Geeking Out: My favourite WordPress plugins for bloggers
Tags: bloggers, blogging, plugin, plugins, wordpress.
There is nothing quite as annoying as seeing a great feature on a blog and wishing that you knew how to add it to your own, but not having the faintest idea how. So this is me, sharing my favourite WordPress plugins for self-hosted (aka WordPress.org) sites, so that you know just how I made Mama Geek the way it is.*
If you have any questions about any of these, or need any help with a particular plugin, I will do my best to help you out, just leave me a comment!
*except for the bits that are super geeky & custom-built for this site, which includes the archives, giveaways & reviews pages, and latest reviews & latest photos widgets.
Adding Great Features
Jetpack has to be my number 1 plugin for bloggers. It replaces SO MANY PLUGINS. Simply hook this up to a free WordPress.com account and you instantly have access to loads of great additional features for your blog, including:
- WordPress.com stats – if you’ve transferred from WordPress.com to being self hosted and miss the WordPress stats page, this gets it back for you! I have both this & google analytics, and use both. The WP stats are great for a simple at-a-glance overview of whats going on.
- Jetpack Comments – allowing people to comment using their WordPress.com, twitter, or Facebook accounts – as well as the usual name/email/url options.
- Subscriptions – users can subscribe to your blog posts and comment replies via email, both from the comment form and from a sidebar widget (for the new blog posts)
- Great gallery enhancements including Carousel slide show view and tiled galleries
- Contact forms to allow your readers to email you from your site – these are really easy to put anywhere into your site!
- Sharing buttons to allow people to share your posts on social media
- Infinite scroll – this can be a little tricky to set up if you have a custom theme, but allows you to have twitter/Facebook like continuous scrolling on your homepage – as you scroll down, more posts are automatically loaded (see the homepage of Mama Geek for an example of this!)
- Spelling & grammar checking – no more embarrassing spelling mistakes!
- Custom CSS – for simple theme tweaks
- Push notifications for your iPhone!
- Mobile theme for smartphones
- Twitter & image widgets, making it super easy to insert images or your twitter stream into your sidebar
- And loads more!
I use this with the Jetpack plugin to make the mobile theme a bit more interesting. As I have a featured image for each post (this is the image shown on my homepage for each post), this plugin displays the image for each post between the title and extract on the mobile theme.
Another plugin that adds to Jetpack, this one is brilliant if you ever host giveaways. This plugin simply allows you to embed your email subscription widget into a post, just by including the shortcode “jpsub” in square brackets.
I pop this below the rafflecopter widget on giveaway posts whenever I run a competition that has “sign up to receive new posts by email” as an optional entry, and it means that entrants can find the sign up form really easily. Just like this…
I prefer to use this plugin instead of the “publicize” feature of Jetpack, because it integrates much more deeply with your twitter and Facebook activity, as well as giving you more control over what exactly your “broadcasts” look like, when posting from the web.
Like Jetpack’s “publicize” feature, this plugin can be set up to auto post to Twitter and Facebook whenever you post to your blog. You can customise the default format of the broadcast, and post to multiple accounts if need be.
The killer feature is it will then watch for replies to your tweets or Facebook posts, and import any replies, comments or likes as blog comments on your post. I love this because I will often get replies to tweets about my posts, instead of comments on the blog, and this plugin grabs the tweet in question and adds it to the comments on the relevant blog. It will even use the twitter user’s avatar and link to their profile. You can see loads of tweet comments on my recent MADS post.
Social Stickers allows to you add ‘stickers’ to your sidebar, for example linking to your Facebook page or twitter profile. It is a great way to simply display links to the various places you can be found on the internet, and with a variety of sticker themes available (as well as the ability to add your own) you can be sure to find one that will fit right in with your chosen blog theme.
This is one I’m not currently using, as I have coded my ‘stickers’ into my custom-built theme. It is great for people who just want to add some to their sidebar without having to touch any code! It also has an advantage over hardcoding your links in, in that you can update and change your links easily.
Another plugin that I don’t personally use, but recommend nonetheless, is Instapress. This plugin gives you a super simple way to include your latest Instagram photos into your sidebar, whilst still being quite customisable. Some of the Instagram plugins I’ve looked at in the past are too over complicated, and I can’t stand sidebars that are really cluttered – Instapress keeps things simple and neat.
I would probably be using this one myself, if it wasn’t for the fact that we (I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I bribed my dear husband to help out with the trickier bits) created a custom plugin for this site that combines my latest photos from the blog with my latest Instagram shots and combines them into one slide show.
You see that area at the bottom of this post where you can jump easily to a couple of related posts? That is powered by this handy plugin. It’s a great way to automatically point readers of your blog to other posts that they might be interested in, when they get to the end of your post. You can also display related posts as a widget in the sidebar.
You can create different categories, and give your tasks varying priority. I keep track of post ideas, my review to-do list, and all sorts using this handy-dandy plugin. It even adds a quick link to add a new to-do item in the admin bar so it’s easy to jump to the to-do admin page to add new list items.
A nice touch is that you can also add a widget to your sidebar, displaying one of your lists. This is great if you want to have an “upcoming reviews” widget, or similar - the widget updates automatically as you update your to-do list! I used to use this feature on my old site but have taken it off for now, as I didn’t want to over clutter my sidebar.
This plugin gives you a visual overview of your posts in calendar form. You can drag & drop your drafts to different days, and start new drafts right from the calendar. It’s really useful to be able to visualise what posts you have scheduled for what days, and you can even quick edit the post content, time and scheduled/draft status right from the calendar.
The Techy Stuff
This plugin will help you make sure your blog can be read easily by search engines. SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimisation” and this plugin will walk you through the process of making your website a bit more Google friendly.
It will also create an XML sitemap that can be submitted to Google webmaster tools, allowing Google to index your site more easily. You can either install this, configure it (you are walked through an initial configuration) and forget about it, or go one step further and ensure that each post you write is optimised for certain keywords, using the SEO checking tools on the post edit page.
It’s a really powerful plugin and can be quite intimidating to use, but Yoost Van Dalk, the plugin’s author, has helpful guides about WordPress SEO on his site, so you can check that out if you need more help.
Using this plugin rather than embedding your google analytics code manually gives you more control over what is counted in your stats. You own visits can be discounted, outbound links tracked, and much more besides.
As I said above, I prefer to run google analytics on my sites in addition to the WordPress.com stats – you get more in-depth information, can export your stats to share with PRs etc, and you’re not at risk of losing your stats history. I’ve had to deactivate & reactivate my Jetpack plugin before, and lost my stats history in the process. Having a second set of stats gives me a backup of sorts!
And that’s it!
I hope you’ve found this post helpful, sorry if I’ve waffled on a bit! If there is anything else you want to know, just leave a comment below and I’ll try to get back to you as soon as I can