If you’re new to blogging and WordPress but are serious about giving it a shot, you’ll need to extend some of WordPress’ built-in functionality to make a good go of it. It’s not that the platform itself is deficient, but these tools are crucial extensions of it for the discerning blogger who wants to increase traffic and revenue.
Having a sitemap means that search engines like Google can find all the pages on your site easily — and they know which ones are more important than others. But with a continuously changing site, like a blog, maintaining a sitemap manually can be painful.
Recommendation: Google XML Sitemaps creates a sitemap to your specification and then notifies the search engines every time it is updated.
Without analytics, it’s impossible to run a blog that consistently grows in readership and revenue. Analytics provides you with quantifiable feedback and helps you understand what sort of content works and what doesn’t.
Recommendation: Google Analytics for WordPress by Yoast beats the pants off simply including the Google-generated tracking code in your theme: this plugin will set up all kinds of custom variables so you can track a number of things, like traffic by author for multi-author blogs.
The biggest pool of Internet traffic you can tap into comes from search engines. Social is catching up, but it’s not there yet. Make sure you’ve got the best chance at ranking well for a variety of keywords by installing a good search engine optimization plugin.
Recommendation: All in One SEO has long been a favorite of the WordPress community, optimizing titles, avoiding duplicate content issues, and much more.
Contact forms make it easy for visitors to get in touch with you, whether they want to hire you or chat with you, and it means you don’t throw your email address out there for spambots, scammers and phishers to harvest. They provide maximum convenience for everyone involved, so you should have one on your site.
Recommendation: Contact Form 7 is free, easy to customize even if you don’t know HTML, has all the fancy AJAX you love and crave, and best of all, you can set up forms so that they hook into Akismet for spam filtering.
You might not have huge traffic right now, and caching appears to be a distant concern. Search traffic takes time and persistent publishing to pick up, but you’re not prepared for the shocking, sudden waves of traffic that can come and hit your site out of nowhere in the blink of an eye. You need caching from the get-go if you’re at all serious about blogging.
Once your blog is live, it’s only a matter of time before the spammers find you. And just like real life, if you don’t use protection you’ll find yourself in a pickle. Spam does not come in dribs and drabs: it comes relentlessly, all the time. Keep it out of your way, and out of your readers’ way.
Recommendation: Akismet comes with WordPress, and all you need to get it operational is a free API key from Automattic. It’s one of the most effective options, and other plugins (such as Contact Form 7 above) plug into it for spam checking.
Something every blogger will tell you is that your most important readers are the loyal ones who keep coming back, participating in conversations and sharing those conversations on social media. These people will draw in those in their social circles, spreading your readership. Make sure you give them a tool that makes coming back easier.
Recommendation: Subscribe to Comments Reloaded allows readers to monitor a conversation in the comments, and is the update that makes Subscribe to Comments multiblog-compatible.
WordPress’ search feature is among its weakest, with results that are often way off-base clouding out the relevant results. Fortunately, there are plugins that fix one of the most frequently used features on any website for you.
Recommendation: Relevanssi has just about every feature you’re looking for in a search plugin, including the most essential: making results more relevant.