As I’ve continued working on getting my site here all nicely set up, I’ve come across various plugins available for WordPress that I think would benefit most other bloggers, so I figured I’d make a list and share it because it would have helped me when I was getting started 😉 I have seen lots of posts that are “best plugins for…” but I also noticed a lot of them seemed to just be repeating each other and the comments tended to be more generic.
So before we dive into the list, let me assure you, every last one of these plugins is one I am using as of this post on this site. And any I didn’t like and removed, I won’t be listing (duh!) Also, these are in no particular order. To find these plugins, just go to Plugins in your admin and hit Add New and search by name. You can read more on them, including reviews and view screen shots from there. Agree it’s good from you and you can just hit Install (the best way to add plugins for WordPress BTW – manual install is a pain).
Updraft Plus – Backup/Restore
I learned the hard way never, ever, ever, ever trust your hosting company’s claims of backups. Some don’t back them up, some back up far less often than they claim, and most just use one method that can (and most likely will) fail when you need it most. I’ve lost weeks, even months of work on sites due to hosting backup failures. And you never ever want to not backup your stuff – not on your own computer and certainly not your website!
Backing up a WordPress site is even trickier because you have configurations, plugins, files, and the database itself to deal with. Doing it manually is generally a bad idea for two reasons – one, not as easy to restore and two (and most importantly), if you rely on yourself to always do a weekly backup you will forget, usually the week your site dies.
Updraft Plus is an amazingly awesome plug (especially to be free for the core functionality) that can automate all that backing up for you. You decide what it should back up and set the schedule: ever X hours, daily, weekly, monthly, and so forth as well as how many backups to keep. You also have a wide range of options for where to store that backup: Dropbox, Amazon S3, Google Drive, or even email it you (I wouldn’t recommend that one LOL). It also makes it significantly easier to restore your site in case of a server failure and has a built-in feature for cloning/migrating if you need to move your site to another host.
As I said, it is free for the core functionality. They do have quite a few paid options available (more than likely, as traffic grows, I’ll spend the $10 to get the option to set the time of day when the backup runs, for example) or you can do a premium pack to get all of their paid features in one go for as little as $70/year (after a year, the features still work, you just don’t get the free upgrades and new add ons unless you renew).
There is a reason it is the top-rated back up plugin out there. If you do not have this one on your WordPress site, feel free to stop reading and go add it then come back, I’ll wait 😀
Jetpack by WordPress.com
When I started this site, I tried WordPress.com first. I liked some of the features, especially the Like and Share buttons and the widgets, but I hated the limits. When I went to the self-hosted WordPress, I was shocked to find none of that stuff included! I hunted around for days trying to find plugins to replicate those features I’d liked before stumbling (almost literally) on Jetpack. Yay!! It gives the self-hosted version a lot of the WordPress.com functions. As of this post, it’s on version 3.3 and comes with 34 separate functions that you can individually turn on and off!
For me personally, I have these options turned on:
- Extra Sidebar Widgets – such as linking
- Likes – puts the nifty Like button on your posts 🙂
- Sharing – slick and well designed sharing bar that is customizable so you can decide just which buttons to put in; if you’re comfortable playing in CSS you can also customize the look
- Monitor – a MUST have feature, it sends you email alerts when your site is offline!
- Shortcode Embeds – use the easy to remember “short code” syntax for embedding a variety of popular options like YouTube videos.
- Site Verification – lets you do the “verify your site” with Google Webmaster Tools and other similar sites
- Spelling and Grammar – another AWESOME feature (and one that really had me hunting for this plugin) – auto checks your posts using the After the Deadline proofreading service; it isn’t perfect but it is a great way to get one last look and catch some last-minute errors in posts before you put it on your site for the world to see.
- Widget Visibility – also a very nifty feature that lets you decide individual pages/situations for widgets to display – for example, on my site you see the “Recent Posts and Episodes” block on pages, but when looking at the blog it’s replaced with the “Archives” block
I also used to have the Subscriptions function turned on, which makes it easy for people to subscribe to alerts about new posts. I only disabled it because I switched to the more powerful MailChimp system, but if you aren’t going to do full newsletters, then Jetpacks subscription is a great one to use. The Custom CSS function is also worth using if you want to customize your theme’s look without going through the more arduous efforts of making a child theme.
The only drawback of Jetpack is you have to enable access to a certain file for it to work because it has to sign in with WordPress.com (so you must have an account there). Most hosts disable access to that file for security reasons. In my case, I just asked my host to activate it for a short time for this plugin – once it’s signed in once, unless you use the Jetpack Comments, SSO, or API features , you can just turn off access to the file again.
MailChimp itself is an awesome email subscriber and newsletter management system. To reach your “tribe” (aka fans), an email list is pretty much a must – you can’t rely on Facebook anymore to reach even 10% of your followers. MailChimp makes it a breeze with very easy to use design tools for making templates for your newsletters, customizing your sign up forms, and sending out the emails. You can even do like I did and have it automatically send out updates showing all your new blog posts and the like!
Best of all, it’s free for smaller operations – less than 2,000 subscribers and sending less than 12,000 emails a month. And it is really free – they don’t even ask for a credit card! If you do get big enough to need paid (which is awesome, BTW), it starts at just $10/mth.
*ahem* Suffice to say, I send much thanks to Terry Mixon (obligatory Dead Robots’ Society fan plug: go check out his Empire of the Bones series!) for pointing me towards it. The MailChimp WordPress plugin let’s you add your sign in form to your site, which sort of helps for letting people subscribe 😉 The widget lets you customize it to your site, even giving you the option to remove any fields you listed as not required, and giving you a sync option in case you change the underlying form on their site.
If you’re going to do an email subscription service, I’d recommend both in conjunction.
If you are going to use WordPress’ built-in commenting system or JetPack’s contact form, then Akismet is a must – one of the best comment/trackback spam protection options available for WordPress. None of us like spam, so why not automate dealing with some of the worst of it? Since it’s from the same company as WordPress, it integrates perfectly with their forms and by comes in all default installations (so really this is a recommendation to keep it and activate it). To use it, you must get an Akismet API key, but it’s free and a quick process. It’s just part of the security measures for your site communicating with their servers – it’s something you’ll see regular using any sort of remote service like this.
I use it for the form on my contact page. A nice thing about it is it doesn’t bog real commenters with captchas or the like, it just quiet filters on the back-end.
Disqus Comment System
I didn’t like the built-in commenting system of WordPress, and I wanted it to be easier for commenters to both track replies to their comments and to leave them in the first place. Having used Disqus myself on other websites, I knew I liked their system both as a user and as a webmaster. Their commenting system works great, it easy to use, and has excellent spam filtering, while putting the bulk of the work on their servers instead of mine. 😉 Oh, and it’s free. I do love free! They have some optional paid upgrades, but I’ve yet to need them for regular sites.
The WordPress plugin lets you replace the built-in system with a Disqus one. You do have to register at Disqus first as webmaster and set up the account before you connect the two, but after that it works seamlessly, with the plugin handling everything, even taking over the “comments” link on posts pages so it shows the right number on your summary listings (something that’s a mild pain to code manually!) It also has the option of doing a “related posts” section at the bottom, which can be a great way to guide visitors to other content on your site.
TinyMCE is the name of that formatting bar you see when you do “Add New Post”. Being a web developer, I knew it could do way more than the limited options seen by default in WordPress. The TinyMCE Advanced lets you unlock those other options, including adding many more button choices (including strike-through, super/sub script, font changes, etc) and customizing the configuration. You can even reorganize the toolbars to your own preferences.
Add From Server
With the WordPress system, unless you upload a picture through their interface, it doesn’t show even if you FTP it to the exact directory it belongs. I found that rather annoying, since I can see many situations where I want to just bulk upload via FTP – such as when loading in new covers or when wanting to load in the images from the previous version of this site for use.
Enter the Add From Server plugin! With it, you can basically get WordPress to read in those uploaded files and add them to the tables where WordPress actually stores the information on your images. It’s simple and easy to use.
Categories to Tags Converter Importer
This oddly named plugin is an official one from WordPress that makes it very easy to flip a category to a tag or a tag to a category (or do them in bulk) without losing article associations. When I decided to reorganize the episode posts this week so that it was easier to browse by season, it was this plugin that let me change my previous tags for seasons to categories without me having to make new categories then go edit all 55 posts!
This simple plugin is another one I consider a “must have”, especially if you, like me, sometimes decide to do some site reorganizing or occasionally take more than 1 minute to notice a typo in a page title. With the Redirection plugin you can have the old pages redirect to their new counterparts versus leaving a bunch of 404 errors behind. Because of WordPress’ options on permalinks, I found this much easier than trying to update my .htaccess files myself for this, such as when I replaced my About Me page with Who I Am and I didn’t want to just overwrite the old one because I needed some time finish writing the new page first (and you never want to spend 3 hours on something without saving it while it’s in progress, much less over a day!)
So there ya have it. That’s my current list of WordPress plugin recommendations. I do have one other plugin, WooCommerce, installed to use for direct sales of my books, but since I haven’t had a chance to really play with it yet, I can’t in good conscience recommend it to anyone else at this time.