Choosing the Right Plugins For Your WordPress Blog

Bloggers have very mixed views when it comes to plugins – some will have lots of them and some will recommend that you have very few on your site. I’m somewhere in between with my opinion. I think that plugins are great and they can be a great way to improve the success of your blog yet it is possible to have too many resulting in a cluttered and uninteresting blog.

A plugin is basically a file that is supplied to you free of charge by users on WordPress, to see some examples just type “WordPress Plugins” into Google and you will see that there are many you can choose from. Once downloaded you can then activate the plugin via your WordPress dashboard and it will automatically display on your site ready to use. After this there is not much else you will need to do, some of the more complicated plugins will require a little bit of ‘techie’ knowledge and may even require configuration but once you have configured one you will find the rest easy. I just want to say that when I started I had no idea what a plugin was or how to install one so it is very easy to pick up and I recommend that you do so.

Plugins can be great for SEO because many of them will handle the Search Engine Optimisation for you meaning you don’t have to worry so much about getting ranked by search engines. Although SEO for Blogging is a whole other topic which I will be covering in great detail in the near future plugins can be a very quick way to achieve better ranking in search engines. The plugins which I use for SEO purposes are:

Google Site Map Generator Plugin – Search engines love websites that have a site map and this plugin creates on for you and is used by all of the top Bloggers. The reason for SE’s enthusiasm for sitemaps is because it enhances the navigation of your site and displays your whole blog on one page.

Permalink Migration Plugin – You must download this plugin as soon as you start up your blog. I made the fatal mistake of handling my SEO once my blog was fully functional and it was very complicated to sort out. This plugin will basically construct your permalinks (page & post URL’s) in a way that the search engines love. I won’t go into great detail but an example would be a post URL that looks like this “http://www.mysite.com/456373.html” – The permalink plugin will restructure the URL to include the post title like this “http://www.mysite.com/how-to-hang-a-door.html” thus resulting in a better search engine rankings, simple!

All in one SEO Plugin – This is a great plugin and many bloggers all over the world have a lot to owe to whoever was clever enough to invent this plugin. All you have to do is download it and activate it and the plugin will handle the rest. If you want to be smart then you can configure the settings in the dashboard of your WordPress blog but many will not bother. This plugin handles your page titles and descriptions and will automatically generate page and post descriptions that it feels will achieve a better ranking in the search engines, which it does. I have ranked very highly and regularly number 1 for my chosen keyword, which can be an entrepreneurs name…great traffic boost!

Other plugins that you should consider exploring are the TweetMeMe plugin. TweetMeMe is a Twitter related plugin that allows your readers to tweet about your post if they have enjoyed reading your content. If you look in the top right hand corner of this post you will see a TweetMeMe Re-Tweet button, once pressed the plugin will automatically send out a Tweet via their account to all of their followers. Clearly if they have 10,000 followers many of these people could click on the Tweeted link resulting in an increase in targeted traffic and therefore sales.

The About the Author plugin is a great way to inform your readers of who actually wrote the post that they have just read. As well as giving the author credibility it is also a nice little design feature. If you have a large blog that has a variety of contributing writers this plugin can be a great way to introduce your writers to your readers, much better than a small ‘written by: Joe Blogs’ at the top of the post.

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How to Use WP EStore, Ecommerce Plugin for WordPress

This is not a free plugin but it is probably the best plugin if you want to sell goods (either physical or downloadable digital items) from you WordPress website.

The plugin works, doesn’t cost too much and it does have some support from the authors, there is also a sort of forum. Unfortunately the plugin (in common I must say with all WordPress ecommerce plugins) suffers from some peculiarities that make it a bit uneasy to work with. Let’s see in this article how to make it work in a few easy steps. This walkthrough is intended for a basic use with Paypal. The plugin has many more options that I will not be covering here.

Installation is straightforward like any other WordPress plugin, with the difference that the plugin name is WP eStore and the installation directory for some reason becomes “wp-cart-for-digital-products “, this could be tricky to identify or remember if you have lots of plugins. Another annoying thing is that the plugin gets updated quite often but unfortunately the author does not email the customers, nor it does show up in WordPress, so you have to go visit the site every now and then to see if there is any update. How to find this is for me still a bit of a mystery, basically you must search for a page (try the forum) where there is a changelog and then you have to find another page where you create an update request and send this one out. Even more annoying, you also must indicate the PayPal transaction and the original email to prove that you are legitimate. All this takes time, in my case the last update took more than one hour because I could not find the PayPal transaction among my thousands of emails and I could not remember which of my email addresses I used to purchase the plugin. Once you manage to provide the necessary information you get an email with a time limited download link.

To use eStore once installed, go to WP eStore panel in the lower left of your WP Admin panel, there are nine options each with dozens of configurations panels, as said I will cover the basics. Click Settings and go to the General Settings. The important things here are all self explanatory, configure Shopping Cart Title, Currency, Add to Cart Button, Return URL (thank you page after the transaction), Hide Shopping Cart image (recommended), and Base Shipping Cost. The help here says “This amount is added to the total of the individual products shipping cost” but it actually adds a fixed amount whatever the number of items purchased. If you then indicate in the Add/Edit Products panel under Shipping an amount like $0.0001 for every item, you get a fixed shipping amount added to the shopping cart – which is a nice feature for many sellers. Keep scrolling (we’re assuming that you are not selling digital products) and check Use Automatic Post Payment Processing, Use WordPress Mailing System, Send Emails to Buyer After Purchase. Fill the From email address with your own and also edit Buyer Email Subject and Email Body. Notification Email Address once again is your own. The Seller Email details can be left alone. At the very bottom of this panel there is also an Enable Sandbox mode which is helpful to test a transaction with PayPal Sandbox (you need to open an account with PayPal for this).

Now go back at the top (still in Settings menu) and click the Payment Gateway Settings to check Use Paypal and enter your PayPal address. Nothing else to do there for the moment. All the other Settings options can also be left alone so we can click on Add/Edit Products. Enter Product Name and Price (important: with two decimals) and the Product Variations if any. Imagining we are selling shirts we could fill Variation 1 with Color|Red|Blue|Yellow, Variation 2 with Size|Small|Medium|Large and Variation 3 with Sleeves|Short|Long:20, this will add nothing to the price if the buyer chooses Short Sleeves and +$20 if Long Sleeves. Neat feature.

Let’s leave all the other options alone because we are finished, we could actually sell our product already. So go to Manage Product where you will see a list of items, Shirts for example, with an ID number like 1. Just create a new post or page and place the shortcode [wp_eStore:product_id:1:end] on it, the plugin will do the rest.
When editing or creating a Post/Page in visual mode you can also click the eStore icon and get all the shortcodes you may need, including the one to view the Shopping Cart (there is also a separate widget to display the Shopping Cart from the sidebar). Even more shortcodes are downloadable and show up in WordPress like another plugin.

If you need to customize things, that is a bit more difficult because eStore is a complex plugin with more than 170 files. I always have a really hard time modifying CSS and php files to change for example spacing, icons settings and so on, depending on the theme you use and how picky you are. Whatever you change keep a changelog yourself because as said the plugin is apparently updated often.

One last word about the very useful capability of selling digital products. This works really well and is definitely the best feature of the plugin. I recommend to configure it to send to the customer a download link via email after the purchase. This is done automatically and you can also choose duration of download link, number of downloads allows, and best of all the link is actually encrypted so the customer does not actually see the real link (you can save your digital product files anywhere on your site). This is done in Settings/General settings, where you set the main settings, and under Edit Product/Digital Content Details where you indicate (besides name, price etc. as before) the complete actual Url to the item and under that, remember to check Downloadable. As said the customer will not see this link.

As said the plugin does offer many more options, including Categories, Subscription Payments, Coupons/Discounts, and more. My favourite is the useful Stats, especially when selling digital products, it is nice to wake up in the morning and see how many products have been sold entirely on autopilot, nothing else left to do… the dream of every Internet Marketer.

WordPress Plugins – My Top 15 Plugin Picks

Have you gone searching for plugins recently? There are a bazillion and one of them (and I don’t believe that’s an exaggerated number!). Knowing which you need on your blog can be very confusing. Worse, is that you start downloading and installing dozens of plugins and you don’t really know what they’re for and/or how to use them.

I can help you make wise plugin choices for you blog.

WordPress Plugins – Choose Wisely

Plugins add features and functions to your WordPress blog above its core functions as is with an ‘out-of-the-box’ installation. Plugins are one of the things that makes WordPress so powerful, because there’s a plugin for nearly everything (and once someone creates a plugin so my WordPress will give me my morning coffee – I’ll proclaim WordPress 100% perfect ;); however, just because there are so many plugin choices, does not mean you should download and install them all. So how do you choose?

You Start by Identifying a Need

If you find you have a need for a specific feature or function on your blog, that’s when you search for a plugin to fill that need. Not before.

So the plugins you may use, might be completely different than the ones I might use; because our needs are different.

Know and Understand Your Plugins

If you’ve identified a need, then searching for plugins to fill that need is the first part of knowing and understanding why you are installing a particular plugin. You will find many ‘Top Recommended Plugins’ lists on the web, and there’s nothing wrong with those lists, but you need to know and understand the purpose and function behind a plugin before you download and install it. If you don’t, then you are not going to be using that plugin to its full potential; or worse, it could be slowing down your blog, or not be compatible with another plugin you’re using.

So don’t blindly install plugins unless it is filling a need you have on your blog.

Plugin Maintenance

Every time you need to upgrade your WordPress, there’s always a chance that one of your installed plugins will not be compatible after the upgrade. For the more popular plugins, their developers are usually on top of these things, and an upgrade is made available very quickly. However, not all plugin developers continue updating the plugin and if that’s the case, you’ll need to find another compatible plugin that will do the same thing your now outdated plugin did.

Too Many Plugins?

There is no set number of recommended plugins; other than to only use those that you need. However, keep in mind that many plugins use a lot of resources and some may really slow down your blog’s loading time. If you find that you’re using a resource hog plugin, try to find a ‘lighter’ alternative that provides similar function/features.

My Top 15 Recommended Plugins – and Why They are Useful

Ok, now that I’ve given you the lowdown on plugin selection and things you need to be mindful of; I do have a list of 15 plugins that I personally use and I’ll share with you their function, so you can decide if they would also be useful on your blog. If you don’t want or need the function/feature any of these plugins provides – do not install them. Simple as that. 🙂

  1. Akismet: this is one part of my two part spam-fighting system on my blog to combat comment spam. This plugin actually comes already installed on every WordPress blog, you just need to activate it with an API key you get from WordPress.com.
  2. All in One SEO Pack: awesome plugin that allows you to set unique blog post and page titles (i.e. keyword phrase specific titles that should be unique to every post and/or page you write) and set meta descriptions and add meta keywords as well.
  3. Articles: this plugin allows me to select ‘featured’ posts that will then display on a separate page on my blog for quick and easy reference. Not the same as a sitemap, as only those posts you select will be visible, so a good way to keep your most popular posts all in one easy to find location.
  4. Audio Player: a nice plugin that makes it very quick and easy to add an mp3 audio to a post or page. Great for adding interviews or audio sound bites to your page. I prefer this plugin over the built-in audio player in WordPress.
  5. Comment Redirect: this plugin will redirect all first time commenters on your blog to a page or post of your choosing. I have a page created where I thank them, as first time commenters, for visiting my blog – you could even offer them a free downloadable report on this page, invite them to subscribe to your mailing list (include an opt-in form on this page!) or whatever you want. Make them feel special and appreciated!
  6. Dagon Design Contact Form: by far the best and easiest to use and setup contact form I’ve found. It includes a captcha to control contact form spam by bots.
  7. Dagon Design Sitemap: this is a human-friendly sitemap, made to make it easier for your blog visitors to find all of your posts and pages in one spot. Has a place to enter the location of your XML sitemap (see below)
  8. Google XML Sitemap: this is a sitemap for search engines. Yes, you need both a human-friendly sitemap and this XML sitemap, so works well with the Dagon Design Sitemap listed above.
  9. Sexy Bookmarks: this is a social bookmarking plugin that will add social bookmarking icons below every post and/or page on your site so your blog visitors can easily Stumble, Digg, Tweet, etc…. your site content. This is great for traffic generation!
  10. Similar Posts: adds a list of similar or related posts at the end of your blog posts.
  11. Subscribe to Comments: allows site visitors to receive notice of any new comments on a specific blog post.
  12. Thank Me Later: will send a fully customizable follow up ‘thank you’ email to anyone who has previously commented on your blog, but has not been back. Great for reminding folks about your blog and getting return visitors.
  13. Twitter Tools: allows you to integrate your blog and Twitter account. This is the tool I use to automatically send a tweet out when I publish a new post on my blog. You can also add your latest Twitter activity in your blog sidebar.
  14. WP Database Backup: this an extremely handy plugin that everyone really needs to use. Not only will this plugin backup your database, you can schedule regular database backups with this plugin and have those backups emailed to you. I highly recommend that you install this plugin and schedule at least daily backups of your blog. Do not assume your web host is doing regular daily backups of your site.
  15. WP Super Cache: if you have a blog that gets a LOT of traffic, or you could potentially get a surge of traffic (like through Digg, Stumbleupon or a trending topic), you need this plugin. It will save you from crashing your bandwidth during high traffic surges.