In the first post of this series I talked about the importance of the Thesis Theme, in setting up CampingBlogger. In this post, I will highlight the ten most important plugins that I used in setting up the Blog. Out of the box, if software were to actually come in a box anymore, WordPress is a robust and capable content management (CM) system that provides you with 90% of the functionality required to setup your own blog. Where WordPress falls short – that last 10% of the solution – is primarily in the user interface, where user is a potential reader of your blog. One of the reasons I switched from Movable Type to a WordPress based CM systems is the abundant amount of third-party tools, called plugins, which extend and enhance the WordPress user interface. With that in mind, and in alphabetical order, here are the ten most important plugins that I used in setting up CampingBlogger.
- Category Posts Widget, by James Lao. Yes, it says widget, but this is a plugin that adds a widget; a widget that allows you to list any number of posts in the sidebar, by category. While this sounds simple, which it is, it is very powerful for your readers because you can create a category called “Popular Posts” and display those on your Blog’s sidebar. Having a sidebar full of “Popular Posts” and “Posts About X” or “How to Y” is infinitely more useful for your potential readers than a silly calendar or a list of months and years.
- Contact Form 7, by Takayuki Miyoshi. Making it easy for your readers and potential readers to contact you adds credibility to you and your Blog. Contact Form 7 worked flawlessly upon activation, which was not the case with all of the form plugins that I tried.
- FeedBurner FeedSmith. The gold standard, FeedSmith takes all of the different methods that a visitor might access your Blog’s feeds and redirects them to your FeedBurner feed.
- Google XML Sitemaps, by Arne Brachhold. You can argue whether submiting sitemaps to Google simply masks a poor Blog navigation structure, but if you need to get your new Blog indexed quickly by Google, a sitemap is the best way to go. Brachhold’s plugin offers the very useful ability to exclude certain posts or pages from the sitemap.
- Lijit Search. In my opinion, Lijit Search is a game-changer that has yet to be fully appreciated by the Bloggerati. On CampingBlogger, I have Lijit configured to not only search the Blog itself, but also major campground listings like Reserve America, Reservations.Gov, USFS, BLM and COE. I can focus a user’s search experience like a laser beam on areas that they are likely to be looking for.
- Related Posts, by Alexander Malov and Mike lu. Like the Category Posts Widget plugin, the Related Posts plugin gives your readers additional ways to find content on your Blog by listing a number of related posts below each post.
- RSS Footer, by Joost de Valk. For every reader that comes to your blog, there might be five or more who only read your Blog’s feed. This plugin lets you communicate with these people by inserting a simple text-footer below each post in the feed.
- Sociable, by Joost de Valk. Sure, it just adds the little buttons for the social bookmarking sites to the bottom of each post, but in true Joost fashion it is very simple to use and very flexible, so that you don’t look silly by having social bookmarking buttons on your About page, or on your front page if you don’t display full posts. You don’t display full posts on your front page, do you?
- Subscribe Remind, by Trevor Fitzgerald. Encourage your readers to subscribe to your feed with this plugin, which inserts a reminder at the end of each post. Bonus tip: don’t use the default text in the plugin that everybody else is using.
- Subscribe to Comments, by Mark Jaquith. Maybe only 10% of your commenters will subscribe to the post’s comments, but those are the professional commenters who won’t remember leaving a comment on your specific blog if you don’t let them subscribe. You want comments on your blog, right?
There you go; ten must-have plugins that will make your WordPress Blog friendlier and more useful to your readers and, perhaps, capture more potential readers by elevating your Blog’s game above the competition.