Seasoned bloggers will have plugins that they absolutely can’t do without but if you’re a newbie you may be wondering what plugins are and how they will benefit you.
Plugins are bits of code/software that help to develop your blog beyond its original functionality. Out of the box WordPress is still the best Content Management System/blogging platform there is (in my opinion at least). But even the best could do with a little help. With plugins you can do almost anything, like turning a simple blog into an e-commerce site for instance.
But let’s start small, here’s a list of 5 must have plugins that you should install right away.
Jetpack by WordPress.com
Jetpack is a plugin with lots of useful features and the best thing about it is that it only counts as one plugin! Using Jetpack has helped me cut down on the amount of plugins I need to install on my blogs. I no longer need separate plugins for social sharing buttons, embedding YouTube videos, contact forms or related posts widget. Related posts widgets add links to your other posts in the footer of your content to keep your readers engaged with your content. I used to use Yet Another Related Posts plugin (YARP), which looks fabulous and resizes the images almost perfectly, (much better than Jetpack, I have to say). The problem with YARP is that it’s server intensive and some web host like WP Engine have banned its use.
Jetpack also comes with Spelling and Grammar Check and Publicize, which auto shares your posts to your social media platforms once you hit the publish button.
The plugin is installed with WordPress by default, all you need to do is activate it from your plugins page, and connect to your WordPress.com account. If you don’t have one you can create one, it’s free. By connecting to your account you pull in features to your blog such as your Gravatar profile and visitor stats.
Check out all the features and get amongst it! But remember don’t turn on features that you don’t need as too many can harm the speed of your site.
Akismet is another plugin that is installed with WordPress by default. It helps to combat comment spam by checking comments posted on your site against against the Akismet web service . Once you activate Akismet you will be asked to enter your API key for it to work.
If you have Jetpack installed you can use that key. Just click on the ‘Use this Akismet account’ button and you’ll be good to go. If you don’t have Jetpack installed then you will need to sign up for an Akismet account, it’s free for individuals.
Akismet can be reached by clicking on the Jetpack > Akismet link on you dashboard. Here you can configure how you want the plugin to behave. I have mine set to ‘Silently discard the worst and most pervasive spam so I never see it’ because fighting spam is a chore. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to clean up your spam comments every so often. Spammers are diehard and Akismet only deletes regular spam every 15 days.
WordPress SEO by Yoast
This is a great plugin that helps to improve search engine optimisation (SEO) on your site. SEO helps search engines find and rank your site higher than your rival’s blogs.
The plugin is packed with features. My favourite is the page analysis and snippet preview as it forces you to think about what you are writing so that you optimise your content making sure you have included your chosen key words. It reminds you if you have missed the alt tags in your images and tells you if your page title is too long.
Other features include linking your site to your Google+ page, technical search engine optimisation – that isn’t as complicated as it sounds especially if you follow this guide. Another feature is XML sitemaps, which are an absolute must for any site.
JM Twitter Cards
If you plan on using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to link with your audience, then JM Twitter Cards are a must for enhancing your tweets and Facebook pages and driving traffic back to your blog.
Clicky is an alternative to Google Analytics. You need to sign up for an account, which is free, and install the Clicky plugin on your site. You can install the plugin in the normal way from you WordPress dashboard.
Once you are up and running the Clicky dashboard shows you the average time a visitor spent on your site, how many pages they viewed, top pages viewed, and other useful information such as a list of top referring domains. There’s even a feature that shows you what users are doing onsite in real time, plus a world map showing their current location.
There are pro features that you can pay for but let’s keep it simple to start with. You will only need to upgrade to a premium account if you go over 3,000 daily page views or if you want a wider range of analytics such as heatmaps and engagement reports.
I also use Google Analytics for WordPress to connect to my Google Analytics account. This plugin easily places your analytics code in the header of your site so you don’t have to fiddle around with code. This helps Google to track your site visitors and return results to your Google Analytics dashboard. The developers haven’t managed to keep up with the changes Google have been making though so this isn’t an absolute must have as there may be better alternatives.
So those are my 5 must haves. What are your must have plugins?