I often get asked questions about how my blog looks and how I get things looking a certain way, and the answer usually involves a WordPress Plugin, so today I’m sharing some of my favourite WordPress plugins I use on my blog, most of which are essentials if you’re a WordPress blogger – and they are all free!
WordPress.org vs WordPress.com
First, let me make it clear that everything I talk about on this blog post is relevant to self-hosted WordPress blogs on the WordPress.org platform – not WordPress.com. Also, as a little side note, I switched my blog from Blogger to self-hosted WordPress a couple of years ago and it was the best decision I ever made – it takes a bit of getting used to a new platform, but now I have so much more freedom to do what I want with my blog! I hired the lovely Faye Kent to do the hard tech work for me and I recommend her if you’re looking to make the move to WordPress.
Best WordPress Plugins for Bloggers
1. TinyMCE Advanced
I rely on this plugin every time I write a blog post to edit what you see exactly how I want it to look! When writing a new post, the WordPress visual editor already offers most formatting options, but the TinyMCE Advanced plugin adds a few useful extras to your editing toolbar, such as allowing you to change the font types and sizes, create tables and customise your numbered lists and bullet points. It may not sound like much, but if you’re a bit of sucker from neat-looking blog posts like me, it’s useful having all the tools at your disposal to perfect the way your blog posts look.
2. WordPress SEO by Yoast
My blog gets the vast majority of its visitors from Google searches, so optimising my blog for search engine traffic has always been a priority of mine, and with a lot of help from the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin, it’s not as hard as it sounds. The premise of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is very simple – make your blog easy to find by telling search engine robots what they are looking at on your blog with relevant blog post titles, keywords, descriptions and image names. This SEO plugin adds a little section underneath your post editing screen, which allows you to include all the important information to make your blog post as SEO-friendly as possible. I recommend following the WPbeginner tutorial to configure your settings if you’re not really sure where to start with this plugin.
3. WPtouch Mobile
I’m a recent mobile theme convert! Until about a month ago, I was totally against mobile sites for blogs, as I had never come across one that I really liked, so I always switched to the desktop version when browsing from my iPhone. However, when I took the Google Mobile-Friendly Test, I discovered that my blog wasn’t giving you guys (the readers) the best experience possible on mobile phones. So I tried several plugins and I finally found my favourite of the bunch – WPTouch Mobile plugin, the nicest mobile responsive theme plugin I’ve tried. First of all, it looks really pretty and it displays all my content properly, unlike all other mobile themes I’ve tried in the past. It was also easy to install and configure my settings, such as adding links to my footer and support for ads from my blogging network. I’m really happy with WPtouch Mobile – I’m even considering paying for the premium version to get the extra features!
4. Rel Nofollow Checkbox
If you’re a blogger, it’s likely that you add several links within your blog posts on a regular basis, such as links to where your readers can buy a product, reviews on other blogs or any kind of information on the internet. The Rel Nofollow Checkbox plugin will add a convenient checkbox for you to add ‘nofollow’ links straight from your post editing screen, which has saved me so much time, as now I don’t need to swap to the HTML tab every time I want to add ‘nofollow‘ to a link. Without going into too much detail, when you link to anything other than your own blog posts or other trustworthy sources, it’s beneficial to your blog to make these ‘nofollow’ links, which means telling search engine robots to not follow this link. And why is this beneficial to you? Well, if you don’t want to vouch for the pages you link from you blog because you don’t know enough about them, Google (and other search engines) won’t associate that website with your blog. If you’re interested in knowing more about how ‘nofollow’ works, you can read in detail here.
5. Jetpack by WordPress.com
I use Google Analytics to keep an eye on my blog statistics and check how well my new blog posts are being received, but Google Analytics isn’t integrated within your WordPress dashboard, so you have to open a separate tab in your browser to see your stats. That’s where the Jetpack plugin is most useful to me – it allows me to see my blog’s stats at a glance on my WordPress dashboard, which is quite convenient and handy for us bloggers. Jetpack has lots of other useful features – spelling and grammar, email subscription service, mobile theme, social media sharing, custom CSS, display related posts and many more. In my opinion, it’s one of the only irreplaceable plugins for WordPress blogs.
If you want to earn a bit of money from affiliate links on your blog, then I recommend you sign up for Skimlinks and download the WordPress plugin to have it set up on your blog without any effort at all. The Skimlinks plugin is an affiliate service that automatically adds your unique user ID to any link on your blog. If that link leads to one of the affiliate partners of Skimlinks, you get a small percentage of sales driven to that partner’s website from your blog. For example, if you’re reviewing a lipstick and you link to where you can find it on the Boots website, if someone clicks on that link and buys the lipstick, you get a little cut from that sale. It saves a lot of precious time and manual labour!
7. Disqus Comment System
This is probably one of the most popular plugins I see on WordPress blogs. Disqus replaces the default WordPress comment system with a much more user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing system. Your readers can leave comments on Desktop or Mobile, they can choose to comment as a guest or login with their Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus accounts. The comments look really organised underneath your posts, and you can reply to individual comments as a thread. I had Disqus installed on my Blogger blog and when I moved to WordPress, it was one of the first plugins I installed.
8. Simple Social Icons
One of my pet peeves is when I find a blog I like, but I can’t immediately see any links to follow that blog on my favourite social media platforms. The Simple Social Icons plugin allows you to add links to all the most popular social media platforms anywhere where you can add widgets on your WordPress blog. You can see I added my icons on my homepage under the menu bar, on my sidebar under my bio and on my blog footer. The icons are fully customisable and all you have to do is add the links to the social media platforms you want to display, and Simple Social Icons will convert them into pretty little icons.
9. MailChimp for WordPress Lite
I have recently started managing my email subscribers more seriously; I never used to spend that much time monitoring email subscriptions – it was all left automatically to Feedburner, which has always been very limiting, but it required no effort at all to get my blog posts delivered to my subscribers inboxes. So I stopped being lazy and decided to dedicate some time and effort to setting up an email subscription service with MailChimp – you can sign up to receive my blog posts by email here. Now I have total control over what my email subscribers receive in their inboxes! I can see stats for how many people open the emails, how many links are clicked and pretty much everything else that helps me understand how my content is being received by you guys. The MailChimp plugin for WordPress makes it easy to add links to your mailing list anywhere on your blog. You may have noticed I’ve started adding a cheeky little link to subscribe to my blog by email at the bottom of my posts, which was made possible because of this plugin, and I have noticed a significant growth to my email subscribers since I started doing that!
10. RewardStyle Widget
Much like Skimlinks, which I mentioned above, RewardStyle is an affiliate link platform for bloggers, but the way the RewardStyle plugin works is very different to Skimlinks. The RewardStyle plugin allows you to add beautiful galleries of relevant products on a post or page with images, pricing and retailer information. I’m sure you have spotted these galleries on other blogs like The Londoner, and I find them really visually engaging and easy to scroll through the products. You can add Shop The Post, LookBook and Boutique widgets, my favourite being Shop The Post. RewardStyle is an invitation-only platform, so if you want your blog to be considered, you can submit an application here.
11. Instagram Feed
Instagram is quickly becoming my favourite social media platform, and the Instagram Feed plugin allows you to display a feed of your Instagram pictures anywhere on your blog – your sidebar, on a page, on a post, etc. The feed is fully customisable from a menu tab on your WordPress Dashboard – all really quick and easy, and it’s even compatible with mobile websites. I’ve chosen to add my Instagram feed to a dedicated page, so you can browse through all of my selfies straight from my blog! There’s a link to it on my top menu, if you fancy seeing what it looks like, or you can also click here.
12. Updraft Plus – Backup and Restoration
Having a backup of all your blog content is a definite must do for any blogger, but I’ve found the process to be less straightforward on WordPress than on Blogger because you have to backup your database (stored on WordPress) and your files (stored on your host’s server). The Updraft Plus plugin was a great find because it made the task of backing up and restoring my entire blog very simple and it actually worked without any glitches downloading both my WordPress files and database, unlike many other plugins I have tried before, which only backed up one or the other. You can do everything through your WordPress Dashboard – backup manually or on a schedule, save your backups to Dropbox, Google Drive, FTP and many other cloud services, and you can also restore a previous backup with a single click. The premium version offers more features, but I haven’t felt the need to upgrade yet – the lite version has worked just fine!
13.Genesis Featured Widget Amplified
My blog is going on 4 years now, and that equates to almost 700 blog posts published on my little corner of the web! There are bound to be some posts gathering dust in my archives, so the Genesis Featured Widget Amplified plugin has been useful to revive some of my older blog posts and drive some traffic to them. By adding a simple widget to my blog’s sidebar, it displays a random selection of blog posts, which can be configured to show as many posts as you want with an image, title and short description, but I prefer to leave my sidebar as free of clutter as possible, so I only display the thumbnail image and the post title. This plugin will only work if your blog is on the Genesis Theme Framework, but an alternative that works on other frameworks is the Advanced Random Posts Widget plugin.
14. Scroll Triggered Box
This is one of my most recent finds, but I already like the way it works! The Scroll Triggered Box plugin adds a little popup box letting people know they can subscribe to your mailing list. In general, I hate intrusive popup boxes full of colours that don’t give you a quick way out of them, so it was really important that I found one that was as discrete and unobtrusive as possible, but still effective enough to grab the attention of the people who are actually interested in receiving my posts by email. If you’re reading this on my blog and I’ve done my job correctly, you will already have seen a little box pop up on the lower right side of my blog. The customisation options with the Scroll Triggered Box plugin are great because you can change the way the box looks to match your blog’s colour scheme, you can set the box to only appear and disappear after a certain amount of time, and best of all, you can set your box to disappear for a while (or forever) for people who are already subscribed or who aren’t interested in subscribing to your mailing list. See? It’s not your average annoying popup and it might help you grow your blog’s mailing list!
15. WordPress Editorial Calendar
Being a more organised blogger was probably the most common New Year’s resolution I read on blogs when the year started. The WordPress Editorial Calendar is a very simple plugin that installs a link on your Dashboard to a visual calendar containing all your blog posts – published, scheduled and drafts. It allows you to drag and drop to move posts, quickly edit posts titles and statuses, get an overall view of your blog and see exactly when each post is due to be published. It’s the organised blogger’s dream! I’m still working on being more disciplined with scheduling my posts – I’m more spontaneous (or last-minute, if you prefer) and often find myself writing a new post on the same day it gets published. However, with having a baby soon, I’m sure my time for blogging will be much more limited, and I hope the WordPress Editorial Calendar will help me organise my posts in advance and better manage whatever time I get to blog.
A note about plugins
I know it’s very tempting to install every single plugin that comes highly recommended, but do bear in mind that plugins can affect how fast your blog loads, so choose them carefully and only add the ones that improve the quality of your blog. I personally use all of the ones I mentioned above (and a few more!), and I can say that none of them have negatively impacted the loading speed of my blog in a significant way.
One WordPress plugin that comes highly recommended everywhere is W3 Total Cache, but it makes my blog load so slow that, to me, it’s not worth the hassle, so I have uninstalled it and now my blog loads normally again.
I hope you found my list of plugins useful – now I would love to know which are your favourite WordPress plugins for blogging! If you enjoyed reading this, let me know what other kinds of ‘Blogging Tips’ posts you would like to see next on my blog.
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