17 WordPress Plug-Ins To Help Improve Your Blog Experience

WordPress PumpkinOne of the best features of using a self-hosted WordPress blog are the plug-ins that are available.

Because WordPress is an open source community, anyone can develop themes and tools for it.

Plug-ins are community-built applications that add extra features to any WordPress blog, from back-end resources to enhancing the reader experience.

Lately I’ve been asked about some of the features that are on this blog that aren’t native to the theme I use, so I thought it might be fun and useful to share them with you.

A couple of things. First, plug-ins can add load time to your blog, so only use ones that you really want (says he with 17 active plug-ins at present). Secondly, not all plug-ins and themes are compatible with each other, so make sure you check first. So… on with the list.

  • Akismet. Probably the best spam filter I’ve ever used, Akismet is an incredibly intelligent plug-in that learns from the behaviour of your commenters to differentiate between spam and genuine comments. So far it’s stopped 13,034 spam comments from this blog. A must-have for any WordPress user.
  • Align RSS Images. If you subscribe to a blog by RSS feed, you’ll know that images can appear all over the place. Align RSS Images makes sure that the images in a feed are in the same place as they are on the actual post.
  • Apture. I LOVE Apture! A multi-media makeover for your blog, it lets you insert media, video, online profiles and more into a link, which then opens up a box on your post page. This keeps your readers on your site and doesn’t force them away for more info. Hover your mouse over this link to my Twitter profile or this one for the 12for12k video on YouTube as an example. You also have the option to have a site-specific social search and share bar enabled as well. Simply put, one of my favourite plug-ins.

  • CommentLuv. Another favourite of mine, CommentLuv is one of the best ways to show your commenters your appreciation. If they have a blog, it will allow them to share one of their recent blog posts with your readers and display the link when they leave a comment for you. A great plug-in.
  • Digg Digg. With social networks playing such a big part in blog traffic, it’s important to offer your readers a way to share your posts with their networks. Digg Digg is perfect for this, and allows readers to share your post with the most popular networks. That floating share box on the left of this post is an example of how Digg Digg works.
  • Google XML Sitemaps. Although social search is becoming just as important as traditional search, web surfers still need to find your blog. Knowing how search engine optimization works is key, as is a good sitemap that allows the likes of Google to find pages on your blog easily. Google XML Sitemaps is an oldie, but still one of the best.
  • Lijit Search. It never fails to amaze me when I land on a blog and it doesn’t have a search bar. How do you expect to grow your blog if it’s not user-friendly? Lijit offers a third-party option to the normal search bar that takes search to the next level. Not only does it search your blog, but that of your networks, online profiles and Google, with the results appearing on your blog. Recommended.
  • Photo Dropper. A decent blog post can become good with the right image – a good blog post can become great. That’s how important images are. They provide instant attraction to visitors. Photo Dropper lets you choose Creative Commons images from Flickr, which means you get great images and offer the original photographer credit as well.

  • Server Buddy. The main issue with WordPress and plug-ins is future compatibility. New updates to WordPress or plug-ins can conflict and mess up your theme. Server Buddy lets you check compatibility as well as highlights any issues with your web host too. A great plug-in.
  • Smart Archives Reloaded. While many bloggers don’t have an Archives page, personally I feel it’s a key part of any blog. How will you let your new readers find older posts if you don’t have an Archives option? And they don’t hurt in search engines, either. Smart Archives Reloaded offers some cool multi-view functions instead of just normal posts. Check out my Archives Page for an example.
  • Subscribe to Comments. A big part of any blog is the conversation happening on it. Inviting your readers to continue the discussion long after you’ve posted. Subscribe to Comments helps by letting you sign up for email alerts that a new comment has been posted on a discussion you like – great for keeping old posts alive.
  • Twitterlink Comments. Built by the same Andy Bailey that also developed CommentLuv, Twitterlink Comments is a nice little plug-in that allows visitors to leave their Twitter username alongside their comment. Great for finding new connections on the micro-blogging site.
  • Wapple Architect. As mobile browsing becomes more commonplace, making your blog mobile-friendly is paramount to its visibility. While there are a ton of options around, Wapple Architect is one of the best. Fully customizable to reflect your blog’s look and feel, and SEO-friendly to boot, it’s a great way to optimize your blog for the new mobile-intensive audience.
  • What Would Seth Godin Do. What indeed. A nifty little plug-in that allows you to tailor a welcome message and a call-to-action for readers when they finish your post. The “Enjoy this post…” box at the end of the post you’re currently reading is What Would Seth Godin Do in action.
  • Woopra. If you want to take your blogging to the next level, one of the key things you need to be doing is analyzing your traffic. Who’s visiting, where from, what links, how long for, click-through destinations and more. Woopra is a fantastic resource for this, and offers dashboard analytics on your blog as well as a desktop and web version too. Perfect for optimizing your site and understanding your readers and how you can help them.

  • WordPress Database Back-Up. Like any web platform, WordPress can be prone to hacks. These attacks by spammers can leave your blog looking like a pig’s breakfast, so regular backing up is incredibly important. WordPress Database Back-Up is pretty straightforward but still in-depth enough for your needs.
  • WP-SpamFree. Although I use Akismet for blocking comment spam, WP-SpamFree is another great option, yet also offers a pretty decent contact form for your blog as well, which it also protects from spam. Since spam is the bane of any blogger’s life, keeping spam off your blog can become a full-time job – something like WP-SpamFree is the perfect antidote.

These are the 17 WordPress plug-ins that I use to complete my blogging experience.

There are some hugely popular ones I don’t use, like All-in-One-SEO for example, because the Headway theme (affiliate link) already has its own incredibly robust search engine-friendly options built-in. And I’m a fan of the simple WordPress comment system as opposed to the widely-used Disqus Comments, so that’s why that’s not on here.

How about you? If you’re a WordPress user, what are your favourite plug-ins and why?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Eric M Martin

Note: This blog no longer runs on the Headway framework. Instead, it’s a custom WordPress design by Lisa Kalandjian of SceneStealer Graphics.

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    • says

      Well as the post mentions at the end, Mr Haydon, these are the 17 plug-ins that I use here… 😉

      I did use Scribe for a while, but I found that I was getting just as good results with my own SEO when I wanted to. Plus, I was a little disappointed that you had to use extra “credits” when re-checking an analysis to see if your changes had taken you nearer to the magical 100%.

  1. says

    Danny, I am a big fan of these as well:

    Ad Rotator:
    It’s a simple text widget, that is easily configured to randomly use content within. Great for testimonials, even if you don’t have ads. This goes on EVERY site I build, just in case.

    Bad Behavior:
    Cuts down on the spam by catching the sneaky tactics on their way in. It makes Akismet work less hard.

    JS-Pull Quotes:
    Creates elegant pull-quotes, with user configured styles, that are not reliant on images (and don’t mess up your feed)

    Sexy Bookmarks:
    Remember, it’s DOT NET. And it’s a great way to remind people to share your content.

    WP Super Cache:
    A great defense against those rare occasions when you write something with huge traffic, Super Cache minimizes the load that can crash your database by storing html versions of your pages and serving those flat.
    .-= Ike´s most recent blog post …Hyper-connected, or Stretched Too Thin =-.

    • says

      Cheers Ike. May have to check out the JS-query one as I’ll be experimenting more with pull quotes on a new blog.

      And the Bad Behaviour one sounds interesting too – anything that fights spam is good by me :)

  2. says

    I was not aware of Photo Dropper! This will be a tremendous time saver. I’ve often spent more time searching for usable photos than writing copy. Thanks for the tip!

    • says

      It’s saved me an immense amount of time, Stacey. I’m really fussy with the images I use on my posts and PD hasn’t disappointed yet.

  3. says

    Thanks for sharing this list, Danny. Just downloaded Woopra as a result and so far – I’m very impressed. I’ve been looking for a while for a good site tracker that had everything I needed.
    .-= Andrew Weaver´s most recent blog post …Foto Finish Friday =-.

      • says

        See, Sally? I knew Drew was good for something… 😉

        Glad you’re enjoying, bud – the desktop version is really cool, with tons of info.

  4. says

    Danny – what a thoughtful post this is, thank you! I’ve now downloaded and activated many of the options you’ve shared ~ and thanks to Andrew’s comment, I’m about to download and activate one more.

    Not that this means I’ll know how to interpret the data I’ll be receiving … but it’s a step in the right direction!

    Thank you…
    .-= Sally G.´s most recent blog post …All I need is the air that I breathe … =-.

    • says

      No worries Sally – the great thing with Woopra is that it has some really great FAQ’s and walk-throughs that show you how to get the best out of your information. And a lot is also just playing about with the information tabs – always a good way to learn! :)

  5. joe says

    do you worry about how long site will take to load? Is there a time for loading that you won’t go over.?
    Was concerned about adding too many images if it makes it slow to load.

    • says

      Images are fine as long as you reduce image file size. Use jpegs or png’s, as opposed bitmaps.

      Obviously the more graphic-led your site is, the more strain it comes under as opposed to a text-heavy site.

      Your web host helps as well. My server has unlimited bandwidth so, technically, as long as I don’t go crazy with code, images and plug-ins, I shouldn’t suffer too much.

      Hopefully 😉

  6. says

    Great post Danny, and I really like the Digg Digg and am going to have to look into that one. I’ll second Ike about SUPER CACHE….definitely speeds things up.

    My favorite plugins that you didn’t mention are BROKEN LINK CHECKER and GRAVITY FORMS…easy to work with and very professional looking.

    Your site looks great, and I have Headway and I am still working on customizations before navigating over.
    .-= Jupiter Real Estate´s most recent blog post …Valencia at Abacoa Market Update From January to May 2010 =-.

    • says

      Hey there fella,

      I’ve been hearing really good things about Gravity Forms – will definitely have to check it out.

      And look forward to seeing what you do with Headway – I’m still finding new things even now :)

  7. says

    Danny – I’m a junkie for WordPress tools and plugins so I really appreciate this post. You’ve made me aware of some plugins I had not heard of before that I am totally going to check out.

    Some of my favorite plugins are:
    1. Section Widget – this allows me to chose specific widgets to only appears on certain pages, posts with specific categories, etc.

    2. Twittify – since I often blog about people on Twitter I really love this one because as soon as I put their name in as @dannybrown it will automatically link it as http://www.twitter.com/dannybrown without any extra work on my behalf.

    3. I use Zemanta, which sounds to be very similar to your PhotoDropper/

    I was using WP-Spam free but it was blocking legit commentators on my blog so I uninstalled that one.
    .-= Michelle Mangen´s most recent blog post …7 QuickBooks Shortcuts to Save Time =-.

    • says

      You and me both, Michelle – I have to be really strict and cut back on the amount I use (I was at 34 plug-ins at one point – erk).

      I used Zemanta for a while and thought it a great plug-in; I just couldn’t work with the way it takes up a chunk of your dashboard, but as a plug-in it’s most definitely a good one.

      I’ll look into the eager blocking of WP-SpamFree, think it’s okay but would hate to think it’s blocking folks willy-nilly.

      • says

        Danny – I agree that I’m also not keen on the massive amount of space that Zemanta takes up.

        I won’t admit publicly how many plugins I use but it’s def more than your 17. LOL.

  8. says

    Gravity Forms is great….I’m in real estate, so I wanted to be able to customize my contact and even went as far as far as putting different forms at the end of different neighborhoods. You can create an unlimited amount of these and then just add them from the toolbar…pretty neat and wicked easy!

    I have seen some good skins for Headway, but not crazy about losing the design option…what are your thoughts on the skins verse custom. You did a nice job with your customization …one of the best I’ve seen and I have seen a lot :).
    .-= Jupiter Real Estate´s most recent blog post …Valencia at Abacoa Market Update From January to May 2010 =-.

    • says

      I’ll definitely check Gravity Forms out then, as I have a real estate client on the horizon – perfect timing :)

      I think Skins are great if you want to get up and running with a design really quickly. And some of the mock-ups I’ve seen that aren’t in the Headway Skins store yet look pretty cool.

      But personally, I prefer messing with my own design and seeing what I can do. It helps me understand the framework more for client work, and that can’t be a bad thing :)

      And cheers for the compliment – ironically, I’ve been thinking of changing the look up a little, going more for strong typography and visual look. We’ll see :)

  9. says

    Hey Danny,

    Thanks a lot for sharing this list of awesome plugins. There are a couple on here that I wasn’t familiar with, including your beloved Apture :) and Wapple Architect. I’ll be checking them out asap – even though I dare not say how many plugins I already use.

    Always a pleasure reading your insightful posts!


    • says

      Thanks Ingrid – the Wapple one is definitely one of the best mobile plug-ins around (though does need a little fine-tuning for look and feel).

    • says

      Cheers Mark. Of course, that could just mean I’m a bit of a geek. But hey, when it comes to WordPress, count me a fully paid-up geek of the platform :)

    • says

      Hi Zachary – it’s the Digg Digg plug-in with a little optimization (one of the plug-ins mentioned above). You just need to enable Floating Ajax option and then tinker with settings to set width and height.

  10. says

    Have you heard of Disqus for comments? It’s great and used by many blogs! Users create their own profiles, so when you click on a user, it shows their profile information. It also has threaded comments which is great for a community.

  11. says

    Thanks Danny – I’ve been wanting to deal with my way too long archive list and this article was the kick I needed to sit down and do it. I tried Smart Archives Reloaded quite a while back and had an issue with it – I can’t remember what the problem was though.

    And now it’s working great :-)
    .-= Kim Woodbridge´s most recent blog post …5 Simple and Minimal WordPress Themes =-.

  12. says

    Awesome post. Had a lot of tips I needed. Thank goodness for the RSS image align plug-in, this has been driving me batty. I’m going to go check out many of the others as well. I like the blog post link you’ve incorporated. Nice compromise for some Link Luv, instead of someone dumping a link and running.

    May I ask how you’ve done your end of post social links and subscribe via email box. This rocks!

  13. says

    Oh, I thought I’d mention some of my favorite plug-ins. I use some of the one’s you mention, plus Comments Policy, Exclude Pages (Good for subscription only downloads), Public Post Preview (great for collaboration or getting approval for an interview, etc.) and WordPress automatic upgrade