5 Free Essential Plugins For Your First WordPress Blog
It can be rather overwhelming when you are first introduced to WordPress. Although the user interface is highly intuitive, the sheer power of the system and number of options is enough to initially confuse even the savviest of bloggers. Beyond the user’s initial experience with the user interface, the first potential stumbling block is plugins.
There are an astonishing number of plugins available for the WordPress platform, which is both a blessing and a curse. Sifting amongst them and lifting the diamonds from the rough can be a challenge. Although WordPress offers a rudimentary rating system for the offerings available at the Plugin Directory, it is difficult to find the plugin that matches your needs without usually going through quite a lot of trial and error.
Fortunately, at WPMU we have taken the time to carefully consider the essential plugins that you must have for your WordPress blog. We have handpicked the most powerful (and of course free!) plugins from each major category, and present them here to you for the betterment of your blog. Enjoy!
Page Load Speed
Any blogger worth his or her salt recognizes the importance of page load speed. Yes, it isn’t a particularly glamorous topic, but that makes it no less important. After all, it has been proven that site speed can affect both your Google rankings and how long your visitors hang around.
Think of your blog as an engine. If there isn’t someone on the throttle, then you’re not going to go anywhere. Is your blog coasting?
Enter your new best friend – WP Super Cache. In simple terms, the plugin converts the dynamic content generated by WordPress into static HTML, which loads a lot quicker. All you need to be concerned with is the net result of installing this plugin – faster page loading times. Take 5 minutes to get this bad boy up and running and reap the rewards forever more.
Social media is quickly becoming the lifeblood of blogging. Whilst search engines can provide an ocean of traffic, social media can deliver a concentrated stream of highly targeted visitors to your blog.
It is vital that your blog is set up to hook people into your social media net. But the choice of social media plugins is mind boggling.
I have been through more than a few social media plugins in my time, and have found one that really works a treat. That plugin is Digg Digg. It takes pride of place in this list because it is effective, simple to customize, and of course free. So go ahead and download Digg Digg – it is a great plugin. You might want to also check out Floating Social from WPMU DEV – it has tons of customization features and even allows you to add any service you want.
When blogging became a household term not so many years ago, one of its major ‘selling points’ was the concept that it promoted community. That concept is derived mainly from the ability for a visitor to have their voice heard through the means of a commenting system. Comments are what connect you with your visitors. They are essentially what makes a blog, a blog.
WordPress comes pre-packaged with a perfectly adequate comments feature. It gets the job done. If you are interested in something a little more involved, then our very own Comments Plus may be right up your street.
Putting that aside, let’s talk about one key thing that you can be doing to increase the feeling of community at your blog. Quite simply, that is to get people to come back. How do you do that? Simple – engage with them, and let them know that you have done so.
This is where Comment Reply Notification comes in. The functionality of the plugin is simple, but highly effective. It presents your visitor with the option (which can be checked by default) to be emailed when his or her post is replied to. When you reply to your visitor, they can then often be drawn back to your blog. It is a great way of establishing a loyal reader base.
Comment Spam Protection
Comment spam is the bane of many a blogger. Fortunately, WordPress comes pre-bundled with Akismet Spam Blocker. Unfortunately, some pretty high profile blogs have complained that it has become unreliable.
But all is not lost! From the ashes of the apparent failure of Akismet rises GrowMap Anti-Spambot Plugin, which is both blindingly simple and effortlessly flawless in its ability to block out all spam. In simple terms, the plugin provides a check box that your commentors must click to confirm that they are not a spammer. For whatever technological reason that is beyond my understanding, spam bots cannot ‘see’ this check box.
Last but certainly not least, your blog needs a contact form. This functionality is curiously absent from the default WordPress install. I say curiously, because your visitors being able to contact you should rate as one of the most important functions of your blog. Publishing your email address is not something that many bloggers wish to do, due to the potential spamming implications. But fear not! Fast Secure Contact Form – a plugin which comfortably delivers on the promise of its name – is here to rescue you.
The plugin features all of the functionality you could wish for – multi-forms, a plethora of fields, CAPTCHA spam blocking, and URL re-direct upon form submission. It has also got more customization options than you can shake a stick at. Install this little gem and you’re golden.
That’s All Folks!
So there you have it – five must have plugins for your blog. With these up and running, you are good to go. But no list is ever of course comprehensive – do you think that there are other ‘essential’ WordPress plugins that are not on this list? Or, do you think that there are better options in the categories above? Let us know in the comments section!