Oh no, yet another WordPress Plugin list. Stay with me a minute though. With this article I’m going to list the basic elements blogs have setup and offer different WordPress plugins that you can utilize for each part. I’ll list the features of each plugin and why you would want to use them. Go get your pen and paper ready new bloggers! It’s going to be a lot of information.
Note: Most of the plugins in this list are free. I do have a few affiliate links for premium plugins. I have clearly listed them with (affiliate) next to the link. Even though I will receive a bit of money if you do make a purchase – I recommended them in the list because I actually use them!
Before you go through this list. Please make sure to do your own research before implementing any plugin or making a purchase! Find out from your Host if they will even allow you to use the plugin before trying to install it.
Table of Contents:
- WordPress Security
- WordPress Backup
- SEO – Search Engine Optimization
- Ad Banner Management
- Affiliate Links
- Related Posts
- Social Media
- WordPress Maintenance
- WordPress Optimization
With so many attacks on WordPress sites lately it is important that you have a good security plugin installed onto your new site. This will save you a lot of headaches and time if you do this before its too late. I personally suggest using either of the two below. Only choose one of them to run as you will run into issues if you attempt to load both on your website.
WordFence - Although initial setup can seem daunting at first. It is well worth the effort to get this installed and setup correctly. What I really like are the built in statistics that display who and what is attempting to accessing your website. Then you can setup custom firewall rules to stop them from accessing your website. It also has an option to unlock additional features if you decide to go with their pro offering. A few of the features it offers:
- Malware Scanning – With the plugin it will scan your entire site to see if it has been infected by Malware.
- 2 Factor Authentication – You can setup the plugin so you receive a code to your smartphone in order to be able to login to your website.
- Stop Brute Force Attacks – Limits the amount of times a person can attempt to login to your Admin backend of WordPress
- Real Time Monitoring – With its real time logs you can see who or what is visiting your site and block them in real time.
iThemes Security – Formally known as Better WP Security this plugin does more than just scan and prevent brute force attacks. It will try and mask or hide elements of your WordPress site to offer a deeper level of security. Before using this plugin. Make sure to read their installation guide and make sure to backup your database! They also offer a premium service as well. A brief highlight on what this plugin offers:
- Obscures – Provides ways to hide or remove elements of your site that potential hackers look for.
- Protects – Actively scans and detects possible malicious threats to your blog.
- Recovery – Performs backups of your WordPress database in case you do get hacked you can easily get your website online.
If you don’t have a backup or are currently relying on your host to do it? You are already doomed to fail. The harsh reality today online is the odds of your site getting compromised are pretty good. So you need to have a backup plan in place so you can get your site back up to snuff as quickly as possible. Sure you can backup your website manually. But will you remember to do it? Here are a few solutions that will perform backups for you so you don’t have to stress about it.
Backup Buddy – This is the industry standard from other WordPress developers I’ve worked with and talked to. WordPress developers and people who manage a lot of sites use it. Although it does require an investment to using the service. If you only have the one site and a smaller budget? You might want to invest in something like:
CodeGuard - OK, I know this isn’t a plugin. It’s an online Cloud backup solution. It does start at only $5.00 / mo for a single site. I use this for my own site here at avgjoegeek. Its a great solution that takes daily snapshots of all of your files and can be setup to backup your database as well. Then you can go back in time and restore their snapshots if you need to. For all of the features and why I love it so much you can read the review I did on it awhile back.
Back WP Up Free – If you still want a free solution? Then you can use this one. I have issues with trying to rely on WordPress to backup itself. You have to rely that the host is up, the WP CRON job will kick off. Or that you push a button manually that you forget to press. Also you will need to check and make sure that plugins like these aren’t storing copies on your host taking up all that space. This plugin offers the same features as Backup Buddy:
- Allow you to backup your Site and Database
- Store on Drop Box, Amazon S3, Backup FTP Server, Microsoft’s Azure
- Backups in zip, tar, tar.gz, tar.bz2 format (needs gz, bz2, ZipArchive)
Note: You should pull down and test your backups! You never know if they failed. This is why I setup a demo WordPress site on my host. But you can set one up locally as well.
SEO – Search Engine Optimization
Otherwise Search Engine Optimization – this is where you make sure you have your website optimized so search engines can easily navigate through and index your content so it can be displayed in their Search Engine Results Page (SERP). While it is very easy to start going overboard here. There are a few plugins that will help make sure that your site is optimized correctly. But these are just tools to help. They are not the magic pill to get you to #1. You will still have to provide killer content and then promote it!
WordPress SEO by Yoast – I’ve been using this plugin since the beginning. It has so many features that Yoast created a post a definitive guide on how configure it! I personally suggest using this plugin to help make sure that your site is optimized ‘just right’ for Search Engines. Yoast does offer a premium version as well. A few of the features that I really like:
- Setup of Social Media and adds the necessary Meta Tags, OG Tag for Twitter Cards, Pinterest, Google Plus, and Facebook
- Google Publisher and Authorship markup.
- Sitemap that is highly configurable on how you can set it up so Search Engines crawl what you tell them to!
- Built in Page Analysis – Checks to make sure you didn’t forget anything and offers helpful suggestions on how to improve your post.
Warning: Do not focus too hard on SEO! You could ‘over optimize’ the article which then reads terribly and could get you penalized by Google!
All-In-One SEO – This plugin is a more simplified version of performing SEO Optimization. This plugin has also an integrated version for WooCommerce. My preference is Yoast only because it does everything I need in one place vs. this plugin which optimizes titles and articles. It doesn’t include the additional functionality such as markup info, xml sitemap, or the built in Page Analysis tool.
Ad Banner Management
If you are going to be using Ad Banners or wish to sell banner space on your blog? You will need some management plugins that allow you to setup and easily manage them. There are two that I highly recommend using for this. Although there are a ton of free options that work fine. The two below are a great investment that I have used either on this site or other projects.
Max Banner Ads Pro (affiliate) – I use this plugin here on avgjoegeek. If you want an excellent banner management system and don’t plan on selling advertising? This is the best plugin I’ve found out that does it. This is the beauty of this plugin. You can setup widget areas, ad banner rotation based on weight, timed banners that expire. It does that and a lot more. If you want to learn more check out the review I did on it before you go out and purchase it.
OIO Publisher (affiliate) – Now if you wish to sell advertising on your website? This premium plugin is the one that can take away all of the hassle involved in doing just that. You’ll setup your advertising areas on your blog and let this plugin handle the rest. People can sign up and manage their advertising and upload their images. Although the backend and subscription pages can use a little work – they are functional at least. Ad subscribers can even check how the ad is performing on your site. From how many times it was displayed, to how many visitors clicked on the ad, and get an estimated CTR % as well. It is well worth the $47.00 investment!
For the Month of May 2014 – You can use the following code to receive $10 off of your purchase! Copy/Paste the following code during checkout: SPRING14-AJG
You should always optimize your images. Another important consideration when it comes to images? You should always save them in the best format that balances quality vs. image size. When using images you should save it as the proper image type such as .gif, .jpeg, or .png. Some reasons why you will want to use an image optimizer to begin with:
- File Size – You always want to make sure your images aren’t in the megabyte region. I try and keep mine to under 200 kb and even that can be considered pretty big if I have 5 images on the page at that size. It grows back up to 1 MB.
- Site Speed – You want to provide the best experience for visitors. So having optimized images is one of the ways to ensure your page will load quickly!
- Backups – If your backup is huge? It will take forever to perform and take up massive amounts of space. Since you only have a finite amount of space in the Cloud or even on your local hard drive. This will definitely help here too.
Tip: Use the size types set for your particular theme. Make sure that the images you use are re-sized appropriately. This will save a lot of space and you know your posts will have properly formatted images.
Smush.it – This plugin uses the Yahoo Smush.it service to optimize your jpeg/png/gif images. I currently use it for avgjoegeek. I like the plugin – but I do not like how it wants to enable itself by default when you install it.
Tip: If you find images are taking some time to show up after installing this plugin? Go to Settings -> Media and uncheck the box that tells it to Smush upon uploading. I also don’t recommend using the Bulk Smush.it option especially if your on a shared host such as HostGator. The connection might time out (especially if you have a LOT of images) and even worse you could corrupt them.
EWWW Image Optimizer – This does the same as above. It uses a different service mechanism to perform the image optimization. It allows for ‘Bulk Optimizing’, Optimize images upon upload and all the rest. Another feature that I do like is the ability to turn JPEG into PNG. Though.. there are instances where you will want the quality of the JPEG and not want to convert it…
I’ve tested both – and they seem to do about the same in terms of optimizing for file size and not sacrificing quality.
BJ Lazy Load – Now that you have your images optimized? Make sure that they load in the background while your content displays first. I’ve tried other plugins like this. This one seems to be the most compatible/user friendly out of the bunch.
This is only if you plan on doing reviews of products and services on your website. If not? Then move onto the next section. A lot of people perform reviews though on their blogs. Especially when it comes to the technology/gaming niche. If your going to do reviews then there is only one plugin that I can recommend.
Author hReview (affiliate) – I use this plugin here at avgjoegeek. I really do like what it does. Although I’m not fond of the pricing at $49/yr for support and updates. It is still the best one out. With it you can get the review markup onto your site. On the bottom of the posts you will get a big review window with a short summary of whatever you are reviewing. You can use the button it provides to link to either your article or to an affiliate link as well. It also has a nifty sidebar widget (look to the right here to see what it looks like).
As of this writing I just received an email about an upcoming new product by the Author. So.. I might wait to make the purchase! *sigh* Click on the link to take you to the page and the update information as well.
Affiliate sales is my #1 money generator here at avgjoegeek. And it is for a lot of bloggers too. The issue? You get these long ugly looking URL’s in which people can alter and you end up losing out on sales because of it. There are two plugins I highly suggest getting if your going to be offering any type of affiliate sales.
Tip: Make sure that you never use the “CLOAK” feature as its considered a TOS violation to Google and to the affiliate programs you sign up for. Also use “NO FOLLOW” for any of these types of links to avoid receiving a penalty from Google.
Go Codes – This is a free link converter plugin.
Although this plugin hasn’t been updated in a long time. You can use it to turn any long ugly link into into the following example: http:// www. example.com/go/examplenamehere. Then you will need to remember the link and insert it manually wherever you wish to display it.
Go Codes also offers an important feature of adding the ability to “No-Follow/No-Index” affiliate links. Which is a good thing! The update also changed the use of 302 redirects to 301 which shows Google that the link is a redirection to wherever you are pointing it. This will help solve the potential for duplicate content that might have happened when using 302 redirects.
Pretty Links Lite- This plugin does all of the above and more. With better reporting. Use of either 301 (permanent) or 307 (temporary) redirects for handling links. I do recommend using this plugin over the other two mentioned because of the rerouting it will use for links. Also it will allow you to create clean links instead of having the ‘go’ in the url your using to link to your affiliates.
Another feature that I really like is the bookmarklet it has that you can drag to your browser. Now you can create “Pretty Links” on the fly at the click of the button! If you want additional feature such as social sharing with Twitter, or advanced reporting? You will need to upgrade to the Pro (affiliate link) version of the plugin. Click on the link provided to learn about the additional features you’ll get with the Pro version.
Warning: I would be careful using the Keyword look up feature to automatically place links. Less is more if you don’t manage it correctly you could end up slowing down your site considerably as well. I recommend manual placement of any affiliate links.
Although I did a pretty in-depth review of related posts already I’ll give you a brief rundown here as well. Related posts plugins are great ways to keep visitors interested in your content and get them to stay longer on your website. If setup correctly and not filled with the latest gossip junk? They are a great way to keep “eyeballs on the page” as it were.
Note: I have personally started noticing the same ‘banner blindness’ where visitors will tend to skip over them. So make sure to keep an eye on how effective they are for you. If they aren’t doing their job? Find a different method/format to use or remove them completely.
YARP Plugin – Yet Another Related Posts plugin is a favorite to use from the WordPress repository. With it has a widget feature to allow you to display related posts based on the different parameters you setup.
Outbrain - If you get a LOT of traffic? Then this is the plugin for you. With this plugin you will get your content shared across their network to other websites who use the plugin. If you don’t have a lot of traffic? It’s still useful for displaying related content. Just don’t expect it to share across other sites.
nRelate - I use nRelate here at avgjoegeek. I like it as it is customizable, it does a fair job of displaying related posts. And it takes some of the load off of the server to help with load times. You can also monetize the section using their ad services as well.
Link Within – This is just like nRelate without all the bells and whistles. If you want a simple related posts plugin then this is it.
I love Social Media and what it has done for me with avgjoegeek.net. If you aren’t using it to promote your site? Your missing out on huge potential for networking, promotion, and traffic. So your new blog definitely needs to make it as easy as possible for visitors to be able to share your content! My only issue? I don’t like most of what is out there. They are either too bloated, too many options, or they just don’t work.
Shareaholic - This one has been popular for quite awhile. It has a ton of options, placement settings, analytics, and the list goes on and on. The only thing it doesn’t have is a floating sharebar that a lot of blogs like to use out of the box.
Digg Digg – This is a really simple social share bar that resides on the left or right side of your blog. Brought to you by the folks over at Buffer. It will ‘float’ along with the blog post so people can quickly and easily share the article. Some people have issues when they implement Cache plugins such as W3 Total Cache. So make sure to test after you implement it to make sure it works.
WP Floating Sharebar – Another solution is this one from WP Beginner. It is pretty light weight. It looks and works great. And it will float on the top part of your blog articles so people can share with their favorite social media sites. I was using this one until quite recently even.
I’m testing out a new one that looks like it will be even better… but its still in testing. So I can’t really tell you more about it until its done.
There are many ways to change the default Comment system in WordPress. From third party plugins, to integration of Social Media such as Google Plus or Facebook. It all depends on where you receive the most engagement on which one you would want to use.
CommentLuv (affiliate link)- Although I have changed my stance on allowing “Do-Follow” links down in the comment section. I still think this is a great premium plugin. With all of the configuration settings it has it is a great way to get other bloggers to leave comments, allow them to leave a link, add a Twitter account, and more. Its other ‘behind the scenes’ plugins such as GASP, and Anti Backlink plugins help defend against SPAM. And you can setup customized emails to ensure that those who comment stay in the conversation. It is $97 though to get all of this.
LiveFyre – It has changed over the years and has evolved into a great polished comment system. If you don’t like what CommentLuv has to offer? Than I suggest taking a look at this one. It has some great features – I especially like the popout where you can continue the conversation outside of the normal reply form.
DISQUS - I did a review on this free comment system awhile back. I’m using it here at avgjoegeek.net (for the moment). You really need to be on a decent host for it to work correctly. Why? Well it pulls everything from their servers and it can cause issues if your server is overloaded or poorly optimized. That and super aggressive caching might cause some issues as well. I do like this comment system as people can login multiple ways. And I have a means to moderate through email or through the DISQUS website.
Comments Evolved – This has become my second favorite free plugin to use for commenting. If you receive a lot of engagement through Facebook or Google Plus? Then this is a very simple plugin to setup and use. What is even better? You could use all of the above along with G+ and Facebook and have a super overboard tabbed comment section! I would suggest only using two at most. The more choices people have… the less chance they will actually make one and leave a comment.
If you want your WordPress site to remain in tip top shape? You need to perform some basic maintenance to keep it that way. The database will end up getting cluttered with junk over time and it will affect how fast your website performs. I have an easy to use safe solution for performing basic maintenance though:
WP Optimize – I’ve been using this plugin ever since I first installed WordPress. It is the one plugin that I definitely use for all the websites I run and manage. Why? Its a ‘one-click’ solution. You don’t have to worry about breaking anything when you use it. And it just works! It has been updated quite a bit since I started using it.
What does it do though? It goes through your WordPress database and removes any Post Revisions, Unapproved Comments, SPAM, and will even try and use the Optimize Database feature if its available which will do some additional tweaks for you.
Note: I suggest that you avoid clicking the boxes outlined in red and you should be OK.
This last section is for helping you speed up your websites load times. How fast will your own site be if you implement these plugins? Unfortunately I can’t answer that due to how many different variables involved.
I highly suggest you take a moment to read the post I did on my own adventure with trying to speed up WordPress load times. Then you will get a better understanding of what I’m talking about.
Note: They have introduced a “Pro” Service as well. If you run a Genesis theme and have the budget for it? They promise that with their pro service they can optimize your site to load even faster. I haven’t tested it so I would do additional research.
Note: This is the plugin that HostGator recommends you use. I would take a look at their tutorial on how to set it up as well. This will prevent possible issues that might arise if you set it up incorrectly. (Such as suspending your account!)
Wait? No JetPack?
Nope. No JetPack. Why? I love big plugins that that can do everything. There is a certain point when a plugin becomes TOO big though. And JetPack has hit that point. Most people just want the analytics from it (hint: Use Google Analytics instead) or they tend to use bits and pieces of it never utilizing EVERYTHING it has to offer. Not only that – it bogs down your websites load time! There are better alternatives out there for what JetPack does. Hmm.. I foresee an upcoming article on how to do that!
WOW – This is a huge post! I didn’t originally intend on it growing the way it did! This article didn’t even touch on the other 30,000 + plugins that are available! These are the ones that I have personally used or recommend though.
Now its your turn! Do you have a better one that you would recommend instead? Did I miss one? Don’t mention sliders… I don’t recommend them either lol! Leave a comment below if you have any questions about the list. Or if you need help? I can offer that as well!
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