When it comes to blogging platforms, WordPress is by far the most widely used service out there. There’s many things to love about it: it’s easy to use, packed with advanced features, and it’s even free to use if you’re hosting your website. While all of those are great, my favourite feature is one of the often overlooked enhancements that WordPress offers — plugins.
With tens of thousands of options to choose from, there are WordPress plugins that can add whatever functionality you’re searching for and even more that can enhance your blog in ways you never imagined. They’re a silver lining for content creators like me who want to add a feature to their site without needing to track down a developer to build out a custom solution that will take a lot of time and money. In fact, most of the plugins you’ll find are completely free!
I originally wanted to write a “Top 10 WordPress Plugins” post but given that there are over 38,000 plugins out there (and counting), I’m afraid I’m a little too busy to narrow that list down to ten. Sorry. Instead, I’d like to present all of the plugins that we currently use on the Hover blog. Some of them might be game-changers; others might have zero relevancy for your website. Either way, here are the ones that we’ve found to be the most useful and hopefully they’ll be the same for you!
MailMunch is a paid plugin but took no time at all to pay for itself. A little while back we started a blog subscription newsletter using MailChimp, which automatically sends out all the latest posts on our blog once a week. We tried plugin after plugin but either didn’t like the way they looked or had difficulty integrating them into the blog. MailMunch was the one solution that both looked great and worked perfectly right from the start.
The plugin allows for a ton of customization to get you whatever subscription form you’re looking for. To start, you can choose from a popover, embedded, topbar or scrollbox form:
You can then create forms using a variety of templates that can be customized to make something that is unique and consistent with your brand. You can also create different forms for mobile and desktop, ensuring that your form will be optimized for each and every device. Once created, all emails submitted will be sent over to your email marketing service (currently MailChimp, Constant Contact, AWeber, Infusionsoft, GetResponse or Campaign Monitor), and you’ll even be see analytics regarding how your forms are performing.
We started off with a scrollbox form but have since switched over to an embedded form at the bottom of posts. If you’re too impatient to scroll down to the bottom , here’s what ours looks like (and don’t be afraid to subscribe, either):
CoSchedule’s Click To Tweet plugin makes blog posts more shareable and stylish at the same time. It lets notable quotes, facts or statistics stand out so they have maximum impact, and is accompanied by a button that lets readers share this info on Twitter.
When you have a line that you think would make a great tweet, simply click the Twitter icon that will be in your editor once the plugin is installed. From there, you will be prompted to enter your text into a popup:
After this, it will then add your message into something that looks like this:[Tweet “An octopus is the size of a flea at birth.”]
When a reader clicks to tweet, a composition window will pop up to send a tweet containing your message and a link to the article. You can also customize the plugin to mention your own Twitter handle whenever a message is shared.
We’ve only been using this plugin for a few months now but have definitely noticed an increase in shares, all thanks to being in the right place at the right time with the right message.
Disqus is one of the most commonly used commenting platforms used on blogs today and with good reason. For readers, it’s really simple to create an account (or login with one of their social networks) and unify the social aspects of many of the blogs that they visit.
For bloggers, it’s a great way to have more control over your blog. My favourite feature is receiving an email every time a new comment is left on the blog. Disqus also does a great job of moderating potentially spammy comments, awaiting confirmation before publishing it. If it’s appropriate, all you need to do is reply to the email with the word ‘approve’ and Disqus handles the rest.
Best of all, the plugin looks great and works well on any device!
Mashshare adds social sharing buttons to your posts that look similar to what you’ll find on Mashable. In addition to looking great, there are a lot of advanced tweaks you can make including changing the colour, animating the total shares, and even faking the number that appears (if that’s your thing — we don’t fake our numbers though).
The plugin also has many add-ons to choose from that can add more social networks, alter the design or change the plugin’s functionality:
We tried a handful of other social sharing plugins and not only did Mashshare look the best, but it was also the easiest to set up and worked perfectly right from the start. Their support is also very helpful should you ever need it.
Most of you probably won’t have a need for MB ImageChimp RSS Feed Enhancer but those of you who do will be very happy to have discovered it. When we set up our weekly blog RSS digest email in MailChimp, we were having difficulty pulling in the featured image of each blog post into the email. The solution was to go into our code and add some new lines, which was difficult to do quickly — that’s where this plugin came in. All we needed to do was install it and then images began pulling into our emails right away.
Starbox is the most recent addition to our plugins but, perhaps not surprising, is one of my favourites. The plugin lets you set up author bios for all of your blog’s contributors and appears at the bottom of posts. You can customize these with a description, picture and even links to connect with you on Twitter or Facebook. Readers can also click an author’s name to be taken to all of his or her posts that have been published on your blog.
There are a number of themes to choose from so you’re bound to find a design that works great with your blog. The plugin also helps make your posts stand out in Google search results, using Google Authorship to add rich snippets with an author’s picture to search results.
WordPress SEO by Yoast is a must-have for making your posts ready for search engines. To get started, define the main keyword or keyphrase that your post is about. The plugin (which has a widget underneath your post’s composition window) will scan through your post to make sure that you’ve included your keywords in all of the right places:
This window also displays what your post will look like in search results, and even lets you change the meta description to something other than the first 156 characters of your blog post so you’re putting your best foot forward on Google.
There are additional tabs that help give your post more of an SEO boost as well. The ‘Page Analysis’ tab suggests a dozen or so additional ways to make your post more search engine friendly. ‘Advanced’ allows you to set things like disabling a post from being crawled by search engines, applying 301 redirects if you’ve moved your post to another location and more. Finally, ‘Social’ lets you customize how a post appears on Facebook if you know that different wording will have more of an impact on that particular network.
Don’t forget about mobile! If you need to quickly make your post ready for mobile then WPtouch Mobile Plugin is a great solution. The plugin does a particularly good job of cleaning up your blog’s navigation menus and allowing you to customize logos and colours to feel consistent with your branding. Plus, all of of the other plugins that you’ve installed should have no problem working with your mobile version as well.
UPDATE: The team at WPtouch reached out and sent us a referral link to offer you all 10% off their services if you use this link.
Have any plugins that we should check out? We’re listening — please share in the comments!