blog. It just takes pasting a little bit of code into the header of your theme. Installing a plugin is a little easier, but the real reason I use it is because it puts data about how many people are visiting your site right there on the WordPress Dashboard. If you’re as busy as I am, you want to spend your time writing posts, not logging into Analytics to view your traffic. With this plugin when you are ready to write a new post or admin your site, you’ll always get a chart visualizing how many people are visiting your site.
You always feel like nothing can go wrong with your blog…until it does. There’s no reason you shouldn’t have a plugin on your blog to automatically back up all your content. WordPress Database Backup will monthly email you with a back up of your blog, so you can rest easy. Here’s a plugin you truly need—but hopefully will never need to use!
Relevanssi simply makes your search box function better. It brings Boolean search abilities to your site, like searching for phrases in quotes and combining search terms with AND or OR. It allows readers to search specifically within comments, tags or categories. It will sort the results by relevance rather than by date, and even show partial matches if the searched keywords aren’t found.
There’s two kinds of sitemaps: those for people, and those for robots. XML sitemaps are for the latter. They tell search engines how your site is set up and how often you post. This helps them deliver better search results. The plugin also pings Google to let them know every time you write a new post. Make search engines happy and they’re more likely to show your latest post to web surfers.
An SEO Plugin
Speaking of making search engines happy, you should have a basic SEO plugin on your site. What is SEO, besides one of the biggest buzz words in marketing? It’s search engine optimization, AKA the battle to make it to page one of a google search. WordPress is better than most at SEO, but a good plugin can give it a boost. This is the most advanced plugin I’m recommending, and truth be told some may need a little help in setting it up and using it.
Probably the most popular SEO plugin is WordPress SEO by Yoast, but it’s also one that can do you wrong if set up improperly. For those new to search engine optimization, I recommend All-In-One SEO, which was designed for beginners who don’t want to touch the defaults. Still, you should read over the documentation for any SEO plugin, or hire someone like me to customize it for you.