This is the last post in my series about how to start your own blog. 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
Today, we’ll talk about plugins. Plugins are pieces of code that add more features to your blog and can also help it run more smoothly. There are tons available; WordPress’ site alone lists close to 30,000 and there are many, many more out there. But make sure you read reviews and comments before installing any of them on your site, to make sure it’s a current plugin that is still supported and is being updated to work with each new update of WordPress, and read reviews to make sure 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. If you want to check how your plugins are doing and how they are impacting the load time of your site, there is [ironically] another plugin for that: the P3 Plugin Performance Profiler. I only activate and run that after making changes to the site, and keep it deactivated otherwise. It scans your site and gives you a few different graphs that illustrate which plugins take the longest to load.
Finding and Installing the Plugins
It used to be that you had to search for the plugins online, download them and then upload them to your site via ftp. These days, it is so much easier. You can search for, and install many new plugins 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 (right beneath the name of the plugin). If you want to know more about it first, click on the link at the end of the plugin description to go to the developer’s website. Some plugins, you still need to download from the developer’s site, and I have noted at the end of the descriptions below where you can get each plugin.
Some plugins are ready to go as soon as you install them; with others you need to customize the settings to what you want. 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 from a developer’s site, 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):
- Advanced YouTube Embed
- Editorial Calendar
- Fanciest Author Box
- Genesis Simple Edits
- jQuery Pin It Button For Images
- Limit Login Attempts
- Meeting Scheduler by vCita
- Peter’s Random Anti-Spam
- SeedProd Coming Soon Pro
- Subscribe To Comments
- Use Google Libraries
- WordPress Database Backup
- WP Contact Form III
- WP Super Cache
- Yoast’s WordPress 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).
Advanced YouTube Embed
Have you ever embedded a YouTube video on your site, everything’s working fine, you publish the post, it looks great, but when you go back to that post later, the video isn’t there? All that shows up is a blank space in the post? It happened to me all the time, so annoying, but then I discovered this handy plugin. When you install and activate it, it adds a little symbol on your post and page menu, and when you click on it, a window opens where you copy and paste the URL of the YouTube video you want to embed. The next window lets you set the dimensions of the video plus a bunch of other options, and when you click “get code” a new window opens up. Just copy that code and paste it into your post (in Text view). That’s it, all set. Looks good, and the video stays in place. The basic version of this plugin is free. There is also a paid “PRO” version that comes with a bunch of extra features, such as an analytics dashboard where you can see stats on things like which part of the video people watch most, how your site compares to others, etc. Install from the Plugins page on your blog.
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 to $120/year. 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.
Great, free plugin that puts a calendar right on your site (once you have installed and activated it, it shows up in the menu under Posts) that lets you put in all your planned posts so you remember when to post what. If you install it on a blog that already has posts, it auto-populates with them, which is pretty impressive. 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 social media icons (and links to the author’s profile on each), provides automatic Google authorship verification, and comes with several other customization options as well. We use the “Fanciest box” on this blog; we love it and it’s a bargain at only $10. www.codecanyon.net
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.
jQuery Pin It Button For Images
You know how when you mouse over an image on this blog, a little “Pin It” button appears? That’s what this plugin does. It makes it really easy for readers to pin anything from your blog, it’s free, and comes with lots of customization options. Install from Plugins page.
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.
This plugin automatically creates those little images with the heading “You might also like” that you see at the end of every post on this blog. It’s free, has a few customization options, and you set it up right on their site. www.linkwithin.com
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
Peter’s Random Anti Spam
This is another spam blocker, and I consider it an absolute necessity. It really helps cutting down on spam comments on your posts, and reduce the amount of emails you receive (if you have your blog set up so that you approve all comments before they are published, you’ll get an email for each one, so that can really fill up your mailbox quickly). Install from Plugins page.
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
This is that floating bar you see on the left side of your screen of the blog, with several different social media icons. It is a free tool that makes it really easy for your readers to share anything on your blog. You can install it right from your plugins page, and it comes with several good customization options and they have just added a tracking feature on their site, so you can get an easy overview of how much and where your content is shared (you need to have Google Analytics on your site for this to work). Install from Plugins page.
Subscribe To Comments
You know how when you leave a comment, there is a little checkbox asking you 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 instead of the ones on your site. It works great and really increases the speed. When I installed it on Animal Massage Guide, the old site for this blog, it went from taking 4.59 seconds to load to 2.32 – a huge improvement! (tested at http://tools.pingdom.com/). 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.
WP Contact Form III
The Contact Form plugins can be tricky. The one I use on this blog, WP Contact Form III, is free and I really like it, but it does not work on all themes. There are lots of contact form plugins available, and it took me a long time to find one I’m happy with. If this one doesn’t work for you, another one that seems to work almost everywhere and gets good reviews from others is the “Fast and Secure Contact Form” created by Mike Challis. It looks good, is easy to install, and best of all, has a “captcha” field which helps prevent spamming. 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.
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. Another very popular option is the W3 Total Cache, which I use on my personal blog and also have been happy with so far. Install from Plugins page.
Yoast’s WordPress SEO
Genesis comes with great SEO features already built in, so you don’t need an additional plugin for that, but if your blog does not come with those features, I highly recommend using this plugin. SEO stands for search engine optimization, and this plugin does just that: optimizes your blog for the search engines. It automatically generates META tags, optimizes your titles and tweaks a lot of other stuff “behind the scenes” which helps the search engines find your blog. Install from Plugins page.
That’s it, your blog is now search engine optimized, people can contact you, share your blog on popular networking sites, you will hopefully avoid spam, and you’ll get a backup in your inbox once a week. If you run into problems with any of the plugins, definitely do a search on the WordPress.org forums – there are lots of very helpful posts there.
For a complete list of the blogging products I use and recommend, see the Recommended Blogging / Website Resources page.