Every now and again, I’ll get asked what plugin or solution I’m using on this blog to achieve a certain effect or result.
Because I use self-hosted WordPress to power this blog, it means there’s a crazy amount of add-ons, plugins and other optimization and performance solutions for bloggers to choose from.
While that choice is great, it can also be overwhelming.
Since I’m a self-confessed geek that likes to try out pretty much most things on this blog in the name of experimentation, I’ve used a fair few solutions in the six-plus years I’ve been blogging here.
It’s been a while since I last took a look at what’s underneath, so here’s what’s currently powering my blog, and why you might want to consider it for yours.
To make it easier (in case you’re already really happy with your sharing solution, for example, but looking to get more server speed), I’ve separated them into four main categories.
[clickToTweet tweet=”A great blog is built on four tenets: Security, Optimization, Visibility and Growth. #content” quote=”If you want to both build and offer a great blog experience, you need to follow these four key disciplines.”]
While some plugins may crossover into other categories, I’ve gathered them into the following areas:
The solutions below are a mix of free and premium – what version you use depends on your need. Let’s dig in!
While we may want a lot of eyeballs, shares, subscribers, downloads and more from our blogs, we need to make sure we actually have a blog up and running, that’s safe from attacks, and that can be restored if anything happens to it.
While there are various solutions out there, these are the ones I like and currently use.
Anti-Malware and Brute-Force Security by ELI
While WordPress is a great solution for any blogger, it can also be prone to frequent brute force attacks (where hackers try and gain access to your blog by multiple username and password attempts). The Anti-Malware and Brute-Force Security plugin by ELI is a great way to counter these attacks.
- Automatic removal of known threats and back-doors
- Automatic blocking of SoakSoak and other known malware
- Quick Scan options to give an overview of current threat status
- Complete scan to look at every part of your WordPress site
This is one of the most comprehensive plugins I’ve used when it comes to brute force protection – definitely recommended.
Check out Anti-Malware and Brute-Force Security by ELI here.
Tying into the brute force attack method of trying to access your blog via multiple attempts at guessing your username and password, the Login Lockdown plugin does exactly what it says on the tin, by locking down access to your blog after a set number of attempts.
- Set the maximum number of attempts to log in before locking down access
- Set how long a failed attempt is locked out for
- Hide login error messages
- Lockout invalid usernames (useful for a blog with limited amounts of users in the backend)
While it’s a pretty simple plugin, it’s effective. And you can’t ask for more than that.
Check out Login Lockdown here.
If your content is created for any kind of business value, the uptime of your site is crucial. Heck, even if you’re a personal blogger like me, uptime is still hugely important and something to keep an eye on.
Monitive makes this process easy. Simply create and account and they’ll start monitoring your site’s uptime.
Frequency, type of alerts and reports are determined by the plan you’re on, but even the free account’s pretty awesome.
Check out Monitive here.
One of the worst things that can happen to any blogger is to lose his or her content due to a crash, hack, glitch or simple user error. If you have years of content, this loss can be even more painful.
VaultPress is a fantastic solution that not only backs up and restores your site (with real-time back up options), but also protects your themes, plugins and settings into the bargain.
Given that it’s from Automattic, the creators of WordPress.com, it’s almost guaranteed that this will be a great plugin, and so it is.
- Alternative: iThemes offer an alternative called BackupBuddy. I was using this, but found it was causing load issues due to continuous creations of CRON jobs, so made the switch to VaultPress. More information on that issue can be found here.
Check out VaultPress here.
Along with security, optimization of your blog should be one of the things you’re constantly tweaking. Google has already advised it will penalize slow sites as well as those that aren’t mobile-friendly.
Apart from your own penalization, though, the user experience – that of your readers – should be top of mind too.
[clickToTweet tweet=”If you don’t optimize your blog for your reader, why should they optimize their time with you?” quote=”If you don’t optimize your blog for your reader, why should they optimize their time with you?”]
Here are the solutions I use for optimizing my blog.
One of the granddaddy’s of the WordPress plugin world, Akismet is probably a mainstay in the majority of WordPress blogs online today when it comes to protecting blogs from comment and trackback spam.
It also allows you to see how many comments have been approved by regular commenters, and enables you to bulk clean your comments area from span, keeping your site free of extra load and bulk.
Check out Akismet here.
While Akismet does a pretty good job of keeping spam at bay, it can still be beaten by automated scripts that bypass its algorithm. This is where Anti-Spam comes into play.
It inserts an invisible checkbox, kind of like a captcha, that automated scripts don’t see. This adds an excellent second layer of filtering, and one that only real people will bypass (even though they’re not aware it’s there). This plugin has essentially killed all but the most determined of spammers on my site.
Check out Anti-Spam here.
One thing that every blogger should be concerned about is site load. Not only is Google looking unfavourably on slow sites, but visitors are more prone to leave a site that doesn’t load in an acceptable time.
CDN Linker is a plugin that makes the connection between your preferred CDN solution (more on that shortly) and your site (even if you’re using a local caching option). It’s lightweight, easy to set up, and effective.
Check out CDN Linker here.
I’ve mentioned earlier how Google doesn’t look favourably on sites that load slow. A lot of these load issues are caused by sites hosting images and files on their own servers. If they’re not set up for this, cue load issues.
MaxCDN is an excellent solution that does the heavy lifting for you, and lets you just get on with the important stuff like content.
I use a hybrid of MaxCDN, CDN Linker, and WP Super Cache to keep my load times to a minimum. Because of the theme design I use (media rich, large featured images), this has made a huge difference in my own blog’s performance, and is well worth the monthly cost to do so.
Check out MaxCDN here.
Run a blog for any decent amount of time and you’ll get your fair share of spam commenters. As well as being a pain in the ass for bloggers, spam commenters (or sploggers) can ruin the experience for other commenters too.
WangGuard counters this by detecting and removing sploggers through a variety of ways – checking for duplicate emails, checking emails against DNS servers, enabling honeypot traps and more. An excellent solution.
Check out WangGuard here.
wpDiscuz WordPress Comments While there’s been a lot of talk recently about blog comments dying, I don’t buy into that. Sure, they may be moving more onto social channels, but there’s still life in “traditional blog comments” yet. A relatively new plugin, wpDiscuz offers a sleek and elegant approach to comments, without all the bells and whistles that other commenting solutions come with. It also uses native WordPress comments as its starting point, and this makes using wpDiscuz super easy. Simple name and email requirement to leave a comment Ajax powered to stay on-comment as well as utilizing “load more comments” versus pagination Voting up and down options Social sharing options Customizable to fit your theme brand and design In-depth backend to optimize usernames, commenter options, notifications of new discussions and more I’ve recently started using wpDiscuz after being impressed with it on my wife’s publisher site. Its clean, simple to use, fast, and – most importantly – lets you keep full control of your comments on your own domain.
- Alternative: Previous to wpDiscuz, I’d experimented with a hybrid comment system on Inline Comments and G+ Comments, but have had to disable for now due to a theme incompatibility. Livefyre is also an excellent solution.
Check out wpDiscuz here.
WP Lightbox 2
When bloggers use images on their sites, it can be pretty hard to see the detail, dependent on both how much text is on the image, and the blog’s design (a small main content area will limit the image’s dimensions).
WP Lightbox 2 allows your readers to click on the image, and it’ll expand into a more optimal size (even on mobile). You can also create galleries as well as photo albums, and filter how large the image displays, based on browser screen size.
Check out WP Lightbox 2 here.
WP Smush Pro
Tying back into the optimization combination of MaxCDN, WP Super Cache and CDN Linker, WP Smush Pro helps keep media file sizes down by reducing an image file’s size on upload.
With the option to optimize existing images, and extremely simple set-up, it’s a great way to keep server load down even if you’re not using any other caching or optimization solutions.
Check out WP Smush Pro here.
WP Super Cache
As sites get heavier with load, caching content is a great way to ensure your visitors get to enjoy a speedy site. Caching simply means you’re “pre-loading” saved content, instead of having to load new files on every visit.
WP Super Cache is one of the best, as well as one of the simplest (even though it still has pretty in-depth features if you want them).
- Legacy cache versus supercache, offering more options on where your content is preloaded from
- Comment compatibility (comments will still show up right away)
- Dynamic caching for certain pages
- Cache rebuild to ensure each new visitor gets optimal load
There are a host of features on WP Super Cache, and it’s pretty easy to set up (with excellent support).
I don’t actually use it as my main caching solution – I leave that to MaxCDN, WP Super Cache and CDN Linker (and I explain here how to do that).
- Alternatives: One of the most popular caching plugins is W3 Total Cache. From personal experience, I found this too intensive for my needs. A simpler solution is Quick Cache.
Check out WP Super Cache here.
Of course, it’s all well and good having great security, and optimizing your blog ready for all the traffic that will come your way, knowing they’ll be presented with a safe and optimized blog. Not so fast, Skippy.
Making sure your content is seen is, surprise surprise, pretty key too – and if you think that’s an obvious statement, you’d be wrong, sadly.
[clickToTweet tweet=”It isn’t just about making your content findable – it’s about making it shareable, too. #content” quote=”It isn’t just about making your content findable – it’s about making it shareable, too. “]
Working on the visibility of your blog will be a constant challenge, but doesn’t have to be one you’re not prepared for.
While there are a lot of blog posts that will tell you SEO is dead and content is the new king, they’re all clearly written by crazy people. While SEO as a standalone tactic may not be as important as is used to be, it’s still a key part in any successful content plan.
Infinite SEO is a great plugin with a host of features that anyone can use:
- Control over page or post SEO
- Preview for how your SEO will look in search results
- mozRank and Page Authority based on external links
- Intensive sitemap creation and indexing
- Automatic internal linking for better cross site authority
- Multisite and BuddyPress integration.
While there are several other SEO plugins around, for me this one beats them all.
- Alternatives: I’ve previously used the hugely popular WordPress SEO from Yoast, as well as the All-in-One SEO Pack, and both are excellent alternatives to Infinite. Yoast is more involved, and probably better suited to more advanced needs.
Check out Infinite SEO here.
This is a bit of an older plugin, so you may not want to use it (often older plugins can cause conflicts with later versions of WordPress or, occasionally, a security concern).
However, I’ve used RSS Footer for years with no issue. When used, it adds a simple sentence to your RSS feeds, and shows where the content was first published. Great for more visibility if your content is syndicated, even better to beat content scrapers at theor own game.
- Alternative: RSS Footer has actually been enveloped into its developer’s SEO plugin (it’s from the same guy that built WordPress SEO). However, you can still download the original plugin on its own if you don’t use WordPress SEO.
Check out RSS Footer here.
Perhaps the most effective way of getting any content seen is through social sharing, and there are no shortage of excellent solutions around, both free and premium.
I’ve experimented with more than my fair share, and the one I’m impressed with the most currently is Social Warfare.
The name alone should tell you this plugin means business.
- Cached share counts for faster loading
- Sort posts by social popularity
- Customize tweets for optimized sharing
- Optimize images for sharing on Pinterest
- Optimized images for sharing on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn
- Use different meta descriptions for open graph sharing
- Integrated Sniply Buster plugin to combat the Sniply content hijacking script
- Multiple design options, including responsive buttons, and sticky share options
As I mention, I’ve used countless sharing plugins and this one has really impressed me. The developers are also great at listening to suggestions and pretty fast with support issues.
- Alternatives: Two great alternatives to Social Warfare are Flare from Filament Apps, and the Monarch sharing plugin from Elegant Themes. Both offer multiple design options, stats, mobile sharing options and more.
Check out Social Warfare here.
Ironically, this part of blogging is one I never really used to care about. And, to a degree, I still don’t: you won’t see any annoying pop-ups shouting at you to subscribe before you’ve even seen the content, and I don’t use my newsletter to sell anything.
However, as content consumption gets even more fractured, and audience attention dwindles, growing your blog and its community is key to any kind of success and longevity.
There are a host of email service providers when it comes to blog newsletters – MailChimp and AWeber are probably the two best known.
However, depending on the size of your list, these can get costly, which is why Elastic Email is such an excellent solution.
While you can use Elastic Email as your newsletter form builder as well as sender, I prefer to use MailPoet for my forms (as shown further down), and Elastic Email for my delivery.
Features are excellent:
- Easy subscriber cleansing tools
- Real-time reputation monitoring to show your current status (spammy or trusted)
- Activity reports
- Single API to integrate other newsletter services (the way I do it with MailPoet)
Perhaps the best feature of Elastic Email though is the price.
Starting at $0.99 per 1,000 emails, the cost goes down as your email numbers increase. I’m currently only paying $0.39 per 1,000 emails – a small fraction of what I’d pay with other providers. And it’ll only decrease in cost as I continue – result!
Check out Elastic Email here.
Magic Action Box Pro
Look to the bottom of this post, or any other on my blog, and you’ll see only one call-to-action (CTA) – a subscription box for my weekly newsletter.
As I move more into personal content and interactions, the newsletter is perfect for me, and Magic Action Box Pro is perfect for what I need.
- Support for any autoresponder service
- Gated content options
- Multiple and responsive templates
- Sales box and sharing box options
- Simple placement choices
While I don’t use many of the features (gated content and sales-oriented CTAs), what I do use has made a huge difference in email sign-ups. And for something that’s been built to provide that lift, you can’t ask for much more than that.
Check out Magic Action Box Pro here.
MailPoet Newsletters While it’s all well and good getting new subscribers, if you’re not delivering emails that are appealing, you’re simply turning these new subscribers off. MailPoet is an excellent email template builder that also comes with analytics around your subscriber actions, multiple list options, the option to implement in widgets and pages, and more. There’s also a WangGuard MailPoet Connector plugin to stop spammy email sign-ups. I moved to MailPoet from Feedblitz earlier this year and I wish I had done it a hell of a lot sooner. Easy to use, far more design options, and simply a better experience – recommended. Check out MailPoet here.
Note: As of June 18, I’ve made the full switch to Postmatic for email delivery and comments by email – you can find out more about that here.
Future Plugins and Solutions – And You
Of course, as any blogger will tell you, just as content direction and voice is always in flux, so are the plugins and solutions we use on our blog.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Content direction and voice is always in flux – make sure your blog experience is, too. #content” quote=”Other bloggers in your niche aren’t standing still – make sure you’re not either.”]
While the options above are my current choice, they’ll be added to very soon with two very cool solutions that take content interaction and discussions in very interesting directions – more info on that soon.
Also, being on self-hosted WordPress, we’re so very lucky to have an amazing community of developers who are always trying to improve every experience – front end, back end, reader, blogger – that to stand still would be foolish (and impossible).
I can’t wait to see what comes next – in the meantime, though, I’d love to hear what you’re using.
Fire away – the comments are below, and all yours!