10 WordPress Plugins Every Beginner Should Use
There are many blogging sites out there, but in many ways WordPress stands alone. Perhaps the most immediately obvious is its vast popularity. Released in May of 2003 by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little, WordPress (as of August 2011) manages an impressive 22% of all newly created websites. Their latest update, 3.0, has been the recipient of 65 million downloads. Needless to say, there is not a more popular blogging site out there. At this point, the uninitiated are probably wondering what exactly makes WordPress so special. Well, there are a number of things. It’s very intuitive, allowing you to adapt the look of your page easily as well as giving you access to useful widgets like Facebook “like” buttons and news sliders. There’s the fact that the site is fully functional (and eminently usable) on just about every platform you can imagine, from Android Phones to iPads to BlackBerrys.
There’s the fact that the site is updated so carefully, with nineteen updates released so far, to ensure that the site is always at its best and never behind the times for long. But the most defining feature of WordPress has to be the fact that it’s open source, meaning that the site is fully collaborative. The site’s source code is made available, making the experience highly adaptable. This allows for the integration of user-designed “plugins,” essentially the WordPress equivalent of apps, which can add new features, allowing the user to customize their experience on the site to a remarkable degree. Currently, over 18,000 plugins are being offered, and while there’s obviously a great deal to explore, you have to start somewhere. Here’s a guide to doing it effectively: ten WordPress plugins which will get you started right.
Basically, having a strong SEO service on your side can mean the difference between your site being a failure or a success. Without its influence, attempts by others to find your page on Google or any other search engine for that matter could prove useless, and their chances of stumbling upon it when searching for a related keyword would be infinitesimally slight. Luckily, the All-In-One SEO Pack plugin can help your blog on its way to getting the visibility it presumably deserves. The service “automatically optimizes your titles for search engines,” “generates META tags automatically” and allows different degrees of interactivity based upon your experience with SEO programs. Basically, it’s a ton of great features, all of which can be a great aid to you and your project. It has a rating of 3.8 out of 5 stars, has received 711 perfect reviews and is completely free, though you do have the option of upgrading to a pro pack with some nice but generally unnecessary additional features. Anyone who starts a blog with WordPress should give this plugin some serious consideration.
Though WordPress is a great site, nothing’s perfect. Therefore, as a free download rated at 4.6 stars W3 Total Cache is certainly worth a look. It basically makes your time on WordPress more than a bit better by bolstering your server’s performance, reducing download times and potentially improving your Google ranking, and constantly caching every page of your site to improve loading times. They promise to improve your site’s performance by ten times, and based on their reviews, I believe them. This one’s a no-brainer. There’s no reason not to give it a try.
Contact Form 7 advertises itself as “Just another contact form plugin,” but there’s a reason (besides its rating of 4.3 stars) why it rose above the rest of the pack to make it onto this list. The plugin is especially versatile. For example, you can use some of the forms you create here to make a fully functional email service which can then be tied to your blog, allowing readers to contact you on a totally exclusive platform. This is certainly a useful feature, but its just the beginning of what these highly adaptable forms can do. Download Contact Form 7 for free and see for yourself.
With over one million WordPress sites now utilizing the ShareThis plugin, it stands to reason that they must be doing something right. How about the fact that the plugin has “access to 120 social channels”? Considering the majority of us are only familiar with basic options like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr and Google+, all of which are compatible with the program, this fact alone can’t help but make ShareThis seem impressive. Basically, it’s a widget, but a very flexible one, allowing you to add as many like, pin or +1 buttons as you’d like, significantly increasing your site’s potential visibility.
With over 6 million downloads, it is one of the most popular wordpress plugin for creating gallery and slideshow. This plugin allows to upload and manage galleries of images, with the ability to batch upload, import meta data, add/delete/rearrange/sort images, edit thumbnails, group galleries into albums, and more.
Slider Pro is the first plugin on this list that you have to pay for, but for many it will be worth the $25 it costs. After all, content alone will not draw people into your site. It must have a strong aesthetic component as well, one which Slider Pro can help to provide. Essentially an automatic slideshow, Slider’s product is highly customizable. You can add any number of effects, including wipes and fades (two options among “more than 100 possible transition effects”), and choose from a wide variety of skins. The slider is automatically touch screen-enabled. It can also display pictures from your Flickr account or even videos from Youtube or Vimeo. Yes, the app requires a financial commitment, but it’s a one-time price and considering how much it can transform your blog’s image it’s certainly worth considering.
Some bloggers are simply content to have their work read, their own identity minimized, and others wish to use their blogs as a platform to get their name out there, to perhaps build to other things. For those people, Fanciest Author Box is a great tool. It ensures that your self-written biography is placed front and center, easily accessible from every post you make, allowing readers to more easily locate your contact information and perhaps subscribe to whatever social network pages you might have. It has a star rating of 4.5 and though they’re charging $10 for it on their site (which you certainly can pay if you feel like making a donation), head to wordpress.org and you’ll be able to pick it up for free.
Not affiliated with the All-in-One SEO Pack, the All-in-One Event Calendar is a great way to keep yourself organized. It has a plethora of great features. You can import events from other online calendars, like those available on Google Calendar, iCal or Outlook. You can integrate it with Facebook so that any events listed on your profile can be added to your calendar automatically. You can color code and filter your calendar so that you’ll be able to identify upcoming commitments with nothing more than a quick glance. You can set the plugin to display recurring events automatically. The list goes on and on. The All-in-One Event Calendar is a fantastic, 4.5 star free service.
Once you’ve established an audience, one of the most powerful ways you can stay in contact is to create an email newsletter updating those who care on the current condition of your blog, upcoming events or news or anything else you care to include. If you have use for such a service, consider MailPress. It’s free and it offers more features than post similar paid services. Not only does it help you organize the contact information of your subscribers and send your newsletters, but it can also mail them an automatic notification when you post something new to your blog and send out bulk emails. Also, you can customize the look of your emails, picking from multiple themes and templates as well as deciding whether you want them to be HTML or plain text. For any reasonable price this plugin would be strongly worth considering. For free it’s remarkable.
Analytics, or the search for patterns in data, can be a great way to locate a target audience or simply to learn just how much visibility your page really has. With a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars, Ultimate Google Analytics is a fantastic way to track who exactly is accessing your site, what kind of operating system they’re on, what country they’re in, how they arrived at your page and so on. This data can prove to be immensely valuable, and this plugin does a great job retrieving all the analytical information you’ll ever need. Sure it’s a little old, and it might not work properly on new versions of WordPress without a little tweaking, but taking an open source approach and adding a couple lines of code (easily available online) can clear any issues right up. It’s worth the extra work. Plus, it’s free.
For those just starting out on WordPress, these tools can be incredibly beneficial. Use them effectively and your blog stands a good chance of benefiting from your efforts. Using the plugins described above you can dramatically improve the performance, look, organization and marketing potential of your site with a few easy clicks and a minor amount of cash. Best of luck to you in your endeavors.