What Exactly are WordPress Plugins and How do You Use Them?

Answer: Plugins are blog add-ons that do specific things for your WordPress blog like show related posts, count post views, or add Facebook buttons. There is a plugin for literally any WordPress feature you can think of.

Let’s start this entry by admitting we were once or still are afraid of plugins. The word “plugin” sounds all techy and scares off bloggers who’d rather eat a scorpion than tackle some coding. Yet, plugins are extremely easy to use. That’s the point of them.

I’d like to use this entry to show you my favorites, and hopefully you’ll try a few of them out.

First how to install plugins

Plugins are easy to install. You download the .zip file, then click over to the plugins section, hit “add new”, then hit “upload” and find the .zip file on your computer. Once you upload, hit “Activate” and the plugin you’ve chosen will instantly start working.

The WordPress plugin directory contains them all but beware. Not all plugins in there are great, many have glitches, and doing keyword searches in there will often return so many results your head explodes.

It’s much better to search “best plugin for..” or “plugin that does…” in Google and go with the first or second option. Or, go for a personal recommendation. Blogging is all about personal recommendations.

But before I dive into which plugins I use and even some hard to find ones, lets see what you guys have asked me in the comments. I’ll include quick answers.

Pause! What are you guys saying?

Aspen says: Are plugins used to customize your website? Yes, exactly!

Robbie comments: Theme Junkie has several easy to use themes for beginners. Agreed, that’s why I recommend and use them!

Pamela mentions: Plugins can cause problems with CSS. Yes, so always check number of downloads and user reviews. Find social proof before getting a new one!

How I personally use plugins:
I use a plugin to change my post URLS, a plugin to track individual post views, and a plugin to put Facebook and Twitter buttons on my posts. All of those are, in fact, listed below.

The alternative to a plugin is often adding code to your Editor section. In some cases, this is recommended, like when you want a feature to integrate with an existing feature. Comments are one particularly feisty part of your blog, and to modify them you’ll probably want to do some basic coding rather than add a plugin. Email me for help with that specific feature.

List of my favorites

Here are my favorites. These are glitch free and have download counts of 50,000-500,000 so you know people enjoy them. Notice how there are only a few listed? That’s because I don’t want to bombard you. Many bloggers will write epic lists of “100 best plugins for SEO” or “45 plugins you want for Christmas,” but I’ve taken a more thoughtful approach.

I doubt you’d be able to choose a plugin from a list of 45. You instead want a small sample.

If you’re a new WordPress user, or if you blog just needs some more sexy swag, these plugins are for you. Most can be altered through the Settings section, and some operate in the background of your blog. If you dislike any of them just head to Plugins, and deactivate–delete them.

WP Post Views – Count views on each post in admin section.

Custom Permalinks – Change URLs to be simple, and better for SEO in Google. Custom Permalinks lets you dominate post titles, much like my post very second post, on clickable post tiles.

Related Posts Thumbnails – See below, show 3 to 4 related posts in a pretty fashion.

XML Sitemaps – Great one. Builds your sitemap for you and pings Google with it each week.

TF Social Share – Facebook and Twitter buttons, see below.

WWSGD – Hard 2 find. Just check it out.

Easy Spoiler – Drop down menus in your posts. Love this guy.

There you have it. Seven great plugins. I did not include Akismet on the list, because WordPress.org blogs come with that plugin. As a general rule, you should only have about 10 plugins operating on your blog at one time, maximum. Any more will significantly slow down your blog and the page load times.

Here are some blog features you may consider paying a bit for. Again, I use all of them here, though you may not see them directly.

Advanced Features I Recommend

Aweber Email Marketing:

Aweber is the only advanced feature I’m recommending here. It’s what I use for email opt-in form like the one on my homepage and the one on my about page. They let you create as many forms as you want, track which one gets you the most subscribers, set auto-response messages to new and old followers, and putting a form into your blog is just a matter of copying and pasting one line of code.

I’ll have an entry here soon on why I believe Aweber is worth it. It does cost $1 the first month (you can opt out at any time), but it makes capturing subscribers, the folks who buy your stuff, so easy that I wouldn’t blog without it.

What’s next?

Are you using these plugins right now?

Do you have major concerns or just want to say you love them?

Go for it, and if I’ve missed any plugins or blog features you use and swear by, drop a note about them in the comments to help others currently reading through this!

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