The days I spent blogging on Xanga feel like a lifetime ago. Looking back on old posts written by my 17-year-old self always evokes feelings of delight and chagrin, simultaneously. My exuberance in expressing thoughts about practically everything — and quite eloquently I might add 🙂 — is surprising to my more reserved and composed older self.
But such is the progression of an adult human being, and my blog(s) have evolved with me as well. After Xanga became less of a strong blogger community and more of a cluttered mess, I migrated to Blogger, but only for awhile. It didn’t really have the same blogger network vibe of Xanga’s glory days, and it was (and remains) a rather amateurish version of WordPress, a powerful website and blogging platform I became drawn to during my undergrad days. It took a bit of tinkering around to get familiar, but I can’t imagine using anything else now.
WordPress enables me to create great websites with clean designs, and using a variety of plugins, I can have customised elements on my blog that makes it look like I paid a professional to set up. If you’re starting afresh with WordPress, you may find the countless plugins available, even for a single purpose, a tad confusing. (So many SEO optimization plugins! How is this social media sharing plugin better than the other?) With some experimenting and researching of the best plugins to use, you’ll eventually land the ones you find most useful for your needs like I did.
Here are the plugins I highly recommend (not just for beginners, for everyone really,) to get your site up and running:
As mentioned, you’ll be tinkering around with WordPress for a bit before you get the hang of it. You’ll also change your blog’s theme dozens of times over, in the quest to find the perfect one. And just when you thought you found the right one…wait, why do the pictures look skewed and weird? Don’t give up on the theme yet. Use Regenerate Thumbnails, a one-click tool that resizes all images on your site to fit the thumbnail sizes on your theme of choice. Nothing to configure at all. Install, activate, select the plugin from “Tools” on your left hand menu and regenerate away!
Alright, you’re done with tweaking and fixing your WordPress.org site, and you’ve just finished writing the most awesome post that you want people to read. You can share it by copying and pasting the post page’s link into Facebook and Twitter statuses, but that’s a manual action that your busy friends won’t be bothered with. This is where Sociable comes in. The plugin installs social media sharing options at selected parts of your site, enabling anyone that visits to share your content with their network — with just one easy click, they can choose social media platforms with which they want to share your content.
Social Media Widget
Themes usually have in-built options to add your social media links, but they may be limited to just the most popular ones. The social media kings and queens amongst you shouldn’t have to put up with this; after all, your Pinterest and Instagram accounts deserve as much exposure as your Facebook and Twitter accounts! Using Social Media Widget means you don’t have to play favourites – it provides the most comprehensive list of social platforms that you can share on your blog. In the widget, social platforms are grouped into categories, making it easy to find the ones you use. The plugin comes with four icon designs to choose from: Default, Cutout, Heart, Sketch and Custom (upload your own icons.)
To help with your search engine optimization, WordPress SEO is one really powerful plugin that gives you immediate analysis of the optimization of your focus keywords in certain parts of your post, but that’s not the end of this plugin’s handiness. Use it for permalink cleanup, create automatic XML site maps and RSS enhancing, just to name a few. You can also customize the snippets of text that show up on Facebook posts and elsewhere around the web. Yoast, the creator/company that’s behind WordPress SEO has a comprehensive guide on the plugin’s features that you should check out to maximize its benefits.
Google Analytics for WordPress
You’ve (probably) set up your Google Analytics account to track blog traffic stats, but you don’t want to sign in to your Analytics dashboard if you’re checking it more than once a day. It’s useful to have a summary of that info right on your WordPress dashboard, and with Google Analytics for WordPress, you can have just that. The summary gives you info on site usage (including new visitors, bounce rate, page views and average visit time,) top pages, top search keywords, top referrers and number of visitors for the past 1, 30 and 60 days.
To build audience, you’re posting new content regularly while spreading your blog’s content around the web. Readers that drop by may have been drawn there by one specific post, but you don’t want them to click out right after they’ve read that post. You want them to stick around on your blog and discover others you worked so hard to create. Outbrain helps visitors discover past content on your site by adding a recommend posts section at the end of each post, either in a list format or thumbnail format. To install Outbrain, you need to register and get a validation key to activate the plugin on your WordPress site. You can also opt for a non-registered account, but you won’t be able to track stats. Another popular, no-register post discovery plugin is LinkWithin.
Disqus and Comment Luv
These two plugins don’t have the same functions at all, but both are related to comments.
CommentLuv: Visitors who leave comments on your blog are often bloggers themselves, and CommentLuv encourages goodwill amongst fellow bloggers through link-sharing. After a commenter types in his/her site URL, the plugin retrieves the most recent posts from their site, and enables commenters to link one of their own posts at the end of a comment. So if I visited your site and left a comment on your post, CommentLuv would add an additional line after my comment that goes: Ming recently posted…Seven Essential Plugins For WordPress Beginners. This tells your audience that you not only want them to stop by, but you’ll help share their content as well. Isn’t that neat?
Disqus: This is a powerful comments platform that enables you to easily keep track of likes and responses to comments you posted on various websites, as well as other stats. Rather than posting an intelligent response and forgetting to check back later to see if anyone replied, Disqus follows the thread and alerts you on any follow up comments. Disqus is quite an awesome free plugin that integrates seamlessly with your blog, and helps create a “community of communities,” as described on their website. It’s especially useful to have if you build a high-traffic blog with provocative content. To take advantage of Disqus’s features, you do need to sign up for an account, even to comment. Ultimately, I decided against using Disqus, as I have friends who drop by here but don’t want to register an account. CommentLuv works fine for my current needs. Besides, I love seeing what my readers and fellow bloggers have been writing about on their blogs.
These are my top WordPress plugins for starting a blog. What are some of your favourites?