Top 10 Must Have WordPress Plugins Every Serious Blogger Should Know About

WordPress gives bloggers amazing power to engage their readers and to make their blogs very appealing to search engines.

This means you’re giving the search engines what they want, and they’ll reward you with more and more web site traffic over time.  Yet, many WordPress bloggers aren’t taking advantage of some of these hidden gems.

Of course, many people host their blogs on Blogger.com or TypePad, but that’s another story for another day. The short version is that while WordPress may look a little intimidating at first, it’s just as easy to manage as TypePad, and has immensely more flexibility than either Blogger or TypePad.

Oh, and if your free Blogger.com blog mysteriously disappears overnight (as we had happen once), you have nobody to call. So if your blog matters, get yourself a good web host and give it some WordPress lovin’. 🙂

These are the Top 10 Must-Have WordPress plugins that every serious blogger should be running. Yes, they are a handful at first, but it’ll be well worth it. Set aside an afternoon to give them a try, and watch your readership and your free search engine traffic go through the roof. 

Get lots of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) goodness with a Tagging Plugin

We’ve all been seeing tags show up all over the place, as a replacement for categories. They’re everywhere, from Amazon.com to all your favorite blogs. Their main purpose is to segment your information so your readers can easily find it – kind of like categories, just a little more flexible.

But tags are very important for SEO, since tag pages rank very well in natural search engine results. This means that a well configured tagging plugin can help you get more web site traffic for free.

We use the Ultimate Tag Warrior plugin for tags, and recommend it highly. It’s a little complex to configure at first, but then it just works.

After you install and configure your new tagging plugin, remember to display the tags for each post under that particular post. The tagging plugin will create a “tag page” for each tag, so clicking on a tag will list all the posts on your blog pertaining to that tag.

One thing you may not realize at first is that for every tag you create, a new page is create on your blog. You can quickly go from 20 pages to 800 pages – tons of good quality content for Google and Yahoo to slurp…

A bonus tip: when showing these tags, configure them to point to the particular tag page on your site, i.e. NOT to Technorati or elsewhere, which is often the default configuration. This way the search engines will also find and give importance to these pages.

Make it easy for readers to RSS subscribe to your blog, with Feedburner

Just a year or two ago, RSS was the domain of the hopelessly nerdy and geeky. Fact is, most modern desktop software, from operating systems to Internet browsers, is coming out with RSS support. And your readers want to access your content over RSS. So are you going to make it easy for them or not?

What’s the best way to configure and track RSS for your readers?

While WordPress comes with good built-in RSS support, FeedBurner provides some great “finishing services” that you won’t want to miss out on. They’ll transparently format your feed so that any RSS reader will be able to read it. Also when people click on your “sign up my RSS feed” button, they won’t get a jumbled confusing mess in their browser. FeedBurner detects a regular browser and shows them a pretty HTML subscribe page.

More importantly for many bloggers, they’ll give you feed analytics. Yep, you’ll find out how many people are actually reading your RSS feed. Pretty cool.

To get set up with FeedBurner, download and install the FeedBurner FeedSmith plugin. Then follow the directions to create a FeedBurner account and configure your new RSS plugin with the specifics of your new FeedBurner feed.

As an added bonus, your new FeedBurner plugin will automatically redirect all your current RSS subscribers who are on your blog’s original feed, and get them all pulling on that shiny new FeedBurner feed. So you’ll have real numbers on who’s reading your blog by RSS. 🙂

Should you provide a full or just a partial RSS feed?

This debate has been raging in blogger circles for years. Many bloggers are afraid to provide a full feed, because some spam blogs may pull their feed and get their original content scanned by Google first. This means the spam blog will get Google original content credit.

This is technically a fair concern, thought it’s a little short sited. A professional blog with a strong following will be Google cached MUCH more quickly and frequently than some fly-by-night AdSense spam blog. Those tend to have a short life expectancy to begin with.

On the other hand, there are people who will read your blog ONLY if they can get it as a full RSS feed. They like to use their feed reader, and that’s it. So it’s up to you to decide if you want those readers or not.

More often than not, your best bet is to listen to your audience and give them what they want, the way they want it. Don’t base your decisions on fear and a lack mentality. 🙂

Keep your readers engaged and on your site longer by showing Related Posts

Visitors to a new site are amazingly flighty. They take a few glances around and decide quickly if it’s worth staying. The ones who stay are usually sucked in by the great content on your blog.

What’s the point of showing related posts? Does it really matter?

When a reader comes to the end of that very captivating article, what is it they want more than anything in the world?

Since they took the time to read your article, their brain is focused on that topic, and it’s feeding on that very yummy content. And by it’s very nature, it’s screaming for more! Showing a list of related posts at the end of an article is a brilliant strategy to keep readers engaged and ON YOUR SITE!

How and where should you display related posts on your blog?

The best place to show related posts is a bulleted list right at the end of the article. Our stats show that links just below the post have the highest click through of any location on the page!

We went with the WASABI Related Posts plugin, since it’s the most popular related posts plugin, and it just works. Keep those readers hooked. Remember, the first taste is always free! 🙂

Add related posts to your feed as well

As an added benefit, you can display related posts  Just like showing related posts under a particular blog post on your site, this is a great way to engage RSS readers by giving them more options. This means more to choose from if they don’t like the particular item they’re reading, or they just want more!

Use this plugin which brings together UTW and WASABI Related Posts to add a list of related posts to your feed.

Dust off and feature some of your older posts by showing Random Posts

Over time, dozens and then hundreds of posts get buried and abandoned in the archives of most blogs. A great way to bring these out is by featuring Random Posts in a spot either in your sidebar or somewhere around the list of Related Posts.

There are many reasons to pull up these. First of all, the search engines are still sending visitors to those post, IF they know how to find them. Getting even more activity there means better rankings for those posts in the search engines, and thus more web site traffic. Yumm. 🙂

This is now easy to do since the good people who brought you the WASABI Related Posts plugin have also made available the excellent WASABI Random Posts plugin.

Get your readers involved and keep their interest with Latest Comments

People love to talk and share their opinions on all kinds of topics. But most people don’t want to be the first to say something.

Get them talking and involved by highlighting the latest comments across all the posts on your blog. As your blog grows in size, you’ll find people landing on older posts from search engine or direct traffic, and leaving comments on those. Showing those comments in a “latest comments” list will prompt more discussion on those topics. And more content on those pages is a great way to get even more search engine traffic.

This is great to feature to add in your sidebar, thus getting yet more comments and visibility to those previous posts. We recommend Brian’s Latest Comments plugin. It’s simple, very customizable, and works great.

Show off your Most Popular Posts – new visitors love these

Capture the interest of your new visitors and regular readers by giving them easy access to your best and most popular articles.

The most popular articles are generally those that are the most interesting to your readers – unless you do very strong and focused social media or other promotion, but this is generally not the case.

Be aware that there IS a little increased overhead on your system with this, since the plugin will record EACH view of EACH post on your site by logging ALL these views in your MySQL database. This shouldn’t be an issue, but can add up if your site gets over 50,000 visitors a month.

We use the Top Posts by Category Plugin.

Give visitors and search engines an easy way to navigate your blog with a Site Map

New visitors often like to look around and get their bearings

A site map is very helpful to give your visitors an at-a-glance view of your site, how it’s organized, what information is available where, and so on.

Search engines depend on site maps to find all of your buried articles

Search engines can’t send you traffic if they don’t know what great content is hiding on your site. Let them quickly and easily find all our your articles with a dynamically generated site map.

For a quick example, see what we’re doing with site maps in the footer of our askdanandjennifer.com Dating & Relationship advice column.

First, create an automatically updating HTML site map page for your visitors

This is mainly for your visitors, but also for some search engines that happen to find it. This is not a plugin per-se, but rather a custom WordPress page that auto-generates your site map. Get it here.

Then, create a Google XML site map for your favorite search engines

Get the Google XML Sitemap Plugin, which auto-generates a site map in Google Site Map format. This plugin also updates the site map every time you make a blog post.

You absolutely do NOT want to be updating a site map by hand every time you post. Unless of course you would find that therapeutic. 🙂

Bonus tip: To get the most benefit, add your UTW tag pages to your dynamic site map with the Google Sitemaps – UTW Tag Addon plugin.

Help your visitors promote and spread the word about your awesome articles and get you more web site traffic

People love to share cool stuff they find with others. They also like to bookmark good articles and websites for later. Social media makes sites like del.icio.us and even Netscape.com and Digg make it possible to do BOTH of these at once.

Make it easy for your readers to spread the word about you, and they’ll do it. Use a social media plugin that automatically pre-fills the fields for these visitors to submit your article to these social media sites.

Many people use either Alex King’s Share This plugin or the newer but very popular AddThis.com plugin.

Place this widget in a prominent spot toward the end of your post, and watch others spread the good word for you.

Encourage bloggers to comment on your blog by linking back to their sites

When people leave comments on your blog, it’s customary for them to enter their web site address. It’s only fair that people who leave insightful comments should get a linkback from your blog to their site, and get some search engine goodness from it.

Whether you think it’s fair or not, this is still a great motivator to get ambitious bloggers involved in the discussions on your blog.

Disable the WordPress nofollow tag

WordPress is configured to mark all these linkbacks with the “nofollow” attribute, so that they are ignored by Google and other search engines as far as SEO value to the commenters blog.

There’s a movement to encourage comments by disabling this “nofollow” tag for comments left on WordPress blog. Of course, there’s a DoFollow plugin that will do this for you.

Feature your top commentators on your sidebar, with a full link to their site

A similar and more powerful way to encourage serious commentators to become involved in the discussions on your blog is to feature the top 10 or so commentators in your blog sidebar. Only the true top contributors will show up in this list, and it’s well worth the sidebar real estate to encourage the conversation these readers will often facilitate.

This can easily be done with the WordPress Top Commentators plugin.

What plugins do you use? Which are your absolute must-haves?

There are many other plugins available for WordPress, to perform just about every imaginable blog task. Leave a comment below and let us know your favorites.

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