Plugins can provide killer functionality to your WordPress website - but choose which ones you install carefully!
Every year I share my own experiences using WordPress plugins to run Windmill Networking to help you make your own website more social media optimized, SEO friendly, and even help convert more of your visitors into new leads. I say "website" because WordPress is not just for blogs: As a CMS, WordPress powers one of every 6 websites on the Internet, nearly 60 million in all, with 100,000 more popping up each day.
Everyone's particular experience with WordPress will be different, but since I've always run a content-heavy site, I've become obsessed with increasing the performance of how quickly this website runs for the average user. Speed is important for many reasons: In the words of one SEOMozer:
"In my world, if you really care about SEO, you need to care about how fast your pages load. Speed may not be the most important ranking factor, but it's a factor nonetheless. As long as Google's search algorithm remains a mystery, you'll never know what type of optimization tipped your site from page 3 to page 1. For some sites, faster pages could be that tipping point."
Speed has been a factor in Google search rankings since 2010. While some might question how important of a factor it is, there is a greater purpose for having a faster website as detailed by Geir Ellefsen in his WordPress Performance And Speed Optimization Tips post:
"There are lots of benefits of having a blazing fast site:
- Better user experience
- People spend longer time on your site if it loads fast
- Search engines can crawl your site faster"
The problem, and the oxymoron of writing a blog post about WordPress plugins while seeking faster speed, is that it is commonly known that WordPress plugins can slow down your website. That's why I've been trying to follow the advice of someone I have high respect for, Derek Halpern of Social Triggers, who says in his What WordPress Plugins Are Vital To The Success Of Your Blog? post:
When you use more plugins, your website loads slower.
And when your page loads slower, you're killing your conversion rates, and your search engine rankings.
(Google recently announced that it uses page load times in their search algorithm. Additionally, countless studies have shown that if you increase your page load times by as little as 0.1 second, you can lose a huge amount of sales).
So how many WordPress plugins should you use?
The answer is FEWER.
But it's not just WordPress plugins that slow down your site. As Sean Davis points out in his influential post How I Cut My Page Load Speed by 90% Using Jetpack, CDN, Dedicated Hosting, and More:
Plugins do not slow down your website. Poorly written code slows down your website. If the plugins you choose to use are written poorly, they will slow down your website. If they are written well, they will not slow your site down.
Fortunately for all of us, the company behind WordPress, Automattic, has been spending time adding several features to their JetPack plugin. Considering that this is the company behind WordPress, we can assume that the code is well-written, and thus you will see the appearance of their plugins in this list for the first time. Not all of their plugins work well, and they don't support any and every feature that a blogger needs, but 2012 saw them evolve as a major force in the world of WordPress plugins. And, although you can configure it to implement as few or as many features as you'd like, it only counts as one plugin! That's why the number of plugins listed below are greater than the number in the title of this blog post. If you haven't checked them out recently, here is a snapshot as to how many features JetPack currently has:
One final thing to note: As hinted in Sean Davis' post mentioned above, there are other factors that can also improve your performance. That's one of the key reasons why I switched to WP Engine WordPress Hosting, which in addition to including CDN as part of their services, they also have their own caching system which means one less plugin needing to be installed!
With that in mind, following up with my Best 2011 WordPress Plugins for Social Media and SEO and 14 Best WordPress Plugins for Social Media and SEO Optimized Sites for 2012 that you'll also want to reference if you haven't done so, below is my current list for the best WordPress plugins for social media, SEO and better visitor engagement in 2013.
Social Media WordPress Plugins for 2013
There are many ways to utilize the power of social media to help spread the word about your blog posts. The essential types of plugins you need to have here that I cover below are social sharing and Twitter integration. Note that while I used to have social commenting included here, I find that very few people share their blog comments into social media. Instead, I have focused on including my comments plugin in the Engagement Plugins section of this post. That being said, if Facebook is a primary driver of traffic for you, and your readers do comment often, SEO Facebook Comment is a plugin that you'll probably want to check out.
- JetPack Publicize
I often tell my clients not to use automated plugins to publish new blog posts across social media because they will always get better engagement by personalizing their message for each platform. I still stick to that advice, but I also understand a reality that many face where they simply lack the time to do so. There's also an argument, shared most publicly by Guy Kawasaki in posts like The Art of the Repeat Tweet, that repeated sharing of your posts in social media will increase social media engagement of your blog content. So why not have the best of both worlds? Use this JetPack plugin to immediately post on your social profiles as soon as you publish so that you never miss posting them, and then follow up later in the day with personalized and optimized posting throughout social media? That's what I've started to do!
- Really Simple Facebook Twitter Share Buttons
I have gone through a number of different social share plugins over the years, and since I am a heavy user of Buffer, my only pre-requisite is that the social sharing plugin contain it. The easiest solution is to simply use the social sharing plugin that Buffer bought out and I recommended back in 2011: Digg Digg. I did use it for awhile in 2012, but at some point I started running into some problems on my website. In quest for the simplest, quickest, and yet having rich functionality plugin, I came across Really Simple Facebook Twitter Share Buttons. It has truly lived up to its name and has been trouble-free ever since I've implemented it. And, yes, it supports Buffer
- Tweet Old Post
If you read my last year's list you should have already recognized this plugin. I've relied on Tweet Old Post to automatically and randomly tweet out blog posts at certain time intervals for more than a year now. It even has options to add hashtags and leading text to it. The customization capabilities - and ease of doing so - give this plugin my thumbs up in the field of Twitter integration. If you have a lot of blog posts in your archives that you want to expose to your Twitter followers, look no further for a solution. WordPress plugins contributor Dean Soto pointed out that some might have an issue with this plugin - and in that case you'll want to make sure that you check out a similar plugin called Tweetily.
SEO WordPress Plugins for 2013
SEO is a never ending-battle, and it has only become more complex with the emergence of Google Plus as well as Google Authorship. Use these trusted plugins to help you in your WordPress SEO efforts in 2013:
- All in One SEO Pack WordPress SEO by Yoast
While many have moved over to WordPress SEO by Yoast for this type of plugin, I have stuck with All in One SEO because it does one thing and does it well: This plugin optimizes your site by letting you easily add a Title and Description that will be indexed by Google instead of the default title of your blog post and first words of your blog post that is the present WordPress default. That being said, using WordPress SEO by Yoast will help you out by reducing the number of plugins that you need in that it already has XML Sitemap (as well as a host of other) functionality built in. If you have an existing site and are happy with your SEO solution, I would stay where you are. But if you are creating a new WordPress site or want to try something new, you might want to compare both of these plugins. I knew that WordPress SEO by Yoast was gaining in popularity as the default WordPress SEO plugin, but when I tried to install it over a year ago I had a lot of issues. After writing this blog post, I felt I should give it another try, and this time it worked like a charm. WordPress SEO by Yoast is an amazing plugin that not only efficiently the functionality that All in One SEO Pack provided, but it also provides XML sitemap and a few other features that are useful to bloggers. I now wholeheartedly recommend you all change to WordPress SEO by Yoast!!!
- BWP Google XML Sitemaps
This plug in remains on this list from last year and continues to be critical in making your site known to search engines. As new posts are added, this plugin indexes your site quickly by updating the XML sitemap and pinging major search engines to let them know you have new content. There are other Google XML Sitemap plugins out there, but this is the one that was curated by the WordPress experts at WP Engine - and I have stuck with it with good results. (Note: Because I implemented WordPress SEO by Yoast, no more need for a separate XML plugin!)
- HTML Sitemap Generator
An HTML sitemap not only helps visitors better view all of your content, but some have indicated that HTML sitemaps might also be important for SEO. HTML sitemap plugins seem to come and go, and while this plugin is no longer being supported, it is still working fine on this site. Here's a look at the sitemap that this plugin automatically generates for this site.
- P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler)
If plugins could potentially slow down your site, wouldn't that be great if there was a way to find out which plugins might be slowing down your site through generation of a performance report? That's exactly what this plugin does! This should be installed on every WordPress website.
- Related Posts and Images by Zemanta
I've had a love/hate relationship with this plugin, formerly simply known as Zemanta, for a number of years. I recently re-installed this plugin after several feature updates, and I am happy to say that this plugin is much improved from previous versions and has more functionality than ever. The key functionality that I would like to focus in on for SEO reasons is two-fold: 1) Zemanta uses its semantic search engine technology to help find contextually related posts that you can link to, and in addition to every outbound link increasing the chance of generating an inbound link, Google has already said that thoughtful outbound links can help your credibility and 2) Using Zemanta and submitting your own blog content can help get it on the radar of other bloggers using Zemanta, naturally increasing your chances of generating inbound links without doing anything.
- Scribe SEO
I do not blog without optimizing my posts for SEO, which I have done using this plugin for some time now. This is a plugin that helps your content rank higher in search engine results by analyzing your posts and making suggestions about how you can improve your post from an SEO perspective. With a click of a button, your content is evaluated and given a score based on its structure and keyword density - and you can rest assured that Google will see the same targeted keywords that you intended for every blog post and page of your website. The newest version of Scribe also includes other features to help your SEO such as assistance in targeted link building.
- Social Author Bio
With the exception of my own posts, every contributor has a bio box at the end of their blog post that is provided by this plugin. For SEO reasons, this plugin is important in that it has fully integrated Google Plus Authorship. There are a number of these types of plugins that exist, but I chose this one for both its rich functionality as well as its attractive user interface.
Better Visitor Engagement WordPress Plugins for 2013
Social media and SEO are two of the best ways in which your blog, and blog-equipped website, can be found. But once someone sees your content, how can you ensure that stay on your website and increase your chances of engaging with them in hopes of "converting" them on whatever call to action you might have? This is where better visitor engagement, or encouraging a genuine two-way conversation between your brand and your online community, can help. Check out these plugins to help you achieve just that in coordination with the above SEO and social media plugins:
- Gravity Forms
If you want to better engage with your website visitors, you need to give them an easy way to contact you. Gravity Forms hands down is both the easiest to customize and most customizable contact form plugin out there. Plus, there are bridges that can help you integrate that same contact form information with email marketing software such as MailChimp. If you have never been satisfied with the customizability of your contact forms, you definitely need to give Gravity Forms a try.
- Hello Bar
While I don't recommend using this all the time, if you have a specific call to action that you want to get the word out about, this simple and unobtrusive web toolbar that sits across the top of a website is the perfect solution. You can customize the color of your bar, the text font, text color and a few other options so that it blends perfectly with your site, and Hello Bar also supports A/B testing. Don't let the most valuable part of your website - the top horizontal space - go to waste! Guide your visitors to where you want to send them! Based on campaigns I have done in the past for mine as well as client websites, I have seen Hello Bar CTRs as low as below 1% and as high as nearly 10%.
- JetPack Comments & Subscriptions
While many have migrated to "sexier" comment platforms like CommentLuv, Disqus, or Livefyre, this blog recently did an about-face and actually moved back to WordPress native comment functionality with the release of JetPack Comments. I came to the conclusion that comments should really be about the comments themselves, not the ability to share in social media, elaborate user interfaces, or complex dashboards. JetPack Comments allows visitors to login using their WordPress, Twitter, or Facebook credentials, and because the comment data lives on your site, you never have to worry about comments ending up in spam filters that were invisible to you through complex user interfaces or synchronization issues that exist with data being stored on 3rd party sites, two issues that this website had with previous commenting platforms. The integration with JetPack Subscriptions also provides a killer functionality: To provide commenters an easy way to sign up for notifications of new blog posts, thus potentially increasing your future website traffic with every comment.
Listly might just be the most engagement generating plugin of them all as it helps cultivate engagement by allowing people an easy way to share their passions in a way that is simpler than writing a comment: A vote on or addition to a list. As embeddable content that is indexed by search engines, it also has inherent SEO value, and the living nature of crowd-sourced content keeps search engines coming back for more. Social sharing accumulates to give your content the highest possible ranking. Listly is the only plugin on this list that is uniquely suitable to help increase both engagement AND SEO!
- Magic Action Box
Wouldn't it be great if you could create an easy-to-customize and great looking opt-in or other call-to-action box that you could place anywhere on your site? You can! Magic Action Box is an easy to use but powerful lead generation plugin that lets you create a focused and high converting action box in minutes. See Magic Action Box in action near the bottom of this blog post.
- The Slide by Simple Reach
The Slide is a free plugin that helps you increase your site's page views by helping readers discover related content while they are scrolling through your webiste. This plugin analyzes your articles and recommends past articles that are similar to it. It slides a discreet window at the bottom right of the screen which has a link to related articles the reader might be interested in. You can see The Slide in action on this website. If you were wondering, looking at my own stats I have seen days in which this plugin alone has increased page views by 1 or 2%.
- WordPress Related Posts
While there are a number of these related posts plugins that exist, and some provide additional bells and whistles that let you monetize the related posts that you show here, I instead want to have complete control over what content goes here as well as customizable look and feel in a plugin that is dedicated to a singular role. Showing related posts on your site helps reduce bounce rates and retains visitors so you can turn them into subscribers and customers. This particular plugin provides an eloquent solution, and while it lacks the detailed statistics reporting that other plugins have, it does give you a CTR for the past 30 days. As I write this blog post, this plugin has generated a 1.3% CTR over the past month.
While JetPack now provides similar functionality, it still cannot beat the robust performance of the WPtouch plugin. This plugin detects requests from smartphones and loads an alternate mobile theme for your site that best suits small touchscreens. The styling mimics that of iPhone applications, so the interface looks and feels intuitive to many mobile users. If you haven't checked your latest Google Analytics you just might be surprised how many mobile visitors are visiting your website. Give them what they deserve - an easy to use and optimized user experience - for free!
For me, these are 17 of the best WordPress plugins for those who want a truly optimized blog for social media, SEO and engagement in 2013. Do you use these same plugins? Any alternatives that you would recommend? Give me a shout out in the comments below. Thanks!
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