If you're trying to build your author platform, you want your site both to look good and be highly functional. Plugins are tools that do both, and they are one of the biggest reasons to upgrade from a free WordPress site to a self-hosted WordPress site.
In this post, I'm going to briefly describe sixteen plugins I use personally. My hope is that this list helps you create a strong author platform that brings you thousands of readers. That's not too much to hope for, right?
I Love Plugins
Some people go shopping for clothes. I go shopping for plugins.
Each plugin on this list was carefully chosen for a specific reason. This list has taken dozens of hours to accumulate, and I’m quite proud of it. My hope is to save you all that time and energy.
How to Install:
To install these plugins, go to your WordPress dashboard. Under the plugins menu, click Add New. Then, simply search for the plugin name and install it from that screen.
Backup to Dropbox
Accidents happen, and at some point you might accidentally lose some or all of your blog content. To keep that from happening, this plugin automatically downloads your entire site to Dropbox.
People love pictures. They break up text, provide something nice to look at, and act as a kind of cover for each blog post.
That's why, in every post, I make sure to use a photo from the Creative Commons (giving attribution of course). Compfight is a really cool tool that allows you to quickly and easily find professional looking photos straight from Flickr’s Creative Commons.
I don’t use it much anymore (for reasons I’ll explain later), but for the beginner, this is a lifesaver.
Contact Form 7
This contact form allows you to create a contact page without giving away your email address, saving you from those nasty Spam Robots. A must have.
DISQUS Comment System
I recommend this over WordPress’ comment system for three reasons:
- It allows your users to comment faster. They don’t need to input their name, email address, and website url every time they want to comment.
- Your users will comment more. Since it’s faster, your users will have more time to comment rather than re-entering all their information.
- It fosters community. DISQUS enables you to reply to an individual right under their comment, rather than the comment getting tagged onto the end. If your readers can talk to each other and form relationships, you deepen their engagement with the site.
This plugin is really cool. It allows you to easily use Google Web Fonts (which look really cool) without editing the stylesheet (if you don’t know what that is, you don’t really want to).
How to make it work:
After you install, go to the Fonts menu under Appearance in your Dashboard. Then, in the blank space, enter the section you want to change: for titles, H1; for subtitles; H2 and H3; and for body text, p—and choose the font you want.
Google Custom Search
Google Custom Search is faster and simpler than the WordPress standard search bar. You can test The Write Practice's search at the bottom of the sidebar.
Jetpack by WordPress
Jetpack allows you to quickly see how many people are reading your blog. While it has a lot more bells and whistles than that (such as spell checking), I use it most for analytics.
nRelate Related Content
This plugin creates pretty thumbnail pictures at the bottom of each post with links to other, related posts. It’s a great way to make sure people see your entire site, not just the latest content. Another good option is LinkWithin.
So let’s say you write a post, and after you publish it, you realize you misspelled the title. You go back and fix the spelling error, but the problem is that the post’s url is still misspelled. You could fix the url, but unfortunately, six people just tweeted your post and the New York times found it and linked to you. Thus, if you correct the misspelling in the url, they’ll be taken to an address that no longer exists. Lame!
How do you change the url without sending readers to a post that doesn’t exist?
The answer, of course, is Redirection.
Redirection allows you to send any traffic from a url that does not exist on your site to url that does exist. Or you could just always spell your titles correctly.
Stumbleupon & Digg Thumbnail Maker
I use this plugin as a workaround to a very annoying problem. Sometimes, when someone “Likes” your post on Facebook, it doesn’t show your post’s picture, which is very annoying because people are much more likely to click on a link with a pretty picture next to it than one without.
I could explain why Facebook doesn’t show a picture, but it would be very nerdy and complicated. The important thing is this plugin tells Facebook which picture to pick.
How to make it work:
After you install it, you’ll see a little box underneath your post editor. You’ll want to copy and paste the url from the picture you’re using into this box.
To get the picture's url, click on the picture, then click on the little thumbnail of a mountain in the top-left corner, and copy the link url (you may have to get it from the Advanced window). Then, just paste it into the Stumbleupon & Digg Thumbnail box and you’re picture will show up on Facebook.
Tentblogger Add RSS Footer
When I published my eBook, 14 Prompts, I wanted to make sure my current subscribers got a copy. This plugin allows you to add text and html to the bottom of your RSS feed where your subscribers (and only your subscribers) can see it.
Tweet, Like, Google +1, and Share
This plugin enables your readers to easily share your posts with their friends on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.
Social sharing will probably be the biggest source of traffic for your blog. On The Write Practice, more than 50% of our traffic comes from social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, StumbleUpon, and Reddit. Sharing is crucial to building your platform.
There are dozens of social sharing plugins, and I’ve tried nearly all of them. However, what I like about this one is that it loads quickly and looks fairly pretty. Previously, I used AddThis, which has the sleek, minimalist design I like, but took several seconds to load. As I’ve said, load times are essential to keeping readers on your site, and so I needed to find an alternative. Tweet, Like, Google +1, and Share filled the whole nicely.
Tweet Old Post
This is one of my favorites.
Once you've written a lot of content, it's difficult to keep people going back to your archives and reading your old posts. Tweet Old Post automatically tweets your old posts (it makes so much sense, doesn't it) by intervals you can customize yourself. It increases your traffic and brings eyes to your old content without you having to do a thing. Pretty handy if you ask me!
WordPress.com Popular Posts
This simple plugin that allows you to add a popular post widget to your sidebar, letting your readers know which posts they should be paying special attention to.
If you’d like to justify your margins like a book, you need a simple way to hyphenate long words. WP Typography automatically hyphenates words that spill over the margins and leave gaps. It also changes regular quotes to “smart quotes,” makes your ampersands (&) prettier, and has a few other cool features.
Another tool in my quest for a faster blog is WP Smush.it, a plugin created by Yahoo. Smush.it removes unnecessary data from your picture files. Basically, it makes your pictures—and thus your site—load faster, which I think is awesome.
Remember, to these plugins, you have to have a self-hosted wordpress blog. For the last four years, I've been using DreamHost, an easy, inexpensive hosting provider based in Los Angeles. If you want to start an account with DreamHost, use the code “WRITEPRACTICE” to get 10% off hosting.
What are some of your favorite plugins for authors?