Extend Your Functionality
Plugins are the crown jewels of the WordPress.org domain. They aren’t permitted on WordPress.com for security reasons. Plugins are add-on programs created by outside developers that provide countless ways to handle web content within WordPress. Think of them as widgets on steroids. Activated plugins allow you full, hands-on control over important added features like search engine optimization (SEO), social media sharing & interaction, custom contact forms, Google stats features including Analytics & Web Tools, front end file uploading, gallery displays, blogging tools, spam control, embedded video, image sources & licensing, storefronts & e-commerce, and site security and maintenance, to name a few. The list below is by no means comprehensive, but it covers the top 10 (+ 1) free plugins that i use to customize, implement, and maintain key aspects of my WordPress sites.
Yoast SEO > Search Engine Optimization (SEO) of your posts and pages is one of the most important aspects to address regarding your site. You spend hours crafting and honing each glorious post, but if nobody can find your work in a set of related search results, then your effort was all for naught, right? Yoast’s SEO for WordPress plugin takes you by the hand and walks you through this often confusing terrain. Without getting too technical, the plugin activates a module under each post, allowing you to see how your post’s current text and settings will appear in Google search results, allowing you to adjust your title and descriptions accordingly, if necessary. There’s also a cool red/yellow/green coded page analysis, with suggestions on how to optimize your content and turn all those buttons to green. Another popular SEO plugin is All in One SEO, which i have no personal experience with, but i hear is also good. I’m going to give my thumbs up to Yoast at this point, since the plugin does everything i need (and a bunch more stuff i don’t) through a simple, easy access interface.
Spam Free WordPress > Spam can be a royal pain in the butt, littering your comments with useless and annoying automated ads and links. Fortunately, there are several plugins and methods for dealing with it. Akismet is one of the most popular, and comes as a default plugin with your initial WordPress setup. It involves acquiring and activating a key, plus a couple more verification steps. Captcha involves setting up those crazy combinations of letters and numbers to enter at the bottom of a comment or contact form, to validate an actual human presence. I prefer Spam Free WordPress, the easiest of them all to implement, with the standard setup not even requiring an activation key. The plugin “uses anonymous password authentication to achieve 100% automated spam blocking with zero false positives.” 100% is good enough for me.
Fast Secure Contact Form > This free contact form plugin is super easy to set up and configure, once you get an initial handle on its layout. You can set up multiple forms, combine the default fields with added custom fields, add text areas, check boxes, calendar & date fields, email form data to multiple addresses, and configure auto responders & page redirects, just to name a few options. These features just scratch the surface, but they’re enough to get any contact form up and running in minutes, simple or advanced. Once configured, simply place a small piece of shortcode (generated by the plugin) on your chosen page using text edit mode, and the full form will appear once the page is viewed. I used this plugin to create an order form on one of my sites, then had the form redirect to a file upload page (that utilizes the next plugin on this list) to complete the order process.
Front End Upload > If you need an option to allow users or customers to supply you with larger files, Front End Upload is your plugin. Once you take proper measures to ensure the security of the uploads, you can then customize your upload page by setting a maximum file size, a required passcode, a ‘files received’ message displayed to the customer, and the email template for the ‘files uploaded’ email that you’ll receive as an upload notification. The upload queue is once again placed on your page using a piece of shortcode generated by the plugin. When you receive an upload notification via email, it will contain a link to the file that was uploaded directly to your web server, which you can then click to download onto your home or office system.
Compfight > A recent addition to my arsenal, the Compfight plugin allows you to search Flickr for Creative Commons images to accent your blog posts. This essentially means you can freely display an image within a post, provided you add a link to the photo’s author and the accompanying license.
Advanced YouTube Embed > Simply cut and paste a link to a YouTube video into one of your pages using text edit mode, and the plugin will seamlessly configure the rest. The video is embedded into your page, including extra features such as zoom, slow motion, looping, chapter marking, and cropping.
Analytics for WordPress > There’s a lot going on here that you and i don’t really need to know about at this point. What we do know is that authenticating our Google Analytics account directly with our WordPress site, through another sweet Yoast plugin, allows us to reap many extra statistical benefits. This is the main mojo right here – checking the “track outbound clicks & downloads” checkbox will allow you to see, in Analytics, what people clicked on and what they downloaded. Check your Google Analytics stats for more explicit details.
WooCommerce > I’m just in the process of implementing this universally revered e-commerce plugin on my new t-shirt website, but from what i understand, it’s the free e-commerce toolkit that helps you sell anything. Beautifully. Manage your inventory, offer discount codes, integrate with payment gateways such as PayPal, request site performance reports, and customize shipping options & costs to completely streamline your customer’s shopping experience.
Disqus Comments > What we have here, is a failure to communicate. Disqus can change all of that. One of the most universally accepted commenting platforms, Disqus adds many features to your commenting system. Threaded comments, notifications by email, subscription and RSS options, social mentions, powerful moderation, spam filtering, and connections with a large discussion community are just a few of the key benefits. Users must sign in to comment, further validating your readership, and increasing your exposure amongst relevant commenters.
(Jetpack) > Jetpack is the biggest cheater plugin, in the most excellent of ways. It offers a virtual suite of the best features available in the cloud on WordPress.com. Stats, subscriptions, likes, Publicize, posts by email, carousel galleries, social sharing, contact forms, shortcode embeds, mobile themes, extra sidebar widgets, spelling & grammar checks, and VaultPress backup & security features that you know and love from your .com site are now available to dress up your .org site to the nines. There is some overlap involved with the aforementioned plugins, so double check your compatibility issues before going forth, guns a blazin’, with all of the above plugins.