I do a lot of messing around with my website. That’s one of the things I love about a WordPress site. I can experiment and make changes on the fly, and if they don’t work, just try something else.
First let me state this: I’m a big fan of WordPress websites. And let me clarify that: When I tell someone to use WordPress, I generally mean they should use the self-hosted WordPress option, as opposed to the options hosted at WordPress.com.
My site just happens to be hosted via Powweb (which I also highly recommend), but most major web hosts include WordPress site building as an option.
Second, the theme I use on this site is called Thesis. While there are many free themes you can use, I find that the inexpensive Thesis theme is more than worth the money it costs in terms of functionality and customization options.
One of the reasons for opting for the self-hosted WordPress site is that there a thousands upon thousands of free (and some fee based) plug-ins that extend the capabilities of your site. Some of these plug-ins are seen by those who visit my site, while some are just for my use behind the scenes.
Remember, the idea of plug-ins is to increase functionality and usability for both you and those who visit your site. And also to make your site much more social.
Here are a few of my favorite plug-ins, most of which are free:
Akismet – Nothing worse than having your blog fill up with spam comments. I don’t like making those who comment on my site jump through hoops. I’m not a fan of moderated comments, or even Captcha in most cases. Akismet is amazing in its ability to let the good comments through and keep the spam away. I’ve tried a lot of tools for this and Akismet is by far the best.
Broken Link Checker – The web changes. Links that work one day, might not work another. This plug-in regularly checks all the links and images on your site to make sure they are working. You then have the option of either fixing, deleting, or keeping the broken links that it finds. For the most part, very accurate, but every once in awhile it reports certain good links as broken. Not sure why, but it’s a minor inconvenience.
Clicky Stats – I use Google Analytics and WordPress Stats as well, but Clicky is by far my new favorite toy. There is a free version as well as several levels of premium versions. A very usable interface where I can get real-time stats as to whom is using my site, what pages they are visiting and more. If you visit my site, I can actually follow your path from entrance, through pages, to your exit. At times I think this application might be more powerful than Google Analytics. At least for now I’m finding the information both more useful and more user friendly. You’ll hear me gush about this one a lot, and I could get lost in these analytics for hours on end. Here is just one screenshot to give you an idea of some of the information provided.
CommentLuv – This is a nice little plug-in that gives something back to your readers. If they choose to comment on your site, this plug-in makes it so that their comment will be accompanied by a link to THEIR most recent blog post (if they have a blog). A nice way of thanking them for coming to your site and commenting; you have a chance of driving traffic back to their site.
Contact Form 7 – An important part of a website is giving people the chance to contact you. Another important part is a form that helps you increase conversions. This is easy to use and allows you to customize multiple forms on your site. I have my contact form set up so that I get your information in an email when you choose to fill the form out.
Events Calendar Pro – This is a new addition to my site. It allows me to share information about my speaking schedule in both paragraph and grid form. Again, very configurable with lots of options. You can see my calendar here.
Facebook Share – It’s important to make your site very “shareable” and very social. This is a good plugin for allowing readers to share your material on their Facebook page. Works well alongside fblikebutton. With Facebook’s open graph, these are great ways of integrating social media and social sharing into your website.
Find Me On – I’ve played around with a lot of individual plug-ins that link to my various social sites, and this is my new favorite. On my site you can see it up in the upper part of the right sidebar. I currently link you to my Facebook Business Page, my personal Facebook profile, my Twitter account, and my LinkedIn Profile. I want my readers to connect with me in a variety of places. The plug-in has a lot of other options that include YouTube, Flickr, and many more. You can also use a variety of plug-ins or widgets that link to Facebook and Twitter, but some of them also tend to slow your site down. I was looking for something a bit leaner and that took up less real estate, so I went with this one. And this plug-in is updated often, so as new social platforms go online, they will most likely add them.
Search Meter – You can see this plug-in at the top of the left sidebar. You can use it to search my site for anything. The Search Meter then shows me what people are looking for on my site, and whether their search was successful or not.
Sexy Bookmarks – Again, it’s important to make your site shareable. This is the part at the end of this post where it says “Share and Enjoy.” Readers can share my posts on any number of social platforms. Highly customizable with dozens of options, but I’ve chosen just a few of the most popular social sites for my purposes. Other good options for this function are Sociable and Share This.
WordPress.com Popular Posts – I learned about this plug-in from a recent Mack Collier post. If you look in my right sidebar you’ll see the heading “Popular Posts.” This area always lists the most popular posts on my site. The assumption is that when new people come to your site, they might actually be interested in the other material on your site that was most interesting to other people. Go figure. So I added this, and sure enough, I still get a lot of traffic to those posts. Like most plug-ins it is also loaded with options.
WP Tweet Button – This is a very user friendly version of Twitter’s own tweet button. Another great way of giving people the option of sharing your posts and pages via Twitter.
Yet Another Related Posts Plugin – This plug-in analyzes your post and attaches related posts to the bottom. Look at the bottom of this post, below the “Share and Enjoy” section. You’ll see the heading “Related Posts”. The assumption is that if you liked this post, you might just like these other posts which are thematically related to this one. Again, if someone is taking the time to read your posts, give them a reason to stick around and explore your site. Since adding this plug-in I’ve noticed from that analytics that total time spent on my site has increased, as well as the average number of pages individuals visit.
Zemanta – This is a cool plug-in that integrates into your blog writing interface. As you write your post, it searches your text and recommends both images and blog posts that might be related. I find it especially useful in finding free, fair-use, and creative commons images, without having to worry about digging for licensing information. It also helps me find related articles both external and internal to my site. I don’t use it for every post, but I do use it often. You’ll see some of the Zemanta suggestions below for related articles as well.
I use a lot more plug-ins than just these, and if you have a WordPress site, I’d bet that no matter your needs, there are several plug-ins for what you want. And the large majority of them are free.
So have fun. Explore what WordPress has to offer, and experiment. You’ll be surprised at what you can do without knowing a lick of code, all in a very WYSIWYG manner.
What are your favorite WordPress plug-ins? Tell us here and explain what they do and how you use them. And if you try any of my suggestions out, come back and tell us what you think!
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