As someone who’s been blogging for 10 years and tried every early system out there, I’m a big fan of WordPress. One of the big reasons is the ease of use of plugins. Plugins are additional functions that you can add to your blog, such as backup systems or social media icons. Plugins not only make your life easier, they can enhance your blog and protect your work.
Here are my top 6 recommended plugins for new bloggers
1. A reliable backup system.
Backing up your systems and files is one of those things that you know you need to take care of, but frequently forget about. “Stuff happens” beyond your control, from a poor theme upgrade to a server meltdown, that can cause you to lose precious blog files.
Therefore, it’s crucial that you have a system to backup your blog.
The beauty of a good plugin is that you can program it to regularly run and then forget about it. My favorite one that’s available right now is BackUpWordPress. It allows you to schedule regular backups of your database, where your posts, comments and other vital pieces of information are stored. It also supports separate backups of your blog files, which contain items like your themes, images, and plugins. A good rule of thumb is back up your database weekly (if you post daily) and back up your files every month or so. Remember to download your backups when they are done or set your system to automatically mail them to you to keep them separate from your blog so that you can easily retrieve and restore your files in case of disaster.
2. A spam prevention system (or two).
I cannot stress enough how important it is to make sure that spam is properly handled on your website. Several years ago, I awoke to find that 1000 spam comments had been posted to my blog in a 24-hour period – and the commenting wasn’t done yet. Plugins literally saved my blog. Now WordPress has options in your “Discussion” tab that you can set to minimize spam, but you’ll also need one or more reliable tools to prevent this kind of “spam bomb.” One of the best and oldest tools is Akismet. You need to sign up for an account and then are granted an API key. When you enter this key in your plugin, Akismet begins protecting you by automatically detecting spam. It’s a great tool, but it’s not flawless. One problem I’ve had in the past is too many false negatives, requiring me to sort through my spam for legitimate comments. Another problem I had is that it has been known to slow down my site but it was an excellent tool when my blog was much younger, so I still recommend it.
Another tool that I swear by is Growmap Anti Spambot Plugin, or G.A.S.P. for short. This tool adds a checkbox that requires a human to check and thereby eliminates spambots. I found this to be a great help in reducing spam, and the two working together can give your blog comprehensive protection from comment spam.
3. Sitemap creation tools.
A sitemap is a list of all the pages on your site. There are two types: HTML and XML sitemaps. HTML sitemaps actually help users find and locate information by providing an organized, visual list of your site’s content. They are optional but any professional website worth its salt will provide one – and they are a great courtesy to help visitors find their way around once your blog gets really big. A good HTML plugin is WP HTML Sitemap, which sets up a nice layout for your sitemap and provides easy selection of what you do – and do not – want to show.
XML sitemaps, on the other hand, are backend data tools that can help Google index your site – and therefore are necessary. Google XML Sitemaps is an excellent plugin – just run it once and you are done.
4. Social media sharing tools.
Once you have your blog live and are writing compelling content with killer images (you are, aren’t you?), you are going to need an easy way for visitors to share your content. In fact this needs to be part of your content strategy to gain more traffic. The best option is a social media plugin, which will automatically position small icons above, below or beside your content so that people can share it. Most of these allow you to select popular outlets (such as Flare) and some allow a drop down option for all outlets (Sociable). Some will let others see a count of how many times the page has been shared (ShareThis) while others will track your reach for you (AddThis). Many do a combination of all these options. My current favorite is Flare, for its style, positioning and better G+ support.
Not all of these tools support a “Pin” button for your images so you may want to look into a plugin that just handles Pinterest. Some of these offer great flexibility, like the ability to position a “Pin it” button directly on or near your image. “10+ WordPress Plugins To Pinterest-Ize Your Website” has a great break down of the plugins available just for Pinterest.
5. Related posts for your readers.
Ever read a blog post and want to learn more about this topic?
That’s where related posts come in handy. These are articles that you find at the bottom of a blog post with “related” content found in other blog posts. Related posts can be linked either textually (usually with a bulleted list) or with thumbnail images. Using images, though, requires that your post has a featured image but some plugins, like nrelate, will allow you to select a default image for posts that do not have one set. In addition, you can set up exte
rnal link services, like Related Posts for Zemanta, that will pull in related content from other websites and earn you a small advertising fee.
My current personal favorite is Contextual Related Posts, which I believe does the best job I’ve seen so far pulling in posts that truly have relevant data. The best thing to do is experiment and try which systems you like best. You’ll notice that each plugin will give you very different “related content,” so do some experimentation and tweak the options to get the content the most relevant content to appear beneath your blog posts.
6. Nofollow controls.
If you ever start posting sponsored blog or reviews, or advertisements and want to avoid censure by Google, you’ll need to ensure that your links are “nofollow.” Default links are always automatically “dofollow” – that is, Google gives them credit as reliable, organic links and that affects page rank for those sites. If you are recommending a great site for web hosting resources that has a lower page rank than you, for example, Google will give that site credit for your link and that can improve their page rank.
However, Google will not give credit if those sites are promotional in some manner – that is, you received some type of compensation or item in exchange for the link. Because “dofollow” is automatic, that means Google can penalize you – or your client – for breaking their rules. However, the default WordPress editor does not let you select “nofollow;” you have to manually type in the code. Using a reliable plugin, such as WP Nofollow Post, allows you to select “nofollow” whenever you are posting content of this nature and puts the option directly in your link generator. (Keep in mind, user submitted content in WordPress, such as comments, are “nofollow” by default. This plugin helps with page and post content.) Keep yourself and your clients safe by properly utilizing the “nofollow” property when required.
These are the basic must-have plugins that all bloggers should use. Once you get started, you’ll want to install even more useful plugin tools. One word of caution: plugins can slow your site down or not work properly together. Make sure your site functions properly after activating each plugin, and deactivate it if something goes haywire.
photo credit: Samuel M. Livingston via photopin