Welcome to my series of quick tips for WordPress bloggers! Please note that nothing I post here will be for experienced users. Instead, the series is just quick little tips that I’ve come across since moving to WordPress. If you happen to have a random question about WordPress that doesn’t have to do with actual programming issues (which I know nothing about), feel free to send me an email and I’ll do my best to hunt down an answer!
This week’s topic…plugins!
One of the most wonderful things about WordPress, what makes it such a fabulous platform for everything from publishing a blog to running a business, is the fact that a website owner can make their site do almost anything with the help of handy add-ons to WordPress called Plugins.
Plugins are amazing. They really, truly are. They can optimize your SEO, add social media buttons to your website, even manage your monetization methods. But Plugins can also be dangerous. Sometimes they don’t do what they say they will do. Sometimes they will break the entire look of your blog. Sometimes plugins will interfere with other plugins. And even if all your plugins are working great, adding too many can consume too many resources and force your host to shut you down.
So how do you choose which plugins to run? Initially, they should be the ones that are absolutely essential for your website’s functionality. For most blogs (and websites in general) this will include a good cache program (W3 Total Cache and WP Super Cache are the most common ones) an SEO plugin and a spam plugin. Of the three of these, the cache program can be the most difficult to set up. Fortunately, most include step-by-step instructions to help you. One word of warning: some of the cache options to speed up your site will also result in your site gobbling up resources. So make sure to leave these features inactive. WP Super Cache even includes these warnings right in the program, so knowing what boxes to leave unchecked is very easy. If you see any comments about website hosts not allowing certain features, DO NOT activate them.
For SEO Optimization, I use the Add Meta Tags plugin. I like it because it is very automated. My tags are automatically added to my posts as meta tags, which basically means that search engines scanning my site are able to know what each page is about. And while every page is automatically optimized based on the tags I enter, I am also able to add a description and keywords of my choice for my homepage too.
Spam is a big problem on WordPress and if you’re not a fan of spam on your site, you cannot afford to go one day without a comment spam detector. I use Akismet because it is free, easy to set up and does a very thorough job. You do have to check your spam folder since a legitimate comment can get caught now and again. But in two years on WordPress only two spam comments have successfully made it past Akismet on my site.
Once your site is running quickly, optimized for SEO and protected from spam, you can look more at the specifics of what your website does. If you run a typical mom blog that features reviews, giveaways and social media engagement, there are likely one or two plugins that you will immediately want to include. My favourite is the social media button plugin. Social media buttons are a great way to encourage interaction and make it easy for people to share, Stumble or Tweet your posts. Share and Follow and Socialize are two of the more popular plugins for adding buttons to posts. I recently made the switch to Socialize because in addition to Facebook and Twitter, it lets me include a Google +1 button on each post.
Finally, when your site is optimized both as a website in general and for what you do specifically, you can add any fun little extras that you want to test out. My current favourite in the fun, non-essential plugin category is the new Pinterest “Pin It” Button. Like so many others, I am a huge fan of Pinterest and having that button on my posts lets me pin my own posts to my boards and makes it easier for other people to do the same!
Ideally, your site should be using no more than about a dozen plugins, and some people think even that is too high. I currently use fourteen and I worry about it. If you’re using twenty or more and you’re on a basic shared hosting plan…WOW.
Also, it’s a good idea to look through your plugins ever few months or so to make sure that you still need all of them. Back when comments were used as giveaway entries on MK&K, I needed a special plugin to disable the WordPress feature that tells people, “You are posting comments too quickly. Please slow down.” It wasn’t even optional. I NEEDED it. I would never want my readers to have to see that message again and again as they put in their entries. When I switched to Rafflecopter, I no longer needed that plugin, yet it wasn’t until months later that it occurred to me to remove it.
Plugins are amazing. They’re like little bits of magic that can turn your website into absolutely anything you want it to be. But just like magic, they can be tricky. So take your time, read the reviews, use them with care and NEVER use more than you have to. When you use them correctly, they are quite possible the best feature of WordPress.