I love WordPress. I do. Part of my love could stem from the fact that the other content management systems I’ve had exposure to were clunky, proprietary programs that drove me insane and hampered my marketing efforts.
So I love WordPress.
One of the many benefits of working within WordPress is the wide availability of plugins. Plugins are basically add-ons to any WordPress theme that drastically expand what you can do with your site. They’re built by private developers, who post them (usually free) as a service to the WordPress community.
Want a contact form? Want to choose which pages show up in your main navigation – or the order in which they appear? Want to eliminate spammy comments before you even see them?
There’s a plugin for that.
Most themes will usually come with a few plugins installed already, but here are my recommendations for plugins that will make your job as a site manager SO much easier.
This list of recommended plugins can be divided into two categories – those which help with on-site tasks and those that help with off-site tasks.
Let’s do on-site first:
By default, whenever you make a new top-level (no-parent) page, meaning it’s not a sub-page (think A B or C in high school English class outlines – not 1, 2 or 3 under A, B or C) WordPress places that page in your top-level navigation menu. That’s great if it’s the About page, or the Contact page, or My Services page. It’s not so great if it’s the “Thank You for Contacting Us” page, or another page that you don’t want on your top navigation bar.
Enter the “Exclude Pages” plugin. It adds a little box to the right of “Edit Page” under the boxes with publishing options and page attributes box.
By default, the box is checked, which means the top-level page will show up in your navigation menu. But all you have to do is uncheck it, and voila! The page vanishes from navigation.
Simple – but critical, in order to avoid overcrowding your navigation and confusing your visitors.
WordPress has a built-in way for you to select the order of your pages by assigning a number to each one in the Edit Page view. But if you ever add a new page, you have to go back and reorder each one… slow and clunky.
So in comes the Simple Page Ordering plugin, which once installed enables you to choose the page order by just dragging and dropping the pages in your “All Pages” menu. Want your About page to come before your Services page? Just drag it to above the Services page entry. The end.
Now let’s get to plugins that help your site’s performance on the wide world of the web:
3) All-in-One SEO / Yoast’s WordPress SEO
For you to perform effective SEO (search engine optimization), you need to be able to select your page’s title tag (the title you want showing up in Google Search results, and one of the factors by which Google will rank your site.) The title tag may be different than the title you want showing up on the actual page within your site. For example, let’s say you run a site devoted to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You may want your recipes page to say just “Sweet and Sticky Variations” at the top. Clearly, everybody there knows you’re referring to PB&J’s, so there is no need to point it out within your site. However, for keyword search purposes, you want Google to know you’re naming the page “Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Variations” so the right searchers can find you.
Some themes have places where you can define the title tag (often called Title Tag or SEO Title), but in case yours doesn’t, you’re going to want one of the plugins up above.
And that’s only the beginning of what they do. You can define the meta-description tag, define canonical URLs, verify webmaster tools , create sitemaps…
For a rundown on the differences between All-in-One and Yoast, see this blog post. But bear in mind that it may have been written before the All-in-One SEO update described in this post.
4) Really Simple Share Facebook Twitter buttons / Digg Digg or Digg Digg Alternative
Want people to be able to share your great content on their social media accounts, easily? Both of these plugins create social media sharing icons – with an up-to-date count of how many people have shared your post on each network.
What’s the difference?
Really Simple Share buttons appear above or below your post (or both). This site uses Really Simple Share (scroll down to the bottom to see it – you can even test it out. 😉 Digg Digg buttons appear floating to the side of your post. That’s about it.
5) WP Facebook Open Graph Protocol
A picture is worth a thousand clicks. Links shared on social media that come with an image look more attractive and compelling than just a text link and description.
So how do you get those images to appear on a Facebook share?
Facebook has a specific coding protocol to find the images. This plugin puts all that code automatically into your site. All you have to do is install it, set it up with your Facebook user ID (it will give you directions), and then make sure you add a featured image onto each page or post. Facebook will then automatically pull that image for sharing.
Bonus plugin: Gravity Forms. I didn’t include this on the main list, because this is a paid plugin, not a freebie. Gravity Forms is a plugin for making forms. It’s a super intuitive tool to build contact forms and to decide how you’ll get notification and what the users will see after they submit the form. Just a pleasure to use.
It does come with a price tag – $39 per site for a one-year license (if you don’t renew, your forms will still work; you just don’t get upgrades and new developments). A popular free contact form plugin – Contact Form 7 – doesn’t even come close. If all you want is a simple contact form, it’s probably enough, but for anything more than that… worth investing in Gravity Forms.
Any other plugins you think are critical to your site’s functioning? Let us know in the comments below!
Submitted by Aviva