The most popular PHP – Mysql based content management system that has taken out all the technicalities from owning a simple blog to a complex website – WorPress is biggest craze among those who want a web presence without any technical knowhow.
WordPress itself brings in core CMS functionality which can be tremendously extended by using plugins and the looks can be customized as to one’s wish by using the available themes. In this post we will be looking at some of the plugins that extend the core functionality of WordPress and are indispensable for any blog or website owner who is using or is intending to use it.
What is a plugin?
A WordPress plugin is a piece of code written that complies with WordPress coding standards and extends the core functionality of WordPress. The WordPress plugin directory has nearly 25000 plugins, which give a tremendous amount of choice to a WordPress site owner on how he wants to build his website. Here are some of the most popular plugins that are used by wordpress site owers:
1. All in one SEO Pack
SEO is one of the most intriguing problems for bloggers and website owners. This plugin answers the question – How to optimize your blog for search engines. Besides providing vital information relevant to SEO it also comes with Google Analytics Support. Some very important features like title optimization, url optimization, setting up of canonical urls, support for custom post types, streamlining of page navigational links, automatic generation of meta-tags for your post etc. are some out of the box features provided by this plugin. A good thing with All in One SEO Pack is that you can customize and override any default SEO settings generated by the plugin. It also comes with a built in API so that the functionality can be extended to other plugins and themes who want to exploit the power this plugin has to offer.
The reason why this plugin is very essential for every wordpress blog or site owner is the importance Search engines give to certain parameters in the post. If you want your site to rank in search engines for a particular keyword and get loads of organic traffic you can’t simply ignore SEO. All in one SEO Pack solves it for you and you should install it as soon as possible.
2. Jetpack for WordPress
Jetpack is a WordPress plugin that supercharges your website with awesome eye popping features that takes you way ahead of your competition. Just check out some of these and you’ll surely want this to be in your installed plugins list.
- Harness the power of social networking with social networking comment system and email subscription of your blog posts and comments. Readers can now like, share and promote your post with the data provided in jetpack settings.
- Easy monitoring of site activity including the site stats (which are enhanced by quantcast data) right on your toolbar. This includes the Wp.me url shortener usage and the stats on shortened url as well.
- Easy embedding of third party content like slides, videos etc from popular social media sites to enrich your existing content.
- Post to your blog from any email client or even your mobile phone and automatic sharing of the posts on popular social networks like Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn etc.
- Embed mathematical equations in your blog posts easily with integrated equations editor. Improvements in the spellchecker and grammar checker will enhance the speed and accuracy with you write out posts.
- Other features like the CSS designer, mobile push notifications of comments, a mobile theme that streamlines your site for mobile users, secure authentication for other apps that access your site, improved designs in image galleries, carousels and slideshows are just some of them.
Check out this super plugin which is now getting more and more popular among users just because of the sheer volume of functionality it provides in a single install.
3. Contact Form 7
Forms are popular means of adding interactivity to your website, there can be many forms like the contact us or forms that capture user data and send it to specific departments for example sales or support. Contact Form 7 plugin makes it easy to create multiple contact forms. The form can be customized without any specialized technical knowhow and comes with features like spam protection with Akismet and automatic submission protection with CAPTCHA.
If you want to build Ajax powered forms that combine flexibility with simplicity in multiple languages, for any reason like creating opt-in lists, capturing customer information or simply giving a means to your users to communicate with you – Contact Form 7 plugin is the ultimate answer.
4. WP Super Cache
What happens when you find success in online domain and the traffic to your website or blog surges so that it is now increasing the load times of your website, creating a drain on your hosting resources and negatively impacting the user-experience of your visitors? The answer is that you need to speed up your website. One way is to go for a faster and more expensive server. But wait, people at WordPress community have solved this in an ingenious way – via the WP Super Cache plugin.
WordPress is a database driven CMS, which means that whenever you make a request for a page the WordPress Core requests the data stored in MySQL databases formats it according to the HTML and CSS rules and generates a HTML page which is read by the browser. This happens every time a request is made to a wordpress site. What the WP Super Cache plugin does is that it generates a static page and stores it for a predefined time and serves it to the visitor whenever a request comes. This takes the load off from database queries and subsequent rendering of the page to suit browsers. People have experienced improved efficiency and page load times when they have used WP Super Cache plugin on their WordPress powered websites.
Static files are served to the majority of the users except those who are not logged in, visitors who haven’t commented on your blog or those who have not viewed a password protected post. WP Super Cache comes really handy when one of your post goes viral and gets immense amount of traffic from social networking sites like Digg, reddit etc.
WP Super Cache requires some settings for it to function properly. Before getting to that let us dig a bit deeper and find out how this plugin works. This is technical stuff but it is good that we understand it, those who find it daunting and want to skip it can do it without any drawback. As stated in the plugin documentation:
The plugin serves cached files in 3 ways (ranked by speed):
- Mod_Rewrite. The fastest method is by using Apache mod_rewrite (or whatever similar module your web server supports) to serve “supercached” static html files. This does require the Apache mod_rewrite module (which is probably installed if you have custom permalinks) and a modification of your .htaccess file.
- PHP. Supercached static files can now be served by PHP. The plugin will serve a “supercached” file if it exists and it’s almost as fast as the mod_rewrite method. It’s easier to configure as the .htaccess file doesn’t need to be changed.
- Legacy caching. This is mainly used to cache pages for known users. These are logged in users, visitors who leave comments or those who should be shown custom per-user data. It’s the most flexible caching method but also the slowest.
If you’re new to caching use PHP caching. It’s easy to set up and very fast. Avoid legacy caching if you can. Advanced users will probably want to use mod_rewrite caching, but PHP caching is almost as good and recommended for everyone else. Enable the following:
- PHP caching.
- Compress pages.
- Don’t cache pages for known users.
- Cache rebuild.
- CDN support.
You can set up when you want to flush the cache and generate a new cache. This act of cleaning up of cache files is called Garbage collection and you can set up time according to the frequency of your blog posting and content updation. Expect somewhat slower speeds when the cache is being flushed and new one is being generated.
5. WordPress Importer
This is a plugin that you cannot do without if you are moving from one blogging platform like blogger, tumblr or from another wordpress install to a new install. The WordPress importer does all the hard work for you and imports the data with all the files and meta data attached. The following can be imported using the WordPress importer plugin:
- Posts, pages and other custom post types
- Custom fields and post meta
- Categories, tags and terms from custom taxonomies
Installation of this plugin is very easy. You can do it right from the WordPress Dashboard or by using a FTP program to upload the WordPress importer folder to wp-content/plugins/ directory and activating the plugin from WordPress plugin management dashboard.
The mother of all spam detection plugin Akismet is a must have for any WordPress install. Spam bots and even people are engaged into comment spamming and it has become a nuisance for webmasters and blog owners who want a genuine relationship with their users but are crowded with comments which are too skinny, irrelevant or plain promotional thereby adding little or no value to the blog. Akismet plugin comes to the rescue of webmaster against such malicious activity.
Akismet constantly checks all your comments against a database of spammers that it maintains and provides as a web service to find out whether it is a genuine comment or looks like spam. Akismet maintains a history of comments which were marked as spam and which were cleared by it. It also records the activities of moderator where he marked something as spam or unmarked a comment which was marked as spam by Akismet. This way it maintains and updates its database via the web service.
The way Akismet has helped track and eliminate spam is legendary. The workload it has took away from the website owners and moderators proves its worth and makes a fit case to be in the list of essential plugins to be installed in every WordPress powered site.
The usage of Akismet requires you to obtain a API key which is free for personal blogs and comes at a small price for paid and commercial blogs.
7. Google XML Sitemaps
If your blog or website is in public domain and banks on organic traffic for its growth and bringing in business, the search engines must be able to crawl and index whatever your website has to offer. The search engines have come together to accept a standard format of submitting urls to them via what is called a sitemap. The Google XML Sitemap plugin generates a sitemap for your WordPress powered website and also submits it so that Google knows what new content is available on your website and GoogleBot can crawl it. Depending on the priority and change frequency of the post you can configure the various options in the Google XML Sitemap configuration dashboard to generate sitemaps for your site with appropriate settings.
Google XML Sitemap requires the write permission to the root folder where your website is installed. Make sure to change the permissions so that this plugin can write sitemap.xml or a tar.gz file at the appropriate location. The location you want the sitemap to be at can be defined on the configuration page of the plugin.
8. Google Analytics for WordPress
- Tracking of your site speed.
- Tracking of visitor data and real time visitor tracking if you are looking into Google Analytics dashboard.
- Tracking of links, action elements and downloads.
- Tracking of adsense ads (if you have put them to earn from your blog) and their performance.
- Tracking of WordPress parameters like Post types, Users, Authors, Publication year, tags, categories etc.
- Tracking of forms and anonymous users.
These are only just some of the metrics that we have mentioned above. When you use data from Google Analytics and the tools it provides to generate insights on your website visitors and their web behavior there are limitless possibilities. The data driven business is the most successful business, so if you want to have a good insight on your visitor data and that too for free… the Google Analytics for WordPress plugin is a must have.
9. Better WP Security
The difference between having a simple website and a secure website is like saving a lot of time in needless troubleshooting and protection from serious online threats that could be detrimental to the existence of your business. Better WP Security plugin tries to cover security loopholes that hackers and malicious elements can take advantage of to bring your site down, steal your data or pose grave dangers to your web presence.
Better WP Security plugin takes all the technicalities out of the process of securing your website. It combines many features into a single plugin and its one-click install ensures maximum security for your WordPress website without creating conflicts with other plugins or compromising with the functionality of your existing website. The technical details of what this plugin does can be more than overwhelming for even an advanced WordPress user. These can be studied at the plugin’s download location.
The thing that we are trying to emphasize here is that any website that you build should be secure. For a WordPress based site Better WP Security plugin is what you need and take our word for it that it will save you a lot of headache and allow you to focus more on building your business without worrying about the security of your website.
Taking regular backups of your website and is a point that many website owners miss out and when one unlucky day something goes wrong there is nothing to fall back on and it’s not uncommon to see webmasters pulling their hairs and cursing themselves for not taking regular backups. The BackWPup takes regular backups of your WordPress website and saves them at a place where you’ve mentioned in the settings of the plugin. With this plugin you can take:
- Database Backup (needs mysqli)
- WordPress XML Export
- Generate a file with installed plugins
- Optimize Database
- Check and repair Database
- File backup
These plugins we find are absolutely essential for any basic WordPress install that will function without hassles and provide the data and advantage required for a website/blog based on this platform to succeed. In further posts we’ll be looking at some of the specialized plugins that help you accomplish a specific task. What do you think about this list? Please feel free to add your suggestions.
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