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6 WordPress Plug-ins You Need for Blogging Success
WordPress plug-ins are a great way to expand your blog’s capabilities, automate repetitive tasks, or attract new visitors. However, it can be hard to know where to start since there are thousands of plug-ins and at least as many articles providing lists of them — sometimes hundreds of plug-ins at a time!
That kind of sink-or-swim approach to choosing plug-ins can leave bloggers confused about where to start.
We’re taking a different approach. We’re not going to throw you in the deep end with a list of a bajillion WordPress plug-ins. Instead, we’re going to show you some great plug-ins based on what bloggers actually need to help them succeed.
What Bloggers Need to Succeed
No matter what type of blogger you are — whether you’re a hobbyist, an entrepreneur, or a working creator — you want your blog to succeed. Even though each blogger may have a different definition of “success,” it’s possible to find common aims across all successful blogs.
So just what does success look like for bloggers?
The baseline recipe for success in blogging is pretty simple:
- Traffic. Generate traffic to get eyeballs on your work.
- Reader engagement. Provide a great reader experience to keep visitors interested.
- Platform building. Advance to the next level of building a platform or an audience-based business, if desired.
How Plug-ins Can Help Bloggers
Plug-ins for your WordPress blog can help you out in all three of these areas. We’ll look at each of these categories and give you specific plug-in suggestions for each phase of your blog’s success.
For the purpose of this list, we’re going to assume that you’ve already added utility plug-ins like those that help with backup, security, and spam.
Traffic-Boosting WordPress Plug-ins
Traffic plug-ins help your potential readers find your blog amidst the oceans of your competition by optimizing organic search or getting links to your content on social media.
Google XML Sitemaps
The Google XML Sitemaps plug-in isn’t flashy but it may be the most important plug-in on our list. A sitemap makes it easier for search engine crawlers to see the entire structure of your website and index it accordingly.
XML stands for Extensible Markup Language, which is a consensus web standard used for building crawler-readable sitemaps. Even though this plug-in’s name starts with “Google,” it actually helps your site get found on all search engines including Bing and Yahoo.
Of course, you could generate a sitemap yourself with some of the free online tools, but this plug-in lets you set-it-and-forget it, including the map updates that are necessary when your site changes.
There’s practically no downside to installing this plug-in since it won’t interfere with your site’s load times or break any other functionality. The Google XML Sitemaps plug-in is free but you can donate via PayPal in appreciation.
Plug-in Type: Traffic
Cost: Free [accepts donations] | Where to get it
If you’ve spent even as little as 30 minutes being a blogger, you’ve heard about Yoast — and with good reason. Yoast is basically Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on “Easy Mode.” The plug-in walks you through all the steps to optimize your blog’s visibility, both at the homepage level as well as for each post you write. It’s as simple as filling in the boxes.
- Enter a keyword for your post. Yoast will analyze how well your post is working against your keyword. (Yoast’s paid version allows for more than one keyword.)
- Readability check tells you how easy your post is to read using the Flesch Reading Ease score.
- Complete control over the snippets for your posts, showing you how they’ll look in search results.
- You get a stoplight score (green-orange-red) showing how you’re doing with SEO, with specific steps showing you how to improve each score.
Note that if you do opt for both Yoast and Google XML Sitemaps, you’ll need to disable Yoast’s XML sitemap functionality so you don’t create two sitemaps. We recommend using Google XML Sitemaps because it’s much simpler to set up.
Yoast offers a free version of its plug-in that’s a great way to get started.
Plug-in Type: Traffic
Cost: Free or $89+ one-time payment | Where to get it
Reader Engagement Plug-ins
Reader engagement is the art of keeping visitors around to read more content on your blog. The methods of reader engagement come in a wide variety of flavors, both passive and active.
Passive reader engagement consists of things that make your blog easier to read, like theme designs, gallery widgets, image optimization, spam comment prevention, and site performance.
Some active reader engagement techniques include discussion forums, social sharing, and polls.
Of course, finding out what’s working for your blog’s visitors (and what’s not working) requires good analytics.
If your blog performs poorly, you don’t need to worry about active reader engagement techniques because you won’t have any readers to engage. Slow loading times, broken functionality, 404 errors, and DDoS attacks can make even the most interested reader bounce and never come back.
Cloudflare is a passive engagement plug-in that helps limit technological performance issues on your blog.
- Cloudflare ensures that your site is routed efficiently and loads quickly from a server near any given reader.
- Cloudflare protects not only your blog’s servers from malicious attacks, but also applications and APIs your blog uses.
- Cloudflare’s image optimization works in the background to help your images load faster on both desktops and handheld devices. [Available on Cloudflare’s paid plans.]
- For bloggers interested in online selling from their blogs, you’ll be happy to know that Cloudflare offers a free SSL certificate, too.
Cloudflare has a free plan and paid plans. Also, some hosting providers, like Dreamhost, give you the Cloudflare Plus plan free with your hosting plan.
Plug-in Type: Reader engagement (passive)
Cost: Free or $20+ per month | Where to get it
Google Analytics Dashboard
Removing barriers between your blog and your readers can be tricky to diagnose without taking a good look at how your visitors are using your site.
Google Analytics Dashboard for WP (also known as GADWP) connects to your WordPress dashboard via your Google Analytics account. This plug-in shows all the Google analytics reports right on your blog’s dashboard.
Sometimes things that are out of sight really are out of mind, so having the data in front of you whenever you log into your blog is a great reminder to listen to what your readers are “telling” you by their behavior.
Plug-in Type: Reader engagement
Cost: Free | Where to get it
Platform Building Plug-ins
If your blog becomes popular enough, you may be thinking of monetizing it or creating a platform to build an audience with. Artists like writers and musicians can use their blog following as leverage to convince traditional publishers their work has a built-in audience. Or entrepreneurs may be looking for a way to earn a bit more cash by monetizing their blog with affiliate links.
Platform building of any kind starts with an email list. To get that list started, you need a way to collect email addresses. An OptinMonster plug-in is just the ticket.
This plug-in allows you to place email signup boxes anywhere on your blog. What’s more, it connects directly with the most popular email campaign platforms like MailChimp, Aweber, Constant Contact, and MadMimi so you don’t have to worry about exporting lists.
OptinMonster is like a Swiss army knife for email capture:
- Helps you build capture forms
- Target forms to segmentations based on behavior (e.g., visitors who clicked on a certain page get a different form than others do)
- Popup opt-in boxes that appear whenever and wherever you want
- Floating bars and scroll boxes for email capture.
Plug-in Type: Platform building
Cost: $9+ per month | Where to get it
What good is an opt-in box if you don’t have a way to store those email addresses? Enter MailChimp. Since MailChimp offers a free version of their service to get started it’s perfect for integrating with opt-in box plug-ins like OptinMonster.
Even if you don’t use a popup plug-in, MailChimp can still help you out. It allows you to make a signup form you can add to any page or widget on your blog with shortcodes.
Plug-in Type: Platform building
Cost: Free or $59+ per year | Where to get it
A Word of Caution
It’s important to go slowly when adding plug-ins to your blog because if one of them causes a problem it’ll be easier to figure out the culprit. Some plug-ins don’t play well with each other or they can slow down your blog or your WordPress dashboard. So, add one plug-in at a time and test it for a few days before adding another one.
Plug-ins don’t need to be confusing. They can add valuable functionality to your blog. Even though we’ve listed specific plug-ins that have a history of being stable, you can feel free to try a different one that accomplishes the same goal. Go ahead and try the plug-ins on this list and let us know how it went!