Last week’s post about the demise of Movable Type Open Source was somewhat inspired by Kevin Spencer, who has recently switched to WordPress as a result. As a favour to him, and for the benefit of anyone else who is interested, here are the five WordPress plugins that I consider essential for most installations. I’ve used all of them for at least two years – and some since I first switched to WordPress almost three years ago.
1. Bad Behaviour
Bad Behaviour, or Bad Behavior if you spell it that way, blocks various spammy robots from accessing your site. In my experience, it is the most effective way of blocking comment and trackback spam, and once set up it requires very little configuration. It also works fine with Akismet, which you can keep installed.
The only incompatibility I’ve experienced is with the bot that Amazon users to crawl sites that are registered on its Amazon Associates scheme. If this applies to you, then you will need to add ‘
Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; AMZNKAssocBot/4.0)‘ to its whitelist. I’ve also previously contacted the folks at Zite about their bot, as Bad Behaviour was blocking it, but they’ve fixed it now.
I mention Jetpack quite a bit on here, as it does a lot of things and is regularly updated. It has been developed by Automattic, WordPress’ benevolent overlords, and allows users of self-hosted WordPress installs access to some of the extra features offered by WordPress.com. It’s essentially a ‘meta’ plugin with various components that can be turned on and off. I use the following features:
- WordPress.com stats – visitor statistics
- Publicise – automatically share posts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Path, Google+ and Tumblr
- JetPack Comments – allow users to comment using their Twitter, Facebook or WordPress.com accounts
- Subscriptions – allow users to receive new posts, or new comments on specific posts, by email
- Sharing – social media sharing buttons at the bottom of posts, which can be customised
- Gravatar Hovercards – if a user has a Gravatar profile, then hovering over their picture displays more information
- wp.me shortlinks – automatically generate a wp.me/example shortlink for each new post and page
- Widget Visibility – hide some widgets from certain pages or posts
- Shortcode embeds – makes it easier to embed YouTube videos, and other media from other sites, using [shortcodes]
- Extra Sidebar Widgets – adds some more widgets to those available, including a better Twitter widget
- Monitor – notifies you if your blog goes down
- JSON API – allows third-party applications greater access to your blog
- Enhanced Distribution – pings a variety of third party web sites when you create new blog posts
There are many more features that I don’t use, such as the Mobile Theme (since my blog uses a responsive design), enhanced spelling and grammar checking, a more powerful search function and the ability to create new blog posts by email.
I like Jetpack because it amalgamates a lot of features into one plugin. In the past, to enable some of these features, I would have needed several other WordPress plugins. However, if you aren’t likely to use many of Jetpack’s components, it may be better to use individual plugins. Though each component of Jetpack can be disabled, overall, it adds quite a bit of overhead to your WordPress installation and can slow it down. Les found this on his site and has since gone back to individual plugins for some of the features.
If you’ve just switched to WordPress from another content management system, then it’s probable that the URLs for some of your content will have changed. Redirection is one of the easier ways of sorting this out. It allows you to set up redirects for dead URLs from within the WordPress dashboard, and monitor 404 errors for any pages you may have missed. It’s much easier than editing .htaccess files.
4. W3 Total Cache
Caching plugins are not always necessary for WordPress blogs, but if you get more than a few hundred hits a day you may wish to install one. There are loads out there but W3 Total Cache is seen as one of the best. It isn’t the easiest plugin to set up, and you may need to install extra Apache modules or PHP components to maximise performance (see my post from two years’ ago). But once it is configured, you should see a major boost in your site’s performance.
5. WordPress SEO
If you are blogging purely for pleasure, or for things that people are unlikely to search for, then skip this one. But if you want to optimise your posts for better search engine visibility, then WordPress SEO is one of the best plugins for this purpose. It will help you create XML sitemaps, to aid search engine crawlers; remove unnecessary cruft from your page headers; clean up URLs and tell search engines not to index parts of your site where you may have duplicate content.
It also adds a useful box to the writing screen on the WordPress dashboard. You can assign a ‘focus keyword’ for each post – the word or phrase you would expect someone to search for to find your post. For example, for this post, I used ‘WordPress plugins’. It will then make suggestions if it thinks that you’re doing things wrong; in my case, it frequently tells me off for using overly long sentences, or not making the best use of sub-headings.
Hopefully, Kevin will have found this useful, and maybe you will too. These aren’t the only WordPress plugins that I use, but are the ones that make the most difference to the way I use WordPress.