One of the biggest advantages of using self-hosted WordPress for your blog is its extensibility with plugins. There’s hundreds (if not thousands) of different plugins you can install into your WordPress installation to provide additional features ranging from social media integration to post ratings to weather-forecast widgets. It’s easy to go overboard with plugins (which can be a bad idea for performance reasons as well as possible security implications), so how do you determine which plugins should be installed? Here’s a list of 5 plugins that I consider “must-have” for any WordPress blog.
The amount of people who read blogs using a feed reader such as Bloglines or Google Reader is always on the rise. The problem is, your analytics tools won’t tell you anything about those users. Enter FeedBurner – a free service from Google. By redirecting your blog’s feed through FeedBurner, you’ll get all kinds of handy statistics about people who read your blog in a reader, as well as the ability to embed additional features and content in your feed (such as ads, or social media clicky-click buttons). This plugin automagically converts your embedded feed url (usual http://yourblog.com/feed) to the FeedBurner URL, so the transition is seamless for your visitors.
We all want Google to know about our new content as soon as possible. One tip is to submit a sitemap to the search engine. A sitemap is basically a file that lists all the links on your blog, to make it easier for Google to dig in and find the goodness. This plugin automatically publishes an updated sitemap to Google whenever you add a new post.
Security is (or should be) job one when you’re hosting your own blog. The Internet is full of bad boys and girls who are just dying to hack into your blog and use it to post a bunch of spam links, or just delete the whole thing for no other reason than to be a jerk. WordPress is such a popular platform for blogging that the evildoers are very good at finding exploits in it, and then sending their nefarious scripts after any blog running the software. With this plugin, you’ll be insulated against some of the common attacks – any request to your blog that is fishy is just redirected to your home page, stopping the script kiddies in their tracks.
At the end of the day, your WordPress blog is just a giant database. Your database is the heart and soul of your blog, and if anything happens to it, you’ll be sunk. Use this plugin to schedule automatic backups (and optimizations) of your database to occur on a weekly, daily, or even hourly schedule. You can also configure it to email you the backups – which is important, in case your entire server gets wiped out. I have mine configured to email me daily backups of all my blogs to my Gmail address, and then have set up an automatic filter to put those messages directly in my email archive with a specific label (so they don’t clutter up my inbox).
Most mobile browsers don’t handle the beauty of your blog’s full design well. This plugin creates a custom experience for users of touch browsers (such as the iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry touch devices) which makes the experience a whole lot better. If you want to really expand your range to ALL mobile browsers, there are additional themes and plugins to consider, but from an ease of use perspective, you can’t beat this plugin.
I didn’t include this plugin in the list, since it is installed (but not activated) by default when you first install WordPress, but it bears mentioning anyway. This is the standard “anti-spam” plugin for WordPress. Any comments that look spam-tastic are automatically quarantined for your perusal (and possible deletion) later. Spammers love them some WordPress, and the last thing you want is for your blog’s comment areas to become a haven for posts about buying prescription medicine over the Internet. Don’t make the mistake of skipping the configuration on this plugin – you’ll definitely regret it later if you do!