June 29, 2017

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My WordPress Plugin Recommendations

Out of the box, WordPress works extremely well as a blogging platform. After being around for several years it has been gradually enhanced in to an amazing product. WordPress can be further enhanced by making use of plugins. Most of these can be downloaded free of charge and used at no cost.

I now manage several blogs which also includes NuclearBlogger (this blog you are reading) as well as a number of others in various niches. As each blog is different, the plugins I use vary from blog to blog although there’s a few that I have installed as standard on any WordPress installs I do. The list below comprises of my WordPress plugin recommendations with a few extras thrown in which you might find useful.

WordPress Plugin Recommendations

Akismet: Akismet comes installed as standard on WordPress although it needs to be activated. I recommend this is one of the first plugins you activate. Once activated, you’ll need to visit the Akismet site and grab a key so you can use it. Keys are free of charge for some uses although for business and high traffic sites there is a small charge. The reason I use Akismet is that it blocks spam comments before they get published on your blog. Details of how much spam can be blocked as well as full install instructions can be found on this post over here.

DiggDigg: DiggDigg is a fantastic plugin that allows you to easily put various social media buttons around your site (see the left sidebar, below this post etc…). Manually adding buttons isn’t the most complex of tasks but can be a pain when trying to track all the changes you have made. By using DiggDigg, you simply activate the social networks you want and tell it where to put the buttons. Peter did a write up on DiggDigg a while back which is worth a read.

FD FeedBurner Plugin: The FD FeedBurner Plugin is a plugin that works behind the scenes. One important aspect of a blog is getting subscribers via RSS, mailing list and on the social networks. The FD FeedBurner plugin allows you to easily redirect ALL outbound feed links to FeedBurner so that you can track statistics via the Google feedburner tool. We’ve written a couple of times before about Feedburner here and here. Take a read of them both to see how to setup a feedburner account and how to configure the plugin to work with it.

Google XML Sitemaps: The Google XML Sitemaps plugin is a great way to let Google know that the content of your website has changed. By providing an XML feed to Google it allows them to pick up on this and index your posts. For established websites there isn’t too much of a need for this as Google has a lot of interest in your site and generally detects changes without the feed, but for new sites with a low amount of links coming in, it can provide a hint to Google on what to index on your site. It also helps Google to learn what content is priority. The standard settings with this plugin will suffice. I haven’t written about Google XML Sitemaps yet but will do in the next couple of weeks. Install it, make sure it’s active and then forget about it. One word of caution though… if you run a large blog (perhaps 9000+ blog entries, then you might run in to some performance issues. At that point, just disable it or set it to manual updates only).

W3 Total Cache: This is one of the high priorities on my list. Although this plugin might not actually make much difference for the first few months of your blogs existence, I still recommend strongly that you install it. The reason for this is that if you suddenly get a large influx of traffic (perhaps a national news paper links or your site gets listed on a popular social network page), then you will regret not having this plugin installed. W3 Total Cache is a plugin that caches your web pages which in turn, eases off usage on the MySQL database. On a typical server a WordPress blog runs great until a large amount of visitors need to get to your site quickly. At that point the database generally gets crippled and is unable to respond to all the requests. Having caching in place means that the pages are stored on disk (or in memory) and can be accessed hundreds/thousands of times without the server showing much strain. Install it, configure it correctly and forget about this plugin. Here is a simple overview on how to install W3 Total Cache although if you run a large site, there’s a few things to take in to consideration.

WP Smush.it: This plugin is a fantastic bit of code that squashes the filesize of any image you uploaded to the smallest possible. It works by using a number of algorithms that strip out data that the user will not see. Savings can typically be in the 25% or more range. The benefit of this is that web pages load quicker which in turn, keeps users happier. It also cuts down on your transfer allowance if you have a restricted plan.

Other Plugins

Although the above list is what generally gets installed on my basic WP installs, I also use extras depending on the circumstances. For example, NuclearBlogger uses a plugin called Simple Hooks. This allows us to modify the site with hooks rather than modifying the code directly. But, this plugin is specific to the Genesis Framework we use here. On my other blogs I use Thesis and for that, I use another hooks plugin specifically made for that. On my tech blog, I use an affiliate links plugin that scans outbound links and converts them in to affiliate links.

The key with plugins is to not go over the top and install everything, but at the same time, make sure you know what you want to achieve and if a plugin can do what you want, install it.

Feel free to post a list of plugins that you currently use on your websites.

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