WordPress has become the default development platform for many new websites and blogs. While there are many ways to develop and launch a web site, recent data indicates that over 22% of new active domains in the US are running WordPress.
As a result, this robust, proven, and continually improving development and CMS platform remains the sought after solution for building a new web site or blog. Each and every day, there are over 900,000 new blog posts published. And in today’s fast changing environment, developing an online property that makes visitors want to return to again and again is a significant and continual challenge.
Making the best even better.
So, when it comes to integrating WordPress plugins to extend the capabilities of your new web site or blog, conventional wisdom suggests that less is more.
Plugins are essential software components designed to add functions to your WordPress site for improving performance and visitor engagement. But with the thousands and thousands of plugins available for WordPress, finding the right ones for your site can be a bit overwhelming.
To ease the burden, we are providing our recommended list of essential plugins that are all compatible with the latest version of WordPress. They’re easy to install and customize and we integrate them, almost without exception, into all of the custom WordPress websites and blogs that we develop for our our clients. So if you want to realize more real-world value from your WordPress site every day, consider installing a few or all of these on your site.
Akismet uses some very effective and truly magical technology to check all of your blog comments against the Akismet web service to determine if any of the comments appear to be spam. Akismet then lets you review the comment in your blog’s “Comments” admin panel where you can verify if it’s worthy of approval.
By running hundreds of tests on each and every comment, this essential tool provides guidance and returns a thumbs up or thumbs down on whether or not a comment is valid or just spam. It even keeps a tally on how many spammy comments it has prevented from appearing on your site. And we just love to report that to our clients.
2. Google XML Sitemaps
A sitemap is a “have to have” component of any modern web site because it makes it easy for search engines to see the structure of your site, crawl your content and retrieve it more efficiently.
With this plugin, you can automatically generate a special XML sitemap which will help search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo and Ask.com to better index your site or blog and make it more visible to people searching for your content. And every time you add new content to your site or blog, the XML sitemap plugin notifies all major search engines of the new addition and adds it to your index.
3. W3 Total Cache
For a plugin, it’s a bit geeky but also totally awesome. W3 Total Cache will increase the loading time of your web site or blog up to 10 times.
What that means is each and every element (pictures, graphics, words, video, navigation, etc.) of your site will be preloaded into memory so that your site visitors will be able to see your content faster without having to stare at an empty or partially populated browser window.
Why is this important? Because loading times affect affect a site visitor’s experience. And if they’re waiting, for even half a second, chances are they’re going to leave your site in the next half second.
4. All in One SEO Pack
When Michael Torbert created All in One SEO Pack he gave all of us one of the best WordPress plugins ever!
All in One SEO Pack integrates right into your WordPress dashboard at the bottom of each post and allows you to enter your own custom title, description, and keywords for search engines to index. For beginners and experienced SEO pros, breaking down and making it easy to populate these fundamental elements of every post or page in your site is a god send.
By providing a consistent and easy-to-use structure to ensure that all of your content and posts can be found by search engines, this great tool makes it hard to not optimize all of your content to get found.
5. Contact Form 7
One of the best practices for a WordPress site or blog is to enable an easy way for site visitors to get in touch with you. That means you need a contact form.
Contact Form 7 is a free plug in that’s easy to configure for creating a custom contact form tailor-made just for your site. From required fields to drop down menus to radio-button selections, this powerful plug in does the work and generates all the necessary code for you to capture just the visitor contact information you’re looking for.
6. WP Touch
It’s 2012 and worth remembering that your site or blog should be optimized for the growing use of iPhone, Android and other smartphone users.
WPtouch automatically transforms your WordPress website into an application-like theme. It also provides some great customization options for navigation, hiding excerpts and optimizing your existing content for presentation on a mobile device.
In short order, you can customize many attributes of your site and deliver a fast, user-friendly and easy to navigate version of your site to mobile visitors without the annoying “pinch-and-scroll” experience of a traditional site. Even better, you won’t have to modify any code or create custom CSS.
WPtouch also lets visitors switch between a mobile optimized WPtouch view and a standard browser view with the click of a button.
7. Facebook Social Plugins
With nearly a billion global users, Facebook remains the mother of all social networks.
And the best way to integrate your Facebook business page and your community’s activity into your WordPress site or blog is to use the official Facebook Social Plugins from Facebook.com.
While this plugin may require some HTML knowledge, Facebook provides detailed documentation on how to install their Facebook social plugins so you don’t get overwhelmed. You can show your post activity, share thumbnails of your friends, present your friend count and provide the familiar “Like” button for your content to be shared on Facebook.
All in all, this plug in provides you with an easy and effective way for your to extend the reach of your content to the ever growing community of Facebook users.
8. Twitter Follow button and Facebook Subscribe button
The Twitter follow button and Facebook subscribe button are two essential elements of today’s successful blog.
As popular blogger Jeff Bullas says, integrating these elements into your site or blog is one of the few things that will virtually guarantee improving the visibility and shareability of your content.
The best part of these two buttons is that the process of following or subscribing doesn’t require a site visitor to leave your page.
9. Related Post Thumbnails
If your visitors see some great content on your site and you want them to quickly find more content that they might be interested in, the Related Post Thumbnails plugin is just the ticket.
Related Post Thumbnails will add related post titles and thumbnails after each post in your WordPress blog. It also allows you to customize thumbnail sizes, display settings and type of relation.
And if your theme supports the Post Thumbnails feature introduced in WordPress 2.9, you can specify a custom thumbnail size to be displayed. The thumbnails are arranged in an easy to see row at the bottom of the post with a title for each thumbnail. Even better, you can customize background color, border, text, text sizes and excerpt length with very little effort.
Bottom line, if you want to enhance the “stickyness” of your site and give visitors an easy and visually interesting way to get to related content, this plug in rocks.
10. Broken Link Checker
Links are essential parts of any credible web site or blog for furthering content, connecting to reference sources and extending the content in a site. So it makes sense to ensure that your links are functioning properly and not sending visitors to the wrong place.
As soon as you install the Broken Link Checker plugin, it starts parsing your posts, pages and all other content looking for links. Depending on the size of your site, this can take from a few minutes up to an hour or more. But when parsing is complete, the plugin will start checking each link to see if it is working properly.
If any broken links are found, they’ll show up in a new tab of the WP admin panel and a notification will also appear in the “Broken Link Checker” widget on the Dashboard. You can even configure the plug in to send E-mail notifications of broken links. How awesome is that?
The “Broken Links” tab will by default display a list of broken links that have been detected and you can see a listing of all links—working or not—right in the WordPress admin panel. Without a doubt, this is the easiest and most convenient way to manage all your site links and ensure that they’re linking to the right place.
We consider these WordPress plugins essential for turning a site from just ho-hum into a homerun. They’re worth a look and a thorough test drive before you deploy them on your site. But we’re confident that you’ll see their value very, very quickly.
So what’s working for you? Have you come to rely on a few key plugins that you can’t live without? Share your success and what you’re using to make your site even better.