WordPress works pretty well “out of the box” when you install it. However, in order to ensure a properly working WordPress website, here are some plug-ins and essential extras.
WordPress plugins are bits of software that can expand the functionality of a WordPress site. This is by no means a definitive to-do list but it’s what I do on many of sites I create.
The following article is taken from my new Kindle book, provisionally entitled Building a Branded Website with WordPress. Be sure to tell me what you think about the article and the idea for the book.
Put keywords in URLs
The first thing I do with a new WordPress install is create custom permalinks. Go Settings > Permalinks and click the radio button next to “Post name”. Good for SEO. Good for users. Do it.
For me, the single most frustrating thing about websites is an inability to contact anyone at the site. This is why I think every website should have a Contact Me/Us page.
Instead of typing out your email address, it’s much more professional to provide a form. I use Contact Form 7 to do this. You could use Gravity Forms and offer the person filling out the contact form to join your mailing list.
I always create mobile responsive websites with Genesis. With Genesis Responsive Video you can ensure that the video responds to the width of the device it’s being viewed on. If you’re not using a Genesis theme, Fitvids will do the job.
Genesis Simple Edits
There are a couple of plugins you can use to identify and stop comment spam from getting through. Your new install of WordPress will come with the plugin Akismet installed and you need to activate it by entering an Akismet.com API key.
I also use another free plugin called GASP or Growmap Anti Spambot Plugin which forces users check a checkbox before sending a comment (something humans can do but spambots can’t).
WordPress is the most widely used website-powering software on the planet. With great popularity comes increased risk. There are several things you can do to protect yourself from attack.
Most importantly, choose hard to guess usernames and passwords and change them regularly. Don’t use the “admin” login you are given upon install. Also, you must action the updates of the WordPress themes, plugins and core as soon as they become available. Here is a page from WordPress about the many steps you can take to strengthen security.
Plus I use the iThemes Security plugin. It works to fix common holes, stop automated attacks and strengthen user credentials. It bans users who have tried to break into other sites from breaking into yours. It will automatically report IP addresses of failed login attempts and will block them.
If you’ve been using WordPress for a while you will find your database becoming big and unwieldy – mine grew to over 1GB at one point! If you’re backing up regularly (and you should) then a large database will cause problems with space. So, it’s a great idea to “prune” or delete unnecessary information in your database every so often.
There are several plug-ins that will do this for you. Unfortunately I haven’t hit on the perfect plug-in for this – I still have to manually delete spam using MySQL commands. If anyone has a good recommendation for this I’m all ears. At the moment I’m using Optimize Database after Deleting Revisions.
I find redirecting URLs is something I do on an almost daily basis. The primary reason for creating redirects is to offer an easy-to-remember and “nice looking” address for an important URL.
The best example of this is my squeeze page URL. The address to get to my squeeze page is http://robcubbon.com/free – this redirects to the actual page which is at http://robcubbon.com/download-free-e-books-now. Why? Because now I can say the address of the squeeze page is: “rob cubbon dot com forward slash free”. So, if I’m on a podcast interview, I can communicate the address in a way that is easy for people to remember and type into the browser address bar.
Another reason we use redirects is for affiliate links. This is NOT to cloak affiliate links and make them look like something other than affiliate links. I use redirects for affiliate links so that:
- I don’t have to remember them
- I can track how many times they are clicked
- If they change (as affiliate links can often do) I only have to change the redirection instead of every time I’ve used the link
Subscribe to Comments Reloaded
I would always recommend a blogger leaves the comments switched on. Comments at the end of blog posts as they are extremely useful in terms of audience research as well as increasing engagement between blogger and visitors. The ability to subscribe to comments on a page increases the likelihood of further commenting, thus increasing engagement.
A blog is a two way conversation. Sometimes the information you get back is more important than the information you put out. I use Subscribe to Comments Reloaded – however there are others.
Have you ever wanted different content on a sidebar depending on the blog post, page, category, etc.? I have.
Have a look at my recent post on Free 2015 PDF Calendars – it has an Adsense ad on the sidebar whereas none of the other recent posts do. This is because I get stupid amounts of traffic on that post which I’m trying to monetize by showing ads more prominently than otherwise.
Depending on how many widgetized areas your theme has, you can edit areas of your header, sidebar and footer on specific pages using Widget Logic.
The plug-in (actually called WordPress SEO but sometime’s called “Yoast’s SEO”) allows you to set up unique page titles and meta descriptions for all your archive and category pages as well as all other posts and pages. It also helps you set up with Google Webmaster Tools, Bing Webmaster Tools, Facebook Open Graph metadata, Twitter card metadata, etc.
You can also set up an XML sitemap, edit your .htaccess and robots.txt files, and set up breadcrumbs. For me, it is the best free SEO plug-in out there.
Cache and speed
You should always be looking for ways to increase your site’s loading speed. Page download time is of great importance to your visitors – no one likes to wait ages for a page to load. A fast loading site will also help your rankings in the search engines.
Make sure the images you use on your website are as small as possible. There are a number of online image editors that will do this for you.
Plus there are server side settings that can be tweaked by your host to ensure faster page delivery. You can use Google’s PageSpeed tool on your browser to see what could and should be improved on your site’s pages:
You can also install a caching plugin that will speed things up like W3Total Cache or Super Cache – again, liaise with your host to find out which caching plugin would be best for the server you’re on and which settings to use.
Lastly, you can employ the services of a Content Delivery Network (CDN). A content delivery network is a system of web servers located all over the world that will supply your site’s files to the visitor from the server that’s nearest. You need to add the details of the CDN to the caching plugin. I use MaxCDN as my content delivery network.
If anything bad happens to your site, you can revert to an earlier version of it. So that you can do this you must create regular backups of your site. Your host is likely to be doing this for you but it is such an important practice you must do it yourself as well.
There are two elements that need to be regularly backed up: the files that sit on the server and your database.
Your files can be copied from the server via the control panel provided by your host or by using an FTP client like Filezilla although their are plug-in that do this for you.
You can also use plugins to back up your database at regular intervals. Plugins can store the database copies on your host – this doesn’t provide great security as something can happen to your host’s server – so it’s best to get the plugin to email you with the database backup or to backup to a third party cloud storage service like Dropbox.
You should make it easy for your visitors to be able to share (or “Like”) your blog posts. I always include the most popular social media share buttons (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and, because it’s Google, Google Plus). There are a variety (you could say baffling) array of plugins that create these buttons. Digg Digg, ShareThis and AddThis are some of the better social sharing plugins at the WordPress plugin repository.
You should also provide links to your social media profile pages on every page of your site (in the sidebar or the header). So, if visitors to your website enjoy your content they can easily subscribe to your updates on the social media channel they prefer. The people behind Genesis, Studiopress, provide a free plug-in that does just this called Simple Social Icons.
Personally, I hard code the above into my themes. Here’s how: Adding Social Media Share Buttons in WordPress – HTML and CSS and Social Media Profile Links – HTML and CSS.
You can do it
You can create a water-tight, future-proof, safe, secure, backed-up WordPress website which is optimised for SEO, fast and engaging by using some of my favorite plug-ins and essential tasks.
This article is taken from a new Kindle book I’m writing provisionally entitled Building a Branded Website with WordPress. Be sure to tell me what you think.
Did this help you? What other plug-ins or extras do you add to WordPress installs?