Starting a blog on WordPress is easy, but knowing what plugins you need to make your blog a high-powered, user-friendly website isn’t. With the many hundreds of WordPress plugins available today, you might not be sure which ones you really need.
Don’t waste your time trying out each WordPress plugin to find out which one you want. Here are the top 10 WordPress plugins that you want your blog to have, hands down.
W3 Total Cache
For top-notch website performance, you need the W3 Total Cache WordPress plugin. Both your blog visitors and search engines care about how fast your website is. If your pages take forever to load, you’ll lose readers and search engine traffic. In fact Google just announced this week that they are not officially taking site response time into consideration for rankings. Of course they are: speed means quality of experience for their users.
W3 Total Cache can reduce your page load time by as much as 50% or even more – something you definitely want to do. AND it will help you keep your site running and available instead of crashing if you get a major rush of traffic all at once, such as getting a popular story on Digg or a “StumbleUpon attack”. Other major caching plugins like WP Cache and WP Super Cache are OK, but in our opinion they are not as versatile or as powerful as W3 Total Cache (and we’ve used/tested them all).
Google XML Sitemaps
You want search engines to know when you post new content so you get more traffic. Google XML Sitemaps automatically generates an updated sitemap and submits it to top search engines without you lifting a finger. Don’t rely on search engines to crawl your site and find new posts – use this plugin to automatically tell them the instant you post – before someone else copies your post and pretends they wrote it – which happens. And “original content” (i.e. where Google “finds” a post first) gets much more credit than duplicate content (i.e. other places Google finds that post).
GravityForms or cForms
Your readers need an easy way to contact you, whether it’s to ask you a question or to advertise on your site. Contact form plugins like GravityForms or cForms allow you to easily create a great-looking contact form for your website. Instead of putting your email address out there for everyone (including spam bots) to email you thousands of times, use GravityForms or cForms to allow your readers users to contact you easily without cluttering your inbox with lots of spam.
Another interactive tool for your blog readers is the all-important comment box. Disqus Comments is an excellent WordPress plugin that allows visitors to comment on your articles with a great looking social interface and great spam control. Use an advanced plugin like Disqus Comments instead of WordPress’s integrated comment tool. It looks much, much better and gives you more control over comments. It’s also a hosted comment plugin that automatically syncs the comments with your WordPress database, and provides great social interaction with your readers.
Two other very popular comment oriented WordPress plugins are JS-Kit Echo and IntenseDebate. We’ve tried them both and feel Disqus is currently the better choice. The backend comment management of JS-Kit Echo leaves a lot to be desired, and we feel the Disqus comment layout just looks better than the IntenseDebate option. Frankly, this is a matter of preference, they’re all good options!
This plugin automatically comes with WordPress and does a great job catching comment and trackback spam. If you’re using a hosted comment service like Disqus, Akismet won’t apply to you. Actually you can still use the Akismet service through Disqus, just won’t need to enable the plugin.
Redirect your RSS feed to FeedBurner and have your RSS subscribers poll Feedburner instead of your site. This WordPress plugin makes your feed much more usable, since it provides far more optimized RSS feed than WordPress alone does. It will also offload the feed reader traffic to Google (who now owns FeedBurner) so it’s much, much faster than your web server, improving your blog’s performance even more. This will sound a little technical to a new blogger, but do it anyway, it’ll work better that way.
This WordPress plugin is an excellent tool to use if you want readers who are interested in your topics to stay on your website longer. YARPP automatically displays the most closely related articles from your blog to your readers at the end of the article, allowing them to easily browse through the content they’re interested in on your site instead of allowing to look for what they want elsewhere.
This easy to use spell and grammar checker for WordPress is available for free and is essential to use even if you feel like you’re spelling and grammar error-free. It doesn’t cost anything and will ensure each post is error free and looks as good as it is.
A bookmarking tool is essential for your blog and Sexy Bookmarks is an excellent tool to use with great eye candy. It adds a nice visual appeal to your blog, while encouraging readers to share the article they’re reading with their friends on Twitter, Facebook and more. This means more linkbacks to your blog and more readers for you!
Viper’s Video Quicktags
To embed your YouTube video on your blog, you’ll need Viper’s Video Quicktags. Newer versions of WordPress (2.9 and above) allow you to embed videos without special plugins, but Viper’s Video Quicktags allows you much better control over how the videos look in your posts. You can set the format for all of your videos in one place instead of coding it in each post – and having to edit ALL your posts to make a change.
After building very successful WordPress blog and online magazine AskDanAndJennifer.com over the last four years, these WordPress plugins are our personal favorites – and for the most part, the only ones we actually use.
So if you’re staring a blog yourself and decide to install WordPress for it (which in our opinion is the only way to go!) these WordPress plugins are a great place to start.
Do you have favorite “must have” WordPress plugins that aren’t in this list? Let us know!