Blogging platforms such as WordPress let you get your blog up and running in minutes, handling all of the heavy lifting to let you share your observations, musings, insights and photos with the world. But while these world-class platforms cover the basics, there’s a whole lot more you can do to add functionality, security and speed to your blog while making it your own.
This is primarily accomplished by leveraging some of the tens of thousands of plugins available to blog owners. WordPress boasts more than 46,000 of these, are you ready to trick out your vanilla blog with some extras? Here are some of the most popular types of plugins to consider:
A slow-loading site means impatient browsers will bail out on your blog before they even read your first sentence. Luckily there are plenty of plugins that ensure your site is as speedy as possible. Some will perform an analysis and provide you with tips to tweak it for speed, while others such as W3 Total Cache use creative caching to make things zippier or will compress your images so they don’t slow things down.
The more popular the platform, the more attractive they are as a target for the bad guys out there. Plugins such as Wordfence can screen your site for vulnerabilities, backup critical data and sometimes patch the holes themselves.
“Search Engine Optimization” is a fancy word for making sure that people find your site when they’re searching for related topics. While it’s not exactly free advertising, optimizing your site and individual posts with the right keywords using a plugin like Yoast SEO can be the difference between showing up on the first page of results or the hundred and first.
Building a Following
Ready to create a mailing and start sending out a newsletter? Maybe you just want to let people subscribe to your blog so they’re automatically alerted when you publish a new post. No matter what you want to do, there are plenty of plugins like Email Subscribers & Newsletters for these tasks that make it much easier than managing everything in your Gmail account and a spreadsheet.
Building a Community
Are you ready to turn your comments section into a community? There are way more options than you’d think. Not only are there plugins for different types of comment sections, there are others that will help you deal with the inevitable spammers, keep profane comments from popping up and show you statistics on what’s happening in there. CommentLuv will even encourage commenters to post links to their own blogs, creating a community of sharing and cross-posting that helps everyone discover new content and bloggers.
Spreading the Word on Social Media
You don’t have to rely on your readers proactively deciding to like, tweet and share. You can use plugins to build those functions right into your site so every post offers them the option to share things on various social media networks. Plugins such as AddThis let you decide which buttons to add and where they should be positioned on your post pages.
This might sound like a scary word to many of you, but analytics really just means being able to see how your site is being used. How many people are visiting each day? When are they coming and where are they coming from? Are they reading your posts on an iPad or their phone or their computer? Are they finding you via search or a direct link or just typing in your address? All of these questions can be answered… for FREE! There are many ways to include Google Analytics on your site, and plugins like Google Analytics Dashboard make it easy to unpack that data right from your WordPress dashboard.
Remember, depending on your hosting arrangements, you may not always be able to install plugins, or you may have to choose from a pre-selected subset of options. And while many plugins are free, some of them will cost you money, whether it’s a one-time fee or ongoing subscription. Most give you the option of a limited trial to see if they’re right for you.
Have any plugins that you recommend to your fellow bloggers? Let us know in the comments below.