Today we’re talking about WordPress plugins, and this is the last post (for now) in my series about how to start blogging. In previous posts, we’ve talked about:
- free blogs vs. blogs where you own your domain name
- how to set up a free site
- getting a domain name and choosing a web host
- how to select a theme
- installing WordPress and activating the theme on your site
- how to publish pages and what they should include
- how to publish posts and working with categories and keywords
And today is all about plugins. Plugins are pieces of code that add more features to your blog without you having to learn how to write code. There are tons of plugins available; WordPress’ site alone lists over 50,000 and there are many, many more out there. But make sure you read reviews and comments before installing any of them on your site. You want to make sure it’s a current plugin that is still supported and updated regularly, and that others have not had issues with it.
Another thing to keep in mind is that having lots of plugins on your site can slow it down. Not necessarily because of the number of plugins, but sometimes a particular plugin clashes with another one or with the site itself, which can cause a variety of problems.
If your site starts acting weird or loads really slow after you add a plugin, try deactivating it and see if that helps. If it does, you know that that was it and if it is a function you really can’t live without, you either have to find another plugin that does the same thing, or find a workaround.
Finding and Installing the Plugins
You can either download plugins directly at the various developers’ sites, or search for and install them right from the plugin page on your blog. Just click on Add New, and in the new window that opens, type in the name of the plugin or any word that relates to the plugin you are looking for. Click Search Plugins and a list of available ones will show up. If you have already researched a particular plugin and want to install it immediately, click on Install Now and then Activate. If you want to know more about it first, click on “More Details”.
Some plugins are ready to go as soon as you install them; others have settings you need to tweak first. Once you have installed such a plugin, a new menu item will show up either under Settings or as a separate item in the dashboard menu on the left of the blog. Just click on the plugin name in the menu and you will get to the page with the custom settings.
Installing Downloaded Plugins
To install plugins that you downloaded to your computer, click on “upload” in the Install New menu on the Plugins page. Then click on “Choose file”, find your zip file with the plugin and click “Install Now”.
My Favorite WordPress Plugins
The plugins I use and highly recommend are (scroll down for more detailed descriptions of each):
- Fanciest Author Box
- Fast Secure Contact Form
- Genesis eNews Extended
- Genesis Simple Edits
- Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights
- Limit Login Attempts
- Meeting Scheduler by vCita
- SeedProd Coming Soon Pro
- ShortPixel Image Optimizer
- Simple Social Icons
- Social Warfare Pro
- Subscribe To Comments
- Use Google Libraries
- WordPress Database Backup
- Yoast SEO
Most are free, some come with optional paid advanced versions with more features, and all are really easy to set up and use (note that some of these only are applicable for sites built on the Genesis framework).
Akismet is a spam blocker and comes with most WordPress themes. It makes a huge difference when it comes to the amount of spam you receive (and if you have a blog, you will receive spam messages). In order to activate Akismet, you need an API key, which is a set of numbers that you get from WordPress.com. So even if you don’t want to set up a blog on WordPress.com, you need to go to their site and create an account. Akismet has free and paid plan options: personal, pro and enterprise. If you select personal, you choose the price, from nothing and up. If you go with $0, you’ll get a sad smiley face and just two boxes where you fill out your first and last name. Enter them and click on continue. A new window with your API key and instructions for what to do next opens. Go back to your blog and follow those instructions, and you are all set. If you select to pay something for the plugin, or go with the business plan, you will also need to enter credit card information in that first window. Install from Plugins page.
Fanciest Author Box
This is a great plugin that automatically creates those “about” boxes that you see at the end of the posts on this blog. There is a basic, free version called Fancier Author Box which has tabs for the author’s bio and latest posts, and a paid version called Fanciest Author Box, which also shows different social media sites and links to the author’s profile on each, provides automatic Google authorship verification, and comes with several other customization options as well. I use the “Fanciest box” on this blog, I love it and it’s a bargain at only $18. Fanciest Author Box
Fast Secure Contact Form
Plugin that makes it super easy to set up a contact form. Just install and configure everything like you want it, then copy and paste the form code on your Contact page and voila!
Genesis eNews Extended
Free plugin that creates a widget that adds a mailing list signup. It’s really easy to set up and integrates with the most common email marketing services.
Genesis Simple Edits
Great for those of us who use the Genesis framework and don’t want to mess with the code in the stylesheet. This free plugin adds a simple page under the Genesis settings where you can easily modify the post info (byline), post meta, and footer area. Once you have installed and activated the plugin, you’ll see it listed on the menu under Genesis. Install from Plugins page.
Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights
Google Analytics is a fantastic tool for analyzing the traffic to your site. But adding it to your blog can be a bit tricky. This plugin makes it super easy, just install, authenticate your site with Google and you’re all set (you’ll have to sign up with Google Analytics first of course).
Another free plugin (also comes in a paid version with more features) that helps with security, load times and displaying related content.
Limit Login Attempts
If you’re online, chances are someone at some point will try to illegally access your site. Sad but true. This free plugin helps prevent that. If someone tries to log in to your site and fails after a certain number of times (you set the number), that IP address gets locked out and you get a notification email (so that you can permanently block that address). Install from Plugins page.
Meeting Scheduler by vCita
This is that “ask a question” window you see that pops up in the bottom right of the screen on the blog. It is designed to be a meeting scheduler, and is actually a whole system for managing and invoicing clients, but it works great as a way for people to contact you for any reason. It comes with a lot of customization options and is really easy to set up. The basic version is free, with three levels of paid upgrades if you want more features. I think it’s a great tool, and saw an immediate increase in reader interaction as soon as I installed it. www.vcita.com
SeedProd Coming Soon Pro
If you are building a new site, or need to do construction work on your current one and want to do it behind the scenes, it is a good idea to have a landing page on your site’s home URL to let your visitors know what’s going on (and ideally also have a sign up window so that you don’t lose potential subscribers just because your site is down). When I was building this site, I used SeedProd and was very happy with it. It is super easy to set up, comes with lots of customization features, is integrated with all the major email marketing services, and looks great too. SeedProd is a paid plugin, and totally worth the investment (I tried a few free “coming soon” plugins but gave up on that quickly). www.seedprod.com
ShortPixel Image Optimizer
Images can really slow down your site, and ShortPixel is a great plugin that compresses both images and pdfs while keeping the original image quality. It helps your site load faster, which prevents visitors from leaving because they don’t want to wait, and can also help with ranking. It reduced the media library on this site by 66%! You can compress 100 images per month with the free version, and there are paid plans as well. Or you can pay a one-time fee if you are compressing a large library and know you’re not going to need more than 100 per month after that. Highly recommended.
Simple Social Icons
Plugin for setting up icons, customizing their look, and linking them to your profile on the various social sites.
Social Warfare is a fantastic plugin that puts several important functions into one product. Among other things, it lets you:
- Set up social sharing buttons that won’t slow your site down (unlike many others)
- Choose which images you want readers to share on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, etc. (so that you can control what gets shared from your blog)
- Add custom Tweet quotes in your posts
- Add a widget that shows your most popular posts based on the number of social shares
and more. It comes in free and paid versions and I highly recommend it!
Subscribe To Comments Reloaded
You know how when you leave a comment, you can select if you would like to be notified of follow-up comments via email? That’s what this plugin does. Install from Plugins page.
Use Google Libraries
Free plugin that can help your site run a lot faster by loading certain libraries from Google’s servers. It works great and really increases the speed. When I installed it on this blog, it went from taking 3.28 seconds to load to 2.18 – a definite improvement. Install from Plugins page.
There are many, many backup plugins to choose from, some paid, some free. The WP-DB-Backup is free, and I have used it for many years now and have (so far) been very happy with it. You install it right from the plugin page, configure a few basic settings, and it’s ready to go. Install from Plugins page.
This free plugin helps you clean up your blog, either on an automatically scheduled basis or manually, and removes things like post revisions, spam comments, unapproved comments, etc. Install from Plugins page.
Another spam blocker that that eliminates comment spam, trackback spam, contact form spam and registration spam, without forcing your visitors to type in CAPTCHA codes, answer questions, etc.
WP Super Cache
Another free plugin. This one helps your site load faster by creating html versions of previously visited pages rather than loading and compiling the whole PHP code and then building the page from the database. WP Rocket and W3 Total Cache are a couple of other highly ranked and popular WordPress caching plugins. Install from Plugins page.
Last but not least, one of, if not THE most popular WordPress plugin. I love it and consider it a must on any blog. It automatically generates META tags, optimizes your titles, helps you register your site with different search engine webmasters, and tweaks a lot of other stuff behind the scenes that help the search engines find your blog. And my favorite feature is that you get little status buttons in each post that tells you how that post is doing when it comes to SEO and readability, and a checklist of what you’re doing right and what you can do to improve it. Super easy and very helpful! Also comes in free and paid versions.
For a complete list of the blogging products I use and recommend, see the Recommended Blogging Tools & Resources page.