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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